Somehow, she woke up.
What had happened? Everything was still blurry, and she couldn’t quite remember. What she did remember was hazy and shattered. Her magic… the dreamworld… She remembered severing her connection, and she was painfully aware of the fact she couldn’t access it anymore. Her magic wasn’t completely gone, some of it was still there. It was different and subdued, almost like it wasn’t even her own magic.
Other things filtered through her mind. Vitalis was alive. He had a fever, and he was most likely sick from something he caught when he was out in the storm.
He was alive and safe.
That was what mattered.
The demon was dead. She had killed him.
She opened her eyes. Everything was numb. She couldn’t feel anything.
Cyra rolled her head. She blinked, forcing her eyes to adjust to the dim light. She was in the medical wing. There were several other beds filling the room. Cyra spotted mostly members of the guard.
She couldn’t remember. Had the cult stormed the palace? Or had Ano singlehandedly swept through?
Had it been her hands that caused all those wounds?
She couldn’t remember. Bits and pieces of images came to her. Most of it was Vitalis. She saw him standing before her in the old ruins.
He was confused. He’d been… angry?
“Cyra, get away from him!”
She remembered getting back up to her feet, or more accurately, Ano pulling her up.
Her voice said, “Why did you follow me?”
The memory faded out. Cyra’s eyes focused on the bed next to her. It was him. Her fingers twitched, and she shifted slightly, groaning in pain. Most of her of was numb, but each breath or move sent pain up her spine.
“Vi—” Cyra coughed. She couldn’t breathe. The pressure on her chest was too strong. “Vital—”
She watched his eyes open as she gasped, struggling to say his name. He scrambled out of his bed, stumbling and kneeling at her side.
His hands cradled her face. Cyra leaned into him, coughing desperately for air. An arm slid around her back, lifting her into a sitting position. He leaned her against a bunch of pillows. “Cyra? Can you breathe? Are you alright?”
“I—I can breathe,” Cyra grunted, fisting the sheets into her hands. She stared at Vitalis. “I…I’m sore, but, uh, feel mostly nothing. I can’t quite remember.”
Cyra reached up, running her fingers over Vitalis’ cheek. Her voice cracked as she said, “There are gaps… holes in my memory. Vitalis, what happened? What did the demon force me to do?”
“That can wait. You need to rest. You’ve still got to recover.” Vitalis pushed her hair back out of her face. He ran his fingers through her curls. “It’s only been hours. It’s just dawn. The physicians and the nurses all said you need to rest.”
“Vitalis, tell me what happened,” Cyra said, leaning into his touch.
“We won. You did it. You killed him, but you were hurt, so I was trying to find help. Fighting was still happening in the palace, but the guards won. I came across some of them, and they helped me bring you here.” Vitalis moved so he was sitting by the side. He continued running his hand through her hair, keeping his voice low. “Other than that, all I know is what I’ve been hearing. The shah is alive. He and his family hid in the tombs with Captain Artunis and the best warriors in the guard. The demon found an empty throne room and had his people searching for the shah, but they didn’t find them.”
“Mihrab?” Cyra rasped, looking up at him. “Where’s my brother?”
“He’s not here in the medical wing, and I don’t know if he was with the shah,” Vitalis whispered.
Mihrab. There was something she couldn’t remember. It was important. It mattered.
“I need—” Cyra started to sit up. She pushed the sheets away and rolled onto her side. Cyra tried to climb out of the bed, but she was too numb. She wasn’t moving like she was supposed to.
She had almost fallen off when Vitalis caught her, hauling her back up. His arms tightened, restraining her. “Are you insane? You’re in no state to go anywhere? You need rest.”
“My brother.” Cyra twisted, weakly trying to pull his arms away. Tears welled up in her eyes. She gasped, “I need my brother. I need to find him.”
Vitalis pulled her into his chest, and he did not loosen his grip. “I’ll find him for you, but you can’t leave this bed. You’ll only hurt yourself.”
“Vitalis, no!” Cyra let her head fall back into his chest. “Mihrab, I have to find him. I think something happened, and I can’t remember. I need to know!”
Vitalis bowed his head, and it brushed hers. He sighed, “Where do you think he is?”
Cyra turned so she faced him. There were a few flashes of memory. Rain was on her skin and soaking her hair. There was a flash of metal.
Her dreamscape. Mihrab had been in her dreamscape.
“The garden. Take me to the garden,” Cyra whispered.
Vitalis nodded, sliding off the bed. He reached one arm under her legs, and another around her back. He grunted as he lifted her up, and Cyra winced at the pain shooting up her spine. Vitalis’ shifted her weight as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
She muttered as he carried her out the door, “You don’t have to carry me. I’m not weak.”
“No, you’re not weak; you’re injured. Just, let me do this for me.” Vitalis adjusted his grip on her again; his fingers dug into her skin. His voice was soft and broken. “Let me do this because I love you.”
He still loved her?
She fell silent, leaning her head on his shoulder. He shouldn’t love her.
It was a long, slow walk. There were moments Vitalis paused, and his arms sook so hard, Cyra thought he was about to drop her.
His skin was still warm and feverish. Cyra didn’t understand why he was so insistent on carrying her. He was sick. He needed to be resting as well.
They reached the garden, and it was empty. Cyra sighed in relief as Vitalis carried her over the ground. Vitalis looked around. “I don’t think he’s here.”
He walked further into the garden, but his legs began to shake. Cyra shifted, pulling away. She said, “Put me down and catch your breath.”
Vitalis grunted and reluctantly kneeled, setting Cyra next to him in front of the Ruins’ Tree. Cyra tried to push herself to her feet, but her legs wouldn’t fold underneath her. They must have fallen asleep. She resigned herself to being stuck for the moment and leaned back. She laid beside Vitalis, taking shelter under the shade of the tree.
Cyra closed her eyes. “If Mihrab isn’t here then, where is he?”
“My guess would be he went to protect the shah,” Vitalis sighed.
“No, that doesn’t make sense. He was tasked with killing the demon. He would have come after hi m. He had the sword, one of the only weapons that could kill a demon.” Cyra ran her fingers over the dirt and roots. Something fell on her cheek. She wiped it away. “Besides, I remember… well, I just remember the garden. Vitalis…”
Her voice cracked, “What if I did something?”
“No, Cyra. I’m sure…” Vitalis started. She heard him shift beside her and then freeze in place. His voice trailed off into silence.
“Vitalis?” Cyra started to open when Vitalis lunged forward, covering her eyes with his hands.
“Don’t! You don’t want to see this. Just keep your eyes closed and let me take you back,” Vitalis said, wrapping his other arm around her stomach as she sat up. She tugged at his arms.
“Vitalis! Is it Mihrab? What’s wrong? Where is he?” Cyra cried out as panic and hysteria rose in her chest.
“Please don’t fight me on this!” Vitalis said, struggling to keep his grip on her. “Let me protect you from this.”
“It’s my brother!” Cyra ripped his hand away from her eyes.
She looked up, and a wordless scream was torn out of her. She understood now why Vitais didn’t want her to look. She understood why they hadn’t seen it at first. It was the perfect hiding place, and Cyra would know. You could only see it if you were directly under the tree. It was the same exact place Cyra had hidden as a child, except ow it was where Mihrab’s body was.
Tears filled her eyes, and her hand covered her mouth, muffling her inhuman shrieks. She writhed in Vitalis’ grip, unable to move her gaze from the sight.
Mihrab was impaled on a large tree branch. It went right through his chest. There was blood, so much blood. She could barely recognize his face; he was covered in it. It was absolutely gruesome to see.
She was sobbing and crying, and even when Vitalis got his hand back over her eyes, his body was all she could see.
His eyes had been open They were so empty. He had been so still and lifeless.
Mihrab was dead.
He’d been grotesquely impaled on the Ruins’ Tree; it was the one tree that had been tormenting her for her whole life.
Then, as she fell back into Vitalis, losing all of her energy, she remembered.
She remembered the demon leading her to the garden, to where Mihrab was.
She’d fought her brother. Mihrab had reluctantly drawn his sword, but it hadn’t been enough.
He had taken one look at her. It had been clear from the way she stumbled and was jerked around by a flick of Ano’s wrist.
Mihrab didn’t say a word at first. He had just held up their father’s sword with shaking hands.
Cyra didn’t even recognize him. Her mind had been so clouded. It was like seeing it through someone else’s memories.
She had been forced to attack her brother, and she wasn’t even aware of it.
“I killed him!” The words were ripped out of her throat. She was writhing and thrashing again. Strangled sobs burst out of her. “I killed him.”
Arms slid under her legs and around her back. She was being picked up, but Mihrab’s body was all she could see.
He’d been standing right in front of her, and she’d just looked right through him. She’d gutted him and impaled him on the tree that had haunted her.
As her dagger had been embedded in his stomach, her brother looked her in the eyes. As a tear slipped out of his eye, he had said, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t strong enough. I shouldn’t have let this happen. Just… don’t remember me as a terrible brother.”
The last remaining member of her family gasped and began bleeding out. His last words were:
“Remember…I love you, and I want you to know how proud I am of you, warrior and sister in all.”
Cyra’s head fell back to Vitalis’ shoulder as he carried her back to the medical wing. She whispered brokenly, “I remember, Vitalis. I killed him. And… I think I knew I had ever since I woke up.”
“No, Cyra,” Vitalis murmured, still straining to carry her weight. “His death wasn’t your fault. You’re not going down that road.”
“Vitalis…” Exhaustion, pure, real, natural exhaustion swept over her. An ache settled into her knees, and pain shot through her calves. She shut her eyes. “I know he was dead the moment I saw him in my head before I cut off the demon’s connection. I just didn’t want to believe it.”
“I’ve got you. We’ll get through this.” Vitalis adjusted his grip, holding her tightly as his arms shook. He leaned his head down. “I promise. Just promise me that you’re not going to give up on me, because I’m not giving up on you.”
Cyra was going to say something, but by the time she knew what to say, she had fallen into a perfect, dreamless sleep.
* * *
When she woke up, Mihrab was still gone. That was the first thing on her mind. Mihrab was gone, and she’d never get him back. He’d never to get the chance to live. Like Soray, like Mandana, he’d never get to live his life. He’d never fall in love or have children. None of them would. None of them would ever get to live life like they should, they never had a chance to.
Then, that thought was slowly pulled away from her as the ache and pain in her knees increased. The pain just kept growing, like fire was wrapped around her legs.
She forced her eyes open, groaning. The bright sunlight blinded her as she started thrashing around. She gasped, crying out in pain as it was too much.
It was eating her alive.
“It’s wearing off! Quick, come help me hold her down!”
“No! We need to move her now!”
“Cyra! You said she was healing! What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
The last voice was Vitais.
Then the pain was too much, and she went back under.
* * *
“I should be the one to tell her.”
It was his voice; she would know it anywhere. It was slightly muffled, like he wasn’t in the same room, but nearby.
She sluggishly opened her eyes, sighing when the light didn’t hurt. There weren’t any windows, just a torch by the door.
“I don’t advise it, your highness. I can explain what happened in better detail, and I can discuss her options with her.”
Cyra didn’t recognize that voice. What did she mean ‘options’?
Why did she feel so stuck? Cyra stared up at the ceiling. Her legs were heavy, and her arms were stiff by her sides. She rolled her head, but still felt, almost disconnected from her body, as if even if she wanted to get up, she wouldn’t be able to.
“She’s not going to take this well no matter who says it. It’ll be better if I say it. I know her; I need to tell her. I can help her deal with it.”
With what? What had happened? Cyra wished he would come inside and talk to her. At the very least, Cyra wanted to see him.
“It seems I cannot dissuade you, but I have to check her over first, make sure the infection is gone and change the bandages.”
Infection? Cyra vaguely recalled the pain that had overcome her earlier. Cyra certainly wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong with the way she felt now. There was no pain at all. She couldn’t fell anything.
The door creaked open. Cyra fought to lift her head up. Her neck stretched, and Cyra caught a glimpse of Vitalis before her head fell back against the pillow.
“Vi—Vitalis…” Cyra croaked. Her throat was dry and sore.
Vitalis knelt at her side instantly. “Cyra? Just be still for a moment.”
He stood up, looking over his shoulder. He asked, “Do you need her laying down or sitting up?”
“Sit her up,” a feminine voice spoke from the end of the bed. “I’ll go ahead and get started changing her bandages while you talk to her.”
Cyra watched as Vitalis slid an arm under her shoulders and pulled her up. She coughed, sliding back into the wall. Everything felt so heavy. Aches settled into her shoulders. “What happened? How long have I been out?”
“You’ve been in and out of consciousness for a week and a half now,” the nurse said, reaching for the sheet at Cyra’s waist.
Vitalis caught her face, turning her to look at him. He smiled softly, stroking her cheek. “How do you feel?”
“Better, but still rough,” Cyra groaned, leaning into his hand. Her eyes fluttered before she forced them open and on Vitalis’ face. She sighed just taking in the sight of him. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t have badgered you into helping me escape the medical wing to look for Mihrab.”
“No, it was something you needed to do. I wasn’t going to let you do it alone, even if I wish you hadn’t seen what happened,” Vitalis said softly.
“Have they had the funeral, yet?” Cyra asked. Her throat tightened. “I missed Soray’s; I can’t miss his.”
“Cyra…” Vitalis’ eyes flickered down. His shoulders tensed. “The shah didn’t give him a funeral. They just buried him in the royal crypt. With all the other casualties, I don’t know if there was to protest or even attend his funeral. I didn’t know until afterwards.”
“Of course,” Cyra muttered, pulling her head away from his touch. Tears welled up in the corner of her eyes. “I’m sure the shah thinks it’s good enough that he was buried with the royal family. What more could we ask for?”
“I’ll take it to the shah. He’ll be forced to listen to me. We’ll arrange something. Your brother deserves better.” Vitalis caught her dropping head, focusing it back on him.
Cyra shook her head. She lifted her heavy arm and wiped at her eyes. “Don’t. Miihrab’s dead, and nothing will change that. There’s no point causing trouble over it. I’m sure you’ve got more than enough to deal with.”
“What do you mean?” Vitalis asked.
Cyra paused. She stared at the sheets under her arm for a moment. Her voice was soft. “If it’s really been so long since we took back the palace, shouldn’t you be leaving any day now? Vialya must want you back in the safety of your own borders.”
“I’ll go back to Vialya when I’m certain I have no business left in Sardes. Cyra, there’s, uh, something else you need to know.” Vitalis bowed his head for a moment.
“All done, Cyra. The infection is gone, and I’m certain it won’t return. I’ll make sure someone comes by to change the bandages again later, just to be safe,” the nurse said, interrupting Vitalis.
That was surprising. Cyra hadn’t even realized the nurse had been changing her bandages. She must have been so focused on Vitalis she didn’t notice. Cyra turned to the nurse, but balked at the sight of her legs. Her legs weren’t just bandages. Cyra couldn’t even see any of her legs. From her toes up to her thighs, she was wrapped in clean, white bandages, and no speck of her skin could be seen.
“I…Uh…I—” Cyra stuttered. She licked her lips. She hadn’t realized… She had forgotten about her injuries. She’d been so focused on Mihrab and Vitalis that she had forgotten about what that demon had done to her. “How long until I can start getting back on my feet?”
The nurse shot Vitalis a look, narrowing her eyes. Vitalis reached for her shoulder, drawing her to him again. “Cyra, that’s um… Cyra, there’s no good way to say this, but…”
Vitalis paused, brushing her hair out of her face. His own face twisted in pain, and his voice broke. Her heart fell even before she heard his words; just the fact that he looked so heartbroken about it hurt her.
“Cyra, you’re not going to get back on your feet.”
Cyra gaped at him. Vitalis took a shuddering breath. Cyra jolted, facing her legs again. She automatically flexed her foot to see what he meant, to see if the pain would be unbearable, but she didn’t feel any pain. Cyra stared at her foot as she flexed it again, but her foot never moved.
“No…” Cyra whispered. She kept moving her feet, but they were perfectly still. She reached forward, grabbing her knee as she tried to lift her leg. “No…No… that can’t be right. I’m moving my leg, why isn’t it moving?”
Vitalis caught her arm and pulled it away from her deathly still legs. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into him.
“I can’t feel my legs…” Cyra whispered, falling into him. She stared in horror at her legs.
Vitalis ran his hand through her hair, whispering, “I’ve got you.”
Cyra slowly turned to the nurse. “What happened? How did I…”
When it was clear Cyra couldn’t bring herself to say it, the nurse nodded. She said, “The damage to your legs when Prince Vitalis brought you in was extensive, life-threatening. It took both magical healers and our regular physicians to keep you from bleeding out. It’s a miracle you survived. Your legs were, for lack of a better word, mutilated. The demon clearly had the intention of keeping you from every using them again.”
The nurse gestured to Cyra’s legs. “There was irreparable damage to your muscles and nerves. At the point where you first woke up, after we operated on you to save your life, what we had been able to save and heal of your legs was taken by infection in your wounds. We worked around the clock to drive it out without having to amputate. There was hope that your muscles would heal somewhat and you could eventually work towards being able to walk again. However, after the infection and examination of your legs… that possibility no longer exists.”
“I…uh…” Cyra shifted away from Vitalis, wrapping her arms around herself. “Well, I’d normally tell you I need air, and step out of the room, but I guess that’s not an option.”
“I’ll be outside the room, just call out if you need anything.” The nurse gave her a kind smile and headed towards the door. She paused as she stood in the open doorway and turned back. “I understand this is hard, but in all my years of treating patients, I’ve never seen anyone come in with wounds as severe as yours and live to see the next dawn. I’ve never seen as strong a person as you.”
She was gone, leaving just Cyra and Vitalis.