Nial paced anxiously around the central room of Dahlia's palace, his boots echoing on the transparent tiles that were the only thing separating him from the endless desolation of space. Lune had opened his home to the five warriors and had invited them to stay on the eerily beautiful moon for as long as they wanted before returning to the Alisa III. Now that he wished them no harm, Laya was eager to talk to him and learn as much as she could about the sister who had almost slipped her memory and Nial politely ducked out of the conversation, leaving the two of them alone.
Now that he had accomplished all he had set out to do, the prince was unsure of what his next step would be. Though he had initially longed to return to Landen as soon as possible, he wasn't sure if there was more out there for him now that he had seen so much more of their world and learned so much. Experience had brought him wisdom, confidence, and the knowledge that he was a different person from when he had first left home.
It was mostly due to her, he would freely admit it. Laya had been an inspiration to him throughout and had driven him to be the man everyone had always wanted him to be and for that, he would be eternally grateful. She had awakened so much in him and though they had managed to stop the war and restore peace, he was still lacking a sense of resolution.
She had assured him that together, they would be unstoppable, and she had been correct. Though the danger had passed, he still wanted to be with her and whatever was next in store for him, he wanted her to be a part of it. From the moment he had first laid eyes upon her, he had felt drawn to her, and his feelings had only intensified with each passing day. If it wasn't love, it was pretty damn close, and he knew he needed to tell her.
His nervous pacing continued until Laya finally emerged from her discussion with Lune. He stopped where he was in the middle of the room and waited for her to approach him, taking in the smile that had appeared on her face and hoping that it was at least partly for him. She stopped about a foot away from him and while he could have spent the rest of the day losing himself in the warm depths of her shimmering eyes, he willed himself to start speaking.
Was Lune able to give you any more information? he inquired.
Oh yes. It was wonderful to be able to speak with someone who knew Laya so well, and he spoke so highly of her. Though her smile didn't completely disappear, it took on more of a melancholy quality.
He misses her, too. But we know she's always with us. We'll be okay.
Good, I'm glad. He scratched his head and shifted his weight uncomfortably, trying to choose his words.
I just want to see you happy, it means a lot to me.
That's very sweet of you. She reached out to stroke his arm.
You're really the most amazing person I've ever met, I'm so lucky to know you. And now that we did what we needed to do, I just want to spend even more time with you. All his carefully-planned speeches were getting jumbled in his head and he wasn't sure if the words that were rapidly spilling forth from his mouth were even making sense any more, but it was already too late to turn back.
Come back to Landen with me. Or we can go to Mystoke, or anywhere else you want. He paused to tenderly tuck a lock of hair that had fallen out of place back behind her ear so he could look at her directly.
I don't care where we go. Just as long as we're together.
Her cheeks flushed a deep pink as she shyly met his gaze.
Oh, Nial, I'm flattered. Really. I care about you so much and you've treated me so well ever since I met you. I would love to accompany you to Landen and see all the places you told me about. Something shifted in her eyes as the corners of her mouth turned down slightly.
But I can't.
Nial was confused.
I don't understand. Why not?
Her hand went up to the pendant that still hung from her neck.
My sister spoke of an ancient evil, that's why she left me behind. Lune may have called off his armies, but I don't think he was the only cause of the problems on the Alisa III. She idly spun the golden sphere around in her fingers as she tried to explain.
I don't know why or how, but I know that something else is out there. Something or someone prevented her from coming back to me and I owe it to her to find out what really happened.
He wasn't entirely convinced yet.
I can help you, if you'd let me...
Laya cocked her head to the side as she smiled sadly at him.
You have a duty to your people, Nial. I can't take you away from that, it would be selfish of me. She straightened up and confidently tossed her hair back over her shoulder, her decision already made.
I'm leaving for the ship shortly. I'm going back to Aridia, where I'll go back to sleep until the time is right. My sister intended for me to stay there for a reason, and I still don't know what that is yet. I need to know.
Nial wanted to beg her to stay, to reconsider, to change her mind, but her selflessness had worn off on him. He'd meant it when he'd told her that he valued her happiness and he knew he couldn't prevent her from doing something that was so very important to her.
Would you like me to come with you? Just as far as Hazatak? he quietly offered.
Her eyes started to glisten with unfallen tears as she tried to thank him for his unquestioning acceptance.
You should stay here on Dahlia for a few days, she suggested.
Relax a little bit before heading back to Landen. I'll be fine, don't worry about me.
I'm going to miss you, he admitted.
She reached up underneath her hair and undid the clasp of her necklace. Taking a step closer so she was standing right next to him, she pressed the pendant into his hand as she lightly brushed her lips against his. Her kiss was simple and pure and Nial knew it would be their last.
It doesn't matter if I wake up again next month or in another thousand years, she whispered.
I will never forget you and everything you've done for me.
The lovelorn prince wanted to wrap his arms around her and keep her with him forever, but instead, he squeezed the keepsake she had entrusted to him. Laya took a step backwards and they both knew it was time. There was still so much he wanted to say to her, but he knew he needed to let her go.
Thank you, he simply stated.
With one last look, she disappeared into the shadows, to slip away from the moon and away from him. As Nial studied the pendant she had given him, he knew that though she was gone, the memories of her would be with him always. Like she had lived to honor the remembrance of her sister, he would do the same for her and use everything she had taught him to one day rule his kingdom efficiently and fairly. Knowing that she wouldn't want him to stay brooding by himself for long, he carefully tucked the pendant into his pocket and set out in search of the others.