The Tale of a Mage (part 16)

They travelled all through the night and into the next day stopping only once for a quick meal. It was dusk by the time they finally made camp and the group was exhausted. Livia set off in search of food. Nyx glanced between Izzy and Cassandra making sure their attention was otherwise diverted before picking up her bow and heading after Livia. It was apparent she would never best Livia in outright combat. Livia had greater strength and better training. It was time for Nyx to make use of her personal strength, stealth.

Nyx slipped between the trees, keeping out of sight. She kept her footsteps light, treading soundlessly, eyes never leaving Livia. Before long Livia paused at a bush laden with scarlet berries. Nyx watched for a moment as Livia plucked berries from the bush laying them out on a piece of cloth. Once she was certain Livia did not suspect she picked up an arrow, fitting it into the bow. Slowly, she pulled back the drawstring. Lining up the shot she paused for a moment to take a deep breath. She only had one chance to get this right. Exhaling she let go, the arrow sailed through the air plunging into Livia’s back. Nyx waited with bated breath, watching as Livia struggled in an attempt to pull herself to a standing position. She was wounded but she wasn’t dead yet. Nyx would soon rectify that. She picked up another arrow and prepared the shot. She drew back the drawstring once more. However, her plans ended there as she found herself frozen to the spot, unable to move an inch, not even enough to release the arrow. Nyx’s heart pounded in her chest as she struggled against her invisible restraints.

“Have you taken leave of all common sense?” Izzy’s voice penetrated the fog of panic. “Irrespective of your feelings towards her I would have thought even you could recognise we need Livia. Neither you nor Cassandra are particularly skilled in combat and Cassandra has a long way to go before her magic will be of use to us. While I am skilled in both magic and the use of a sword my magical reserves have their limits and there are only so many soldiers I can fight at once. Livia’s skill set could well save our lives.”

Cassandra dashed past Nyx, falling to her knees at Livia’s side. She fussed as she examined the wound.  Cassandra turned to face Nyx, eyes wide.

“Nyx, how could you? You could have killed her!” Cassandra’s eyes flickered back to the wound, aghast.

“Well, that was the idea” Nyx muttered under her breath doing her best to ignore Cassandra’s horrified gasp.

Cassandra turned her full attention to Livia’s wound. Pulling a knife from her boot she gestured for Izzy to join her.

“I need fire.” The statement was made in a clipped tone. Izzy nodded and a small ball of fire appeared in the air just above her hand. Cassandra plunged the blade of the knife into the fire and held it there until she was satisfied it was sterile. She nodded to Izzy and the fire flickered out.  Ripping the fabric of Livia’s shirt from the area of the injury Cassandra tentatively cut into the flesh, she flinched at Livia’s pained grunt but continued widening the wound until the arrow could be pulled out without doing further damage. Once the arrow was removed Izzy took over placing her hand over the wound. A warm glow emanated from Izzy’s hand. When she finally lifted her hand she revealed healthy flesh. The only remaining evidence the injury had occurred was Livia’s torn and bloody shirt and the arrow on the ground beside her.

“Um… could you undo whatever you did to me?” Nyx grumbled. Izzy spun around to face her. Covering the space between them in quick strides Izzy snatched the bow from Nyx’s hands.

“Your actions have put us all at risk.” Izzy’s icy gaze bore into her “I have had to use magic both to restrain you and heal Livia. It can take up to twelve hours for magic energies to fully regenerate which means my abilities to protect us should a threat present itself tonight will be inhibited.”

Nyx sighed with relief as the spell was lifted and she found herself able to move again. That relief, however, was short lived. Izzy pulled a length of rope from her cloak and tossed it to Livia.

“Tie her up.” Izzy instructed, “It’s clear, for the moment she can’t be trusted.”

“With pleasure” Livia grinned.

“What?” Nyx choked “No! Cassandra, don’t let your girlfriend do this to me.”

“You could have killed her Nyx.” Cassandra whispered averting her eyes.

Within seconds Livia’s hands were on her, gripping her arms pulling them behind her back. Nyx struggled as Livia positioned her arms with one forearm resting on the other and began to weave the rope around them securing them to one and other. Livia made no effort to be gentle and Nyx whimpered slightly as the rope cut into her flesh. Once Livia was satisfied with her work she seized Nyx by the arm and began hauling her back in the direction of the camp. Izzy followed while Cassandra stayed behind to continue gathering berries.

Nyx struggled the whole way back to the camp. While denied the use of her arms she still had her legs and she made every effort to kick Livia. Livia ducked out of the way with ease chuckling in response to her efforts. Upon reaching the camp Livia pushed her to the ground at the base of a tree.

“Could you toss me more rope? There’s some in my pack.” Livia glanced in Izzy’s direction. Izzy nodded, reaching into the pack she pulled out the rope and handed it to Livia. Livia secured Nyx to the tree and stood taking a moment to grin down at her.

“Oh, I’m so looking forward to reaching the Dwarven Kingdom, little elf.” She smirked. Nyx huffed in defeat. She couldn’t believe she was back in this position. How could Cassandra allow this?

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The Tale of a Mage (part 15)

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Nyx gulped, her heart rate spiking as she met the guard’s menacing gaze. “This woman is clearly ill and I was just removing her necklace for safe keeping. There are a lot of shady people around here.” She nodded with what she hoped was sincerity.

“I see…” The guard sounded unconvinced “you were simply taking a stranger’s valuables to be helpful…”

“Of course,” Nyx nodded “I’m an honest woman.”

“I don’t think so!” The guard snatched the necklace from her hand and seized her by the arm. “I’m taking you to the guard captain.”

“I am highly insulted by your insinuations!” Nyx struggled, eyes scanning the room for Cassandra. Cassandra stood twenty meters away looking petrified. Nyx stared at her expectantly, willing her to cast the sleeping spell again.  It seemed Cassandra caught on as she waved her hand in the air once more. This time, however, did not go so smoothly. The guard did not collapse into sleep. Rather a sizable fire sprung up at his feet.

The guard shouted in alarm letting his grip on Nyx loosen. Nyx wrenched herself from his grasp and darted through the panicked crowd. Taking hold of Cassandra’s hand, she dragged her out of the tavern into the crisp night. The other patrons streamed out of the tavern with them. Nyx was pleased to note the guard carrying the unconscious woman. She was a thief, not a murderer. At least not under the majority of circumstances. For Livia, of course, she would happily make an exception. In the commotion, it was easy to slip away. Glancing back over her shoulder Nyx grimaced at the amount of smoke billowing from the tavern. It seemed the fire was spreading. She dragged Cassandra into the cover of the trees to the sound of shouting as the rest of the town guard arrived to extinguish the fire.

“What was that!” Nyx hissed at Cassandra. “I thought you said you knew how to cast the sleeping spell!”

“I do!” Cassandra protested “Mages have limited magical reserves. Being inexperienced mine are more limited than most. I already used a lot during training this evening. When your magic is reaching depletion, things can go wrong.”

“So, that’s why Izzy doesn’t use her magic very often even though it could make our travels easier?” Nyx inquired.

“Exactly” Cassandra whispered back. “If she uses too much magic for small things she might not have enough if there’s an emergency.”

“I guess that makes sense.” Nyx nodded thoughtfully. She led Cassandra on a round about route through the woods weaving back and forward through the trees to ensure they were not followed. They kept a brisk pace. While the guards were currently occupied with the fire it was still better to be cautious. When they finally arrived back at the campsite they were both out of breath.

“We need to leave now!” Nyx whispered as she shook Izzy awake. Izzy surveyed her suroundings in sleepy confusion. She glanced between Nyx and Cassandra and sniffed the air a look of suspicious concern dawning on her face.

“Cassandra…” Her tone was warning “Why are both you and Nyx awake and why do I smell smoke?” Now that the adrenaline of the initial panic had worn off Cassandra burst into tears.

“Nyx, what if someone gets hurt?” She sobbed “We should go back, see if we can help.”

“They’ll be fine!” Nyx snapped “The guards are taking care of it and we can’t go back they’ll be looking for us.”

“You didn’t?” Izzy, now on her feet, fixed Cassandra with an incredulous stare. By now Livia was also awake. “We agreed we would stay out of the town.” Izzy’s eyes remained trained on Cassandra who squirmed under her intense gaze.

“You and Livia agreed!” Nyx pointed out “Cass and I didn’t get a choice.”

“I’m disappointed, Cassandra. Once we reach safety you and I are going to have a very serious talk.” Izzy ignored Nyx’s comment.

“But what about Nyx?!” Cassandra protested “She was there too! It was her idea!”

“Nyx is not my girlfriend.” Izzy replied in a mild tone. “Besides, I’m sure that Livia will be more than happy to deal with her.

“I will indeed” Livia shot Nyx a menacing grin.

Nyx gulped. This situation was getting worse and worse. Not only were the handful of coppers she had managed to acquire throughout the night insufficient to pay Livia back for the loss of her gold, now it appeared Izzy was going to give Livia free reign to punish her. This was not going to end well for her. She needed to come up with a plan and quickly.  Izzy was unlikely to consider them safe until they reached the Dwarven Kingdom so she had until then to find a way to dispose of Livia. She had to be smart about it this time. She couldn’t afford to anger Livia any more than she already had.

The group packed their things hastily. Cassandra paused a few times to cast worried looks in the direction of the town. When she did Izzy hurried her on with an icy stare. Once their belongings were packed they set off into the night. Cassandra remained teary and for once Izzy’s ire was apparent. Livia appeared uncharacteristically cheerful, likely contemplating her plans for Nyx once they reached the Dwarven Kingdom. A shiver of dread ran down Nyx’s spine. She retreated deep into thought. A plan she most definitely needed a plan.

The Tale of a Mage (part 14)

The arduous journey continued. By day they trekked through the forest. In the evenings, they camped. They continued to feed themselves on whatever they could scavenge, hunting was not an option as with no fire they had no means to cook the meat. Nyx was not asked to keep watch again which suited her just fine. Now she had a plan to rectify her mistake her guilt had subsided and she enjoyed the extra sleep. Cassandra’s mood perked up considerably as the days following the theft passed. Nyx’s interactions with Livia, however, remained tense. Izzy continued Cassandra’s magic lessons, however, as far as Nyx could tell, they failed to produce improvement.

At last, as they set up camp on the third night after the theft, Izzy announced they had reached a town. Izzy, it seemed, mentioned this to warn that the group should be especially careful. More people meant a greater risk of trouble. It took little deliberation for Izzy and Livia to agree, the group would not be entering the town. The discussion on which route they should take to bypass it, however, was decidedly more heated. Nyx nodded along, not fully listening. Eventually, a decision was made but Nyx didn’t hear what it was. She was too busy plotting. She would wait until the others were asleep and then sneak into town.  Getting past whoever was on watch would pose a minor challenge but Nyx had faith in her stealth abilities. She could pull it off. By the time they realised what she was doing she would be back with more than enough gold to finance the rest of their journey, perhaps even enough to repay Livia.  Sure, she had never stolen quite that much in one go before, but stealing was stealing the mechanics would be the same.

They followed their usual evening routine, although to Nyx it felt like everything was taking exceptionally longer than usual. As they finished dinner Cassandra announced she would take the first watch of the night. Nyx smirked slightly at that, this was going to be much easier than sneaking past Izzy or Livia.

Nyx retired to her pile of furs feigning a yawn. As Izzy instructed Cassandra in the magical arts Nyx lay beneath her furs digging her nails into her palms to keep herself awake. When the magic lesson ended and Izzy finally went to bed Nyx waited an extra half hour just to be sure.

Confident Izzy and Livia would now be asleep Nyx took a deep breath and crawled out from beneath the furs. She cast a quick glance at Cassandra. Cassandra remained oblivious. Sitting with her back to Nyx she continued staring into the trees. Nyx plumped up the furs to give the appearance she was still beneath them before setting off in the direction of the town.

Nyx had covered about 50 meters when she felt a hand wrap around her arm. She spun around her eyes meeting Cassandra’s.

“Nyx?” Cassandra queried at a whisper “What are you doing?”

“Um… I…” Nyx stuttered. This was not going as planned.

“Are you going into town?” Cassandra’s grip on her arm loosened slightly.

“Well, I just thought that maybe if I could get us some gold…” Nyx’s voice trailed off.

“Can I come with you?” A hopeful look dawned on Cassandra’s face.

“Uh… sure.” Nyx was taken aback by Cassandra’s request. She wouldn’t have thought Cassandra would disregard Izzy’s instructions but she wasn’t about to pass up a chance to spend time with her sister.

“This will be so much fun!” Cassandra whispered excitedly. “Do you know how long it’s been since I got to go to a town.” Nyx nodded indulgently.

“Just remember we are going for business…” Nyx began. Cassandra’s face fell slightly. “That, of course, does not mean we can’t have a little fun while we’re there” Nyx added with a smirk. Cassandra beamed.

Nyx and Cassandra continued in the direction of the town. Soon buildings began to appear, at first sporadically and then clustered closer together. Cassandra squeezed Nyx’s arm in excitement. When they reached the town tavern Nyx gripped Cassandra’s hand and pulled her inside. Nyx surveyed the tavern, eyes falling on a group of particularly drunk patrons. Perfect, she thought making her way over.

“How are you this evening?” She enquired plunking herself down at their table, beaming at the man to her right.

“Much better now.” He leered. Cassandra stood back watching warily from a distance. Nyx continued smiling, nodding along with feigned attentiveness as he attempted to regale her with stories of his work in the mines. She trailed her fingers down his arm deftly reaching into his pocket with her other hand, snatching his coin purse and tucking it into her tunic. She then excused herself moving on to her next target. She repeated the action with several more patrons before pausing to check how she was doing. She and Cassandra huddled in a corner counting the coins she had stolen so far. Unfortunately, they were mostly coppers. Nyx sighed, she was going to have to aim much higher if she wanted to acquire enough money to actually be useful.

“There’s a lady over in the corner who’s wearing a very expensive looking necklace?” Cassandra suggested in a hushed tone “If I cast a sleeping spell on her you could take it.”

“Are you sure you can do that?” Nyx asked with uncertainty.

“Yes,” Cassandra nodded. “That’s one spell I can actually cast, I put a rat to sleep once. I’m sure I can do it! Please?”

“Okay,” Nyx agreed. Cassandra waved her hand in the direction of the aforementioned lady who collapsed, head falling to the table at which she was seated. Nyx weaved her way through the crowd. Reaching the woman, she gingerly reached for the clasp of the necklace. She took her time, slowly easing the jewellery from her neck.  Once she held it in her hands she took a thorough look at it. Cassandra was right it looked extremely expensive. It was gold, each side was set with seven rubies. Between the two sets of rubies was a diamond about half the size of Nyx’s fist. For a moment, Nyx was elated, then she heard a voice behind her.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Nyx spun around to see a member of the town guard standing before her, sword drawn. “We don’t take theft lightly around these parts.” The guard’s eyes flickered to Nyx’s unconscious mark. “Don’t take poisoning lightly either.”

The Tale of a Mage (part 13)

Nyx awoke with a start as something collided with her ribs. It wasn’t exactly violent but it wasn’t gentle either. Her eyes snapped open. She squinted through the darkness unable to make out the shape of her assailant. It was not difficult, however, to deduce who was responsible. Livia’s boot prodded her again.

“Your turn to keep watch, little elf.” She smirked, as Nyx whined in protest. Satisfied Nyx was now awake Livia turned and made her way back to her pile of furs on the other side of the campsite.

Nyx pulled herself into a sitting position, grumbling under her breath, and wrapped her furs more tightly around her body. While Izzy’s spell was still in effect, sheltering the campsite from the wind, the night had grown colder. Nyx yawned and turned her face upwards. The thick canopy above blocked out the light of the moon, obscuring its position. Nyx wondered what time it was. Most likely early morning if both Izzy and Livia had already taken their turns on watch. She also wondered how she was supposed to keep watch when she couldn’t see anything. She supposed she would just scream loudly if she heard any strange noises. Then fighting in the dark could become Livia and Izzy’s problem.

She sat in silence straining to hear anything that might indicate a potential threat. The forest, however, remained quiet asides from the usual forest noises. The wind still blew through the trees in the areas left unshielded by Izzy’s spell, however with less strength than it had earlier in the day. The sound of the wind combined with the chirping of crickets interspersed the occasional hoot of an owl. It was kind of peaceful, relaxing in fact. As the sounds of the forest washed over her Nyx’s eyes drooped. She shook her head, trying to refocus, stay awake. The longer she sat in the darkness the stronger the drowsiness became. She fought to keep her eyes open but it was becoming increasingly more difficult. Everything looked the same regardless of whether her eyes were open or closed and closing them felt so much better. Slowly the sounds began to fade into silence.

Nyx awoke again to the sound of shouting. She forced her eyes open. The soft light of early morning overwhelmed her senses and she blinked several times. The first thing she noticed, when she finally managed to keep her eyes open, was Livia pacing back and forth cursing. The contents of their packs were strewn across the forest floor and Cassandra was frantically rifling through her own bag throwing items in all directions.

“What’s going on?” Nyx mumbled rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“You!” Livia bellowed, stalking in Nyx’s direction. Nyx leapt to her feet, veering out of the way as Livia lunged at her. Nyx glanced questioningly at Cassandra who ducked her head and continued rummaging through her bag.

“It would appear we were robbed during the night.” Izzy’s eyes met hers, her face unreadable. “An event which could have been avoided were there someone on watch.”

“Oh…” Nyx blushed profusely, keeping her attention on Livia in uneasy anticipation.

“You owe me three bags of gold, little elf!” Livia snarled. “And you had better believe…”

“You can exact your pound of flesh once we reach a safer location.” Izzy interjected.

“Fine” Livia snapped “but she had better get me my gold or I’m going to hurt her… badly.”

“Mine’s gone too.” Cassandra glanced up dejectedly. “So much for buying supplies at the next town.” Cassandra began to pick their possessions up off the ground and repack them. Nyx assisted her in silence. While she didn’t care about Livia and Izzy’s opinions of her Nyx felt bad about upsetting Cassandra. She had to think of a way to fix this.

Once their belongings were repacked they had a quick breakfast then headed off once again. The day’s journey should have been an improvement over that of yesterday. The sun was shining and the wind had died down to a light breeze. The mood, however, was subdued. Livia’s feet fell against the forest floor more heavily than usual as she fumed in silence, a murderous scowl painted on her face. Cassandra pouted. The extent of Izzy’s feelings on the situation remained unclear although Nyx couldn’t imagine she was pleased. Most of the gold had been hers after all.

As the day drew on Nyx’s guilt intensified. Evading the Queen and her armies was going to be challenging enough. She must be aware of Izzy’s betrayal by now which would mean members of the royal family would be joining the hunt. If they still had the gold they could have used it to bribe bystanders for their silence and maybe even gain assistance from lower level members of the army. Without it, this was going to be much more difficult. Nyx’s failure had put her sister in further danger, unnecessarily. Not to mention the only thing standing between her and an irate Livia right now was Izzy who didn’t seem entirely opposed to her taking revenge.

The mood had not lightened by the time they made camp for the night. This time Izzy sent Cassandra and Livia to gather food, presumably concerned that Nyx and Livia might kill one and other if sent unsupervised into the woods. Nyx was momentarily relieved before realising she would have to set up camp with Izzy. The princess still unnerved her more than she cared to admit. Still unable to light a fire, and lacking the need to shield the site from the elements it didn’t take long to put a campsite together. When Cassandra and Livia returned, the group ate in silence.

As soon as she finished her last bite of food Nyx retired to her pile of furs. She was vaguely aware that Cassandra was practising her magic with Izzy again but this time she didn’t watch. She wracked her brain for a solution to the problem she had created. Finally, it came to her. Cassandra mentioned a town, towns had people, and people frequently had gold. When they reached the next town, she would steal them more gold. Nyx drifted off to sleep feeling proud of her superior problem solving skills.

The Tale of a Mage (part 12)

The next morning dawned bright but chilly. Nyx grumbled as Cassandra’s cheery voice jolted her from her sleep. This had been her first decent sleep since she’d had the displeasure of meeting Livia and she wished it could last a little longer.

“Get up!” Cassandra chirped “Izzy, says we’ll leave after breakfast.” Nyx forced her eyes open to glare at her sister. Cassandra, however, remained oblivious to her displeasure. “I’ve been stuck in this cave for days,” Cassandra explained, “travelling again will be simply marvellous!”

“Well, I’m glad you’re having a good morning.” Nyx huffed pushing herself to a sitting position. Cassandra was already bounding out of the cave. Nyx took a moment to allow herself to wake fully then headed after her. As she exited the cave Cassandra held out a handful of berries and a strip of dried meat. As Nyx’s eyes fell on the food her stomach grumbled. She snatched the offered morsels and dug in with vigour.

“I guess it’s time for us to part ways,” Livia eyed Izzy expectantly, “as soon as you give me the rest of the gold you promised of course.”

“If that’s what you wish…” Izzy regarded Livia, her face unreadable, as she tossed two additional coin purses in her direction.

“What?” Livia growled. “If you have something to say just say it!”

“I simply don’t think that would be a wise decision,” Izzy replied “my mother’s soldiers know who you are and would likely assume you could lead them to us. It would be safer to stay together.”

“Fine…” Livia sighed. While she would happily turn the others over to the Queen if doing so would allow her to return to her old life, her previous experience at the Palace suggested otherwise. Besides she was smart enough to know Izzy’s magic would trump her tracking skills and she didn’t want to find out what the soldiers would do to her if she was unable to assist them in Cassandra’s capture. “I’m keeping the gold.” She added as an afterthought.

“Of course” Izzy gave Livia a conciliatory smile. Livia scowled back at her.

Once they had all finished eating Izzy set off into the woods at a brisk pace, Cassandra gleefully scampering after her. Nyx and Livia followed with significantly less enthusiastic gaits.

Despite the sunshine, the day remained cold. A powerful wind tore through the forest chilling the incongruous party of travellers the bone. An assortment of twigs, leaves, and other debris assaulted them as they hurried through the trees. More than once a member of the group found herself barely escaping the crushing might of a falling tree.  By the time they stopped to make camp in the evening even Cassandra had grown disgruntled. Izzy maintained an air of impassivity but Nyx was sure someone such as she, who was accustomed to a royal lifestyle, must be tiring of their circumstance by now. Izzy and Cassandra began setting up camp while Nyx and Livia set off in opposite directions in search of food.

Nyx and Livia returned half an hour later to find Izzy and Cassandra had put together a wonderfully cosy campsite. Sleeping spaces had been set up with the furs from Cassandra’s cave. While there was no fire, as they were still on the run, it appeared Izzy had cast some form of barrier spell to protect the area from the wind. Nyx wondered why Izzy had not used the spell to protect them from the pounding of forest debris they received during the day but was too tired to start an argument about it. They made a meal of what nuts and berries Nyx and Livia had been able to scavenge in addition to what little was left of Cassandra’s dried meat. Cassandra snuggled into a pile of furs preparing for sleep but Izzy shook her head.

“You need to practice your magic before you go to bed.” Izzy reproached. Cassandra huffed but jumped to her feet and made her way to Izzy’s side. “The two of you should get some sleep.” Izzy gestured to Nyx and Livia. This time Livia did not argue. Nyx settled down to sleep ensuring to choose a pile of furs on the opposite side of the campsite to where Livia was doing the same.

From her spot on the ground, Nyx watched Izzy demonstrate a series of hand movements. Cassandra copied them, a few sparks crackled from her fingertips then fizzled out.

“No, no.” Izzy shook her head for emphasis. “You need to focus. This is a warding spell. There should be no visible effects.”

“How am I supposed to know when I’m doing it then?” Cassandra frowned.

“When you get it right you’ll be able to feel it.” Izzy ran her fingers reassuringly down Cassandra’s back. “Try again.” Cassandra repeated the movements, this time nothing happened. Cassandra stamped her foot in frustration indicating to Nyx it had not been the type of nothing Izzy claimed to be desirable.

“Breathe” Izzy squeezed her arm gently, “you can do this.” Cassandra tried yet again. A small fire sprung to light on the forest floor. Izzy extinguished it with a wave of her hand. Cassandra burst into tears.

“I’m terrible at this and now I’ve probably given away our location to the Queen’s army! If we all die it’s going to be my fault!” She sobbed.

“No, love.” Izzy wrapped her arms around Cassandra rubbing circles on her back. “It will be fine. The fire was small and only lasted a few seconds. I doubt they would have noticed it over the light of their own torches.” Cassandra’s sobs lessened turning into sniffles as Izzy continued “You’re not terrible. You managed to cast the illumination spell yesterday. You just need more practice.”

Nyx rolled her eyes and turned her back on them. They were so sickeningly couplish and in her opinion, it was kind of gross. It was supposed to be just her and Cassandra evading the Queen together, causing havoc. How had Cassandra ended up with the fucking princess anyway? Nyx drifted off to sleep contemplating what could have been.