Kena opened her eyes to the darkness, realizing it didn’t matter if she was asleep or awake. Nothing had changed. She’d lost track of time completely, without any regular visits or daylight. Without the sound of anything alive.
In the beginning, she had tried to keep a certain rhythm. Wake up when she got served the stale bread, go to sleep after she had gotten the cold soup. But what difference had it made? None. She was still stuck in the darkness, wherever this place was, without anything to distract her. So she just went to sleep whenever she could, or her own mind would drive her mad.
She had begged and begged and threatened the pony who brought her food. But he had never replied. She didn’t even know if it was a girl or a guy. He had heard her, though. He’d brought her the blanket she’d asked for the time when she had started to develop this cold that still wasn’t going anywhere. She shivered and pulled the blanket closer.
In the beginning, Kena had refused to think about her mother. She hadn’t wanted to think about the cat, or Flin, or her mother throwing her in a dungeon somewhere. It would only upset her and make her furious, and what good did that do? She needed a clear mind if she wanted to get out of here. But time passed and all of her emotions were sucked away into the darkness. The night never ended down here, so who cares what she felt? It didn’t change anything. None of it did.
The only thing that kept intriguing her was the answer to a simple question. Had her mother been convinced that she hadn’t told Flin? Had her memory really changed at that time? Was that even possible? She had never learned of such a thing, but that didn’t have to say anything. Apparently there was a lot she’d never learned about. Like how your mother could betray you, or how badly you could wish that you’d never been born into a royal family.
For a split moment the pain threatened to overwhelm her. A pain so real it became a physical ache deep in her chest, threatening to swallow her up from the inside. But the emptiness of her prison was stronger once again, and the pain soon faded away. She longed for sleep, but it eluded her. She’d slept too much.
When she heard the sound of the keys rattling against the lock, Kena forced herself to get off the hard bed and on her hooves. It was a ritual she’d developed. The guard, whoever he or she was, would not see her wasting away in bed, even if there wasn’t anything left to waste. She’d stand up to him. Her mother would approve of that.
The guard wasn’t alone. Her heart instantly began slamming in her chest. She heard voices. Two voices. Ponies whispering while the doors were being unlocked. Was this it? Were they letting her out of this place, finally? Had her mother finally come to her senses?
Even a small flame can be blinding if you sit in the darkness long enough. It was nothing more than a candle, but Kena backed away and squinted her eyes shut. She couldn’t look at it. She didn’t want to look at it. The light forced the darkness away, and the dark was the only thing keeping her empty. Keeping her sane.
Her heart dropped. She knew that voice. She’d known it her entire life and even here, with her eyes shut, she recognized it instantly, vaguely remembering it used to bring her joy once upon a time. That was long ago, though.
“Centrelle,” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse. When was the last time she’d used it?
“Look at you, Kena. Backing away from me.”
“You locked me in here! You and mom!” her strength returned now that she could see a bit. Centrelle was standing at the other side of the room, wearing a black cloak. Her hair was tied so neatly, as always, as if she was an impenetrable wall, the very symbol of stability that a High Queen needed to be. But even she could fall into the mud.
“We did, Kena. You see, you saw things you were not meant to see. And we didn’t think you’d keep your big mouth shut voluntarily. So we did what we had to do to protect you.”
“Protect me?” Kena gasped. This was protecting her?
Centrelle nodded. “At least until we’d figured out what to do with you. We couldn’t just place a seal on you like we did with this one, Kena,” she said as she poked the guard, “you’re still my sister.”
She didn’t feel like Centrelle’s sister. She didn’t feel like anyone’s sister, after being in the dark for so long. Neither her mother nor Centrelle could claim her as family. They had no right, not anymore.
“And we’ve figured it out,” Centrelle continued. “You’re to come with me.”
Kena began to shake her head. She’d rather stay in the dark forever than to learn what her sister wanted to do with her. But soon enough she felt something wrap itself around her throat. A rope made of prana tied itself into a knot and Kena could barely breathe. When Centrelle moved away, the rope began to pull on her neck and try as she might, Kena had no choice but to obey.
When they reached the top of the stairs, it became painfully clear that the little candle had not prepared her for the light of day. Even with the tiny windows in this hallway, everything was too bright. Centrelle tugged her along, but it took ages for Kena’s eyes to adjust and she bumped into everything on her way, tripping over a threshold multiple times.
The first thing she did see was her own coat. Or what was left of it. Her once light yellow color, which Flin had called radiant, had changed to a dull grey. Her mane probably wasn’t off any better. She wondered if she smelled as bad as she looked. Probably, seeing the distance her sister kept from her. Good.
Centrelle opened a door Kena didn’t even recognize. What part of the castle were they in? Was this the servant’s quarters? Where was the exit? As she was pulled into a room, Kena’s hooves refused to go any further. She didn’t want to go in. Whatever it was that waited for her there, Kena wanted nothing do to with it. But her strength failed her, and Centrelle pulled her in easily, almost making Kena fall on the floor.
As she stumbled in the room, Kena saw her mother’s crown flash before her. Mother. And she was wearing her crown. The crown of the High Queen, bright red with a wonderful stone set in the center, clashing with her mother’s purple mane. Why? She never wore it, only when she had to. Why does she have to wear it?
She forced herself to look up and her mouth all but fell open when she saw her mother was smiling. Her perfect, neatly groomed mother. Smiling! Smiling as if she saw her young baby daughter stumble around, as if she was enchanted by her clumsiness! Rage came rushing out from her stomach, where the darkness of her prison cell had hidden it for so long.
“What on earth, mother! What did I do?! You locked me up! You locked me up down there and you abandoned me!” Tears came pouring out together with her anger, accompanying her damaged voice.
“Kena, Kena. You got it all wrong. We had to protect you. You saw too much. If you’d told anyone…”
Her eyes went wide. It had worked. Her fake memory had fooled her mother. So it was possible. Flin was safe!
“I’d never have told! You didn’t have to lock me up!” she continued, praying that her surprise hadn’t shown on her face.
High Queen Raena took a step towards her daughter. The prana rope was still there, held by Centrelle who stood at the side. Kena tried to read her sister’s face, but found she couldn’t.
“Kena. What we’re doing, what we’ve been doing, is not meant for you. And you need to go away for a while. You need to forget.”
“Go away? Where? Why would I go away?” She didn’t want to go away. Strange, a voice said in her head, she had always wanted to go away. See the world. Not like this, though. Never like this.
“You’re going on a holiday. Isn’t that what you wanted? You’re going to see a part of the world you’ve always dreamed of. And you’ll stay there until we’re certain it worked.”
“It worked? What worked?” She tried to take a step back, away from her mother. But she couldn’t. The prana rope was too strong. She could hardly breathe as it was.
“The mind seal, my dear Kena. I’m going to make you forget, and then you’re going to go away until we’re certain you haven’t remembered. Isn’t that nice now? Isn’t it nice of me to finally let you go on that trip?”
Kena wanted to speak up, wanted to scream and push and yell and run away. But she didn’t have the strength. It couldn’t be like this. It couldn’t end like this. But prana began to swirl around her mother in neat little orbs, and Kena knew that it was very much the end. It wasn’t darkness that claimed her this time. Just emptiness.