Author's Note: I feel like I mentioned this to someone already, but Cass intends on becoming a librarian. It's why she geeked out so much about the castle library back when Orpheus showed it to her last chapter, and why she cares a lot about books in general. Other than that, I don't have anything else major to comment on! This chapter did take a surprise turn for even me, but I think it's something that you'll appreciate as the story progresses.
Enjoy the chapter~
Last Line(s): He gave a small nod. “You'll figure it out, eventually. You just might need to...think outside of the box. And if you notice anything odd, no matter how large or how small, don't ignore it. Remember it. It'll make sense eventually—I promise. I can't say anything else with sacrificing my integrity as a council member, but hopefully that gives you a good head start.”
And with that and a wave, he disappeared back into his shop.
For a moment, Cass was overwhelmed by the desire to follow Dari into the building. She even got to her feet and started heading towards the door. She couldn’t just wait for answers to come to her. Maybe it was Kartiel’s confidence taking root, or maybe it was her frustration with how much she had been restricted ever since she had ended up on this world—whatever it was, she wanted something other than a cryptic promise.
But just as she was about to push open the blacksmith’s door, the ringing of the apothecary’s bell cut through the clamor of the street. Cass knew the moment that door opened that she could never follow through with her plan. Orpheus would come inside with her. If it was just her and Dari, he might have told her more. But with Orpheus there, he wouldn’t address their previous conversation. He didn’t want to do anything that could put his role as a council member in jeopardy.
Her shoulders slumped, and she turned back to face Orpheus.
His arms were laden with a variety of unfamiliar herbs. After a brief glance out into the surrounding street, he managed to free one hand and pull down his hood to further conceal his features. It was an innocent gesture, and one that made sense, but Cass suddenly found herself wondering he could enter the city with Kartiel’s permission but not go into the wilderness. Wouldn’t a place with no people be safer than one that had people, especially when the city was in the castle’s shadow? Orpheus being a fallen would have destroyed Kartiel’s hold on the kingdom.
An uneasy feeling settled in her chest.
The rest of the afternoon should have flown by, but everything dragged. She couldn’t stop fidgeting as the tailor took her measurement during their last stop in town, and didn’t feel excited when the woman promised her clothes would be delivered to the castle early tomorrow morning. Orpheus seemed to have noticed her change in mood; once they set foot in the castle’s library after, he disappeared into its shelves.
She didn’t try to find him. She needed time to think, and a small part of her knew that he was part of the reason she felt so uncomfortable. She wandered aimlessly through the library aisles as the stars above continued their journey from one side of the room to the other. There was something she wasn’t supposed to know. Orpheus had to know it; it was why he had been so secretive. Kartiel obviously knew it. And Dari had to, too, if he was able to tell her about its existence. But he hadn’t been able to talk to do more than vaguely hint at it—he would have gotten in trouble with the council.
Did that mean the council knew as well-
She stopped right before a break in the shelves.
It was a secret that impacted all of Telorum.
It was the only answer she could think of. Kartiel was the king. Orpheus was the next in line for the throne. And the council must have run some parts of the kingdom, even though she didn’t know what. The uneasy feeling in her chest mutated into something more sinister. She was supposed to be the king’s contracted. Didn’t that mean she had some sort of standing in the kingdom? If they didn’t want to tell her the secret, it had to be something big.
She needed someone to tell. But Aspen was miles away in Rey, and she hadn’t even told her about Aldonius being Kartiel. She couldn’t trust Orpheus, or Dari, and certainly not Kartiel.
This was her secret, and her secret alone.
She faced the nearest shelf and began to scan the words on the spines. She had no idea what the layout of the library was like, but it had to hold some of the answers. She could learn about Telorum by reading through the plethora of books, and then she could figure out why everything felt so off.
Her eye suddenly caught the glint of metal in the light of the floating lanterns.
She turned to see a book on the shelf above the one she was looking at. It was just a little too high up for her to reach when standing, but it wasn’t hard to get it once she jumped up and grabbed onto its spine. She pulled it down to reveal a rather unassuming book, save for the bronze, heart-shaped lock on the dark brown cover. She held the book gingerly in her hands; it seemed to be quite old if the musty smell was anything to go off of. The entire thing seemed to be homemade; its pages looked like they were cut and sewn in, and the cover was made of leather. She should have tried finding another book—maybe something a little newer.
But she couldn’t help but feel drawn to this book, whatever its pages might have contained. She held it close to her chest and turned it over in her hands. There had to be a key nearby, or something-
She stared at the lock.
And then she slowly glanced down at the locket dangling over her chest.
After a moment passed, she hesitantly held the locket up to the hole. The shape and size were identical. Even the bronze of the lock matched the gold of the locket. She pushed the locket into the lock. There was a brief burst of warmth, and the locket glowed like it had back when she was brought to this world. But she wasn’t magically transported this time; all that happened was the lock opening with a soft click.
She carefully opened the front cover.
A date was neatly printed in the upper right hand corner of the page, but that wasn’t what her eyes lingered on. What she stared at was the diary entry written below the date, printed in a scrawling handwriting. The black ink had stained some of the edges and corners, but all of it was legible.
And if the way it was opened was any indication, this diary had belonged to someone incredibly important.
Cass found the nearest armchair. Once she was comfortable, she rested the book in her lap and began to read. There was nothing to say that she would find her answers in here, but there was something irresistible about the diary that she couldn’t ignore no matter how hard she tried.
It’s taken some time, but I finally managed to put this book together. It involved a lot of sneaking out, but Mom and Dad aren’t any wiser—they never check on me these days. All I had to say was that I wanted to study in my room for a bit, and I had plenty of unsupervised time to myself. The guards don’t care, either, so it was incredibly easier to prop open my window and slip out into the town. The hair and eyes are a bit of a dead giveaway, but they’re both easy enough to hide.
But I digress. All that matters is that I’ve finally gotten something that’s entirely mine. I can write whatever I want here—do whatever I want here—and they can’t stop me. And when I do manage to sneak out and do something especially noteworthy, I can brag about it here.
Speaking of which, I'm already planning my first great escape attempt. I'm going to make it all the way to Inden. It's on the other side of the kingdom, but it'll be worth it. And I'm not going for the diplomatic stuff, either. I'm going to explore. Mom used to be so into exploring, back before...well, you know, and Dad's never been the type for adventure. He used to say it was because “the kingdom comes first” but I'm definitely going to let the king travel via royal decree when I take the throne someday.
Telorum's just so boring when you know everyone and their neighbor. I need an adventure. Who knows? Maybe I'll even meet my future co-ruler during my escapades–rescuing royalty from dragons may not be the usual first date these days, but it's definitely still in style in my book.
Well, it sounds like someone's coming. Hopefully it's not Rius again. He almost caught me when I was in the middle of making this, and I'm pretty sure he would have told Dad and Mom if he figured out what I was up to.
See you tomorrow, diary of mine.
-Prince Kartiel II ☆
She stared at the book as the name registered.
Then she immediately rushed to her feet, clutching the diary close to her chest as she peered down the nearby aisles for Orpheus. This diary had to be a national treasure; it shouldn't have been resting unprotected in the shelves of the library. It needed to be preserved, despite being in an incredibly good condition for a book that had to at least be a few hundred years old.
But Orpheus was nowhere to be found.
She glanced down at the diary.
The future librarian in her wanted to preserve the book, but the reader in her knew the importance of the written word. She couldn't explain why, but she felt like she needed this book. Maybe a small part of her—or a small part of Kartiel—knew that this book was tied to the secret of Telorum. Maybe it would explain Kartiel's curse, if that really did exist. Or maybe it was just a book written by the boy she had seen in the family portrait just that morning.
When she finally did find Orpheus, the diary was safely tucked among a stack of books that he gladly let her take back to her room.