Author's Note: This chapter was surprisingly hard to write. I think part of the problem was that I had spent so long focusing on the scene that ended the last part, and hadn't put any thought into what would happen after such a major reveal. But I think this installment takes care of half of what would happen after Cass and Orpheus's arrival in the throne room, and I fully intend to cover the second half in the next update.
(Also, as your friendly reminder, there is a club for this story! It's called The Three Lockets. If you subscribe to it, you can see me post incorrect quotes, doodles of characters and random updates about the story!)
Last Line(s): The king raised his head.
Cass stumbled back and let out a gasp as she saw a familiar face flamed by black and white locks. For the first time, she didn't question why a scar ran up the side of his cheek—all she could do was stare in horror as he looked her over with violet eyes.
This was all wrong-No, she had to be dreaming. That was it. She raised a hand up and slowly pinched her bare arm. But no matter how many times she pinched herself, and no matter how hard, she wasn't waking up. Tears began to blur her vision.
She didn't want to face the truth, but she knew that she had to.
Aldonius was King Kartiel IX.
The king softly closed his book.
“I told you she would come,” he simply said.
Cass's stomach twisted and churned. She went to hold onto her locket, but then withdrew her hand away as if the metal was fire and she had just been burnt. It was impossible to view the locket as a source of comfort when she could see its twin hanging on the chest of the man in front of her. She dug her nails into the palm of her hands. The locket had been a curse all along. It was just as sign of a fate she couldn't escape from—a contract with an evil king. How could she have been so naive? When Lira had said it might have once belonged to the gods, she felt as if she had been chosen for something. Book always had a hero's journey start with being given a key that let them unlock the world they were meant to save.
But she wasn't a hero.
She dug her nails in harder.
Aspen was. She was the one with the light magic. The one with the silver locket. The one who wasn't drawn to Ald-Kartiel like a moth to flame. The one who probably had a contract with a god. She was the best friend lost to the darkness, the one who constantly worried the hero. She was the one who had obsessed over a mysterious, dark stranger, and the one who had so stupidly wandered in the dark king's castle armed with nothing more than a pocketknife she had left in her backpack.
Maybe her magic had already affected her. Maybe her heart and her soul were already corrupted by the darkness festering deep within. Maybe that was the reason she had been so quick to trust him.
Or maybe it was because he had noticed her when few had.
She wanted to feel angry. She knew she should. But anger wasn't something that came easily to her, and all she could feel was a growing sense of disgust with herself and horror at how foolish she had been.
She raised an arm up and frantically tried to wipe away the tears that were stubbornly still falling.
Kartiel descended from his throne.
When he was right before them, she felt like she was looking at Aldonius again. He wasn't a king; he was just another person, and one that wasn't untouchable. Aldonius had felt like a mystery, but Kartiel felt like a stranger. It was a thought that she tried to push away from her mind. But everything about him was Aldonius—when he turned to look at the Dark Mage and the basket of flowers in his hand, it was Aldonius's eyes peering out. When he opened his mouth to speak, it was Aldonius's voice that left it. The only foreign things about him were his expression and posture: the narrowed eyes, the crossed arms and the way he stared down at the silent man before him.
How could she stop her traitorous heart from thinking that everything was going to be alright, just because it saw a lie and not the truth?
“You snuck out,” Kartiel accused the Dark Mage.
The mage's grip on the basket tightened. “I did.”
“We talked about this, Orpheus,” he said.
“I know.” There was a pause, a moment of hesitation. He slowly raised his head and looked up into the king's violet eyes from within the cowls of his cloak. “I was making a potion. I have everything else in stock, but I needed the moonbuds, and you don't have any in the garden-”
“We could have sent someone out,” Kartiel said. Anger seeped into his voice.
Cass wiped her tears more frantically than before and took a small step back, not wanting to get in the middle of a conflict between a evil king and his powerful mage. It ironic how safe she felt when she had first heard him raise his voice against Prince Rodet; now, as he raised his voice against his subordinate, she only felt terror.
“I'm not a prisoner here,” the Dark Mage shot back, his voice rising as well.
Darkness began to nervously peek out of the floor around Cass's feet. She took a deep breath in an effort to calm herself—she couldn't let them see how flustered she was becoming, and couldn't let her darkness grow any more—but it had little effect. The darkness only grew in intensity as panic set in. Her magic was uncontrollable. She wouldn't be able to get it to stop, and it would just keep tearing away at everything that made her her-
“You're not,” the king replied. “But it's not safe. If it had been someone else wherever you found her, they could have hurt you-”
“I want to live,” the mage replied, and the way that he spat out the four words made the darkness shoot up to her knees in a single, sudden burst. “I want to see more of her world, and I want to see her, Kartiel! But you don't care about that, do you? You just want to make sure you don't lose your precious little heir—you're acting just like them!”
Silence blanketed the room. Though it was clad in layers upon layers of clothing, she could see the Dark Mage's chest rise and fall in quick succession, and could see the burning glint to Kartiel's eyes though he wasn't looking her way. Any attempt to quell the surges of darkness now had no hope of succeeding; she was too afraid of what would happen if this argument continued. The darkness sprang up to her chest and started to steadily envelop more of the space around her feet.
It was the startled cry that left her lips when she saw the darkness spreading that finally made the two seem to remember that she was there. Kartiel turned and watched her—a look that could have been almost concern flickering across his face—while the basket of carefully picked flowers fell from the Dark Mage's hands when he went to take a step back from her.
The crash echoed throughout the throne room.
The king glanced between the Dark Mage and Cass, his attention eventually returning to the former. He looked right into the shadows cast by a hood. His mouth opened. Cass tensed, preparing for more yelling.
But he never got a chance to speak.
“I'll be in my room,” the Dark Mage suddenly said, turning on his heels and storming out of the room with a swish of his cloak. The door slammed behind him. The darkness remained constant; Cass was unsure if the threat was truly over, as Kartiel continued to stare in the direction his mage had gone even after he was long gone.
The basket and its flowers laid forgotten on the floor.