Author's Note: I had a lot of trouble starting this update off, but I was suddenly hit by the writing bug midway through it. I do think the quality might vary depending on which part of the chapter you're reading, but overall I think it's one of my strongest ones yet - I finally get to have Kartiel be a little more truthful about his feelings, and Cass makes a major decision on her own.
I hope you guys enjoy it. <3
Last Line(s): “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.
Now it was just her and the king.
A little voice in the back of her head was telling her that this was her opportunity to run. The Dark Mage was gone, and he was the one who had the strongest magic. Kartiel was thoroughly distracted by his sudden exit. The king might have been watching the door with sad violet eyes, but her soul knew Aldonius. It didn't matter that he was Kartiel now; the feeling in her chest hadn't changed just because she could give him a different name. Kartiel would watch her go the same way he watched the Dark Mage leave.
As she took a deep breath, she tried to come up with some sort of plan. She'd leave the castle. Then she run towards the town or the woods that surrounded it—she should have questioned why her dreams took place near a giant stone building, in retrospect—but she could make it if she ran fast enough. From there, she could try finding help. Maybe there would be someone who would want to help her if she explained her story, or-
Another deep breath. The darkness began to die down, now only up to her knees. She could figure out the plan later. She just needed to run.
One last glance at the king.
He was fingering his locket, but he was beginning to turn his attention away from the door. This was her last chance if she wanted to take advantage of the argument that had just happened. She took in a third gulp of air—this one was longer than the last—and darted for the door.
She was pushing through the open doorway. She could see the empty hallway. She forced her legs to move a little faster. She could make out a shape disappearing down the hallway, but the Dark Mage's receding figure was the only other person in the hallway. The darkness followed after her; she could see the little strands of it appearing in the corners of her vision, desperately trying to keep up with her.
She tried her best to not think about it.
She needed to get to safety.
She ignored her soul as it attempted to persuade her that Kartiel was safety. He was going to be her contracted someday, and those who were contracted trusted each other. He might have failed at doing that as both Aldonius and as Kartiel, but, the feeling in her chest argued, the principle still stood.
She could hear Kartiel's footsteps from inside the throne room.
She was a few feet down the hallway now. Her traitorous legs were screaming out; they didn't like being pushed so hard. But she couldn't afford to stop.
Couldn't afford to think about how running would do little to help now, since he would eventually become her contracted anyways.
(The footsteps were getting closer.)
Couldn't afford to think about how much she wanted to return to that room.
(They paused for a moment.)
Couldn't afford to think about how Kartiel, despite what she had heard, had treated her decently.
(They started again, now entering the hallway and bridging the gap between Cass and the king.)
Couldn't afford to think about how he had saved her life when there had been the confrontation with Prince Rodet, and how he had even healed the little scar on her cheek-
She skidded to a sudden halt.
(The footsteps stopped.)
Cass slowly raised one hand and touched the place where she had been cut. The skin felt normal when her fingers ran over where there should have been a scar. She hadn't put much thought into it at the time. He had said that he had healing magic. She had no reason to distrust him then. He had been Aldonius in her eyes, and Aldonius having healing magic felt right.
She fingered her golden locket.
Lira had said Kartiel had darkness magic.
It was why hers was a curse, wasn't it? The darkness was a thing she couldn't control, something that marked her down for someday becoming someone just as hated and feared as the evil king and his evil mage. She raised her gaze and stared at the door awaiting her at the end of the hallway; Kartiel's memories said it would lead out into the garden. If she just ran a little bit farther, she'd be free.
She could leave Telorum. It would be impossible to get the information she needed now that she had been brought before the king, and impossible now that she had lost the one person she was going to confide in. The next step was to go back to Rey. She could follow the map Lira gave her, and hope that they would make more progress than she had guessed they would. She knew, somewhere deep inside, that it would never be the case, but what else was she supposed to do? She had nowhere else to go. Telorum had been her only plan.
Aldonius had been her only plan.
“You can go,” the king said.
The darkness—which had been laying calmly around her ankles as she thought—shot up in a brief spike. She hesitantly glanced behind her at Kartiel. He hadn't realized he had managed to get so close to her; they were only a few feet apart now. But Kartiel made no move to bring her back into the depths of the throne. He just stood there and watched her. She, in turn, did the same, staring at him over her shoulder as she tried to understand what had just been said.
It should have been an order. He was a king, and he must have seen her as someone who could be ordered around—evil rulers were supposed to be authoritative. That was what they had been like in her stories and her history books. They would have never just said for someone to go.
But it didn't sound like an order.
It sounded like he was almost begging her to go—begging her to leave his castle, leave his kingdom—even though there was a slight note of hopelessness to his voice. And while the doors to the garden were so close, and while she knew she be running as far away from this place as she possibly could according to her common sense, something about the way he spoke made her turn around.
“You would come back, eventually,” Kartiel added. He let out what sounded suspiciously like a sigh. How had she failed to notice how tired his voice sounded back in the park? “It's our destiny to become contracted, and nothing either one of us can do will stop it. But I suppose you already figured that out?”
She hesitated, then nodded. “...Don't you...Don't you want that?” she nervously asked. The darkness was practically nonexistent now, little more than a thin layer blanketing the ground underneath her feet.
“In all honesty, I don't,” he said. She should have been grateful that he wasn't interested in her in the slightest, but the five words made her feel like she had just been stabbed in the heart. “I'd prefer if you walked out that door and went back to Rey. It would make things easier for the both of us. But you would undoubtedly be brought here again by means I can only try to predict, and something tells me you intend to stay right where you are right now.”
She glanced back at the door, and then at him.
Maybe this was a lie. Maybe he was trying to trick her into staying by making her curious—make her question why things weren't adding up, and then she would want to stay so she could understand why this king was nothing like what she had expected. But it didn't feel like a lie.
“Why don't you want me to be your contracted?”
The hand fiddling with his own locket dropped down to his side, and he regarded her with a look that betrayed nothing. His memories were stubbornly quiet on why he wouldn't want her to be his contracted.
“Contracts are built on trust,” he simply said.
“I'm trustworthy,” she quietly protested, regretting the words the moment they left her mouth. She shouldn't have cared so much about what he thought of her. She should have been ecstatic by this turn of events, but every word that was passed between them only made her feel worse.
He shook his head. “No one is.”
He let out another sigh. “So you're staying, then?”
She glanced one last time at the door.
She already knew her answer.
“I am,” she said.
He nodded, then turned his back to her. He began to head down the hallway. After a moment of hesitation, she hurried on after him. Though he was taller than her, he kept his pace slow—it wasn't difficult for her to keep up with him. “Orpheus prepared a room for you already,” he said. “It's near his. He was insistent that it was near one of ours, and his made the most sense.” Kartiel paused and glanced over at her. “You're not scared of heights, are you?”
She shook her head. “N-No. Why?”
He returned to facing the stairs. “Your room is on the highest floor of the castle. You can see the forest from its windows. Orpheus doesn't have a problem with heights, but your memories can only tell me so much.”
One hand returned to fiddling with his locket as he put his foot down on the first step. Now he began to increase his speed. She had to hurry to keep up with him as they climbed up the stairs. Her own hand began to fiddle with her locket out of habit, but she stopped herself when they came to the top floor a few minutes later. There was nothing to imply that the hallway that stretched on ahead of them was at the top of the castle, but Kartiel led her off of the stairs and into the hallway.
Though there was a few doors scattered throughout the hallway, two in particular stood out to her. Their designs were notably more elaborate, each with a significant amount of golden added into their dark design.
“Orpheus said he would show you around, whenever you eventually got here,” he informed her. He briefly looked in the direction of the door on his left. She nervously followed his gaze; that had to be the Dark Mage's room.
“You...you won't be?”
“I have a kingdom to run,” he said, an almost amused look flickering across his face before the emotionless expression returned. He raised a hand and pointed at the door across from Dark Mage's. “That's your room. Wait in there until Orpheus comes to get you in the morning—I'm sure he's already told the council that you've arrived, but it'll be easier if I can say something to them before you accidentally run into them.”
She glanced over at the Dark Mage's room.
“B-But he only just left,” she managed to get out. “How could he have already seen the-Do they live here, too?”
“They don't,” Kartiel answered. “Not many people do, anymore—the royal family has grown small over the years. Orpheus and I are its own permanent inhabitants, though I guess you'd be considered one of them now.”
He gave the door to the mage's room one last look, then began to head back towards the stairs. Her eyes widened in alarm. She had so much she needed to ask him. Even if now wasn't the time to ask her questions, it didn't feel right having him leave like this. Wasn't he supposed to explain everything to her? His real name may have been Kartiel, but Aldonius would never turn his back on someone.
He hadn't turned his back on her with Prince Rodet.
She grabbed onto her locket again.
So why was he leaving her now?
Her grip tightened.
Why did even her contracted not want to stay with her?