Author's Note: After waiting for what has to have been a month, I finally got to include Aldonius in the story again! I've been very, very excited to write this scene, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much I as enjoyed writing it.
Last Lines: "Thanks," she quietly said. She tried her best to hold back her tears until she had reached the safety of the bathroom, but they began to fall the moment she slipped out into the hallway.
Cass was good at hiding her tears.
As the conversations with Lira had reminded her, she wasn't good enough to entirely hide them. She couldn't stop their flow once they had gotten started, but she was good at finding a small, safe place to let out her tears before hiding that they had even existed in the first place. She knew slipping away and hiding her sadness wasn't the healthy response to grief, but she never wanted to cry in public. It was the sort of thing that made her even more odd in the eyes of her classmates, and the type of thing that left her feeling embarrassed no matter when she recalled the memory.
She had already cried too much during their time here. Even as her lip quivered at the thought, she knew she would have to hold back her tears until she was alone again. She stood in front of the ornate mirror hanging on the back of the door in the spacious bathroom and studied her reflection. Her eyes were still a little red, but not too much. Her cheeks were still flushed, but there was nothing she could do about that – though splashing water from the sink onto her face was a good way to both hide the lingering teardrops and make her feel slightly less horrible.
She slipped back out into the hallway.
Lira and Aspen were talking a little further down, their voices too far away for her to clearly make out the details of the conversation. But just as she was about to arrive at the room, she noticed movement outside of the window she was passing. A cloaked man was walking by the mayor's residence in the streets below. Several other people were doing the same, but the familiar color of his cloak caught her eye. She spun around and faced the window. Just as she started to stare at him, he raised his head up ever so slightly.
It was Aldonius.
They held each other's gaze for a moment that seemed to last an eternity. The hallway that she was standing in faded away, and the voices coming from Lira's room become little more than background noise. There was that curious fear written across his face again; a fear that he shouldn't have had from looking at her of all people, though she wasn't quite sure why she knew that. It wasn't like with the feelings of déjà vu; those made her feel like something was missing. The feeling she had now as she tried to understand why Aldonius thought of her the way he did felt perfectly right, like it was simply the way that the world was supposed to work. It made her heart feel content.
And then he turned with a dramatic swish of his cloak, hurrying down the street and as far away from Cass as he possibly get. She lingered by the window until he was no longer visible, and it was then that the spell was broken. She took several steps away from the windowsill, her mind racing as she tried – and failed – to comprehend the rush of feelings for a second time.
She leaned up against the wall across from the window. She couldn't go back to the room now; the memory of seeing Aldonius once again was still too fresh in her mind. She would be distracted, and Aspen would easily surmise that something was wrong. She nervously fiddled with her locket. She needed to think. If she had just a handful of minutes, she could put together some sort of explanation for the feelings.
She ran through the list of things that had felt familiar: the song on the radio, the locket, Rey, Aldonius, Mr. Ream, and the symbol of Telorum. Out of all of them, it was Aldonius that she had felt the strongest about. Mr. Ream had been close, but she hadn't felt the same comfort she had felt when gazing at Aldonius' face. The feelings must have meant something. She wasn't sure what that something was – and that made a chill run up and down her spine – but she was sure that talking with Aldonius was going to give her more answers than talking with Lira would.
She took a deep breath.
Tucking her locket back underneath her shirt, she walked down the hallway. She gave Lira and Aspen a small smile as she entered the room, her palms sweating profusely as she wrung them together. Part of her wanted to ignore the plan she had just created and remain here instead, but she knew she couldn't do that. She needed answers.
Aspen sprung to her feet, her brows furrowed in concern. “What's wrong, Cassie?” she asked.
“I want to go back into the town,” Cass replied after an awkward moment of silence passed. She could feel Aspen and Lira's stares boring into her; Aspen's kind and supportive, and Lira's unreadable.
Aspen grinned and gestured at the basket that was still on the edge of the bed. “Then let's get some of these clothes on-”
“I...I wanted to go alone,” Cass said.
The grin immediately faded. “Oh.”
Noting the tone of disappointment in her voice, Cass dropped her gaze down to the wooden boards underneath her feet. She had to do this alone. She knew Aspen was trying her best to understand the strange series of emotions Cass had been feeling, but trying to understand was different than actually understanding. “I-I just need to see the town for myself,” she said. “I won't go far.”
Her mind was already calculating the route to the tavern she needed to go to, even though she was nearly entirely certain that they hadn't passed it on their way to the mayoral palace. As she tried her best to envision the tavern, she took a small step towards the basket of clothes. She knew that they would have to let her go. She was nearly eighteen years old. And even if she was terrified by the thought of embarking on a trek through a place that wasn't even from her world, she was perfectly capable of handling herself.
Lira got to her feet. The moment she opened her mouth, Cass braced herself for a verbal attack – her knowledge on Telorum and the fallen's symbol must have strengthened the suspicion that was already present. But Lira didn't shout at her. She didn't insult her, either. She just quietly said, “I'll help you pick your clothes,” and just as quietly made her way over to the basket. Cass guessed that should have been considered a victory, but she wasn't feeling all that victorious.
When she glanced over at Aspen, Cass saw her best friend standing silently to the side, trying and failing to hide her worry behind the mask of a smile.
Now dressed in a loose-fitting tunic, trousers and sturdy leather boots, Cass traveled down the nearly empty street leading away from the palace. The flames in lanterns hovering alongside the cobblestone pathway flickered and then sprung to life with her every hesitant step. It was like the automatic lights back on Earth, but she still let herself stop and watch the sight unfold before her. Standing there in the middle of the street, surrounded by silence and cooling air, she began to smile.
This moment was special. She might have recognized the floating lanterns, but seeing them come alive and marveling at their magic was a completely new experience. She took a deep breath in – not because she needed the comfort, but because she wanted to appreciate every minute detail of what was happening. The lights continued to spring to life all the way down the street. Soon the stone road was illuminated by a steady stream of lanterns, and the now dark skies showed a scattering of stars in familiar constellations.
She reached into her pocket for her phone, only to realize that she had left it back with her clothing in Lira's room. She absentmindedly pulled out her locket from underneath her shirt. It was sad to think that such a beautiful moment would only be in her memories, but at least she had those very same memories to look back on years from now-
Someone collided with her.
The world suddenly shot back into focus. She was standing the middle of a street after night had fallen, clasping a golden locket close to her chest. Fear overcame her euphoria. She looked up to see who had bumped up against her shoulder, and she felt an even stronger jolt of terror – it was Rodet. Prince Rodet, she reminded herself, even though he still didn't look particularly prince-like. His face automatically sneered into a look of disgust when he realized who the person standing in the street was.
“Why aren't you with Lira?” he asked, folding his arms and looking down at her. She hadn't realized it earlier, but he easily towered over her. She anxiously fidgeted with her locket. She should have asked Aspen to come. Aspen was good at dealing with people like Prince Rodet; Cass wasn't. All that Cass could do was stand there, petrified with fear, as she hurried to come up with an answer.
“I-I wanted to go out,” she told him.
It was alright for her to leave. She wasn't required to stay by any sort of rules, but seeing Prince Rodet made her lose all of the courage she had managed to muster before leaving the palace. She felt like she had to explain herself. She foolishly believed that doing so would absolve all conflict, when Cass knew very well that it was the locket currently in her hand that was the true reason for his hatred of her.
“You should have gone out with her,” he said.
Aspen would have come up with some witty retort. Cass couldn't do witty, and she couldn't do retorts. She did what she did best: she ducked her head and try to make herself appear as small as physically possible. Prince Rodet could easily raise a hand and strike her across the face. She knew princes weren't supposed to do things like that, but men driven by hatred were prone to lash out. That was she had seen day after day when reading the news. A reaction as primal as that wasn't going to change just because she was on a different planet. She was scared. This was a different sort of fear than what she had felt during the thunderstorm; thunderstorms were more predictable than wild human emotions.
Every muscle in her body screamed at her to run as far away as she possibly could, but she couldn't move a single one of them.
There was a burst of familiar warmth from around her feet.
Prince Rodet took a large step back away from her and let out a steady of stream of swears. “I should have known that you were one of them,” he said, spitting out the word. He raised his hand out in front of him. Something green began to spring from the very center of his palm. It took her a moment to realize that the green thing was the very beginnings of a thorny vine.
Her fear skyrocketed at the sight.
And, with it, the circle of wild darkness at her feet did as well.
The vine shot towards her. The darkness shot up even more, going as high up as her chest in her terror. Adrenaline kicked in, but her body didn't know what to do with it – it was torn between flight and fight. She didn't even know how she'd begin to fight, but she was too petrified to even try running.
A hand grabbed onto her wrist.
She was suddenly jerked to the side, landing in the arms of the person who had pulled her out of Prince Rodet's grasp just as the vine brushed up against her right cheek. Blood began to well up along the thin cut the thorns had left – she could feel it when she raised a shaking hand up to touch her cheek.
“Calm down,” her savior said. The darkness still frantically shooting up around her feet began to grow calm. She knew that voice. As she looked up at the man still holding her very, very close, the darkness completely submerged itself back into the cobblestone path.
She had been saved by Aldonius.
Prince Rodet said nothing for a moment after Aldonius had spoken, seeming to remember that he was a prince and had a certain type of public appearance to maintain. “Don't you see what she is?” he asked. The hatred was still evident in his voice, but he hid it behind a calm tone. “She was going to attack me."
“You were threatening her,” Aldonius quietly said.
“I did not-”
“You were threatening her,” Aldonius repeated. He glanced down at Cass, his face suddenly impossible to interpret. They briefly held each others gazes for the third time since their first meeting, but he soon looked back at Prince Rodet. “Even a child knows that magic is tied to emotions, and that 'attack' couldn't have possibly been calculated.”
Prince Rodet crossed his arms once more. “Are you a supporter, then?” he questioned. The threat of him lashing out at Aldonius lingered in the air.
Cass wanted to say something – anything – to stop him from hurting Aldonius, but there was apparently no need. “I'm not,” Aldonius said, his eyes blank and his mouth set into a thin line. “I just don't like condoning murder, especially when it's clearly not justified.”
Prince Rodet looked the two of them over.
“Then you should get away from her as soon a possible,” he said, “because nothing good can come of being around someone like her.”
He turned and stormed off into the distance, leaving Cass and Aldonius alone in the street.