Vivian is quiet as she walks with me through the halls. I study her as she stares solemnly ahead. From what I can tell, she seems happy enough to be here... but if she had gone through anything like what I have been going through, than she certainly does a good job of hiding her pain. I wonder where she was from, I try to picture the family that she had lost to compete for a hand in marriage. In another world.
I think of when Peter told me that he knew almost instantly that Vivian was going to be his Wife.
"Was your competition easy for you?" I ask.
She jumps a little at the sound of my voice. Looking down at me she smiles a very motherly smile. "No. I like to tell myself that the real test didn't really start until after I was married, though." She laughs lightly.
"So it was hard," I assume.
"Not necessarily," she says. "The Tests are things that you would and would not expect to it be. And you are faced with the fact every day that if you make it past all of the flaming hoops, you will have to leave your family, your friends. But if you fail, you may never see them regardless. If you succeed, the girls you are competing against are going through the same problems as you." She seems to catch herself at the end of this sentence, pressing her lips firmly together.
"But ultimately it isn't my choice," I say, "it's Cassius'."
She looks down at me with another smile. "Now, who told you that?" she asks kindly.
I furrow my brow. I guess nobody had told me that, exactly.
"You always have a choice, Morgan," Vivian says as we near the doors to the dining room. "You may not think it, but every choice you make every second of every day has an effect on someone or something in this realm. The path you choose, not my son, will decide your fate for you. Nothing else. That's partly what the tests are intended for."
I had never thought of it like that. I mulled that over for a moment before saying, "So Cassius only acts like the ruler of the universe."
Vivian lets out a bought of laughter as the doors swing open and we are ushered to our seats.
Cassius looks between his mother and me from his seat beside Daphne with a smirk on his face. "I see I don't need to make any introductions," he says as we sit.
As the food is brought out to us, we all fall silent. Daphne is wearing a beautiful glittering red dress, one of those ones that seem to be slit all the way up one side to expose beautiful legs beneath. Gabrielle is wearing a midnight blue floor length cocktail dress with dark makeup to match. She seems more fidgety tonight than usual, this is probably the most nervous I've ever seen her.
I dont pay much attention to the conversation that takes place over the course of our dinner; it is mostly just rapid fire questions to each of the brides letting Peter and Vivian know more about us. Cassius seems to be in a separate world in his head entirely, his eyes cast skyward, a small smile playing on his lips. I wonder what he is living in his imagination right now, who he is talking to and what he is seeing. Daphne, on the other hand, is staring dreamily at Cassius and I have no problem whatsoever picking out what is playing through her head at the moment as she sizes the boy next to her up and down. I roll my eyes and move onto Gabrielle, who is still as fidgety as ever. Her complexion has gone completely white and I am about to ask if she's going to be sick when she suddenly stands from her chair.
And pulls out a gun.
Daphne screams, of course, and Peter utters a surprised curse. Cassius and I lock eyes across the table and then both look at Gabrielle. How the hell did she get a gun? As someone who has ventured even to places she shouldn't be, I've never seen any sorts of weapons. Vivian drops her silverware back to her plate with a loud clatter and a gasp. From the corner of my eye I see Cassius' hands move and a quick gleam before he is as perfectly still as the rest of us.
"I want to go home," Gabrielle says.
"This is your home," Peter tries.
I almost want to roll my eyes along with Gabrielle when he says this, but refrain.
"Everyone get up," she commands, waving the gun to make her point more clear.
We all do, Daphne clinging to Cassius and whimpering the whole time. He shushes her as we make our way to the corner of the room that Gabrielle points us to. Peter is holding Vivian's hand, though she looks more confused than scared. Though I know I shouldn't be thinking of it now, I feel very much like a fifth-wheel.
Once we are all in the corner and facing her, Gabrielle nods, content for the moment. "If anyone screams, I shoot the first person this gun lands on."
This is the most I've heard her talk since we've arrived here.
We are all silent. I hear sniffling behind me and gather that Daphne must have started crying. I wonder why I am not crying, why I am having no reaction at all. I hear some more shushes from Cassius and nothing more.
"Good," Gabrielle continues. "Now. One of you tell me the way to get out of this place and back home."
"You know I cant do that," Peter says calmly.
"The hell you cant," Gabrielle says, pointing the gun at Vivian.
I step forward in front of Vivian and hold out my arms pleadingly. "Hang on, Gabrielle," I say.
"You're just as clueless as Daphne is, Morgan," Gabrielle says. I see from this distance that she has started crying as well. "Get out of the way. Just let me figure this out and I will leave you all alone."
I take a slow step toward her to show her that I mean no harm. I wonder if she thinks I am treating her like a frightened horse. "You know I want to go home, too. Just calm down."
"If you put the gun down, we can talk about this," Cassius says, interjecting, overlapping my calming tone.
"No deal," Gabrielle replies sharply. "Morgan, come here."
A hand grabs mine before I can take another step forward. I turn to see Daphne behind me, to my surprise.
"Don't go over there," she whispers. "She'll kill you."
I take a deep breath, acknowledging the tip given to me by the one I'm surprised hasn't gotten a gun and shot me herself. "Noted," I say. "Now wouldn't that be a relief for you?" I ask, giving her hand a quick squeeze and flashing a small smile before pulling from her grasp.
I step forward with my hands near my face. "I want to leave just as much as you, Gabrielle," I say again, quietly. "You know I do."
"I don't know that at all," Gabrielle says, but I see her grip on the gun waver. "All I know is that I see the way Cassius looks at Daphne. I see how he looks at you. I know I'm the next to be thrown out, and all I want is to have someplace to go back to when I'm told to leave this place."
"Can't you just tell her?" I ask the group in the corner. I am now standing directly in front of Gabrielle. Her gun is at her side and she is watching me warily, as if I am the dangerous one. I can see sweat on her neck which tells me that she may not have thought this through all the way.
"Maybe," Peter replies, "if she had asked nicely."
Gabrielle's jaw flexes and she whips the gun up, pointing it at my head. I wince from the proximity, my muscles tensing.
"Cassius!" she yells, "Tell me now!"
I can hear Cassius break Daphne's grip on his arm and walk to the front of the group.
"I'm sorry, Morgan," he says quietly and with such sincerity that I almost accept the fact that Gabrielle is going to put a bullet through my head any second. I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for the bang.
I hear something whiz through the air and bite into my temple before sailing true into its target: Gabrielle.
I watch as Cassius' dinner knife sinks itself into Gabrielle's shoulder. Shocked, she drops the gun.
I am shoved to the ground an instant later. Peter steps in front of me and kicks the gun away from her. He hauls her up to her feet and ushers her from the room.
I sit stunned for a moment before I feel something tickling my face.
Daphne is kneeling before me saying something repeatedly. I shake the fuzz from my head and tune in to what she is saying.
"Morgan. Your face. It's cut."
A pair of hands move Daphne out of the way and now Cassius fills my vision. His golden eyes blaze as he looks me over. "I'm so sorry, Morgan," he says again. "I tried to curve the throw, but you were just too close to the target."
I shake my head. "It was a good throw."
He breathes out heavily and pulls me into his arms. "You idiot," he whispers roughly. "You could have died. I could have lost you, Morg."
I think of the tests yet to come, the fact that now there are only two brides left to compete for Cassius' love, and bite my lip. You still might lose me, Cas.
Instead of saying anything of that sort, though, I smile slightly.
"What?" Cassius asks.
I bring myself to my knees. "You could have sent Morg to the Morgue," I observe triumphantly, a lame pun that I probably shouldn't find funny this soon after a near-death experience.
He scowls, unamused, and shoves me back down to the ground just as a medic walks over to where we are sitting.
Despite the current situation, I laugh.
As he walks away shaking his head, though, I see Cassius crack a smile as well.