Mad World

Chapter 17

My dress is the most beautiful gown in the world, most certainly the most beautiful thing I've ever worn before this night. It flows straight down, moving like a waterfall or rain in a field when I move. Pink with hints of gold. My hair is done in an intricate style and a golden crown in the shape of vines and leaves has been placed on top of my head. I look like royalty. Alice gives me a big hug before I am escorted by two guards to the ball.

Once I arrive at the banquet hall, I see that there are already so many people filling the room laughing and dancing and smiling. I have never thought about other people that live in this world other than those in the Manor and the Lost Boys, but it should have been obvious that we are not the only ones here. I wonder where they come from.

Daphne comes up behind me wearing an emerald silk gown. Her hair is pinned in curls on top of her head and she is wearing a crown identical to mine. She looks absolutely gorgeous, of course. She smiles weakly at me once she catches my eye. "You look so pretty," she says to me.

"Not as pretty as you," I reply.

She takes a deep breath and bounces from foot to foot. "I'm so nervous," she admits.

I shrug, trying to act unaffected, but I am full of butterflies and nerves as well. "We just need to wait out here until we're called," I repeat what Alice had told me before sending me down here, "then we each dance with Cas, and then they'll announce-" I stop before finishing the sentence, suddenly unable to say it.

But Daphne knows. "And then they'll announce who gets to stay," she finishes quietly for me.

"Ladies and gentleman," I hear Peter's booming voice announce. "May I present to you the two final candidates competing for the honor of becoming my son, Cassius's, bride: Daphne and Morgan."

We enter as the room breaks out in a polite applause. We walk to where Peter and Cassius are standing at the front of the room. I try to keep my breathing even, but fail miserably. It's all I can do not to faint from terror before making it to the platform where the two men stand.

Once we make it there, I see Cassius has a small smile on his face, though he looks exhausted. He holds his hand out to Daphne politely. "Shall we?" he asks.

I'm relieved he asks her to dance before me, allowing me to get a grip on my nerves and try to calm down before I'm thrown into the crowd to spin around in circles. I close my eyes and count backwards from ten. When I open my eyes after that, I see Peter staring down at me.

"Nervous?" he asks.

With a small smile I manage to nod.

"Don't be," he says dismissively. "Soon enough this will all be behind us. I'm sure my son has chosen the right girl." He smiles at me knowingly.

He thinks that Cassius has chosen me. Or he knows that Cassius has not and is happy about the fact. I feel the color drain from my face.

When the song ends, music played from a set of speakers surrounding the room, and Daphne is returned back to the platform, Cassius silently takes my hand and leads me out to the dance floor. I am anxious all over again.

The music is soft and sweet, and Cassius' hold on me is firm and sure. The dress I am wearing flows out behind me as he spins me around on the dance floor. We blend into the crowd nicely, bodies brushing against mine, the feel of soft silk against my skin. Now, here, looking into Cassius' golden eyes, I feel warm.

"You look," Cassius says, casting his eyes up and down the length of me as we twirl, "stunning, Morg."

"You don't look too bad, either," I reply with a wry smile.

His smile is small, but amused. "I'll have to thank Alice later for that dress," he says.

"Yeah," I say as I look down, suddenly shy, "me, too."

"Morgan," he says quietly, reaching one hand to tilt my chin up. I meet his eyes almost instantly and he smiles. This smile is a rare one, one I haven't seen on him in a very long time. It is genuine, sweet, and full of an emotion I hardly ever see on him.

"Yes?" I ask when he says nothing.

He looks almost surprised, like he has just figured something out. He opens his mouth to speak—

But the music is sharply cut off as the lights go out. Screams erupt throughout the large room. Cassius, instead of releasing me like I expect, holds me closer to him as we all look around in vain to find a source for the power outage.

The next moment, the speaker system crackles to life as emergency generated lights come on, casting a dark, dim, almost orange sheen to the party. I turn to see the faces of hundreds of stunned people, scared and confused.

"Pardon the interruption," a thickly accented voice says into the speaker system. I furrow my brow, confused.

"No," is all Cassius says, almost a growl.

"But I am afraid to inform you that you are under attack. So sorry."

As soon as the words echo around the room, the people's alarm starts. I am bumped and jostled, ripped cleanly out of Cassius' arms. I yell his name as I am swept into the chaos, people running for the exits. I hear gunshots the next instant and really start to panic. "Cassius!" I scream.

The crowd opens and through the gap I see Daphne in her emerald gown, searching just like I am. I run up to her and grab her arm. Her crown is askew; her dark curls are coming out of their hold. Her eyes widen as she looks at me.

"Morgan," she says frantically, clutching on to me. "What's going on? Where's Cassius?"

"I don't know," I reply, my heart racing. "But we need to get out of here."

Still clinging to each other, we make our way toward the exit. There are people tearing to get past us and out the door. I can still hear gunshots, but see no weapons in sight. I haul Daphne after me, pressing past the bodies and toward the door at the end of the room.

"Morgan," she whimpers again, clearly unaware that she is repeating herself as we are shoved through the too-small doorway and out into the hall. "Where's Cassius? I'm scared."

"Don't be," I say, trying my best to sound calm. I have every right to be acting just as terrified, but I know that it will down no good if we both are.

More gunshots, more screams. Daphne is now clinging onto me for dear life, whimpering like a wounded animal. I bite the inside of my cheek until I can taste blood, the coppery taste filling my mouth, and back up into the wall of the large hallway.

When I finally spot one of Cassius' guards, I sigh in relief and run toward him.

The rugged man turns and gives a start. "Lady Morgan," he says, "Lady Daphne."

"Where's Cassius?" I ask hurriedly as more gunfire sounds.

"Still in the room," he says, gathering composure at running into the two of us alone.

My heart stops. He's unarmed, and unaware that Daphne and I have already left. Oh, no.

Daphne has started crying.

I shove her into the guard's arms. "Take her. Keep her safe," I say.

"Morgan!" She cries.

"I'll be alright," I say through gritted teeth. I am violently shaking with nerves and fear, but all I can think about is getting to Cassius.

"We're meeting in the Mapping Room. Careful," he says as sternly as he can, obviously knowing me well enough to know he cannot stop me from running back into the chaos.

I nod, letting him know that I understand, and run back through the door, away from the now screaming Daphne.

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