Mad World

Chapter 18

Once back in the large ballroom, I look around me. I now see the men with guns, cornering the party guests with their large assault rifles. They are wearing red military uniforms, their faces streaked with dark war paint.

I begin searching frantically for Cassius. The room has cleared out since the attack began, but I still see no sign of him. "Cassius!" I yell. "Cas!"

One of the Pirates turns and sees me. He takes in my outfit, my crown, and grins, starting toward me with his gun.

I begin to back toward the door, wondering where Peter's military men are, especially when they're the ones who have guns. Not me.

Someone grabs me roughly around the waist. Forcing me toward the wall of the room. Desperate, I scream and claw, all to no avail. I can hear the Pirate's raspy breath in my ear, stirring the hair around my neck. "Let go of me!" I scream.

The Pirate merely laughs in my ear. "Got me a Bride. My lucky day," he says.

I bring the knife in my hand back as hard as I can into his gut and hear the breath go out of him. I turn and shove myself away from him before he can regain his strength. I lurch forward only to be grabbed by the hair and hauled backwards. I scream once more.

The man jams the point of his gun up under my jaw and growls. "Bitch," he snarls.

I hear the gunshot and a sob rips its way out of my throat. It takes me a moment to realize that I am still alive and the Pirate holding me has let go of me.

I look up and see Cassius standing yards away, handgun still pointed to the spot where the Pirate behind me stood.

"Cas," I breathe, rushing forward to where he stands.

He lowers his weapon and wraps an arm around me as soon as I am within reach, hugging me to his side. "What the hell are you doing here?" he yells. "Where's Daphne?"

"I sent her off with a guard," is all I say in reply.

He shoots me a measured look. "You're a fool for coming back," he says.

"Maybe," I say. "He told me that we're supposed to go to the Mapping Room."

Cassius merely nods. "You don't have a gun?" he asks, as if I carry one with me all the time.

I shake my head, looking down at the knife in my hand. "I wouldn't know how to use it if I did," I reply.

He nods once more. "Stay close, okay?"

It is my turn to nod before we run toward the exit of the room, dodging people's grasping hands as we go.

Once in the hall, we are back in the pandemonium of the attack. There are people scrambling to find loved ones, trying to find the exit, trying to find control. Cassius still has his arm around me and is pushing through people with the other. I am beginning to think we are in the clear until a man fires his way through the crowd and straight toward me.

I am knocked into the wall, my head screaming on impact. I open my eyes and see that the man is not a pirate, but one of the party guests.

Cassius' gun is trained on the man's head the next instant. "Back away."

The man doesn't look at Cassius. "They want you two and the other Bride. They'll leave us alone if they have you."

He is pushing me against the wall with such force that my shoulders start to feel as though they'll break. I look desperately at Cassius.

"I will shoot you," is all he says, his tone lethal. "And I wont think twice about it."

The man glares at me an instant longer, long enough for me to realize that he is old, as old as Peter, and scared for his life. His eyes are very blue. He lets me go and melts back into the melee.

Cassius wastes no time, pulling me back against his side and pushing us forward through the crowd.

"Do they?" I ask, so quietly that I don't think Cassius has even heard me.

"Do they what?" Cassius responds, not really paying attention to me.

"Do they really want us? Is that what they came here for?"

His brow furrows. "I don't know."

"But I don't know anything," I say. "I would be of no use to them."

"They wouldn't want you for your knowledge," Cassius says in a voice that sends chills down my spine.

Once we make it to the Mapping Room, I breathe a sigh of relief. Cassius pushes open the door and ushers me inside.

Everyone is already there: Peter, Vivian, Daphne, and a couple of other guards.

"Cassius," Daphne sobs when she sees the two of us entering the room.

"I'm fine," is all Cassius says. He walks over to where his father is standing, staring at the wall of large television screens. "They're everywhere," he reports. "Inside and out."

"What do they want?" Daphne asks shakily.

Peter sighs, opting to ignore Daphne and I. "I figured as much," he told his son. He then turned to the guards with us in the room. "Tell the army it is an amber alert. We can't tell the difference between the allies and enemies, but we have no choice but to open fire. Bomb the forest, too; that's probably where they're hiding out. We'll have to rebuild once—"

"What?" I ask, incredulous. My mind goes immediately to Mary, out in the woods. "You'll kill innocent people if you do that!" I cry.

"And what do you think we should do?" Daphne almost snarls at me.

My eyes widen at her sudden viciousness. "I don't expect us to blindly murder hundreds." I turn and look at Peter, who is now staring at me like I am some kind of lab experiment gone wrong. "You have militia," I say, almost pleading, "send them out to scare the Pirates off."

Cassius, expressionless, runs his eyes over me before turning to his father. "She has a point," he says. "We have enough troops stationed here to give us an advantage."

Ignoring his son, Peter stares at me a moment before raising one eyebrow. "I don't recall asking for your advice in battle. Wallace, Jasper," he says to two guards in the corner, "take the Brides to the Safe Room."

"No!" I cry as Jasper comes up behind me and grabs my arm. Daphne, on the other hand, has gone very still in Wallace's grip, her expression docile. "Let me go! Cas!" I scream.

"She can stay," Cassius finally says to his father.

His father looks from his son to me considering and shakes his head. "She has no part in this," he says.

"I have every part!" I yell.

"Darling," Vivian says to her husband, "she should be able to stay if she wants; if she wins, this will be good for her."

Peter shakes his head. "You go with them, Viv."

Vivian looks stung, but keeps her chin held high. "Very well."

"And this is your order?" Cassius asks his father, staring at me.

Peter hesitates for a moment and then gives a curt nod.

Cassius takes a deep breath and nods as well. He walks up to where I am struggling in Jasper's grasp and takes hold of me.

"Cassius," I say, letting all the hurt and betrayal I feel leak into that one word.

He says nothing, just tightens his grip on me and steers me from the room.

Once in the hall, Cassius and I fall immediately behind, mainly because of how fiercely I am struggling against his hold on me. "You can't just lock me up," I say.

"I can," Cassius says, "and I will."

"That's not fair!" I cry.

The next instant I am slammed against the wall beside me. Cassius has pinned me there and is glaring into my eyes. "Don't tell me what is and what isn't fair, Morgan. I will not lose you."

"And I wont lose you," I instantly reply. "I want to be there with you. If you lock me up I wont know what's happening, or if you're hurt, or—"

Cassius presses his lips to mine, hard. His hand grips my waist tightly as he tastes me hungrily, desperately, as if he has already decided he will never see me again after this moment. I twine my fingers in his hair, just as desperate and scared as him. I know no matter what happens after this, this boy will always have a place in my heart, my soul, my very being.

I think, oddly, to the temple in the woods, where depictions of Peter and Wendy are shown battling Pirates together on the edifice. He would not have locked her away.

I pull away and look him in the eye. "Please," I say, "you know I'm strong enough, Cassius. I wont let you lock me up. What can I do to help?"

He is silent for a long moment. Finally, he sighs, shaking his head. "We need to find Maxim. If we get to him before he gets to us, we can have him call all of the Pirates off and no one gets hurt." The distant rumble of chaos of people still trying to find safety in the Manor hits us in our vacant hallway and Cassius straightens up. "Do you know where my father's office is?" he asks.

I nod, remembering the time he took me there to give me hallucinogenic-laced cookies.

"Behind the bookshelf? Go there and wait for me; I'll grab weapons and any guards willing to follow me and not my father." He looks doubtful, but there is a fire in his eyes, the gold flecks blazing as he looks at me.

I turn and run toward the Library, ducking out of people's reach and shoving others out of the way that wont move. My dress flows behind me as I run and my hair has come loose from the intricate knot Alice had put it in. I'm sure I look like a disaster, but I have no time to think of that right now. The Library is dark and empty once I shove through the large wooden doors. I pause, catching my breath, before heading to the book shelf that I had walked behind Peter to.

It takes me four tries before I come across the book "Little White Bird" bound in a very old looking leather and scrawled in gold ink. I pull gingerly on it and sigh in relief when I hear the whirs of the contraption working, the trap door moving. The book case moves to the side and I throw myself in before it closes behind me.

The room is almost completely dark, the only light coming in from a dirty sky light. The book case door slams behind me definitively and I jump.

I stumble into the darkened room, trying not to trip over my gown. I see the chair at the large desk is sporting the shadow of a man. "Cassius," I breathe, wondering how he made it here before me, but as I walk farther into the room, I know it is not him.

The man is burly, with choppy salt-and-pepper hair and a scarred face. He fixes his stare on me and smiles. "What does it take to get a drink in this place?" he muses. "You must be the favorite Bride; my sources tell me she's the blonde one."

Slowly, I take a step back.

He raises an eyebrow. "I asked for a drink," he says in a low voice. He shifts and I notice he has a large gun in his hands. "It would be wise to get me one."

Not knowing what else to do, I turn and walk, mechanically, toward the table adorning the side of the room closest to me. There is a stand against the wall with glasses and brandy.

"Cassius," he says, conversationally, "is the one I was expecting to come through that door, you know."

I shakily pour Brandy into a glass, but I manage to get more on the stained wood table than actually inside of the crystal.

"He's the real reason we're here. A public execution, I'm sure his idiot father will call it. Vengeance is what I will refer to it as, though."

I grit my teeth and try to focus on the task at hand, but all my mind is saying is Cassius, Cassius, Cassius.

When I manage to make enough of the alcohol into the glass I walk it over to the man.

Without taking the glass, he grins and looks me up and down. "That is a pretty dress," he comments. "Suiting for such a beautiful young woman. I might have use for you, yet."

"You're Maxim," I assume.

"That," he says in his thickly accent voice, "I am. I'm looking very forward to, er, getting to know you," he says with such a dark smile that I cant see straight for a second due to pure fear.

Almost reflexively, I throw the brandy in his face and, stunned, he tumbles backward with a cry.

Before he can straighten and aim his gun at me, I run from the room as fast as I can. I can hardly think straight, but I know I have to get to Cassius before Maxim finds him. But where he could be? I dont have a clue. I know my best chance of finding him is to go to the map room and search through the security cameras until I find him. Taking a deep breath I run back to where I came from, hoping that I dont run into any Pirates-- or Maxim-- on the way.

The Manor is almost completely empty now, I notice. Everyone must be outside trying to find their way to safety. I make it to the Map Room faster than I would have if the teeming crowd were still around. I throw myself into the now-empty room and run up to the monitor, searching the buttons frantically to see any that look familiar. I click on all of the rooms in the house one after another and see no sign of him. I find Daphne and Vivian in what I would assume to be Peter and his wife's bedroom. At least they're okay.

Once I've gone through every room in the Manor with no signs of Cas, I decide to search all of the cameras lining the forests. Frantically I click through them one by one, my anxiety heightening each time he doesnt turn up on the screen. Finally, though, I flip to one of the cameras in the tree of what looks to be a field and gasp when I see him. He is kneeling on the ground with three men with guns trained on him. Maxim is one of them, saying something that I cannot hear through the cameras.

Though he is in no position to look triumphant, Cassius looks just as defiant as ever.

My heart seems to dissolve entirely. They're going to execute him.


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