My whole body feels numb as Alice leads me into the hallway outside of the ballroom and takes my shaking hands in hers. I know she is saying comforting words to me, but my ears aren't working correctly and won't pick up on what she's saying. I hear the distant sound of an applause as Cassius announces that his Wife will now be Daphne. I picture the smile on his face as she beams up at him on that stage and my heart shatters into a thousand pieces.
Finally Alice gives me a shake and I snap back to attention. "I need to tell you how to get back to the portal before Peter realizes what I'm up to," she says urgently.
I nod mutely and allow her to walk me through the Manor. I have the strange urge to ask to go to my room and gather my belongings before I go, but with a sharp pang of realization I remember that nothing here belongs to me, not anymore. A lump forms in my throat but I fight it down, refusing to cry. I have been waiting for this moment since I first arrived here and Cassius promised me that he would make sure I got home.
But this is my home now, isn't it?
It is a purely selfish thought, as are the voices in the back of my head screaming at me to run up to Cassius and cling to him shouting "Mine!". I shake my head to ward off the dizzying thoughts and realize that Alice has brought me to the front door. As I study the grand glass doors with an iron design lying over it, I think, ironically, that this will be the first time I have used the actual entrance to the Manor to leave.
Alice says nothing for a long while; we both stare out of the glass in silence. Finally she looks at me, a sadness in her eyes that she is usually a lot better at masking. "Do you know where the Arbor is?" she asks me.
I nod, thinking back to the temple, the first place I had discovered upon entering Neverland.
"Good. That's where the portal is." She takes my hand in hers and squeezes it. She is so small, sometimes I forget how old she actually is. Even after I am gone, she will stay here and watch as Cassius becomes the next Peter and rules with Daphne, waiting until their son is of age and more Brides are brought to the Manor to be contestants. I wonder if she hates it here as much as everyone else seems to.
"You could come with me," I say, "you and Mary."
She smiles a small, sad smile. "It isnt exactly that easy. Mary and I would have no place to go. And we aren't entirely sure how the aging process would effect us when we arrive. Unfortunately, we're better off in this realm than yours."
I nod, knowing that everyone I've asked to run away will never have the need to. This is, however awful, their home. "Than will you do me a favor?"
She nods, though it is only half-hearted.
"Promise that you'll try and see Mary as much as you can," I say. "It isn't fair that you have to be separated from her. Once Cassius is in charge, you need to ask him. I've seen how he is around both of you; he wont say no."
Her smile is genuine as she hears the concern in my voice. "I promise, Morgan."
"And," I say, looking back toward the forest of Neverland, "one more thing."
"What is that?" she asks quietly.
"Will you please try and make sure that the other Brides know the way to the portal as well? Kayla and Gabrielle. It isn't fair that I'm the only one that gets to go home after going through all of this."
Alice seems to consider for a moment, but finally nods. "Yes, I will try my hardest. You have my word."
I nod, having nothing more to ask before I leave this place forever. "Well," I say, "I guess this is goodbye then."
"I suppose it is," she says as she throws her arms around my middle and hugs me tight. I return the hug in kind, not wanting to face the fact that I am leaving behind one of my best friends in a realm I will never return to. "If it's any consolation," she whispers, "I had already started to see what Neverland would be like if you ruled at Cassius' side, and it was so beautiful."
I laugh once, but it isn't a happy sound. "You know what?" I reply. "I did, too. And you're right. It was so beautiful."
Once I have arrived to the Arbor, I let out a deep breath. Alice had told me that I would figure out how to open the portal once I arrived, but as I stare up at the large stone structure, I am just as confused as ever. Much like I did the first time I had discovered this place, I begin to circle around the stone columns, admiring the carvings as I go, tracing them with my finger tips. These pictures depict the many adventures that the first Peter and Wendy had, back when Neverland was a beautiful refuge for those with no other place to go. I sincerely hope that Daphne and Cassius can work to restore it to the place it once was. Cassius has the drive and the means to. I'm just sad that I wont be around to see his dream become a reality.
I am only half surprised when I round the structure and see Cassius standing there. My heart seems to completely stop as my eyes make contact with his. His hair is windblown, but I like his hair when it is unkempt; it gives the outside world a look at the unconfined beautiful chaos that is Cassius. He opens his mouth as if to say something, but closes it an instant later.
I am the first to speak. "Congratulations," I say with a small smile.
He doesn't return the smile. Instead he walks up to where I am standing and looks down at me, his face frighteningly expressionless. "Alice told me that I'd find you here," he says, "she said you needed me to show you how to open the portal."
Damn Alice. Didn't she know that her petty attempts at throwing us together are just a little too late? He's already chosen his Wife. Mutely I nod.
He takes my hand and leads me to sit with him on the bench inside of the Gazebo. I let out my breath as I sit down next to him and stare at my hands folded in my lap. It doesn't matter what he said to me in the moments before we thought we were going to die; that is all behind us now seeing as he picked Daphne to be his Wife.
"I told you," Cassius says quietly, "that I would keep my promise, Morg."
I look up at him and his eyes meet mine. We stay like that for a long while, just sitting and staring. "You told me that I would fail the Tests," I say finally, "because my heart simply isn't in it."
He nodded bleakly.
But my heart was in it, I want to scream at him. Every last piece of my heart.
After another moment of silence, he stands, brushing himself off. I stand as well, knowing that our goodbye has to end sometime, and face him.
Unexpectedly, he reaches out and cups my face in his hand. I stay as still as the stone structure we are standing in, my eyes never leaving his. His fingers trail from my cheek down my neck to rest right above my heart that is now pounding wildly in my chest. He touches the thin silver chain and follows it down to where the ruby colored gem rests on my chest. He opens his mouth and I think he is going to say something that will make me want to stay in this world forever, but instead says, "If you touch this gem to the stone of this place, the portal will open. It will take you home." With that, he drops the jewel and takes a step back from me.
I nod, not knowing what else to do, and touch the jewel myself. I would have never guessed that the one thing that had been given to me upon entering this world would be my one ticket out of here.
As he walks away, I watch his retreating form, knowing that I should say something but not knowing what exactly I could do at this moment.
Finally, before he disappears completely, I say, "Cassius, wait."
He stops walking and slowly turns to face me. He says nothing, merely stares at me waiting for what I have to say.
"What you said in the field," I say, "before Maxim was going to kill us."
He is still silent, his eyes burning me where I stand.
"You were right. It was real. And I think... I think it still will be, even when I'm gone. I know it still will be, for me."
He stands silently for a few more moments, then, "Morgan, I wish..." he starts, trailing off. Then shakes his head, thinking better of it and walking away once more.
I am left completely alone now. I feel as though there is no more of my heart to break, and I should probably leave before anything more is done to make me feel even worse than I am feeling right now. I turn and admire the last picture carved in the stone: Peter and Wendy smiling hand in hand, considerably older, and Wendy is carrying a newborn baby in the cradle of her arm. I sigh and look out over the valley to the rest of Neverland where the gray sky casts a steely setting over the forest. I will myself to remember this for the rest of my life.
And then a horror-stricken thought hits me. What if I never remember this place once I go back through the portal? What if I forget the land, the adventures, the people? Cassius? I have to physically calm myself down and try my best to tell myself that I will remember. For as long as I live I will remember.
I reach my hand up to fiddle with the clasp at the back of my neck when I hear a rustle behind me. I turn quickly, expecting Cassius to be standing there.
Instead I have to physically choke down a scream.
"Told you I'd find her!" Gabrielle says with a confident smirk on her face. She is still wearing the dark blue dress that she had on the night she cracked, but her hair is now a wild mess. I want to open my mouth and tell her of the portal and how there is a way to get back home, but the look in her eye tells me that I need to keep my mouth shut and get very far away from her.
Before I can make another move, though, I am pulled backward by my hair, falling off of my feet. I gasp and look up to see the one person I would never in a million years expect to be staring down at me.
"Well, well," Peter says with a wry grin, "if I didn't know any better, I'd say the prince's favorite is a little lost."
END OF INSTALLMENT 1.
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