Not long after, I begin to grow more and more homesick each day. The only other girl that seemed more distraught than me was Gabrielle, who sat in silence in a corner of the library that I'd stumbled upon one day, reading. Sometimes, when I feel at my loneliest, I will sit in a chair near her and read as well, though none of the books really seem that riveting to me. The one's I most enjoy reading are the tales of the original Peter Pan and his adventures: fighting pirates, befriending mermaids, finding Wendy, and everything in between. Oddly, though, I realized that there is never anything written past the point of he and Wendy bearing a child-- as though those pages are missing. I brought it up to Gabrielle once, who shrugged by way of response and went back to reading her novel at the time, something regarding Pirate law.
Daphne and Kayla have decided to band together and exclude Gabrielle and I, it seems, which made dinner-- as well as everything else-- an awkward affair. By the end of the second month of captivity, I was about ready to go insane.
While Daphne and Kayla steer Cassius through dinner conversation, I pick idly at my plate, not caring so much for the meal the Manor has prepared this evening. Something about it smelled odd, and the texture was like no food I've ever seen before.
"Something wrong with the food, Morgan?"
I snapped my head up, surprised to hear my name from Cassius. When my eyes meet his, he motions toward my untouched meal.
"I'm not very hungry," I hedge.
You've hardly eaten since you got here." Is that concern I hear in his voice?
I look up to meet his gaze and feel my heart falter for a moment. But now all eyes are on me, waiting for me to speak when that is the last thing I feel like doing right now. "I'm fine," I say, making it known I don't want to talk.
He still looks at me with a furrowed brow, but drops the subject, seeming happy enough that I at least spoke to him. "So where are you originally from?" he asks me, a look in his eye that makes me almost believe that he is genuinely curious.
"A small town," I merely say.
Daphne whispers to me, mock-conspirationally, "You're making a scene."
My hands ball into fists under the table, but fight against shoving away from the table and leaving. I was in a bad mood enough already to begin with; now she was just goading me. In lieu of a response, I roll my eyes and look back down at my plate.
She looks at Cassius sitting next to her, who is studying me as she whispers in his ear. "How like a small town girl."
Within the next few minutes I have successfully stormed out of the House without looking back.
I run until I am in the midst of trees in the forest. I fall to the ground and stare up at the sky through lowered lashes. I don't know how much longer I will be able to take being in this world. I feel like crying, but my eyes remain dry.
Minutes later, I hear a thump and turn to see Cassius drop down next to me on the ground. He crosses his arms over his legs and rests his chin on his knee, not looking at me.
I huff out an exasperated breath. "You always think that crowding me will help. It doesn't."
"I, unlike you, am looking out for your life. I think you'll thank me later."
I rip out a clump of grass, frustrated. "I don't see how you teasing me will help ease my death sentence any."
"If I'm with you while you're past the Gate, than you're technically still following the rules," Cassius says in a matter-of-fact tone, ebbing on cynicism. His eyes are wide and sincere when he speaks, though, telling me that he means it. And I definitely don't doubt that there is a death sentence looming somewhere among us.
My suspicions for the hostility of this place were confirmed when the houseboy, the one that usually announced to us when dinner was ready, faltered and dropped a crystal platter than shattered when it kissed the ground. Daphne, unhelpfully, screamed and clung to Cassius, while two large men dressed in black, muscles thick-looking through the fabric, and carried the small boy from the room.
I haven't seen him since.
The air smells of pine and soil, it lifts my hair as it blows past my face and throws it gently over my shoulders. I close my eyes and think that I am home, if only for a moment.
But Cassius, as he always does, brings me back. Lightly touching my shoulder, he says, "It isn't that bad here, Blondie."
I let my breath out. "I don't think I can take another one of Daphne's ridiculous attempts to get under my skin. She's driving me up the wall." I know that it's not really Daphne, that I'm just taking my frustrations out on the closest person I can find.
He laughs, carefree. "Jealous?"
"If only," I simply retort.
"No matter how green you get, you don't have to storm out of rooms, acting like a crazy person," there is a hint of his devilish smile when he says this, letting me know that he was at least entertained by my outburst.
"This place is making me crazy," I say. "I want to go home."
There is no denying the longing in my voice. It is a pain so real and raw that Cassius is silent for a few moments. Here, we both can admit that this isn't a place I'll warm up to anytime soon.
Then, "I wish," he breathes, "I could take you there."
I swivel my head and look at him.
"So at least you'd shut up about it," he finishes in his same quiet voice. He looks at me sideways and rolls his eyes. "Seriously, get used to it here. You're not going anywhere for awhile."
Without another word, I propel myself up from the ground and move farther into the trees.
Cassius follows me without hesitation. "Daphne may be annoying, but at least she's accepted her fate," he says.
I stop and turn to look him in the eye. Does he not realize how awful that sentence sounds? "She may have accepted her fate, but that's what makes her weak. You can't get me to give up that easily, Cassius."
Part of me expects an argument, but I don't get one. Instead, I get a contemplative nod. "Suit yourself," he says. "You can play hard to get, Sophia, but it won't get you home any faster."
But before I can give my sassiest retort, I am brought to the ground by an unknown force. I realize almost immediately that it is a person. Did someone jump on me from out of the trees? I shove with all of my weight and sit up to see who had landed on me.
A violent scream rips its way out of my throat and I scoot away from the body as fast as I can.
Cassius is already kneeling before the dead man, inspecting the body. He purses his lips as he checks the man over. "Definitely one of Peter's," he says quietly. He is dressed like one of the men that took the small kitchen boy away after he shattered the crystal plate.
Something else falls from the tree to land in a heap next to me and I scream once more.
"Quiet," Cassius hisses, "you'll wake the dead with those screams." I am rewarded with his wicked smile.
I turn to see that what landed next to me is a length of rope. I unwillingly look to the body to see that there is a noose around his twisted neck.
"Let's go back into the Manor," I say, making to stand, "tell your dad about this."
Cassius flips the body over so that it is on its back. He sucks in a sharp breath when he sees what is spray painted onto the mans chest.
Gathering up my courage, I shakily stand and join Cassius' side. Written in red paint across the front of the man's uniform are symbols that I can't decipher.
"It's the language of the Pirates," Cassius explains to me. "I think the closest thing I can compare it to for your world is Ancient Greek. Or Russian."
Broad comparisons. "What does it say," I whisper.
"It's their motto: 'Provoke, destroy'."
"Cheery," I say.
His smile is faint.
A twig snaps somewhere off behind us. We both spin and look, although I see no one.
"They're still here," Cassius says quietly.
I hear a low whistling sound, and then a bullet hits the bark of the tree next to us, wood splintering where the metal found purchase.
"Go," Cassius commands, shoving me farther into the trees.
"What's going on?" I ask as I stumble forward.
Cassius grabs my hand roughly and pulls me after him. "If I stop to explain we'll both be dead."