Charlotte ended up in the house by herself. How did she get there? She teleported as soon as Douglas told her the truth about all of them dying together. Though a part of her was comforted that they'd be together until the end, there was still the fact that she was now completely responsible for the lives and deaths of ten mages with two more to be found.
Why hadn't they told her earlier? Did they distrust her that much that they didn't bother to even tell her that she could kill all of them? Now she wasn't sure if she was ready to continue searching for the other two mages at all. If she was bound to get us all killed, then why bother trying anyway? She was trying to return their lives to them, not to kill them.
She realized it wouldn't take long for the rest of them to appear, so she did what she could and ran into her room to be alone with her thoughts. The knowledge started to cloud her own heart in doubt. All the times they had been worried about her getting hurt or sick, did they only mean that because they were worried for their own safety? Was she only a way for them to get close to one another again and nothing more?
A while later, and she wasn’t sure when it was exactly, but the door to her room was being knocked on with Mika and Mark's voices calling her from the other side. Charlotte wasn't ready to talk to them, obviously, since she had just been given news that affected her greatly, so she didn't move from her bed and she waited until they apologized and left to go to sleep themselves.
Not only was she the descendant of the person who put them all in their rings, but now she learned that she also hold the key as to whether they all get to live or die. It would have been fine if she had learned it was only her at stake. Now, however, it was different. Now she knew that with a stupid mistake she could kill the people who were now the closest to her.
Sleep evaded her that night and she stayed up huddled in a corner of her room. It was hard for her to stay calm with all the things she was learning recently. Who would stay calm if they learned of the things she learned? She stayed in her corner until morning, when Darius teleported into her room with a tray of breakfast in hand and slowly put it down on her bedside table before sitting down on the floor across from her.
"Have you slept?"
She didn't answer him.
"Are you hungry at all?"
She refused to look up from her knees.
"Mark was crying last night."
Though she was worried about Mark, she couldn't help but remain bitter.
"And Mika, the kid's always had a soft spot for you."
Her mind flashed back to the night before, when Mika and Mark had been calling her.
"Percy, too. Blubbering something about wanting you to see us all together."
In all the time she had known Percy, he had only ever smiled.
"We'll all be in the living room if you want to talk."
With that, Darius left, and her eyes darted over to the breakfast he had brought her. The smell of it had been filling her nostrils, and only because Cook Park had made breakfast almost just as wonderful.
She hesitated for a few moments before crawling over to the food and eating as much of it as she could. After she finished, she decided she would teleport to the kitchen, drop her dishes in the sink, and then teleport right back to her room. When she got to the kitchen, however, Erik was facing the stove with an apron around his waist and turned to her when she came in.
With his lips pressed into a firm line, Erik glanced from the tray in her hands to her face before his eyes narrowed, "Is it not to your liking?"
Remembering how vocally aggressive he had been the day before when they first met, she didn't exactly want to talk to him, and her feet actually backed away from him slowly, though her arms stretched out in order to place the tray onto the kitchen counter, "I-it was great, but it was too much."
"Sit down.” She sat down immediately at the kitchen table and Erik sat across from her with his arms crossed over the table's surface in what could have either been amusement or annoyance. She bet that he was annoyed, though. He kept his eyes trained on her as they sat, and after fidgeting for a few moments, she heard him clear his throat, "Darius and I were both heirs to successful businesses. Much like all of the other heirs of successful businesses, Darius and I were both pretentious and obnoxious. The only difference was that Darius was openly obnoxious and ignored anyone he had no interest in, while I shut myself in."
She watched Erik as he spoke, because whenever he spoke of Darius, his tone became so sweet and full of admiration that she found it increasingly difficult to be mad at Erik.
"When we had met, Darius didn't like me. He said I was too quiet and it got on his nerves. I thought he was rude and that his voice was too loud for my own comfort, so we avoided each other to the best of our abilities. One day as I was walking downtown, I passed an alleyway and saw that a few men were brawling in it. I wanted to ignore it, at first, but I recognized his hair and found myself waiting for the brawl to end."
He stopped for a moment to catch his breath, his head shaking slowly at the memories brought by his meeting with Darius, "Darius lost and was left on the ground bleeding. When he saw me standing there, he sneered and asked me if I was going to tell on him. I just draped my jacket over him to keep him warm, and then I left. After that, we were joined at the hip, and he trailed after me everywhere I went like I was his elder brother."
"It's like with Kaspar and Percy.” She didn't mean to say it out loud, but when Erik stared up at her, she knew it was too late to take her words back.
"They told you about their past, too?" Erik's lips curved into a worried frown for a moment, but then he shook his head again, "I’ve never seen all the mages trust a master so fully, it got me worried about-"
"What if I betrayed you?” She finished it for him because it was obvious, and because they had all already shared with her that there were possibilities of her betrayal.
"Or of us not making it to the end of the journey." He added on, not seeming to be upset that she had cut him off. His eyes flew over to the door leading into the living room before focusing on her again, "But that's something they should all be able to talk about together."
Just as she opened her mouth to disagree, his eyes narrowed and she found her feet moving to the living room on their own accord. She could distinctly hear Erik snicker as he followed her into the living room where nine mages sat and stared at them with pale facial expressions.
"Charlotte!" Kaspar leaned forward in his seat, whether to run away to his room or to run over to her.
She was still a little upset with the other mages, but she felt guilt tug at her strings when neither Mark, Mika nor Percy looked up at her. Dale and Kaspar were constantly looking between Erik and herself, while the two elders had their stern expressions on her alone. Darius and Angelo weren't looking at anyone in particular, but gauging everyone else's reactions.
"You should sit, Charlotte." Angelo's voice had her looking over to him instantly, and though there was space to sit between him and Percy on the floor, she shook her head and looked at the other mages. There was also some sitting space between Mika and Kaspar on the floor, as well as Mika and Mark. Charlotte figured Darius and Erik would want to share the couch Darius was sitting on, and that left the one other couch that Douglas and Nero were sharing.
Slowly, she walked over to Mika and Mark and the two of them snapped their heads up at her. Mark's eyes were red again while Mika’s were slightly puffy. It took only a moment for them before they realized what she had gone to them for, and like old times, the three of them huddled together as they sat.
"Are you still..." Mark looked away as he asked, his voice trailing off into a whisper. She just barely shook her head and he nodded, his lips curving into the faintest of smiles.
"You're really not mad?" Percy's voice was filled with excitement, and as she looked up at him, she couldn't help but smile back at his bright expression.
"No, Percy, I'm really not mad." Angelo was smiling next to Percy and a couple of other voices chuckled, but when she looked over at Nico and Nero, their expressions hadn't changed, "But I'd like... to have it explained to me."
"Well you see… It's like this." Nico licked his lips and tried to speak, but for a few moments, he just sat there, unable to continue.
"It's a little difficult for us to explain." Nero explained, trying to formulate an answer of his own to share with her.
Dale looked at both of the elders and then to the rest of the mages before shifting forward in his seat and drawing attention to himself, "When they started working on the project with the Gems of Eternity, there was one worry that all the scientists and magical beings shared- what if we tried to kill our masters? In that case, we would have more power and the rings themselves would just be mere trinkets. So, they enchanted the rings and infused our essences into the rings. Basically, we're tied to the rings, and you're wearing the rings. I assume you've already tried and failed to take the rings off your finger. This is in case one of us were to try and take our ring and run off. We have no choice but to stay with you until you die, which will lead to our deaths, or wait for you to find a magical being who would be willing to help you get those rings off."
Charlotte glanced down at the rings on her fingers and remembered the time she had tried to take off her ring. It was when she first found Mark and she had panicked because of the bright light the ring produced as Mark came out of the ring. Her heart felt heavy as Dale explained everything, because everything was created in order to keep the mages from having any freedom whatsoever.
"We didn't tell you because we knew of how worried you would be." Mika muttered from beside her, and she lifted her head just slightly to hear him better, "We were afraid that you'd be too worried to continue searching for the rest and we're all just so desperate to be together again that we didn't think they'd need to warn you."
"Don't you trust me?” She got to her feet as she asked, her voice raising in octaves and her body shaking in a mix of fear, anger and the longing to be understood, "You always say you trust me, and then you speak of all the things I can do to betray you or hurt you. You ten are the only people I have left in my life; I wouldn't have anything to go back to even if I betrayed you."
It was the first time she'd ever gotten so angry, and in front of the mages, nonetheless. They all stared up at her with expressions of shock, disbelief, and in some cases fear. All their expression lasted only moments, however, before they contorted into worry.
For a moment, she wondered why they were all staring at her in such a way, and then she realized she was sobbing. Percy's reaction immediately followed, and the normally goofy mage was up and holding her in his arms within seconds. Someone else was rubbing her back and another voice was apologizing. She couldn't tell at that point, because she was focusing on the heat Percy's body shared with her. A heat that eventually had her sobs quiet and her eyes shut.
A heat that she had been wrapped up in until it disappeared completely and she realized she was in her nightmare.