A Craftling Queen
Kenneth led them through the maze of cavernous corridors. He had to remind himself to walk slowly as the girls trundled behind, staring at the architecture, their eyes darting back and forth as they tried to gain some sense of the way. Kenneth remembered his first bumbling attempts to navigate the palace. Getting lost was the quickest way to learn its secrets. Now he knew his way around as easily as his own home, and the knowledge came in handy.
For instance, Kenneth was very glad that he knew a shortcut from the library to the Queen’s Parlor. Cassie kept asking him questions that he knew he shouldn’t answer. First she wanted to know what was in the letter Tom had brought him. Then who was Tom and why had he called Kenneth “Lord”? Then she asked about the Palace—where exactly was it, how far had they traveled to get here, shouldn’t she have heard of a place like this? He knew she was just about to get back to the subject of the men who had attacked them when he finally got to the parlor. Admittedly he opened the door a little too enthusiastically.
Inside, Carlton DeRenneas was setting a tray of tea and biscuits on the coffee table while Morris hovered over him, a sour expression on his face. The air was palpably tense. Kenneth ushered the girls into the room where they sat demurely side by side on the sofa. Cassie was hugging the Book to her chest like a shield. Morris shot her an angry glare before rounding on Kenneth. “You’re late.”
“I had business,” Kenneth said. He squared his shoulders defensively. “Still do, actually. Carlton, I need to talk to you.”
“Right,” Carlton straightened and brushed off his suit.
“I thought we were going to have a talk?” Cassie said to Kenneth.
“We are. Start with Morris, I’ll be right back.” He looked at Morris. “Be nice,” he warned. Grabbing Carlton by the arm, Kenneth pushed him out into the hall and closed the door behind him. He exhaled in relief as it clicked shut.
“You took your sweet time getting here,” Carlton said. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be shut up in a room with that man?
“I’m sorry, I know.” He clapped Carlton on the shoulder. “Thanks for stalling him. There were some things I had to take care of.”
Carlton nodded. “Tom told me about the letter. Is everything ok?”
“As ok as it can be. Christian thinks he’s found some information for us. I sent Tom to check it out.”
“That’ll be good for him,” Carlton said. “He needs to get away from the council. Hells, I do too.”
“How bad has it been?” Kenneth looked his friend over. Carlton looked remarkably like his older brother, Tom. They both had the same dark, curly hair, fair skin, and dimples. However Carlton was taller, skinny with big blue eyes and a tendency to slump his shoulders. Seeing him now, he looked even thinner, almost waifish. The tailor-made navy suit he wore hung loose on his frame and there were dark circles under his eyes. “You don’t look too good,” Kenneth said.
“No, I guess I don’t,” Carlton chuckled. “Things have been…tense. It’s only been two weeks since Her Majesty died, so no one wants to be seen openly panicking, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. And they’re all coming to me ‘secretly’, demanding answers or favors, and I don’t have any. If the throne sits empty much longer things could get out of hand. Just this morning, Ballad tried to call a meeting of the Consulate.”
“Don’t worry, I didn’t let him. But he yelled at me for over an hour. He says we have to vote on succession.”
“Now? We’re so close. If a vote is called…”
“I know,” Carlton said. “I managed to convince Ballad that Morris’ plan will work. That’ll buy us a few days with him at least.” Carlton hesitated. He looked over Kenneth’s shoulder at the closed parlor door. “Do you think…do you think his plan is working?”
Kenneth glanced over his shoulder too. “I don’t know. She’s here. And she has the Tome, which changes a lot. But she didn’t know anything. To have all this thrown at her, with the attack and all…I think she’s scared. As well-intentioned as Morris is, I don’t think he’ll be able to convince her to stay. And then of course there’s Charlotte to worry about.”
“I don’t exactly like those odds.” Carlton’s eyes flicked over Kenneth’s face. Hesitantly, he said, “As much as I hate to say it, I think it might be time we contacted your father.”
“No,” Kenneth said automatically. “There’s no point involving him yet.”
“But why not?” Carlton insisted. “He could help us. Archduke Geoffrey is more powerful and more influential than we are. He could get the councils on our side, he could—“
“He could not believe us,” Kenneth finished. “We need more information. We need the proof. For that, we stick to the plan. If you want out…”
“I don’t want out,” Carlton said. “I know what has to be done. I’m just not all that sure we can do it.”
“We can,” Kenneth said, “I promise you. Whatever happens in there,” he pointed with his thumb at the parlor behind him, “our plan is what will save the Craftlings. It’s fool-proof.”
“Good thing for us,” Carlton said with a little of his old grin.
“That’s the Carl I know,” Kenneth beamed. “Now, did you find that book I asked you about?”
“Yeah,” Carlton said, his smile gone now, “I did but—“
“Oh don’t ‘but’, please don’t ‘but’.”
“Sorry Ken.” Carlton cringed. “It’s in Lord Duncan’s private collection.”
Kenneth groaned. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. He tried to rub his eyes in frustration and cried out when his contacts slid. “Stupid, useless things,” he muttered. Kenneth practically tore the contacts out of his eyes. Blinking the tears away, he turned back to Carlton, irises a deep indigo. “Are you sure Duncan has it?”
“Positive,” Carlton said. “He collected it specifically when the old academy shut down.”
“And that man’s worse than a dragon about guarding his treasures.” Kenneth shook his head. He looked at the parlor door again. When Kenneth turned back to Carlton, it was with a resolute expression on his face. “Well, it looks like you’re just going to have to go and convince him to give it to us.”
“Me?” Carlton looked like he’d been asked to retrieve the book from a nest of poisonous snakes.
“You have to,” Kenneth said. “Tom’s gone and I have to stay here. I have to help Morris as much as I can. It may not save us, but a Brewell on the throne will go a long way towards it. You’re the only one left who can do it. And we need it by sunrise tomorrow, otherwise it’s useless to us.”
“Tomorrow? I thought we had until the next phase of the moon?”
“No, it’s this phase. And the moon turns tomorrow. But once we perform the ritual, we’ll have a whole month to decipher the symbols.”
“Right.” Carlton wrung his hands. “And you’re sure about this? The ritual and the book…it’s dangerous, Ken. Are you sure it’s the only way? Her majesty was able to do pretty well without it.”
“And look where that got her.” Kenneth’s eyes were slate blue-grey now. It made Carlton even more nervous. Kenneth took a deep breath and tried to sound calm. “Audrey was Queen. She had more power than we’ll ever know, and she couldn’t do it alone. That’s what the plan’s for, right? And the book is part of that. Don’t let an old codger like Duncan scare you off it.”
“I’m not scared.” Carlton said. Kenneth raised his eyebrows. “Fine, I’m terrified. But not of Duncan. I’ll do it; I know I have to.”
Kenneth squeezed Carlton’s shoulder reassuringly. “You, me, Tom, we’re in this together. ‘Destined for greatness’, remember?”
Carlton almost smiled at their old childhood motto. But in a small voice he said, “What if we’re wrong? What if, even after all this, what happened to Her Majesty happens to us?”
Kenneth looked his friend in the eyes. His own were the color of granite, and just as cold. “Audrey died doing what was right,” he said. “If need be, so will we.”
Kenneth returned to the parlor just as Cassie and Finn were finishing recounting to Morris everything that had happened to them since he’d handed his note to Cassie that afternoon. Cassie eyed Kenneth as he walked in and took the chair nearest the door. “Good timing,” she said. “We were just about to get to some answers.”
“I see.” Kenneth sank gratefully into the chair. He raised an eyebrow at Morris, who sipped his tea nonchalantly and pretended not to notice. “Well don’t let me interrupt. Please, keep going.” Kenneth slumped in his seat and rubbed his eyes with one hand.
“Are you okay?” Finn asked.
“What?” Kenneth tried to sit straighter but Cassie could see that he didn’t have it in him. “Of course I’m okay.”
Morris tsked disapprovingly. Setting down his own cup he began pouring a new cup of tea for Kenneth. “I knew you overdid it. Cassady couldn’t have pulled all that power on her first run. You gave too much of your own after you’d already shown off for those Dogs.” He waved a hand over the teacup before he thrust it at Kenneth. “Here, this will help.”
“Thanks.” Kenneth sullenly accepted the cup with both hands. “I’m fine, I promise.” He flashed them all another smile. But Cassie remembered how weak his grip on her arm had been as they floated above Gran’s yard. Kenneth seemed so haggard, as if he were pushing himself past his limit. Cassie felt a little guilty for being suspicious of him after he’d been so kind to her and Finn, but she had to wonder why he was trying so hard. When he’d shown her the star, he had looked deep into her eyes as if he needed her to believe him, as if everything depended on it. Looking at him again, Cassie saw that he’d taken out his contacts. His eyes were red and watery, and it looked like she’d been wrong about their golden color. They were a dark blue-grey, like thunderclouds at sea.
“So come on,” Kenneth said, “where were you?”
Morris sat again, crossing his legs. Cassie couldn’t help but think that he looked like Prince John from the Robin Hood stories. A long blue tunic with pointy shoulders, a purple shirt with puffy sleeves and a high collar, thin black trousers and high black boots, not to mention his now perfect silver hair. To top it off he wore white gloves as he sipped his tea. He certainly was in formal dress. Cassie was almost disappointed that he didn’t have a British accent as he spoke. “The girls were just enlightening me as to how much they know, which may as well be nothing. They barely opened the Book at all. Miss Morgan, you’ll be interested to know, is here purely by accident. Which I can only hope does not cause any problems.”
“Hey,” Finn said.
“Anyway,” Morris continued as if she hadn’t interrupted, “I was just about to start explaining to them as much as I could, starting from the beginning.”
Kenneth narrowed his eyebrows at him. “What do you mean by ‘the beginning’?”
“The very beginning,” Morris said.
“Oh no,” Kenneth managed to push himself upright at this. “Look Morris I don’t think that’s the best idea.”
“And why not?”
“Because we don’t have time for a lecture on history,” Kenneth said. “And they certainly can’t take in all of that information at once.”
“Exactly,” Cassie chimed in. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell him. He’s going on and on about how the universe was created. All I want are my questions answered.”
“I would have answered all of your questions,” Morris said.
“In several hours,” Kenneth pointed out. “Look, I’m just saying that if you want to get anywhere, we have to take this one step at a time. You can’t make up for the past seventeen years in one afternoon, right? Let’s try starting at a more recent beginning and deal with Cassie’s questions first. Then we can see about teaching them the rest, okay?”
Morris gave Kenneth a glare that would have bored holes through concrete. But after a moment, he relented. “Fine. Lord Kenneth. Let’s see how you handle this.”
Kenneth pretended not to notice the use of his title, even though Morris made “Lord” sound like the filthiest insult. “Ahem, right. So I guess instead of starting with the big bang we should start a little closer to home. Charlotte.”
“My mother?” Cassie said. “What does she have to do with this? I mean apart from trying to keep me out of it.”
“More than you’d think.” Kenneth took a long sip from his teacup and then set it down on the table so that his hands were free to gesticulate. “To be honest, your mother is the why behind a lot of what’s happened today. Not what she intended.” Morris coughed derisively. Kenneth gave him a warning look before continuing. “Anyway, you know that your grandmother was the Craftling Queen, so you won’t be surprised to hear that your mother was our Crowned Princess. A role that she abdicated almost twenty years ago. After which she went into hiding and, obviously, had you. Clearly you know everything that happened after that, but what you don’t know is that when you were born your mother cast a very, very powerful binding spell. This spell was so strong that literally no power in the universe would be able to use magic to find or affect you or your mother in any way, so long as you never used your powers. I assume your mother gave you some sort of amulet to that effect?”
Cassie clapped her hand to her throat. He could only be talking about one thing. “It…it’s just a necklace,” Cassie said. It wasn’t as if her mother had ever told her to wear it forever, but truth be told Cassie couldn’t remember a moment in her life where she’d taken it off. The amulet was small and shaped like the swoop of a rainbow with jagged edges. It was a smoky purple-grey with thick white rings in the center like ripples on a pond. The stone was something called an eye agate. She pulled the chain out from beneath her shirt. “It really protects me from all that?”
“Not anymore,” Kenneth said, shaking his head rather sadly. “The second you touched the Tome and made contact with magic, you broke the binding and lost your mother’s protection. But before that…it worked better than anyone could ever have predicted.”
“How do you mean?” Cassie clutched her amulet tightly as if she were afraid of the answer.
“She shielded you from the greatest power in the universe.”
“And what exactly is that?” Finn asked.
Kenneth gestured to the Book sitting innocently on the table beside the tea set. “You’re looking at it.”
“The Book,” Cassie said, incredulous. “Seriously? I mean even if it’s magical or whatever….”
“I know you haven’t been in contact with the Tome long,” Kenneth said, “but trust me. Remember how I told you that the Star of Rhiath was one of the most ancient and powerful of magical relics? Well this Book of yours is the most ancient and powerful of magical relics. It is the Aurcænos.”
“The or what?” Cassie said.
Kenneth laughed. “Look at the binding.” Cassie gingerly picked up the Book and turned it on its side. There, on its thick edge was the word Aurcænos etched in gold. “It means ‘Light’s Tome’ in the oldest language,” Kenneth explained. “The word itself has power, so it’s best not to use it unless you need to. As for the Tome…well its full origin is actually recorded inside itself if you’d like to read it, but I’ll give you the short version. The Tome was created by the very first of the Craftlings, the being who founded our branch of magic. He was one of three ancient beings we call the Designators. Every ounce of his power, his very life force went into making sure that the entirety of the Doctrine of Light would be recorded in that Book. Our history, our culture, the practice and orchestration of our disciplines of magic, all of it. Everything that ever was, is, or will be about the Craftlings is there in those pages. It’s the heart of our people. That’s what makes it so powerful.”
Cassie looked down at the Book in her lap, its golden script proclaiming In Record of the Soul of Light. Somehow, as she held the thick volume in her hands, it wasn’t hard to believe that all that information, all that power, could be contained within it. She remembered how the Book had sung to her as if the song were her own, the dense wording as it talked about the paths of magic and preserving the stars. Most of all, she remembered the visions and the dark promise of what might be waiting for her. “If this Book is as wonderful as you say it is, then why would my mother’s power be protecting me from it?”
“You weren’t being protected from it, per se,” Kenneth said. “It’s not like the Tome was attacking you or anything. It was simply…reaching out to you. With magic that was automatically blocked by that spell. See, something as powerful as the Tome can’t just be left on its own. It needs to be guarded, its power used carefully and kept out of the wrong hands.”
“You mean like those men from earlier,” Cassie said.
“Or worse. The Keeper prevents situations like that from happening. Only the Keeper can use the power of the Book. In fact, only the Keeper knows the extent of the Book’s abilities in the first place. No one else can even touch it without permission. The Keeper’s power is absolute. And Audrey’s position as the Keeper was separate from her identity as Queen. It’s a calling that’s passed from one Keeper to another unlike the blood rights of the Royal Family. They teach the next Keeper the secret trade and then when they die the powers are transferred. It’s…well it’s one of the reasons that Audrey’s death took us by surprise.”
“Because she hadn’t trained a new Keeper,” Finn guessed.
“Yes,” Kenneth said. “There’s never been an exact timeline or anything, but throughout history the Tome has always passed on before the Keeper has.”
“But this time Charlotte’s selfishness almost destroyed the natural order of the universe.” Morris growled. He waved a finger at Cassie, as if she were responsible for her mother’s actions. “I told her, I told her from the very beginning that the consequences of her decision would affect more than just her. And look, today the Dacruum nearly acquired the means to upset the balance of power for the entire universe!” He spilled a good deal of tea into his lap as punctuation, which caused him to scowl even more.
Kenneth rubbed his eyes again. “Yes, well, I was getting to that.” He sighed and looked back up at Cassie and Finn. “What Morris means to say is that by blocking the call, Charlotte created a unique situation. She gave our enemies an opportunity that they had never had before.”
“To steal the Book,” Cassie said, “and obtain the power of the Craftlings.”
“But these men,” Finn wanted to know, “the Dock-rum or whatever. Who, or what, exactly are they?”
“Dacruum,” Kenneth corrected. “That’s…a bit complicated.”
“And why we should have started at the beginning,” Morris pointed out bitterly.
“Fine, your turn,” Kenneth said with a wave of his hand. He picked up his tea again and sank back into his chair.
Morris nodded as if this were the first correct decision Kenneth had made all day. He turned back toward Cassie and Finn. “The Dacruum are another Doctrine of magic. Whether or not I’m allowed to explain how they were created, you have to know what the Doctrines are. A Doctrine is made up of many species, but we are all one race. We access and use magic in the same way. We understand it and the universe it makes up in the same way. That makes us a shared culture, no matter how many millions of us there are. That’s why the Craftlings created the Order, to govern us all as one body. But there are three sections of the universe, and three ways to practice magic. Those are the Doctrines. Each one had their own Designator, and now their own Tome.
“We Craftlings call ourselves the beings of Light. It’s part of a metaphor that the Designators chose for us. And the Dacruum--”
“Let me guess,” Finn interrupted. “The Dacruum are beings of Darkness, and you two are in an eternal war.”
“I know it’s an old story,” Morris conceded. “But that’s only because it’s true. We were named that way because of our opposition. Good versus evil, right versus wrong, ideal versus ideal. We and they have been all of those things over the centuries.”
“What about the third Doctrine?” Cassie asked. “What role do they play in all of this?”
“They are the Shadow,” Morris quoted. “Forever one and the other, caught between Darkness and Light. They’re called the Malcoh. Even their realm sits between ours, and the fight mostly takes place there. Earth is a shadow planet. Which makes you,” he nodded at Finn, “a Malcoh whether you can use magic or not.”
Finn considered this, her face somber. All she said was, “then it seems almost inevitable that I’d get sucked in the middle of all this too.”
Instead of getting annoyed, Morris seemed to actually consider Finn’s retort. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said. “Maybe there’s a reason you’re here after all.” He looked at her, considering her in a new light.
Cassie could almost feel the chill that went down Finn’s back from where she sat. Deferentially, she changed the subject. “So, I can come to terms with magic and the whole Doctrine thing. And if you’re at war with these Dacruum guys, it makes sense that they’d attack and try to steal the Book. But that doesn’t explain everything. Why would my mom keep all of this from me? She wouldn’t make the strongest protection charm in the world to keep me from reading a book.”
“To be fair, I don’t think she knew you would be the Keeper,” Kenneth said. “The Tome doesn’t usually stay in families, and Audrey was the first of any royal to be the Keeper. Charlotte just wanted to protect you from…well from…”
“From being Queen?” Cassie filled in. Neither man met her gaze. “Why did my mother give up her rights to succeed the throne?”
Morris and Kenneth both started to answer at once. They stopped and turned to each other to have a furiously silent conversation, which seemed to be made entirely of eyebrow gestures. Cassie tried to make out what they were saying, but could only assume variations of “we should tell her” and “no we shouldn’t”. Finally Morris said, “First of all, I believe it wise to remember that your mother’s reasoning back then was both personal and paranoid.”
Followed closely by Kenneth saying, “Things have changed since Charlotte made that amulet. Whether or not you validate her actions, which some do,” he added pointedly, looking at Morris, “even she admits that the situation she was originally protecting you from is over now. However, if and when you ask her, she’ll tell you that she believes the war itself too dangerous, especially for the higher classes.”
“Which is preposterous,” Morris said.
“Which is completely justified,” Kenneth snapped. More calmly, he added, “While all of us support the theoretical necessity of this war, not all of us seem to know its reality. Earlier today was the heaviest fire Morris has ever seen.”
“Literally,” Cassie muttered.
Finn had been watching Kenneth as he rubbed his forearm anxiously while he talked, unconsciously running his fingers along the length of his scar. “I thought Lords didn’t fight in wars,” she said.
“They don’t,” Morris said with a noticeable glare at Kenneth.
Kenneth cleared his throat, self-consciously pulling his arms apart. “Craftling nobility is a bit notorious for our…involvement in military action. I’m not exactly famous for my non-partisanship.”
“And neither is Charlotte,” Morris said. “She fought too. And ran.”
“But why?” Cassie demanded. “She was a princess, she could be Queen right now. We could have stayed safe here. Unless…”
“No one here is an enemy to your family, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Kenneth said. “It’s not my place to tell you exactly what happened, but her problem was with the Order itself. She seems to think that the people’s reliance on their leaders for protection makes those leaders vulnerable. The most powerful can’t stay behind the lines; it’s their duty to fight. And in war…casualties are inevitable. She wanted to protect you from that.”
“The spell,” Cassie said, fingering her necklace, “it was to keep the Dacruum from finding us.”
Kenneth took another sip of tea. Morris said, as gently as he could, “Yes. While we don’t know if the Dacruum ever looked for your mother or you, your blood still makes you targets.”
“But why? If we give up our rights to the throne, why does it matter if we’re descended from royalty? Some other lord can rule and the Dacruum can fight them.”
“Unfortunately,” Kenneth said, “that’s not how it works.” Kenneth finished his tea and pushed himself forward in his chair. His eyes were still irritated and, if Cassie didn’t know better, she’d say there was a tint of orange in his irises now. “You see,” he said, “your family has ruled our people since the order itself was created, some few thousand years ago. And being a King here is more than sitting in a big chair and ordering people around. It’s power. On top of the magic you have naturally, the crown has its own. The power of the realm. When you accept the position of queen, you accept this power into yourself as well. It’s kind of hard to explain…Audrey once told me that it was like channeling a spirit—a force that surges through you, becomes a part of you but is still completely foreign. Our Order doesn’t exist without that power. And maybe once it was easier to pass it from person to person without regard for bloodlines, but now…”
“Now we live under the Rite of Origin,” Morris finished.
“What does that mean?” Cassie asked.
“It means that the universe is not what it once was,” Morris said. “The war has gotten worse, and harder. Your ancestors have done their best to fix it. There are enchantments, strong ones, that keep us safe, that keep our people safe. Without them, the Dacruum would decimate us in a matter of days. And in order to cast spells like that, the royals needed to bind them with blood. Blood that has now passed to you.”
“It’s almost like a genetic signature,” Kenneth said. “If the power of the crown isn’t tied to someone from your bloodline, the enchantments will no longer hold.”
“Can’t you cast them again with someone new?” Cassie said.
Both men shook their heads. Kenneth said, “It took centuries to build them. The Dacruum won’t allow us that time again. The only reason the enchantments haven’t fallen is because you haven’t technically waived your rights yet. And even that won’t hold them forever.”
Cassie thought back over the past few hours, what seemed like years, to when she had walked in on her mother arguing with Morris. He’d talked about the family’s legacy, about the survival of his people. He’d sounded so sure, so persistent, determined to get even a “child figurehead” like Cassie on the throne just to save the Craftlings. They’d talked about sacrificing all the worlds of the universe over Cassie’s safety and she’d just assumed it was hyperbole. But now…she looked up at the others. Kenneth, Morris, even Finn. They were all looking at her with apprehension, waiting for her to say something, to make a decision. She gripped the edges of the Book in her lap as if that would steady her mind. “Hypothetically, even if we found a way, some,” she laughed dryly, “magical fix that would let someone else be Queen and keep the enchantments…the Dacruum would still come after me wouldn’t they?”
When Kenneth answered, he spoke to the floor. “There’s no way to be sure. Your blood would still be valuable. With it they might be able to find a way to breach our protections, even under a new ruler.” He sighed and managed to look up. “Tonight those men, Dacruum soldiers, were after the Tome. I have no idea if they knew who you were or not. If they’ve found out…”
“Then I’ll never be safe.” Cassie dropped her head into her hands. Her chest constricted until she could barely breathe.
“What about Ms. Brewell?” Finn suggested. “Couldn’t she cast that binding spell again?”
“It wouldn’t work this time,” Morris said. “Now that Cassady is the Keeper she will be magically tied to the Book. Even if Charlotte were able to perform such magic again, Cassady wouldn’t be able to break that connection, which would contradict the spell.”
“And I get to be Keeper until I die,” Cassie said, lifting her head. “Thanks for warning me about that before I accepted by the way,” she shot at Morris.
“I had no choice,” he said. “The Book is yours. Only you could keep it from the wrong hands.”
“Of course,” she said bitterly. “Only me. It’s destiny.”
“Cassie…” Kenneth started to say.
“How many will die if I say no?” she said bluntly.
“More than you could count,” Morris said. “Whole planets, each with billions of people on them.”
“No pressure though.” She laughed, halfway between a sob and hysteria. “I guess now I don’t have to worry about getting into college anymore.” Kenneth opened his mouth to speak but she held up a hand to silence him. “Whatever you’re about to say, it won’t change anything. Everything’s already changed.” Cassie gripped the Book even harder until her knuckles turned white. She found that her hands had started shaking again. Beside her, Finn lifted a hand as if to place it on top of Cassie’s but she hesitated.
“If I could give you a choice, I would,” Morris said. It was the kindest she had ever heard him sound. Somehow, that made it worse.
Cassie turned to Finn and handed her the Tome. Her arms felt so much lighter without it. “Can you watch this for a bit?” she asked. Finn nodded, dumbly.
Morris started to get out of his chair. “Cassady, what are you doing?”
“I just need some time. Away from all of,” she gestured at the two men and the Book in Finn’s lap, “this. Just…give me some time. Please?”
“O-of course,” Kenneth said.
All three of them watched as Cassie walked out of the room. She fought the urge to run as soon as she started to move, and when she flung open the door she didn’t bother to close it behind her.