We moved the unconscious body to a nearby tree and tied him up. His wrists were tied to his back, while another rope wrapped around his chest and the tree behind him. It was already night, and the darkness surrounded us, leaving us only to rely on our hearing.
Through the dark, I could see Cassius looking at me with a knowing smirk.
“What?” I asked him with my arms crossed.
“You did a pretty good job knocking him off. You’re good.” He said with a glint of proudness in his eyes.
“Yeah, I know. I’m pretty awesome right?” I said winking at him. He chuckled and shook his head. Everything was silent for a moment until he broke the silence.
“How did the spell went through you?” He asked seriously, no trace of the joking moment we had before.
I passed a hand through my hair and sighed. “I seriously don’t know. It just... kind of happened. I thought I was going to die, for real. And then, I saw how the spell literally went through me and hit the tree behind me.” I said keeping my voice straight.
Cassius had a frown and started to move his feet up and down. He did that every time he was in deep thinking.
“What are you thinking?” I asked, knowing that he would just probably shrug it off, saying that’s not important.
“We need to get out of here.” He looked at me with a disturbing calmness in his eyes. As if it was the calm before the storm. “Something bad is going to happen, really bad.”
I looked at him and it was as if my body had been paralyzed with fear. I recovered fastly and nodded. I started rambling in nervousness. “Everything is going to be alright. We are going to get out of this together, and as long as we are together, everything is fine. I mean, we are always fine at the end, right? We just-” I said in a small voice so fast that I couldn’t even understand what I was saying. Cassius hugged my shoulders and pull me towards him.
I had never been that scared in my life. Never. I sensed something bad was going to happen even before Cassius said it. This was only the confirmation of it. I had this feeling in my gut, this unnerving feeling through my whole body that made me physically sick for a week. Maybe it was the mages playing with my head or my feelings, but I couldn’t just shrug it off. I had kept my mouth shut knowing if I told Cassius my worries, it was going to be worse.
Cassius kissed my head and rested his chin on my head. “As soon as we get the information from this bastard, we are leaving.”
I let out a breath of relief. “Okay.”
I looked at the still unconscious mage and frowned. “I didn’t kill him, right?” I asked unsure of the answer.
“He’s alive. You just hit him really hard on the head.” He said nonchalantly.
Suddenly the mage started to stir. His hands started to move, fingers clenching and unclenching. He groaned in discomfort and moved his head to the side with eyes still closed.
I looked at Cassius and he gave me a knowing look. We took our distance and waited until the mage opened his eyes. But apparently, it wasn’t happening as fast as Cassius wanted. He crouched down until he was at eye level and slapped him across the face.
“Rise and shine, motherfucker.” He said in his british cold accent. An evil smirk was on his lips, and his glare was full of hatred.
This was Cassius dark side, the one I got to see when I first met him. Even when we fought he didn’t show this side. It was cruel, sadistic, and messed up in all ways possible.
The mage opened his eyes in shock and looked at his surroundings frantically. He stopped when his eyes locked with mine and a deep scowl replaced his shocked face.
I had my arms crossed over my chest and stared blankly at the mage.
Cassius slapped him again and sneered. “Eyes here.”
The mage was clearly furious.
“Fuck off, mutt.” He gritted his teeth. His wrists were moving in an attempt to free himself, but it was impossible he could free himself from those knots.
“Careful with what you say, you’re the one tied up to a tree.” He said in a menacing tone, with an underlying threatening promise.
The mage glared but kept his mouth shut.
“We need information, and I’m not going to ask twice. So I suggest you start talking when I ask.” His cold stare even had an effect on me. Even if I looked stoic and nonchalant from the outside, my heart was beating like crazy and my hands were sweating. If the mage didn’t answer, things were going to get nasty.
Cassius warned me beforehand that it was going to be bloody and inhuman, but it was necessary. It was them or us.
“You think I’m going to answer because you’re asking nicely? I’m not stupid, you’re going to kill me either way.” The mage glared and kept wrestling with the rope around his wrists.
I swallowed hard because of the lump in my throat and I felt how my stomach churned. I had forgotten that tiny detail. We were going to kill him.
The mage looked at me with mocking smirk. “You don’t even have the guts to do it.”
I gritted my teeth and clenched my hands around my arm. He was right, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.
“I wasn’t the one who was unconscious after one hit. That’s embarrassing...” I mocked him with a faked guilty smile.
He glared and was about to say something when Cassius interrupted.
“I’m the one who’s going to kill you, so don’t worry about that. What you need to worry about, is what happens before you die.” Cassius had an evil glint when he started taking the knife out of his pocket in slow motion.
The mage was visibly distressed. He looked at the knife and swallowed. “Bring it on.”
Cassius smiled. “With pleasure.”
The screams of agony echoed through the forest. At some point, I had to turn around and take my gaze from the mage.
My eyes were trying to keep the tears from falling. My chest had a painful knot and my hands hurt from the hard clenching of my fingers. What we were doing there, went against all my principles. I felt awful knowing I was letting Cassius do it, but my survival instinct knew better; this was the only way.
More screams of agony filled my ears and I released a shaky breath. I really felt pity towards the man, he was going to die in the most gruesome way possible.
“What is Ascanius planning?” Cassius said in a steady cold voice as if he wasn’t torturing the man just a few seconds ago.
“F-fuck you.” The mage replied with a tremor in his voice.
I closed my eyes tightly and took a deep breath.
“Wrong answer idiot.” I thought preparing myself for another round of screams.
The screams started again, overpowering once again the noises of the quiet night.
I didn’t even know how other mages hadn’t heard already the screams and come to rescue their partner. They probably didn’t even care.
The agony continued and I was suffering. Guilt was crawling through my back and I was sure if I heard the screams one more second I was going to lose my sanity. If I had any left.
I couldn't take it any longer.
I turned around and put a hand on Cassius’ shoulder.
“Please, stop.” I pleaded, but he was enjoying it too much. His eyes observed sadistically the bloody knife cutting through his leg.
The mage screamed again, his whole body shaking because of the pain. At this moment, he was covered in blood, as well as Cassius’ hands. I winced at his loud screams and this time with more determination I grabbed his shoulder and turned around to face me.
“STOP!” My breathing was heavy and just as the screams stopped, a sense of relief washed over me.
Cassius looked at me surprised. “What are you doing?” He questioned me with irritation lacing his voice.
“Enough is enough,” I whispered. I looked at the mage. He was whimpering, and his body was shaking uncontrollably because of the pain. My heart ached at the sight, but at the same time, I knew if he had the shot to do the same to me, he would do it without giving it a second thought.
I bent and rested my knees on the floor. “Dammit, for god’s sake, just talk. Don’t you see this is pointless? You’re protecting people that don’t even give two flying craps about you! Believe me, if they wanted to help you, they could have rescued you a long time ago.” I said in a small voice, trying my best for him to see my point.
“The idea is to protect the mission, not the people.” His voice was gruff, probably from all the screaming.
“That’s the most stupid thing I have heard in my life. How can you carry out a plan for someone knowing they won’t do shit for you?” I asked him squinting my eyes at him.
“Ascanius is a selfish prick, he doesn’t care about the cause of the mages. He only cares about himself, about reaching the top no matter what. You mages are sacrificing yourselves for a cause that’s not yours.”
The mage’s face said everything. I had hit the jackpot. I didn’t even know if I was saying something true. Apparently, I was.
“You could accomplish so many things doing it the peaceful way. I bet Ascanius is getting in the way of your real goal.”
The mage had a frown on his face. He was thinking about what I had said, and I was suspecting my plan was working.
Cassius grabbed my arm suddenly, making me stand up. He pulled me a few feet away from the mage, where he couldn’t hear us.
“What do you think you are doing? It’s nonsense!” He whispered-shout to me exasperated.
“Don’t you see its working? He is questioning what he is doing, and that’s a weakness we can exploit.”
He passed a hand through his hair and huffed frustrated. I sighed and took his hand in mine.
“I know you warned me about the torture, but I couldn’t stand it any longer. You had your chance to do it your way, now I want to try mine.” I said looking at his eyes, trying to calm him. Even through the dark, I could see his irritated face, and I knew if we weren’t in “something” (which I didn’t know what it was), he would have spoken his mind freely.
“You’re wasting your time, this is stupid.” He shook his head in disagreement.
“Whatever. We’ll see if this works and if it doesn’t...” I looked at the floor not wanting to look him in the eye. “You can continue your way.” I muttered in a low voice hoping he didn’t hear me.
He took my chin and force me to look up. “I’m going to hold you accountable for that.” He said seriously and I nodded, still not wanting to look at his face. I was praying for the mage’s sake that he started to speak soon.
I didn’t like this side of him. Not at all.
I looked at the mage and pitied him. From where I was standing you could see the blood staining his clothes. The dark didn’t let me see his face, but I knew he was still thinking about what I had said.
“So?” Cassius said eagerly. “Go ask him again!”
“Patience. He needs more time.” I whispered still looking at the mage.
I looked at Cassius. His jaw was clenching and his eyes full of hatred towards the mage.
“The things I do for love...” he muttered so low I could have mistaken it for curses. But I heard. He didn’t notice I heard and just turned around and walked a few feet away. I was left frozen in place, my mind still trying to process the words that left his mouth.
“Love? He... loves me?” I thought in shock.
I wasn’t ready for that. Definitely. If he had told me that to the face, I don’t know if I could have said the words back. Love is such a strong word. It means total devotion towards a person. It means spending the rest of your life with that person knowing you’ll be the happiest person on the planet. It means accepting every single part of that person, which includes its demons.
I couldn’t be ready for that.
The mage’s voice brought me back to reality.
“Ascanius plan is way more... complex than ours at first. We wanted to go back, reclaim our place in the kingdoms, but accepting the humans as well.” His voice was hoarse, a whisper in the middle of the darkness. I walked closer to hear him better.
“Our return had taken centuries, and out of nowhere, Ascanius appeared, but he had other plans on his mind. The humans were not in them exactly.” He coughed and took a deep breath. At this point, Cassius was next to me listening carefully every word the mage was speaking.
“Ascanius was aspiring for a lot more than we were, but he managed to convince everyone that he was the chosen one to lead us, that his words were the law.” The mage looked at me and chuckled darkly. “I hope they never found me because if they do, your tortures are nothing in comparison to what they can do.”
I nodded for him to continue. He sighed and looked at me dead in the eye.
“He is after the Eternal crowns.”
I looked at him blankly, not knowing what he was talking about. I looked at Cassius and I knew it was serious.
His palm was covering his mouth as if he would lash any minute. His eyes were closed and his fists were tight, making his knuckles turn white. The hand covering his mouth passed through his face and his hair. “Fuck, this is worse than I thought.” He muttered, not looking at me at any moment.
I turn my gaze to the mage. “What does he want with the Eternal crowns?” I asked pretending I knew what he was talking about.
“He thinks he is the one that the prophecies mention. He believes one of the crowns belongs to him.”
“What about the other crown? For who is it?” I asked curiously.
“Maybe he has a special one...” I thought weirded out by thought itself. When you think about psychopaths and murderers, you never think they can have the ability to fall in love. You think of them as barbaric cold people, more like aliens than actual humans.
He shook his head, not knowing the answer. “The prophecy is from the beginning of times. Even if he turns out to be the right person, I doubt he will find the other person for the other crown.
“Whats the prophecy?” I asked.
“You’re asking the wrong person. You should ask him.” He moved his head in the direction of Cassius.
Cassius looked at me. There was something in his face that unnerved for some reason, but I couldn’t point it out in that darkness surrounding us. I turned my face towards the mage once again.
“What about me? What is he planning for me?” I asked cautiously, not even knowing if I wanted to know the answer. Cassius attention was drawn back to the mage.
The mage raised his brows as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. I rolled my eyes. “You know what I’m talking about.”
He looked unsure but he shook his head. “We don’t know. It’s part of what he likes to call “his personal projects”. He never talks about them. To anyone.”
I shuddered at his answer and try to swallow the instant lump that formed in my throat.
Silence settled between the three of us, but it was interrupted by the mage, unstartling Cassius and me.
“You need to get out of here.” He spoke fastly. I looked at him confused.
“What? Why?” I asked with a slight tremor in my voice, fear growing through every inch of my body.
“They are going to be here soon, in a few hours.” He reveals looking at me.
The air was caught in my throat and the feeling in my gut constricted, and I knew that was it. I knew in that instant that that was the moment I was dreading for a week.
“You need to run as fast as you can, get out of here, of this woods, and hope for the best.” He said looking at me with... sympathy.
Cassius growled and grabbed the mans throat. “You are lying.” He gritted his teeth, not believing a word the mage had said.
The mage looked at Cassius with repulsion. “I’m only telling you because of her. She deserves to live, not you scum.”
“Oh my god...” I looked at Cassius in fear. “We need to leave.” I looked at the mage. “You too.”
“No, I’m not going anywhere. I prefer to die than having the possibility of being captured by them. You need to kill me.” He pleaded looking at me, asking me silently to do it
I looked perplexed at him. “I-I can’t do it. I’m sorry...”
“I’ll do it.” Cassius said almost immediately. The mage clenched his jaw, displeased by the idea, but didn’t say anything.
“Thank you, so much. I’m sorry, for everything.” I took the knife and started to cut the ropes that were tying him. “If you’re going to die, you should die as a free man.”
He took his wrist and rubbed because of the tightness of the rope. He looked at me gratefully.
I looked at Cassius with unshed tears in my eyes. He was looking at the mage with an indecipherable look. I dropped my gaze and kept walking towards the cabin.
The slash of the knife through the mage’s throat resonated through the cold night, marking that night as the end of the girl who appeared in the forest, the disappearance of the innocent girl that thought God did things for a reason.
The worst part was that the feeling in my gut was still there. Something worse was going to happen.