Chapter Fifteen

Surprise, Surprise

It had been an hour or so since they sat in the grass, each lost in their own thoughts—until Serena broke the silence regarding her past. The one she grew up in with two parents and an older brother. The type of memories shared between family members, to remember of happier and funnier times, but instead she shared her memories with Lucas.

He plucked the grass and discarded them to a side, like a bothersome speck of dust stuck between his fingers. The late morning air refreshed their sweaty skin as the glare of the sun pressed against their backs mercilessly. It was not a hot day, rather a fresh one, as the breeze cooled their faces with a light caress.

Earlier she had walked into town with Lucas by her side and had sprinted back home when he purposed a game on who was the fastest to return home. Of course, he had won. She had given him the advantage, seeing that he had clutched his side as if a deep pain began to bother him. Whether or not he knew of her generous (but pity) act, he did not speak of it. And instead took the victory with, well, what she presumed was a smile when half of his lip was concealed.

The dress she wore had her hot and irritated; although, it was light. She wanted to rip it from her sweaty skin and walk freely in the cool weather. But it will be unladylike, she had reasoned. Yes, it would certainly be unladylike to do such a thing.

After a long moment of silence, she faced Lucas and finished the tale of her past.

"My brother then left to Cornelia to take care of his wife and child. As for my family and I, we stayed on top of that small hill, until I married and left with my husband. My family now resides in Lunar."

Perhaps he had forgotten that she had turned quiet when the past became unbearable to tell. Perhaps she had extended her period of silence to make him believe that she no longer wanted to speak about her upbringing. Either way both reasons held its merit to explain the boredom in his actions.

He looked around, searching for a new object to hold his interest.

"I sometimes wonder if my family is well," she spoke aloud.

Lucas stood still, caught by a sight. She inclined her head and asked, "What is it?"

He appeared amused. As she turned her head to face what he had seen, he said, "He stares at us."

Far ahead, leaning near the main entrance door, Diamond stood. He appeared disgruntled; he dare not even look at her direction. He then entered his home without a second glance.

Lucas scoffed, clearly amused at his departure. But as she observed him, he was more than amused but satisfied. Satisfied at what? That he left? She did not know. In fact, she felt bothered.

"He's just being protective," she defended.

Yes, he was protecting her, perhaps too much, but he thought of her safety first. It was something Lucas needed to know, but by the look in his eye, he did not care what she thought of Diamond.

Instead he turned her words against her. "Does he believe that I will harm you?"

She firmly denied, "No! It's in his nature to protect me."

He squandered her explanation with, "In his nature to protect you? A friend? I would understand a wife if you held the title."

He sought for an argument; he pushed for it in fact. How she wanted to tell him that Diamond protected her because she was the queen, but her friend had told her that no one should know—not even Lucas.

She calmly stated, "I know countless people who are protective of their friends."

"Really? Elaborate on such person."

"I would protect a friend."

He pulled his gaze away from her and looked to a side, to where the large tree sat with a swing on its branch. She felt her anger slowly die, surprised that she was angry in the first place. She never felt this riled before, not since her husband let her go. In truth, he was the only one who knew how to upset her.

Lucas said, "It's an odd behavior." Her thoughts came to an abrupt rest as she focused on Lucas. He continued, "How did you meet him?"

"He saved me from falling into a trap."

He was definitely intrigued at what she had said. He implored, "A trap?"

"I was traveling in the labyrinth."

"Why?"

The question came off as a demand as if he held the right to know. He certainly did not but she did not correct him. In truth, she preferred not speaking of the memory for she was reminded of her husband.

But she gave in.

"I was placed through a test. Diamond saved my life when I failed to see a trap."

He ignored the fact that she was placed through a test and instead said, "Ah, so he is the hero."

She shook her head. "No, he is more than a hero. He is a good man."

"And you trust him devotedly because he had saved your life?"

Why did he question her every action? It was as if she was doing everything wrong.

"Yes," she admitted, "just like I trust you."

He rolled his head to a side. One of the bandages had slipped and revealed his ruined skin near his neck. It did not bother her as it would another, and no doubt they would've pushed him away—which would probably explain his bad-mannered (and even guarded) behavior since someone surely did push him away.

But she was not like the others. She ignored the disfigured skin.

"You should be careful on who you trust. They are liable to turn against you," he cautiously warned her. She felt her stomach churn in knots. Those words… Where had she heard them before?

Before she even had the chance to question him further, he stood, uninterested in the conversation.

"I should go," he announced.

Serena watched him depart and began to pluck the grass from the ground, never realizing that she had copied his earlier action. It came to her automatically as if the same boredom that assaulted him now assaulted her. But still one fact was for certain, those words, "They are liable to turn against you," were used before by a different pair of lips. The only problem was she did not know who.

She left her spot and headed inside. She ignored the glare sent her way from Emerald and headed into her room. The day continued on, until night arrived and brought in the next day.

She awoke when the sun arose in the distance and the first rays slanted through the window and fell across the floor, reaching the bottom of the bedpost. She left the room in small steps and ate alone in the dining hall. The Lord of the house, and his wife, had already eaten, the butler had said.

Serena glanced toward the door and thought as she ate. This was the third day Diamond and Lady Emerald had not joined her for breakfast. But then Lady Emerald preferred her distance since the incident. As for Diamond, she did not know what kept him away.

Serena glided through each room on the bottom floor with her stomach filled, leaving her satisfied. She went in the parlour and rested against the window as the sun brightened the land with color.

The grandfather clock chimed away the silence for two seconds or more. The hour was nine when Lady Emerald appeared, destroying her peaceful mood with turbulence. She passed the couch, the armchairs next to it, and stood in front of her. She smelled like a rich bottle of perfume mixed with sweet-smelling flower and a strong citrus. Her forehead carried small beads of sweat, most likely from a heavy task or a sprint.

"I hear that you were searching for…" She paused, sorting through the many vile words she had against the other guest in her home—Serena knew for she always called him something different and degrading—and opted to say, "…the forest boy."

Serena corrected her. "Lucas. That is his name."

"It doesn't matter. He is a forest boy, or man, whatever you prefer." She moved her hands as she spoke. "You brought him into my home without an ounce of consideration of how I felt."

Serena wanted to tell her by saying her husband allowed it, but Emerald held up a hand. No excuse was required, she had said, but it wasn't an excuse, more of an explanation to clear her misguided judgment. In the end, her explanation would've ended up in ignorance when Lady Emerald hated her for another reason—a reason that did not make sense.

"It hardly matters." She took a step closer. "Why do you look for him? Is my husband not enough?"

Caught off guard, Serena had little time to think, let alone give a reasonable explanation.

She continued, "Because of you, my husband does not look at me. You rot him with your high, impeding presence, boasting of your purity and the goodness in you."

She certainly never boasted of those things.

"Do you enjoy taking my husband away from me?"

She forced out. "I never took him away. He is a good man, yes, but he is a dear friend to me."

Emerald chuckled. "Will a friend dare kiss another friend and shower them with love?"

Serena shook her head. "It's a misunderstanding."

"A misunderstanding? I heard his confession," she said, her voice rising with her rage.

"But I do not feel the same way!" Serena shouted.

And in return of wanting to drill into her head a shed of truth, Serena instead received a slap to the face.

"Whether you feel nothing or not, you took him away from me, and I cannot forgive you of that."

She placed a hand over her hot, pulsating cheek. "I did nothing wrong!" She urged for Emerald to see reason.

"Yes, you did." She pulled away and walked toward the table set in between the sofa and the armchairs. She grabbed a bottle of wine—what was it doing there? Serena did not know—and then stared at her through the overhanging mirror across from them. "You lived when you should've died when I pushed you in."

It was a confession, a rather cruel one, of the incident on top of the cliff. For as long as she did not want to believe it, the truth hit her hard. She did not slip that day, she was pushed. She wanted to believe that she had slipped, but dammit she was pushed by the woman in front of her.

Emerald left and soon after she did too. She sat on the swing, rocking her legs back and forth. For some reason she felt unsettled as if someone was watching her. She could not shake the feeling, not even when she threw back her head to feel the sun on her face. Someone was watching her and no doubt in her mind it had to be Emerald.

She needed to escape.

And she did.

Serena entered the small town, looking at the cobblestones at her feet before the dirt path met her eye. She followed the path into the forest in search for a place to escape. But what she really wanted was a place to think in peace.

Could it be that she was at fault for ruining a marriage? It was absurd. But it felt so right to blame herself. In the end it was the guilt that was eating at her mind.

She pulled away from the possible idea and thought of Diamond, the main problem, she presumed, for Emerald's distress. It was true (and Serena would not deny it) that Diamond loved her, perhaps bordering over obsession. He was also quite driven to keep her close, if the dagger incident was nothing to go by of. He held a dark side in him, but she knew he was a good person at heart.

After all, he didn't truly love her. He was locked in the idea that he was. Loneliness did that to people. She simply had to help him realize that and then everything would return to normal.

Hope was misleading, but she believed in it. As a friend to him, it was the least she could do to make a dying marriage work.

But then she stopped in her wandering pace.

What if Diamond refused to see the truth and be lost in his dark lie? What if he pulled out the dagger and threatened her? She never thought of him in a bad reputation before but the incident in his study room did not leave her in peace. She had to admit she was scared of him and his unpredictable behavior.

She should seek Emerald first, make amends, and then… And then what? Force her to force him to love her? And how would she even approach Emerald in the first place when the woman could hardly stand her presence, let alone carry a decent conversation with?

Damn her contradictions! Damn her mind and her reasoning to see the good and the bad! Damn the situation she was in! If only she attempted to stay with Darien, she would've never entered—No! No! That way of thinking was foolish. But what if Darien was bluffing about the guards? No! Darien never bluffs.

She made the right choice.

She knew she did but the right choice felt entirely wrong.

When she returned home, dusk had fallen, taking with it the last bits of color before the world went dark with blinking stars. She walked up the porch, her footsteps heavy against the wooden frame. The house was unlit. Strange… It was usually lit.

She knocked on the door. Nothing. Would it be rude to enter? She was the guest after all. Standing outside alone in the dark did not help the situation however. She reached for the lock and pushed—it barely moved an inch. She pushed harder. It was blocked by something heavy. She pushed again. She made enough room for her to fit through.

But she wished she hadn't entered. A few candles were lit in the house, providing a small source of light but still held an eerie, dark glow. Blocking the door, there was a wooden barrel. Where did it come from? She hardly saw any barrels around the house.

She looked inside and fell to the ground in fright a minute later. In the barrel, there was a horrid sight of body parts, mostly consisting of arms and legs. She swore she saw a gaping face; with one eye bloodied and closed; the other rolled up; with cuts across the cheeks; and hair mantled and splayed in red.

The horrible image did not leave her mind. The face—she believed it was the butler that served her breakfast this morning was who she saw. She was too scared to look in for a second glance to confirm it was him.

She used her hands and feet to back away from the barrel of limbs. Her dressed appeared soiled and wet—she knew what it was for it appeared on her hands in crimson. She raced up the stairs, not thinking of an exit, and stumbled back when she found Lady Emerald dead.

She heard a scream. It could've been her that screamed. Lady Emerald rested in a strange way. Behind the back of her neck, small, round bumps jutted forward. The spine no doubt had snapped.

She had to move; she had to look away. But her legs felt stiff and her mind went blank at the sight of her death. It wasn't until she heard movement above, a thumping sound and a heavy groan, that she sprung on her feet and ran up the stairs to the person in need.

The thumping came from her room.

She walked through the doorway and noticed immediately that a candle was lit on top of her dresser. It provided enough light to see the dead body on her bed. And to her utter shock, as she drew closer, it was none other than Elise the maid.

"Elise!" she screamed but she dare not move closer.

Her stomach was cut opened; blood colored her dress and splattered her face in dots and a streak of red across her cheek. She had her head rolled to a side; eyes opened and lifeless, staring at nothing, while her mouth hung opened. One of her arms rested above her chest, while the other dangled without a hand.

The bed sheets, she noticed, were tossed carelessly on the ground. She kicked gently at them and found underneath Elise's missing hand. It was too much. She had seen too much of death.

Then, without expecting it, a hand grabbed her ankle, startling her. She turned around and kicked the hand away and pressed herself against the dresser. On the ground, a butler laid—she did not know him by name—as he dragged his batter body closer to her. She only moved away, frightened. For how else was one to react to a nearly dead man?

He then lifted his face. Blood covered half his features; and an empty eye socket stared at her.

"You must…" He had trouble speaking. "You must get away," he warned. "You must… get away… from them." It was his last words as death met him afterward. He held on for so long. She got on her knees and took his bloodied hand with both of her own and made a silent prayer in his name.

But she could not stay here for long. She had to get out now.

She scrambled to the hallway, feeling faint. She had to shake away the feeling. Now was not the time to faint.

Up ahead, and to her surprise, the hallway was lit with candles, and revealed a bloody Diamond, holding a soaked, red knife. He stared at the ground for a moment, and then he flashed his eyes toward her.

He made his approach.

She instinctively shut the door. Five seconds in, and he tapped on the door, saying her name in a lovely way. Something scratched against the door, frightening her. He probably wanted to scare her.

"Open the door." His voice sounded lifeless, dead. She did not comply.

He banged on the door. "Open the door," he said in his robotic voice.

"No!" she cried.

She had to be brave but her fear had her jittery.

Another bang, harder than the last, was given, as she grew helpless.

"Open the fucking door!"

She did not know what to do. Her only exit was downstairs. She had to survive. By the gods, she had to.

He slammed his weight against the door, and she knew she had not the strength to stop him. Moving away, she watched as he entered, the candle light casting an orange hue across his wild eyes. He stood there for a while, watching her dance in her nervousness.

He then moved his foot forward, and she broke away from him.

"Why?"

"To make us a future," he said.

She glanced behind her and saw a small stand near the window. There were pieces of broken glass showered in water and roses. If only she was near it… If only she grabbed the glass…

She had to distract him.

"You killed them."

"Some."

She moved closer to the stand.

"We can finally be together, just you and I."

"How could you do this?"

"We deserve happiness. I deserve that. You do too. It will be paradise."

Diamond was so lost in his madness.

"I'm not going with you."

It was the wrong thing to say for he stopped and looked away, and then returned his gaze with a twisted smile. Her body hummed to escape. She felt the stand behind her and grabbed a piece of glass in her hand.

"You don't have to come with me alive. Dead is fine as well."

He approached. Quickly, she sliced his cheek with the glass and made her escape as he writhed in agony. There was little time to think. She had to escape through the door and run into town.

She had to alert someone. But as she came into town, she never felt so alone. She banged on each house door; no one answered. It was as if no one resided in the small town.

"Serena! Serena!"

She heard his voice.

She did not stop. She could not stop. She had to run somewhere safe.

She ended up in a church, not too far from town.

She ran inside (it was bright inside, no doubt from the many candles) and slammed the door. Her heart pumped quickly in her chest and rung in her ears. There was movement behind her. She jumped and turned.

And then… And then it became complicated to comprehend.

Lucas stood in front of her, clothed in a dark fashion, resembling a king. He turned to her and his bandages began to slip, revealing smooth skin underneath. His dark eyes faded into a familiar shade of blue.

She dropped herself to her knees.

"You can't trust anyone in Elysium, for who tells the truth and who tells the lie. You look confused."

"How?" she asked.

"I told you," Lucas said, or rather Darien, as the necklace pulsed and slit through his scar, revealing his true form. "It depends on the user what the necklace holds."

"I thought you only meant the labyrinth."

He crouched down to her level.

"No, I was misguiding you to believe that. But now I must ask you this: who ever said we left the labyrinth in the first place?"

He smiled, his white teeth tainted in blood.

She did not move, nor fight, when the guards came and dragged her away.

xx

Darien watched her go and fell on his knees. He laughed for a moment before he vomited his own blood on the red carpet. Ironic that his blood bore the same color. Andrew quickly came to his side to help him stand.

"Her face… Did you not enjoy the sight of it?"

He felt a headache push against his brain, making him dizzy.

Andrew said, "You almost risked your life. If you had died…"

"I wouldn't have died, Andrew." He looked at Andrew, and he thought to himself, he must look like shit. "Hades won't let me die like this."

"Darien…"

He ignored the concern in his voice and clutched the bloody necklace in his hand. It pulsed with life and grew a dark shade of red. He risked his life to play a cruel joke on his wife. How tantalizing it was to see her exposed and vulnerable.

But yet it failed in the end.

She was still the good wife, loyal and kind, and pure at heart.

But for how long, his mind reasoned.

It was time to elicit the final phase.