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Percy’s face looks drawn and pale, even through the green wall of residuum glass, but he meets her eyes and smiles bravely.  “It’s all right. See you soon.” And he pulls out his weapon, the gun he calls it, hands working busily.  “I’m going to be fine. Go.” 

----- 

The first arrow barely hurts at all, in the moment it hits; it’s like a sharp shove in the back of her shoulder, knocking her forward so that she stumbles in the snow, half-turning.  The second hits her in the side, and both wounds burst into hammerblows of pain at the precise moment she hears Percy scream the word no.

(Later, there are days when she can’t remember what really happened and what she’s only imagined, dreamed, been told.  He cried her name and dropped to his knees in the snow beside her, tried to lift her, only tore himself away when she cursed weakly at him and told him to run; he kept running, barely glancing at her as she fell, was gone before the third arrow hit her; he froze in horror for several seconds, staring at her, but jerked back into a run while she was still trying to speak through the lung-tearing pain.

It doesn’t matter.  She remembers what’s important: her brother vanishing into the trees while she bled her life out in the snow.  He’s getting away, and I’m dying.)

He leaves her there, and she doesn’t die.

-----

Cassandra is six, the winter she breaks the lid of her mother’s jewelbox by accident.  Everyone else is out in the courtyard, playing in the snow or helping the servants string Winter’s Crest decorations; it’s eleven-year-old Percy who finds her in her favorite hiding place midway up the back stairs, trying and trying and failing to bend the little gold hinges back together, weeping in frustration and shame.

It’s all right, he tells her. I can fix it

-----

The first words he says to her, when they see each other again after five years of hell, are I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for leaving you.

-----

The dungeon is cold and stinks of death, and she can’t stop shaking.  She’s wrapped the stolen keys in a swath of silk torn from her sleeve, to keep them from rattling in her hands.  With every step, she feels like she’s about to fall.

Mother and Father are dead.  Julius, dead; Vesper, dead; Whitney and Oliver, dead; Ludwig, dead.

If Percy is alive, he’s locked up down here and she will find him.  If he isn’t …

If he isn’t, then she’s alone.  And if she’s alone, then she has to take care of herself, that’s all.

-----

"Did you know that your brother Percival is still alive, my dear?” Delilah asks over the breakfast table, the morning after she and Sylas return from Emon.  “Quite astonishing, really. It seems he means to be some trouble to us yet.”

Cassandra finishes pouring herself a cup of tea, carefully sets down the pot, reaches for the little crock of honey.  Spoons up a generous dollop, and tilts the spoon in a precise angle over her steaming teacup.

She knows what Delilah wants to hear her say, and says it as she watches the honey slide down in a thin ribboning stream, amber into brown:  “He’s not my brother. I’m a Briarwood now.”

-----

When she first wakes in the temple of Pelor, Father Reynal has to bind her to the bed with a spare sheet to keep her from trying to get up  ﹘ and then has to dose her into a drugged half-sleep to keep her from struggling and screaming, either of which would worsen her injuries. It’s the work of many days before he judges that she’s recovered enough to sit up in a chair, to eat anything more substantial than broth and watered wine, to speak above a whisper.

To hear the bad news.

If the muttered words they have from the castle servants are to be believed, the Briarwoods’ guardsmen left her for dead in the snow in order to chase after Percy.  And reported, on their return, that he escaped them by leaping to his death, into the freezing river.

Which means, my lady, Father Reynal tells her, holding both her hands in his, gazing earnestly into her face, that you are the last of the de Rolos.

Which means that she’s alone.

----- 

It isn’t Percy who first comes through Professor Anders’s door where they’ve laid their trap; it’s the half-elf, Vax’ildan.

That’s … disappointing, somehow.

----- 

Lady Briarwood cuts her meat for her at the dinner table for nearly five months, after the third time she tries to slip a knife up her sleeve.  For some time, her place at table is set with a blunt wooden spoon and no other utensil.

There are nights when she slips out of bed during the late watches, moves silently along the back stairs and through the hidden corridors, and eavesdrops on the Briarwoods wherever she finds them: sitting in the garden, strolling on a balcony, taking a glass of wine in one of the parlors.  She doesn’t know what she hopes to overhear; it’s enough to know that she can observe them, herself unobserved. 

-----

Whitney is ten, almost too old for dolls but still willing to play with them with her baby sister, from time to time.  Cassandra is seven, and this month she’s dressed her doll in scraps of leather for armor, held on with bits of twisted copper wire.  Whitney’s doll wears velvet, with little fragments of colored glass glued on for gems; she’s an enchanter, Cassandra declares, and her own doll is a warrior, and they can play at adventuring up on the east battlements.

The game goes well, until Cassandra tries to demonstrate an impressive leap by tossing her doll in a high arc.  It lands on the railing, bounces the wrong way, and falls several yards to fetch up in the crook of an apple tree in the orchard below.  Whitney panics, and runs to find their mother; Cassandra studies the scene, and thinks she can probably climb down the upper branches of the trees along the wall until she can reach it herself.

This, it turns out, is a terrible mistake.  Father and Percival end up having to bring ladders and climb up to disentangle her from the thinnest branches.  Father carries her down, more frightened than hurt and more frustrated than either.

It’s Percy who goes back up for the doll. 

-----

The new lords of Whitestone have wasted no time, it seems, while Cassandra was bedridden at the temple of Pelor.  They’ve murdered the lesser noble families and installed their own creatures in their place, given them title and property; they’ve killed anyone who protested their rule, or attempted to flee.  And they’ve promised safety for all who obey them.

For a good few months, Father Reynal and Archibald are the only people she sees.  Father Reynal doesn’t tell anyone else about Cassandra’s survival of the massacre, or her presence in the temple’s tiny sickroom.  She needs the time to continue recovering, he says; in its own way, agrees Archibald, so does Whitestone. It will take a great deal of preparation before they can strike back.

(The idea that she might want to escape rather than lead a rebellion, leave Whitestone forever and find somewhere else to live, clearly never crosses his mind.  It doesn’t do much more than cross hers ﹘ the prospect of abandoning her home to the Briarwoods without a struggle holds no appeal to her at all ﹘ but she notices, silently, that he doesn’t ask.)

For two years they work, collect information, gather support, lay plans.  A very few people are brought in on the secret of her presence, then a few more.  Rumors stitch through the countryside like rabbits through hedgerows, swift and very nearly silent.  Drinnott the blacksmith makes lists of tools that can be used as weapons: butchering knives, pitchforks, axes, scythes.

The town feels like a clenched fist, tightening slowly on itself, looking for a place to strike. 

-----

Sleeping in a bedchamber of your own is a privilege, child, Lord Briarwood tells her the first time she gets caught following them down to the catacombs. She's given a choice then, a cell in the dungeon or a chest in the master bedroom, at the foot of the bed where the Briarwoods sleep.  To be locked in, either way.

The chill of the dungeon walls in her memory, the smell ﹘ she can’t.  She can’t.

The chest isn’t much smaller than her bed, and it’s made of some sweetly aromatic wood, and the lid is intricate piercework that lets in enough air to breathe.  It still feels like being shut into a coffin, and it’s hard to know which is worse to bear: the smallness of the box she’s locked in, or the awareness of how close the Briarwoods are, just outside it.

It takes everything she has to not let them hear her whimper.

In the morning, Delilah opens the chest and helps her out of it ﹘ she needs the help; every muscle in her body is limp as a wet rag, trembling when she tries to move, aching like she’s been beaten with clubs ﹘ and loans her a clean blue brocade dressing gown, to wear down to breakfast.

You do look tired, sweet girl, she says on the way down.  Perhaps after breakfast you should go back to your chamber and rest.  And when Cassandra looks up at her in disbelief, she smiles gently.  I think you’ve learned your lesson, don’t you? 

-----

Ludwig is nine and Cassandra eight, the year Mother finally relents and lets them both start taking lessons from the fencing master.  Ludwig is vehemently indignant that his little sister gets to start at the same time as him when she’s over a year younger; Cassandra nobly resists the temptation to lord that over him.  Mostly.

Percy just shakes his head at the entire little drama, but then he’s never had any interest in learning to use a sword at all, so she can’t very well expect him to sympathize.

-----

It’s not yet two months into her captivity, the night she overhears Lord Briarwood say “This isn’t working.”

“It will, my love,” answers Lady Briarwood with calm serenity.  They’re in the library tonight, she comfortably seated in the sleek leather armchair that was always Vesper’s favorite, he standing by one of the shelves and paging idly through one of Father’s books.  From her angle of view through the latticed panel above them, Cassandra can’t see which one.

“I don’t share your optimism.”  Lord Briarwood’s voice is dry. “Cassandra is a de Rolo. That family pride will be the devil to root out.”

“Even the deepest roots can rot, Sylas.  As you well know.” Her voice is not just serene, but satisfied.  “She will be a Briarwood, in time.” 

-----

They can tell if you lie to them, is the thing.  They can always tell. And lies are punished.

Of course, telling a truth they don’t like is also punished.  And there’s never any way to tell which is going to be worse.

She works it out, gradually, painfully.  You have to know what they want you to say, but that’s not enough; you have to mean it.  Find the part of yourself that means it, and let that part do the talking. Invent that part of yourself, if you have to.

There are a lot of parts of herself she doesn’t like very much, it turns out.  Some she’s ashamed of.

Some ﹘ be honest, now ﹘ some she’s afraid of. 

-----

There’s to be a feast in honor of the unexpected guests, and the younger de Rolo children are all wildly excited.  Julius and Vesper are too grown-up to be excited, of course, and Percy is too busy Percying in his workshop to care about anything of the kind, but Oliver is transparently eager and Whitney isn’t even pretending not to be.  Ludwig, very conscious of being only a year short of thirteen, is veering between standing on his dignity, sulking about the likelihood of being sent to bed before the feast is over, and charging around the bustling dining hall with Cassandra and a few of the servants’ children, at least until they’re all chased out by the harried head steward.

Then it’s upstairs to bathe and to dress in their best winter finery, Cassandra exulting rather in her heavy blue silk ﹘ one of the few dresses she owns that wasn’t made over from something that used to be an older sister’s. Mother comes in to braid white ribbons into Cassandra’s hair, with Vesper doing the same for Whitney in the next room, and Cassandra takes advantage of the few moments to beg to be allowed to stay up until the end of the feast.  Fruitlessly, which is disappointing but not very surprising; it’s already enough of a treat that she and Ludwig are being allowed to stay up late to join the feast at all. Mother promises to save a plate of cream cakes for their lunch tomorrow, in exchange for a like promise that she’ll go up to bed when it’s time without complaining.

They do make a good showing, Cassandra decides (and feels very grown-up for deciding), looking up the line of her well-dressed brothers and sisters as they wait to be presented to the guests. They'll do Whitestone proud, Mother says when she makes her own hasty review before ushering them into the great hall, all bright with banners and evergreen boughs and countless lit candles.

The guests, Lord and Lady Briarwood, are already seated at the high table with Father and Chancellor Archibald and a few other high-ranking members of the household.  They rise to greet the host's family, looking very grand and elegant (although not, in Cassandra’s private opinion, any grander than Father in his slate-blue coat and Mother in her lavender gown).  Father performs introductions, with all the noble rolling rhythms of the long full names; everybody sits, and the servants start bringing in the first course.

Entirely too soon, Mother half-rises and asks the guests’ pardon, and it’s time for the two youngest to say their good-evening courtesies and go up to bed.  There’s a note in Ludwig’s voice perilously close to a whine, but he manages to pull his dignity together and make a proper bow to the Briarwoods; Cassandra gives her best dancing-school curtsey in turn, and they’re shepherded off to their rooms.

Where Cassandra promptly pulls on a dark dressing gown over her blue silk, slips out of her room barefoot, and makes for the back passage that leads up to the never-used minstrel gallery over the great hall.  There’s a particular spot, one she found ages ago, where one can sit just above the high table and see and hear almost everything. It’s almost as good as being there.

Lord Briarwood’s laugh is deeper than Father’s.  Lady Briarwood’s is rich and gentle, like velvet beneath Mother’s silvery chiming.  They’re both so beautiful, and speak so graciously and charmingly, and they’ve traveled so far to get here; she wonders if she’ll get any chance to properly talk to them, tomorrow. 

-----

The table in the everyday dining room is laid with the pale golden porcelain that Cassandra can just remember Father buying from a traveling merchant when she was four, the ivory-handled silverware that belonged to Great-Grandmother Klossowski, the green-stemmed water- and wine-glasses that Mother once told her were a wedding present, the polished pinewood candleholders that Great-Uncle Oliver carved by hand when he was young.  It’s been two years since she’s seen any of it, since she last set foot in this room.

Lord Briarwood is sitting at the head of the table, in her father’s seat.  The pulse of rage that went through her when she first saw that, pounding in her temples and blurring her eyes, has subsided to a low roiling in her stomach; by now it’s barely distinguishable from the steady churn of fear that’s been there since they took her strike team in the woods, two nights ago.

She sits in frozen silence in her chair ﹘ Julius’s chair ﹘ and stares at the delicate pattern of darker gold around the edge of her plate, because it’s either that or look up and see the Briarwoods sitting in her parents’ places, and the long, long stretch of empty table where her sisters and brothers should be sitting.

The servants don’t meet her eyes as they clear away the fish plates, removing her own serving of baked trout in butter sauce almost untouched.

Cassandra, dear girl, says Lady Briarwood in her low, musical voice, gently chiding.  You’re not eating.

It isn’t defiance.  She’s hungry, dizzy with it almost, far too hungry to refuse to eat out of pride ﹘ but every bite she’s tried to take feels like it will choke her.  She can’t speak a word in response, and that isn’t defiance either, and she wishes it were.

Give her some leeway, my love. She’s had a rough time of it.  Lord Briarwood sounds calm and understanding, even compassionate.

There’s movement in the edge of her vision, and a soft clink as a plate is set down in front of her: rare roast beef in wine sauce, thick dark-red liquid spreading slowly across the pale gold.  The smell hits her, and she has to swallow hard, twice.

Child, I know you’ve suffered terribly lately, murmurs Lord Briarwood.  But you’re safe now.  You’re our guest. And we hope, Delilah and I … we do hope you can come to think of this place as your home.

For several seconds her mind goes entirely white, a distant floating feeling, like clouds and snow and windless silence.

And then her hand is clenched on the ivory handle of her steak knife and she’s lunging over the corner of the table directly at Sylas Briarwood, her own voice screaming wordless rage in her ears, aiming with all her strength to put the fine serrated steel blade into one of his eyes.

It's no good.  Of course it's no good.  She's too slow, too small, too young.   His hand snaps around her wrist and holds it effortlessly in place; his calm smile doesn’t shift, his posture remains at ease in the great chair, and his grip tightens inexorably until her screaming splinters into a sob and her fingers release the knife.

Two silent servants take her by the shoulders and put her back into her chair, and one remains to hold her there.  She’s breathing in ragged gasps, halfway to weeping with frustration, and rage, and full knowledge of her utter helplessness.

Lady Briarwood hasn’t moved throughout, except to raise her eyebrows slightly, and now gives a faint sigh and turns back to her meal.

Do eat something, dear, is all she says. 

-----

Talking to Percy again, after the initial scuffle, isn’t nearly as hard as she’s been anticipating.

She knows what he wants her to say, after all.  Knows exactly the kind of thing he needs to hear: not the compliance of a small helpless baby sister that he has to save and protect, but the confident challenge of a grown woman who can fight at his side.  A sister who’s been waiting all this time, not for a rescuer, but for a brother in arms.

And there are parts of her ﹘ weak and aching, struggling up out of the chest where she’s kept them locked for years ﹘ that mean every word. 

-----

Cassandra is nine, a sufficiently fresh-minted nine that she’s still exulting in it, the day she wanders into Father’s library and finds Percy there, glowering down at a book as though it’s personally offended him.  It isn’t the book that’s made him sulky, of course; it’s the argument he had with Julius about an hour before. The argument he lost, rather.

She pulls herself up on the back of his chair (the heavy red one that Father favors, more than sturdy enough for such treatment) and hangs there by her folded arms, toes just barely touching the floor, craning her neck to look over his shoulder.  What’re you reading?

A treatise on successfully ignoring baby sisters, he says, dry and toneless, so that they will go away and leave you to read in peace.

Oh. She swings on the back of the chair for a few moments, and giggles wickedly.  Fairytales again?

Oh for god’s sake, Percy groans, and puts his face in his hands, which makes her giggle harder.

I heard you and Julius fighting about strategy, she says after a few moments.

He gives an aggrieved sigh.   And no doubt you’d like to share your considered opinion.

Cassandra shrugs, or tries to ﹘ it’s hard to shrug when you’re propping yourself up by your armpits.  Maybe he’s right about needing to keep your home base guarded, but I don’t think he really gets what that means in real life.

He huffs, starts to say something, stops.  Blinks. What do you mean?

She smiles, looking as innocent as she knows how.  I mean he leaves his desk unlocked and I just stole his diary.

Percy turns and stares at her open-mouthed, and makes a choked sputtering sound that gradually resolves into shocked laughter. You little monster!

You’re welcome, she singsongs, and drops off the back of the chair to go skipping out of the library, knowing perfectly well that he’ll follow her. 

-----

There are still any number of the old servants left in the castle, many of whom ﹘ as far as she can tell ﹘ have continued to serve out of fear of the Briarwoods, rather than out of any lack of loyalty to the de Rolos. Some who whisper quick words of sorrow or regret or encouragement to her, when they pass in the corridors; who call her milady, instead of the young miss of her childhood.

Some who ask, very quietly, if they can help her get away.

The first and only time she tries to take the offer, planning an escape with a gray-haired stablehand who's served the de Rolos since before Father was born, ends on the same day she first sees Lord Briarwood kill a man with his hands and teeth alone.  The timing is not coincidental.

A day later the stablehand is returned to his duties, empty-eyed and sagging, and Cassandra works hard for the next few months to forget his name. 

-----

Professor Anders is dead.

She turns the thought over, gingerly, while putting on her mother’s armor.  Professor Anders is dead; Professor Anders is dead because Percy killed him.

She doesn’t know how to feel about that when no one’s watching her. 

-----

“Will we need to find a redhaired woman, do you think,” Sir Kerrion muses over his coffee, “or shall we simply paint the effigy’s hair red?”

Sylas lifts one hand and balances it side-to-side, in a gesture like a shrug.  “Either would do, surely. Strict realism isn’t the goal here.”

“You’ll want red paint for the dragonborn regardless, won’t you?”  Delilah offers Kerrion the plate of raspberry cakes, and continues speaking as he takes one.  “It would seem most efficient to use it for both.”

“It would, at that,” he chuckles, and takes a bite of cake.  “Oh, these are good.  My compliments on your cook.  Now, let’s see, how best to represent the gnome …”

Cassandra quietly refills Delilah’s coffee cup at her offhand gesture, and settles back on the parlor couch with her hands folded in her lap.  Thinks: a child, obviously.   Considers: there's bound to be a family in town with a sick child, one that might die anyway. Yennen would know.  Gauges the likelihood that anyone present will appreciate any such suggestion, and stays silent.

“It’s the bear that I’m wondering about, myself,” says Delilah, taking a sip of her fresh coffee and adding “thank you, dear.  A man painted red for a dragonborn is one thing, but a man covered in furs for a bear just … lacks something.”

“Oh, I don’t see a problem there,” says Kerrion lightly.  “The woods are full of bears, are they not? Send out a hunting party.”

“True,” Delilah agrees.  “And I suppose if a bear can’t be found, we might use a large dog, or something of the kind.  Cassandra, dear, do you suppose you could lead the hunt to procure us a bear by tomorrow?”

“Of course,” says Cassandra at once, and doesn’t let herself think about the kennels below, and the four or five dogs there old enough to have been here before the Briarwoods. 

-----

There are too many parts of her awake at once, and it’s getting harder to keep track.

When the wraiths hit them in the mausoleum, taking three of Percy’s friends, and he turns to her wild-eyed and says what the hell do we do? , there’s a sudden crowd in her head.  Cold satisfaction, that she read him right earlier, that a partner in arms is what he wants from her; pride, that he sees her as someone to be counted on; fear, that the coming fight could go wrong in so many possible ways; fierce hot joy, that she has her brother back and her mother’s armor on and an enemy she can strike at ﹘

and frustration, that she doesn’t actually know what to do. 

-----

Cassandra is four, the summer she finally memorizes her full name well enough to recite it without hesitating.  It has a lovely rolling rhythm that makes it easy to rattle off once she has all the syllables down, like a bouncing-ball chant, casSANdra joHANna von MUSel klosSOWski de ROlo.  And it’s very pleasing that Mother’s name is part of hers.

Father has to explain to her at some point, later that year or the next, why her name doesn’t end in “the seventh.”  Because it seems to her that it ought to, since Percy’s full name ends in “the third” and she’s the seventh child just as he’s the third, isn’t she?

He sits her down on his lap in the library and unrolls a chart for her to look at, names in little boxes with different colored lines connecting them, and numbers under each one.  The numbers are years, the names are family. He traces Klossowski for her, and Musel; he shows her the first Percival, and the second, and the third who’s her brother.

But you’re the first Cassandra, he tells her, and drops a kiss on the top of her head. 

-----

It’s very simple, when one looks at it a certain way.  The de Rolo family has held Whitestone for so long that they’ve grown together, rooted deep like an ancient tree.  The mountain, the castle, the city, the family; the earth, the roots, the limbs, the heart.

Anyone who wants to hold power in Whitestone, therefore, has to hold the de Rolo name.  Which means either being born to the family, or controlling someone who was. That’s the reason the Briarwoods are keeping her alive.

(She’s wondered, in the dark of the worst nights, whether that’s also the reason Percy was alive when she found him.)

And, if one examines the situation dispassionately, it becomes clear that that’s the reason the resistance needed her too.  The reason she was valuable to them. The reason she still is, even as a prisoner. Not just for the information she can pass to them, but as a symbol, a banner, a marker for where the power lies.  They can watch as Lady Briarwood rides through the town in her ornate carriage and her furs and jewels, and point covertly to Cassandra sitting silently on display at her side, and they can murmur to each other see there, the Briarwoods don’t know it, but she’s ours.

And she is.  Or was. Or still is, in her heart at least, part of her still is.  It’s just that that part of her isn’t the part that’s been faithfully turning over to Sylas and Delilah every word the resistance sends her.

Even the deepest roots can rot. 

-----

She stays at the edges of the fight with the wraiths, striking when it seems like holding back would be too obvious.  The confusion of Shorthalt’s Seeming spell actually helps with that, as the band may not be able to tell which Cassandra is fighting at any given point.

But it also means that it’s Percy’s face she sees when Shorthalt shouts at the last wraith: You’re a nothing!  You’re a nobody! You were nothing in life, and now you’re nothing in death!

When the wraith’s form resolves into the image of a young de Rolo no older than herself, staring down in horror and shame at its own hands and at what they’ve done, Cassandra has to shut her eyes and swallow hard until it’s gone.

There isn’t time for this. 

-----

By the middle of the first year, she's grown used to the nightmares. By early in the second, she barely notices them anymore.

Sometime between the second year and the third, she finds herself visited by a strange restless disquiet from time to time, and doesn’t realize until much later that it’s because the nightmares have stopped.

There are fine lines etching themselves around the corners of her eyes, day by day, and white locks threading through her hair like ribbons.

Cassandra is sixteen, and feels old, old. 

-----

Percy asks her which of the two Briarwoods is the more dangerous target, as they make their way past the crypts and into the tunnels beyond.  Keyleth asks her if she knows of any instance where the two have separated. Vax’ildan asks her what happened, after her first escape attempt with her brother, five years ago.  Vex’ahlia asks her if she knows what’s beyond the bronze door.

She tells them the truth.  She’s been telling them the truth all along. 

-----

There comes a time when she doesn’t flinch or shudder and pull away every time Delilah puts an arm around her, or Sylas gives her an approving pat on the shoulder.  There comes a time when she doesn’t even have to consciously fight the urge to.

There are times when Sylas smiles at her and it feels warm and comforting, and she can’t tell even days later if he’s used his power on her mind or not.  There are times when Delilah gives her a look of disappointment, and she feels ashamed of having let her down, instead of afraid of being punished.

In a dream that isn’t a nightmare, she digs endlessly through chest after chest of somebody’s belongings, and struggles to remember what she’s looking for. 

-----

It all happens too fast: the glowing jewels, the green glass walls slamming down to trap Percy and his friends, the door opening behind her.  She doesn’t have to look around to know who’s coming in. Everyone’s talking at once, it seems, and she barely hears any of it.

This is where, if she really is a devoted daughter of the Briarwoods, she should smile.  Taunt the captives with how easily she led them into this trap, mock their helplessness, turn to Sylas and Delilah in eager anticipation of their approval.

This is where, if she’s a true de Rolo, she should find some way to save her brother.  Or, failing that, die with him. (Die like a good de Rolo, Professor Anders said.)

Sylas’s hand falls onto her right shoulder, and Delilah’s onto her left, and it is far too late to think about who she is in this moment; the question is how she can survive this.  She’s missed her chance to gloat, it won’t sound natural if she does it now. She’s missed her chance to run. She could try pretending to go along with them and passing some hint to Percy, something only he would understand, to say that she’s still with him ﹘

(play to both sides a little longer, says the part of her that was born in the snow five years ago and has grown steadily colder ever since, knowing that she was alone and would have to take care of herself ﹘)

﹘ but no, that won’t work; she might be able to hide her feelings from Sylas and Delilah, but there’s no chance Percy can.  If he believes she’s still with him, they’ll know. They always know.

There’s no more playing both sides. She has to choose. Now.

Only there isn’t really any choice, is there.  She’s alone out here with the Briarwoods. Percy would help her, but he can’t get through the wall. Vax’ildan would help her, even if he doesn’t trust her, but he’s fallen under the weight of Sylas’s gaze. Trickfoot would help her, perhaps, but she’s flickering out, her god’s power not even enough to keep her image here.

Nothing has changed.  She’s only now realizing how much hope has grown in her over the past few hours, in the slow collapsing hurt of its dying.

Cassandra presses her palm flat against the green glass and forces down everything but the part of her that means what she’s about to say to her brother, that wants him to hurt and knows that saying this will hurt him.  The part that wants him to hate her, and knows that saying this will maybe make that happen too.

There’s a hot pressure behind her eyes, tears about to spill over, but that’s fine, that will look right.

She has to mean it.  She has to mean it so they’ll believe her.   You left me, and I died.