The next two days were agony for Aphmau. She had been thrown into a tower room and locked inside, getting her meals when the door was opened a crack and a plate was slid inside. The room itself wasn’t that bad; the poster bed was comfy and the bathroom was pristine. Aphmau felt like an important prisoner.
It was the evening of the second day — the evening before the wedding — when the door opened and someone actually walked inside. Aphmau had been sitting at the desk, aimlessly drawing squiggly line after squiggly line, but stood up immediately, clutching her quill tightly.
The young woman standing in front of the door paused. She was very pretty — she had moon-pale skin and impossibly thick eyelashes that made her blue eyes look like that of a doll. Her black hair was curled in ringlets and her lips were the perfect shade of dahlia. She wore a lacy blue dress with a hooded cloak over the top, decorated with moons, stars, and characters of the major arcana. She held a heap of white fabric in her arms.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” the woman said slowly. Her voice was silky and high, and when she moved over to the bed, her movements were long and graceful. Aphmau thought she looked like a porcelain doll.
“W-What do you want?” Aphmau said, setting the quill down. She recognized the woman from the main hall. She had been one of the Jurors who were standing at the dais. Though Aphmau had expected her to remain in her armor, like Jeffory did.
“It’s time for you to pick out your wedding dress,” the woman said, laying each dress out on the bed. There were three in all, and they were all gorgeous. Aphmau was surprised Zane would waste such beautiful — and probably expensive — dresses on her. He should’ve found a bride that would appreciate them.
Aphmau walked over, running her fingers over the first dress. It was made of silk, and must’ve been from some exotic region, because Aphmau had never seen the jewels embedded in the neckline and corset. But it looked too tight for Aphmau’s liking, so she moved on to the next one.
This one was huge and poofy, and swamped the whole bed. Pearls choked the neckline and sleeves, and it made Aphmau feel heavy just looking at it.
The last one was beautiful. It was poofy, but not obnoxious. The waist was small and the sweetheart neckline showed an honest amount of bust, but the tulle on the sleeves and skirt almost made up for it. It wasn’t as heavily adorned with pearls as the other ones.
“This one.” Aphmau whispered, rubbing the tulle between her fingers. The woman shifted. “Alright then. Shall we see if it fits?”
”S-Sure,” Aphmau said. She reached behind her to loosen her corset.
“Oh, let me,” the woman said silkily, walking over and working on the corset until it fell away from the thin white dress Aphmau wore. “We’ll try it on without the corset for now.”
Aphmau kept quiet as the woman slid the dress over her head, and she turned around to look in the floor length mirror she had near her bed. The dress fit perfectly and looked great. Aphmau touched the tulle lightly again, feeling lightheaded. The reality that she was getting married was beginning to set in.
“You seem nervous,” the woman murmured. “I can assure you Prince Zane will do everything in his power to make you feel at home here.”
“But this isn’t my home,” Aphmau said bitterly. “Phoenix Drop is my home.”
“And Phoenix Drop will burn if you don’t marry Zane,” the woman replied swiftly. Aphmau fleetingly remembered those dreams she had while in the forest, of Phoenix Drop burning.
“But why does he want me?” Aphmau asked in a small voice, looking over at the woman. She blinked and held Aphmau’s gaze, gathering up the other wedding dresses.
“You are very powerful, Lady Aphmau,” she said in a strange voice that suddenly didn’t sound like her normal one. This one was cold, and throaty. “Stronger than you know.”
The woman blinked and then her voice was back to normal. “I’ll take that dress, now. We don’t want it to get wrinkled.”
Aphmau shook off the menace that radiated from the woman as she slid off the dress. The woman took it without a word and swiftly left, closing the door behind her.
Aphmau sighed and sat down on her bed, her head in her hands. All she knew about tomorrow was that handmaidens would wake her up and help her get ready. Then Janus would come and escort her to the Hall of Angels, where the ceremony would take place. After that...Aphmau had no idea.
A commotion from outside startled her. It sounded like a large animal was rustling every bush underneath her tower. Standing, she walked over to her window, unlocked it, and peeked out.
The tower overlooked a small courtyard, with only a small fountain and a bench within the shrubbery. But now a new feature had been added — a man stood in the middle, his head tipped back and staring straight at Aphmau.
He was far away, and it was dark, but she could make out dark brown hair and a green scarf. When she opened the window, he froze, and then scampered away into the bushes.
Aphmau sat back on her haunches, puzzled. Who was that man? Why was he poking around in the courtyard, after dark? And most importantly, why did it look like he was waiting for her?
Aphmau decided to take this puzzle to bed. She extinguished all the candles in the room except for one, and climbed into her bed, which was soft despite her condition. Although she had been tired before, she couldn’t find sleep, no matter how hard she tried. Eventually she gave up and began pacing around her room, feeling her chest begin to tighten and tunnel vision close in. The reality was hitting. She would never see Levin or Malachi again. Or Garroth, or Laurance, or Dante or Nicole or Lucinda or Kawaii~Chan or Zoey. She sank to her knees. She would be stuck with the man that terrorized her nightmares for the rest of her life.
She had been trying to fight away the fear for the last few days. She attempted to keep it at bay, by thinking about Phoenix Drop. Levin and Malachi would be sound asleep, dreaming about cookies and sweets and toys. They were happy, and so Aphmau was happy. But now the thought came to her that they were sad — of course they would be sad. Their mother was across the region, without any friends or family, completely alone and afraid.
Aphmau let the fear tumble in.