Varian disappeared during the night, but his beasts still roamed the halls and flew around the castle watching the area. The lion was not the only one. There were large cat like ones, wolves, and birds, mixed with other animals. About 50 of them in total around the castle and village grounds. Smaller weasel like ones flew around or scampered across the rooftops. It made all the people uneasy seeing the monsters that lurked outside. Glowing eyes on silhouettes of the creatures made them look like nightmares. To the relief of the people the beasts vanished by morning’s rise.
Cass walked to the throne room wondering where their “king” absconded too during the night. She hoped he had fallen off a cliff or was shot by a hunter mistaking him for game, but when she opened the door, she saw him sitting in the chair with his goggles on again. His new look still made her feel troubled, the goggles especially since they blocked his eyes. They had dark lenses against the copper cogs.
‘ Does he ever remove them?’ Cass thought. He has had them on since he arrived. She gave him a scowl to show her disgust at his presence. He smiled seeing the face.
“Same old Cassie, always quick to give out ice.” He sneered.
“Don't call me Cassie, you lost that right years ago.” She hissed. Varian scoffed at her and ordered her to get him some food. Cass rolled her eyes as she turned in a huff. She despised the way he took advantage of his power.
“Adult now my ass, he still acts like a child, full of himself. It’s so irritating!” She growled. She gathered up various foods, bread with jam and grape juice, angrily and while grumbling the entire time. She even smooshed the bread slightly as she slammed it onto the silver tray. She sharply turned from the counter and left the room, nearly causing the glass of juice to topple over onto the floor. A maid was walking through the hall while Cass was passing and made sure to not look her in the eyes, afraid of Cassandra’s famous wrath.
Rounding the corner that led to the throne room, Cass saw that the throne room’s door was open. Peeking into the large room, she saw Nigel speaking to Varian in a concerned manner.
“The people of Corona are out front rioting your current claim of the crown!” Nigel shouted. Cass gasped and looked out the window. She saw most of the kingdom outside. This might be the opportunity she needed. While he's distracted by the needs of the people she can stab him in the back, literally.
Varian came bursting out with his staff in hand. He marched his way to the front with power to his step. Cass was awestruck. He did not look like the same kid she once knew. It gave her a slight chill down her spine seeing a difference. She kept her eyes on him trying to find the reason why he seemed more intimidating than before, but couldn’t quite place it.
The doors flew open and the people of Corona saw once again the man who claimed the throne from their beloved princess. The angry roar of the crowd grew as their eyes found Varian. The new king stood before them as the crowd called him names, threatened him, and held their fists high. He did not move nor show any sign of power, he just stood.
Then a tomato launched from the crowd. Varian caught it without moving an inch to dodge had he missed the catch. Everyone started to quiet down as he stared at the fruit, many silent from shock at his reflexes while others realized that angrily shouting over each other would solve nothing. They all may as well hear what he has to say.
“What a waste…” He said, quiet, collected, “First poison, now using perfectly good tomatoes for protest. Shame.”
Varian was calm, he did not shout. The crowd was now completely silent and waited for him to speak.
“The good people, I am going to say what is on my mind,” He looked down at the tomato again in his hand before meeting the eyes of his people, “I’m sick and tired of how things are run around here. I know you all must be rather upset at my actions, but all I ask is for your cooperation and the simple favor to please not waste food like this.” He raised the tomato high and the man who threw it grumbled,
“A single tomato doesn't matter! It’s a silly vegetable! Get out of our kingdom, you usurper!”
“Doesn't matter, huh?” Varian frowned ignoring the name calling for the larger matter at hand. He sounded clearly upset at this man’s actions, especially at his reluctance to realize exactly what he had done. “I personally know a few starving people who would think this one tomato was a gift from God...a blessing, even an act of kindness,” Varian raised the tomato higher and shook it in his hand, somewhat involuntarily, “They suffer at the loss of crops, robbed by the rich and the strong. Even a rotten tomato is food to them, and you dare say one single tomato doesn't matter?”
Everyone bit their tongues, no one said anything for they all were wondering if he was telling the truth. Cass and Nigel stood behind Varian listening in. Cass had her dagger ready behind her back. She was just waiting for the right moment.
“If you know they are hungry, why let them starve!” Shouted the same man. No one could see Varian's eyes due to his goggles, but they could all feel his eyes on that man. It sent a chill down the old man’s spine. The crowd chatter began as he remained silent. Cass knew this was the opportunity, the crowd would riot again and he would be distracted. She was ready to move forward, ready to strike. She gripped her dagger as she crept slowly towards the young criminal, aiming for his lower back.
“I help them as much as I can. They need to learn to survive on their own. ‘Give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish you feed him for life,’ right?”
Cass was unwavering as she steadied her blade. She was watching, waiting, she crept closer. The towns people were silent; when Varian gets no response from anyone he lifts his head up high and spoke like the king he made himself to be. “I understand you all are furious and possibly frightened…but let me ease your minds…” He takes a deep breath and gives a warm smile. “I am here to help,” Varian spoke kindly to the crowd.
The villagers all shared in a subtle gasp as whispers began to spread, and questions arose. Cass stopped with a slight skid to her step. She was ready to launch forward, but his words halted her actions. She lowered her dagger as she stared astonished by the things Varian has said and done today. Nigel placed a hand on Cassandra`s shoulder to stop her from continuing forward. He shook his head at her intentions of killing Varian. She stood as Nigel whispered to her, “I understand your doing, but to kill so publicly and in front of the children may not sit right with anyone.”
Cass sighed knowing he was right. She stuffed the dagger back into her boot and stood back as the acting guard. Varian kept his posture and finished his thoughts. Looking out upon the mass of people he sighed.
“I will hear you all out, even if it takes all day and night. You all are welcome to meet with me one on one, or even observe me and how I work.” Varian kept a smile on as he talked with the crowd. He sounded sincere and lighthearted. Everyone grumbled hating the fact he was being negotiable and pleasant. Varian took the silence as acceptance and returned to the throne room.
Cass watched him walk back with a slight slouch, as if he was nervous to talk publicly. He did not seem to make eye contact, but as he passed her he whispered to her.
The air went stagnant and the world seemed to submerge underwater. She could hear the echoing tap of his heavy boots walking away as she felt her world slow down. Cass never felt a shock from the words of others , but this time was different. How did he know of her moment of weakness? She is the strongest warrior in all of Corona, so how is it this unstable alchemist has become even more powerful than she?
Cass shook her head, he was most likely playing mind games with her. He could not know about her attempt. There is no way his senses could be that sharp, its inhuman. As Cass was lost in thought the crowd began to enter the castle. Some gathered in the room to witness Varian work, others had things to say.
Varian sat as the first man walked up. He looked old and worn down, like a farmer who's done a lot of hard work in his time.
“Please, reconsider your claim, my grandchildren look up to Rapunzel, they are terrified of you.” The old man sounded sorrowful and worried. Varian saw this and sighed. It gave a slight pain to his heart to see such a man reduced to begging.
“I apologize for causing such trauma on your grand kids, sadly I can not take back my actions - what’s done is done - but to ease the minds of the young ones… Rapunzel is safe, and is fine, no harm will come to her.” He smiles. The old man nodded and walked away. Others came up begging, demanding him to leave, but each time he declined. No matter the anger the towns person had, Varian always kept his composure. It surprised a lot of people but mostly Cass and Nigel. They both expected him to be a tyrant of rage, but he is showing to be the opposite. Cass felt her wrath grow. She figured out his plan; gain trust from the towns people to remain in power. He was still the mastermind he was years ago. Tricking people into doing what he wanted.
Finally a challenge came up when a child walked up with her mother. She held a small kitten in hand.
“He’s sick… can you help?” Asked the little girl. Her mother scowled at Varian in disgust. He ignored the glare and knelt down to see the kit. He cupped his hands and the small cat was handed to him. Cass was surprised to see how small the kitten was in Varian’s hands, in fact he only needed one to hold the animal. She took a moment and looked a bit longer.
‘No, it's not the kitten… his hands… are just...bigger.’ She thought confused. She didn’t understand how his hands made him seem so different. It's the same confusion she had with him walking down the hall to the crowd earlier. It began to bother her greatly as to why Varian seemed so different when to her he wasn't. He is still the same merciless criminal from back then, or at least that what she thought.
As Varian held the small white cat in his hands, he was feeling the animals stomach and looking at its eyes, in its mouth and feeling its legs. Then he noticed the issue with the backside of the cat.
“Ohhh, he has worms!” Varian boasted finding the issue. The kid jolted at bit hearing the news.
“Worms? Is he gonna die?!” The kid whined. Varian shook his head and informed the child he would be just fine after some medicine. The kid and mother looked at him in question; most animals who had worms were dead within a few months. Varian turned and gave a soft whistle. Rudiger appeared with a head tilt. Varian gave a signal to him and the racoon took off. Cass watched confused and rather bothered by how kind Varian was being with the child, being down on their level and speaking softly as to not frighten the little girl.
Cassandra felt pure anger witnessing such a sight. Her fists were clenched so tight her knuckles turned white. Her teeth gritted, her scowl intensified. Thoughts ran through her head, ways to kill the man before her, harsh painful deaths. He is the cause for Rapunzel's imprisonment, he broke Eugene's arm with no remorse, and even threatened to do it again. He held the captain of the guards, Cassandra's father, hostage. Had she not intervened, Varian would have killed him. Yet this same man, who single handedly took over the castle and throne, is holding close a sick kitten. This boiling rage was not just toward Varian, but mostly herself. With how calm Varian was being with the townspeople, with how gently he held the kitten, how sincere he was being with the child, it showed something in him Cass forgot he had; his humanity.
It was a feeling so intense in her heart she could feel her temperature rising. She wanted to see the people retaliate, fight back, give her the chance to get rid of this problem child for good. But a part of her kept saying to breathe, wait and listen. It caused a war to form in her body, hot vs cold. Calm down and see what Varian was planning, or rally the people and fight back. The latter is what she yearned for. Brutal battle, swords clanging, those monsters dying, and Varians blood splattered across the floor as his body drops. She hated him.
Rudiger returned with a bag and handed it to Varian. He pulled out a small vial with a opaque goop inside.
“This is medicine for the kitten, give him the dosage every ten days and he will feel better soon.” Varian explained as he put the medicine back in the bag. The child took it and smiled with watery eyes. The mother also smiled seeing the considerate acts Varian demonstrated. The child held the kitten as the mother walked her out. Varian waved them off and tended to the next person.
The day came to a close late, the moon already high in the sky. When the last person left and the doors shut with an echoing click, Varian gave a sigh of relief and flopped back onto the throne. He put his hand to his head and rubbed his temples; he had a slight headache. Cass peered behind her after closing the doors. She could see Varian was worn out from the days work. She was counting but stopped after the 250th townsperson who entered, and that was at midday. She could only imagine the migraine he had after a day like today.
Cass sighed as she approached him, standing with her hand on her hip. “Quite the hard worker.” She commented. Varian gave a slight chuckle to her comment. “You never ate during the day today.” Cass pointed out. Varian groaned in annoyance. She wanted to try and get his guard down so she could get rid of him, and perhaps having food thrown at him would be a small enough distraction for her to stab him.
“Actually… I’d really appreciate a glass of water… if you don’t mind?” Varian gave a soft smile toward her. Cass jolted at what he said to her. Earlier he was demanding and using his new found power like a spoiled brat, though now he is asking her for assistance rather than ordering her too. She sighed and decided it was a small action she could do. Nodding she went back to the kitchen.
Cass was lost in thought again. She wanted to get rid of this nuisance, but the way he handled himself and the townspeople today shows he’s got what it takes. She was at war the whole time with herself. Part of her wanted to see how he would do as a king, the other wanted him dead. So far she knew which side was stronger, but each time she had the moment; the sudden energy to spring forward, her body wouldn't move. It irritated her to know she had no control over herself. As the train of thought shifted so didn’t her anger. ‘Is he really all that bad?’ she thought thinking back on the moment with the kitten. He seemed to genuinely care for the animal and the happiness of the child. Cass shook her head, getting rid of that thought. As she did her hair tie snapped. It broke again. She sighed knowing why she kept her hair short for the longest time; it was a beast to control. She had to put the water run on hold to replace her hair tie.
She looked around her room for another one, but for some reason she couldn't find the small knitted string. She looked through her drawers and on shelves, behind bottles and even in her laundry plie. Eventually she made her way to her closet and dumped out a box of old things. She found a hair tie.
“Finally!” She smiled. She put up her hair again as she noticed something sparkling within the pile of old things. Cass grabbed it just as she realized it was a necklace. She recalled it; it was the necklace she received from Varian way back when. She remembered how short and innocent he looked, his dorky smile, the glimmer of curiosity in his eyes, how smart and kinda annoying, stubborn, immature… over all he was just a kid. Cass felt a slight pain in her heart seeing the man he's become. Such a pure soul turned dark, and there is no one to blame but them. They shouldn't have left him alone for so long. Her, Rapunzel, and Eugene could have tried to look for him. Even after Varian broke out of prison, they did nothing. They could do nothing. Varian ran off, he hid. They tried to connect with him when they returned from their journey, but Varian pushed them away; he built walls.
Cass still remembers the look on Varians face when she told him the news of his father; he didn't make it. Cass thought because of her hatred toward the boy it wouldn't affect her, but seeing his rageful eyes suddenly dull and fade into despair, and crystal clear tears flow effortlessly, made her cold heart shatter. Varian didn't say a word and slowly walked back to the corner of his cell. He slid down against the wall, curling up in the corner. Cass felt horrible and kept that to herself. She went back to her room and thought of ways she could help. But later that week he escaped, and her way of helping him, was not going after him.
She wonders if he still has that faded look in his eyes or if by chance that glimmer of curiosity he once had returned. She sighed knowing that wasn't possible, the innocence kid she once knew was no more. She looked at the necklace and chuckled. ‘even his voice has changed…’ she thought. Gripping the necklace she swallowed this feeling of regret and remorse, and decided to throw the jewelry in the box once again. ‘The past is the past for a reason. I shouldn't linger in it.', she told herself as she stood. She packed away the box and continued getting the water Varian asked for.
Cass peeked into the throne room, wondering if he was still there. Varian was, to Cassandra's disappointment. She walked in with a scowl and a sigh, but as she got close she realized Varian was asleep. His arm was holding his head up as he was curling up in the chair. He seemed to have shifted earlier because his goggles were slightly pushed off his face by his arm.
Cass didn't move, but observed him, analyzing. His eyes were closed but she could finally see an expression. He seemed exhausted. A dark circle under the one exposed eye. He had his mouth open as he slightly snored in his sleep. Looking closer saw he still had freckles and now a little scruff on his face and chin.
She found it funny how much he's grown, and still had so much more to do. He still looked like a child in his sleep. His long hair didn't help either. He still had the same hair cut from when he was young. The way he tried to curl up on the chair shows even he doesn't know how much bigger he's gotten.
Cass sighed. The part of her that wanted him dead seems to have gone quiet. Ever since she found that necklace her facade of ice seems to be melting. She felt slight guilt from not being able to help him, for being so cold to him. At the same time, he did almost kill her, and has done horrible things even now. Her fire still burns, and it will consume her if she doesn't listen to it. Her fist clenched as she thought of the dagger in her boot. Thinking of the hate in his eyes. That look, that glare of pure rage is what she wanted to see. That would be her proof he is still the evil mastermind he was back then. Her sight was blinded for a moment as she envisioned his death, but she snapped back when Varian snorted and shifted in his sleep. She gave a chuckle.
‘He's such a dork,’ she thought. With a heavy sigh she set the water down on a stool, placed it close to the chair and removed Varians goggles since they were falling off. She placed them next to the glass of water on the stool. With his face revealed, she could only see the young alchemist they all met years ago. The boy seemed so tired, so lost… so hurt. It made that pain return, that feeling of regret. She couldn't do it, not now… not like this. She huffed at her feelings as she walked to the side room and returned with a blanket and pillow. Carefully placing the pillow under his head and threw the blanket over him.
One last time Cass looked at him. All tucked in he looked as he once did: innocent and unaware. She jolted a bit as Rudiger suddenly appeared. He looked old and worn down as he crawled across the sleeping Varian and snuggled up under the covers. She smiled and left for the night, locking the door so no one could enter.