I command you to surrender!
I command you to—
She lands in a crouch, shaking, and pounds her fist into the cracked floor of the maze. Black rock skewers out of it and chews into the crumbling wall; chips of stone and brittle dust rain down. Cassandra coughs. Her whole body throbs with rage.
The spirit speaks softly; cautiously, in the way she has ever since the... debacle, with the red rocks. Cassandra looks bleakly up at her, and the spirit touches her cheek with a cool, misty hand.
“Whatever clues Demanitus hid in this place, Rapunzel must have destroyed,” the spirit says. Funny, how it’s almost comforting; the warm, familiar stab of anger for the princess. Cassandra wraps herself in it, sinks into it, and the gasps shuddering in and out of her chest ease. She closes her eyes.
“M- my father—”
“He doesn’t deserve the title, if that is how he treats you,” the spirit says tartly, and then, “Come. We must leave, before he escapes and hurts you again.”
“I’m not injured,” Cassandra mutters, though she shuffles to her feet anyway.
“Cassandra,” the spirit sighs, in an odd tone halfway between affection and sadness, and nothing more.
She glides up the opposite wall, and Cassandra scrambles after her. For a few moments they drift and climb and pick their way over the walls in silence; the Captain’s cries become fainter and fainter, until the dusty quiet of the maze swallows them altogether. The anger curdling in her gut sinks deeper, simmering.
“You fought well,” the spirit says at length.
“I’m sorry,” the spirit adds, “that we came away with nothing. I realize now how much you... hope to avoid a direct confrontation with Rapunzel.”
Cassandra crouches at the intersection of two walls, plucking moodily at a thick patch of moss. “You still think that’s the only way, don’t you.”
A faint chill seeps through the rocks where the spirit touches her shoulder. “Yes,” she admits. “But if there is a way to unlock the full power of the moonstone without the sundrop, our best chance of finding it lies in the libraries of the Great Tree.”
Cassandra flinches. Her ruined hand clenches convulsively into a fist. “Zhan Tiri’s tree,” she says flatly.
“The demonic tree that tried to kill us all.”
“...Yes,” the spirit says, with the exasperated patience Cassandra has become so familiar with in the past few months.
“Rapunzel destroyed that, too,” Cassandra says. It’s easier than saying she never wants to go anywhere near what’s left of the Great Tree, not now, not ever again.
“Rapunzel will destroy you if you can’t master the moonstone’s power, and if any of the research housed in the Great Tree survived the destruction, it may provide the answer,” the spirit replies, unperturbed. She holds out a tiny hand. “Shall we?”
Cassandra tears a chunk of moss away, crumbling it in her palm, and tries not to think about blue fire searing up her arm or the vicious stab of determination Rapunzel had thrown at her through the red rocks a month and a half ago.
(I command you to—)
She won’t surrender. She won’t.
At dusk, when the opal comes to life with a familiar snick, Cassandra drops to one knee and reaches for the rage. It’s been bubbling beneath the surface all day, burning hotter and hotter for being ignored; like magma building in the chambers of a volcano.
Her own father.
She shrieks. Rocks slam out of the earth in a spray of dirt clods and grass; for an instant the gloaming shines like ice under moonlight. Somewhere behind her, the spirit makes a soft noise of approval.
I command you to— how dare he! How dare he speak to her like that; like she’s an insubordinate soldier, after he dug in his heels and twisted the rules to keep her out of the guard—
To protect her!
Cassandra screams out a laugh as lightning rakes the field and sets a long serpentine strip of grass aflame. To protect himself. He never took me seriously. He never stopped seeing me as a weak, helpless, pathetic little girl who even couldn’t handle the truth about her own mother—
He didn’t care.
She slumps back on her heels, panting. The rocks she summoned quake with the aftershocks of her fury. The damp grass burns down to smoldering cinders.
He— he didn’t even...
Clarity is a diamond blade, bright and brilliant and brittle. It cuts into her and shatters, and every glittering splinter is painfully, inescapably true.
The Captain’s love never extended past the border of her own loyalty to Corona and its princess. Not a single inch farther. Cassandra understood that, just as she understood that Rapunzel saw her as another royal perk, something to be played with and enjoyed but set aside when it wasn’t needed, but she’s never felt it so keenly before.
He didn’t even ask if I was okay.
Cassandra shudders, and wraps her arms around herself, and gives herself one minute to hurt and bleed and wallow. The spirit floats at her side, silently sympathetic.
“I hate him,” Cassandra whispers, venomous. “I hate—”
“I know,” the spirit murmurs.
“He lied to me—”
“He never gave me a real chance—”
“A parent should put his child first.”
“But he never did!”
Cassandra lashes out with her ruined hand, and the nearest rock flares white and surges again, spurred by the flash of her anger. Breathing hard, she staggers to her feet. The moonstone feels like a live coal, scorching her heart. Her head throbs; her eyes swim in waves of red and black.
But she rolls her fury into a fiery whip and drives herself forward anyway, tearing at the rocks, clawing more and more out of the ground until exhaustion swallows her and she collapses into the ravaged grass, dizzy and sick and utterly spent.
Owl isn’t here. She last saw him perched at the outskirts of the maze, yellow eyes luminous and judgmental through the fog. Cassandra wonders vaguely if she’ll ever see him again.
He’s always liked the Captain.
The spirit crouches over her, glossy-eyed with concern, and Cassandra mumbles, blearily, “At least I have you.”
She’s asleep before the spirit can answer.