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Glint: Chapter 38

AUREN

My traitorous eyes flick over to the cage.

I take in its thick, menacing iron, its six curled pieces looped around the top to add decorative flair, before I look back at Midas.

“I know you’re in a rush, and I don’t want to make you late, so I’ll stay in your rooms while you go to the meeting, and then we’ll talk after.”

He pins me with a fiery glare. “I don’t know what the hell is going on with you, but you’re not in charge, Auren. I’m your king, remember? You will do as I say.”

My heart pounds with the command, and I know I’ve lost any hope of rekindling old Midas. King Midas is firmly in place.

He jabs a finger to point in the direction of the cage. “I’m not going anywhere until you’re in that cage, safe and secure, where no one can get to you. Do you want to get taken again? Do you want to be vulnerable?”

“Of course not.”

He’s agitated, cheeks reddened, eyes lit with that temper I tried to subdue. I’ve failed miserably in keeping him calm and open to what I have to say.

“Did you betray me?” he asks suddenly.

His question makes me pause. “What?”

“You heard me,” he says flatly. “Did. You. Betray. Me?” Every word is a sentence, each one bitten off.

My mouth drops open, mind whirling. “What… How could you—of course I didn’t betray you!”

“Did you let any of those filthy pirates touch you? Did you let Fourth’s army touch you?”

“Let?” My question stretches like a string ready to snap.

I know he can hear the hurt in my voice, because I hear it too. That hurt is stitched from my words to my face, woven through my features.

“Fine,” Midas replies, but his voice is still hard, still cruel, the voice of a king who expects to be followed. “But if you didn’t betray me, then prove it. Get into the cage.”

I feel tears prick the backs of my eyes, and my shoulders stiffen. He’s not going to listen. Even though I’m right here, standing in front of him, trying to tell him, he won’t listen.

My chin drops to my chest, as if it feels the burden of a forlorn weight pressing down. “Don’t do this, Midas. Not now. Not after everything. Please.”

His stony exterior isn’t touched by my plea. “This is the way it has to be, and you know why. You agreed.”

My eyes flick up. “I changed my mind.”

Midas levels a flat look at me. “I didn’t give you permission to change your mind.”

I rear back like he’s hit me. For the pain that’s emanating through my body, he might as well have.

His mouth is tight, shoulders tense, crown still proudly sitting on his head. “Last chance,” he tells me, a viciousness in his tone. “Get into the cage, or I’ll put you in it.”

It’s like I’ve been pierced directly in the heart.

I haven’t seen him for two months. I thought I was going to be killed multiple times. All I wanted was for him to tell me that he’s proud of me, that he loves me.

I wanted him to hold me. To really hold me, head to chest, so I could hear his heart singing just for me again. But he didn’t. He didn’t hold me in his arms—he held me at arm’s length.

“I’m trying to talk to you, Midas. Really talk,” I say, voice bruised with the hurt he’s pressed into my chest. “I always trust you. I always listen to you. Just this once, can’t you listen to me?”

The look on his face is acidic enough that I’m surprised it doesn’t burn straight through me. “Listen to you?” he spits. “Because you’re so successful at living in the outside world, is that it?” he asks mockingly. “When I found you, everything was okay?”

My lips press into a thin line. “You know it wasn’t.”

“Exactly.”

“But that was then,” I argue. “I was just a girl, Midas. I’ve—”

“Proved it to yourself all of a sudden?” he says, cutting me off, throwing my previous words back in my face.

I cross my arms around me, eyes meeting his in defiance. “Yes.”

He scoffs, a humorless laugh to shove against my confidence and try to topple it over like he’s done so many times before. “What about Carnith Village?” he says, and the blood drains from my face. “You thought you were okay then too, didn’t you, Auren? And look what happened.”

The bruises in my heart seem to spread and discolor with mottled grief of blues and sickening greens. “That was an accident,” I whisper, feeling my eyes well up, my vision blurring.

How could he bring that up? How could he say that to me, when he knows how badly it destroyed me?

He sneers. “Tell me, did you have any accidents while you were gone?”

“Stop it,” I say, squeezing my eyes shut tight. I don’t want to see him, don’t want to hear him. “I’ve done everything you ever asked me to. I’ve been devoted to you for over ten years of my life, overlooked every flaw, shoved aside every hurt. I’ve done it all because I trusted you. Because I loved you.”

I’m crying freely now, and the tears wound as they fall, as if they were plucked directly from the ache of my heart and sent to scratch down my walls.

He sighs, shaking his head as he looks at the floor for a moment. “Alright. You’re tired and hysterical. You just need to go lie down. This isn’t you, Auren.”

“This is me!” I yell.

Midas is so shocked I dared to raise my voice against him that his eyes go wide.

“I am finally, after all this time, starting to be me,” I cry, pressing a hand to my chest. “I’m finally starting to say what I think, and I’m not going to lie down again to make it easier for you to keep me beneath your thumb.”

Midas may have put me on a pedestal, but I put him on one too. The height of those foundations made it impossible for us to look each other in the eye.

But we’re looking now. I’m looking, not my romanticized fifteen-year-old self. I don’t like what I see.

“I gave you everything, and yet you still want to take. You told me to lie, said it was the best way to keep me safe, but that wasn’t really it, was it? You didn’t do it for me. You did it for you.” My words are an accusation spoken from the deepest parts of me—the ones I’ve long ignored. “I won’t live like this anymore, Midas.”

“You’re mine,” he roars, taking a threatening step forward.

My eyes flash, but I don’t flinch. “No, Midas. I belong to me.”

He shakes his head, the glint of his crown catching like fire. “You gave yourself to me a long time ago, Precious. It’s time to remember your place.”

My place. The one in a cage. The one beneath his thumb.

I keep my expression unyielding. “No.”

A sharp silence sticks between us, like a skewer ready to impale. And then in a blink, Midas moves so fast that I can’t even gasp before he’s on me.

He spins me around, gripping me around my middle, and I let out a surprised shout.

He wouldn’t hold me for comfort, but he’ll hold me for control.

My mind blares that realization in my head, and with it, everything, every single tattered pain, ignored doubt, shoved aside feeling, they all come barreling out.

I let him put me in a prison.

He rescued me when I was at my lowest, and because of that, I thought staying with him would keep me at my highest. But really, he’s trapped me in place and forced me to accept it all.

He dragged me into a foreign, frozen kingdom.

He married a cold queen who hated me.

He fucked saddles in front of me.

He made me into a spectacle.

He kept me in that cage, day in and day out.

He used me.

There are so many things that he’s told me to adjust to, to adapt to, because this is the way it has to be, the way it was expected to be.

I kept taking it and taking it, convincing myself that this was the way it needed to be. Lying to myself because I loved him, because he manipulated me.

I’ve been bending over backwards for so long that I forgot I even had a spine.

What a fool I’ve been. What a stupid, stupid fool. I learned not to trust people, but I thought I could trust him. I was wrong.

Fury and surprise send my legs kicking, fists hitting, but he doesn’t drop me, doesn’t let go.

“Auren, stop!” he barks in my ear.

“Let me go!”

Midas ignores me, ignores every hit I rain down as I try to break free. He slows my thrashing by squeezing me so hard that he cuts off my air. With jilted steps, he walks us backwards toward the cage, hand struggling to dig for the key in his pocket.

I tear at his arms, his face. His cheek presses hard into the back of my head, trying to stop me from whipping left and right, not letting my hood fall off.

“You—need—to—behave!” he grits out, a hiss against my ear.

But I don’t. I don’t, because I can’t do this. I can’t go back in a cage. I can’t, I can’t, I—

I hear the key being tossed on the floor. “Unlock the door. Now!” he snaps at the woman. I’d forgotten about her until now.

“No!” The sound is choked off, but me begging doesn’t stop her.

I hear her scramble to pick up the flung key, hear her fitting it in the lock, hear it turning. It turns inside of me too. Like the key is opening a door that I shut on every repressed emotion, every pent-up thought.

Midas pushes me.

One second, his arms are like steel bands around my waist, and the next, my body is crashing into the cold metal floor of the cage.

He did it. He actually tossed me in here without my consent. Without so much as a thought or care for what I want.

That’s when I start to scream.

The scream goes on and on and on. It crawls up the walls, clings to my skin, digs into the canals of my ears to add to the drum, to feed the fire.

I’m completely rabid, frenzied, a sense of panic like never before.

“Out!” he barks at the woman.

I leap up faster than I knew I was capable of. Rushing forward, hands outstretched, I reach for the cage door.

The woman scrambles to get out first, but I know as soon as she does, Midas will slam the door shut on me.

I can’t let that happen.

My ribbons unravel, like fury unfurling. Strips of angry satin strips poised at either side of my body, suspended in air.

In an instant, all of them shoot toward the door to keep it open, their long lengths wrapping around the bars in a vise grip.

But the woman is two steps in front of me, running fast, so I reach forward and shove her with a hand to her shoulder.

My palm burns.

Her body flies back, hitting the barred wall with a thud, but I concentrate on my ribbons as they push at the door, making my back strain.

Midas’s mouth opens to shout something as he struggles against me, trying to slam the door shut, but my ribbons are stronger. The iron door makes a groan under the strength of them, and in the next second, my ribbons tear it clear off its hinges, snapping the iron like splinters. With a flick, they toss the useless door directly into Midas, hitting him in the chest and knocking him to the ground on his back.

My ribbons go limp, back screaming from the effort and strength that just took. My momentum nearly sends me careening forward, but I manage to lift a hand and catch myself on the bars of the cage before I fall flat on my face.

But that’s when it sinks in.

The burn.

My head snaps up, gaze landing on the bar, on my hand that’s grasping it. My bare hand.

Sometime during my struggle, my glove came off.

I quickly snatch my hand away and start to back away, but it’s too late, of course.

Gold streamed from my palm the moment I touched it, like blood pouring from a wound. I was too frenzied to control it, too panicked to direct it.

The gold leaks down the bar and then puddles at my feet. It moves, spreading across the cage floor like it has a mind of its own, crawling up every bar, reaching toward the domed ceiling of the ironwork, coating every inch of the iron cage.

I whirl around with a warning poised on my tongue, but instead, it becomes a strangled cry.

No.

No, no, no.

Running forward, I trip over my ribbons as I go, but getting closer doesn’t do anything to confirm what I already know. My palm burned when I shoved her, but I was too distracted to pay attention to it.

I stare in horror at the woman’s solid gold body, her mouth still open in a soundless scream. Her body is at an odd angle, stuck in the same position from when I shoved her into the bars, her neck snapped forward with whiplash.

But her eyes—her eyes are squeezed shut, like she felt every agonizing inch as the gold consumed her.

“No…”

My legs give out, and I fall to my knees, a desperate sound bursting from my throat.

“Look what you did, Auren!”

I flinch at his angry accusation as I look behind me, finding Midas shoving off the heavy door from his chest and rolling up to his feet. He looks from me to the woman with a bitterly disappointed look on his face—one that’s laced with condescension.

He shakes his head. “Do you see?” he demands, pointing at her. “Do you see why you need to stay in your cage?”

Sobs crush themselves in my chest, pummel up my throat, pinch at the back of my tongue.

I killed another innocent. This poor woman did nothing except be forced to act as my stand-in, and I murdered her.

Horrible guilt rings through my hollowed chest, rattles my entire body until I’m trembling with the resonance of agonized regret.

“I didn’t mean to…” My pathetic response makes me hate myself even more.

Why did I push her aside? Why didn’t I notice my glove had fallen off?

I hear the sound of Midas’s shoes as he walks forward to stand over me, the lantern light causing a long shadow to cast from him.

He clicks his tongue in reprimand, shaking his head as his eyes skim over the woman’s statue. “Do you see, Auren? This is why you need the cage,” he says again, his voice grating against my ears like metal against stone. “Not just to protect you, but to protect everyone from you.”

My tears drip.

My spine aches.

I called Rip a monster, but really, I am.

As I continue to kneel there, staring at the woman’s tortured face, Midas lifts my hood and places it back over my head and then lets out a long, heavy sigh. “It’s alright, Precious,” he tells me, tone softer. “I’ll fix this. You don’t need to worry about a thing.”

He’s being kind now, his voice no longer hard or accusatory as his hand comes down to pat me. His fingers graze adoringly over my head, a heeled pet to be stroked. And right then, I wonder how the hell I fooled myself into thinking this was love.

How did I look into his eyes every day and not see that when he looked back, he was devoted to the gleam of my skin rather than the love of my heart? How did I miss the blinding truth that’s been there all along? How did I mistake an owner for a lover?

“You’ve probably exhausted your power with this little tantrum,” he muses. “It’s a shame, because I have a list of things I need you to make gold for me, but no matter. I can wait a bit, and in the meantime, you can regain your strength.”

Midas talks and plans and goes along on his path, while I lie battered and bloody on mine. Bile floods my mouth until I’m choking on the acidity of heartbreak.

“I’m sorry I lost my temper with you, but you see now why I’m right. Why this is so important,” he tells me. “You’ll get used to this again, Precious, and everything will be as it was. Don’t worry, I’m not angry at you.” Something feral in me wants to growl and bite off his petting hand. “Now, be a good girl and roll up your ribbons. Stay put while I go to my meeting. I’ll have to get the cage door repaired tomorrow.”

All I can hear past my thudding anger is the cracking glass as it shatters between us.

Midas starts to leave, stepping over the door as he goes, but I turn, my voice stopping him just before he gets to the doorway of the room. “If you walk out now, I’m done. I will never forgive you. For any of it.” My voice is hard, enraged, pushed past the brink.

He hesitates a moment and then says, “I love you, but I don’t need your forgiveness, Precious. I just need your power.”


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