"Dammit," Niccolo muttered, pacing quickly before the fire. I had subconsciously pressed my hand to my neck, and I focused on keeping my voice steady.
"What?" My fingers traced over the lines that had been carved into me so intricately. I hadn't noticed it before, and his reaction was starting to scare me. "What is this?"
"It's an ancient binding symbol. I was worried about this before-"
"Why didn't you tell me if you've known all this time?"
"I didn't want to freak you out, like you're doing now! You need to stay calm, Aretha, and keep your wits about you if you want to survive. It wasn't a problem before, there was no need to get you upset over it. Now that it's been activated, we have cause to worry."
"What does this mean?" I asked, somewhat shakily.
"It means you're his puppet. You'll do whatever he wants you to do; there's no way you can fight it. No amount of willpower can break the spell."
I suddently felt more insecure than ever before. I had spent my entire life training myself to be self-reliant, building skills within my own mind; I've never relied on material objects, because there are just too many variables. Things I can't control. I could never trust them. Now I couldn't trust myself. I tucked my knees under my chin and wrapped my arms around myself, more vulerable and powerless than I had been since I learned to walk.
"What do I do now?" I asked, my voice small and wavering. "What if he makes me kill or torture my friends, or turn against the Sanctuary?" Honestly, I didn't know what to think anymore. I just felt... Numb. I didn't even notice the tear rolling down my cheek.
Niccolo stopped pacing and knelt down in front of me, staring directly into my hazel eyes so I would know he meant it. "Aretha. Calm down. I promise I won't let you hurt anyone you care about. Ok?" Lightly he brushed the tear away from my eye, and waited for me to compose myself.
I took a few deep, shaky breaths, then looked up and began to calm down again. "Ok." I nodded, relaxing my position a bit.
"Good." His voice was still rich as dark chocolate, and to his credit, he had gotten over his initial sense of panic incredibly quickly. Not that I expected any less of him- those were the skills you need if you're going to survive as long as he had. Still, he was making a conscious effort to calm me down in this rather dire situation, and I was grateful for that.
"Now, I know we're in the forest so we can be close to Mevolent," He continued, "But now that I know where this is we can come here as often as we want. And I don't think you need me to point out that you still have blood caked in your hair from two days ago, and slashes through your clothes; I'm sure that's just as uncomfortable as it is unattractive."
I stared at him without saying a word, but my expression clearly read, Really? We're going to worry about this now?
"So, I propose we go to your house- you can shower, get into fresh clothes, and it'll give us time to think about our next move. That sound alright?" He asked, and offered me his hand. I took it, and by the time I straightened up I was standing in my room at my summer reaserch home. Not for the first time I was glad I lived alone; there was no one to ask where I had gone. It was nice to feel a soft carpet beneath my feet, and to wash all the blood away in a long, hot shower. The new clothes felt soft and comforting, and after an hour of all of that I was beginning to feel like myself again. Not that what I felt like really mattered anymore; from now on, Mevolent would tell me how to act and who to be, and I could only hope to God that Niccolo was as confident as he sounded.