(A/N: Thanks for all of the lovely feedback on the last chapter! Here comes the next one!! xD Warning: There's a good amount of violence and gore in this chapter, so be prepared!)

Part 53: The Contest - Final Round


Fight to the death.

The Queen's words seem to echo around me, engulf me, and suffocate me until I feel as though I may very well pass out.

I spin around, trying to focus on one thing at a time yet my eyes go everywhere and nowhere at once. The spinning world comes in snatches of black and white and then colorful bursts of the real world. I see the chaos that has exploded around the crowd of onlookers; people are yelling at us, blaming us for the death of family members, calling us witches and demons and everything in between. Some are even struggling to break through the silver wall of knights. Their faces are twisted into horrible, fleshy masks of anger and fear.


I hear Tannin's voice calling for me in the crowd, pulling me out of my terrifying observations. But no matter how hard I search, I can't find him or the rest of the Darpine boys anywhere.

I can feel my heart thumping against my ribcage, all but begging to tear free and leave me to the panic that has washed over us all.

The only sense of calm comes from the raised wooden platform that the royal family is situated atop of. King Esperance has barely made a move since his wife's announcement of the duel. He looks as if he either wants to run away or vomit. Queen Esperance's eyes remain on us, waiting patiently for our next move, like a cat playing with its food.

My only hope of escape lies in Prince Charming. I'd been afraid earlier of meeting his eyes, knowing that I'd find nothing but fear and judgment. Still, a glimmer of hope rests in my heart, hope that perhaps whatever admiration we held for each other before this is enough for him to talk his mother out of this absurd idea.

I manage to capture the blonde prince's gaze by bearing my own eyes into him persistently. Still seated, Prince Charming seems to struggle internally between looking me in the eye and looking anywhere other than me. Something that resembles guilt holds his eyes captive, yet he still makes no move to help us. He looks away.

Panic is starting to set in as the crowd's chants of "Fight to the death, fight to the death!" become a deafening roar. Their loud voices seem to vibrate in the hollow area inside of my chest.

I squeeze my fists by my sides and take in a deep breath. "Edmund!" I cry. It takes everything in me to call him by his first name, as he wished for me to do when we first met in Atrea.

Finally, his gaze comes to me and stays there. I stare back, silently begging him to save both Zenobia and myself. After a few agonizing moments, I see his throat jump. Then, he squares his broad shoulders and nods, a new, determined look having taken over his face. He turns and looks to his mother.

"Mother, I fail to see how a duel such as this will prove that either one of them are Enchanted," he announces.

His mother barely glances his way before she returns her unwavering smile on Zenobia and me.

"Simple, my son. If either of them truly wishes to live, they will have to use their powers to survive. You know the saying about backing a wild animal into a corner." Her grin grows. "They have no other choice but to show their true colors."

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