Chapter 18

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bubblegumkiller15, this one's for you, darling. :-)

To recap: Minx is having a PTSD melt-down and has dissociated from her body. She thinks Dietrich is the carnival master who kidnapped her because he has the same kind of magic. He is going to attempt to help her, and has just unlocked the lift where Delphine locked her in.

This is a tough chapter, everyone--get ready...

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I thought he would drag the girl out of the cage. It’s what he usually did. And then…he would do other things. Remembering those things made me float away higher into the odd curtains hanging over the carnival. 

But he didn’t do any of those things this time. Instead, he did something he had never done before.

He climbed into the cage and sat next to the girl. She looked up at him with unseeing eyes, but didn’t move. 

He watched her for a moment, his face so sad and tender. I didn’t understand how that could be. Had I made a mistake? He was not kind, and yet he was kind to the girl in the cage. 

I wouldn’t think about it anymore. The Quiet World was not for thinking. 

He unstoppered the small bottle the blond girl had given him. He held it to her nose.

A wave of peppermint and lemongrass crashed over me. It was like a rope pulling me back toward the girl in the cage. I didn’t want to go.

She flinched, moaned. 

He carefully picked up her hand. I tensed. But he didn’t hurt her. He uncurled her fingers and made her touch the walls of the cage. I felt the cool metal, even though I was so far away.

“You are here. See? This is real. Come back. Come back to me, cariad.” 

His voice didn’t sound like it always had. Something was wrong. I drifted in a little closer, too curious to stay back. 

He waved the bottle in front of the girl’s face again. The strong scent overpowered me, dragging me toward the girl. At the metal wall of the cage, I slammed to a stop. I wouldn’t go in. He couldn’t make me.

He grabbed the fabric of her skirt and bunched it into her hand. “Feel this? It’s your apprentice uniform. You’re safe at the Alchemy Empire Theater. Come on, Minx, honey, please.”

That voice. It was beautiful. I liked it. I thought maybe I had made a mistake after all. This was not the man I thought. It was all so confusing. If only he didn’t have such powerful magic.

Peppermint and lemongrass surrounded me, insistent and unrelenting. 

I breathed in.

And with a jolt, I was snapped back into myself. 

I shrieked and clawed against the wall of the cage. The monster sat next to me, not speaking.

But when I looked at him, it was not him. 

His name drifted back to me…

Dietrich.

I recognized his face. But then it wavered, like a liquid mask. And beneath the mask, he was still there. 

He pointed to the door. “It’s open. You’re free to go. Leave.”

It had to be a trick. I didn’t move. If I did, he would punish me—with that terrible, powerful magic.

He pressed himself into the corner as far away from me as possible. “I’m the monster, not you,” he said. “Monsters belong in cages. People don’t. I’m staying in here. So you should leave.”

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