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Chapter no 36 – Evangeline

A Curse for True Love

What—no—how? No!” Evangeline panted, unable to properly string together words. She wanted to say that Jacks couldn’t have tried to kill her and that he would never hurt her. But she feared those words might not be true, and that if she said them aloud, it would make them even less true.

If Jacks truly never would have hurt her, it shouldn’t have been something that she needed to say at all.

Evangeline pressed her hands to her eyes, hoping to stop the tears that threatened to fall.

Chaos made a strained sound somewhere between a grunt and a clearing of his throat. She wondered if the vampire was trying to think of a way to comfort her or an excuse to leave, now that he had spirited her away from Jacks.

When she brought her hands down from her eyes, Chaos looked exquisitely uncomfortable. The vampire, clad in a black cape and smoke-gray leathers, leaned stiffly against a tree on the other side of the glowing spring.

Evangeline didn’t remember telling him to bring her to the glowing spring, but she must have. The place she found herself now was secluded and pretty, with illuminated waters that made the circle of trees around them

shine with hues of greens and blues, while the rocks that surrounded the pool glittered in the bewitching light.

Everything looked touched by an ethereal breed of magic, except for Chaos. The magic touching him appeared to be a different sort.

The light of the water was bright enough that she could see the tips of his fangs were peeking out, growing longer and glowing brighter than the water as the moonlight hit their sharp points.

“Are you planning on biting me?” she asked.

“I just saved your life,” he said, but the words came out with a bit of a growl. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I feel as if that’s what people always say just before they hurt you.” “Then you should feel lucky that I’m not technically a person.” His

mouth moved up slightly at the corners.

Evangeline imagined he was trying to smile, but it looked more hungry than reassuring.

“What happened to Jacks?” she asked.

“I think you already know.” Chaos inclined his head in the direction of the glass cuff that wrapped around her wrist.

It wasn’t glowing now, but it had been when Jacks had tried to kiss her minutes ago, just as it had lit up when Apollo had been hurting her.

A buzzing started in Evangeline’s head, or maybe it had been there all along. Maybe the buzzing was there to keep her from thinking too much about what had just happened with Jacks and how he might have tried to kill her.

“That cuff is very old magic,” Chaos explained. “It was supposed to be a wedding gift from Vengeance Slaughterwood to my twin sister.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“I do. I believe the two of you are actually friends. Although I doubt you’ll still be friends after I finish this story. You know my sister as Aurora Vale, but originally her name was Aurora Valor.”

The mossy grounds around the spring felt suddenly unsteady under Evangeline’s feet. “Did you just say Valor?”

Chaos nodded while Evangeline’s thoughts raced to catch up. Within the last day, she’d remembered so much and been through so much, it was difficult to sort it all out. But she knew about the Valors. She’d studied them as she’d searched for the Valory Arch stones. But she’d never realized Chaos was one of them.

She felt instantly foolish. Minutes ago, Jacks had called him Castor, and Castor Valor had been Jacks’s close friend. He was supposed to be dead, just like all the other Valors—but clearly that wasn’t the case.

And if Aurora was Castor’s sister, then her parents must have been Wolfric and Honora Valor. Evangeline didn’t know how she would have figured out that they were in reality the first king and queen of the North returned from the dead after hundreds of years. Yet she felt as if she should have been able to piece it together somehow. She had always distrusted Aurora, but she’d just thought Aurora had the same first name as Aurora Valor. She’d never imagined the two were one and the same.

“I can see you have lots of questions,” Chaos said.

“I have nothing but questions,” Evangeline said. “Did your family come back from the dead? Or were they simply pretending to be dead? Where have they been all of these years? Why return now?”

“I know this will be hard, but I suggest you hold on to any questions until I finish this story, in case Jacks returns.” Chaos didn’t give her time to object before saying, “I think Jacks already told you that my sister was engaged to Vengeance Slaughterwood.”

Evangeline nodded and Chaos continued.

“Vengeance thought Aurora was nothing more than a pretty princess who wasn’t capable of taking care of herself. He had a protection cuff made for her—one that would thwart anyone who intended to harm her.

“There was just one catch to the cuff: once it is on, it can’t be taken off. Knowing this, my sister refused to put it on. She also didn’t need any amulet for protection, or so she thought. She held on to the cuff instead. I don’t know what she planned to do with it, but while she was locked away in the Valory, the cuff turned into a legend.”

“Hold on,” Evangeline interrupted. “Your sister was inside the Valory?” “My whole family was in the Valory trapped in a state of suspended

sleep. Why do you think I wanted to open it so badly?”

“I thought it was because of your helm,” Evangeline said. Before she had opened the Valory, Chaos wore a cursed helm that prevented him from feeding. But now that she thought back on it, it made perfect sense that Chaos also had a deeper motivation for opening the arch. He must have been the monster that some believed to be inside the Valory, but instead his family had been locked away.

“After the night that you opened the Valory Arch, Jacks was half-mad. He kept raving about you dying. About how he had to save you. I didn’t take him seriously.” Chaos paused to run a hand through his hair as he mumbled, “I might have bitten him, by accident, and I thought it was just the blood loss talking. Then, a couple of days later, I found out about how he’d made a bargain with my sister for the cuff. He wanted it for you, so that no one could ever hurt you again.”

“He’s been obsessed with that,” Evangeline said. She remembered him being protective of her before, but it seemed he was fixated now. Or he had been. Obviously, something had changed between tonight and when she had last seen Jacks at the inn. Chaos had said the protection cuff worked based on a person’s intent, and it had stopped Jacks just as he’d intended to kiss her.

“What did Jacks trade this cuff for?” Evangeline asked.

“I tried to stop him,” Chaos said. “I told him not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen.”

“What did he trade the cuff for?” she asked more forcefully this time. Chaos looked at her but wouldn’t meet her eyes.

Evangeline reminded herself that you weren’t supposed to meet a vampire’s eyes because vampires took it as an invitation to bite, but in this instance, it felt different. Chaos didn’t look hungry now so much as he looked sad.

“Jacks traded the cuff for his heart.”

“His heart?” Evangeline repeated. “What kind of heart? Is this some sort of magical object? A trinket? Surely not his actual heart.”

“Everyone has two different hearts,” Chaos said. “There is the heart that beats and keeps you alive. Then there is the other heart, the second heart, the one that breaks instead of beats, the one that loves so that there is a point to all this living. This is the heart that my sister wanted.”

“Why would Aurora want that?” Evangeline asked, although she feared she already knew the answer and that it had something to do with two names she’d once seen carved into the walls of the Hollow.

AURORA + JACKS

The names had been carved into the wall hundreds of years ago, but for Aurora it must have felt like a few years, maybe just months, since she’d been trapped in a suspended state in the Valory all this time.

“She loves Jacks, doesn’t she,” Evangeline said.

“That’s what I’ve always suspected,” Chaos replied. “Aurora has never confessed it, but I imagine that’s only because Jacks has never shown any interest in her. Lyric Merrywood was the one who loved her, but I always thought my sister was with him just as a pretext to be near Jacks, who never even looked her way.

“If Aurora had really wanted to call off her engagement to Vengeance in order to marry Lyric, our father would have been upset, but he would have let her do it. He isn’t a tyrant. But Aurora enjoyed being the object of desire. She liked having both Lyric’s and Vengeance’s attentions, and I think she kept hoping it would make Jacks jealous.

“Of course it all went wrong. I don’t think it ever occurred to Aurora that after she left Vengeance he’d come after Lyric and raze the entirety of the Merrywood lands. But that’s the problem with my sister. She never thinks things through, and I know she’s not thinking now.”

“Do you know what she plans to do with Jacks’s heart? Is she going to put a love spell on it?” Evangeline guessed aloud. Although she knew from experience that a person didn’t need someone’s heart for that. Love spells could also be broken.

“I have a feeling she plans to do something more permanent,” Chaos said darkly.

“Like what? Give him an entirely new heart?”

“I don’t know. But I imagine when she’s done, Jacks will finally be hers.”

Evangeline wanted to throw up and pace, or maybe pace and throw up. She couldn’t stomach the idea of Jacks with Aurora—and she couldn’t imagine that Jacks would want that either.

How could he have done this? How could he give away his heart? How could he give up on her like this? Although she very much doubted he saw it this way. Jacks probably told himself he was doing something right, something noble by sacrificing his heart to protect her.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t what he’d really done. Jacks might have told himself he’d given up his heart to save her, but Evangeline feared he’d also done it to make it easier for him to let her go.

There had to be a way to change this. To fix this. To stop Aurora from forever changing Jacks’s heart or giving him another heart entirely. Who would Jacks even be if that happened?

“How do we get his heart back?” Evangeline said. “Not we, just you. I’m afraid I can’t help you.” “Why not?”

“I would, but I believe my sister has hidden the heart in the one place I can’t go. I think it’s somewhere in the Hollow.”

“Evangeline!” LaLa’s singsong voice trilled through the surrounding trees. “I hope you weren’t waiting too—” LaLa’s voice cut off abruptly as she stepped out of the wood and caught sight of Chaos on the other side of the glowing spring.

“What are you doing here?” Her lips twisted with displeasure. “I just saved your friend’s life,” Chaos replied sharply.

And was it just Evangeline’s imagination, or did he puff out his chest? Until that moment, she’d still been thinking of him as Chaos. But now as he sat up taller, with his cape rakishly tossed over one shoulder, she could see him as Castor Valor, the cocky young prince of the Magnificent North.

“Well, I’m here now, so—” LaLa waved a hand toward the forest. “Did you just dismiss me?” Castor asked.

“I tried,” LaLa said. She was the smallest in stature of the three, and yet there was something about the way she glared at Castor that gave the impression of her looking down upon him. “Don’t you have virgin blood to drink or something?”

“Virgin blood?” Castor smiled one of those devastating vampire smiles as he shoved a hand through his hair in very devil-may-care fashion. “What kind of stories have you been reading about me?”

“I don’t read any stories about you,” LaLa huffed, but Evangeline swore there was a deeper color on her cheeks.

“So it’s just a coincidence that you’re quoting one of them?” “I know you drink blood,” she said.

Castor’s gaze turned heated. I’d like to drink your blood, it seemed to say.

And suddenly everything felt a little hotter than it should have been. LaLa did not seem to like Castor, but Evangeline surmised that the vampire felt quite differently about her.

“I think we’re getting off topic,” Evangeline interjected before the vampire took a bite out of LaLa. “Jacks is in trouble.”

LaLa immediately looked away from Castor.

Evangeline quickly explained to LaLa what the vampire had told her about Aurora and Jacks’s heart.

“I can’t believe I used to think Jacks was the smart one.” Once again, LaLa glared at Castor. “Why didn’t you stop him?”

“I tried.”

Pfft,” LaLa said. “Clearly you didn’t try hard enough.”

“This isn’t Castor’s fault,” Evangeline said, but neither of them was paying attention to her.

“Have you ever successfully stopped Jacks?” asked Castor.

LaLa raised her chin imperiously. “I once stabbed him with a butter knife.”

“I remember that butter knife fiasco,” Evangeline said. “It caused a great mess. Speaking of messes—what are we going to do about Jacks’s heart?”

“I say we kidnap Aurora and torture her until she tells us where it is,” said LaLa.

“I’m not letting you torture my sister,” Castor interrupted. “Your sister is a monster!”

Castor’s nostrils flared. “We are all monsters.” With a growl, he shoved away from the tree he’d been leaning against.

For a second, Evangeline thought he might cross the spring as well and finally sink his teeth into LaLa. The tension had returned, tightening his jaw and his shoulders. Then slowly he took a step back.

“I’m not asking you to forgive her for what she caused to happen to your family,” Castor said quietly. “But you don’t need to hurt her. She was locked in the Valory for hundreds of years; she’s already suffered enough for her crime. If you want to hurt her for this, just find the heart and return it to Jacks. That will be torture enough for her.”

Castor turned to leave.

“Where are you going?” LaLa called.

“The sun is going to rise soon. I need to leave, but I’ve already told Evangeline where she has to go.”

And with that, Chaos vanished into the night.

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