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Part 3: Chaos – Chapter no 37

Once Upon a Broken Heart

Evangeline woke up in a pair of unyielding arms. She tried to wiggle free, but Jacks held her tightly as her eyes opened and slowly adjusted to the warm light of day.

She hadn’t even been aware that she’d fallen asleep, but she must have dozed off in Jacks’s lap. Heat curled in her stomach and rose to her cheeks. It was a silly thing to be embarrassed about. She’d almost died, and Jacks had saved her life. Had it been anyone else who’d gone to so much trouble

—rescuing her from soldiers, carrying her through the midnight snow, finding her a cure—she’d have thought it might have meant something. But even though Jacks had held her all through the night, his arms were wooden in their grip, his chest was a flat rock against her head. They hadn’t curved into each other as she’d slept. Jacks had only saved her because he needed her alive for the prophecy.

She’d known he was lying when he’d called the prophecy dusty and said she didn’t need to worry about the Valory Arch. Without the prophecy, Jacks would never have saved her, nor would he have put her in so many terrible positions.

Evangeline tried to move, but her limbs were like lead. All she could do was blink the remaining sleep from her eyes as she finally took in the rest of her surroundings.

Butter-soft light streamed through the rounded windows, gilding every surface of the unexpectedly bright flat that Evangeline found herself in. The walls were covered in bold yellow and orange flowers, the shelves were

speckled with glitter, and the books on them were arranged by the color of the spine. And yet none of it was nearly as bright as the girl dressed in a sequined robe, lounging on the striped ginger chaise directly across from Evangeline and Jacks.

“LaLa?”

“Hello, friend.” LaLa’s grin was nearly incandescent.

Evangeline couldn’t decide if it was terribly out of place or perfectly fitting for this strange tableau.

She opened her mouth to do the polite thing and thank her. Evangeline was fairly certain LaLa was the one who’d given Jacks the cure to save her life. She probably owed Jacks a thank-you as well for bringing her here. And yet somehow nothing even remotely close to words of gratitude came out. “I’m so confused. How do the two of you even know each other?”

“She’s the Fate that poisoned you,” Jacks said.

LaLa gave Jacks an impressive glare. “This is why everyone hates you.” He laughed in response as if they were flirting. Was this how Fates flirted—with accusations of murder? Still imprisoned on Jacks’s lap, Evangeline couldn’t quite see his face. But from the casual way he’d made his claim about LaLa, Evangeline had the impression that he didn’t really

believe LaLa had tried to kill her and succeeded in killing Apollo.

Unfortunately, it was difficult to be sure about anything with Jacks. Evangeline had the impression that LaLa didn’t like Jacks, but perhaps she was attracted to him, or they had some sort of secret liaison. LaLa’s cheeks suffused with a pretty blush as they sparred.

LaLa then explained to Evangeline that she was indeed a Fate—the Unwed Bride—though she wasn’t inclined to elaborate on that much. Evangeline didn’t blame her. In Decks of Destiny, the Unwed Bride was always pictured in a veil of tears. She represented rejection, loss, and unhappily ever afters. It seemed that, unlike Jacks, LaLa could easily find someone to love her whenever she wanted, but the love was doomed to never last. Every girl feared becoming the Unwed Bride, and Evangeline had pitied the idea of her, but the reality of LaLa almost made Evangeline envious.

LaLa was not a wilting maid pining away for lost love. She was the boldest girl at the party, the girl who was unafraid to dance by herself or let a pair of fugitives into her home when they knocked on her door in the dead of night. She had magic and confidence, and she was not afraid of fighting with Jacks. She didn’t make being alone seem lonely as Evangeline had always feared. She made it seem like an adventure, as if every moment were the start of a story with endless possibilities.

“They were my tears that poisoned you,” LaLa said, “but I didn’t try to kill you or Prince Apollo. I sold off some vials of tears ages ago, and I suspect someone must have used one of those. I would tell you who, but it’s been so long since I’ve sold tears, I couldn’t even guess where they are now. I swear it. I haven’t hurt anyone since coming north. Like most of the other Fates, I fled here to start afresh—after Jacks got us all exiled.”

“I’m not the one who got us all exiled,” Jacks interrupted.

LaLa gave him a tart look. “You might not have single-handedly gotten us all kicked out of the south, but I heard about some of the things that you did to the empress’s younger sister. People said you were obsessed with her.”

“This is getting tedious.” Jacks suddenly sounded bored. But Evangeline felt every inch of his body flinch at the mention of the empress’s sister, the girl that LaLa once said had broken Jacks’s heart.

Was this the root of whatever was going on between LaLa and Jacks— was she jealous of this other girl?

“I don’t even remember her,” Jacks drawled. “And right now, I really think we should focus on the human’s past, not mine.”

One of his hands left Evangeline’s waist so that he could toss a paper onto her lap.

 

The Daily Rumor

MURDER!

By Kristof Knightlinger

Our beloved Prince Apollo is dead. As I write this, tears keep smearing my ink, because—sadly— this is not a rumor. Every report I’ve received from Wolf Hall, where the prince was married only yesterday, has said the same thing. His Highness was murdered in his wedding suite.

The news spread quickly after wails from Princess Evangeline were heard from every guard and

servant. “I didn’t know a human could cry like that,” a source close to the princess told me.

However, not everyone under royal employ is convinced that Princess Evangeline’s grief was real

—especially now that the princess has gone missing.

Some whispers out of Wolf Hall have said that she is a murderess seductress and that she fled with her accomplice, the Fated Prince of Hearts!

I cannot imagine it, and I know there are others who agree. Our new crown prince, Tiberius, is very concerned for his sister-in-law. He believes she may have been kidnapped by Prince Apollo’s real killer. Soldiers have been sent across Valorfell and the neighboring provinces to search for Evangeline and bring her safely back to the royal grounds.

 

Evangeline dropped the paper.

It was tempting to close her eyes and curl into a ball as soon as she finished reading. The words about Apollo looked so cold in print, and they made all of it seem even more final. Apollo was dead, and she was never going to see him again. She was never going to have a chance to make things right or start over as she’d planned. Yesterday around this time, they’d exchanged their wedding vows. Apollo had said he’d happily bleed for her, and now she couldn’t help but fear that he’d actually died for her.

She knew his death wasn’t her fault, but she felt responsible, as if Apollo might have been strong enough to fight the poison in him if she hadn’t just shattered his heart by breaking Jacks’s spell on him.

I’m so sorry, Apollo.

Her chest tightened and her eyes burned, but it seemed that she’d shed all her tears last night or she might have started crying again.

With a dry sniffle, she looked back at the cold black-and-white paper that she’d dropped. This time, the words murderess and seductress were the ones that jumped out.

She hoped that people didn’t believe it. But if she continued to stay with Jacks, they most likely would.

“Thank you both for saving me, but I need to return to Wolf Hall and tell Tiberius what really happened. As long as there’s a chance that people think I did this, they may never find who actually poisoned Apollo.”

“Are you mad?” Jacks twisted her around on his lap and glared. “You cannot go back to Wolf Hall. I guarantee you, Tiberius Acadian is not searching for you because he’s worried about you. He wants to find you so that he can blame the murder on you, which shouldn’t be difficult. I doubt Apollo’s body was even cold before I first heard that you’d been arguing in the wedding suite right before he was found dead.”

“I hate to say it, but he’s right,” LaLa chimed, picking up a cup of tea from a low table laden with a great deal of food and several empty bottles of Fortuna’s Fantastically Flavored Water. “You make an excellent murder suspect. Orphan, turned savior, turned bride, turned killer—I’m actually surprised that wasn’t Kristof’s headline today.”

“It will probably be tomorrow,” said Jacks.

“But I didn’t kill him. There should be proof that someone else did— maybe it was one of the other girls who’d wished to marry him.” Evangeline started to stand.

Jacks’s arms tightened around her waist, keeping her captive on his lap. “Tiberius and his guards won’t care about proof once they have you. For all you know, Tiberius poisoned you and his brother so he could take the throne. All he needs is a wife, and then he’s king.”

“I don’t think he did this,” Evangeline argued. She knew the brothers had their differences, and now that Apollo was dead, Tiberius was heir to the throne. But yesterday, she’d really had the impression that Tiberius truly cared about Apollo. And the alternative to trusting Tiberius was trusting Jacks.

“You’d be a fool to put your life in Tiberius’s hands,” said Jacks. “The only way to clear your name is to find who really did this. I’m your best option for that.”

“You expect me to believe that you care about who the real killer is?” Jacks’s mouth turned sullen. “I’m being accused of this crime as well.” “I’m fully aware of that, Jacks, but I also know that the Prince of Hearts

has been associated with murders long before Apollo died last night.”

Jacks didn’t immediately reply, but Evangeline felt his hand against her back, fisting the fabric of her ruined wedding gown and betraying more of his growing frustration. “What other choice do you have but to trust me?”

“I can search on my own!” But even as she said it, Evangeline knew she wouldn’t get far without help.

Yet trusting Jacks was a horrid idea. Jacks kept his word, but he also did terrible things like having people turned into stone statues. And Evangeline knew Jacks had only offered to help her because he believed she was the peasant turned princess in the Valory Arch prophecy, which would surely lead her into more trouble. She wondered if this prophecy also might have had something to do with Apollo’s death. Was it just a coincidence that her prince died on the night she became the prophecy’s princess? She wanted to ask Jacks more about it. But Evangeline didn’t feel it was wise to bring up anything related to the Valory Arch in front of LaLa in case it incited a violent reaction.

Evangeline didn’t believe that would happen. But she also didn’t imagine that LaLa—or any other Fate—would dismiss the Valory Arch as a mere fairytale the same way that Apollo had.

A tremor cut through Evangeline at that particular memory of him. He’d been so playful and sweet and so very much alive as he’d told her about the arch. And he should have still been alive. Evangeline had to find out who’d killed him, and as reluctant as she was to admit it, Jacks was probably the best—and possibly the only—one who could help her.

“If I stay with you, I have a few rules.” She finally pulled away from Jacks and stood up to face him. Even though he sat, he was so tall that she did not manage to tower over him. The two of them would never be equal— he would always have more power than she did. But that didn’t mean she was powerless. “From now on, this will be a true partnership. You will not leave me behind or keep things that you learn secret. We work together to find Apollo’s killer and clear our names. And that is our only goal. If I suspect you have another goal or that you’re lying to me, I will walk away and tell Prince Tiberius exactly where to find you.”

“Excellent speech!” LaLa cheered with her teacup. “You’re making a terrible choice to work with Jacks, but it’s a very noble one.”

“LaLa,” Jacks growled, “I think your services are no longer necessary.” “You’re in my flat!”

“Not for much longer. The sun has almost set, and—”

His voice was cut off by a heavy knock. It wasn’t on LaLa’s door, but it was close enough to rattle the bones of the bright room.

Until that moment, Evangeline hadn’t given much thought as to exactly where they all were, but one glance out the window revealed they were at the top of a spire, packed close to other residences. She could see several soldiers in copper tunics and white fur-trimmed cloaks pounding on neighboring doors.

“Are they searching for—”

“Shh—” Jacks put a finger to his mouth. He didn’t say another word, and Evangeline didn’t see him so much as wrinkle his brow, but a heartbeat later, the soldiers started clearing out of the spire.

Evangeline only counted three of them, and their controlled movements were jerkier than the two soldiers who’d been guarding her yesterday, making her wonder again what the limits of Jacks’s powers were. She may have been right when she’d suspected controlling three people at a time was his maximum, at least in the North. But it was still unsettling that he had the power to manipulate her emotions at all.

Evangeline turned her gaze back to Jacks. “I think I need to amend the speech I just gave.”

“Don’t worry, Little Fox, you’d be far too much trouble for me to want to control. And we’re partners,” he said pleasantly. “So I know you won’t argue with me when I say we need to get out of here now.”

“Since it seems you’re embracing our new partnership, you’ll have no problem telling me where you want to go and why.”

To Evangeline’s surprise, Jacks answered without hesitation, “We’re going to pay a visit to Chaos.”

LaLa choked on her tea. “Chaos is a monster!”

“I thought Chaos was another Fate?” Evangeline hazarded. “Chaos isn’t like the rest of us.” LaLa set her teacup down with so much force the porcelain cracked and tea spilled through.

Jacks slid her a taunting look. “Still not over things, after all this time?” “I’ll never be over what he did.”

“What did he do?” Evangeline asked. “Chaos is a murderer,” LaLa spat.

“He’s also extremely useful,” Jacks said, kicking his boots up onto the low table. “Chaos is as old as the North, and unlike the rest of us, he was never trapped in a deck of cards. He’s been here all this time, collecting favors and people and information. If anyone knows who wanted you and Apollo dead, it will be Chaos. He’s the Lord of Spies and Assassins.”

“He’s also a vampire,” LaLa supplied dryly.

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