Sequel to 'The Rose
'. Nearly stripped of their powers, Elyon and Phobos work as both allies and enemies to retrieve the Heart of Meridian from Nerissa.Pairing(s):
A huge thanks to ACompanyofSwans on FFN for helping me hash out the details of this chapter, and for general feedback!( Read more...Collapse )Chapter Three
-o-The princess is alive.
When he first hears it, he's sure it's just some new fable sprung up by a hopeless populace. It happens every now and then, some old lady saying she saw an apparition that she swears was the Light of Meridian, or an overexcited child babbling about seeing the princess in the woods one night.
Caleb understands the desire to deny that Princess Elyon is dead, but he wishes they'd shut up about it, at least around Cornelia. One can never tell whether those rumors will set off hope or rage in her; and either way, the results are explosive.
But more and more reports are coming in, and they're not all from people he'd consider unreliable. When Vathek swears he caught sight of her on the palace walls, Caleb decides it's time for some real recon.
"Do you think you can sniff her out, Blunk? Without
getting sniffed out yourself?"
They're by a portal concealed in the swamps underneath the palace, which is almost too convenient- if it really is Elyon, they can escape to earth easily. It's probably a set-up or some other trick, but they can't afford not to find out the truth. If it is Elyon…
"Mean girls forced Blunk to take bath," Blunk grumbles. "Definitely not being sniffed out now."
"I thought I'd been noticing less stink than usual. You should try bathing more often."
Blunk shudders dramatically. "No! No way! Not even for all the garbage in world! Clean passlings…what crazy idea come next?"
"Princesses rising from the grave, for one. Now come on, there's an opening in the guard's shift coming up."
It always takes a bit of cajoling to get Blunk to take on a mission in the palace alone, but he's needed, mostly for his nose- if anyone can tell the difference between an astral projection and the real thing it's a passling.
It's probably just a fake, anyway, but if it is the real Elyon… Caleb stamps down on the hope viciously. The rebel leader has to deal with realities, not fool's dreams.
Caleb paces, waiting for Blunk to return. A part of him has never gotten used to this, though he's pretty much grown up in the rebellion. The waiting, the stress, the knowledge that the men you've sent out won't all come back alive… That Blunk has snuck in and out of the palace countless times before doesn't help as much as it should.
When Blunk finally comes back, he looks dazed. "Smells like princess. Looks like princess. Yells like princess, too."
"Threatened Blunk with nasty spell, then said to get out before guards find Blunk."
Nasty spell? That doesn't sound like the princess, but then, it's Blunk- a spell involving soap would be nasty by his standards. And would a fake warn Blunk, show concern for his safety?
…Well, it would if it was a trap.
"Come on, Blunk, we're going back to earth."
But still, a sick feeling called hope rises in Caleb, and he doesn't know if he can crush it so easily.
"Eww, what happened down here?" Cornelia steps gingerly, not wanting to ruin her new shoes, or the hems of her new jeans. And bell bottoms had seemed like such a great idea this morning.
"Sorry, we had some pipe problems," Hay Lin says, "But we don't really have anywhere else private for witch business, so…"
"Daddy says he'll rent me an apartment next year when I start college," Cornelia offers in what must be a moment of weakness, or maybe madness. "I guess we could have meetings there."
Madness, definitely, as Hay Lin proves a second later by voicing Cornelia's worst fear. "Ooh, that's perfect! No more hanging out in the basement and having Mom and Dad walk in on us! And we'll finally have a proper place for guests from other worlds, too!"
Cornelia scowls. "Somehow this is sounding less and less like my apartment, and more like witch's apartment."
"Cheer up, Corny- think of it as running your very own hotel," Irma offers.
"But what would you charge? It's not like the rebels have much money," Hay Lin points out, and what was meant as a joke sours for all of them.
"Sorry we're late!" Will's voice calls down the stairs, breaking the uncomfortable silence. She stomps down the stairs, grumbling. "I had to sneak out- grounded again."
"But it's summer!" Hay Lin protests.
"Yeah, well, Mom caught me sneaking into bed at three in the morning. So I'm grounded, and I get a lecture on safe sex. Apparently Mom thinks I've been sneaking off to see Matt."
Matt, following her down, is blushing. "Well, not like that, anyway…"
"Ohh? Don't tell me you two haven't…"
"Cornelia!" Will's face turns a red to match her hair.
"Sorry, but I have to live vicariously, you know. Caleb's dad doesn't give us lectures about safe sex, he gives us lectures about the virtues of waiting until marriage." Cornelia shudders.
"You win," Will says, voice dry. "But I bet he doesn't ground you."
"Well, except for that once…"
"Guys, as interesting as our love lives are," Matt interrupts, voice at his most sweet and diplomatic, "Where are Taranee and Caleb? And what's this meeting about, anyway?"
Cornelia frowns. "Caleb wouldn't say. He looked kind of freaked, too, I hope he's okay…"
"You have a message, Will!" the talking cell phone calls out, and Will reads it.
"Apparently Taranee was continuing the theme- lecture from her Mom about how she's not allowed to date Nigel. She'll be here in a few minutes."
When Taranee arrives there's fire in her eyes, and she's stomping even more than Will did.
"Boy troubles?" Cornelia asks, sympathetic. Interfering parents are never fun.
"She won't even give Nigel a chance!" Taranee growls. "It's been how many years now, and she hasn't even spoken to him, but every time she finds out we've gone on a date I get yelled at! And it's not like Nigel's pulling pranks with Uriah and his gang anymore…"
They console and rant with Taranee for a while, but eventually Caleb arrives with Blunk and Mrs. Lin, and they go into business mode.
"Girls, Caleb has some news which you might find…upsetting," Mrs. Lin starts. "But hear him out before you say anything, understood?"
Caleb steps forward, looking grim. "I've been hearing some strange rumors recently, and when Vathek confirmed them…I sent Blunk into the palace to check. We think…that maybe Princess Elyon is alive."
The world freezes around Cornelia, and she doesn't hear anything said past that. Are her ears working right? Elyon…alive? Her stomach feels hollow, and her throat closes up. It can't be true…can it?
The sounds of the earth pound in her ears, her instinctive search for solace coming through again. She pulls herself out slowly, gently, not wanting to be too startled by her return to the conversation in the Silver Dragon's basement.
"So what, either it's an imposter or Elyon's gone princess of evil on us?" Irma is saying. "Why else would she stay with Phobos if she could leave?"
"No." Cornelia's voice is cold, and it strikes through the room, silencing everyone. "If it's Elyon, she'd never do that. She must be a prisoner."
"We can't know that for sure, when only Blunk's spoken to her, and just for a minute like that," Will says. Will, who was new to Heatherfield when this all started, Will, who never really got to know Elyon before Elyon left…
"We can't rule out the possibility that Phobos is still tricking her, guys," Taranee says, trying to be a very unwanted voice of reason.
"I'll go check," Cornelia says, and again things go silent. "I know Elyon- I'll be able to tell if it's really her or what, you know that."
"After the last time you tried that?" Will protests, glaring. "Just what we need, you getting captured by Phobos again!"
"That was years ago, Will! I'll be more careful!"
"You're never careful when it comes to Elyon, Cornelia!"
"Maybe that's because I actually care about her!"
"Girls, girls!" Caleb comes in between them, taking Cornelia's hands. "Look, we're all worried and don't know what to think. But Cornelia's right, she's the only one of us who'll be able to tell for good if it's Elyon or not. We can organize this properly. Cornelia can go transformed and disguised, and she can call to Taranee if she needs us for back-up."
He looks over all of them, taking on the position of leader that he's usually so careful of around the Guardians. "Come on- let's plan."
Sneaking into the palace isn't easy, but there are rebels on the inside- the women in the kitchen tell her that she'll be guided by the woman's who's been chosen as the princess's new maid. Hope shines in their eyes- they really believe it's her.
And when Cornelia enters Elyon's old room, she understands why.
"Elyon! I-is it really you?"
And it actually might be, for rather than vanishing like those ghosts did, this Elyon stares back up at her, just as shell-shocked as Cornelia is. A second later, Cornelia has her arms full of crying Elyon, and she knows she doesn't need any stupid tests. Everything about Elyon feels the same, even the sounds she makes while crying.
"Cornelia, I've missed you so much…" Elyon gasps out through sobs, face pressed into her shoulder. She's older and taller, but still short.
Cornelia tries to choke back tears of her own. "But…I thought you were dead…"
Elyon looks up at her and gives a watery, wry smile. "Black rose, technically. It's a long story. And…" Elyon gasps. "Cornelia, what are you doing here all by yourself? Do you want to be captured? Come on, we have to get you out of here."
Feeling a little numb, Cornelia follows Elyon out of the windows and the palace's towers. They fly silently for a while, moving fast to get beyond the realm of the palace. After a while Elyon brings them down to land in the woods, in what feels like pretty much the middle of nowhere. The kind of place that she would have hated before becoming Guardian- nothing but plants as far as you can see.
Now, she loves this kind of place, and she can feel herself calming down despite herself. Elyon sits down on a fallen log, and Cornelia joins her. For a while, they just sit there in silence, comfortable. Elyon leans against her, and Cornelia's arm wraps about her protectively.
God, it's such a relief. And…she's not sure what to feel. She'd thought Elyon was dead for four years, and now all of a sudden she's here
, and it's just…
"Elyon, what's going on?" Cornelia asks quietly, her panicked emotions still underground, taking root.
"I…" Suddenly Elyon looks nervous. "Cornelia, it's hard to explain."
"Well, let's start with the easy part? You're not dead," Cornelia says, stating the obvious, and the tears she's still holding back show in her voice. "I need more than a minute to adjust, you know."
Elyon nods. "Yeah… It's… Well, I said I wasn't technically dead
, right? I was stuck as a rose, which was- mostly kind of boring, actually."
Cornelia grins despite herself. "I'd say don't knock being a plant until you try it, but I guess you have." She shakes her head. "Anyway, then how are you here now?"
Looking away, Elyon says, "I found a way to get free." Somehow she doesn't sound happy about it, which makes no sense, but then, nothing about this makes any sense.
"Then why were you at the palace? You can fly and everything, you could have been home on earth by now, Elyon."
"But earth's not my home!" Elyon bursts out, and then looks at her guiltily. "I didn't mean it like that, but… Meridian is my home- I can feel it, like you feel the earth. They call me the Light of Meridian…it's in me, under my skin, and I can't just leave. The people here need me."
Cornelia nods slowly. It hurts, but it's true. She's had four years now to get used to Elyon as princess of Meridian. Dead princess, but… She chokes up again. "I get it, Elyon. But we can help you- why didn't you come to us?"
"Because…" Elyon takes a deep breath. "I have a plan to get my power back- to defeat Phobos. He's keeping me around right now because he needs my help with something, so…I'm working on it. I think it really will work."
"Really? What is it?" Hope and skepticism rise in Cornelia. It's just been too long- the thought of this war finally being over is practically foreign. So much of her life is wrapped up in it- even her relationship with Caleb. What will they talk about without battle plans and reconnaissance to work on? And she'll actually have to think about college seriously, and…
"I can't really talk about it right now," Elyon is saying distantly. That brings Cornelia back to reality. It hurts, Elyon keeping secrets from her. Though it's fair, since Cornelia letting the girls push her into keeping secrets from Elyon got her killed. Or…not. This is definitely going to take some adjustment. Good adjustment, but… "But you trust me, Cornelia, don't you? I know what I'm doing, I promise."
"I've got some of my power back- I can hold my own against him. And right now, he needs me, so I'm safe. Please trust me?"
Elyon looks so desperate that, for all she knows it's a bad idea, Cornelia can't help but give in. "Okay. I'll trust you. But keep in touch, okay? And if things look bad, get out of there."
"Oh, but you've got to meet Caleb! He'll be so glad to see you!"
"Caleb… Your boyfriend?" Elyon asks.
"Uh, yeah… But he's also the rebel leader, and… Elyon, I think he really needs this. Even if you are going to disappoint him by telling him you're doing the whole undercover thing."
So they go to the portal, where Caleb and the girls are waiting. Everyone stares at Elyon in shock, but Caleb kneels, legs shaky. It's strange, seeing her proud Caleb kneel before someone, especially Elyon, who she's known since kindergarten, who she's had slumber parties and traded gossip with. It really makes it stand out, that her best friend Elyon is a princess.
The princess is alive.
Caleb kneels instinctively, shakily, staring at her in awe. Cornelia's brought her here, and Cornelia is giving him a secret smile, telling him what he already knows in his soul. Princess Elyon is alive, and the rebellion has hope.