Note: This is a long one, so for the full story you really have to click read more.
Hans glared at the goblin. He did not enjoy dealing with these low caliber villains. They probably didn’t even have a plan, a motive, to abduct Caroline beyond the glamour of kidnapping a princess. The goblin cowered before Hans, his comrades lying at the prince’s feet.
“Where is she?” Hans asked coldly. The trembling goblin led Hans through a series of tunnels to the room where Caroline was being held. An hour and several unconscious goblins later, Hans was walking through the door of his house with Caroline hanging off his arm. Joan looked up from her work, which was spread out on the kitchen table.
“Back already?” Joan commented. “Guess it wasn’t Myriah then.”
“Just some smelly goblins, thank goodness.” Caroline declared dramatically. Her lip curled in disgust, either over the goblins or the thought of Myriah. Joan rolled her eyes.
Hans had tried to get his sister to be nicer to Caroline, but they just didn’t get along. Hans couldn’t really fault Caroline for it. She made a real effort with Joan. Once Caroline realized that Joan didn’t enjoy shopping or spas the way she did, Caroline had tried a dozen other activities with the younger girl, even skateboarding. Joan remained as dismissively irritated by Caroline as ever.
“Why would you even bring up Myriah?” Caroline asked Joan. The mere mention of the witch clearly distressed her more than being kidnapped by goblins. Joan shrugged.
“It’s been a while.” Joan looked back at her notes. “I just thought she was due.” Hans’ jaw tightened. Myriah was due to attack. She was far past due. They hadn’t heard from her since the incident at the party. Six months, by far the longest they’d gone without hearing from her since Myriah first began her vendetta.
“Well, maybe she’s dead.” Caroline suggested hopefully. Hans’ stomach twisted. The thought had occurred to him as well, while the weeks, then the months, wore on. Unlike Caroline, Hans was less than enthused. His fury at Myriah for her actions at the party had faded. Now he was desperate for her to return, with her broom, cauldron, and unconventional methods of… encouraging Caroline to use her gift.
Caroline sniffed and her nose crinkled. “Oh dear, Hans, do you mind if I borrow your shower? Goblins are not terribly hygienic, and what with them manhandling me…” Hans waved his hand.
“Help yourself.” Caroline smiled and kissed his cheek lightly before ascending the stairs.
“I see it doesn’t even occur to her that you won’t be able to shower until after she is done.” Joan scoffed once Caroline was out of sight.
Hans sighed. “Can’t you at least try to be civil, Joan?” Quiet resignation filled his voice. Joan snorted.
“Caroline hasn’t even tried to help anyone in weeks.” Joan was utterly scornful. “Whatever respect I might have had for her is fading fast.” Hans couldn’t exactly argue. He took a seat at the table and leaned back.
“She doesn’t do well without motivation.” He said, closing his eyes. There was a silence. Hans was starting to relax into it, barely.
“You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” Joan asked.
“I’m always worried about Caroline.” Hans replied without moving.
“Not her.” Joan shook her head. “Myriah.” That got Hans’ attention. He looked at his sister. Joan looked back at him with a piercing gaze that he rarely saw from her. It made Hans consider what he said next.
“Myriah makes Caroline… better.” Hans marshaled his thoughts. “She doesn’t just force Caroline to heal.” Hans recalled Myriah’s many monologues to Caroline. Monologues, disguised as villainous rambling, they were full of disparaging remarks about the princess. Things that Caroline wanted to prove wrong. “Myriah,” Hans struggled with his next words. “Makes Caroline want to heal.” Even after they left the hospital or warzone Myriah left Caroline in, Caroline carried Myriah’s cutting remarks with her. Things Hans was sure that Caroline remembered when people sought her help. Hans glanced at the door to the stairs Caroline had vanished through and inwardly sighed. “It’s something that only Myriah is capable of, and I don’t know what to do with out her.” Hans laughed hollowly. “It’s heard to believe, but Caroline’s worst enemy is also her greatest ally.”
Joan didn’t laugh. She just watched him. “Do you think Caroline is right? That Myriah is dead?” Hans’ insides twisted again, even more than before. Joan could not know how much Hans didn’t want that to be true.
“I hope not.” Hans’ desperation bled into his voice.
“Then what?” Joan demanded, tossing her notebook aside in frustration. “Where did she go? Why isn’t she here making Caroline a tolerable human being?!”
“I don’t know.” Hans put his head in his hands. “The only thing I can think of is that she realized that she went too far at the party and backed off because of it.” That or Caroline was right, but Hans didn’t even want to think about that.
“Does that mean we are hoping she goes bad again?” Joan asked. They both stopped and thought about that. Joan started to laugh. Hans slowly began to chuckle. They weren’t exactly sure why they were laughing. Maybe it was the ludicrousness of them hoping a bad guy turned good would go bad again. Or maybe it was the fact that they were talking about an enemy like a friend. Either way, it had become hilarious.
“What is wrong with us?” Joan gasped. Hans just shook his head and tried to stop laughing.
There was a knock at the door. Joan, her shoulders still shaking with laughter went to answer it. “What’s so funny?” The black haired beauty framed in the door way smiled at them quizzically.
“Oh, come in, Tiffany.” Joan waved her inside, still trying to get a handle on her laughter. Hans attempted to compose himself, but the occasional half laugh still found it’s way past his defenses every few seconds. Tiffany stepped inside with a gracious smile.
“Thank you.” She walked over to the table and rested her hands on the back of a chair. Tiffany had been Hans’ friend since elementary school. “I heard that Caroline was kidnapped again, so I thought I’d come over to see if I could help.” Tiffany smiled at Hans. “I take it from your demeanor she’s back home safe?”
“Safe and sound.” Hans nodded.
“Good.” Tiffany smiled. She reached out and lightly touched his shoulder. “I’m glad.” There had been a time that Hans and Tiffany might have become something more. Then Hans discovered his destiny as a prince… A prince always fell in love with his princess. Always.
Joan suddenly cursed, breaking the moment Tiffany had tried to initiate. “Hey, language!” Hans frowned at his little sister.
“Sorry.” Joan said distractedly, gathering her notebooks and pens in her arms hurriedly. “I forgot, I’m meeting a partner for a project! I am so freaking late!” Joan dashed up the stairs. Hans heard her sprint down the hall and crash through the door to her room.
“Careful!” Hans shouted.
Hans shook his head. Within thirty seconds Joan was darting out of the door with barely a goodbye. The front door slammed behind her, leaving Tiffany and Hans in the kitchen.
Hans’ thoughts turned back to Myriah; where she was, what she was doing, when Tiffany spoke quietly. “I wanted to thank you again.” Tiffany looked embarrassed. “For convincing Caroline to save her. I wasn’t sure if Caroline would heal a dog.” Tiffany’s dog was a thirteen year old lab, incredibly old for a lab. “Midnight seems so much better. I think Caroline might have healed more than her kidneys.”
“She might have.” Hans nodded. “I saw you walking Midnight last week. Her arthritis seems better.”
“She walked for four miles!” Tiffany said proudly, sitting in the chair she’d been leaning on. “It’s like she’s five years younger.” Hans smiled. He had a lot of great memories of that dog. It was good to know that she was doing better. “Tell me, has Caroline’s healing gotten stronger?” Hans blinked.
“You noticed it too?” He started to smile slowly. “It was hard to tell, since she hasn’t been…” Hans trailed off.
“Been healing as much.” Tiffany finished. She bit her lip and looked away. “Yeah…” Hans’ smile slipped away completely. If even Tiffany was bringing up the lack of healing, the others must be talking about it constantly when he wasn’t around. They sat there in silence for a moment. Tiffany looked at Hans and then away. When she did speak it was hesitant. “I have a question.” Hans looked back at her. He knew that voice. Tiffany wanted to say something but wasn’t sure how to say it or if she even should. He put his hand on her’s and squeezed. She looked down at his hand. It was an invitation to say anything she wanted. “Do you love Caroline?” Tiffany’s voice was low and tentative. Hans blinked, startled. Tiffany couldn’t look at him.
“I… I’m her prince.” He said through a dry mouth.
“That’s not what I asked.” Tiffany pulled her hand away. Her dark eyes fastened on his face. “Do you love her?” Hans swallowed with difficulty. How could he answer that question? Tiffany continued to stare at him, then she released her breath.
“I thought so.” Tiffany looked away. “Hans, you need a better reason that ‘because you’re her prince’. You deserve better than that.”
“I do love Caroline.” Hans protested. He felt like he needed to defend the relationship. Tiffany looked back at him and he faltered. Now he couldn’t even defend Caroline? “Or, at least, I did…” Hans rubbed his face. “I love her sometimes.” Those times had become fewer and farther between as the weeks without Myriah wore on. The rest of the time… When exactly had his feelings for Caroline gone from love to duty?
When he looked up Tiffany was still watching him. “It’s complicated.” Hans said, his voice muffled by the hand on his mouth.
“Then let me make it simple.” Tiffany said in an uncharacteristic moment of bluntness. “Would you love Caroline if she weren’t a princess?” Hans froze, not just his body, his mind too. They sat there.
Tiffany finally shook herself. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t…” She was much less sure of herself than she’d been a moment before. “I just…” Tiffany swallowed. “I just want you to be happy.” She looked away from him, biting her bottom lip. “And I don’t think you are right now.” She stood. “I’m sorry, I should go.” Hans stood up and hugged her.
“Thank you.” He said into her shoulder. Tiffany hugged him back. “Did Joan coach you?”
Tiffany half laughed into Hans’ chest. “Not exactly.” She was crying. Her voice was choked and Hans could feel a few tears through the cloth of his shirt. “We’ve talked about your relationship, but she didn’t know I was going to say anything.” Tiffany laughed again. “I didn’t even know I was going to say anything.”
Hans stepped back and smiled at her. “Well, thanks for not saying the really bad stuff Joan’s probably said about Caroline.”
“I do like Caroline. I wouldn’t repeat any of that.” Tiffany giggled through her tears. “I never knew Joan had such a dirty mouth.” Tiffany sniffed and wiped her eyes. When she returned her gaze to Hans it was uncertain. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything?”
“No. It’s alright. Thank you. It’s different coming from you.” Hans reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “I’ll think about what you said.” Tiffany still looked uncertain, but she smiled.
“That’s all I ask.” Tiffany glanced at her watch. “I’ve still got some time. Are you busy?” Hans’ eyes flicked to the stairs. Tiffany’s eyes followed his. “Oh, I see.” She smiled at him. “I really do like her.” Tiffany said again. “Sometimes she’s better than others.” Tiffany’s smile tightened almost indiscernibly. “If you can work it out. You should.” Tiffany picked up her bag. “I should go.” She walked to the door. “And Hans,” She looked back at him. “Whatever you decide,”
“You’ve got my back.” Hans nodded. Tiffany smiled one more time and walked out the door. Leaving Hans alone with his thoughts.
Caroline smiled at Hans as she walked down the stairs. Her hair was still wet and she was wearing some of the extra clothing that she kept at his house. “Feel better?” He asked.
“Much.” She answered. “But I am running late.” She kissed his cheek. “I’m going to go ahead. Will you text me later?”
“Sure.” Hans nodded. Caroline let her hand linger on his shoulder as she walked to the door. She began singing as soon as it closed behind her. Hans winced, but a fond smile unfurled on his lips just the same. Caroline couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. It was odd that that was one of the things he found endearing about her. Hans latched on to it. Tiffany’s question had left him somewhat muddled and it was good to be reminded that there were things that made Hans care besides being a prince.
He listened to Caroline’s off pitch singing as she walked down the driveway. Suddenly he was out of his chair and out the door. Caroline’s voice had been cut off by her scream. Hans raced to the street. He saw Myriah pulling an unconscious Caroline into a black car with dark windows. She looked up, and they made eye contact. She smiled. Then wrenched Caroline the rest of the way into the back seat and slammed the door. The car sped a way. Hans chased after it, but there was no way for him to catch up.
Hans slowed, breathing heavily. Myriah kidnapped Caroline… Hans smiled. He couldn’t help himself. Myriah was back.
It had taken Hans longer than usual to track down the princess and the witch. Myriah didn’t leave any of the little clues she generally did that helped for a hospital blood drive, coal dust that could only come from the one mine near town, an informant who just happened to know where Myriah and the princess were holed up. This time there was nothing and part of Hans had to wonder just how many of those breadcrumbs she had left for him intentionally throughout the years. Hans had to relay solely on his connection to Caroline this time.
He followed it through the city. When Hans sensed the princess within a couple blocks he stopped wandering. The ability to sense the princess gave him only a vague idea of where he was going, and Myriah would be watching for him. This was not the usual place Myriah brought Caroline. It was a nice, almost upscale, neighborhood, miles from any hospital. Why on Earth would Myriah bring Caroline here? Hans felt uneasy. He needed to find them as soon as possible.
Hans took out his phone. He looked at the number for a long time before he sighed and made the phone call. Twenty minutes later, and his bank account fifty dollars lighter, Hans knew the building and room number of Myriah’s liar. He didn’t like paying a hacker to do his legwork, but he’d lost enough time looking for Myriah. He needed to move.
Myriah was staying on a top floor penthouse under an assumed name. She’d been there several months (another oddity, she’d never been anywhere more than a few weeks before). Hans spoke to the manager, who happily agreed to allow Hans use of the fire escape to sneak up to Myriah’s pent house. It was amazing what people would do to help save a princess.
Hans took the elevator to the floor directly below the penthouse. He went to the fire escape and stole up the noisy metal staircase as quietly as he could. He shivered as he peered through the window. The room beyond the glass was darkened. He could faintly hear music playing somewhere in the penthouse beyond. Hans couldn’t make it to any other window. He hesitated, then pulled out a sheathed dagger and waited for the music to swell. At the height of the sound Hans smashed the lower pane in the window with the hilt of his dagger. He froze, but a beautiful and angry witch did not open the door to the dark room. After a moment, Hans relaxed. The music must have covered the sound.
Hans reached in and groped for the window latch. He hissed in pain as a shard of glass in the window panel sliced into his forearm, but he tried to ignore it. Caroline could heal it later. Hans managed to release the latch and push the window open. He crept into the room as quietly as he could. It looked nice, but clearly was not used much. Probably because of it’s proximity to the fire escape. Hans made it across the room and eased the door open. An empty hallway lay beyond. Hans heard the music from down the hall, along with some very off-key singing. He stayed low as he crept down the hall to a door slightly a jar.
“Would you cut that out?!” Myriah snapped. Hans peered through the crack between the door and the hinges. He could make out Caroline tied to what looked like the least comfortable chair in the penthouse. “You are ruining a perfectly good song!”
“It’s an awful song!” Caroline spat. Hans tilted slightly so he could see Myriah, standing at a kitchen counter, grinding something in a stone bowl while a saucepan bubbled away on the stove.
“Then why are you singing it?!” Myriah demanded.
“Because you hate my voice.” Caroline replied vehemently. Hans smothered a snort with a smile. The princess and the witch, together again. Caroline began singing again. Myriah seized a hand full of the powder she was grinding, and through it in Caroline’s face. Caroline started coughing furiously.
“Much better.” Myriah said with smug satisfaction. Hans resisted the urge to go to Caroline’s aid. She took the rest of the powder and gently blew it into the steam raising above the saucepan. The powder sparked as it hit the steam. Satisfied, Myriah moved away from it and turned down the music. “Tell me, Caroline.” Myriah spat the name like a curse. “Do you like being a princess?” Myriah stirred the saucepan with one finger, showing no signs of pain as she touched the boiling, bubbling brew.
“Of course,” Caroline’s back straightened. She tossed back her hair. It was as if she were expressing just how regal she was. “It’s much better than being a witch.”
“I agree.” Myriah said. “It is better than being a witch.” Myriah contemplated the steam. “But I think it means more to you than that. It’s what makes you special. Your one positive attribute.”
“Shows what you know!” Caroline accused nastily. Myriah scoffed, but moved on.
“It also got you everything you’ll ever need.” Myriah picked up another handful of herbs and began grinding away at them. “Status,” Myriah pounded the stone into the bowl. “A dashing prince,” Hans thought that this time the stone struck the bowl harder than it had last time, but that could just be what he wanted to think. “And power.” Myriah lifted the bowl. “Power over who lives,” Her eyes flashed. “And who dies.”
“That’s not how it works.” Caroline protested.
“That’s exactly how it works!” Myriah shouted, slamming the bowl down on the table beside her. Hans flinched. “People you refuse to save you condemn to death.” Myriah grabbed Caroline by the chin. Caroline released a slight gasp of true terror. Hans had never heard anyone sound that afraid before. “But not any more.” Myriah’s voice was heavy with hate, and abruptly Hans realized that was why something seemed off. Today was the day. Today Myriah was going to exact her true revenge against Caroline for letting her brother die. Hans burst into the room, his dagger drawn. Myriah was going to kill her.
Hans charged Myriah who released Caroline in surprise. Hans dove for her, ending up between the two of them as Myriah dodged him. He turned toward her and barely had time to register her hand up before her broom flew straight into his solar plexus. Hans bent as all of the air was knocked from his lungs. Myriah twisted her hand. The broom turned and forced him backwards. It pinned him against a wall, the handle crossed his chest and his arms. Hans had dropped the dagger beside Caroline, not that it could have helped him with his hands trapped under the broomstick. Myriah breathed heavily, more out of surprise than anything else. Hans expected her to have some clever rejoinder, Myriah always did. Instead, she just straightened the bowl and checked for any other disturbance. That was even more worrying. He strained against the broom. Myriah took Caroline’s face in one hand again. Caroline whimpered. She knew this was something different also. Myriah put her hand in the bowl.
“Don’t.” Hans choked, finally regaining his breath. Myriah barely hesitated. “Don’t. Please. Don’t.” Myriah lifted her hand, coated in herbs, to Caroline’s trembling face. “Don’t kill her!” That stopped Myriah cold. She looked at Hans, anger and a touch of hurt on her face.
“You think I would?” She demanded. Myriah’s voice was insulted and vaguely accusing. “You think-” She swallowed. “You think I would go to all this trouble just to kill her?” She looked down at Caroline, trembling in her hand. “It would be a waste of my time and her talent. Besides,” Myriah’s hand tightened, nails digging into the skin on Caroline’s face. Caroline flinched. “Death’s too good for her.” Myriah brushed the herbs on Caroline’s forehead and let her go. Then Myriah rubbed the same herbs on her forehead. Myriah walked over to the saucepan. Caroline shot a frightened look at Hans. Hans set his jaw and looked at Myriah.
“So then what are you planning to do?” He asked, hoping he could keep her talking, maybe talk her right out of it. Myriah lifted the saucepan by the handle and walked over to Caroline. Myriah put the pot on top of the stone bowl before she answered.
“Something poetic.” Myriah waved her hand at the saucepan. The steam increased dramatically, it became as thick and potent as fog. Caroline gasped and then held her breath. Myriah smiled. “You’ll have to breathe sometime Caroline.” Myriah pointed out. “I can wait.” Sure enough, Caroline was soon taking little gasps. She took deeper breaths as she realized that nothing was happening to her. Myriah waited until Caroline was breathing normally. Then she began to chant. It was beautiful, oddly lyrical, Myriah sounded like she was singing. Myriah had a much better voice than Caroline.
Myriah took out a vial of something that glowed pink. Caroline gasped. Myriah uncorked the bottle. The energy escaped and began to mingle with the mist. Almost immediately it began to swirl around them. The glowing pink mist coalesced around Caroline, though tendrils reached for Myriah. The glow became brighter. If anything, Caroline seemed to be emitting the glow herself. Then something strange happened. The glow began to whirl around them. As it went by Myriah, it changed. Slowly the mist became purple. Myriah was breathing deeply. It took time, slowly going from pink to purple. After a few minutes the mist was almost completely purple. With each breath Myriah took it thinned, like morning mist as the sun rises. When it was gone, Myriah opened her eyes and smiled. “Done.” She picked up the dagger from where Hans had dropped it. Caroline screamed and Hans tried to lunge forward. Myriah leaned over Caroline. She smiled viciously and said, “Enjoy your punishment.” Then, she cut Caroline’s bonds.
Caroline scrambled away from her, rubbing her wrists. Myriah flicked her hand and the broom flew away from Hans. Hans stumbled then hurried over to Caroline. He positioned himself in front of the princess. Caroline clutched at Hans. He touched her hand, and stared warily at the witch. “Now what?”
Myriah shrugged. “Now you are free to go.” She picked up the saucepan and returned it to the stove, then opened the doors to the balcony that Hans hadn’t even noticed was there. She had lost all interest in them.
“Are you alright?” Hans looked down at Caroline. She nodded, and then she looked down, and gasped.
“You’re hurt.” She lifted his arm. Hans had forgotten about the cut from the window. Caroline touched the cut. Hans waited for the skin to knit together, the pain to subside, and the blood to be replaced, but none of that happened. Caroline frowned, and touched his injury again. “I don’t understand.” Myriah had stopped to watch.
“You wouldn’t.” Myriah said. “You never used your gift.” She stepped over to them and took his arm. “You never deserved your gift.” Hans gasped as the cut healed. Myriah smiled at him, genuinely.
Caroline’s jaw dropped. For a moment, Hans thought she stopped breathing. “What did you do?” She grabbed at Myriah’s cloak.
“It’s the perfect revenge, you see.” She pulled away from Caroline. The satisfaction was evident on her face. “Now, I can help others and you can fade into the obscurity you deserve. Always knowing you were once more.”
“What did you do?!” Caroline screamed, throwing herself at the witch. Myriah pushed her away, hard, and moved to the open doors.
“I found a way to help the people that you won’t.” Myriah called the broom to her side. Caroline tried to attack her again, Hans grabbed her and held her back. Myriah smiled at them. “Bye.” She sat on the broom and flew away. Caroline’s legs gave out. She sank to the ground. Hans’ eyes followed the witch until she vanished from sight. Then, she was gone.
There you have it, Myriah's endgame.
Now that the roles have reversed, the question has to be asked. Who is the princess?
(I have plans to paint a picture for this one later. But I thought everyone had been so patient they deserved the update.)