The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 8 (or, “The Survival Tactics Begin”)
Milaya tried to press the button on the top right of her communicator one more time, but the device was sufficiently dead. She had tried to press it before, so she hoped the signal had gone through. Even if her phone wasn’t on at the moment, the signal should have still gone through.
Even out here. In the middle of nowhere. When she was alone.
The sun was rising over Fiorazzurro, and Milaya had woken up early. When she had roused from her spot on Calimero’s floor, Daisy had been nowhere to be seen. She had been still awake when Milaya had passed out on the floor, reading from some book she had been keeping in her pocket. Milaya had found a blanket and a pillow and had curled up, and next thing she knew, she had fallen asleep.
It was quiet out here. Nothing like her new home.
She had exited Calimero’s laboratory without bothering to wake him up. She had done enough damage the previous night with bringing Daisy in. She knew Daisy and Calimero had both been in Fiorazzurro, but she hadn’t anticipated running into them both on the same day. And she hadn’t anticipated Daisy to already have an agenda in Fiorazzurro. Was the other girl originally from the island nation? Her file hadn’t said so.
Sitting in the alley wasn’t the best place to be, but Milaya preferred it over being in Calimero’s house. Plus, this way she could try to fix her phone without him looking over her shoulder. He wasn’t allowed to know what she was up to...not all of it, anyway. There hadn’t been any reports of this being a strange assignment, but then again, Daisy had done that strange thing to her communicator...and Milaya couldn’t forget the report she had given.
“I don’t think I’ll get it to turn back on, but I saw a man in a suit. Did he turn the device off?”
Probably, Milaya thought as she pulled an elastic off of her arm, pulling her long blonde hair back into a bun. And I don’t know if he’s got a hand in this world, but if he messed with my communicator, he definitely doesn’t want me finding the others. I don’t know how I’m gonna complete the assignment without this stupid thing working --
“So that’s where you went.”
Milaya jumped, then turned. Her hand went to the back of her head, wanting to undo the bun she had already done -- but it was just Calimero. “Oh, I wouldn’t have straight up left. I wouldn’t know where to go.” He wasn’t dressed the same as yesterday, with a button down blue shirt and some khaki colored pants on.
“To be honest, I’m kind of glad the other girl left, but I was hoping you would stick around.” Calimero leaned against the doorway.
“Well...to be honest, I haven’t thought through all of that. But you can’t blame me for not being honest. Do you want to come in for some breakfast? I bought eggs yesterday, and I can’t leave them in the ice box forever.”
Milaya decided, if she was going to have Calimero on her side, it would be best not to alienate him. “Sounds like a plan.”
Calimero’s affairs with potions made him rather skilled at cooking, a skill he liked to show off. Within five minutes, he had an entire batch of scrambled eggs whipped up, nothing special but seasoned to touch with salt, pepper, and a local spice called fragare. He served them up in one of his mixing bowls, as he rarely had guests and didn’t keep plates for that reason. He grabbed one of the two forks he kept and stuffed it into the mix, handing it to Milaya.
“Nothing of any interest,” he said as he handed them to Milaya.
She opened her mouth and ate some, taking a moment to digest each flavor. “It’s very specific,” she noted. “There’s a flavor here I’m not familiar with.”
“You’d be tasting the fragare. It’s a local spice. You can literally get it off the street. Nothing magical about it, I promise.”
She ate another bite. “I don’t hold the magic aspect against you. Where I’m from, magic is seen as a fairy tale, something that’s made up, not real. Here, it’s much different. I’m still getting used to it.”
“There’s magic in Russia.” Calimero paused mid-bite. “Unless you mean you’ve never seen magic before.”
“I don’t doubt that there’s magic in the Russia that’s part of your world. But I literally mean...the Russia I come from. Or used to come from. I can’t explain simply, I’m sorry.”
“Can you try to?”
She took out her communicator and put it on the table, looking it over. She stared at it for a moment, hoping it would just turn on, fix all of her problems, come up with messages from the others. “I come from...a place far away,” she said. “Yes, I come from Russia, and our Russias are similar, I guess. But it’s not the same thing. I come from far away, and I have been sent here because your world is going to fall apart.”
“Because of Queen Cendrillon?”
“If she doesn’t ruin everything first, somebody else will. That I know for sure.” She couldn’t get Daisy’s image out of her mind. That idiot. Why couldn’t he just leave them alone? “So I was sent here to find someone who could help us out. They’re not supposed to know about anything, they’re just supposed to go along with it. But the way things are turning out...I’ll probably have to tell you everything. Who I really am. Where I really come from. And the threat we may be facing...but I can only tell it to one person. If more than one guardian is picked, then it’s not going to work.”
She nearly jumped as the communicator powered on, flashing letters too quick for Calimero to catch but showing screens she had seen millions of times by this point. The word “DEALEY” flashed across the screen once, and then her operating system kicked in. She grabbed the phone, muttered a silent prayer in Russian underneath her breath, then scrolled through the applications. No regular service -- no messages yet from her crew. But she could make a guardian request immediately, and it would take effect for this entire world. Should she wait for official confirmation, though?
No. She hadn’t heard anything from the others, and this was already day 2. A decision needed to be made now.
“Calimero,” she said, “I’m going to make you the guardian of this world. I know you really don’t know what that means, but you’re going to have to roll with me here. It’s important for me to choose a guardian who really doesn’t have anything to fight for here. Someone whom I can count on to be on my side, no matter what happens. Usually it’s not done like this. Usually you become the guardian, we tell you at the end, and then you just help us fix a few small things and it’s all said and done. I’m not supposed to be here, though. I’m usually here with a team of people, and we were all supposed to be here together…but I can’t find them. I don’t know where they are. I’m supposed to use this device to contact them, but it’s not working the way I need it to. So I have to do this all by myself.”
Calimero tried to wrap his mind around what Milaya was saying. She had come to Fiorazzurro looking for someone to help her save the world…and she was choosing him? “But I’m not really a world-saver,” he said.
“That’s okay. We usually pick people with no previous experience in saving worlds, so you wouldn’t be alone.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“Look, it’s complicated, and I really shouldn’t be telling you any of this. But I don’t want to change your life and give you responsibility if you’re not going to help me. Are you in or not?”
He looked toward the sky. Somewhere above the buildings, the sun was rising, and the work week was finally starting. Everybody would be going about their daily business like nothing was happening, but if Milaya was telling the truth, everything would end soon…and it wouldn’t be the Queen’s fault. Could he trust her? He had so far.
“All right,” he said. “Fine. I’ll do it. I’ll help you. I’ll be your…guardian or whatever you need to be. This world needs a little more fun anyway.”
He swore he could see a small tear in Milaya’s eye as she, tight-lipped, turned to her strange device and started pushing the screen again. He had expected her to be more excited about his decision, so why was she so tight-lipped?
Milaya entered his code into the system and selected the right option, finally selecting ‘YES’ at the end screen. She held her communicator for a long time and stared at Calimero’s picture, trying to trust the dark eyes that stared back at her. Could she trust him? And if…if that man was in the picture again, could they even stand a chance at winning?
“Milaya? If…if that is even your name?”
Now she gave him a smile. One step forward, one step at a time. “You should keep calling me Milaya. It’s a code name I started using when I began doing this saving the world business. If you find out my real name, we might grow too close, and I don’t think that would be good.”
Oh. He blushed. “Do you want more eggs? And then I’ve got to get cleaning.”
“Cleaning? Sounds like a fun day to me. I’m in.” And Milaya stepped back into the laboratory, Calimero behind her, making sure not to trip on the cords this time.