The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 22 (or, "War Begins")
The groups separated for the night. Tama stayed with Daisy at Gallathia, handling legislative matters now that the castle was gone. Jason teamed up with Collodi and stayed in charge of the magic users, while Jen spent his time tinkering with the boombox to extend their band on Dvorak.
Rifka, meanwhile, went with Calimero back to Strada Pianure Bianche, intent on finishing the potion. "You're going to need all the help you can get right now," she told him. "Ultimately, we need to focus on this."
Calimero nodded as he pulled the materials down from the shelf, where they had been hiding. "I'm sad that I'll be missing the market tomorrow, but I can miss one day if it means saving the world. I know you've mentioned before that I have other duties as guardian, but you've never actually told me what those are."
"Really, there's only one." Rifka looked underneath one of the cabinets and pulled out the extra sugar, since the second level of the potion called for it. "You have to travel to a place called limbo."
"Isn't that where people go when they die?"
"That would be what the church would want you to think, but you don't actually die." Rifka filled up one of the size A beakers with water from the sink. "Limbo is a place that exists between two worlds. You go there to rewrite reality, so you can save it. I'll take you there, and you'll literally write down how you want the world to be. You can keep all the good things from this world, and then add other good things to it. This happens right before the point of impact. At that time, the worlds will merge, and everything will become permanent."
"Okay." Calimero put three mixing cups next to each other. "That makes sense, I guess. You'll walk me through it?"
"As long as you walk me through what I'm supposed to be doing with this potion."
"I thought that was understood." Calimero dragged out more supplies. "I think this is everything. Let's unroll the scroll."
There were there phases to the potion. Phase one had been completed by Calimero the previous day, and it needed to be frozen overnight, which he had taken care of. Phase two was next, and it needed to sit at room temperature for exactly six hours. Phase three required mixing the two over a burner in a huge pot for two hours straight, while mixing continuously. That part was easy but boring. The trickiest part would be this second phase, since it required meticulous detail.
"Okay," Calimero said. "We start off with two cups of water. Did you pour the water?"
"I did." Rifka put the water in, and Calimero added a cup of salt and then a pinch of pepper, stirring it. "What's next?"
"Two cups of lettuce, a tablespoon of blood -- don't worry, I have some in the back -- and two cups of mold. Then we stir it for fifteen minutes." Calimero retrieved the ingredients, putting them into the mixture and beginning to stir them with a huge ladle. "Put your goggles on over your eyes. I don't think anything will explode at this stage of preparation, but we have to be prepared."
Rifka had borrowed Tama's goggles specifically for this reason; she put them over her eyes now. "That's why you have goggles," she said.
Calimero nodded, putting his own on. "Where did that boy get goggles, anyway?"
"They're from his grandpa. A long time ago, there was a war and he flew planes in it or something."
"Fascinating." Calimero continued to stir. "So this other world that Merlin was in is going to merge with mine. What will happen to all of the people in that world?"
"Whatever you want to happen. They can either become part of this world, or they can be destroyed. Dopplegangars will override at random unless you pick the appropriate people ahead of time. In the worlds we've dealt with, sometimes we've left it up to chance and sometimes we've had guardians put an override protection clause on. There's nothing we can do to prevent the collision. It will happen anyway. What we're doing is organizing it so that it's not as random."
Calimero added some more pepper to the mixture. "Is that so? Grab the rizumu - it's that dark blue liquid under the counter."
Rifka picked up the huge bottle. It was uncorked and smelled like sour cream, a scent she knew well. "We're just trying to help. I don't know everything yet, but I do what I can. What's next?"
They poured half of the rizumu into the pot, then added two cups of ice and a shot of amaretto. Calimero then went into the back to grab fizzy wort leaves, from a magical plant that would help give the mixture its magical properties. "Fizzy wort is known for attracting magic," Calimero explained. "Though I don't know if you even care to know the details of this potion."
"I don't think you care about QWERTY, but you're still listening." Rifka helped Calimero stir. "We're going to try this with Cendrillon tomorrow, right?"
"Yep. Which means we'll get about six hours of sleep, and then we'll have to wake up to stir everything together. This should make enough for the two batches we need, but it has to be used within a week or else it will go bad. When will the worlds become one?"
"Fourday." Rifka had done the math in her head. "Are you ready?"
"Of course I am." He smiled. "It doesn't hurt that I have such a well-versed assistant by my side." Good looking, as well, but he didn't say that part.
They stayed up late into the night, mixing ingredients and stirring as need be. Some time into their mixing, Rifka sat down at the lab table and fell asleep, Tama's goggles still over her eyes. Calimero watched her sleep, turning on the television for background noise. He finished mixing the ingredients together and put a lid over them, content to let them simmer for a while.
He eventually fell asleep himself, dozing for a few minutes. As he slept, he saw images in his dreams, dancing apples of both red and green colors and ribbons hanging from every rafter in a huge castle. Calimero recognized it as the Crystal Palace, the castle where Cendrillon now lived. The windows suddenly shattered, and the Castle was no more. The entire land of Fiorazzurro was a barren wasteland, and there were still apples all around.
Calimero roused himself just in time for the alarm clock he had set to go off. It began to ring, waking both him and Rifka. She rubbed her eyes and tied her hair back into the bun she had been putting it in. “Time to stir?”
“Time to stir.” Calimero went back to the lab table and uncorked the mixture, pouring it back into the pot and taking the ladle. “I’ll take care of it, Milaya. No need to…” He trailed off. “Oh, sorry. Do you prefer to be called Rifka or Milaya?”
Rifka blushed. “Either.”
“You made us call you Milaya because you didn’t want us to find out who you really were?”
“I made you call me Milaya because I didn’t want to get close to you.” Rifka watched Calimero stir. “I guess I messed that up.”
Calimero almost stopped stirring. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I’m helping you with this whole Queen thing as well. So I guess we all ended up being friends in the end. I’m not supposed to be your friend, though.” Rifka made herself relax. “But you helped me when I was separated from my friends. I don’t know how I could ever thank you for that.”
Calimero blushed again, focusing on his stirring. “You don’t have to thank me. But when this is all said and done, you’re going to leave, right?”
“Correct. I won’t be back here. I mean — it’s not like I want to leave, or that I don’t want to come back! But our communicators have very specific coordinates. When your world merges with the other one, the coordinates will change, and we’ll be pulled back to headquarters. It’s against the rules to visit a world after a merge.” She looked at her feet. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize.” Calimero was about to tell Rifka it would be fine, until he remembered his mother.
“Mi hijo,” she had told him, time and time again. “I know you are worried about this internship with Master Rossini. You will be far away from home. But you must do these things when you are young. A long time from now, you will meet a wonderful girl and want to spend the rest of your life with her. When that happens, you will no longer live only for yourself. So have no regrets with the life you live now, for someday, you will have to think of her and protect her instead of being adventurous. Be adventurous now.”
She had said those words time and time again before he had moved to Fiorazzurro. And they had never made sense to Calimero until now. He had met that wonderful girl, but he would never spend the rest of his life with her. There was only here and now, and he could have no regrets.
“I still feel bad, though, because I’m the one who bluffed this entire time with my name and —“ Rifka stopped talking when Calimero took her hand and pulled her over to his side of the table. “Stir with me,” he said, handing her a ladle as he whipped. He couldn’t explain just yet, but he hoped to have a chance in two more hours.
The television sputtered to life, and Calimero craned his neck around Rifka. “What’s going on?”
“Maybe another interruption.” Rifka gasped. “We need to hurry. Can we speed this up, or take it elsewhere? This building might disappear.”
Calimero almost dropped his ladle again. “What do you mean, it’s going to disappear?”
“That happens sometimes. When the worlds start to collide, things disappear at random because reality doesn’t know what to do with two of an item or person, so it just deletes both of them and sends them to limbo. You’re the guardian. You can’t go to limbo, and neither can this potion!!” Rifka took the ladle from Calimero and kept whipping at the potion. “You get out of here. Leave, now! I’ll take care of this!”
“If I go to limbo, I get a get-out-of-jail-free card. If you go to limbo, we all lose!”
“We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin.”
Both Calimero and Rifka turned their heads toward the television as it continued its broadcast in black and white, fuzzy quality. “Fiorazzurro is currently under a state of martial law. Everybody is instructed to stay in their homes until further notice. Again, Fiorazzurro is currently under a state of martial law. At 3:35 this morning local time, a bomb was detonated in the Crystal Palace. Many guards were killed, and the whereabouts of the Queen are unknown. The streets are being searched for the culprit as we speak.”