The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 24 (or, "Oracles and Corracles")
WHERE WE LAST LEFT OFF:
Calimero Pineiro has been chosen as savior of not only his small island home of Fiorazzurro, but his entire universe. He's been chosen by Rifka Moscavitz, member of QWERTY, an organization that deals with string theory. Normally an island of magic and lore ruled by faeries, Fiorazzurro has been ruled by the anti-magic Queen Cendrillon for the past five years. Princess Daisy of the faeries has started a revolution to get her home back, and Calimero and Rifka have joined with her. But nothing has gone to plan -- and Calimero's about to finish the potion that, once given to Daisy, could change everything.
Far, far away from Tama and Daisy’s troubles in the Crystal Palace, Rifka and Calimero had their own troubles in their tiny lab on Strada Pianure Bianche.
The television was on in the background, as a way to keep them updated about the situation outside. The entire island was still under martial law, and nobody was allowed to leave their houses. Rifka had turned on some drama about vampires, hoping for some background noise, but Calimero hadn’t paid attention to it at all. He was more focused on the task at hand, draining the potion to get the required amount for Daisy. If Queen Cendrillon was dead, that might mean they no longer needed the potion…but he didn’t know for sure yet. And he had worked hard enough on it as it was; he might as well finish it.
“We’ll be right back with ‘Oracles and Corracles’ after this short break,” the television blared in the background.
Calimero put the cap on his size-C beaker. There. After nights of planning and high-stress situations, it was finally done. Now, all he had to do was make sure it could be used. “Rifka, I did it.” Pause. “Rifka?”
He tiptoed around his now extinguished burner and looked at the ornate couch sitting in front of the old television. Someone on screen was going on about a fish named Gregg, but Rifka was asleep — and with every right to be. She had been up for three days now with Calimero’s potion, and she deserved her rest.
He sat on the couch next to her, watched her chest rise and fall, noted she had taken her corset off, and her hair — for once, of her own accord — was down. What should they do now? he paused as he realized he didn’t truly know the answer to this question. The potion was complete, and the world still needed saved…but in this here and now, in the quiet in-between, he didn’t know what to do next.
There was a knock on his door; he opened it. “Watch out for —“
Sarah Dealey stormed into the laboratory, stepping deftly over the cords in her boots, not letting her long skirt faze her. “Tell them what you did, you piece of shit,” she said, and then, she threw something into the middle of Calimero’s lab.
The crash woke Rifka in an instant; she ran over to the pile on the floor. Calimero saw it was a man in a business suit; he recognized it as the same man who had been following them before, with the same combover and dark eyes. He looked a lot like Rifka, now that he thought about it — maybe they were both from Russia?
“You,” he heard Rifka spit, and he turned. Rifka was so mad, he swore he saw smoke coming out of the back of her head (tinged with musical notes, of course). “What are you —“
“I brought him here,” Sarah growled, “only so he can’t screw this up more than he already has.” She sat on top of one of Calimero’s counters. “Good news is, we’re a leg ahead. Jen coded Dvorak’s abilities out of reality with Jason’s boombox.”
Calimero didn’t understand a lick of that. “Uh…is that good?”
“It is for you guys,” the man known as Dvorak said from his spot on the floor. “Kind of sucks for me right now.”
Rifka smirked. “We’re not so far away from Operation Colemak, are we?”
“Uh…that’s our problem,” Sarah said. “Calimero, we’re still gonna need that potion.”
She pulled out her communicator and aimed it at the television. It immediately switched to a live news broadcast. “We interrupt this show for an important national news bulletin. A new queen of Fiorazzurro has been crowned. Daily business around Fiorazzurro may resume. Thank you for your patience.” With that, the vampire story resumed.
“Dvorak here messed with Rosa’s dopplegangar registration,” Sarah snarked. “There’s a fake Rosa as queen right now.”
Rifka’s eyes widened. “A fake Rosa?”
Her communicator rang; she grabbed the line. “Jason?”
“Dude! You have any clue what’s going on out here?” Jason’s voice came through the speaker. “I thought we coded Dvorak out!”
“We did.” Rifka looked back at Dvorak. “He’s right here.”
“Dvorak is right in front of me.”
“Well — uh — Moscavitz, GET OUT OF THE WAY! Next thing you know, he’s gonna turn you into an alien who eats rainbows or something!”
“I can’t do anything.” Dvorak got up from where he had been sitting. “That’s what we’ve established. I can no longer change this world, because you Dealey Five have effectively stopped me from doing that. You’ve won. But, in turn, you now have to turn against one of your own.”
It reminded Rifka. “Jason, Rosa’s queen.”
“Rosa. She’s queen.”
Pause. “Well, I mean, I always knew she was royalty —“
Sarah grabbed Rifka’s communicator from her. “Get this through your thick skull, Jones! We have a serious dimensional identity crisis going on with your faction-mate. She’s acting as queen of all Fiorazzurro and, if her identity keeps getting tampered with, she’ll have all of Dvorak’s own powers. We need to get her back, which requires careful manipulation of space law. If we mess this up, Rosa’s gone for good.”
Pause. “So that explains why this sentient dust is stuck in between my teeth?”
“Something like that, Jones. Find Matsumoto. Isn’t he answering his comm?”
“That’s the other reason I was calling.” Jason sounded worried. “I have no clue where he is. Hasn’t answered me in thirty minutes.”
“Find him, and find him now.”
“I’m working on it! Jen, you got the boombox?”
Jen’s voice was heard over the loudspeaker. “Let’s go save my nii-chan!”
“Copy that. Sarah, we’re going all independent-reigns-supereme on this shit. This is SqrL-X, over and out!” There was a click, and the line went dead.
Sarah released the breath she didn’t know she had been holding. “I can’t even with him sometimes…Okay, here’s what we need to do. I’ll reach out to HQ and see what Leader Llorin can do on her side of things. Calimero, you have that potion?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. We might need to use that against Rosa, of all people. Dvorak, you stay here and don’t move. As for the two of you…” She looked over Calimero and Rifka. “Uh, I don’t know, go get some fresh air or something. But don’t run into any more dopplegangars. I’ve already had too much for this dimension.”
Rifka shrugged. “Whatever you say, Sarah.”
Calimero smiled through his teeth. “You…uh…wanna go for a walk or something?”
“I know of a place where we can go to escape the craziness for a while,” Calimero said to Rifka. “I’m sorry I haven’t showed it to you before now, but I was looking for a good time, and well…I guess right now is the time we’re getting.”
He walked her through the tunnel entrance, leading her by the hand. They walked in silence through the tunnel, surrounded by what must have been millions of purple flowers. Small wisteria blossoms dangled in the air, completely covering the tunnel and letting the light seep in.
Rifka had her hair loose and her corset back on, but she felt more relaxed than before she landed in Fiorazzurro. “What is this place?”
“Master magical gardeners grew this a long time ago, and Cendrillon’s government let it stay as long as magic didn’t keep the flowers growing,” Calimero said.
They passed by groups of people, finally free from the curfew, able to run outside in the sunshine again, to be about their business, oblivious to the fact that the world still needed saving. Calimero watched as a group of kids chased a dog straight past them. Any day now, they would have to work together to preserve this world.
Which reminded him. He still had no clue how he was going to do that in the first place. He unbuttoned the top button on his collared shirt. “Rifka —“
“You know who would really like this? Rosa.” Rifka reached up and plucked a strand of wisterias from above her head. “I know it’s not a shopping district or a fancy skyscraper, but she sees the beauty in life. Sometimes, I catch her in the greenhouse at headquarters, relaxing and reading a book.” She was silent for a moment, then, “We have to get her back, Calimero. We just have to. I — I don’t know what’s got a hold of her, or how she’s changed. But if she’s not herself, and what Sarah says is true, then I want the real Rosa back.”
Calimero remembered the potion. “We’ll get her back. I’m sure.”
She bit her lip. “I — we always knew things could not work out for a project, but we always assumed we’d be okay at the end of the day —“
He hadn’t been expecting her tears. He hadn’t been expecting her to cover her face with her hands, to bite back a sob that he should have saw coming. He let go of his own thoughts, let go of the potion, of saving the world and the new queen and caught her before she fell.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said, and Calimero thought she meant the loss of Rosa. But she grabbed him back and held him around the waist and cried into his shoulder, and his thoughts were scattered to the wind again.
An uneasy pause. “Yes, Milaya?”
He felt her stiffen at the mention of her codename. “You want to go somewhere? Just — just the two of us? Before the world ends?”
The world’s not ending, Calimero thought to himself, but then backtracked. “Just us? No Sarah, no —“
“No Sarah.” And before he could object, she pulled him down to her.
Her kiss was slightly off, quick, hushed and embarrassed and shy, uninitiated in the awkward ranks of blossoming feelings. But it still made Calimero’s heart skip a beat, made the flowers around him disappear.
She backed up, and her next words were a whisper. “While we’re both still here.”