The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 29 (or, “Mistaken Identity”)
When Rifka jumped, she held onto Calimero’s hand, not wanting to lose him in the folded framework. They made the transition, now standing in a long, wide room. It was dark, but the walls were crystal, enabling them to see just a bit.
They had arrived in a bedroom -- or what was left of one. The entire ceiling had been blown out, and cracked glass shards lay all around the floor. This place was like a war zone -- but they were still in the castle. The huge blast that had killed the Queen had to have happened around here, and Rosa was nearby.
“Watch your step,” Rifka heard Tama’s familiar voice say as they all landed together, four QWERTY operatives and one guardian intending on finishing this mission as a team. She was glad the rest of the team was here now -- and time to get their last member back, with no extra to spare.
She held her flashlight up, afraid of what she might find now in this dark, strange castle. After the room back there...who knew what would happen next? Regardless, this room was a mess. Framed portraits were laying on the ground, ripped and torn. Fabrics sat on the ground in piles, and at least one dresser was overturned. Rifka had to watch her step. There was a huge bed in the corner, and Rifka kept her eyes away from that. She had had enough with beds in dark spaces for a while.
“This is where Rosa is?” she heard Jason call out.
“Somewhere,” Tama answered back. “But where?”
“Oh, for crying out loud! We do not have time for her to play hide and seek with us!”
Rifka felt Calimero’s eyes cover hers. “Wha --”
“Quiet.” Calimero’s own eyes stayed open as he watched Tama and Jason move to the bed. “You’ve seen too much today. Just stay here with me.”
She couldn’t object to that. “Okay,” she said, covering Calimero’s hands with her own.
Tama and Jason found their way to either side of the bed. There was something underneath the covers. “Okay,” Jason shouted, “on the count of three, we flip the blanket.”
“You sure about this?”
“Don’t you think if it was Rosa, she’d be moving?”
“Nonsense. This is Rosa we’re talking about. She’s still trying not to blow her cover. One, two, three!”
Before Tama could object, Jason pulled, and Tama joined in. The blanket came up and over, and Calimero was suddenly very glad he had his hands over Rifka’s eyes. Laying in the bed was the body of Queen Cendrillon herself, still in one piece but bloodied and matted. Her now-blank blue eyes stared at the ceiling, her long blonde hair was a mess, and her sleeping dress was torn at the bottom.
“Oh, God,” Tama muttered at the same time Jason said, “Okay! Bad life decision!” and threw the blanket back over the dead Queen.
“And you’ll be going with her next!” they heard Rosa yell, and then, she was out in the open, standing on a chair in the other end of the room. In the low light, she was truly an evil queen, royal robes covering her long dress, crown stolen right from Cendrillon’s tresses on her own hair, scepter held high.
Tama and Jason had no time to move before Rosa fired. The blue beam of light froze them to their spots, encasing both boys and the dead queen in an ice-like prison, unable to move or even think. Rosa then aimed at Jen and the boombox, but Calimero was faster.
“Keep your eyes closed!” he yelled to Rifka, then let go of her and raced towards Jen. He knew that if that strange music box was frozen, they couldn’t change Rosa back, and they were doomed. Calimero made contact, and both he and Jen skidded across the floor and up against one crystal wall, stopping underneath a huge stained glass window.
Rifka couldn’t take it any more. She opened her eyes just in time for Rosa to fire across the room again. She saw past the bed to the huge stained glass window, its myriads of colors reflecting against the light of Rosa’s blast, and then the room shook with such force that the colors shattered, cascading around where Calimero and Jen had fallen. She couldn’t see if they were frozen or not.
She checked her phone and cursed in Russian. Five minutes left. This did not bode well. “Rosa!”
Rosa smiled, turning toward Rifka’s voice. “And now it’s just the two of us.”
Rifka got to her feet, slowly standing among the fabrics and the glass. She held up her phone again in the darkness, the only proper light she had to see by. “You have to stop this. Rosa -- you’re going to ruin everything. Don’t you care?”
“But I do care, little Rifka.” The Dark Rosa crossed her arms. “This way, I’ll be the only one who makes it back to QWERTY in one piece. And from there, I’ll ruin the entire organization, piece by piece, until I take out Sarah and Llorin and the Boss himself. I’ll be in charge, and then, I’ll make the rules. And you won’t stay alive long enough to see it happen.”
Rifka gritted her teeth. Nothing she could do in her communicator could change the fact that Rosa was about to end her. If Isabel or Sarah were here -- but Sarah was guarding Dvorak and preventing his return to power. This was all up to her.
“You can’t do this,” she finally said. “Because if you do, you’ll be all alone in that cell again. Only this time, there won’t be any sweet, innocent Rosa for you to talk to. You’ll be all alone. Is that really what you want? Because that’s not what my friend Rosa would want, and you two can’t be that different, can you?”
For once, Dark Rosa stood stunned. It gave Rifka just enough time to swipe into her phone, choosing the ‘freeze’ option and executing it to Rosa’s coordinates.
Rifka's ability to freeze wasn't based in magic, like Dark Rosa's. The older girl tried to move, but couldn't. She could no longer fire her scepter at will. She was still able to breathe and speak, though. "How dare you freeze me in my tracks?" she screamed, her voice harsh against the cold night.
"Because you are not the rightful ruler of Fiorazzurro." And Calimero finally made himself known, standing in the back with Jen's boombox in hand. He stepped over where Jen had been frozen. "Only the princess of the faeries is our rightful ruler. You're not even the rightful Rosa. And, therefore, I do not understand why you are here."
He approached Dark Rosa, able to since she had been frozen by Rifka. She couldn’t do a thing but watch in wonder as he reached where she was standing. Reaching out his hand, he touched hers, noticing they had the same skin color, similar facial features. They could be siblings...except they weren’t. This woman who was so different than he was...they were the same person, but in different universes? How could that be? Did they have the same internal structure? Could she make potions as he did? So many questions that would never have answers.
The moment his hand touched hers, the boombox started up, playing a song in wild and crazy Spanish. The rest of the windows shattered, but Tama, Jason, and Jen on the floor stayed frozen. Rosa, however, sprung back to life, falling off the chair and down toward the ground, dropping the scepter as she fell.
Calimero caught her as the scepter shattered into a thousand pieces. They both tumbled to the floor, and Rifka raced to meet them. Rosa’s eyes were closed, unresponsive. “She still has a pulse,” Calimero said as Rifka knelt by Rosa’s side.
Rifka nodded, taking Calimero’s hand and looking into his eyes. “She should be okay. There’s no time left. We’ve got to get you to --”
She found herself unable to talk, and then, “Congratulations, Rifka!” yelled the unmistakable voice of Dvorak Romanov across the broken room. Her face snapped up, and there he was, standing on the edge of Queen Cendrillon’s bed, suit and tie askew. “You take my chosen queen away from me, and I get my power back! The entire framework of this world rested on her being here!”
Rifka didn’t understand. She fought to stand, but Dvorak’s power wouldn’t let her. She couldn’t see Calimero or Rosa anymore, only Dvorak, standing on the bed, his power keeping her face on his. She heard the echo of the music the boombox played, still in Calimero’s hands.
And then, she felt everything change. The air around her changed direction immediately. Dvorak continued to laugh as her surroundings buzzed -- the bedposts, the broken windows, the fabrics, Rifka’s own makeup. Every single molecule vibrated as if the bonds between elements would soon break apart.
Calimero, she thought but couldn’t say, and she memorized the feel of his hand around hers, each finger, each synapse --