The White Rose of Fiorazzurro
Chapter 23 (or, “Dangerous Parallels”)
Calimero felt his heart drop. “Is this for real?”
“Well, there aren’t any spontaneous apples on the screen, so it’s not a message from headquarters. I’m surprised as to how it turned on so quickly.”
“Magic.” Calimero pondered to himself. “There was most definitely magic behind that power source right there. But why?”
Rifka took a look at the television, which was still broadcasting. The bad quality picture and sound showcased a man in a suit sitting behind a desk. “Wasn’t this thing broken?”
Calimero gasped. “I had totally forgotten about that. You’re the one who broke the screen, remember?”
“Because Dvorak was —“ Rifka gasped. “Oh, goodness. I bet Dvorak fixed it! He’s the one who’s broadcasting and he wanted to make sure we were listening. Can he get much lower than this?”
“Well, he could have been the one who set off the bomb,” Calimero noted.
“Actually…” Rifka hadn’t been sure about this before, but she had a feeling Dvorak had nothing to do with the explosion itself. “I know where I’ve heard of this before. It was Rosa. I bet you three dollars and my communicator.”
“Uh…what are dollars?”
“It doesn’t matter! Before we met her, Rosa blew up a huge building in Mexico City. They caught her and put her in prison and all that, but then reality collapsed and she came with us. She was a pop star, too, if I remember correctly. But if she blew up that cathedral, then I bet she blew up the Crystal Palace as well.”
They were interrupted again by the announcer. “We have just received official confirmation that Queen Cendrillon has died in the attacks. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everybody in Fiorazzurro. Ladies and gentlemen, Fiorazzurro is without a leader, as with the Queen’s death there are no more royals in the city. Might I remind you of the martial law currently in effect. Anybody found on the streets will be shot and killed. Rations will be distributed by the police force as we search for the victim and decide on a new leader and how to best restore order to our great island nation.”
Calimero was speechless. “Cendrillon…dead?”
Rifka let go of her breath. “She was horrible, wasn’t she?”
“Well, yeah, and we were going to go after her and get the throne back. But…we weren’t going to kill her.”
The way she said his name made him melt a little bit more inside. “Rifka.”
“You’re not stirring.”
“Oh, curses —“ Calimero kept stirring the mixture. “Now what do we do?”
“We finish this. You stir. I’ll call Tama.”
She grabbed the communicator and dialed for Tama. He answered in a hot second. "Moshi moshi, Matsumoto Tamasine desu."
"Stop beings so cute. Did you hear about the explosion? The Queen is dead. There's martial law in effect on Fiorazzurro."
She heard Tama gasp -- he was still in Gallathia, so he probably hadn't heard up until this point. "Uso! You're kidding me."
"I'm not. I think Dvorak wanted us to know, but I'm surprised he didn't somehow let you know. The point is somebody blew up the Crystal Palace. Now, whom do we know who is able to bomb an entire building?"
"But Rosa doesn't even have any explosives in this dimension."
"That's moot. It's Rosa. She'd find some."
"You should investigate. How's the potion? Not that we'll apparently need it now."
"It's coming along, actually. Almost done. Calimero just needs to keep stirring."
"Okay. You stay with him. Do you have the coordinates for the palace, off-hand?"
"Then Daisy and I will jump to you and I'll ghost us through the city. It should work, even though we're not from this world. I'll see you in a minute or two." Tama hung up.
"What did he say?" Calimero asked.
"Finish the potion. Keep stirring. Tama and Daisy are going to check on the castle and see what's going on."
A few seconds later, Tama and Daisy had arrived at the laboratory. Tama was still wearing the blue hakama he had arrived in, but had traded in his geta for some closed toed shoes. "Better for running in," he told Rifka. "You still holding onto my goggles?"
"You can take them back," Rifka said, removing them from her head and giving them back to Tama. "All that's left is the stirring. If something would have exploded, I think it would have done so by now."
"Good point." Tama put the goggles back onto his head. "Keep stirring, folks. We'll communicate with you. I told Jason and Jen about the Queen." With that, he and Daisy were off.
"I hate saying this," Rifka remarked, "but Tama actually looks cuter without his goggles. It brings the focus back to his eyes."
"You think he's cute?"
"Not particularly. Tama's one of my best friends, and the person I trust the most. But I've never felt that flutter in my heart for him. I've only felt it for one person." Rifka forced her mouth shut lest she talk too much and expose herself. "Are you still stirring?"
"We don't have much time to lose," Tama told Daisy as they walked out of the alleyway and towards Strada Pianure Bianche. "We'll sneak into the castle and see what's left of it. Take my hand."
Daisy nodded and held onto Tama while he activated the program from his phone. Within seconds, they were invisible to the outside world. "They'll still be able to see our shadows," Tama told Daisy, "and this spell will break if you let go of me, so stay close. Just...not too close."
"You think I'm close to you?" Daisy laughed. "I'm not close to anybody. Only my people. Let's rage!"
They moved quickly, dodging police carriages in the street and hiding under buildings to continue through the city. Before long, they made their way to the inner circle, where the Crystal Palace was still standing. Its parapets were tall, with white flags fluttering from every tower. "It's a beautiful castle," Tama remarked.
Daisy gave him a sad smile. "I grew up here. I remember playing with the servants and watching my parents rule. They told me if I'm able to overthrow the government here, that I could become Queen myself. I guess...I guess that will never happen now, if the Queen is really dead."
They passed by the huge entrance, which sat in front of a courtyard where commoners would normally be strolling. "There's a huge balcony up there," Daisy told Tama, "and that's where we would hold our press conferences for everybody to hear. When we finally take over again, I want for my parents to hold a press conference up there and reinstate Fiorazzurro as a place of magic and mystery. It's my ultimate number one dream."
"Let's make it happen, then." Tama found a side entrance through a glass door. "Follow me."
The side entrance led them through a long service hallway and toward three doors. Tama opened the middle one to find a closet; Daisy reached for the other and let go of Tama in the process, rendering them both visible again. "We're in the castle, so it should matter less. We just need to move quickly," Tama noted.
"Oh, trust me," Daisy said. "If there's anything I can do, it's move quickly. You follow me this time. I know my way through this castle like it's going out of style."
She led him through twists and turns, across elaborately decorated rooms and along deep hallways. Tama began to smell smoke as they ran. "The explosion must have been near here."
"I'm guessing it was in the royal bedroom. The throne room should still be intact, even though it's connected to the bedroom. Follow close."
They reached another side door, and Daisy opened it. Before Tama laid out the most elaborate throne room he had ever seen in his life. Not even the moving pictures that he saw as a kid about queens and kings could suffice. There were high chandeliers above and marble floors below, and a single throne sitting in the back of the room, to Tama's right. He followed Daisy as they ran out to the empty room. "There's nobody here. I would have figured that if someone destroyed the castle and killed the Queen, they might be here celebrating. No such luck."
He turned back to Daisy, who was gaping at everything. "It's been years since I've been here, and nothing has changed. Even when Cendrillon became queen, she didn't change the flags. For being a ruthless queen, she did have some good taste."
"We should try to find her," Tama noted. "To prove she's dead and to see if Dvorak is around."
"Dvorak is most certainly not here."
The voice boomed across the room, amplified by something unseen. Tama turned. Whoever was talking sounded extremely familiar. "Who's there? Show yourself!"
"I would love to, Tamasine dear." The woman who stepped across the marble floor carried an extremely regal air about her, with glass slippers tapping as she walked. She wore a long, dark dress with ruffles and lace, and a golden crown sat atop her head. A long cape was adorning her shoulders, and she held a glass scepter in one hand — and a communicator in the other.
“Rosa?” Tama gaped.
Daisy took a look at the communicator. “Tama, you know her?”
“Oh, for the love of Sarah Dealey —“
“Silence!” Rosa Elena Meira Querida stomped her foot, and the hall grew silent. Her artificially colored purple eyes were on Tama. “I just have to wonder what you’re doing here, Matsumoto Tamasine. Didn’t I say that everybody had to stay indoors?”
“You’re not Rosa.” Tama gritted his teeth. “Stop fooling around.”
“Oh, but I am Rosa.” She stepped forward, in front of Tama, towering a full head over him in her high heels. “I am Rosa Elena Meira Querida. I am eternally sixteen years old, a member of QWERTY, in the Dealey Five with you. I love shopping. I grew up in Mexico City, in a world where our countries were allied against the Soviet forces. Is that good enough for you, bonito? Or do you have to check for yourself?”
She sliced forward with her scepter and grabbed it with the other hand, trapping Tama close to her. “It’s not like we haven’t done this before,” she said, and she leaned down and kissed him.
He pushed against her, stuck between her grasp and the scepter, trying to break free. Daisy ran forward and pulled on the staff, finally reaching into her pocket and pulling out a pack of poof chalk. She threw it down, causing a blue smoke explosion. Tama was able to finally duck as Rosa let go of her grip, coughing.
“You primitive peons,” she said, trying to use the scepter to shoo away the poof chalk. “Look at you and your faerie tricks.”
“You are definitely not Rosa.” Tama wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and kept a defensive stance in front of Daisy. “You don’t even taste like her.”
“Oh, am I defending you and your lover again? How’d that work for you last time, Tamasine? Miss Tomoyaki still in that coma?”
“I am not his lover.” Daisy stepped in front of Tama. “I am Princess Ata’laika Margherita Fae of Gallathia, and therefore, Princess of Fiorazzurro. The people of this island nation are my rightful groom. I have sworn off all possible suitors to ensure that my destiny will come to fruit.”
“You sure as hell don’t look like a princess.” Rosa crossed her arms. “Besides, I killed the queen. I get the crown.”
“I knew it!” Tama pointed a finger at her. “When I heard about the explosion, somehow I knew it was you. But…” She hadn’t checked in with them or landed where they had. Sarah had told them that Dvorak had exposed a flaw in the system when Rosa had arrived. Calimero, the guardian, was Rosa’s dopplegangar, but not her direct one. Unless…
“I think I get it.” He tapped the side of his head in wonder. “There are two Rosas. You’ve got the other Rosa hiding away somewhere. You’re her dopplegangar, aren’t you? You’re from world Y-MH-560-A. Maybe you found us when we were there, looking for each other. Maybe you’ve been following us.”
Rosa started laughing. “All right, all right, you’re close enough, so I’ll fill you in. You’re gonna fail this mission anyway, and by the time you get back to headquarters, the real Rosa will be gone. It’s me. I’m Rosa, but I’m not your Rosa. So here’s the deal. I grew up in the world opposite yours. And man, I was crazy. Had some diseases wrong with me. Made me sick in the head. Didn’t think right. They kept doing tests on me and giving me drugs and stuff, but nothing would help. I spent all my days cooped up in my room, thinking of ways to kill people. Even had that thousand page guide for making bombs in my bedroom. I had an entire list of people I was gonna kill, but never got that far. They found me on the Internet. Apparently the government can track your ISP without you knowing. Something about blah blah blah September 11th blah blah blah. And for the record, I grew up in America, not some sad excuse for Mexico. Seriously, what the hell is the Querida network? Point is, before they could get to me I killed myself. Except I didn’t die! You wanna know where I went? Into YOUR Rosa’s head!”
Tama was dumbstruck. “What?!?”
“You heard me. It’s what your crack leader has said before. Nothing ever dies. The energy just gets sent elsewhere. Apparently it happens all the time, where people re-emerge as inner voices for people they love. I just happen to be clinically insane, and I got put in the head of my dopplegangar in another universe — more specifically, the one next to mine. I am the real culprit of the Christmas bombing! And does it feel GOOD to say that!”
“Tama,” Daisy said, “I have no clue what she’s talking about.”
“But I do.” He gritted his teeth, doing everything in his power to keep from punching this dark Rosa in the face. “What are you, her conscience talking through her?”
“I might as well fill you in, silly gogglehead. Direct dopplegangars can’t exist in the same world, or it creates a paradox. Things get messed with. But if I exist in Rosa’s head, I can still live on. All that happened was that Dvorak reset things, so when Rosa came into this world, we swapped. Now I’m the real Rosa, and she’s the voice in my head! Wouldn’t have happened if Calimero wasn’t guardian, either.”
“Tell Dvorak to change you back.” This was a sick dream, Tama was sure of it. One of these days, he would wake up back at headquarters and none of this would have ever happened. “And furthermore, tell Dvorak to let us go.”
"Ahh, no no no. Unfortunately, Dvorak isn't here to make that decision for me. It's much more fun to lock you up and make you sweat things out for four days. Guards?”
Several armed guards stormed the throne room. “I’ll be taking that,” the new Rosa said as she picked the communicator from Tama’s hand. “You won’t be needing that where I’m sending you.”
Daisy reached back into her pocket to throw down more poof chalk, but two guards grabbed her from behind before she could do so. She tried to bite one of them. “Let go of me!”
“I’d watch your mouth.” Rosa gave Daisy a sure smile. “There’s a new queen in town.”