Chronicles of a Caped Crusader: Days Yet to Pass: Part Five
Kristy and Chloe sat in the sun room, looking out into the gardens below. Chloe looked down at her mask, which she was holding in her hands. There were so many questions, and she didn't even know where to begin. Kristy sat there patiently, waiting for her to be ready. Chloe looked over at her.
“So, what happened to your hair?” Chloe asked, trying to ease into conversation.
Kristy let out a soft laugh. She reached up and pulled off the hair, revealing all the long black hair to be a wig. She pulled off the hairnet and her super long blonde hair tumbled down. Chloe felt tears sting her eyes as she noticed all the white streaks in the front of it.
“Not so pretty anymore, is it? They say that stress can turn you grey, but the white in my hair is actually due to an unfortunate run-in with a mage who wanted me dead. Lisha, actually. Funny, huh? We used to be such good friends. Her brother took my eye in the next encounter. But, I had said something not so flattering about Hagan a little too soon after Brightvale fell, so I probably deserved it,” Kristy said pointing to the eye-patch. “Old habits die hard.”
Chloe looked away feeling sick.
“I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't make light of it like that. You know me, that's how I coped with things. Trying to put lighter phrasings and spins on things. As for the wig, it's not to hide the hair. It's part of the costume. I mean, you had to have noticed how ridiculous this getup is. I get to ditch the long train when I'm in the field, but otherwise, this is my look. Corporal Kimmy has a ring to it, huh? Nefarious loved his stereotypes, which is why he churned out all those ridiculous costumed supervillains to tease the Defenders. Iniquitous inherited that, which is why I have to dress like an idiot,” Kristy explained.
“I'm sorry,” Chloe said, unable to think of anything else to say.
“We all did what we had to,” Kristy said resignedly, twisting a lock of the now white hair around her finger.
“Why did you have to do this? Going from leader of the Resistance to one of Iniquitous' top generals?” Chloe asked. “I was told Yanli was dead and you turned on them after that. They said you were responsible for an attack that caused the death of Molly and Inna. I'm so glad that wasn't true; I really didn't want to believe you would ever have endangered my sisters.”
“Our world was lost; I couldn't escape that reality. I wouldn't sacrifice any more of my children for it. He captured Yanli. She was taken hostage, rather than killed in the attack as was believed. I was contacted with that information. He wanted information in exchange for her return. I gave him something better, myself. All I asked was immunity for my family. They would not be harmed; they would be captured and released into my custody. In return, I'd do whatever he wanted. The mother of one of the lost Defenders and a leader in the Resistance on his side? He couldn't pass that up merely for the show. Everyone from Bluejay up in age couldn't leave. They were too invested. I had to walk away alone to ensure they didn't have the make the sacrifices they were ready to. I departed to make the arrangements, we got ready for our little show, and I pulled Molly and Inna out of the base before we actually hit it. I allowed everyone to believe what they liked about me and the fate of your sisters. It makes it easier to fight on opposite sides if they believe I did this for my own selfish reasons. They don't need to know that I did it for them, the sacrifices I made. It's called being a mother, Chloe.”
Kristy rose and looked out the window, her hand on the glass, looking out into the distance like there was something out there.
“So, Elise and Bluejay really didn't know? They honestly believe Molly and Inna are gone and you had a hand in it?” Chloe asked. “No wonder they are so bitter.”
A sad smile cross her lips. “How are they? I hear of them from Buzz, but he sugarcoats things. Strange that the Lupe who used to go out of his way to make my life miserable spends so much of his time trying to create comfortable lies for me to live in.”
“He's not like I thought he was,” Chloe said. “He seems to be very good to you. I never fully understood that in my time. I always thought that he hated you, until the Beauty Contest. Even then, I never thought I'd see so much compassion in his eyes.”
“We're all we have,” Kristy said with a shrug. “We both lost something precious when the Defenders fell. We were already good friends, but we helped each other get through that. He always said that Lynette and I were the only two people he ever truly cared about. She was the other half of his soul, and I was his best friend. In a situation like we were in, your friendship either crumbles under the strain or becomes unbreakable. Ours became the latter. But, we're getting off topic. I asked about your sister and brother?”
“It's not really pretty, Kristy. Their relationship is strained; they fought with each other for no real reason the whole time I was there. They still love each other, but it's not how it should be.”
“Yes, that's what I expected. I can't imagine how they'll feel when Darigan Citadel finally falls. I doubt they will ever forgive me. Buzz says he's tried dropping hints about real circumstances surrounding my betrayal, but they are too bitter to understand,” Kristy said with a shrug.
“How did he learn the truth?” Chloe asked.
“When I got the offer to ransom Yanli back, I went to him. I didn't know what to do, and he was the only one I trusted. This was all his idea. He said it was the most sure way to ensure I wouldn't be double-crossed, and to protect all of your siblings. I had hoped he might come with me, but he can't. He knows the world is lost, but he can't stop fighting now. Not because he has hope, but because there's too much bad blood and history for him to cut similar deal. Neither the Resistance nor Iniquitous know that he comes here. We're not supposed to be in contact obviously, but we are. He risks a lot for me, especially bringing you here. I give him information on Iniquitous' plans to mitigate as much damage as possible. Iniquitous is really too arrogant to suspect that I'd be double dealing. Make no mistake, though, I'm not a hero. I'm a certifiable villain, regardless of my reasons for it. I usually do what I'm told, and I'm not told to do good things.”
Chloe looked down at her mask again. She had been twisting it while listening. She smoothed it out again and set it on the table next to her. She wasn't going to need it again, she suspected.
“And, Veronica? What about her?” Chloe asked, remembering her nemesis. The last time Chloe had seen her, the Mutant Acara had been holding Kristy hostage, and now she was living with her mother.
“Come here,” Kristy said.
Chloe got up and walked to the window. She looked out to where Kristy was pointing. There was a Pink Acara sitting in a wheelchair. Inna was braiding wildflowers into her her hair. Even from there, Chloe could see the way that the Acara's hands shook as she handed Inna each new flower.
“That's her?” Chloe asked.
“In the end, Veronica was expendable. She may have seemed to have been his partner, but she was really just a pawn. He roped her in partially because she would be helpful and partially to hurt her mother for helping the Defenders of Neopia take down Nefarious. Shows how little Iniquitous understood anything. He thought he was avenging Marcus, but the Eyrie would have destroyed him for bringing pain to Vicki,” Kristy said, looking down at the girls.
“What happened to Vicki?” Chloe asked, remembering the heartbroken Acara she'd met when they had first encountered Iniquitous and Veronica.
“I don't know. I looked for her once, but like so many people in this world, she was lost without a trace,” Kristy said, a deep sigh escaping her.
“Why did you take in Veronica, then? It couldn't have been for Vicki if you never knew her,” Chloe asked.
“I hated Veronica so much. She was cruel and made sure to rub salt in my wounds when I first became a part of Iniquitous' circle. But, soon, I saw the way Iniquitous used her. Always sending her into the most dangerous situations, pushing her beyond her abilities. I saw what was happening, but she was blind to what was going on. She thought it was because he trusted her above all else, but really it was to amuse his sadistic hate for her mother. He wanted to see her self-destruct in the worst way possible. She tried so hard, but finally, she was pushed beyond what she could accomplish and crashed hard. I was sent in to clean up the mess. I found her, gravely injured and obviously beyond hope of a full recovery. Iniquitous told me to leave her, as she was now useless to him. That was always the plan, use her and burn her.”
“But, after everything, you disobeyed him and rescued her?” Chloe asked.
“She was responsible for so much evil. She'd taken a child from me. I don't even know the extent of the wrongs she is to blame for. I could have left her; no one would have blamed me. But, when I saw her so helpless, suffering so much, I couldn't escape the realization that she was someone's daughter, too. What if you had been like that, lying in the wreckage, fading and suffering? I would have wanted someone to save her if she had been my daughter. I couldn't leave her like that. I- I don't expect you to understand, Molly and Yanli eventually accepted my decision, but they don't understand either. She's paralyzed from the waist down and she has trouble with fine motor-control in the rest of her body. She's very different now than she was, more like the girl she probably was before she was ensnared by Iniquitous. Practically a good girl,” Kristy explained, choking on tears as she spoke, but making it through. “I can't say with complete honesty that I've forgiven her for what she did, taking you from us, but we get along well enough. It gets easier to forgive when someone else is so helpless.”
Chloe stared down at the Pink Acara, unable to reconcile the woman below her to the villain she had faced off against in her own time. She remembered a conversation she'd had with Judge Hog about Veronica a long time ago.
“So, is this what it takes to save someone like her? Absolute destruction?” Chloe asked, feeling despair creep into her soul.
“No, Chloe. Saving her would have been convincing her of Iniquitous' duplicity before it came to this. Saving her would have been bringing her home to Vicki as the good girl she raised. Saving her would have been making her admit her wrongs in time for her to turn from them of her own accord, not because she had no other choice. She's not been saved, she just isn't dead,” Kristy said, shaking her head to emphasize her point.
There was a knock on the door, and Buzz walked into the room, holding a computer.
“What's up, Buzz?” Kristy asked.
“I should take Chloe back soon. Your other children are having fits, wondering where I have spirited her off to. It would be best not to burn bridges at this time,” Buzz explained.
“Oh, can't you tell them that you're giving her a tour of the changed world, or something?” Kristy sighed. “If you take her back, they'll never let you near her again, and then who knows how long it'll be before I see her again? They don't know it's Chloe; they aren't waiting for their sister to come home. Give me a few more hours with my daughter.”
“Tell them I'll come back when I'm good and ready. I'm not one of their subordinates to be ordered around by them,” Chloe snapped, fuming.
“Recorded and sending. You sound indignant enough that even they won't be able to deny that you're speaking of your own free will,” Buzz said with a grin.
A ringing sound started, filling the room with the annoying sound. Chloe looked around and realized it was coming from a speaker in the corner of the room.
“Oh, confound him. I'll be back as soon as I can,” Kristy said, grabbing her hairnet and wig and putting them back on.
She hurried out of the room, the heels of her boots clacking loudly in the silence. It struck Chloe for the first time how silent the house was. The only time there was usually silence was late at night, when all the younger ones and petpets had finally settled down and were sleeping. It was so unnatural. She dropped into a chair and buried her face in her hands.
“If I had known what they were up to, I would have put an end to it before this happened, Chloe,” Buzz told her. “No one deserves this, being pulled out of their life into this.”
“Why me, Buzz? Why out of everyone that could have been pulled into the future did it have to pick me? Why couldn't it have been Loraine? She could help, and she'd have gotten you back. All I'm getting is a broken family and the guilt that we didn't protect them from this horrible fate.”
“It got you because it was built to bring you,” a small voice answered.
Chloe looked up and found Inna standing shyly in the doorway.
“What do you mean?” Chloe asked.
“Yanli told me. I found her working on the machine a long time ago. She had found a cloth buried in your closet; it had your blood on it. You must have cut yourself and missed the hamper and it got lost in the closet and never cleaned. It was still usable, she said. It was enough to be able to lock on you in the past and pull you to the future. She was building a machine to save you. After she was captured, she couldn't complete her machine because the Darigani had it, and without the DNA sample she got from the cloth, she couldn't build another one. It was never meant to save the world, it was just supposed to bring our big sister back,” Inna explained.
“Why didn't Elise know that?”
“Because Yanli only told me. She didn't want to get anyone's hopes up in case it never worked. She wasn't sure it was possible. But, it did, 'cause you're back. Please don't go away again, Chloe. I've never seen Mom so happy as she was this morning. Mom's been so sad for so long; I want Mom to be happy again,” Inna said, her little voice shaking.
“I can't make any promises, Inna. This world is very different from what I came from. I need to figure out where I stand in it first,” Chloe replied.
“Perhaps Veronica can help you figure that out? She wants to talk to you.”
To be continued…