|A Divine Conspiracy
Author: Griddlebone PM
AU. With the fate of a kingdom resting on her shoulders, Kimberly must choose the right man to be her husband and Champion, to wield the sacred Power of her bloodline... even if choosing the "right" man means breaking her heart. TommyxKim JasonxTriniRated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Romance - Kim H. & Tommy O. - Chapters: 29 - Words: 181,497 - Reviews: 180 - Favs: 36 - Follows: 55 - Updated: 04-29-13 - Published: 08-04-10 - id: 6207705
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Thank you all for being so patient in waiting for this chapter. I realize that it is long overdue, but I hit a hell of a writer's block with one of the scenes for this chapter. Thankfully, that's finally over and the story can now proceed. Hope you enjoy!
Chapter Eighteen: Waiting Game
Rita Repulsa smiled grimly. Her long vigil was at last nearing its end. All that remained of the green candle was a small stub of enchanted wax no thicker than her little finger, and soon that too would be gone – and with it the life of the man who should have been her most perfect servant, her Green Knight. Rita sighed. While she could not say that she was especially pleased to see his life end, she knew that if she could not stop him from turning against her he needed to die.
It should have been different, she thought idly. That rotten Princess should never have been able to free you from my spell. Victory should have been mine! I should have had the crown and the kingdom and all of the power! And it should have been you standing beside me in my moment of triumph, not Goldar or one of these other twerps.
Suddenly her weary resignation turned to fury: the candle's flame had gone out. It should not have been possible; she had accounted for every possible outcome. She had even gone so far as to send her pawn Katherine, armed with a powerful glamour, to accompany Tommy on his quest.
The spell had been powerful, one of the strongest in Rita's repertoire. Under its power, Katherine had appeared to Tommy's eyes as Kimberly. She had looked like the Princess, spoken with the Princess's voice, and behaved exactly as Tommy would expect the Princess to behave, regardless of what she actually said or did. And the most ingenious part of all was that the more he wanted to believe it was Kimberly beside him, the stronger the spell became. Before long, he would have been trapped under the spell's influence – and Rita's power – forever.
It should have been foolproof. But instead of trapping Tommy forever, Katherine had led him straight to Dulcea. And of course, Dulcea just had to step in and ruin all of Rita's careful planning. It had been so long since Dulcea saw fit to interfere with any of her plans that Rita had assumed she was dead, or sleeping like so many of the other great powers of old. But that would have been far too simple.
Now all of her plans had crumbled. Tommy was free, and he had even managed to get one of the great dragons on his side. And it was all Katherine's fault for failing her, and Dulcea's for meddling.
Furious, Rita conjured up the image of Katherine Hillard in her scrying pool. The young woman was with Dulcea, still waiting for Tommy to return from his adventure with the dragon. Rita smiled darkly. Too bad she would never know the outcome of that journey.
She intoned the words of a curse, but halted abruptly only part of the way through the incantation. She could already feel the energy returning to her, reflected back at her. And then she saw it, the jeweled necklace that circled Katherine's neck. The charm reeked of Dulcea's handiwork. Rita scowled.
Her magic could not directly touch Katherine Hillard any more than it could Trini Kwan or Kimberly Hart. Dulcea's charm had seen to that. And one magic-laced breath from the dragon Erë, who was supposed to be as dead as Dulcea, had rendered Tommy Oliver immune, too. In that one breath, her greatest warrior had joined forces with her greatest enemies and become one of them himself.
She banished Katherine's image from the scrying pool and returned to observing Tommy. She watched in the pool as he convinced the dragon to carry him – only confirming Rita's belief that he would have made the best slave of all – and began his descent down the mountain. And she schemed, her mind racing. Forces were awakening that had been dead to the world for a thousand years and more. Strong forces of light, rising to stand against the sweet darkness that Rita held so dear.
Well, she had lived a thousand years already, and intended to live many more. When Tommy and his new friends came for her, she would be ready.
Zack had never been a big fan of the royal archives, but Trini had been adamant. "Please, talk some sense into Jason. Beat it into him if you have to!"
And since Jason had decided to head into the archives for some reason, that was where Zack went, too. He was not very familiar with the place, so he snagged a pretty young apprentice to help him find his friend. To his disappointment, she knew exactly where Jason was and took Zack straight to him. She spared him an amused smile before departing.
He waited a few moments before approaching Jason, taking stock of the situation. Archivists milled around, but overall the area was quiet in spite of its size. Jason was standing at a large table, alone, looking at several large sheets of parchment.
Increasingly curious, Zack moved closer. From his new vantage point he could see that each piece of parchment was a map.
"Hey man," he began.
Jason barely seemed aware of his presence.
More loudly, Zack said, "Hey, Jase!"
Startled, Jason finally gave Zack his full attention. "Hey Zack. What's up?"
"Nothing," Zack told him. He nodded his head to indicate the maps spread across the table. "What're you looking for?"
"A sorceress," Jason admitted.
Zack tried to hide his dismay. No wonder Trini wanted him to knock some sense into Jason. "You really think her hideout's going to be on one of these maps?"
"No, but there has to be a clue somewhere. And I'm going to find it."
"But didn't Billy and Trini say that everything related to magic was gone from the archives?" Zack asked. "Wouldn't that mean that any maps that show her secret hideout would be gone, too?"
Jason looked displeased. "I've got to start somewhere, Zack."
"Yeah, but does it have to be here?" He gestured to the maps. "All Tommy could tell us is that her lair's in the mountains somewhere. There are a lot of mountains, Jase."
"All the more reason to start looking now."
Apparently today was the day when Jason had an answer for everything. It occurred to Zack that Trini had probably tried all of this already, and that was why she'd eventually turned to him for help.
"So, do you have a plan or something?"
Jason returned his gaze to the maps and was silent for a long time. "I'm still working out the details."
"Yeah?" Zack asked. "Care to share any of those?"
He did not look particularly pleased by the question, but Jason finally pointed to a spot on one of the maps. Peering around him, Zack could see that it was pretty far to the north, and that most of the details were missing from that area of the map. "Here. This is where I'm going to start." Jason sighed and frowned slightly. "It's a big blank spot on all but the oldest maps. I think if this sorceress was going to build a secret stronghold where people aren't going to find it... that's probably a decent place to do it. And look. It's close to the Oliver lands, too. That could be why she picked Tommy to be her pawn."
Zack hated to admit he was right. "And when exactly are you planning on attempting this?"
"As soon as I can get the supplies together. And a copy of this map," was the immediate response.
It was Zack's turn to frown. "Wait, you're just going to go by yourself?"
Jason's silence was answer enough.
"Hey man, can I tell you something?" Jason glanced at him, curious, and Zack responded with the best glare he could manage. "That is possibly the dumbest idea you've ever had. And I'll remind you that you've had some pretty bone-headed ideas before."
"I can travel faster alone," Jason pointed out. "I'll need to make good time, and I want to -"
"Get out of town as soon as you can," Zack finished.
After a moment, Jason nodded. Zack grimaced sympathetically. So that was what this was about. Jason wanted to get away before he could end up saddled with Kimberly again. Not that Zack could really blame him, considering how things had turned out the last time Jason had been supposed to get married. And he had to admit he rather liked the idea of hunting down an enemy of the realm - just like the heroes from the songs and stories of his childhood. "Any chance I can get in on this adventure of yours?"
Now he was definitely curious. "Aww, why not?"
"I need you to stay here, and make sure Kimberly stays safe while I'm gone."
"No way," Zack protested. "If you're in this, then so am I." Jason did not look pleased, so he went on, "On the day we were knighted, we both made a vow, do you remember? We don't share blood, but from that day forward we promised to be brothers anyway. What good's a brother if he lets you go into something like this alone?"
"You're still hurt," Jason pointed out.
"It's a bump on the head," Zack countered, certain of his path now. He might not be able to convince Jason not to take on this quest... but he could make sure he didn't have to go it alone. "I'll live. But if you go running off to face this sorceress lady all by yourself, you might not."
"I have to try and stop her."
"We have to try," Zack corrected.
Jason glared at him; Zack met the glare head on. He crossed his arms over his chest and grinned. "I'm going with you whether you like it or not, so you may as well just accept it."
Jason sighed. "Okay. You can come with me. But don't get in my way."
Zack had to laugh at that. "Hey. I'm the Black Knight now. You should be the one trying not to get in my way."
"Don't make me regret this decision," Jason warned, rolling his eyes.
"You won't," Zack assured. "You know I've got your back."
"And I've got yours."
"Which means you're not going to go trying to sneak off without me, right?"
Jason rolled his eyes again. "Right. As soon as I have any plans settled, you'll know."
"Good. Just let me know when you're leaving and I'm with you."
Jason nodded absently and went back to studying his maps while Zack made his escape from the hated archives. When he was finally free, it occurred to him that he had completely failed to do what Trini had asked. He considered it for a moment, then shrugged it off. This way was bound to be more fun. And besides, he would be there to watch Jason's back. What could possibly go wrong?
Trini made her way into the depths below the castle by memory alone. The labyrinthine passageways were unknown to most, but she was as familiar with them as she was with the rest of the castle, even in complete darkness. Only when she had shut herself safely away within her practice chamber did she stop to light a candle. She left that candle on a small side table and went to stand in the center of the room.
Surrounded by the warm golden glow of the candle, and blessedly cut off from the rest of the world, Trini performed a kata she had learned many years ago. The slow, precise pattern of motion, repeated over and over, was soothing; the physical exertion helped chase away much of the lingering stress and fear from the past few weeks.
Faintly, she heard the sound of the bells ringing the dinner hour, but right now she did not much care about that. In this one moment, moving through the familiar forms of her kata, she could forget all of her troubles and she could just be.
That had been her plan anyway. But the harder she tried to focus on emptying her mind, the more difficult that became.
She was just too preoccupied. It had been far too long since she had taken the opportunity to center herself. Instead, her focus had been on a thousand other, more important, things. Kimberly's mounting troubles, Jason's anger, the looming threat of Tommy's sorceress, the missing books in the archives, and now Billy's latest tale of woe: Katherine's mysterious disappearance. So many things were going wrong at once that it seemed as if the entire realm might soon come apart, but in the end Trini's thoughts always came back to Kimberly.
She worried about the Princess more than anything else. Things had not been easy for Kimberly lately - what with the plague, her parents' death, the machinations of her council and the noble families as they vied for power, the mess with Tommy. As her handmaid and closest friend, it fell to Trini to see her through it all... somehow. But she was only one person, and a servant at that. How could she possibly hope to do so much?
Trini exhaled deeply. It had been difficult to manage from the beginning, and it had only become more difficult as time went by. In a few scant weeks, Kimberly had gone from frightened to cautiously optimistic to completely disconsolate. Tommy's departure had only made things worse and worse.
The council ruled the realm, for better or worse, while Kimberly spent her time sulking. For days now, ever since Tommy left for his quest, Trini had tried to coax her out of her torpor and had failed miserably. It was beyond discouraging to try so hard and never make any headway. And yet in the end it had been Jason, and his increasingly foul temper, that had finally pushed her over the edge and sent her down here, alone, in search of a little solace.
She let the thoughts of Jason flow away, determined not to let him rile her again, but her worries for Kimberly were harder to dismiss. She told herself again and again that she could better help the Princess if she was calm and centered, but in her heart she doubted her own words. She was just as out of her element as Kimberly was. She simply hid it better.
Or at least she did most of the time. But Kimberly's struggles and insecurities were starting to get to her. And while she would normally have turned to Jason for support, it was safe to say he wasn't making things any easier.
She wished they would both stop being so stubborn. At the same time, she knew there was absolutely no chance of that happening. So she did her best to push the intrusive thoughts away. None of that mattered now. She could not change it. There would be time for worries later. Right now, the only thing that mattered was her sense of inner peace.
And the unwelcome sound of footsteps in the hall outside.
Trini paused in the middle of her kata. That would be Jason, of course. It could not be anyone else. Hardly anyone knew this place existed at all.
The door creaked almost cautiously as it opened. Trini fought to keep her expression neutral even though her back was turned to the door. Jason had probably come to apologize for upsetting her earlier, so how could she tell him he was the very last person she wanted to see right now? As diplomatically as possible, of course. "Look, I know what you're going to say," she began. It seemed as if it would be easier to tell him to go away if she did not have to look at him while she did it.
"Somehow I doubt that."
He was right. She had not expected this. She turned, trying to mask her surprise. "Adam? Did Aisha send you?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "She's worried about you. But she didn't want to leave Kimberly alone, so she sent me to check up on you."
Trini smiled. Truthfully, she was a little flattered by the attention, even if Aisha had sent him. Outside of her small circle of friends, most of the people in the castle simply took her well-being for granted. After all, she was 'only' a servant, no one of consequence. "I'm getting there," she told him. "I don't envy Aisha having to deal with Kimberly today... She's being even more of a handful than usual." And she's not the only one, she thought rather sourly.
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
She could think of a few ways, but ignored them and shook her head instead. "I don't think so. This situation is something Kimberly needs to figure out for herself. If we keep telling her what to do and how to feel, then she's just going to resent us for interfering." She sighed and let her gaze drop to the ground. "I feel bad for abandoning her like this, but I needed some time to think. I'm not sure there's anything else I can do for her at this point. I can't bring Tommy back, or change what he did or his desire for redemption."
Adam seemed to mull this over.
Trini found herself adding, "Actually, I kind of feel like I've just been making things worse."
"What do you mean?" he asked. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to pry, it's just I thought you two were good friends. Wouldn't she feel better just from having you around?"
"We are, usually. But..."
He looked perplexed. "So what's changed?"
She realized then that she wasn't sure. Too many things had come between her and Kimberly lately; she didn't want to explain them all, and knew she had probably said too much already. And yet... she was feeling so tense and conflicted inside that the temptation to pour out her troubles to someone with nothing at stake was strong. So she compromised.
"Jason's leaving soon."
It wasn't something she or Kimberly had done, but it was certainly causing a lot of strife between them. It was also supposed to be a secret; she wasn't quite sure how it had slipped out so very easily, but it had.
Jason was one of her closest friends, one of the relative few who cared for her more than her role of confidante to the Princess, and she knew she should not have betrayed his trust, but... It hurt that he was planning to leave the castle, to leave her, and she felt somewhat better for having dared to confide even this much in another person.
"He's leaving?" Adam's brow furrowed. "Why?"
Trini sighed. "He's determined to track down the sorceress, the one that was controlling Tommy." She left the rest of the plan unsaid. Adam knew Jason well enough to guess what else he had in mind. "But the timing is horrible. We have no idea if Tommy will ever come back. It's bad enough that Jason already called off his marriage to Kimberly. If he leaves now, too, and doesn't come back..."
"There could be big problems," Adam concluded.
"Yes," she agreed.
"And there's no chance you can convince him not to do this?"
She shook her head. "I've tried everything I could think of and he still won't budge. I don't have any tricks left. And Kimberly... she won't hear of marrying anyone else until she knows Tommy really isn't coming back." She resisted the urge to curl in on herself in despair. Why was she the only one that could see they didn't have time for this? "Oh, Adam, everything is such a mess right now. I don't know what happened."
"Does it really matter what happened?" he asked. "We've got to start cleaning it up anyway."
He had a point. She had been letting herself get caught up in all of the problems at once, instead of taking care of a few at a time. Now there were so many that she wasn't quite sure where to start. She could narrow it down pretty easily... but that still left her with a monumental choice to make.
"So where do we start? Jason or Kimberly?"
Adam considered this for a few moments. "Jason," he decided. "There's nothing we can do about Tommy, so it's going to be hard to do anything to really help Kimberly with that. But there's still a chance we could convince Jason to..." He trailed off in the face of a highly skeptical look from Trini. "You don't think so?"
She shook her head. "Unless you can come up with something to try that I didn't."
"Well, I hate to ask this," he said, no doubt because he was well aware of Kimberly's insistence that Trini was in love with Jason, "but have you thought about going with him?"
"No," she lied.
He gave her a knowing look. "Really?"
"He'd never let me go with him, even if I wanted to," she muttered, and wished Adam wasn't quite so perceptive. "And besides, I can't. My place is with Kimberly, not Jason."
"Maybe," he mused, "but wouldn't magic be an asset against a sorceress? Maybe if you go with him, that could make the difference between him losing this fight and winning it."
Trini immediately thought of her ring, which was tucked safely up inside her sleeve at the moment, and her unimpressive stint as the Yellow Knight... but also of how the sword she'd conjured for him had helped Jason in his duel against Tommy. "Wait, you know about that?"
Adam grinned. "Once she saw Kimberly give Zack that magic ring and turn him into the Black Knight, it didn't take Aisha long to figure out who was wearing the Yellow Knight's getup."
Trini felt her face heat. She had hoped to be a lot less conspicuous than that. If they had figured it out so easily, then...
"Relax," Adam said, noting her discomfiture and trying not to laugh. "I don't think there are many people who know. Aisha and Kim certainly haven't let it slip, except to me and Rocky."
She still felt that too many people knew the Yellow Knight's true identity, but at least Adam was trustworthy. And he seemed to want to resolve the current troublesome situation as much as she did, so she decided not to worry about how much he knew about her secret, at least for the moment. "Do you really think it would help if I went with him?" she asked.
Adam shrugged. "I don't know, but I don't think it could hurt to have an ally."
It sounded so simple, and it would have been very nice to believe it could be that easy, but Trini knew they were both ignoring a rather large obstacle: Kimberly. The Princess was still struggling to deal with the loss of Tommy. Trini wasn't sure she could ask her to accept another departure. But if it meant Jason might come home alive... then it just might be worth it.
"I'm not saying you have to," Adam went on. "Or even that it's definitely a good idea. It might not be. But it's something to think about."
Trini nodded slowly. "But I'm not sure how Kimberly is going to handle the suggestion. She took it really hard when Tommy left. If Jason and I leave, too..."
"It might not be as bad as you think. You wouldn't be leaving her completely alone. She's got a good friend in Aisha now, and-"
"It's still too risky," Trini cut in. Kimberly's defenses were depleted enough as it was, and despite Jason's intentions the sorceress was still out there.
Adam remained unperturbed. "No matter what you do now, you're going to be taking risks. If you go with Jason, it might not make a difference. If you don't, you'll never know if you could have saved him. And if you do choose to go, you'll have to accept that it might hurt Kimberly... but it might be the right choice in the long run."
"And what would you do in my place?"
"If it was Rocky going on some dangerous adventure? No question: I'd go with him. But I'd also know better than to try and leave Aisha behind."
Trini managed a small smile. "Well, I can't exactly take Kimberly with me."
"No, but you can trust her to forgive you. Eventually. And you can trust me and Rocky and Aisha to look after her while you're gone."
She wondered if perhaps she had underestimated Adam. He could certainly be persuasive when he wanted to be, though she still worried that he was simplifying the situation too much. But he was right, to an extent. Even if she and Jason left, Kimberly would have Rocky, Adam, and Aisha to take their place. It couldn't be that easy... could it?
"It doesn't sound like a bad idea," she ventured. "But it's a lot to think about."
"It is," Adam agreed. "And I'll stop bothering you now and let you think it over. But whatever you decide, I'm sure it'll turn out to be the right course of action."
He left it at that and departed a short while later. When he was gone, Trini tried to go back to her kata, but she felt even more off-balance than she had before. The idea of going with Jason - and leaving behind all the intrigue and troubles of castle life for the open road and what might well turn out to be a grand adventure - was too tempting by half. She couldn't deny that she wanted that to be the right choice.
But somehow it seemed that the right choice shouldn't leave her feeling so very guilty.
Kimberly was scowling as she stormed into her chambers. Things just seemed determined to go from bad to worse. She wasn't sure whether she wanted to throw herself onto her bed and sleep for a year or save some trouble and just throw herself out the damned window, so she settled for pacing furiously around her sitting room.
"Dare I ask how it went?" Aisha asked mildly.
Kimberly strongly considered tearing her hair out, then decided against it. She would definitely regret that later. "No need. It went horribly."
Aisha's eyes darkened with concern. "Tell me."
"She wants -" Her voice cracked. Kimberly sat down on a nearby chair, somehow managed to compose herself, and started over. "She wants to go with Jason."
She knew she could expect nothing but wholehearted sympathy from Aisha, but that didn't make Kimberly feel any better. The Princess felt numb inside.
When Trini had asked for a private audience, Kimberly had been expecting any number of things... but not this. She had never expected that Trini would ask to leave her. She had thought that perhaps Trini might try yet again to convince her that marrying Jason would be the smart thing to do, or that Trini might apologize for trying to push her into doing things she didn't want to do. But this...
Kimberly realized her hands were shaking. 'Upset' didn't even begin to describe this.
"Gods, Aisha, she wants to leave me, too. Why is everyone leaving me?" First her parents, then Tommy, and now even Jason and Trini were going to abandon her, and she didn't doubt they'd take Zack with them when they did. It had been hard enough just thinking that Jason and Trini were dead on the day of the ill-fated melee. It was worse knowing that this time they would be leaving her willingly. Just like Tommy had. And she had no idea what to do about it, or how to deal with the crushing sense of loneliness that came over her every time she so much as thought about any of them.
All the people she loved best... and all of them gone, just like that.
"I'm not going anywhere," Aisha assured her. "And if I have anything to say about it, neither are Rocky and Adam. Now, breathe. Okay, start at the beginning and tell me everything that happened."
"Nothing happened," Kimberly sighed. "All she did was ask if she could go with Jason, and I told her she could. That's it."
Aisha frowned. "I hate to say it, but... Kim, you're the Princess. If you don't want her to go, all you have to do is say so."
Kimberly stared down at her lap. "Aisha... I couldn't tell her no." She looked up and met Aisha's gaze. "You have no idea how much I wanted to do the same thing when Tommy announced that he was going in search of that dragon. I knew I couldn't go with him, but that didn't stop me from wishing and thinking, 'if only circumstances were different'..." She trailed off for a moment, gathering resolve. "But circumstances are different for Trini. I couldn't make her stay when I could let her be with the man she loves."
Aisha's frown turned into a gentle smile. "You have a big heart, Kimberly."
"It doesn't feel like it," Kimberly said miserably. "It really doesn't. It feels like my heart's been smashed into a million pieces."
"Just remember that even without Trini here, you're not alone. I'm sure she'll be thinking and worrying about you every day that she's gone. And you'll still have me, and Rocky and Adam. And Billy, too. And for all we know, Tommy could be back any day now."
Tears stung at Kimberly's eyes, though none of them fell. She knew as well as Aisha did how unlikely it would be for them to ever see Tommy again. So she simply said, "I know."
And she did. She was the Princess. She wouldn't ever truly be alone, no matter how many of her loved ones left her behind. But knowing that didn't make her feel any better.
It was a chilly, blustery dusk when Trini found Jason atop the castle's outer wall. Thick clouds blanketed the horizon and it looked as if it might storm in the night.
For a long while she said nothing. She simply stood beside him, listening to the wind and watching the clouds gather as the sky slowly faded from gold and pink to indigo and deep violet.
Like Kimberly, Jason tended to climb to the heights, seeking the sky when he was troubled. There was just something about wide, open spaces that appealed to him. Trini, on the other hand, hated high places and preferred to keep her feet firmly on the ground. If she was joining him up here, unbidden, he knew it meant something important. But she was content to be silent, so he was too.
Finally: "I want to go with you."
He did not even need to think about it. "Okay."
She started to voice a protest, some carefully crafted argument to support her case, before she realized he'd agreed to let her come along. "What?"
Jason shrugged. "Zack's already coming, so I don't see why you can't. If Kimberly will agree to let you go, I'd be glad to have you along."
From her silence, he guessed that she had not told Kimberly of her plans. But it turned out he was wrong.
"I already talked to her about it," Trini said quietly. "She's not happy, but she said I can go."
As much as he appreciated Trini's desire to accompany him on his quest, he had not expected Kimberly to actually agree to let her go. Now that the Princess had apparently given her blessing, he was pleasantly surprised and wondered if he ought to go thank her. It would mean a lot to have Trini along, and not just because this might give her a chance to help take down the sorceress that had tried to kill her.
"We were planning to head out tomorrow morning," he told Trini. "Can you be ready by then?"
And with that they both fell silent again and returned to watching the sky. As the sun set and the sky gradually grew darker and darker, Jason was constantly aware of the storm clouds that loomed on the horizon and the strong winds that were ushering them ever closer. It seemed as if those clouds must be some sort of sign... but in truth Jason had a good feeling about this venture.
Tracking down - and putting an end to - Rita Repulsa had seemed like a daunting task when he was planning to go it alone, but with Zack and Trini along, his goal suddenly seemed a lot more attainable. He might very well still be heading to his doom, but if he was, he'd be doing it with his two best friends at his side... and, frankly, he couldn't think of a better way to go down.