"You won't get away with this Nerissa!" Will yelled as she confronted her foe. At her feet lay Taranee, stricken after being caught full on by the former Guardian's blast.
A sickly grin wormed its way onto Nerissa's haggard features. The Guardians, ever anxious to keep their powers a secret from their friends and family on Earth, had been caught completely unaware by her sneak attack right on their home turf - the playing fields of Sheffield Academy, a most unfortunate night-time shortcut on this occasion. Cornelia had been taken out early, a now-unconscious victim of Gargoyle's club-fist. Hay Lin followed soon after, unable to defend herself from Crimson's charge after getting herself caught up in Miranda's sticky web, and Irma was forced to submit with Raythor's sword held tight to her tender young throat. And so Will stood alone, outflanked by the Knights of Vengeance as Nerissa took a step forward.
She held out her gauntleted hand and jabbed a finger at Will.
"The Heart of Kandrakar, young pup - hand it over!"
"Never! The Oracle trusted me to protect it, and that's exactly what I'm gonna do. Now let my friends go!"
Nerissa tutted and shook her head as the other Knights slowly closed in. "The only place your friends will be going is an entirely different dimension, one from which there will be no return... and I think I'll start with your little firefly friend right next to you!"
With that, Nerissa summoned her powers once more. A myriad of sparks began to dance down her arm, merging at her hand, growing quickly in intensity until she was ready to unleash it at her hapless target. Will gasped as she watched the searing bolt of blue-white energy scream towards her friend.
"Quintessence!" she yelled, using her own powers without a second thought to protect Taranee.
The two opposing forces crashed into each other in a shower of sparks, but instead of cancelling out one another as Will had intended, they combined to form an even larger portal that immediately began to swallow everything around it. Raythor thrust his sword into the ground as a makeshift anchor and held on to it for dear life, allowing Irma to slink away and free Hay Lin before the two of them airlifted Cornelia to safety. Likewise, Will made full use of the confusion to grab Taranee and beat a hasty retreat. Gargoyle, being the large rocky lump that he is, was completely unaffected by the pull of the vortex, and so grabbed Nerissa before it had a chance to take hold. Crimson too was too large to be taken, and Frost and Tracker took full advantage of this by taking shelter behind the hulking beast.
That only left Miranda. Unfortunately for her, she had reverted back to her human form to take in what was supposed to be an entertaining battle between the two leaders. Being caught totally off-guard by this sudden shift in events, her petite frame was no match for the pull of the vortex and so she found herself being quickly dragged in with barely enough time to scream...
The next thing Miranda could remember was laying flat on the floor with a slowly-growing bump on the back of her head subtly suggesting it would be a good time to get up. She did so groggily, tenderly rubbing the bump as she looked around her. The über-portal had rudely spat her out in some sort of alleyway, at a corner between two stone houses. Warily, she stepped out into the street, and straight away she could tell she was back on Meridian. Still nursing her sore head, she returned to the alleyway to ponder her next move - she had to get back to the Knight's lair, but obviously taking a quick stroll in broad daylight would not be a good idea, what with her and her comrades all being wanted enemies of the kingdom.
No, she would have to bide her time, and this secluded alley was the best place for it. Making sure that there was no-one around, she transformed into her spider-beast form and quickly spun herself a little hammock strung between the two walls. She changed back to her little girl form and gently prodded the top side of the hammock, just to be sure it was sticky side down - amongst other things, she was a skilled spinner of her own spider-silk, but even so, she wouldn't get much of a relaxing nap if she got tangled up in this bad boy.
As she stood there proudly inspecting her work, she got a rather unexpected surprise, one which quite literally bowled her off her feet - it was a woman who had carelessly ran into her, dressed in drab peasant clothes with long black hair tied in a loose plait, and clinging to a small heavy-looking bundle. Miranda had had quite enough buffeting around for one day, and so she quickly scrambled to her feet to give this woman a piece of her mind, but before she could get a single word out the woman clapped her free hand over her mouth and rushed her into a small alcove.
"Shh! Please, don't say a word!" she hissed as she glanced furtively around the corner. In the distance, several gruff shouts and clomping booted feet could be heard, gradually getting quieter and quieter. When all was safe and calm once again, the woman looked at Miranda.
"I'm very sorry about bumping into like that."
"You should be," Miranda replied tersely. "Don't you know..."
Before Miranda could finish her 'Don't you know who I am?' speech, the woman shoved the bundle into her arms.
"Please, hold her for a moment."
Miranda opened the bundle slightly to find a baby, quietly dozing as the woman cautiously walked back out into the alleyway to check that the coast was clear. .
"Hey, there she is! Get her!"
The sudden cries soon told her that it wasn't. The woman rushed back to Miranda, her green eyes wide with fear.
"Please dear, whatever you do, keep my baby girl safe. Don't let them take her!"
With that, she dashed off down the alleyway, closely pursued by three large guards. Still bewildered by this sudden turn of events, Miranda hugged the shadows whilst clutching the baby to her chest as she silently watched the guards rush around the corner. Before too long, their thuggish cries of "Get her!" changed to frantic cries of "Help! Get us out of here!". Miranda stepped out of the alcove and looked at what was causing the fuss. A smile of impish mischief crept onto her face as she watched the trio of royal guards struggling to untangle themselves from her web-hammock, a smile which was quickly replaced by a look of astonishment as she recognised one of the guards. It was her fellow Knight of Vengeance, Raythor!
"Hey, what are you doing...?"
Once again, she was interrupted before she could finish. A hand clasped her shoulder firmly and pulled her away. It was the woman again, leading Miranda hurriedly across the street and into a deserted house. She paused for breath before taking the baby back from Miranda.
"That was Raythor back there... he's with the royal guards... you're a rebel, aren't you?" Miranda asked.
The woman nodded. "I wasn't until Phobos had me thrown into his dungeons. He thought me and my husband were both rebels. He had us both tortured, and my husband... my husband..." she said, her voice trailing off as she started to weep softly. "He couldn't take the punishment any more. He died just before our daughter was born... his injuries were so terrible... he lay there in my arms, fighting to breathe, dying in front of me... and he made me promise that I wouldn't suffer the same fate. He told me to escape as soon as I could, which I've only just done, and to avenge his death by joining the rebellion and defeating Prince Phobos once and for all."
"Yes, well... I have somewhere to go," Miranda said, fully intending to head back out to the streets and betray the poor woman's confidence, but before she could walk away, she felt something tugging at her sleeve. She looked down to see a tiny hand grabbing her with all it's might. The woman's baby was now awake, her jade green eyes peering beneath a shock of downy black hair, giggling as she lay there looking at Miranda.
"Awww... it seems my little Miranda has a new friend," the woman said adoringly as she gently pulled away and turned around to lay her down in a rickety old crib. "Now come on Miranda dear, you need your nappy changed!"
Miranda gasped. "Miranda!?" she said.
"Yes. Her father insisted on naming her after his twin sister. She was taken prisoner when that monster Phobos started his purge of anyone even remotely connected with the rebels. He never heard from her again," she sighed. "It broke his heart - they were so close, as twins always are. So tell me girl, what's your name?"
The woman never got an answer. She turned around to see that Miranda had vanished.
"Oh. She's left."
Miranda had indeed left, but not through her own choice.
As her new acquaintance was explaining the strange coincidence surrounding the baby's name, she had once again been whisked away and now found herself unceremoniously dumped in another alleyway, this time in full view of Meridian Castle. It was now early evening, but the full moon and twinkling stars that normally populated the clear skies had been overtaken by loud booming fireworks, sending sparks of all shades flying in dazzling showers. It didn't take a genius to guess that a celebration was in progress.
"Miranda! At last!"
The thin, rasping voice startled Miranda. She turned around to find herself confronted by large shape - it was barely visible in the dark shadows, but Miranda's eyesight was keen enough to see that she was being addressed by a giant spider looking down at her from halfway up a wall. The beast came down a few steps, its eight pointed legs making a thin tapping sound on the hard bricks, before silently launching itself in Miranda's direction. Miranda took a step back as she prepared to defend herself, but she needn't have worried. As the spider dropped towards her, it drew its legs in around its body and its shape seemed to shrink and fold in on itself before it landed softly barely a metre in front of her. To her relief, an altogether more human shape drew itself up to its full height, a little taller than Miranda, and stepped forward into the light.
"It's you! Thank heavens!"
Miranda gasped as she recognised who stood in front of her - it was same woman with the baby that she'd been talking to just a few seconds ago, but this time she appeared a little older. Before she had time to react, the woman reached forward and hugged Miranda warmly.
"Oh, my darling little girl! I was so worried. When the Guardians told me you'd vanished during the battle, I feared the worst!"
"What?!" Miranda asked, getting more and more confused by the second.
"Is something wrong, my daughter? Are you hurt?"
"Daughter!? What are you talking about?"
The woman stopped and looked at Miranda, softly caressing her head before stopping at her bump.
"Oh! You are hurt!" she gasped.
"Well, I, erm..."
"Come on, I'll find a doctor to take a look at you. Oh Miranda, the others will be so relieved to see you safe and sound," she said as she led her towards the festivities. "And I can see someone who'll be more relieved than most!"
In amongst the crowd ahead of them, a group of familiar shapes could be made out and one, a tall male, look at them excitedly and sprinted towards them, closely followed by the others - she recognised him instantly as the leader of the rebels. This day had already turned from ordinary to the weirdest of the weird, but what happened next was probably the most unexpected and dumbfounding thing that had ever happened to Miranda in her short life.
"Miranda! You're back!" the handsome young man exclaimed happily as he took her in his arms and planted a soft, tender kiss on her lips before she could react. Miranda, quite understandably, was taken aback by this - at first, she felt complete and total shock, followed by a brief moment of heart-melting pleasure before finally feeling total disgust with herself for even daring to feel this way.
"Yes Caleb, I found her just over there. I think she's hurt," the woman explained as he ended the kiss, quite mercifully in Miranda's opinion.
"Oh man, you two just make the cutest couple!"
Miranda peered around Caleb's shoulder to find the five Guardians standing there, but quite to her astonishment, instead of fighting her just as they were just a few short minutes ago, they were simply smiling back at her with Hay Lin pulling her trademark cheesy grin and Irma giving her a peace sign. This was all too much to take - this strange woman calling her 'Daughter', the leader of the rebels kissing her as though they were lovers, and now the Guardians talking to her as though they were her oldest and closest friends? This was all too much to take, and Miranda felt her legs buckle beneath her.
"Whoa! Steady there!" Caleb said as he caught her and helped her to her feet.
"I'll go and find the doctor," Will said as she dashed off into the crowds while Caleb and the others walked Miranda towards the castle. She felt ever so conspicuous, a feeling made very evident by the admiring way the revellers were looking at her as they made their way.
"Oh, thank the stars! She's okay!"
Before long, a large crowd of people had gathered to express their gratitude for some heroic deed that was completely unknown to her.
"Please, come along now! Give her some room!" Caleb shouted. After a few clamouring seconds, they obediently did so, slowly parting until a single and very familiar figure was left standing in front of her.
"Miranda. I'm very glad you made it. I've heard so much about your bravery," Elyon smiled, her new golden crown sitting proudly on top of her sandy blonde hair.
"She was very brave indeed Your Majesty," Caleb said, bowing courteously. "She managed to lure so many of their guards away, it made it much easier to break into the castle and prevent that tyrant Phobos from carrying out his plan. We may not have succeeded if it weren't for her bravery."
The young queen smiled. "Yes. Miranda, from what I've heard, you definitely deserve the highest honour I can give. I'll make arrangements in the morning. Until then, enjoy the party!"
As the celebration got back underway with Caleb and the Guardians taking centre-stage, Miranda and the woman sat down at a table which was heavily laden with drinks and what was left of a grand feast. She was still shell-shocked at the way the last few moments had unfolded, with revelation after revelation smacking her repeatedly in the face, and so it didn't come as quite so much of a surprise to her when she suddenly blurted out a question she wouldn't have normally asked.
"What was your husband like?"
"Your father? This might sound rather unbelievable, but he was so tall, and strong, and handsome. Oh Miranda, he would've been so proud of the way you've grown up. My brave little girl!" the woman said, wiping a tear from her eye.
"Was he a shapeshifter too?"
"No dear, he was a human. I suppose that's why you shapeshift into a half-human / half-spider form," she replied, gazing at Miranda with the affection only a mother could give before her attention was diverted elsewhere. "Oh hello, it seems you have another admirer!"
Miranda looked over to see a young boy staring up at her in sheer awe. He was clutching a single flower, freshly plucked from the flowerbeds in front of the castle.
"Miss Miranda?" he said shyly, his voice barely heard above the hubbub of the party. "I got this for you." With that, he gave Miranda the flower, which she took slowly, before the boy suddenly gave her a hug. "You're my hero Miss Miranda. When I grow up, I want to be a brave warrior just like you!" Miranda's mother laughed as the boy let go and started to swing an imaginary sword in the air. "Pow! Take that Prince Phobos. Pow! Take that Lord Cedric! Pow!! Pow!! Pow!!"
"Come along dear, Miranda loves your flower, but let her rest now, she's had a busy day," her mother said as she led him back to his own parents, leaving Miranda to ponder just what was happening to her. She cast her mind back to what had happened before, and to the way this woman was now fussing over her. The way she recognised Miranda instantly, the pure love and affection in that hug she gave her - could she really be her mother? And if so, then that baby, the baby that she held and protected... that baby had to be her! No wonder the baby had seemed so fond of her - despite Miranda being so evil and wicked, no baby could hate themselves. What's more, she had saved herself from those guards, and all it took was a conveniently placed hammock made from her own webbing.
But in her own lifetime, that had never happened. There was no stranger lurking in the alleyway to help the woman. There was no web to ensnare Raythor and the other guards. The woman had been captured, her fate left to the will of the evil Prince Phobos, and Miranda was taken from her and raised from childhood to be his ever-obedient servant.
Now though, thanks to her inadvertant actions, things were different, very different indeed. Now, Miranda had a doting mother. She was a leading member of the rebellion, and their leader Caleb had taken her as his lover, and not the Earth Guardian. Instead of being their loathed and despised enemy, the Guardians and Elyon now saw her as their much-loved friend. Instead of helping to enforce the rule of fear and darkness, she had helped to usher in a new era of peace and happiness, and she was now adored and admired by small children and grown adults alike throughout the kingdom.
And as that thought rushed into her mind, the terrible truth finally sank in.
"I'm one of the good guys? NOOOOOOOOOOOO!"