Disclaimer: as per usual, this is not mine. It is a prequel of sorts to Ready to Run.
"Just watch. Trust me."
Jeb Cain sighed, rubbing two fingers across his forehead. He could not understand why his father was being so adamant about this. What would it prove?
Five days ago apparently, workers clearing out the tower had discovered a recording. After viewing it, the Queen had decided on a public broadcasting. The Royal family, his father, Glitch and Raw had seen it and agreed with her. Wyatt Cain had requested that Jeb and the other Resistance leaders be present. He felt it was important that these folks above all see this. Thus, here Jeb stood, along with the entire population of Central City, looking up at huge view screens.
The screens flickered to life; the image wavered and then steadied. The crowd shuffled and murmured as the Sorceress appeared. They watched as the Eclipse ceremony began. A slight cheer rose up as Princess DG first appeared on the screen though that faded into a gasp as she was sent off the edge of the Tower. People whispered and questioned her bravery and/or insanity in attempting to talk the Sorceress down. Jeb heard a smothered snort next to him, but when he sent a quick glance his father's way, he only saw a stoic expression.
Suddenly, the crowd went absolutely still. Jeb swung his gaze back to the screen. With wide eyes and held breath, everyone present watched as the image of the Sorceress flickered and changed. A shocked cry went up from the crowd as the eldest princess pulled free and clasp hands with her younger sister. Silence resumed as the hideous figure now on screen spoke to the united women in front of her.
"Have the little bitch, I care not."
Everyone watched as the princesses defied the evil figure, holding strong and steady even as she towered over them, howling in rage. They held their breaths as she screamed in denial before melting away to nothingness. As the screen went blank, they began murmuring excitedly. Looking over to his father, Jeb opened his mouth to speak, but Wyatt held up a hand for silence, nodding to the screen once more. Even as Jeb turned back, a new image flickered into view. Her face lined with care, but her beautiful lavender eyes filled with joy, the Queen stared out at her people.
"My people, as you have just seen, we have been given a great blessing. Not only have we been reunited with our youngest daughter, sent into hiding so many years ago, but our eldest daughter has been freed from a great curse. The Evil Witch, who once blighted this land and was defeated by our honored heroine Dorothy Gale, returned in spirit and possessed our beloved Azkadelia. United in the Light, your princesses finalized the victory over this ancient evil. However, the victory was not theirs alone. The work of many has led to this glorious day. With that in mind, the Princess Azkadelia has requested but a moment of your time to offer her gratitude."
Murmurs and exclamations rose again as the image flickered once more. A face, at once familiar and unrecognizable, came on screen: The Princess Azkadelia. As she sat in full view of the people, everyone could see the fear in her dark eyes, and the tremors that shook her slight frame. With her hair pulled back in a simple ribbon and wearing a modest frock, she looked much younger than her actual age. Her right hand held tight by an unseen companion, she looked directly out at the people and took a deep breath.
"I wanted to express my gratitude to all of those whose efforts and persistence led to this day. To the Resistance, for keeping some portion of the OZ free and fighting; to those who assisted my sister in her work; and to those who never gave up hope – I thank all of you. Without your efforts, I would never have been freed from the Witch and reunited with my family. Thank you so very, very much."
The tear-filled eyes of the princess disappeared as the screen went blank and the crowd began talking and arguing once again. While suspicion colored many voices, an equal number of them were filled with pity. Jeb's mind whirled with confusion, anger, pity, disbelief…too many emotions to count. Turning to his father, he searched the ice-blue eyes that stared steadily back at him.
Wyatt Cain's eyes held a lingering touch of darkness, but first and foremost, his gaze held a mix of concern, pride, and a hint of fear. Jeb knew that look – it was the look he had seen in his eyes often as a child. It was the look he had seen on the parents and family members of his Resistance fighters. Whatever else had happened, his father had accepted Azkadelia's innocence in the entire matter. He had adopted the eldest princess into his exclusive circle of protection – a circle that Jeb was certain he could count the population of on one hand. Now, he looked to Jeb with expectation. His father wanted to know if he could trust him with her life, with her well-being, physical and mental.
"How old?" he asked.
His father lifted a brow in question.
"How old was she when the Witch possessed her?" Jeb clarified.
"Barely a teenager – she hadn't given up her childhood yet."
He closed his eyes and heaved a deep sigh. Cain cleared his throat, and stared at the palace, eyes squinting against the sunlight.
"In a lot of ways, she's younger than her sister. DG got to grow up on the Other Side. Az didn't – she was stuck hiding in the shadows of her own mind, playing hide and seek with evil."
Despite the seriousness, Jeb's lips twitched.
His father leveled a strict gaze at him, though a tiny twinkle ruined it just a bit.
"I can call her that – you can't…at least, not yet."
Jeb's return smile disappeared almost as soon as it began. He looked around the square, gauging the different reactions of the people. For every face that bore suspicion, there were two that showed pity. That meant a great deal of danger still existed for the princess. Folding his arms across his chest, he stared at the Royal balcony of the palace for a long, silent moment. His father stood by, watchful as always. For many long minutes of silence, the two men watched as the crowds slowly dispersed. They remained unmoving until Jeb turned to face the man he admired most in the world.
"What do you need me to do?" Jeb asked.
His father smiled, and began walking towards the palace, gesturing at his son.