This is set after 'P is for Protectors.' Taranee's date is going well until an unexpected visitor turns her world upside down.
WHAT GOD DID I PISS OFF?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This idea started kicking around my head after the most recent episode of W.I.T.C.H., 'P is for Protectors' and wouldn't leave. I decided to write it down and let others decide if the idea was worth pursuing.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own W.I.T.C.H. or any of the characters, and I don't profit by writing this.
SPOILERS: P is for Protectors.
Dinner was going surprisingly well. Her mother was honestly trying. Nigel was being as polite and charming as he knew how to be, and her father and brother seemed to like him. There was, of course, a downside to introducing Nigel to her family. There were embarrassing stories to be dragged out, and her parents' own brand of strangeness to help Nigel cope with, but all in all, Taranee Cook couldn't have hoped for better. Were she the superstitious type, she might have kicked herself for that thought, but as she wasn't, it passed unnoticed.
The mission was everything. Zamballa was all that mattered, and that thought kept her focused. Help was nearby, and she would reach the one she was being guided to in time. No other possibility existed.
Her father and Peter were laughing. Even her mother was trying to hide asmile. Taranee was not amused.
"Come on," Nigel grinned. "You two were all but slapping each other with the fish that got dumped over you. You have to see the funny in that."
"No I don't," she answered flatly. This time, everyone but Taranee laughed. She did allow a rueful smile, though. Her parents had lectured her about doing something so dangerous, and she had promised never again to attack an idiot in a ski mask. They had let the sarcasm pass and dropped the matter. Nigel had helped with that. His description of the two teenagers' inept attempt at armed robbery had had them all laughing. The part where she had wound up smelling like a cannery hadn't been so funny. Oh, well. At least everyone's getting along. I'll /take laughing over shouting any day/.
Taranee was the first to notice when Peter stopped laughing. He was staring over her shoulder, through the arch that led to the living room. Taranee had seen that look before and turned quickly, worried over what she might see. Peter only looked that way when he saw something that couldn't be readily explained, like flying girls. Fortunately, he was quick to accept any explanation offered.
What she found behind her was unusual, but not something that would explain that expression. The woman standing in shadow just beyond the arch stood ramrod straight, and the stare she directed at Taranee could only be called imperious. "Kadma?" The old woman moved her gaze from Taranee to the crystal atop her scepter, and she frowned slightly. After a second, she nodded reluctantly and looked back at the fire guardian.
"Hello child. We need to speak with you, and there isn't much time."
"No time for courtesies like knocking?" Taranee heard her mother push her chair back from the table. "How did you get in here?"
Kadma ignored the other woman and addressed Taranee again. "You wished us to acknowledge our mistakes and to ask for help when we needed it. We are asking now. The defilers returned in force, far sooner than expected. Their attack was... far more vicious than before." Taranee had risen to her feet and moved toward her.
"Defilers?" Her mother asked in confusion. "Look, I'm ajudge, not a cop. Why aren't you reporting this to the police?" Whatever else she might have said was cut off by her daughter's gasp.
"You're bleeding!" She turned away. "I'll call an ambulance."
"No!" Kadma took astep forward, raising a hand that had previously been folded across her stomach. It proved her undoing. With a groan, the queen of Zamballa collapsed, and Taranee barely managed to break her fall. "There is no time," she insisted, her voice suddenly ragged. "Zamballa is burning. That is all that matters. You must hurry."
"Peter, call an ambulance," Mrs. Cook instructed as she moved to the oddly dressed intruder's side. The amount of blood pouring from the stranger was alarming. Her daughter didn't even seem to notice she was kneeling in a rapidly spreading pool. "Taranee? What is this about? Who is she?" Both of them ignored her.
"Take this," she held out the Heart of Zamballa to Taranee. "It is what the defilers want. They must not have it."
"They won't get it," she assured the queen. Kadma did not relinquish it immediately and both gripped the scepter when the queen spoke next.
"Promise that you will use the Heart to protect Zamballa, with all that you are."
"Swear it!" the woman gasped as a spasm racked her body.
"Okay! I swear." Kadma released the scepter. "I'll look after this until you're better. Now you just relax."
"Do not seek to coddle us child, or deceive yourself."
"You have eyes," the old queen snapped. "You know as well as we do that this wound is mortal. We have used the last of our strength to come here. We only hope that the Heart has guided us truly."
Taranee drew a steadying breath. She had come close to despising the old woman in the brief time they'd known each other, and she found herself regretting her harsh words, however well earned they might have been. Pushing that aside, she made another promise. "If-if it comes to that, I'll take it and you home. I'll take the Heart back to Zamballa. I'm sure Ironwood can-"
Taranee knew her mother was looking at her strangely and knew she'd have to come up with the mother of all cover stories for this, but she couldn't think about that at the moment. Kadma was shaking her head.
"No, child. We did not come here for that. Away from the sacred grove and without the proper rituals, the Heart cannot be returned to the land. We can only pass it to our successor."
A moment of astonished silence followed this revelation. "Excuse me?" Taranee demanded, her voice rising in alarm at the implication.
"We can only hope that the Heart has not suddenly developed a sense of humor," Kadma said before coughing up yet more blood. "This is not a choice we would have made."
"What are you saying?" Taranee demanded, refusing to understand what the queen was talking about, and not even wanting to think about Kadma's 'vote of confidence.'
Frowning in irritation despite her pain and dimming vision, the dying woman glared at Taranee. "Foolish child! Do not waste Zamballa's time. You are needed there, and you know perfectly well what we are saying, fire guardian." She drew a shuddering breath. "Long live the queen." Her head rolled to one side and her chest fell one last time.
"Oh no," Taranee rose to her feet, the Heart clutched in her right hand. "Oh no you don't old woman! I said I would help! You are not going to-" she stopped, her gaze suddenly drawn to the Heart. Since the first time she had seen it, the gem had given off a faint purple radiance, even when not in use. Now, that light was gone, and the gem was as dark as pitch.
"Ambulance is on its way," Peter broke in, coming back into the room. "Should only be a few minutes." Taranee glanced at him and then back at the Heart.
"It's too late Peter. Kadma's gone."
"Who," her mother asked, "is Kadma? And what was she doing in our house?"
"Well..." Taranee trailed off, thinking frantically.
"Why was she babbling about defilers and hearts? And why did she call you 'fire guardian?'" Taranee's eyes widened at that. She had almost missed Kadma spilling the beans in front of her parents.
"Ah. Well... its..."
"Uh, Taranee?" Nigel broke in. "What's with the stick?"
She glanced at him in confusion and then back at the Heart of Zamballa. It had begun to pulse with a faint purple light. The light quickly grew stronger and brighter. "Oh crap,"she breathed. She felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Maybe you oughta get rid of that thing, sis," Peter suggested.
"Uh, yeah." She tried to open her hand and discovered she couldn't. "Oh no. Just....just no." The Heart flared brighter than ever, blinding all in the room.