WHAT GOD DID I PISS OFF?
See chapter one for disclaimers.
Restoring the Zamballans and their jungle was exhausting work, Cornelia reflected, but it would have been a lot harder and they would have been at it a lot longer if Taranee hadn't given their powers a boost with the Heart of Zamballa. Even so, it was over two hours before they returned to the palace.
Cornelia eyed her friend dubiously. It was strange seeing Taranee flying in human form, but the fire Guardian had refused to be changed. Her thinking was that, if she was having control issues in human form, boosting her powers by transforming was only going to make matters worse.
It made sense, Cornelia supposed, since the Heart of Kandrakar more than tripled their power when they transformed. From what she had seen, and what the fire Guardian had told them about the battle with the knights, she certainly didn't need any more power.
They came in for a landing at the palace and stopped in their tracks. "Mom?" Taranee stared openmouthed at Theresa Cook. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to find you, of course." She moved forward and hugged her daughter to her for a second, then stood back and looked her over critically, relaxing when she didn't find any obvious injuries. "You have some explaining to do, young lady."
"I know, but let's go inside. We're exhausted." Her mother conceded and led the way back to the room where Peter and Nigel were having an animated discussion that stopped the moment they saw Taranee. She eyed the two speculatively, but then shrugged it off, too tired to worry about what her brother and her boyfriend had been talking about. There were some issues, though, that would have to be dealt with. Peter's eyes widened as he caught sight of Cornelia.
Taranee suppressed a groan as she glanced the earth Guardian, who was suddenly blushing to her roots. "Not exactly, bro,'" Taranee sighed, but didn't elaborate. Cornelia had made that mess and could get herself out of it.
"Um, Cornelia actually. Kind of a funny story." She glanced at her friends, who seemed disinclined to bail her out. "Oookay." She stalled by taking a seat and waiting for the others to do the same. "I can, um change the way I look, a small glamour, not a complete transformation like this." She gestured at her current form. "I was having, um, issues with my boyfriend Caleb, and just needed, um, I guess a change of pace, a distraction from all of that drama."
"A distraction?" Peter's face was hard to read, but it was fairly clear he wasn't happy about being lied to. "Well," he admitted, after a moment. "I knew you were on the rebound or somethin' but..." he shook his head. "This is weird. How old are you again?"
"I'm 14, as of last month," Cornelia answered, and Peter winced. At 18, he could see several potential complications there.
"Peter?" his mother asked. She knew he had been dating someone named Lillian, but had never met the girl. "You've been dating a 13 year-old girl?"
"He didn't know, Mrs. Cook," Cornelia hastened to assure the woman, who gave her a dangerous look. "No way he could have. I don't exactly look my right age."
"You don't exactly look the right species," she countered hotly, then regretted it as she saw her daughter's reaction.
"That was uncalled for," Will spoke up. "She may not have thought it through, but she didn't mean any harm. And in case there's any doubt, we're all human."
"With wings?" Peter asked.
"Part of the Guardian package. It doesn't make us monsters."
"Of course not," Theresa hastened to say, seeing her daughter's carefully neutral expression. That, she knew, was always a bad sign, and she really didn't want an argument. "Look. This is just... a lot to take in. Maybe you could start at the beginning?" She remembered the items she had brought with her. "First, though," she retrieved Taranee's backpack from the corner where she had stashed it. "I thought you might want these." Taranee looked inside curiously and then grinned. "Go on. We'll wait." Taranee left quickly, ignoring the puzzled looks from her friends.
"What was in there?" Nigel asked.
"A change of clothes," Theresa answered simply.
A few minutes later, Taranee was back, wearing her own clothes, and looking much happier for it. She settled next to Nigel, who looked surprised but pleased, and smiled at him before turning to her mother and brother. "It's kind of a long story. I guess we should begin at the beginning."
It took over an hour to tell the full story. They included the 'history of the universe'as Yan Line had taught it to them, and just hit the highlights of their own activities, deliberately leaving out some of W.I.T.C.H.'s more dangerous exploits. Finally, Taranee slumped back against the couch, leaning subtly on Nigel, who was trying hard to be supportive despite being in shock. "And that brings us up to today," she finished.
For a long time, neither Theresa nor Peter spoke, simply absorbing what they'd just learned. "That's..." her mother trailed off after finally breaking the silence. "I...I don't even know where to begin. How could you have kept this from us for so long? Why?"
"There was important work to be done," Yan Lin answered. "I know better than anyone, how family worry c-"
"I wasn't talking to you," Theresa Cook snapped at the older woman. "That's a whole different conversation, and we will be having it later." She turned back to her daughter. "Well?"
"She's right. There was, and is, important work to do. I knew you'd try to stop me, that you'd worry and try to keep me... us," she glanced at the other Guardians, "from doing anything dangerous, no matter how badly needed we are."
"Why were 13 year-old children needed to do anything?" her mother demanded.
"We don't know why we were chosen," Taranee sighed, "and it never really seemed important. We learned how to use our powers to help people and to fight the bad guys like Phobos and Nerissa."
"You shouldn't be fighting anyone!" Her mother was beside herself with worry and frustration. "I know you probably think its some grand adventure, but-"
"No," Taranee answered flatly. "We passed that stage a long time ago. This isn't a game, and we never thought it was." She met her mother's eyes unflinchingly. "We've taken a lot of risks, yeah, but we've saved a lot of lives and freed an entire world. I think it's been worth it."
"And now? After what's happened the last few hours, with Kadma dying and declaring you queen. Is that 'worth it?' What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know," Taranee admitted. "Nothing like this has happened before, but I can't abandon these people."
"People?" Peter asked in an incredulous tone, and regretted it as his sister glared at him.
"Yes, Peter. People." Before she could begin the tirade he could see coming, he raised his hands in surrender.
"Sorry! This is all a bit much, ya know? I mean walking talking trees? It's just too weird."
Taranee glared at him a moment, but decided to let it go. "This is distracting us," she stated flatly. "Nerissa is still out there and we need to find her and stop her so we can get the Heart of Meridian back. At the very least, we need to chase her off Zamballa." She glanced sharply at her mother as Theresa Cook opened her mouth to object. "No argument. I'm sorry, but you don't get a say in this. Nerissa will be attacking us sooner or later. Probably sooner."
Her mother didn't look happy, but she kept silent.
"All right, then," Will nodded. "Lets plan."
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