WHAT GOD DID I PISS OFF?
See chapter one for disclaimers.
The plan wasn't perfect. Will was the first to admit that. Judge Cook was adamantly opposed to it. The rest had their doubts but couldn't think of anything better.
"You aren't going hunting for this woman. It's too dangerous."
"We don't have a whole lot of choice, mom. She's gonna attack again and people could get killed if she picks the time and place. I won't let that happen if I can avoid it."
"This shouldn't be your problem. These...people." Her hesitation over the last word brought a flash of fire to her daughter's eyes, literally. That was something, she was sure, she was never going to get used to. "They aren't your responsibility. This being queen was forced on you."
"I'd do it anyway, mom, so it doesn't matter. Nerissa has to be stopped. She has one Heart; we have two. There may never be a better chance."
"I'm offering you another chance."
"As what? One of your thralls? You have no power to sway us. Not now."
"There is much left undone, old friend. It should not have been this way."
"True," the late queen of Zamballa agreed. "You should not have grown power hungry and murdered Cassidy. You should not have stolen the Heart of Meridian. Yet, these things happened. One of those crimes can be undone."
"So much could be accomplished. The power you wielded with the Heart of Zamballa-" Kadma's mocking laughter cut her off.
"Do you believe I care about that now?" She shook her head mockingly.
"-is in the hands of a child," Nerissa finished, changing tactics in mid-sentence. "She has no hope of stopping me. I will have the Heart from her and I will use it to lay waste to your precious jungle."
"No," Kadma shook her head sadly. "Even if you acquire the Heart, you will not destroy Zamballa. That would be a waste of the power you covet." Regarding her one-time friend sadly, she pressed on. "I'm dead, Nerissa. This is no longer my fight. Were I to try to oppose you, I'm certain you would find some way of gaining power over me, forcing me to do harm to others on your behalf, and that, I will not allow."
Nerissa fumed silently for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice was full of the venom that had once so shocked Kadma and the other Guardians. "Perhaps I cannot turn you to my cause, but that does not mean I will release you. You will wander the worlds as you are, a disembodied spirit, helpless until I see fit to release you or you join me of your own free will. Consider that."
"As you wish," the former Zamballan queen answered serenely, before turning and drifting away.
"They're nowhere on Zamballa," Cornelia said firmly. "I've talked to plants all over the planet and she's nowhere the jungle reaches."
"So where doesn't the jungle reach?" Will asked. "I mean folding is all well and good, but I'm sure she's got a ... astaging area somewhere on Zamballa."
"Makes sense," Taranee agreed. "Maybe a polar region?" She glanced at Ironwood.
"Even in the coldest reaches of Zamballa there is life, your majesty." He considered a moment, "but there is one place..."
She told them about the quarry and they agreed it was worth a shot. Taranee hesitated, though. "Something we're missing," she said, beginning to feel frustrated as a thought niggled at the back of her brain. "We're overlooking something."
"That it's too dangerous?" her mother volunteered.
"No. It's..." She glanced at her friends. "Give me alittle time. I need to sort through this."
"We don't have a lot of time, Taranee," Will pointed out.
"I know, but this is important. We screw it up because we missed something obvious and we might not get a second chance." She glanced at the Heart of Zamballa and felt a gentle encouragement from it. "I need to meditate. I'll be back as soon as I can." She left to find somewhere quiet to think and commune with the Heart.
It was at one of her favorite spots on Zamballa that she found the girl. She was sitting on aflat-topped hill that Kadma had raised herself. It provided an unparalleled view of the valley in which the palace was built. On her way there, she had encountered several of her subjects and been frustrated to learn that they could neither see nor hear her, just as Nerissa had promised.
Taranee was sitting cross-legged with her eyes shut and Heart laid across her lap. Meditation was, Kadma thought, probably not something that came naturally to the girl. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, as if she was working hard on an equation.
"Communication with the Heart comes more easily if you relax and just let it flow, child. This is not something you can force." Taranee started slightly and looked around. Kadma knelt in front of the girl, hopeful that she would find what she'd been seeking.
Taranee sighed in frustration as she looked around. "Hello?" She glanced around and, evidently seeing no one, went back to her meditations. Kadma felt her best hope drain away. If she couldn't communicate with Taranee, who held the Heart of Zamballa, then she really was alone and worse, helpless. She shoved that thought aside. Something had startled the girl, and it was possible that Taranee was aware of her on some level. She tried again.
"Taranee? Can you hear me child?" Taranee frowned slightly, but didn't open her eyes again. Growing impatient, Kadma reached out to touch the girl. Her hand, as expected, passed through the girl's body without resistance. There was, however, a reaction.
"GAAA!" Taranee rolled away from the touch and came to her feet with a fireball in her hand. She looked around frantically but did not see Kadma.
"Well. It's abeginning." Inspiration struck and she reached out to touch the Heart of Zamballa. It was warm under her hand and she felt the connection as she always had. The Heart responded with confusion at first and then a mounting joy at the reunion. The connection with the Heart provided her with what she needed. Taranee was staring at her. "Hello, child."
"Wh-what are you doing here? Aren't you... y'know...dead?"
"I am." She agreed. "Nerissa, however, had other plans. She has trapped my spirit on this plane and condemned to wander the worlds, seeing but unseen until I agree to serve her."
"Wow. That...sucks." Taranee's tone indicated that she knew the word was wholly inadequate.
"Indeed. Fortunately, there are things she does not know about the Heart of Zamballa. Our shared connection to the Heart allows me to speak to you, and we need to speak. There are things about Nerissa you need to know."
The new plan, Taranee knew, was one she needed to keep to herself. She didn't like it, and she knew that Will would have tried hard to talk her out of it. So, she said nothing to the others. Kadma's information made all the difference. What they had planned before would have been a waste of time, at best. In retrospect, the fact that a Heart couldn't be taken by force should have been obvious. Nerissa had gone to a lot of trouble to trick Elyon into giving up her power. Returning the favor wasn't going to be easy, and there was a huge chance that it wouldn't work. That wasn't the part of the plan that worried her, though.
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