|I Dream of Candy
Author: Alexis LePlume PM
It was then that she wondered if Hell was a winter wonderland filled with peppermint bears and whipped cream snow. -A Nutcracker story.-Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Romance - Chapters: 13 - Words: 29,247 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 02-24-09 - Published: 12-22-08 - id: 2611480
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Dross organized our borrowed troops to go searching for Clara. It was his belief that when the Shadow was done with her, it would leave her about where she was found, having no more use for her. He refused to let Dorian help, and Fitz too because he was still groggy. I stayed behind to keep an eye on the both of them. The two Nutcrackers may have gotten along better than Dorian and I did, but it still wasn't a calm association. Also, if Dorian decided to go search anyway, Fitz wasn't really in a position to stop him. I was. At least, I hoped I was.
The angry man in question was currently leaning forward with his hands over his face, me imagining that he was berating himself for leaving. Clara wouldn't have gone if he'd been there to tell her no, and she then wouldn't have fallen into the dark, wispy hands of the Shadow. For these thoughts, I almost sympathized with him. She was, unfortunately, sometimes stupid.
Drossden sent back reports every so often, and they of course said that Clara had not been found. I hoped she was okay. Hearing from Dross what apparently was happening to her sent shivers down my spine. Pain was, of course, painful, but at least there wasn't any lasting damage, so Clara would be fine. That is, if being stripped of the head was all that was happening to her. The Dyed didn't have a reason to kill her, yes, but they didn't have a reason not to, either.
I didn't share these thoughts with Dorian, Fitz, Drossden, or anyone else. I'm sure I didn't have to. Maybe that was why Dorian looked so sour.
Suddenly, I got another alert from Dross. The Nutcrackers had found Clara.
Dorian stood up and crossed his arms, pacing irately with his anxiety. He had heard the news, and of course wanted to be ready the moment the searchers arrived back at the Tree with their precious charge.
Night had already fallen. We made a bigger fire to accommodate more people and set up a tent for Clara and I. She was brought in on a makeshift stretcher and taken into the tent. Dross and I went in to make sure she was all right. Dorian took up his pacing outside the entrance.
Looking at Clara, I didn't see anything wrong. She didn't seem cut or broken, just a little bruised here and there. Dross' prodding proved my suspicions.
"She's exhausted, but fine," he pronounced. "We'll let her rest."
Drossden left the tent, and I covered the unconscious Clara with a blanket. Dorian was waiting for the news.
"Look happier. She'll live," I said.
While he only nodded to me in return, I could see that he was subtly relieved. He was so transparent.
I jabbed him in the belly with an index finger. "You can go in, just be nice."
He growled something at me and walked away, thumbs hooked in his belt. I couldn't help but smile: he was in a better mood now that Clara had been found. He just didn't want me to see it.
Clara was pulled from her uneasy slumber by the memory of aches and pains all over her body. At first, she was unaware of why she felt so rheumy. While she became more alert, however, the scenes of the events trickled back before her eyes. She remembered the dark, flickering hand of the Shadow, the many hands of Dyed creatures holding her down so that the seventh head could be removed, and she remembered screaming her throat dry with the pain.
Now she felt strangely empty. Through all her life, she remembered there being some odd entity in her mind, mostly silent, but occasionally goading her to do something. That entity was gone, and in its place was...nothing. No, not nothing, she surmised. There was something growing there in place of the dark thing that she'd wanted gone. That fragment of It had probably been keeping her from noticing whatever the something was.
She opened her eyes and slowly sat up. She was alone in a tent, covered with a blanket. She very much doubted she was still in the hands of the Dyed.
The tent flap opened, revealing Dorian's head and most of his torso. At the sight of him, something in her core shifted.
He smiled, seeing that she was awake. "Look at you, sleeping in so late. I almost didn't expect you to be up until tomorrow."
Clara couldn't even describe to me how glad she was to see him so cheery. She needed a familiar, friendly face. Out of all of us there, she knew Dorian best. His was the presence she needed.
Her vision blurred with threatened tears. "Dorian..."
His smile fell. He came to the side of her cot and sat on the very edge. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Clara hugged him like she would die if she let go. Tentatively, Dorian put his arms around her. She was so like Marie.
"It hurt," she started in a trembling voice. "It hurt so much. I can't let you go and get taken by them, Dorian, it's like I've been in a landslide..."
Wasn't it just like her to go and think only of what would happen to him?
He sighed. "I have to do this. It can't be anyone else, I have to be the one who kills It. That's the only way for me to be free of this curse."
"But that's not all," Clara continued. "The Shadow said that...I might not survive the removal of the head. What of they catch you and you die? Would you like that kind of freedom?"
The question gave him pause. Little did I know, he'd thought for a long time that he would like to die, but he'd never had the nerve to do himself in. But then, now wasn't back when his country had been destroyed, when he'd been taken the seventh head. The present time held different circumstances. Did he still want to die, or was there now a reason to live?
Yes, there was. He was slow on the uptake, but he understood.
"No," he answered at last. "I would not like that. The Dyed won't get me, Clara. I promise."
He rubbed her back comfortingly. Then he heard a rumbling sound which made him jump up, alert.
"Calm down, Dorian," Clara said, sniffling. "That was my stomach. Is there food?"
Looking relieved, he nodded. "I'll get you some soup."
He left the tent. Dross was waiting by the fire for news of his creation. He sized Dorian up with a level look.
"How is she?"
Dorian shrugged. "Hungry, at the moment. She's scared."
Dross remained silent, regarding Dorian through intelligent eyes. The Nutcracker took up a bowl and began filling it with soup from the pot, keenly aware of his elder's gaze.
"You have something to say?" he asked levelly.
"Do you?" the wizard countered. "You seem almost...angry with me. Why is that?"
The younger man said nothing for fear of what might come from his mouth in reply. Truthfully, he was angry with Drossden, even though his logic told him he shouldn't, that there was no reason for it. More to the point, he didn't know why he was angry. It would be silly to admit to something when you didn't know the root of it.
Eventually, Drossden just sighed. "It is a small matter. Regardless, you've done well."
Dorian nodded in absent assent. Praise from the wizard - genuine praise, not the empty smiles he usually offered - was rare.
The bowl being filled, he stood and took it in to Clara. She accepted it with the strongest smile she'd yet shown. It was dazzling.
As he expected her to sleep more after eating, he left the tent again with murmured excuses. By that time, Dross was gone, off conversing with me, and the Nutcrackers we'd brought along were grouped sullenly to one side - those that weren't guarding our perimeter, anyway, but Fitz sat alone. Dorian joined him by the fire.
His companion sniffed. "You're lucky. I'm sure you never thought about it, but those Nutcrackers can't touch you. Dross got you pardoned."
Dorian replicated his gesture. "That just goes to show how flimsy the charges were to begin with. It means nothing."
Fitz shook his head. "Maybe, maybe not. Do you know who brought forth the charges, by chance?"
The dark-haired man looked sharply to his companion. "What? I always thought it was just some person..."
Fitz shook his head again. "Not just some person, Dorian. It was High Chancellor Hemperdink who charged you with one count of murder."
Dorian frowned. "How the hell would he know if I killed anyone? Whose blood have I supposedly bathed in?"
Here, Fitz scratched the back of his head and frowned with the effort of bringing up the rarely used information. "A girl, I think. Orphaned or homeless, I only remember because I thought it was weird that Hemperdink would bother with one of us 'peons.' What was her name...?"
Even though his last words were rhetorical, he heard an answer from Dorian anyway.
Fitz looked at Dorian, alarmed. "Don't tell me you actually killed a little homeless girl! I mean, I never liked you, but I didn't think-"
"I didn't," Dorian started with a voice dangerous by its lack of volume. "But it could be construed that way. No, she died of sickness. I thought Dross, Narr, and I were the only ones who knew she existed...well, I told Clara, too..."
Fitz shrugged. "Well, however it happened, you've been pardoned, so the only thing it means is that Hemperdink doesn't like you, and that can be bad."
Dorian shook his head. "I can deal with him. He's a great fool if he thinks he can bring me down."
Fitz couldn't help but grin ruefully. "Does 'deal' involve a blade?"
Dorian chuckled. "Even I'm not that stupid. No finagling of Dross' or anyone else would get me pardoned for that."
"Are you so sure? I can think of a number of people who'd thank you for it."
They shared a laugh, alarming the other Nutcrackers because the sound was so rare in the camp.
Clara was still asleep when an emissary of the Shadow wandered into camp. I considered that a good thing; she wouldn't see one of her captors and get scared, thus making Dorian do something stupid. Because he was, of course, liable to do something stupid on her account. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who saw this, either. Drossden made a point of standing close to the Mad Prince in case he got angry and tried something anyway. He was always ready to get angry, no matter the circumstances.
However, in this case, I'm sorry to say that I'm the one who deserved to be watched.
The emissary had blue-flecked hair, a sparkling countenance, and markings of stars and swirls on her skin. Yep, that's right. The Shadow's emissary was none other than Mati a'Toor, my cousin.
"Mati!" I exclaimed, in foolish hopes that she had finally seen the light, "What are you doing here?"
She sneered at me, as she always did these days. Damn the Shadow for corrupting my once sweet cousin! "I'm here to negotiate your surrender, but I don't want to talk to you, cousin. You are but a dog. Where's your master, Drossden?"
I was surprised and somehow not that the Shadow knew about Drossden's return. I imagined that it was in its power to know, but just how escaped me. But that was a thought for another day. At present, I had a mad fairy on the loose to deal with.
I opened my mouth to reply, but the wizard beat me to it.
"I can speak for myself. What do you want, a'Toor?"
Mati turned narrowed, disrespectful eyes upon him. It made my blood boil. "The Shadow, Master of It and the Dyed forces on Magnolia, sends his regards. What do you want in return for the Nutcracker called Dorian?"
Here, of course, she spared a moment to sneer at Dorian, too. At least I wasn't the only one who hated him.
Drossden answered immediately. "A large cheeseburger and a soda. No fries."
Mati quickly looked back at him. "What?"
She wasn't the only one giving him a strange look. I think we all were. The wizard, eccentric man as he was, looked quite calm and...serious. I was actually getting a little hopeful, here. It would very much suit my revenge for Dross to trade him for a meal.
Unfortunately, Drossden, as most eccentric wizards and quite possibly every member of the Gingerman species are wont to do, wasn't serious. At all.
"I kid, I kid," he quickly laughed off, deflating my hopes.
Mati looked somewhat more composed. "What, then?"
It was Dross' turn to look disturbed. "Do you really think that I'm just going to trade you a living thing as if he were cattle? Your master understands nothing of true Magnolians. None of you do."
Dorian looked relieved at this comment. It made me wonder that, if Dross really did trade him to the Shadow, if Dorian would go, simply because it was Dross who traded him. Hell, I wondered if I would. Something like that, my mentor had to have a plan behind it, to do such a thing. So I probably would.
I'm such a sucker for Drossden. No wonder Mati laughed at me.