Elseworld (inspired by The Princess Bride and the Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom books)
Disclaimer: These characters belong to the CW and DC Comics, not to me.
Read the previous chapter here.
Read the story from the beginning here.
He'd never felt more useless.
Clark lay on the cold stones of the floor, grinding his teeth as pain washed through him in wave after wave. Through the ringing in his ears, he could hear someone screaming, and an icy fear filled him. He was terrified that it was Chloe screaming as she was torn apart by the lizard.
Once again, he fought to get up. But there was no strength left in his muscles. It had all been leached out somehow by the poisonous green rocks. Tears of anger and frustration rose to his eyes.
And then something caught him by the arm, dragging him out of the cell. The lizard, he thought, but there was no pain in his arm, as he would have expected if those viciously sharp teeth had him by the forearm. He felt himself being dragged over the stone floor, and slowly, the bone-searing agony that pervaded him began to recede.
He opened his eyes to find Chloe kneeling in front of him, looking him over anxiously.
"Chloe." He struggled to his knees. It was oddly bright in the dungeon, and by the strange golden light, he could see that she was essentially uninjured, although her hands were bleeding. "Are you all right?"
"I am fine." Her eyes were dark with some emotion, but her voice was steady.
He wanted to fling his arms around her, to wrap her in his embrace, to cover her in kisses, but a glance around showed him that Lana had transformed back into her normal self. If the odd light faded, she might revert to lizard form. He had to get Lana away from the stones before that happened.
He turned back toward Chloe, and over her shoulder, he saw one of the royal guard, lying on the floor in a pool of burgundy blood.
And his chest--
Clark swallowed hard to avoid losing the contents of his stomach, and looked away, back into Chloe's eyes. By unspoken consent, the two of them rose to their feet.
"Stop where you are!"
Two guards appeared in the narrow corridor, both of them drawing their swords. Behind Clark and Chloe, Lana began screaming.
"He killed that man! I saw it! He tried to kill me as well! He is a murderer!"
The guards glanced at the body on the floor, looking just as shocked and horrified at the sight as Clark felt. They exchanged a glance, then started down the corridor, brandishing their swords. Clark put a protective arm around Chloe.
"Clark," she whispered. "You have to get Lana away, before someone else..."
Clark nodded and released her. He took two steps toward Lana, but she retreated toward the cell where he and Chloe had been confined, and he realized there was no chance he could capture her. If he got any closer to the stones, he'd wind up on the floor, helpless to save Chloe.
Chloe glanced back at Lana, and seemed to grasp the situation instantly. "Never mind," she whispered. "Get us out of here."
"Surely they will not kill us without more proof," Clark protested. "If we leave..."
"They are afraid, Clark. They may try to kill us. And even if they don't... you cannot go back in that cell, Clark. We must escape."
He hesitated, knowing that to flee now would almost certainly convince the prince they were guilty. To run meant sentencing them both to exile from Smallcroft for the rest of their lives. He had little enough here, but Chloe had her father...
The guards closed in on them, brandishing their swords menacingly, and Chloe caught at Clark's arm.
"Clark," she whispered, more urgently. "Go."
He looked at the swords glinting in the bright light, then swept her up in his arms, and went into top speed, racing past the soldiers in a rush of wind, carrying her to safety.
"Prince Lex has concluded that we are murderers."
Clark sank down onto the dirt floor with a sigh. He and Chloe had lurked near the dungeon long enough to make sure that Lana had not changed back, and that the other prisoners were safe. Then they'd found a long-ago abandoned cabin deep in the woods, and had spent the day there, catching up on much-needed sleep. He and Chloe had curled up on the floor together, and he'd put his arm around her, simply to keep her warm.
With her soft, warm body pressed up against him, he'd found it surprisingly hard to sleep, despite his exhaustion.
When he'd awakened, late in the afternoon, he'd raced to the castle, making certain first that the door to the cabin was securely locked. He would not endanger Chloe ever again. In the castle, he'd sped past the guards, then used his hearing abilities to eavesdrop on a few informative conversations.
"We must go back." Chloe looked determined. "We must prove our innocence."
"Chlo..." Clark sighed. "We cannot. The prince has spoken, and his word is final. You know that."
"But surely if we can show him how Lana transforms... did the guards not see...?"
"She did not transform again," Clark said grimly.
Chloe sighed. "She is clever. She always has been."
"Yes. And to make matters worse..."
He fell silent. Chloe tilted her head on one side quizzically.
"What is it, Clark?"
He sighed. "Rumor has it that Lex has asked Lana to be his princess."
Chloe's mouth fell open. "But she-- but she--"
"Yes. Smallcroft will not fare well with such as she at the ruler's side." He heaved another sigh. "But it is what she has always aspired to."
Chloe studied him a moment longer, then her small hand reached up and patted him on the shoulder. "I am so sorry, Clark."
He understood what she was saying: I am sorry the woman you thought you loved is marrying another man. But the truth was, he was not in the least surprised. He'd always known that Lana wanted more than a simple farmboy. Even though he'd once imagined coming back to Smallcroft with wealth and fame, and winning Lana's hand, he'd known deep down that what she wanted was far more than he could ever possibly offer.
At any rate, he was surprised to discover he no longer really cared that much. He remembered the glimpse he'd caught of her while speeding his way through the castle. She'd been seated on a throne next to Prince Lex, draped in sumptuous satins and lace, her hair drawn up on her head, displaying a priceless necklace of diamonds resting on her throat.
Once upon a time, he would have been dumbstruck by her beauty. But his only thought had been of Chloe, who wore homespun, whose hands were roughened by honest labor, who would never be able to return to her home again because of him-- and yet who was happy to stand by him, without a word of complaint.
Lana was evil, and she had gained everything she'd ever wanted. Chloe was the best woman he knew, and she had lost everything. And yet she didn't seem to resent him for it.
A warmth grew in his chest as he gazed down at her, but he tried to ignore it.
Chloe frowned thoughtfully. "Why does Lex want her? Because of her beauty? Or because he knows she has this power, and wishes to use her against his father?"
It was an excellent question. Clark contemplated it for a moment, then shrugged. "I do not know. But what I do know is that Lana hates us, Chloe. We tried to have Lex imprison her for the rest of her life. She wishes to see us dead, and she is a dangerous adversary. We must leave."
"And go where?"
Clark leaned his head back against the battered planks of the wall. "Metropolis," he answered quietly. "It is large enough that we can get lost there."
She turned her head and looked at him for a long moment. "No," she answered at last. "We cannot leave. Not yet."
"Chloe." He felt his eyebrows draw down. "I understand it is hard for you to leave your father, but--"
"My father has nothing to do with this, Clark. I am thinking of the people in the dungeon. We cannot abandon them to Lex's mercies."
Clark blinked at her. "We cannot release them, Chloe. You are the one who has kept track of how the rocks affect people. Like Lana, they all become..."
"Murderers?" She stared at him intensely. "How do we know why those people were all imprisoned, Clark? Perhaps they were imprisoned merely because Prince Lex wished to study their abilities."
"Perhaps," he allowed. "But perhaps they were imprisoned because they are killers. We cannot loose them unless we are certain."
"Clark..." She frowned. "Who created the light that permitted us to escape?"
Clark looked down at the ground. "Old Mr. Duncan."
"There is no possible way I can believe Mr. Duncan has ever killed anyone. And he saved us, Clark. We owe him his freedom."
Clark remembered the kindly old man. He found it difficult to imagine that Mr. Duncan was a murderer, too. But...
"But what if you're wrong, Chlo? For all we know, he has killed as many people as Lana. We cannot release these people unless we know for certain what their crimes were."
"There must be some way to find out, Clark." She frowned, then brightened. "The scribes," she said. "They keep a written record of every legal decision the prince makes. If we can get into the records chamber--"
"No." Clark shook his head firmly. "No, Chlo. What you're suggesting-- it's dangerous. The two of us must not continue sneaking into the castle. It is heavily guarded. You are as vulnerable as anyone else, and Lana knows my weakness now. If we were caught--"
"We will have to endeavor to not be caught. Or would you rather leave those people to be mistreated, and perhaps to slowly starve, if they are not criminals?"
Her voice was sharp. He stared at her for a long moment, thinking of old Mr. Duncan, who'd always been kind to him, and who had saved them today. If Mr. Duncan's greatest crime was merely the ability to create light, could they in good conscience leave him in the dungeon?
"You are right," he admitted.
She flashed her brilliant smile. "Of course I am."
"But we need not risk you. Perhaps I can look through the files myself..."
"Except that you do not read nearly as well as I do. It will be quicker if I accompany you."
He took a glance at her stubbornly uptilted chin, and knew that she was not merely persisting because of her superior reading skills. She was afraid to allow him to go into the castle on his own. And he was afraid to allow her to remain in the woods on her own, especially at night. Too many unknown dangers lurked out here. She was safest with him.
He remembered the way she'd saved him today, and smiled. Perhaps he was safest with her as well.
Truly, he thought, they worked best together.
"Very well," he said. "We shall both go."
She smiled warmly at him, as if pleased that he had finally seen reason. "Then it is settled. As soon as darkness falls... we will make our way into the castle."
Read Chapter 17 here.