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.
From the journals of Chloe Sullivan:
When one is investigating, one must be prepared for anything, no matter how unexpected. Unearthing the truth can be a very risky business.
But it is a risk well worth taking.
Chloe spoke in a whisper. Clark had held her in his arms and rushed her past the guards, who did not seem to notice their passing, but once inside the darkened castle, he'd put her down so that she could lead the way.
She'd spent enough of her days cleaning the castle to have a fairly accurate map in her head. Even in the darkness, she knew which way to go. She headed confidently down a corridor.
Clark reached out and took her hand-- just so he wouldn't lose her in the dark, she presumed. Even so, the feel of his big, warm hand curling around hers made her stomach melt a little. She struggled to ignore the sensation.
They crept silently along, concealed by darkness. But because they were wanted for murder, they hadn't counted on darkness as their only protection. They had disguised themselves, too. Chloe had dyed her distinctive golden hair a dark, lustrous brown, using dye made from walnut shells.
She'd been uncertain how to change Clark's appearance, since hair dye would do little to change his dark hair. Clark himself solved the problem. He had "borrowed" a few rich clothes from a manor nearby, and he also returned to the cabin bearing a pair of spectacles. He'd cropped his hair short at her suggestion, using his fingernails, then perched the spectacles on his nose, and she'd gaped at him, surprised at how much the metal frames and the shorter hair changed his appearance.
Dressed in more formal upper-class clothes, his brilliant green eyes concealed behind glass, he looked very different from the farmboy she'd known all her life. He'd assured her that she looked quite different, too.
She didn't like the heavier brocade gown she wore, and thanked God she hadn't been born a lady. Beneath the heavy material, she was beginning to sweat. But at last she turned into the chamber that served as the castle's library, closing the heavy door behind them.
Clark tilted his head, listening. At last, apparently satisfied, he lifted the torch he had brought. She watched with interest as light streamed from his eyes, and the end of the torch burst into flame.
"That is a very useful talent," she said approvingly.
He looked almost embarrassed by her praise. "I suppose most people would consider it to be... frightening."
"Nonsense," she answered, heading for the great shelves lining the walls. "Nothing about you could ever frighten me, Clark."
He was still for a long moment, and she looked back over her shoulder to see him staring at her, an odd expression in his eyes. He looked almost... smitten.
The warm sensation in the pit of her stomach grew, but she ignored it. They were here to work, after all. She took refuge in tartness.
"I cannot see if you insist on holding the torch so far away, Clark. Perhaps you could exert yourself to walk across the room?"
He seemed to come to himself with a start. Flashing a rueful grin, he strode over to her, and held the torch while she looked over the shelves.
"The records of the kingdom seem to be arranged by date," she said, more to herself than to him. "The more recent ones are over here... but where to begin..."
"What if you search for the date when Mr. Duncan disappeared?" he suggested.
"Yes." She nodded at the sensible suggestion. "Let's see... this shelf, perhaps..."
He held the torch while she flipped rapidly through leather-bound volumes. At last she placed the last one back on the shelf, and frowned.
"It seems," she said, "that the first prisoners on Level 3 committed very serious crimes. As a result, Prince Lex became aware that there were numerous people in the town with unusual abilities, and he began to actively search them out. Most of the more recent 'criminals' are guilty of no real crime, as far as I can tell from the records. They were simply seen doing something miraculous, and as a result, they were incarcerated."
"What does Lex want with them?" Clark asked.
"That, I do not know. But King Lionel was apparently interested in the lizard, and has his own... collection... of such people. I wonder if Lex intends to use these people to further his own ends."
Clark frowned down at her. "You mean... to take over his father's throne?"
"That is exactly what I mean." She nodded. "Some of the powers are small and insignificant, but many of them could be easily used as weapons. The lizard, for example. Or the ability to throw fire with one's hands, or to confuse your enemy by making him believe he sees that which is not there."
"People with those abilities could be dangerous," Clark agreed. "Perhaps Lex was simply afraid they might injure the townspeople?"
"I don't think so, based on what I have read here. I believe Lex has certain aspirations. The people in Level 3 aren't just prisoners, Clark. I believe Lex intends them to someday be an army."
Clark's dark eyebrows drew down. "Then why are they treated so poorly?"
"To give Lex leverage, I imagine. Right now, he is biding his time. But when he chooses those he intends to use, he can promise them abundant food and extravagant clothing and lodging, and after years of deprivation, years of living in a dark, dank cell, they will likely be willing to do almost anything to obtain it."
Clark frowned down at her. "And Lana?"
"His princess," Chloe said softly. "And the general of his army."
She thought she saw Clark shudder a bit, and she reached out and patted his arm, offering comfort. "Let us go, Clark. I believe I know which prisoners we can safely release. Put out the light."
He reached out and put the flame out with his hand, then put it down on a table, carefully making certain the hot end was in contact with nothing flammable.
He took one step toward the door, then spun around. She could see his look of dismay even in the near darkness.
"Someone's coming," he hissed.
Chloe heard the footstep against the stone flags, too, and almost immediately the heavy door began to creak open. She knew Clark could hear better than she herself could, but he must have been distracted by their conversation.
She stared at the door for a moment in dismay, unwilling to trust their safety to their disguises. Clark could rush them past any danger-- but if the person was blocking the door, that could be a problem.
The door began to swing open, and she realized she had to come up with a solution, right now.
She grabbed Clark by his heavily embroidered jacket, pushed him up against the bookcase, and kissed him.
Read Chapter 18 here.