Clark/Chloe/Lana/LexElseworld (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.
"Surely you did not think I would let you escape."
Lex's voice rang with steel, as sharp and deadly as a sword blade, and Chloe stepped forward, holding out a pleading hand. "My lord. Please, do not hurt him. Despite what Lana has told you, he is no villain."
"Whether he has killed people or not is irrelevant." Lex's gray eyes studied Clark avidly. "What matters to me is that he possesses powers, great powers that could be used in the service of this kingdom."
"No," Clark choked out. "I am... an ordinary... man."
"Do you take me to be a fool, farmboy?" Lex moved closer, leaning down and thrusting the glowing rock on his finger right up against Clark's face, and Clark whimpered in agony. "Lana told me everything. Every strange thing she has ever seen you do. And she also told me of your peculiar susceptibility to this rock." He chuckled softly, as if amused by Clark's pain. "Clearly she spoke the truth."
Chloe saw a flash of agony in Clark's eyes, a flash that wasn't from physical pain. Once again, Lana had betrayed him. She could only imagine how much that hurt him, after all his years of idolizing the girl.
"Please..." Chloe spoke meekly, playing for time. She needed a weapon, but when Lex appeared she had automatically stepped back, moving away from the bodies on the floor, and their swords.
Even if she could reach one of the swords, she wondered if she had the nerve to run the Prince through, or even to strike him on the head with the butt of the sword. Such an act would mean she would be hunted for the rest of her life.
But she heard Clark's moans, and knew she would do what she must.
"Please," she whispered again. "We mean no harm, Prince."
"Of course you mean harm. You are here to release my army."
Since the keys still dangled from her fingers, there was little point in denying it. "Your army," she repeated, letting her indignation show a bit. "Many of these people are innocent of any wrongdoing. You have no right to hold them."
"You dare prattle to me of rights?" Lex glared at her. "I am the prince! I may do whatever I choose!"
"You are supposed to be the guardian of the kingdom's laws!" she snapped, sidling closer to the guards on the floor.
Lex smiled, a cold smile that made shivers race down her spine.
"I make my own laws," he said softly.
She shuddered, and looked at Clark. His eyes were clenched shut, his teeth bared against the pain. "Please," she said. "Please, you must release him."
"I certainly will not. If everything Lana has told me is true, then he will be one of my finest acquisitions, a being of unimaginable power who can also be easily controlled."
"The green rock can hurt him," Chloe said, still moving stealthily toward the unconscious forms, "but they cannot compel him to cooperate with you."
"True. But I believe the threat of danger to you will make him most cooperative. He will gladly help me if the alternative is torture for you."
Lex bent again, pressing the ring to Clark's forehead, and Chloe leaped, snatching one of the swords from its scabbard. But before she could wield it, Lex had straightened up. His fist flashed out, striking her in the forehead, hard. She reeled back, still clutching the sword, astonished by how quickly he'd moved.
"I am one of this kingdom's most formidable fighters," he said, smiling almost indulgently. "I have trained in all forms of combat since I was a child. Did you really think I was not aware of your movements, Mistress Sullivan? Do you think me such a fool?"
She felt blood trickling down her face. She clutched the sword by its hilt, rather inexpertly, and menaced him with the sharp tip. "Do not come any closer," she warned him.
He chuckled. "You terrify me," he assured her, with that lazy smile that told her she was of no significance whatsoever. He took another step toward her, and she stabbed the sword in his direction, as fiercely as she was able.
He deftly avoided her thrust and stepped to the side, grasping her arm, and the next moment the sword had clanged onto the stones. She whimpered in pain as his fingers tightened on her wrist.
"Foolish, Mistress Sullivan," he whispered in her ear. "Very, very foolish."
She struggled to get away, but he was stronger than she, and held her easily. Desperate, she kicked and fought and scratched, but to no avail.
She had failed. Clark was going to be imprisoned, and-- like the other prisoners here-- starved and neglected and tormented. She imagined him trapped in a cell, his newly shorn hair grown long and ragged, his body emaciated and filthy, and the thought made rage bubble up inside her.
Clark was her best friend--the man she loved-- and she would not let such a fate befall him. She simply would not allow it.
She lifted her knee, hard, and it made solid contact with a most vulnerable part of Lex's anatomy. Lex gave a startled oof, and his grip on her relaxed slightly. She wrenched away.
She saw a movement on the floor. Clark was obviously still in pain, but in struggling with her, Lex and his ring had moved away from Clark. Clark reached out a long arm, caught Lex by the ankle, and yanked hard. Losing his balance, Lex went to his knees.
Chloe lifted the sword and struck him over the head with its pommel, as hard as she could.
Still kneeling, he swayed, then slowly collapsed to the ground.
Clark slowly, painfully levered himself up on his arms, and looked at the fallen prince. He offered Chloe a ghost of his old smile.
"You have many useful skills too, Chloe."
She beamed at the praise, and went to help him to his feet.
To their surprise, no alarm was raised. Chloe guessed the prince was trying to keep Level 3 a secret from all but his most trusted lieutenants, so as to avoid King Lionel learning about it. Probably he had come down to the dungeons through back passageways, without notifying his personal guards. The guards presumably still believed him to be sleeping in his bed.
Fifteen minutes later, the innocent prisoners had been released, and Clark had gotten them all out of the castle by the simple expedient of lifting each of them in his arms and speeding them past the guards. But since he could not carry twenty people from Smallville, horses would be necessary.
"Stealing horses is a hanging crime," he said nervously, studying the Prince's stables, which were filled with some of the best horseflesh in the kingdom. Prince Lex's weakness for fine horses was well-known.
"Staying here is a death sentence," Chloe replied tartly.
He nodded, conceding the point. "The problem," he said, "is that it's easy enough to steal horses... but the royal knights can follow us, and will almost certainly catch us, since many of our new friends are not experienced riders. I would prefer not to engage them in battle."
A young woman stepped forward from the group of released prisoners. She looked perhaps fifteen, with too-thin features and a dark tangle of hair.
"I may be able to help," she said, her voice soft and diffident. "My ability is to enchant animals. If I command the remaining horses not to follow us, nothing on Earth can compel them to leave their stalls until the enchantment wears off at the next sunset."
Clark smiled at her, and she blushed, somewhat to Chloe's amusement. "Very well," he said. "Let us pick out the best horses, and then you may work your magic on the rest."
They walked into the stable, leaving behind two of the group to watch for guards and to sound an alarm if necessary. Clark had knocked out every one of the knights he found on guard, but there was always a chance he had missed one, and he was taking no chances. There was a look of stern determination on his face that Chloe had never seen there before. He looked grimly determined to save these people.
In the stable, Chloe stood next to him and studied the tall, finely bred horses-- long-legged, sleek creatures, most over sixteen hands, and well-muscled. They were all beautiful specimens of horseflesh, and yet...
She recalled that they had left their own horses to the charge of the stable lad earlier this day. Looking around, she saw Beetle's red, shaggy head peering over one of the stall doors, and smiled sadly.
"I suppose I must leave Beetle behind," she said. "He would slow us down."
"Leave him to the Prince's tender mercies?" Clark answered, sounding horrified at the thought. "No, Chloe. Ride him. He is stout and brave-hearted and may yet serve you well. And moreover... he is yours."
She blinked against a sudden wetness in her eyes, and nodded.
"And where are we going?" she asked softly, as she began to saddle the pony. "Can we really leave Smallville behind, knowing what its people face now?"
"It is not just Smallville." Clark's face was grim as he saddled his own chestnut stallion. "It is the entire kingdom. Prince Lex and King Lionel will bring the kingdom to war, Chloe. We must try to avert that somehow."
He looked at her over the horse's back.
"I have no idea," he said. "But we must try."
"Yes," she agreed softly. "Perhaps if we speak to King Lionel..."
"Yes. Perhaps we can make him see reason. At any rate, we must get these people to safety first. We cannot allow them to become pawns in a war. After everything they have suffered, they deserve peace."
She looked over the sorry band of thin, ragged people. They all looked physically shattered, hungry and exhausted and ill, and yet a light of determination burned in their eyes. A light of hope.
She and Clark, she realized with a spark of pride, had given them hope. And now it was up to the two of them to get these people to safety.
And after that, they would do their best to save the entire kingdom.
She looked over at Clark, and saw the darkness in his green eyes, visible even behind the spectacles he still wore. "Clark," she said hesitantly. "About Lana... I am so sorry..."
He shook his head. "I already knew she would betray me, Chloe. The proof of something I already know should not grieve me so."
"But it does."
"Perhaps I grieve for the loss of what I once imagined," he said, shrugging a big shoulder. "But I expected no better from her. I now realize that I knew her not at all, that I loved an image in my head, rather than the woman herself. But you-- I know you better than myself, Chloe, and I now understand she is not fit to touch the hem of your gown."
She blinked against a sudden rush of tears. She wanted to speak, but could not trust her voice. Clark went on.
"I know that you would never do such a thing, Chloe. I know that I can trust you with my life, now and always."
The words now and always rang in her ears, and she knew then that she would never leave him. Whether as his wife, or only as his friend, she would never leave his side.
She led Beetle out into the night, still blinking hard. With an effort, she found her voice.
"I would die before I would betray you, Clark."
He swung up on his own stallion. "I know that," he said softly. "Believe me, I know."
She swung up on Beetle and looked behind her, making certain that all of Lex's former prisoners had mounted as well. It was, she thought, a formidable responsibility to have twenty people depending on the two of them to get them out of danger. In a way, she wished for the old simplicity of her former life, when her greatest responsibilities had been to clean and dust and wash.
At the thought, she glanced to her left, seeing the fields of Smallcroft below, lit by the half moon. Sorrow rose up in her at the certain knowledge that they must leave Smallcroft forever. This was her home, the only home she had ever known.
But it could be her home no longer. And she could bear that loss, because her true home was wherever Clark was. She knew that now.
She squared her shoulders, and looked over at Clark.
"Come, Clark. Let us leave this place."
He gazed at her for a long moment. At last he spoke.
"As you wish," he said, and kicked his horse into a trot.
From the journals of Chloe Sullivan:
The farmboy and the servant maid rode to freedom, a ragtag band of "freaks" behind them. As dawn arose, the maid and the farmboy looked at each other, and knew that for now, they were safe. A wave of love broke over them. And as they reached for each other...
Well, in a fairy tale, the two of them would share the most passionate, the most pure, the most glorious kiss since the invention of the kiss. But this was all very new to both of them. Moreover, the farmboy was still reeling from Lana's betrayals, and both of them were grieving for the loss of their home.
At any rate, their strange new feelings were not as important as the fact that they had innocents to get to safety, not to mention a world to save from two rulers who seemed to be amassing deadly armies in expectation of a great war.
This, the servant maid, wasn't the end of the story. It was the beginning. She knew with sorrow that she might never see Smallcroft again.
But the great towers of Metropolis awaited them both.
And so, as the golden dawn broke, the farmboy and the maid looked at each other. Slowly, he reached out and took her hand in his, and then bent toward her and brushed a kiss over her cheek.
It was, the maid thought, the perfect way to start a new day.
And a new life.