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The Frozen Plains of Antiquity

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Schala fell to her knees, failing to bite back sobs. How could she have done it? Was she really so weak that she'd bow before the Prophet? Tears splashed on the cold dirt of the cave floor.

A part of her knew full well fighting wouldn't have gotten her anywhere. The strangers were too weak from their long imprisonment to help, the guards would have heard the commotion, Janus and Alfador would've gotten caught in the middle. There was no good result.

But - but still-!

Schala settled herself back and slowly wiped the tears from her eyes. It was too late now; the Prophet had added his own spell so she couldn't remove the lock as soon as his back was turned, but she could've jumped in the strange blue circle after the strangers. Perhaps on their home ground the strangers could've summoned their allies to fight with them, and then...

...but she couldn't risk the trip being permanent. Janus wouldn't survive without her protection - if their mother remembered he existed he'd be banished for lack of magical ability before the sun set.

It always came back to that, didn't it? She had to be the good elder sister and protect her brother. She had to be the good princess and serve her kingdom. She had to be the good daughter and obey her mother.

Her hands clenched in her skirts. Schala was, honestly, fed up with being good.

It was all the Prophet's fault. He had suggested putting the Mammon Machine nearer to Lavos. He had gotten the Gurus banished. He had seduced the Queen further and further into madness. He had taken the strangers hostage. He had forced her to exile them against her will.

If only he was gone, then-!

The strangers were back where they had come from. Janus was safe up in Zeal. The only people on the snowfield were her and the Prophet.

Schala rose to her feet, feeling strangely empty and yet filled with purpose. The Prophet stood a little ways outside the cave, as if waiting for her. His back was turned, cloak and hood merging into a single silhouette against the snow.

The hood shifted as Schala stepped out of the cave. "Finished, Princess?" he asked, as if she had been eating dinner in there.

She watched him in silence, steeling herself, and then called out to heaven.

The lightning came down in wild, dancing streaks that split the snow into blinding white and blackest shadow. It arced through the air, crawled along the ground, and wrapped around the Prophet in blazing chains. He jerked back, stumbled, and finally, with a strange, unfamiliar gesture, called forth a barrier to absorb the lightning.

For a long moment they watched each other, the only sounds between them the howling wind and the whistle of breath between the Prophet's gritted teeth.

Still feeling oddly empty, Schala analyzed the barrier. It was of no familiar form - practiced, but with an odd lack of finesse. The Prophet was certainly strong in magic, but he seemed to lack a proper education. No matter. The weak point of the barrier was fire. She raised her hands again.

"Princess-!" The Prophet held out his hand, and it was engulfed in flames. He flung himself backward, falling into the hissing and melting snow, and Schala paced forward to match him. He scrambled to change his barrier - the new weak point was shadow, always Schala's worst element - and then waited there, panting.

His hood had fallen back in the struggle. It was the first time Schala had ever seen his face. He looked strange and inhuman, with dead white skin and blood red eyes, but there was something...something odd about his expression. Surprise, confusion...fear? He was afraid?

She dropped her hands. Had he been angry, or determined, she could've kept fighting. If he had been willing to fight, then... Schala wasn't one for bold tales of death-duels in the snow, but there was a certain romantic appeal to bringing down the evil power behind the throne no matter what the cost. But she had never been able to handle people being afraid of her. Not Zealians, not the Earthbound, and, apparently, not even the Prophet.

In that instant she hated him more than she ever had, for finding the one thing that could force her to stop.

"Leave!" she screamed instead, forcing all her misery and rage into her voice instead of her spells. "Go back to where you came from! Never step foot on Zeal again!"

His face twisted. "I cannot do that, Princess. A thousand pardons." There was definite sarcasm in his voice.

Schala clenched her hands again and brought the words for summoning a black hole to mind. The Prophet, perhaps sensing her intention, dragged himself to his feet and managed to, for a brief moment, look genuinely apologetic. It made him seem upsettingly human. "I can only say that what I do, I do with the intention of ridding Zeal of its misfortune."

"The misfortune you brought it?" Schala felt tears sting at the corners of her eyes and blinked them away. Without anger to sustain her it took all she had to resist the urge to apologize. "If you had never come, then-"

"Then the Ocean Palace would still have been built, under the careful and loving supervision of the Gurus." His mouth twisted in an ironic smile. "Perhaps you should be glad they were exiled, Princess. They won't suffer the fate you seem to fear so much."

Do you expect me to believe that? Schala snapped inside her heart, but held it there out of long habit. It was always like that. She tried to rebel, to fight, to change the future, but she was the one that never changed. She always went back to being a good princess, a good sister, a good girl.

She turned away, tired of the game, and started the long walk back to the Skyway. "Say as you will. I command you, as Princess of Zeal, to go back to your home and stay there."

"Unfortunately, my home is Zeal." The Prophet fell into step behind her. She glanced back, once, caught a glimpse of burned and blistered hands, and focused forward to avoid being sick.

"Whatever cave you lived in before the Palace, then."

"It's gone. And say as you will, Princess, but I was given my place by the Queen. You have no right to command me, and I suggest you do not continue to try."

She turned on him, willing her anger to return and dismayed to find out that she could only feel tired and hurt. "Or what? There's no one to hide behind here, Prophet. Do you want me to..." She couldn't finish the threat. She was so tired.

His hood was back up, and from under it he gazed at her without flinching. "Or you will find a darker future than you could possibly imagine." He spoke with such terrifying conviction that, for a moment, she believed him.

Only for a moment. She was not her mother, to be deceived so easily. She tossed her head and turned, walking quickly, as if she could outrun all her troubles.

Behind her, the Prophet kept his steady pace through the snow.