“No! Rapunzel!” Varian called desperately as he watched the crippled airship carrying the Princess float away from him, hearing his own voice crack. His mind spun, an effect of both the dizziness from being twirled down Rapunzel’s hair and the swirling confusion her words and actions had left Varian in. Why had she dropped him from the ship? It wasn’t supposed to be like this- he was trying to fix everything, this was his fault, why didn’t she just let him save everyone?
After staring in disbelief at the retreating airship for a few moments, Varian realized that just watching would not help Rapunzel nor grant him the answers that he wanted to demand. He glanced fervently about his surroundings, registering that he was standing on a rooftop somewhere near the center of the city, and stumbled back in alarm when he noticed that his feet were mere inches from the edge of the roof. He grabbed the chimney of whatever building he was on top of to steady himself, then, once he’d recovered his bearings, shuffled carefully back to the edge to peer down; it only looked like one story, thankfully.
Varian reached into his alchemy belt and withdrew a small orange sphere, inspecting it carefully in the dim moonlight to make sure that it was what he needed, then hurled it down at the cobbled street adjacent to the building whose roof he occupied. It erupted on impact into a large gelatinous pile of goo, just what Varian wanted, and he slid down the roof onto it, the soft material cushioning his fall. He didn’t even stop to clean up the mess with his neutralizing compound like he usually did, immediately hopping down and stumbling off in the direction that he’d seen the airship headed. He could still spot it between the rooftops as he ran, and was both relieved and dismayed that he could still see Rapunzel’s long hair trailing behind the ship; on the one hand, that meant that she was still okay, but on the other hand, she was still on the ship. Which was going to explode. “Rapunzel!” he practically screamed once more as he rounded a corner, despite knowing that there was no way she could hear him. Come on, get out of there! The Quirineon doesn’t need you to wat-
Suddenly, Varian felt his foot catch on something; a loose stone in the road. He was sent sprawling forward, and he gasped when his left wrist struck the ground awkwardly, pain shooting up his arm momentarily. He didn’t take the time to stop to make sure that he wasn’t seriously injured, however, scrambling to his feet and taking off after the airship again.
Maybe if he could catch up, he could make some sort of cushion for Rapunzel to fall on like he just had getting down from the roof- but that was only if he could catch up. His heart sank as he realized that he was probably at least a quarter mile away from the Princess already with the distance between them only increasing; he simply wouldn’t be able to make it. Even so, he kept running, hoping nonsensically that the ship would slow down enough for him to catch up. It did look like it was rising, so the Quirineon idea was working, but its horizontal velocity remained stubbornly the same, to Varian's chagrin.
After another two minutes or so of chasing the ship at top speed, Varian could feel his body already beginning to give out; he had never been athletic, and the fact that he was wearing his heavy alchemist’s garb didn’t help. What had made him think that an ankle-length coat was a good idea? His legs and lungs were burning, his breaths tearing at his throat painfully, and he knew that he wouldn’t be able to run for very much longer, most certainly not at a sprint like he was currently running.
So, he slowed, consigning himself to the fact that he just had to let Rapunzel save herself; there was nothing he could do, no matter how terribly he wished that he could take her place. How could she just sacrifice herself for him like that? What did she mean, her hair would protect her? He knew the stuff was unbreakable and non-flammable, but the strands were small. Even if she could somehow wrap herself in it, which would be difficult with the wind conditions up by the airship, there was no guarantee that she would be able to enclose every inch of her body, not to mention the fact that falling from that height should the ship explode would create enough impact to shatter every bone in her body, with or without the hair. Her only hope was to get down immediately, maybe if she roped herself with her hair to the approaching tower-
Approaching tower? Varian gasped in horror when he realized that the ship was headed straight for one of the towers of the palace; if its course didn't change, it would make impact, which could potentially cause the Quirineon to explode. Rapunzel, no! Varian ran forward a few meters fruitlessly, extending his arm out towards the ship and Rapunzel, as if that would somehow help the Princess avoid the impending disaster, but, of course, there was no effect. After a few seconds, the stern collided with the top of the tower, causing Varian to jump, clapping his hands to his mouth. He gasped again as the prow of the ship burst into green flames; the Quirineon must have spilled. If an explosion hadn’t been inevitable before, it definitely was now. He saw Rapunzel climb up the balloon around to the other side, leaving Varian's field of vision.
Varian dropped to his knees in despair, his eyes glued to the green glow of the burning ship. The ship had passed the tower; Rapunzel's only chance now was to jump down and hope that she could land on something soft, there were trees, right? A pond? There had to be something-
The ship exploded.
Varian stared numbly at the green haze hovering above the city where the ship and Rapunzel had just been for a moment before letting out a cry of anguish. "No! NO!"
It wasn't supposed to be like this. It should've been Varian, Quirineon was his chemical. Rapunzel didn't deserve to die, even if she'd broken her promise to Varian back when he needed her. This wasn't fair.
Varian squeezed his eyes shut against the tears welling up in them, covering his face in his hands. Rapunzel was dead. It was his fault. It was always his fault, wasn't it? Everything was. As much as he'd blamed Rapunzel for his father's encasement, it was him who'd been messing with the rocks in the first place. Rapunzel wouldn't have even needed to be up on that ship if Varian hadn't helped the Saporians take over Corona.
Varian collapsed to his hands and knees, bowing his head as he fought to keep himself from all-out bawling- even if Rapunzel didn't hold anything against him anymore, he couldn't say the same for the people of Corona, not the mention the Saporians; he didn't know what they would do to him if they found him alone and vulnerable like this, so it was necessary that he be quiet. A few strangled sobs escaped his lips, and gods, he couldn't believe he was crying about Rapunzel. A year ago, he would have been happy if she'd died; he'd even tried to end her life himself. Now, though, he would've given almost anything to get her back; wasn't that ironic?
I never even got to really apologize, he thought wildly. After everything he'd done to Rapunzel, everything he'd put her through, he should have at least told her he was sorry. He was pretty sure she knew that he regretted what he'd done- she wouldn't have brought him aboard the airship or sacrificed herself to save him if she hadn't- but it wasn't the same as actually saying the words.
"I'm sorry, R-Rapunzel, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't m-mean for it to be l-like this, please, I mean it, I'm so-o-orry! I'm sorry!" he stammered through his tears, wondering why he was even saying it. Rapunzel was dead; there was no way she could hear him. Despite that, he continued to blubber, "I-it was supposed to- It was s-supposed to be me, Rapunzel! Me! You were- y- I'm sorry, it's all my fault, p-please, why'd you- Why?! W-why, Rapunze-zel? P-P-Princess!" He could hear his words becoming less and less coherent as they dissolved into his sobs, and soon enough, he found that he was unable to form words at all, unable to do anything except keep himself from wailing by clenching his teeth together and squeezing his eyes shut. His body spasmed with each repressed sob, tears streaming out of his eyes and dripping onto the cobbled street beneath him. A small part of him wondered why he was even bothering to try to stay undetected; if someone found him, be it a Coronan or a Saporian, wouldn't that just serve him right? He deserved to get thrown back in jail, or beat up, or even executed- after everything he'd done, death seemed like a suitable punishment. But the rest of what remained rational in him reminded him that Rapunzel had sacrificed herself to save his life- that meant that she saw some value there. He wasn't about to let her death be in vain by giving himself up.
He needed to get off of this road; it was too wide, he was too visible. Even though he was trying his best to make as little noise as possible, his stifled gasps were still echoing about the space, the sound amplified by the hard stone surfaces of the road and buildings nearby- it would be too easy for someone to hear him if he remained there.
So, he brought himself to his feet shakily, rubbing at his eyes with his gloved hands. He hated these stupid gloves. They were more functional than his old black ones, but the only reason that he was wearing them was because Andrew had wanted him to look 'more Saporian,' and honestly, Andrew kind of sucked. He was way too full of himself for Varian to take him seriously, and his attitude towards violence didn't align with Varian's own more peaceful ideals. That, and the guy had just dangled Varian over the side of an airship with the full intention of murdering him, so that didn't help his image at all. Varian did like the outfit that Andrew had him wear; after all, Varian was the one who'd designed it and made it, but it was tainted too much in villainy for it to please him with its aesthetic anymore.
Rubbing at his eyes didn't really serve to do anything, so Varian was forced to scan the area through a veil of tears. He spotted an alleyway between a couple of buildings and made his way over to it, walking a few feet into it before leaning back against a wall and sliding down it.
What was he supposed to do now? Where could he go? Even though there was no longer the threat of the city getting blown up, the Saporians still had the king and queen under their thumbs with the Wand of Oblivium; even if Eugene, the horse, and that other man Varian didn't know the name of had managed to save them, they didn't know how to restore their memories. No one did. Varian doubted that Eugene and his friend would be able to convince the king and queen that they were being used, not after the lies they'd been fed and the trust they'd formed with the Saporians. With Rapunzel gone, Corona was practically in the Saporian's hands again. If that was the case, Varian couldn't stay in Corona; like Andrew said, traitors to Saporia paid with their lives.
Varian drew his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, resting his forehead on them. Could he find Eugene, maybe? If he could make it to him and the king and queen before the Saporians, perhaps he could convince them that the Saporians were treasonous or something. He was now their most trusted advisor, after all. But where were they? The 'outskirts of Corona' wasn't very specific.
Varian sniffed; he didn't want to have to leave Corona. It was where he'd grown up. It was all he'd ever known. Not to mention the fact that his dad was still here- His dad. Varian's mind snapped in on itself- Rapunzel was dead. She was the only thing that could possibly save his dad. She was gone, and it was Varian's fault, and he was never getting his dad back, he was never going to get a happy ending, everything was utterly ruined, why was it always like this?
Varian couldn't help himself; he started to bawl like a child, not even bothering to check himself and stay quiet. He wasn't getting his dad back. He wasn't getting Rapunzel back. He didn't even have Ruddiger, who'd refused to stick by Varian's side after he'd joined the Saporians. There were no sane people left who actually cared about Varian, no one left who was truly his friend. Who cared if Rapunzel thought there was something redeemable still in him? There wasn't. He'd brought all this down upon himself; he had no one else to blame.
He wailed into his knees, the sound punctuated by shuddering gasps as his entire body shook violently. He didn't try to say anything this time, just let the despair and grief shatter his composure and pour out of him in a torrent of tears and broken cries. He couldn't even say that it was helping to cry, but he couldn't stop.
He stayed like that for several minutes before he heard a voice echoing over the rooftops.
Varian froze mid-sob. That was Rapunzel's voice. How? Impossible. He'd seen the ship blow up with her still on it. He must've been hearing things. Maybe he was finally going insane.
"Varian, we can hear you! Where are you?"
That was Eugene's voice, the words called from some distance away. What? Varian lifted his head, his cheeks sticky with tears. Could it be? Did Rapunzel somehow survive?
"Varian!" Rapunzel's voice called again. "Are you okay? Please answer!"
"R-Rapunzel?" Varian breathed, too quietly. He tried again, bringing himself to his feet. "Rapunzel!" He staggered out of the alley back to the wider street, one hand on the wall for support.
There she was, against all odds, a few dozen meters down the street, with Eugene by her side. She turned at the sound of Varian's voice, meeting his eyes before giving him a wide smile. "Varian!"
He stared in amazement for a moment before exclaiming maniacally, "Rapunzel!" and breaking into sprint to meet her. He threw himself onto her, causing her to make a noise of surprise, and embraced her tightly, pressing his face into her shoulder.
"Oh, Rapunzel! You- you're okay! I-I-I thought you were dead! The- the ship- It exploded- How did you- how'd you survive?" It sounded like he was laughing and crying at the same time. "R-Rapunzel! Oh, I'm so glad you're alive!"
Rapunzel chuckled gently and returned Varian's embrace. "I told you, I have a shield of magical hair."
"I don't know what you mean by that, but oh, you're alive, I thought I'd killed you, it was my fault, I'm so sorry, Rapunzel," Varian babbled. "Not just- not just for that, for everything, I know you didn't mean to break your promise now, I did so many bad things, I'm really, really sorry-" Aaaaand he was crying again. How becoming.
"Hey, it's okay." Rapunzel patted Varian's back comfortingly, leaning tighter into the hug. "I know you're sorry. I'm sorry, too, that I wasn't able to help you in the storm and that I didn't give you a second chance until now. But we're gonna fix everything, okay?"
Varian nodded into her shoulder, making a small noise of agreement. Wow, he was shaking.
"Varian, it's okay. I'm right here," Rapunzel whispered softly. "I'm fine. You're fine. Everybody's fine. The people of Corona locked up the Saporians, Eugene and Lance saved my mom and dad, it's all going to be alright."
Varian took a deep, shuddering breath, letting it out slowly as he drew away from Rapunzel. "Yeah. O-okay."
Rapunzel smiled warmly at him before releasing him, taking a step back.
Eugene stepped forward, putting his hand on Rapunzel's shoulder and offering both Varian and the Princess a smile. "Alright, now that we've found our alchemist here, I'm going to head out to the castle to help organize everybody. You can take of… the thing."
Rapunzel pressed a brief kiss to Eugene's lips. "Okay. It hopefully shouldn't take too long. See you."
"See you." Eugene walked off in the direction of the palace.
Varian watched him leave momentarily before turning back to Rapunzel. "Take care of what thing?"
Rapunzel took a deep breath. "I still need to keep my promise to you, Varian. I have to save your dad."
Varian furrowed his brow in confusion. "Save my da- But we already tried to use your hair, remember? It didn't work."
"Using it as a drill didn't work, but there's a possibility that something else might."
Varian's heart skipped a beat. "What do you mean?"
"While I was following the path that the black rocks laid out for me, I found this incantation." Rapunzel reached into her bag and drew out a rolled-up piece of parchment, unfurling it and handing it to Varian.
Varian recognized the old language on the parchment as the same one on the scroll piece that he'd found in that weird chest that'd shown up in his house right after his dad got encased, but his attention was caught by the translation provided next to the foreign characters. He read aloud, "'Wither and decay, end this destiny'… Rapunzel, this looks dangerous! What makes you think it could help my dad?"
Rapunzel sighed, taking the piece of parchment back and putting it back in her bag. "I don't know. I just have faith, I guess." She smiled. "And it couldn't hurt to at least try, right?"
Varian swallowed; judging by the words of the incantation, he felt that it could very much hurt. What did it do? It sounded like it killed things. What if it killed his dad? "I-I don't know, Rapunzel…"
Rapunzel surprised him by grasping his hands and raising them in between them, her eyes wide and pleading. "Please, Varian, let me try. I've just… I've got this good feeling about it, okay? Trust me on this."
Varian opened and closed his mouth a few times wordlessly before conceding, "Uh, alright…?" Oh, it was so not fair for her to ask him to trust her. Not after that touching discussion about trust they'd had in the dungeons.
Rapunzel beamed. "Great! C'mon, let's head out to Old Corona!" She turned and began walking off in the direction of the bridge off the island.
"Um, wouldn't- I don't know- shouldn't we grab a horse or something? We could get there faster…"
Rapunzel spun around, still smiling. "Ha, you're absolutely right! Sorry, it's been a long day!"
Varian nodded slowly. "Yeah…"
Rapunzel grabbed his hand and pulled him along as she broke into a run in the direction of the castle, causing him to yelp in surprise and nearly trip. "Hey, Eugene, wait up! We're coming to the castle, too!"
Eugene turned around as they approached, his lips pursed in surprise. "Oh? Why?"
"Need a horse!" Rapunzel said cheerfully, slowing to a brisk walk beside her boyfriend.
Eugene laughed. "Oh, well, that makes sense." He glanced at Varian, his eyes soft. "You look worried, kid. You shouldn't be. Sunshine here knows what she's doing. You can have faith in her."
Rapunzel nodded. "Yeah. It's all going to be fine, Varian. I promise. I mean it this time."
Varian was pretty sure she'd meant it before, when she'd broken her original promise, but the conviction in her tone was enough for him to overlook that. Allowing just the smallest amount of hope to well in his heart, he said quietly, "I believe you."
Perhaps it all was going to be fine, after all.