A/N: This story is the sequel to "The Long Journey Home". This story begins six months after the ending of "The Long Journey Home".
**Telepathic Conversations will be in italics and enclosed in brackets [...] **
"There will be war - it's now or never.
We shall stand together, one by one.
This world is sacred."
The light streaming through the window of their cabin woke Lizzie. She stretched, trying not to wake the man sleeping next to her, enjoying his warmth.
It had been almost six months since she had returned to Underland from her world, and it had been the best six months Lizzie had ever known. They had completed the rebuilding of Fred's cabin (with the help of a few builders which Mirana had insisted on providing), and ever since, they had been blissfully on their own, half a world away from the daily grind of the castle.
Fred claimed it was an exact replica, but Lizzie doubted his former dwelling had sported a solar-powered pump for running water or a hot shower. He had sneaked 'Above' to get supplies, enduring her endless teasing that he'd gotten soft in all his time as an imaginary friend.
She'd had no interest in going back to her world with him. The memories of what her mother had done to her had never returned, but the thought of going back gave her chills and made her slightly nauseous.
She rolled over with a sigh, knowing she needed to wake him up. He was supposed to meet Tarrant at Marmoreal later to discuss a sentry sent to keep watch over Iracebeth who had gone missing.
She watched his chest rise and fall with his breathing, then ran her fingers through her husband's short, spiky, red hair. He yawned and tightened his arm around her, still half asleep. She brushed her hand lightly across his cheek and smiled, remembering his years as Drop Dead Fred.
Through the connection of their promise rings, she spoke into his mind: ["Fred...wake up..."]
["I've been awake."]
"You have not, you were snoring not thirty seconds ago."
He opened his eyes and raised himself up on his elbow, grinning down at her. "I was just faking."
She snorted. "You're such a horrible liar."
He finally woke up enough to take in that she was wearing his shirt. "What've ya' got on under that shirt?"
"Why don't ya' find out for yourself."
["You're so naughty...I'm supposed to get up and meet Tarrant."]
["That's not until later."]
A loud pounding at the cabin door made them both jump.
"Somebody better be dyin'," muttered Fred as Lizzie let him up.
He threw on some clean clothes then closed the bedroom door discretely behind him. Tarrant was the only other one besides himself and Lizzie who could see the magic doors, and if he had come that way instead of waiting a couple hours for him to arrive at Marmoreal, something wasn't right.
"What's goin' on?" he asked, holding the door open for his brother.
Tarrant entered and shook his head. "A second one's disappeared."
"A second what – another sentry?"
Mirana had posted sentries in the Outlands to keep tabs on Iracebeth while she was in exile. A week ago, a sentry had disappeared without a trace. He had been an experienced soldier, trusted and capable. They had kept the loss secret for fear people would jump to conclusions about Iracebeth. Accidents happened, especially in the rugged terrain of the Outlands. He could have been killed by an animal or had an accident or something.
"Aye. And no trace again, either. They need you at Marmoreal. There's a council been set up to discuss the matter."
Fred groaned as he laced his boots. "Can't you just go and set in on it and tell me what happens? You know I'm not the diplomat of the family."
"That's just tough. Mirana asked for you."
"Bloody hell. Give me a minute." He walked back to the bedroom door, knocking before he entered. Lizzie was dressed, making the bed.
She looked up at him, worried. "I heard," she said. "Go ahead, I'll stay here. Let me know what happens."
"I will." He gave her a quick kiss and turned out of the room. He followed his brother out of the cabin and through the doors that would lead to the castle.
Fred and Lizzie had spent countless hours searching the land around the cabin for another door. It made sense to Fred that since some doors had other doors very close by them, so you didn't have far to walk to get somewhere, there had to be several that he'd missed. He'd reasoned that the one in northern Witzend should have a companion door nearby.
It was Lizzie who finally found it, hidden in the side of a cliff, blending in so perfectly with it's surroundings he was still amazed she'd seen it. Opening it up was like Christmas morning, and they had walked through it into the field of gowen in Snud, close to the door they'd come through on their trip from the Crystal Cavern to Marmoreal.
It cut the trip to Marmoreal from four hours to less than one – and that was if you weren't in a hurry.
The scene outside the castle of the White Queen reminded Fred of a carnival, only no one was there to have any fun. There were creatures and people there from all parts of Underland – small and large. Some he recognized by their colors as Outlandish clansmen. He'd never associated with them - they kept to themselves and he had never had an interest in meeting them (or anyone else) when he'd been living in the Outlands.
He thought the whole affair was a bit over zealous – just because two sentries disappeared didn't mean Iracebeth had anything to do with it, and if she had he didn't know why the entire world had to be involved. Just run her through and be done with it. A courtier saw him and hurried over.
"Sir, the Queen has been waiting for you in the council chamber. Shall I escort you?"
He resisted the urge to tell him to 'piss off' "No, I know where it is."
He made his way into the castle, not caring one bit for the stares and whispers he caught as he passed. It had been so long since he'd played the role of royal advisor...or royal guinea pig...that he wasn't sure how clear a read he'd be able to get of the visitors anyway.
He stopped and turned around, taking a detour before going to meet Mirana. He'd avoided reading others thoughts, save Lizzie's, for so long that he needed to make sure he even still could. The Great Hall was packed with those from far and wide. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, reaching out with his mind.
Like tendrils of smoke, his consciousness weaved through the crowd, searching catching here and there on stronger emotions and then skipping off again, like a rock over a glassy pond. He sensed a great deal of fear, most of these people were farmers from small settlements who remembered the vicious slavery they had endured at the hands of Iracebeth.
He opened his eyes and passed through the crowd faster, concentrating, trying to pick up any individual thoughts. One man was worried about his sick daughter.
He walked on, passing a group of men in Outlandish clothing talking quietly amongst themselves. The leader of the group was a huge man, nearly three times the size of Fred, over seven feet tall with wavy, shoulder length black hair and a wide girth. Over his back was draped a dark cloak with shoulders covered by feathers as black as night. His complexion was deeply tanned and ruddy, with a mustache and short but unkempt beard.
A vision shot through Freddie's mind – a bloodied hand with a knife, and a corpse, its eyes pale, its skin the skin of the dead - thick and white. He could hear the flesh ripping as the serrated blade cut through it. The air was thick with the stench of rot and decay.
Fred stumbled, but caught himself before he attracted much attention. The man turned around, fastening hard eyes on him, and he knew this was the man with the knife in his vision. Fred turned quickly and left the room.
He entered the council chamber, relieved to see only Mirana and Tarrant.
"You look like you saw a ghost, little brother."
He could tell Tarrant's stress level simply by the thickness of his accent. "I did," he said. "Who is the Outlander? The big one. I had a vision of him. Who is he?"
"He is Remenhal of Northern Outland," said Mirana. "He commands the clans there."
"He's a murderer."
Mirana gave him a long look. "That may be, but we have no say over their laws or customs."
Fred shook his head slowly. "I saw him desecrating a corpse. He's dealing in something worse than an unpaid parking ticket, Miri."
There was a time when Mirana might have dismissed Fred's visions as imagination or simply being mistaken. That time had ended 16 years ago with the slaughter of the clans of Iplam and Witzend. He had warned them – had warned them all, but none of them had listened. Now he was having visions again, well trained sentries were missing, and they were blind to Iracebeth and had been for over two weeks.
"I don't know, Freddie," she said, honestly, "I don't know what it means or what to tell you. He's part of the council, we can't leave him out. The Outlandish clans trust us about as much as we trust them, which isn't much at all, but we need them here to deal with matters across the mountains."
He raked his hand though his hair, frustrated. "I don't even know why we're calling everyone in Underland together. What is this really all about? If this is some diplomatic crap, you can count me out. If Iracebeth's giving us problems, we should just go take care of her once and for all and be done with her."
The words were out of his mouth before he even considered how it might sound to someone who had no idea of the history between himself and Iracebeth. Mirana glared at him and he felt her anger and confusion. "I'm sorry, Miri... that was thoughtless of me."
"There was a time you considered her a friend."
"Yes...there was," he answered, softly.
"This isn't a political game, Freddie. If Iracebeth is raising an army, no one is safe. Northern Outland is where the last sentry placed Iracebeth three weeks ago. If she's gathering the clans there, it's best to keep Remenhal here where we can watch him."
"You mean where I can watch him," he muttered.
"For now, perhaps. I'm sorry," she said, gently. "I know my parents made you bitter about using your gift, but we each have a role to play. You're the only one who can do what you do."
He said nothing for a moment, considering. Finally he looked at her, determination set on his face. "For Underland."
"For Underland," she agreed.
"Aye," said Tarrant, "for Underland."