Delilah couldn’t believe what she’d discovered.
“But if the White Whale is a Summon…” she started, staring up at Alice in disbelief, “then… but I don’t… I don’t understand. How? She’s gigantic, and she doesn’t seem to have her Summoner anywhere, does she?”
“She’s tried to explain it to me a few times,” Alice said. “I don’t know the whole story, but I think she’s a Summon that was called by multiple mages. Same with the Doomed Beast.”
“That’s possible?” Delilah asked.
Alice shrugged. “A single Summoner can have multiple Summons. Why shouldn’t it work the other way around?” She shoved her hands in her pockets, looking off into the distance. Her eyes flickered from white to black and then back again. “She and the Doomed Beast are both special, though I couldn’t figure out why. It’s like they were called for purposes way bigger than just to be someone’s Summon, so even after their Summoners died, they still live, and they don’t lose their minds or anything, either.” Alice smirked. “They don’t even seem upset about not having their Summoners anymore. They care more about each other than about humans – whoa!”
The White Whale had trembled at the end of Alice’s statement, knocking Alice off balance. Before she could fall flat on her rear, though, Adelaide was there to catch her.
“I don’t think she likes you very much,” Adelaide said, clearly trying – and failing – to suppress a smile.
“Yeah, yeah, be as smug as you want,” Alice said, standing back up and glaring down at the White Whale’s back. “You didn’t have to be so rude, you know. If you have an objection, say it normally, don’t go knocking me around.”
Delilah knelt, listening to and feeling the White Whale’s song. “The purpose she was called to…” she said, looking up through the mist, as if she could see up through the roof of the White Whale’s prison, out to the sky, out to the moon, “it means a lot to her.”
“So you’re gonna free her, right?” Adelaide asked. “Is there any way we can help?”
“Do you even know how to free her?” Alice asked, looking around at the many tendrils that snaked from the White Whale’s body to the massive grey posts. “And once she’s free, then what? Grimoire’s still in trouble unless we stop the Doomed Beast.”
“We don’t stop him,” Delilah said, smiling. “We save him. We save them both and reunite them, so they can be what they’re meant to be.”
“You’re unbelievably idealistic,” Alice said, raising an eyebrow. “Well? Where do we start?”
“You’ll help me?” Delilah asked.
Alice nodded, smirking. “Why not? I’ll get to see and experience something brand new. It’ll be fun.”
Delilah smiled at the swell of gratitude that rolled from the White Whale, and stood up. “Okay, we need to start with these tendrils,” she said, looking around the prison. “They’re part of her body, aren’t they?”
Alice nodded with an “mhmm.”
“And we need to get them off of those posts, right?” Adelaide asked.
“Yeah,” Delilah said with a nod. “So I suppose we need to go up from here. But… I don’t see any platforms or stairs leading to the bottoms, where the tendrils connect. So what do we do?”
“I can handle that,” Alice said. “Or rather, Rabanastre can.” The earrings on her exposed left ear flashed with light, and a Summon burst forth into being.
Rabanastre was a giant white rabbit. He stood on two legs, with his front legs transformed into human-like arms taut with muscle. A dapper waistcoat covered his torso, while loose, poofy pants covered his legs. His ears were long, hanging halfway down his back, and his face unnerved Delilah, with a gleam to his eyes and an edge to his expression that suggested he wasn’t a very nice rabbit.
He also towered over the girls, who were all within an inch or two of each other in height. Rabanastre stood twice as tall as them, and seemed to glower down at them.
“No need to be so grumpy, Rabanastre,” Alice said, stepping forward and wrapping her arms around one of his, looking up at him with adoring eyes. “You’ve got a job to do, a job only you can do. We’re gonna set the White Whale free.”
Rabanastre looked down at Alice, and his expression softened the tiniest bit. He nodded.
“You really think this is okay?” Adelaide asked, her voice trembling as she stared at Rabanastre. “I mean… because he’s… you know…”
“How rude, sister,” Alice said, frowning at Adelaide. “You talked all high and mighty on the way here about saving me from myself or whatever. Well, if you want me as your loving sister, you have to want Rabanastre, too. A Summoner and her Summon are a package deal, you know.”
“But I…” Adelaide started. She was silent for a moment, and then her expression changed to one of shaky, forced determination. “Fine. Right. I’ll do my best for both of you.”
Alice laughed. “Oh, that’s the spirit! You’re not as fun as Duo was, but you’re not as bad as I expected, either. Maybe there’s hope for your crazy quest.” She let go of Rabanastre and looked up and around at the different posts that the tendrils connected to. “I don’t think we can see them all here. We’ll have to go through the mist to find them all. But don’t worry, Rabanastre can carry us just fine.”
“He can fly?” Adelaide asked.
“Of course he can fly,” Alice said with a smirk. “All rabbits can fly. Didn’t you know that?”
“I’ve never seen a rabbit fly!” Adelaide replied excitedly, staring at her sister with wide-eyed wonderment.
“Oh,” Delilah said, pulling the sisters’ attention to her. “If we need to fly, I can do that myself.” She pulled out her keychain Talisman and formed a wide Mobility platform which she stepped onto. “If we split up, we can get more accomplished, right?”
“We might want to look at the first tendril together,” Alice said. “But once we know how to free them, yeah.”
“Hey, hey,” Adelaide said, pointing at Delilah. “You’re a Summoner too, right? Where are your Summons?”
“Ooh, I wanna see them, too,” Alice said, her black eyes glittering.
Delilah smiled, and with a flash of light, all four of her Felines burst into being. Nekoma stood behind her, a comforting presence in her heavy armor. Felix and Redmond stood on either side, eyes alert. Reginald Feline Meowmont III stood in front of her, the littlest Feline, so that she could see the sisters and they could see her.
Alice’s eyebrows lifted as if she was impressed. Adelaide’s face lit up so much she could have been a Christmas tree, and for several moments Delilah wondered if the girl had become paralyzed with excitement.
“Kitty cats!” Adelaide squealed, rushing forward to Delilah’s platform. She stopped right in front of Reginald, staring down at him with a huge grin, and seemed to be on the verge of hyperventilating. “Can I… can I… can I please…” She couldn’t seem to get a full sentence out as her hand stretched anxiously forward.
“You can pet them,” Delilah said, smiling.
Adelaide squealed wordlessly and started rubbing Reginald’s head, stroking his ears, scratching under his chin. Reginald acquiesced gladly to the affection, and Delilah thought she could hear him purring softly.
“He’s like a dapper butler!” Adelaide said happily. “Ooh! And this one has a sword! Two swords! So cool! And this one looks so strong and cool and stuff in all that armor! Whoa! This one has a whole bunch of arrows! Way, way, way, way, WAY COOL!”
She kept rushing from one Feline to the next and back again, petting them, hugging them, and looking them up and down and all around to marvel at their outfits and equipment and “cuddwy wuddwy fuzzy tails!”
“Alice, don’t you wanna pet them?” Adelaide asked, peeking out from behind Felix.
Alice stared for a moment, white eyes glittering as if she was going to say yes. Then her eyes flickered to black, and she lifted her chin in a haughty manner. “I like rabbits better,” she said. “Now come on, we have stuff to do.” She looked up at Rabanastre, who scooped her up in his arms, cradling her gently. “You guys coming?”
“I can’t come with you?” Adelaide asked, stepping forward, staring at Alice sadly.
“You said you prefer ‘kitty cats’,” Alice said. “And we both know you don’t appreciate Rabanastre.”
Adelaide shifted from one foot to the other, uncertainty filling her entire presence. Delilah stepped forward and gave her a little nudge in the back. “Go ahead,” she said, smiling. “Be with your sister.”
Adelaide stared up at Delilah, and then smiled. “I’m coming with you, Alice!” she said, rushing towards her sister. She stopped before the towering Rabanastre, staring up at him. “You too, Mister Rabbit.”
“He has a name,” Alice said with a groan.
“And it’s too hard to say,” Adelaide said, climbing up Rabanastre’s back and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “You just came up with it because you thought it sounded sophisticated.”
“It does sound sophisticated, and that’s not a bad thing,” Alice said, pursing her lips. She shot a glance at Delilah. “You ready?”
Delilah nodded. “Lead the way.”
Rabanastre kicked off, soaring through the air, and Adelaide squealed in delight at the sudden flight. Delilah followed much more slowly – her floating platform was more for hovering and sticking to one place than zipping around here and there. Rabanastre came to a hovering stop next to the closest tendril, and the sisters and rabbit waited as Delilah slowly made her way over to join them.
“Yeah, we’re definitely splitting up after this,” Alice said. “You’re way too slow.”
Adelaide giggled. “I made the right choice,” she said, nuzzling her face against Rabanastre’s neck. “I didn’t know mean old Mister Rabbit was so soft and warm.”
“Call him ‘mean’ or ‘old’ much more and I’ll have him drop you,” Alice muttered. She looked at Delilah. “So? How do we detach this?”
Delilah hovered in a slow circle around the post, which was about thirty feet in diameter, and studied the tendril and how it connected to the post closely. Whereas the tendril was long and smooth, featureless along its length, at the post it suddenly opened up like a many-fingered hand, grasping the base of the post with what appeared to be some sort of adhesive on its appendages. Delilah hovered closer, stepping to the edge of her platform, and reached out to touch one of the “fingers.” It was as large as her entire arm, and when she tugged on its smooth surface gently, it gave slightly, but didn’t release the post.
“Maybe just cut them loose,” Alice said with a shrug.
“You can’t do that!” Adelaide said, glaring at her sister. “You could hurt the Whale!”
“It would be easy, though,” Alice said.
“We can’t just do what’s easy,” Delilah said. She felt along the end of the tendril until she reached the seam between it and the post. Slowly, carefully, she worked her fingers into the seam, gently widening the gap, pulling the finger free. It was sticky, slimy work, and Delilah made a few disgusted faces as she went at it, but after a few moments, the finger of the tendril flopped free of the post with a wet pop!
“Oh,” Alice said, staring. “That’s pretty easy, too, huh?”
Rabanastre flew closer, now holding one sister in either arm, and Alice and Adelaide worked on parts of the tendril along with Delilah. One by one, they made their way around the post, until twelve slimy appendages were pulled free. The entire massive tendril dropped like a rock for several seconds, before suddenly fluttering, as if it had caught a gust of wind. Delilah stared at it, and realized that was how the tendrils were supposed to look.
It’s how I saw her in my vision, between the Nightmare Road and this place. All of her tendrils were free, and they floated all around her like shimmering scarves.
“We did it!” Adelaide said, cheering as Rabanastre lifted her up and around so that she could cling to his back again.
“Just a whole bunch more to go,” Alice said. Her eyes were white, and she smiled slightly.
That’s the first genuine smile I think I’ve seen from her.
She’s constantly hiding her real feelings, isn’t she? She wears a lot of masks…
Maybe she’s like Duo? Of course not the same, because Duo was actually someone masquerading as Adelaide, but…
She isn’t who she appears to be. And beneath the surface might just be a girl who Adelaide would be proud to call her sister.
“Stop staring,” Alice said, pursing her lips as she looked at Delilah. “Well? Which way do you wanna go?”
Delilah nodded towards the viewing platform. “I’ll work my way around this direction.”
“And we’ll go the other way!” Adelaide cheered, pointing. “Forward, Mister Rabbit!”
“Don’t tell him what to do!” Alice snapped as Rabanastre began flying where Adelaide indicated. “And he has a proper name, you know!”
“Mister Rabbit is a much cuter name!” Adelaide said, making a sound as she stuck out her tongue.
“Don’t be so childish!”
“We’re both children!”
The sisters’ bickering faded as they grew farther away. Delilah flew in her chosen direction, laughing as she went.
There’s hope for those two, I think.
Alice acted – and acts all the time, really – like she’s the smartest person in the room, like she’s always right, and like she’s super mature for doing the things she does.
But she’s a kid, no matter how she acts. And for all her talk, she was genuinely happy when we started freeing the White Whale.
She’s twisted. There’s no doubt about that.
But she isn’t totally gone. And she doesn’t have to stay the way she is.
Alice reached the next tendril and post, and worked her slow way around, freeing the tendril one piece at a time. When she finally finished, she smiled as she watched it fall free, joining the first to flutter and shine alongside the White Whale’s body.
On Delilah went, smiling as she listened to the White Whale’s song, delighting in how it steadily changed from a mournful piece edged with the slightest hope, to a song of true hope, of happiness, of excitement at the prospect of freedom.
After freeing five more tendrils, Delilah found the next post descended much farther down than the others. She followed it, white mist swirling around her as she descended, until finally she reached its base. She reached to start working on that tendril, but then stopped. Her eyes turned to her left, towards the White Whale herself, and she stared in awe.
She was at the very front of the White Whale, and looked directly into the massive creature’s face.
She was too large for Delilah to take in the full amount of details from so close. But what she could see most clearly was the White Whale’s eyes. They were huge, ten times Delilah’s height in diameter at least, and they swirled with a kaleidoscope of colors. Sapphire streaks spiraled around whorls of violet. Orange burst and bloomed like glowing flowers, branching off from verdant stems, intertwining with scarlet eddies.
Delilah reached out her hand, touching the White Whale right next to her eye. The song that she felt roll through her brought tears to her eyes, and she smiled.
I know. And thank you.
She turned away, set to work on freeing the tendril before the White Whale’s face. When that was done, she took one long, lingering look into the creature’s beautiful eye, and then flew away.
Higher up once more, she freed six more tendrils, and then met with the sisters and Rabanastre as they freed the final tendril. A cry rolled through the entire massive prison, a cry of joy beyond reckoning. Delilah smiled widely, tears stinging her eyes, and looked at the sisters, both of whom couldn’t contain their own swell of emotion.
“We did it,” Delilah said softly.
“We did,” Alice said, smiling back at her.
“And now we go save the Doomed Beast!” Adelaide cried, pumping her fist in the air.
The girls flew down to land on the White Whale’s back, and Delilah immediately knelt down, placing her hand against the White Whale’s body. Through sound and touch she understood the White Whale’s desires and hopes, and she smiled.
“She knows where to go,” she said, looking up at the sisters. “She’s just asking if we’re ready.”
“Right away, huh?” Alice asked, shoving her hands in her pockets and looking off into the distance. A slow smile touched her lips. “Why not? Let’s go rescue another giant Summon.”
A circle of light drew around them, and when it completed, a dome of light closed in over them, high and spacious. As it completed, the light faded, and they could see out around them.
“What’s this all about?” Adelaide asked.
“Probably to keep us from falling off while she flies,” Alice said.
“She’s gonna fly?” Adelaide asked, gazing excitedly at the White Whale.
“Yeah,” Delilah said. “Get ready.”
Another cry shook the prison chamber, and the White Whale began to move, slowly at first, but steadily picking up speed. They passed the viewing platform, and Delilah looked up at it.
Doctor had returned. And at his side was a man Delilah recognized.
Doctor had brought his “Master.” But it was too late. Delilah smiled as she stared at the two men, knowing they were too late.
You can’t stop us. And you can’t imprison her again, ever.
Blaise eyed the girls atop the White Whale for a moment, and then turned away. Doctor gestured frantically to him, but then the girls were gone, speeding away through the mist.
The white mist became thicker and thicker, until Delilah couldn’t see anything beyond the protective dome.
The mists parted completely.
The girls were out in open air. Night had fallen, and a sliver of a moon shone down on them, along with millions of twinkling stars. The White Whale sang, delighted and free, and rose higher and higher into the sky.
After several moments, all three of the girls gasped.
“Holy smokes!” Adelaide shouted. “We’re… we’re totally going into outer space!”
Delilah looked back, down at the swiftly vanishing ground far below. She looked around her, at the wisps of silver clouds here and there, at the far off horizon that began to bend as they rose higher.
They had left Earth behind. The stars were brighter and clearer. The darkness was deeper and purer.
They were flying through space, atop the giant White Whale.
“But the Doomed Beast isn’t in outer space,” Alice said, hands shoved in her pockets.
As if responding directly to her statement, a glittering blue portal burst into life in front of them. It shimmered and swirled, and the White Whale flew towards it.
“This is it,” Delilah said, breathless at the wild adventure they were on.
We’ve saved you. Next we save your soulmate.
And then we save Grimoire.