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fight me, princess

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"Tell me something... how does it feel to be in the shadow," Cassandra asks menacingly, stepping towards Rapunzel.

If Rapunzel's being honest, not great. If she were a swearing gal she'd describe the situation as "the pits," but not even an ex-best-friend-induced ruin of her kingdom could justify such foul language, so she'd just call how she's feeling "not great." That is, if she could say anything, but she's currently crumpled on the ground trying to catch her breath, feeling like all of the strength had just been drained out of her body as the eclipse became complete.

Behind Cassandra, Zhan Tiri in her cage of black rock is gnawing on the bars like a stressed hamster.

Cassandra puts her hand up in front of her, and the Sundrop gem that had materialized on Rapunzel's chest at the start of the eclipse pulls away from her body. As soon as it leaves her, Rapunzel lets out a feeble cry - she had thought before the fatigue and head pain she'd been suffering from was bad, but this was so, so much worse. She collapses fully to the ground as her muscles can't hold her upright anymore, and she breaks out in a cold sweat as her body reacts to losing something it desperately needed. Rapunzel can barely keep herself conscious, and out of the corner of her eye she can see her hair darken as it turns from blonde to brown.

Rapunzel has trouble keeping up with what happens next. She hears Zhan Tiri's voice shouting at Cassandra, something she can't quite make out because non-Coronan accents are still hard for Rapunzel to understand, and this evil child is for some reason British.

As happens in moments of terror, Rapunzel's brain fixates on the inconsequential. Why does Zhan Tiri have a British accent? Why did she take the form of a child? Did they ever figure out exactly what she is? If she could take the form of anything, why a British child.

Rapunzel tunes back in as she hears Cassandra's footsteps approaching. She wonders briefly if Cassandra is going to kill her, although she can't fathom that her best friend would do that. Deep down this is still Cass, she's sure. Zhan Tiri and the Moonstone messed her up pretty badly, but she's still Cass. Right? Rapunzel remembers how Cassandra shot her into the ceiling on a pillar of black rock, presumably with the intent of smashing her. Well, maybe that was a misunderstanding. Surely Cassandra didn't understand her own strength and was only trying to... elevate her. Because she cherishes Rapunzel and their friendship.

Rapunzel is pulled from her thoughts as she hears Zhan Tiri speak, enunciating clearly enough for Rapunzel to make out the words.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING YOU STUPID GIRL"

Out of the corner of her eye, Rapunzel can see Cassandra bending down towards her.

She is either going to kill me or hug me, Rapunzel thinks in what might be her last moments. Rapunzel considers how she'd give anything for Cassandra. Does that include her life? Rapunzel knows that it does, but with caveats. She wouldn't want to give up her life for no reason, after all. But if it were to save Cassandra's, or contribute to her life's happiness, then certainly. But Rapunzel doesn't think that the road Cassandra's on will lead her to happiness. It seems to have made her very, very angry and upset, actually. So Rapunzel's not sure that Cassandra would find happiness by killing her. So if that's what Cassandra's about to do, Rapunzel really couldn't approve of that decision.

Rapunzel's right hand is lying supine on the ground, and she feels Cassandra's cold gauntlet touch her palm. Still trying to catch her shallow breaths, Rapunzel barely moves her head to look, and she sees Cassandra place the Sundrop in her hand.

"YOU'RE A BIGGER WASTE OF CARBON THAN YOUR MOTHER YOU USELESS BITCH"

The Sundrop absorbs immediately into Rapunzel's skin, her body desperately seeking it. Rapunzel gasps as strength rushes back into her, and the moon starts moving past the sun again. She sees her hair glow golden again as Cassandra straightens.

"W-what?" Rapunzel breathes in shock. She gave it up?

"AFTER EVERYTHING YOU'VE WORKED FOR YOU'RE JUST GIVING IT UP? YOU THREW EVERYTHING AWAY FOR THIS AND YOU'RE GIVING IT UP?!"

Cassandra doesn't answer. She walks past Rapunzel towards the hole in the wall that opens to Rapunzel's balcony.

"Cass," Rapunzel says louder as she struggles to push herself up. "W-what are you doing?"

"I'm leaving," Cassandra answers without looking back at her.

"H-huh?" Rapunzel says.

"I won. There's no reason for me to stick around here," Cassandra responds flatly.

And before Rapunzel can answer, she jumps out onto the balcony. By the time Rapunzel struggles to her feet and gets to the collapsed wall, Cassandra is long gone.

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Thirty minutes later, Rapunzel has reunited with Eugene, her parents, and the rest of her friends. Varian has started dismantling the ruins of the portal to rebuild it in Rapunzel's room - they have devised a plan for Rapunzel to break the black rock cage with her magic just as the portal is activated in order to suck Zhan Tiri in and imprison her.

Rapunzel hears all about the bizarre nonsense dimension her friends and family had accidentally been trapped in, and Eugene and Edmund's journey to and altercation in Cassandra's black rock tower.

And Rapunzel tells everyone of her fight with Cassandra, from Cassandra's desire to prove that she comes second to no one to her victory over Rapunzel in battle, followed by her simply returning the Sundrop and leaving.

Before re-imprisoning Zhan Tiri, Rapunzel interrogates her with her friends and family in company.

"Why did Cassandra give me the Sundrop back?" Rapunzel demands. "Where did she go?"

Zhan Tiri, sitting in her cage with her composure regained, answers in her refined accent. "Well, if you were so kind as to release me from this cage, I would tell you."

Rapunzel's eyes narrow at her a few moments after Zhan Tiri finishes speaking. (Rapunzel's brain had to catch up with what it was she had said. Accents really throw Rapunzel off.) "And why should I believe you?"

"Because I have spent months with the girl, and I know the deepest corners of her mind. I could explain everything to you - all of her decisions, where she would flee to - if only you would let me out of here," Zhan Tiri responds sensibly.

"No, I mean why should I believe that you would tell me anything after I let you out," Rapunzel says. "I doubt you'd tell me anything before."

"An accurate deduction. As for why you should believe me - well, there's not much I can say to make you trust me, is there?" Zhan Tiri asks, and her voice gets a hard edge. "It comes down to this, princess: either you care about your friend enough to take me at my word, or you're willing to leave her with her insanity to the hands of fate."

Rapunzel scowls at Zhan Tiri. "Cassandra is not insane."

"And you're basing this opinion on, what, her history of rational decision making?" Zhan Tiri asks acidly. "I am telling you this: the girl is a lunatic, and she will destroy herself." Zhan Tiri blinks innocently at Rapunzel. "Unless, of course, you release me and I can tell you where she is. Wouldn't you like to save her?"

Rapunzel's breath catches in her throat. Of course she'd like to save Cassandra. She would very badly like to save Cassandra from the darkness that has consumed her heart, and reconcile, and become best friends again, and have Cassandra by her side for the rest of her life. Images flash through her mind of their future together: the two of them racing on horseback, and going on picnics, and attending festivals, and having sleepovers; Cassandra helping her with queen duties, and whisking her away on impromptu adventures, and laughing at her jokes -

The mental montage of their years together fills Rapunzel with desperate longing and some unknown emotion that makes her dizzy, which she decides is… the power of friendship.

But that would mean trusting Zhan Tiri: not only that she won't flee as soon as Rapunzel breaks the cage to wreak horrible demony/sorceressy/blizzardy havoc on Corona or some other tragic kingdom, but also that she's correct that Cassandra is in danger.

In danger from herself, specifically. With the Moonstone there's no way Cassandra would be in danger from anything else - she has indestructible armor and can summon as many unbreakable spikes and swords as she pleases in a fight. She took down a kingdom by herself. No, certainly Cassandra could keep herself safe from external threats.

But Zhan Tiri insists that Cassandra is insane and would destroy herself. Rapunzel frowns. She never thought of Cassandra as insane, not even for a moment. Sure, she'd exhibited some… irrational behavior the past couple weeks, but that was when she was still being manipulated by Zhan Tiri. When she and Rapunzel were trapped together in the mine, away from any demony/sorceressy/blizzardy influences, Cassandra had protected her and started to come around. Then before the eclipse Cassandra had caged Zhan Tiri, presumably no longer falling for her manipulations, and after fighting Rapunzel Cassandra had returned the Sundrop and left. Which, sure, a little bizarre, but insane?

Then there's the question of whether Zhan Tiri would even tell her anything upon release. Rapunzel knows she has no reason to trust Zhan Tiri. She has negative reason to trust Zhan Tiri. Really, if Zhan Tiri ever advises her to do something, she doesn't even have to think about the situation because the exact opposite of Zhan Tiri's advice is the best decision.

She takes a deep breath as Pascal chirps from her shoulder. She glances at his worried expression, and she's sure that the rest of their company behind her is watching nervously as well to see what her response will be.

Rapunzel makes her decision.

"Cassandra doesn't need saving. She's not in danger of herself, and she's not insane," Rapunzel repeats. "She was upset and hurting and then you made everything worse," Rapunzel says, scowling at Zhan Tiri, "but soon you'll be gone."

Zhan Tiri's face abruptly changes as she hisses wordlessly in fury at Rapunzel with her fangs and a forked snake tongue.

"What did you even do to her?" Rapunzel demands, thinking of how warped Cassandra had become with anger and hate during her time in Zhan Tiri's company.

"Me?" Zhan Tiri asks as her face abruptly shifts back to normal and she assumes an innocent tone. "I didn't do anything. I simply explained to her how to use the Moonstone, and elucidated the ways you sought to put her down so she'd want to break free from your control."

"So you lied to her to make her hate me," Rapunzel says angrily.

"Lied?" Zhan Tiri looks aghast. "It was no lie. Were you not the one who kept her as a servant? Who made her mother abandon her? Who never let her act in any way that displeased you? Who destroyed her hand?"

Rapunzel recoils at Zhan Tiri's words. "I- some of those aren't true! And she forgave me for the hand!"

"Did she?" Zhan Tiri asks smugly. "Or did you simply force her to speak and act how you'd like?"

Rapunzel feels anger fill her. "I never forced her to do anything! You- you're the one who did that! You made her attack Corona, her home and her friends!"

"I invite you to interrogate what it is about here that would make you think she saw it as a home, and what it is about how you treated her that would make her think you're her friends," Zhan Tiri answers with a dry tone. "You're right on one account, princess: I poured fuel on the fire to make her think you wanted her dead. But the fire was there long before I was, and you were its source."

Rapunzel grits her teeth. "Varian, is the portal ready yet?" Rapunzel asks, turning towards him and filled with the desire to throw Zhan Tiri into her prison as soon as possible.

"Uhhh," Varian says awkwardly, twisting a wrench. "No, not yet. I'll still need another... ten minutes... or an hour... somewhere between there... probably."

Rapunzel lets out a sound of exasperation and starts to pace.

"Hey, uh, sunshine, why don't you sit down?" Eugene invites her, patting the spot next to him on the bench near Rapunzel's bed. "You- you deserve to relax, after everything that's happened."

"HOWAMISUPPOSEDTORELAX," Rapunzel explodes at him, turning quickly and throwing her arms out. "My kingdom is destroyed, I've got THIS-" she gestures to Zhan Tiri, "in my room, and my best friend is I-don't-even-know-where!"

"Honey," Arianna says gently, gracefully sweeping towards Rapunzel and touching her shoulder. "I understand how you're stressed. But you have to remember we just had some amazing victories. Corona is safe, soon the-'' Arianna looks over Rapunzel's shoulder at Zhan Tiri, seeking an accurate descriptor, "-problem will be gone, and we'll have everything go back to normal."

"'Problem'?" Zhan Tiri says, affronted. "I am an archdemon of chaos and you decided the word to describe me is 'problem'?"

"Oh, huh, that's what she is," Rapunzel says to herself looking over at Zhan Tiri.

"The point is, honey," Arianna says, touching Rapunzel's chin to turn her face back. "You do deserve to relax. Rebuilding can start tomorrow."

Rapunzel looks miserably at her mother. "I know, I just," she hangs her head. "I wish Cass were here."

Eugene walks over to Rapunzel to put a comforting hand on her back. "I know, sunshine. But we'll find her."

"If she wants to be found, and if you can find her before she is dead," Zhan Tiri muses from behind them.

Eugene turns to glare at the archdemon of chaos, and then he speaks to Varian. "Say, hairstripe, do you still have that electrocuting helmet?"

"Hate me all you want," Zhan Tiri responds. "You just don't want to face the truth. The girl is insane, and all of you have driven her there. Even if she's alive and even if you do find her, she'll want nothing to do with you."

"Don't listen to her," Eugene tells Rapunzel.

Rapunzel bites her lip at Zhan Tiri's words. Surely, if Cassandra truly did hate her and Corona, she would have stuck around to ensure their complete destruction - but instead she gave Rapunzel her power back and left. And Rapunzel keeps remembering the way they had worked together and laughed together while escaping the mine - Cassandra, her Cassandra is still there. Rapunzel just needs to find her.

"We're going to get Cass back," Rapunzel says firmly, more to herself than anyone else. "The problem will be gone and Cass and I will become friends again."

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Knowing her "stronghold" has been breached - she could no longer sense the mind trap talisman, which means it must have been destroyed, which means someone got in - Cassandra doesn't have many options for where to go once she decides to leave Corona castle. The only other place she could think of is the cottage she lived in as a child with Gothel, but Rapunzel knows of it, and Cassandra doesn't feel any particular fondness for it anyway.

An hour later, she finds herself beyond Corona's walls at the site of the Sundrop's plaque.

It's surrounded by spikes the way Cassandra remembers from the night she first found it and the night she had brought Rapunzel there. This was her first time seeing it in the daylight. Cassandra retracts some of the spikes and walks past the plaque to sit at the cliff's edge, looking out over the water.

She needs to think.

She hadn't had the time or space to think before this, of course. Even alone in the wilderness she was plagued by the ghost of Zhan Tiri explaining in vivid detail to her everything she should feel anger about in an attempt to "help" her master the rage-driven powers of the Moonstone and protect herself from Rapunzel trying to control her again. (Of course, Cassandra can now admit that Zhan Tiri was manipulating her for her own purposes - the destruction of Corona, probably, considering her blizzardy history.) When it became clear that her rage wasn't enough to master the stone, Cassandra became single-mindlessly focused on retrieving the scroll (Zhan Tiri's idea)... then retrieving the mind trap (Zhan Tiri's urging)... then investigating her childhood home (Zhan Tiri's suggestion - you know, there might be a pattern here).

The point being, Cassandra hadn't done much thinking of her own for a while. It's time. She revs up her remaining brain cell to consider her situation.

Cassandra had been furious with Rapunzel and Corona. For good reason, she still thinks, although she admits that Zhan Tiri's interference escalated her feelings. But there were things before Zhan Tiri appeared - her not given a chance to be something more than a servant in Corona, and Rapunzel treating her like shit, notably.

And Rapunzel had tried to kill me, Cassandra thinks, scowling. Rapunzel wanted to imprison her in amber yesterday. And all she wanted today from Cassandra was the Moonstone - she was willing to physically fight Cassandra for it, and this time she started the fight. She doesn't care about Cassandra. Zhan Tiri was right that Rapunzel only likes her when Rapunzel is able to control her, and now that she can't, she wants Cassandra out of the way.

Cassandra's expression shifts to distress. Then why had Rapunzel said all those nice things yesterday, about how she had done things wrong too and she thought that deep down Cassandra's a good person? Cassandra would think it were a ploy to get Cassandra to trust her again in order to control her, but she said those things while Cassandra was disguised as Faith.

Cassandra picks up a rock near her and throws it off the cliff into the water. None of this makes any sense.

She frowns, thinking about the events of the past day. Yesterday she got a little carried away with her temper and destroyed a city, much to Zhan Tiri's delight. Then Zhan Tiri kept urging her that the eclipse was finally her chance to destroy (kill) Rapunzel once and for all before Rapunzel could destroy (kill) her. Then she caged Zhan Tiri because she's an annoying little shit and Rapunzel started to fight her.

But Cassandra never wanted to destroy Rapunzel. Not physically, mentally, emotionally, politically, intellectually, financially, or metaphysically. She just wanted Rapunzel to know that she wouldn't bend to Rapunzel anymore - that she has her own destiny. And she wanted everyone else to know that she's more than they all thought of her.

And now they do. Cassandra beat Rapunzel in a fight and stripped her of the Sundrop. All of Corona witnessed Cassandra's strength. She accomplished the goals she had set for herself.

So... what now?

Cassandra draws spirals in the dust next to her. She doesn't have a home anymore. She doesn't have any friends - not even a manipulative little shit for company.

And she doesn't have a destiny. Zhan Tiri told her that her destiny was to destroy Rapunzel. Well, Cassandra's not doing that. She got as close as she was willing.

"You have any ideas?" Cassandra asks aloud, glancing down at the shining stone on her chest, the one thing she has left in her entire life.

Which, admittedly she could be worse off. If she was going to have exactly one thing, superpowers is pretty damn cool. She could make anything she wants out of black rock. She never has to fear anyone or anything ever again with her strength and indestructible armor.

The stone, predictably, does not answer her. Cassandra looks back up to squint at the horizon. Surely Rapunzel will pursue her. Rapunzel's convinced that reuniting the powers is her destiny, so she'll never stop until she gets the Moonstone.

But why? Cassandra controls the black rocks now. She wouldn't let them destroy the world. Rapunzel needs to chill. Maybe that's what she'll do next. Tell Rapunzel to chill.

Cassandra's not terribly in the mood to return to Corona right now, though. And maybe for once she should consider her life beyond one single step ahead of her. Get herself some concrete long term goals, formulate a five year plan. Consider her career trajectory. The works.

Cassandra falls backwards onto the ground to look at the sky. She has no idea what her destiny could be. So, what is it that she wants to do?

She could go to Ingvarr or some other kingdom to join their ranks to live her old dream of being a warrior. They might be a little intimidated by her, though, on account of how she's essentially a demigod who could lay waste to an entire nation by herself. Yeah, after what they heard of Corona, other kingdoms might not want her around. And besides, being a guard or soldier just puts her right back where she was, right? Taking orders... admittedly the orders would involve tasks a lot better than lady-in-waiting ones, but it's still being a subordinate.

Of course, Cassandra also doesn't want to be not-a-subordinate. She doesn't want to rule. That would be tedious and boring as fuck. She's sure of that, considering how she attended most of Rapunzel's princess lessons with her about politics and diplomacy and hearing out the needs of the people... yeech. No, Cassandra has no interest in becoming a monarch or warlord or whatever. She shan't be overthrowing any (more) governments.

Cassandra folds her arms behind her head as she watches the sky and thinks.

Maybe in order to figure out what she wants, she should consider what has made her happy throughout her life. If she can narrow down what makes her feel happy, she might come up with a path to follow to pursue further happiness. Cassandra finds this idea promising and starts brainstorming.

Well, fighting, obviously. She fucking loves to fight, so fighting is definitely something that has made her happy. She loves beating people in battle. She loves showing off her technical knowledge and skills with weapons. But she doesn't want to become a guard or soldier...

Cassandra makes a face at the next thought of what has made her happy. It was Rapunzel. Sans all the shittiness, of course. Those times she was able to pretend that she wasn't Rapunzel's servant - that they were equals and friends - they had a lot of fun together. Cassandra frowns, considering what she could do with that. If she could reconcile with Rapunzel for real and maintain her position removed from all the Corona royalty bullshit while keeping the Moonstone, they could be friends without the power imbalance. But Cassandra doesn't know if that would work. It's entirely possible Zhan Tiri was right, that Rapunzel only likes her when she's under Rapunzel's thumb and that she'd never want to be involved with Cassandra otherwise. Plus, Rapunzel is so committed to taking the Moonstone from her. And Cassandra just destroyed her kingdom and knocked her through several walls - any chance she had for reconciling is certainly long gone at this point...

Cassandra moves on to consider other things that have made her happy. She likes animals. Maybe she could start a horse ranch with some chickens. But that sounds like a boring life in the long term...

She likes map making. She could become a cartographer. Which also sounds like it could become boring...

No, Cassandra thinks, shaking her head. Those last two should be kept as hobbies, not something to center my life on.

She feels like she's hit a dead end. With a sigh, Cassandra gives up her intensive thinking before she gets a headache and thoughtlessly watches the clouds overhead.

Her unoccupied mind returns to fighting. She had a lot of fun fighting Rapunzel earlier that day. A lot of fun. It was so cool to try to unleash her powers in different ways to take Rapunzel down. What a rush. And Rapunzel was paying attention to her, taking her seriously. She was important to Rapunzel, not some useless servant to be used and discarded. Cassandra smiles looking up at the sky. She'd really like to fight Rapunzel again.

Especially since Rapunzel wasn't at her full strength this time because of the eclipse. Wait... Cassandra frowns. The eclipse... it's what ended the fight, it's why she could take the Sundrop. Rapunzel was rendered powerless by it.

Paranoia grips Cassandra. Does that mean that others would think she only won by cheating? Because- she did. It was cheating. How the hell does that fight prove anything?

Cassandra bolts upright. "I have to fight her again," she says out loud.

Cassandra stands to start pacing anxiously. She has to fight Rapunzel again, obviously. She has no other choice. She needs to beat Rapunzel in a fair fight so everyone knows she's stronger.

Cassandra bites at her forefinger knuckle in thought. She can't try to fight her again too soon. Rapunzel needs to recover her full strength so it'd be a fair fight. So she definitely shouldn't take off to return to Corona castle right this moment, as much as she wants to.

"I'll wait a few days," Cassandra says to herself. "Or maybe- a week? How long would it take her to recover? Arrrrgh," she groans. "I should have stuck around longer to see how she was feeling." She presses the heels of her hands to her eyes in frustration.

Okay- a week, she decides. She'll wait a week and then go back to Corona to challenge Rapunzel again.

Cassandra lets out a breath. It was relieving to have a plan ahead of her, as short term as it might be. Oh, and she could also tell Rapunzel to chill while she's over there. That feeds two birds with one hand.

Cassandra sits cross-legged at the edge of the cliff, satisfied with her plan. She'll just hang out in the woods until then. It's not like that's anything new to her. She spent months camping-minus-camping-gear in the woods before returning to Corona.

"I should train," Cassandra says to herself. "I've gotta stay sharp... I'll practice with my rocks... make myself a new sword..."

Cassandra can't keep a smile from breaking across her face. She can't wait. She'll get to see and fight Rapunzel again.

"Maybe... THIS is what I should do..." Cassandra thinks aloud.

It combines her love of fighting - with someone at her level, who could match her powers - and her enjoyment of Rapunzel's company while also taking into account how Rapunzel likely doesn't want to reconcile and Cassandra wants to stay away from Corona's system. It's perfect. She could make a career out of this.

"No no, I shouldn't get ahead of myself," Cassandra protests. "We'll see how this next fight goes. Then I'll decide if I want to fight her more."

But Cassandra can't keep herself from grinning like a fool at the thought.

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"You've got to be kidding me. Out of all the buildings in the city, THIS is the only one without any damage?" Rapunzel asks in disbelief during her survey of the capital, holding a clipboard with Pascal on her shoulder and Eugene and Maximus by her side.

"What, you got a problem with that?" Monty snaps at her in front of his candy shop. "You wish the place was reduced to a pile of rubble? You want to break my business yourself? Here's a rock, you can throw it through the window," he continues, picking up a piece of debris from the adjacent building and offering it to Rapunzel derisively.

"No- Monty, I just," Rapunzel sighs exasperatedly. She pauses and takes a deep breath, pulling her expression into a pleasant smile. "I'm glad that the citizens don't have to wait for repairs before they can continue to enjoy your delicious sugary treats."

"Yea that's what I thought," Monty tells her, tossing the rock aside.

"Your highness!" A guard shouts, running up the street towards her. Rapunzel turns in surprise as he approaches, and he wheezes out his message between gasps, bent over to catch his breath. "It's- the city's walls- the lookout has spotted Cassandra. She's approaching the city."

Rapunzel exchanges a look of shock with Eugene next to her, and they quickly mount Maximus to take off towards the city's main bridge.

Rapunzel had spent the last week focusing on helping her people recover from the destruction in the capital, so she hadn't had the chance to start looking for Cassandra. After sealing away Zhan Tiri - who offered them no further information on Cassandra, the Sundrop or Moonstone, or her history and motives - the first thing Rapunzel and her parents did was organize teams of guards and civilians to assess the extent of the damage to people's homes and relocate those with nowhere to go to temporary shelter. It was intensive work that took all of the resources at their disposal in order to ensure the safety of their people before starting to rebuild.

Rapunzel did spend one afternoon, though, riding out towards Cassandra's black rock tower with Eugene to look for her, but there was no sign she'd been there. Rapunzel resigned herself to waiting until the kingdom was in better shape before dispatching search parties - or searching herself - for her friend.

And now, Cassandra has returned. Rapunzel has no idea what for. Does she want to attack the city again? Does she want to reconcile with Rapunzel? Does she want to give Rapunzel the Moonstone? Had she changed her mind and decided she wants to take the Sundrop after all?

Within a couple minutes they reach the city's gate. Rapunzel sees Cassandra in her black rock armor standing in the entry's square, speaking to the guards that have her surrounded at a large distance shakily pointing their halberds towards her. All of them look terrified, and none of them want to get close.

"Relax, I'm not here for any of you," Cassandra tells them, unimpressed.

"Cass!" Rapunzel yells at her, Max skittering to a stop on the cobblestones and Rapunzel quickly dismounting to approach her friend. "Please, don't hurt anyone. I want to talk."

"Ah, finally," Cassandra says looking at her. "Your guards are slow as hell. I've been waiting for like, five minutes." She runs a hand through her blue hair in a smooth motion before pointing directly at Rapunzel, and she says dramatically - almost theatrically - "I'm here for a rematch, princess."

"W-what?" Rapunzel stutters. "Cass, I don't want to fight you, I want-"

"Yeah yeah, you want the stone," Cassandra cuts her off dismissively, waving a hand. She puts her hand to the Moonstone. "Well, you're going to have to take it from me."

"I don't-!" Rapunzel tries to answer in a distressed cry.

"Also, you have to chill," Cassandra interrupts.

These words make Rapunzel malfunction. She pauses, silent, trying to process them. Finally, after a few moments: "I have to chill? I have to chill?!" Rapunzel gestures all around her at the destroyed buildings and large black rock spikes from that time Cassandra lost her temper and demolished a city. "I HAVE TO CHILL?"

"That's right," Cassandra answers. "You're taking the destiny thing too seriously."

"Oh that is IT!" Rapunzel shouts, overcome with rage at Cassandra's hypocrisy, and she doesn't even realize what's happening as her hair glows gold and unravels from her braid - and then lunges magically towards Cassandra to grab her around the waist, rear back, and snap forward again to throw her over the city's wall.

"Woah," Eugene says from behind Rapunzel after Cassandra goes flying. "Could- could you always do that?

"I don't know but I did not mean to," Rapunzel answers, desperately pulling her misbehaving hair back towards her. "Ohhh now she's definitely going to want to fight," Rapunzel continues, stressed.

"Well, to be fair I don't think you could've avoided it," Eugene tells her. "Also, she had that coming. I'm sure everyone who saw that thought it was awesome."

"That was awesome, your highness!" A guard shouts from across the square.

"See?" Eugene tells her.

"I'm- I'm going to go after her," Rapunzel says, but before she can rush towards the gate, there's a rumbling followed by a huge crash of stones breaking beyond the wall. An enormous spike of black rock rises into Rapunzel's view over the rampart, with Cassandra near the top holding the spike with one hand.

"YOU THREW ME INTO THE FUCKING OCEAN," Cassandra shouts, and Rapunzel can barely make out how her blue curls are darkened and weighed down with water.

"Well- well that's good!" Rapunzel yells back at her. "Because- you're the one who actually needs to chill! And the ocean is cold, so, now you're chilled!"

Eugene puts his head in his hand behind her, and Cassandra doesn't move or respond for a few moments. Finally, she answers in a shout: "YOUR TRASH TALK STILL SUCKS."

"It was good when I was talking to Zhan Tiri before the eclipse, I swear," Rapunzel tells Eugene. She turns back towards Cassandra to yell in response, "Your decisions suck!"

"You're not doing so hot with the non-confrontation thing right now, blondie," Eugene informs her.

"I know," Rapunzel says disappointedly. "She just makes me so mad, y'know?"

"I know more than you could possibly imagine," Eugene answers in a deadpan.

They're interrupted by Cassandra leaping off of her spike to land in the center of the square, breaking the stone under her and sending droplets of seawater flying. "Let's get this started, princess," Cassandra tells her, holding her hand out next to her to materialize a sword out of black rock.

"Eugene, get everyone out of here," Rapunzel tells him, handing off Pascal to him and wrapping locks of her hair around her hands. Rapunzel reaches within herself for her magic, and her hair lights up again in a blaze of gold.

The corner of Cassandra's mouth quirks up in the moment before she lunges towards Rapunzel.

While Eugene and the other guards herd people away, Rapunzel and Cassandra begin their battle. Rapunzel tries to avoid further property damage as much as possible, since they're not in the castle this time and instead are surrounded by people's actual homes and businesses. Cassandra, however, exhibits no similar care.

Rapunzel remembers the rules Cassandra had laid out for her years before when trying to teach her self defense. "Turn your enemy's strength into a weakness." "Use your opponent's strength or size against them." "Distance is everything. Keeping your feet moving means you decide when you're close enough to strike, or far enough to avoid their strikes." "Hit 'em where it hurts." "Play to your strengths." "Don't doubt yourself, and don't give in."

Rapunzel tries her hardest to utilize all of these in her fight. But she doesn't know how to turn Cassandra's strength into a weakness, nor how to use Cassandra's strength against her. Rapunzel tries to keep herself far enough from Cassandra to dodge her attacks, but Cassandra can summon spikes from anywhere. Rapunzel starts to think that maybe some of these rules only apply to normal, not-magical battles.

It's difficult to keep up with Cassandra due to her physical strength, magical powers, unbreakable armor, and her years of practice with fighting. But Rapunzel has her indestructible hair that she's considerably talented wielding, and her abilities to break the black rocks and release blasts of energy. It allows her to hold her own against Cassandra for a long time.

Very long. Rapunzel has no idea how much time they've spent exchanging blows, with Cassandra summoning more spikes and swords as Rapunzel breaks them, and Rapunzel lassoing Cassandra to try to subdue her, but it feels like hours. Finally Cassandra ducks under Rapunzel's hair she'd just thrown, and lunges towards Rapunzel to knock her to the ground.

She had managed to do this a couple of times before, and each time Rapunzel would blast Cassandra off of her with her energy powers. But this time, Rapunzel is so exhausted, she doesn't have the strength.

Cassandra pins Rapunzel's wrists to the ground over her head, her face inches from Rapunzel's. She's breathing heavily and her curls fall forward, just barely brushing Rapunzel's cheeks, still slightly damp with seawater. At the edge of her vision, Rapunzel can see electric blue magic zapping off of the Moonstone set in Cassandra's chest. Crushed under her weight and unable even to see much except Cassandra, Rapunzel is entirely at her mercy.

Rapunzel glares into Cassandra's eyes, which flick briefly around Rapunzel's face, as though looking for some indication of her next move. But Rapunzel has no further moves. So instead she just glares.

A few moments pass without either saying anything, just looking at each other while trying to catch their breaths. As it becomes apparent to Cassandra that Rapunzel has no intention of magically launching her the street over, she lets out a breath of a laugh as a smile rises on her face, still with that fiery glint in her eye.

What now? Rapunzel wonders, ignoring fluttering in her chest at Cassandra's fierce smile. Does she want the Sundrop? It's not a gemstone anymore, so she can't take it. Does she realize that?

"I win," Cassandra says quietly without pulling away.

Before Rapunzel can respond, Cassandra lets go of Rapunzel's wrists and leaps to her feet. Without looking back, Cassandra summons a large black rock spike and uses it to jump over the nearby city wall, disappearing as quickly as she had arrived.