The Once Upon a Time Virtual Series
Virtual Season 3
Executive Producer: Silverbluemoon
Story By: RebelByrdie and Silverbluemoon
Written By: RebelByrdie
Illustrated By: Dalliance-Amongst-The-Stars
Edited By: Silverbluemoon
Advisors and Consultants
Continuity and Consistency: QueenOfAllSwans
General Feedback and Development: Calculaic
This series is Rated M for language, violence, drug references, and adult situations.
It is not intended for all audiences. Please use discretion.
Publication Date: 08/15/2014
he midday sun beat down on her, making the armor she wore like a second skin uncomfortably warm. She walked, leading two horses by their reins, and tried to focus on what lay ahead of her rather than behind. She was not a solitary creature by nature. In fact, she had spent so many years nestled within the rhythm of hundreds of feet and scores of hooves, that when faced with time alone, her mind often filled the solitude with thoughts and memories. Days under the Eastern Sun. Nights spent strategizing with Philip about how to rescue his princess. Hours spent watching a beanstalk waiting for the most peculiar woman to return. Ages spent worrying that she would never know honor. Gut wrenching minutes spent sifting through the rubble of a place she had called home.
She stumbled to a stop and pressed her face against the dark neck of her horse. Khan had been with her from the very beginning. Through peace, through war, through victory and disgrace. She let a few words of her own language slip out as she rested there. Khan blew out a breath as if he understood, and if a tear fell from her eye to his mane, he didn’t seem to care.
She had seen war. She had walked amongst slaughtered enemies and friends alike, blood squelching under her boots. She had killed, had almost been killed. She had traveled much of the known world and seen much. Yet, she had never seen anything like the shattered ruins of the village she now left behind. They had called it ‘Sanctuary’, a small place away from the ogres and destruction where they could rebuild their lives. It had been a place of new beginnings, of renewed laughter and hope. Now, that was gone; utterly decimated by one single malevolent force. Cora.
Men, women, children. So many more than the small force that had attacked them. Cora had taken the heart of every person in the village. Their corpses were now stacked like cordwood. Their faces, forever twisted in horror and their chests empty. It was a nightmare, looking among the dead: little children wrapped tight in their parents’ arms, tiny faces stretched in silent screams. Young girls gripping their pendants of protection and little boys holding sticks as if they were swords. Men gripping pitch forks and field scythes. It had all been for naught. They hadn’t been warriors, or magicians; they were just refugees. They had been farmers, tanners and coopers, simple small folk who just wanted to see their children grow up, marry and have children of their own. Simple dreams that existed in all lands and all languages. Perhaps princesses like Snow White and Aurora wanted the fireworks and grand adventures, but Mulan knew happy endings didn’t have to be so big or world-changing.
So many hopes, so many dreams, obliterated; their struggle, completely wasted. Cora hadn’t shown one ounce of humanity. It hadn’t been a battle; it had been a slaughter. Mulan vowed that she would, somehow, someway, kill Cora for all the lives she had ruined; she vowed it to herself and to the rising ashes and spirits of the innocents the wicked Queen of Hearts had mercilessly slain.
Mulan hadn’t had time to bury the bodies, to her great shame. She couldn’t risk leaving Aurora alone for too long, as the woods were full of ogres and worse. The princess had wanted to come along, but Mulan had been adamant. The warrior had known it would be bad, but what she had found—Mulan shuddered and lowered her head, so very glad she had not allowed it. Aurora did not need any more fodder for her nightmares, nor need to know the smell of death and the way it clung to clothes, hair and skin. She did not need to experience the crushing sound of silence and despair that filled every crevice where life used to exist. Mulan had scavenged what supplies she could: preserved foods, unsullied blankets, spare arrows, and of course, their horses. She took all of it back to the edge of the village before returning with several bottles of distilled spirits and a torch. She drenched the mound of death she had formed, took a few steps away and grabbed the torch she’d set aside; she doused that as well. It was time to say goodbye. Her heart fell with this task, but knew it to be the last honorable thing she could do for her village. She removed flint from her pack and quickly dragged her dagger across it; a tiny spark flew and connected with the torch. She stopped still, allowing herself one last moment to to mourn these people, this place, before she leaning forward. The fire licked the edge of the blankets she had used to cover them, igniting the mass funeral pyre. She would leave her people with their dignity and not ravaged by animals or other creatures; she would free their souls, something Cora had, along with their lives, denied them. She turned away quietly and did not look back. When she reached the treeline, she gathered the horses, and began the trip to camp, to Aurora.
She walked for a long time, lost in her own sorrow. She could still feel the heat on her back (or perhaps she only imagined she could), and the smoke still stung her eyes. The air had smelled of roasting flesh, and it permeated her nostrils, sickening her. The fact that she had done the right thing was of little consolation to the lives that had been lost; her heart was heavy. She crested a hill and just made out the tree line; Aurora and their camp was less than half a league away. She picked up her step. Maybe, just maybe, the princess’s sweet laugh and deep blue eyes would take her mind away from the foulness of death and the bitterness of her own memories.
Aurora met her just a stone’s throw away from their camp, where the grassy fields met the trees.
“Sampson!” she cried out, in unadulterated glee.
The horse, Philip’s spirited gelding, let out a small whinny in response, obviously recognizing the princess. Mulan smiled. “And who is this other handsome gentleman?” Aurora turned to Khan and held her hand out, palm up, under his nose in greeting. Mulan gave him the soft command for “friend” and he tilted his head, as if considering whether he should follow her order or not. She pulled him close and rested her forehead on his muzzle. She gently chided him and reminded him to behave. Her own language flowed out of her throat like silk, so unlike the jerky and guttural Western language that she had become accustomed to using. She turned and pushed her hair away from her face, only to see Aurora smiling at her.
Aurora blinked rapidly, as if startled by that single word. “Oh, nothing.” she responded quickly, shaking her head and smiling, trying to mask what she had seen, had felt. She knew Mulan was uncomfortable having attention drawn to her, and so kept the soft, sweet thoughts to herself.
“Mulan, can we ride back to camp? It’s been so long since I’ve ridden.” It was not a long walk at all, a few minutes at best, but Mulan nodded, pleased with the distraction. Aurora held her hand out, requesting help up onto the horse, a princess through and through. Mulan smiled and took Aurora’s hand, helping her mount Sampson’s saddle. It was a warrior’s saddle, made with the intention of keeping a rider mounted when fighting or galloping. Aurora, a lady to the core, sat in it, uncomfortably side saddle for about half a minute before moving one leg to the other side. She chuckled and rearranged her skirt to cover herself while riding astride.
Mulan’s eyes met hers and they smiled at each other, something she wouldn’t have thought possible only moments before, and mounted her own horse. Mulan gave a quick click with her tongue, and the horses began to move. They rode on into the sun- and shadow-dappled woods towards their camp, occasionally smiling at each other, finding comfort in their loss in this moment of peace together. Aurora began to hum some soft, sweet song about a dream Mulan had heard her singing before, and the warrior let the melody wash over her, each gentle note lifting darkness from her heart.
Aurora was not oblivious or a sheltered ninny. She could see the smoke in the air and smell the rot on Mulan’s clothes. Most importantly, she could sense the sadness that radiated from her friend (they were friends, weren’t they?) as soon as she had seen her. The village, their Sanctuary, was gone. She wanted to ask the other woman what she had seen, but having spent time with Cora, knew the heartless witch hadn’t a drop of mercy in her entire body. Aurora’s heart ached for the lives lost, and for Mulan—her silent warrior who thought she had to shoulder it all on her own. She wanted to help, to stand beside Mulan, but also knew she was laughably under-prepared for that task. She couldn’t fight. She couldn’t track animals in the forest and hunt. She couldn’t even make a fire. She was not an adventurer or a treasure-seeker, she was a princess. She could dance, sew and knew how to curtsy to every level of nobility and royalty in the realm. For all the good that did her now. She had been raised to be a damsel, and did not do well with distress. Snow White had been a princess, too, and yet had shot a bow, wielded a sword, and had walked through the forest confidently, undeterred by the the wilderness. If the ‘Fairest of Them All’ could do it, so could she, right? She began to gather sticks and twigs for kindling, careful to avoid any vines that looked poisonous (see she knew that!). But in the time it had taken her to get thoroughly turned around and gather a measly arm-full of kindling, Mulan had improved their shelter, tended the horses, and reinforced the ring of rocks around their fire pit.
Aurora sighed. Mulan took the twigs and sticks from her with a nod and set about to making the fire. Aurora watched her competent movements, nothing elaborate or more complicated than it absolutely had to be: flint, steel, blow; it looked so simple. Surely she could do that.
Mulan bustled around the crackling fire, warming up dried fish and hard tack from the village for their dinner. It was a quiet meal, and Mulan, true to form, rose and tidied the camp before Aurora had half of her meal eaten.
They took care of their privy needs and then settled in for the night. Aurora’s sleeping pallet, softer now since Mulan had added more blankets, was under the shelter that Mulan had fussed over and across the fire from Mulan’s own, far more Spartan, pallet. Mulan, still full of nervous energy, sat cross-legged, almond shaped eyes intense as she brought out her sword and whetstone. The familiar rhythmic sound of the blade dragging across the stone made Aurora’s eyelids droop. She knew the sword was sharp as a shaving blade, but Mulan honed its edge out of nerves and not necessity. It made Aurora feel oddly safe, knowing that the warrior was right there, ready to defend her at a moment’s notice. It made falling asleep, something she should fear, all too easy.
The room was frighteningly familiar. The flames leapt and licked at her as if they had demonic minds of their own. It was unbearably hot and she choked on the acrid smoke. Aurora felt fear rush through her, paralyzing her in the center of the pillared room that she had come to think of as some special corner of Hell. She twisted her head around, desperate to find someone-anyone-else in the room with her.
Tears started to pour down her face, leaving clean streaks in the soot.
Still desperate, she looked frantically around her, “Henry!”
Her heart sank, she was alone. All alone again. Just like her enchanted sleep. Trapped alone in her head.
She didn’t want this. She wanted to wake up.
“Wake up!” she screamed at herself. “Wake up!”
She clutched her head between her hands, “I don’t deserve this!”
She screamed the words at the top of her lungs, “I want to go back!”
She scowled and sneered, “Dreams don’t control me!”
She stomped her foot, “I control me!”
Where she stomped, the mirror-like tile started to crack.
“I am in control of my own life!” She threw her head back and stomped her feet again, “And I want OUT!”
The floor beneath her spider-webbed and started to crumble and as gravity took hold and Aurora began to fall, she wondered if she should have chosen her words more carefully.
She could have been falling for minutes or days, time and space had no meaning in the foggy gray space she was tumbling through. She couldn’t scream, she couldn’t even breathe, but neither was she suffocating. It was like dipping under the water of a warm bath and floating between the frothy surface and the smooth marble bottom. She was suspended between here and there, wherever ‘there’ was.
The first voice she heard was far away, garbled and foreign. Then there was another voice, high with youth, asking if they could have a treat. More voices began to filter into the gray. Shapes began to appear, smudges in the mist, and she started to worry about what she had fallen into this time.
When her feet found solid ground, she breathed a sigh of relief. She looked around at the smoky and shifting landscape. It was real and yet, it seemed like a hallucination or fever dream. There were solid shapes, solid ground, but everything else seemed temporary and not quite right.
She felt fear creep up in her chest again.
The other woman had been cursed too, maybe she would be able to help?
There was no answer. “I just wish I could find my way.”
She muttered to herself and pushed her hands through her limp curls. She felt so lost.
Color, a deep and beautiful violet, began to pulse at her feet. She jumped, immediately afraid that something else would happen or shift. Nothing sinister seemed afoot, though. The violet patch of light, warm and welcoming, expanded and lengthened, becoming a glowing pathway through the gray.
She didn’t have much choice or alternate plan, so she followed the light. As she walked, the gray seemed to shrink and take shape. It was a tunnel, lit only by the twisting and turning path of light. If she squinted through the walls of gray that had closed around her, she could see other tunnels, hundreds, thousands even, an endless sea of gray tunnels, of paths leading somewhere.
She kept walking until the gray suddenly dissipated and found herself surrounded by people in a place she had never seen. She looked around, confused and out of place, as she tried to puzzle out where she was. There was food and drink, people celebrating, she had to be in some sort of tavern, but everything looked so bizarre. Everything was still shaded in grays, the odd chairs and benches, the strangely dressed people.
Red. There was a splash of vivid red. Aurora had to blink twice to make her eyes properly focus on it. The tall brunette woman weaving in and out of the people had lips as red as the sweetest cherries. Aurora twisted in place, trying to follow the color, when another color caught her attention. Bright, almost glowing, golden hair. She recognized this person, this woman.
She tried to grab onto the woman but Aurora’s hand passed right through her. Her eyes widened, horrified, what was going on?!
Emma (or was it a ghost of Emma?) put her arm around a boy that Aurora immediately recognized as Henry. His breeches were a vibrant blue.
“Gramps has been teaching me how to sword fight!”
He pointed joyfully at a man, Snow’s Prince Charming. He certainly looked the part, Aurora smiled. He positively glowed (very literally, he was glowing). Beside him, Snow White was dressed in a bright red dress, her short dark hair glossy, her face stretched in a smile. Her skin was also glowing with health. She was the only person in the strange tavern that was colored properly. She raised her glass stein, full of frothy amber ale, “To family.”
Everyone cheered at that announcement, save for one dark figure in the background. Aurora turned and lost her breath. The woman, predator of children’s nightmares, walked right past her without batting an eye. This was the woman who had slaughtered hundreds and cast the darkest curse in the history of magic. This was Cora’s daughter, the Evil Queen. Her skin was shockingly pale in comparison to the revealing black leathers she was wearing, and she swept past the group without blinking. She was, undoubtedly, beautiful, but it was a terribly haunting, austere and cold sort of beauty that seemed forced and artificial, as if manufactured by some darkened forge. Her long cape, black with pops of red, fluttered behind her as she strutted through the tavern. She paused at the door to look over her stiff and squared shoulder at the gathered crowd, specifically the little boy, Henry. Her lips, painted as black as her heart, quirked for a moment then she was gone.
For a moment, Aurora thought it was all over, but then Emma Swan moved just as quickly through the crowd, chasing the Evil Queen.
Snow dropped her glass and it shattered on the hard floor.
The red party dress was gone. Snow stood barefoot in a long white gown, long coal-colored curls flowing down her shoulders. She turned to her husband, “She’s taking her! She’s taking our daughter away again!”
David lifted his sword hand, ready to run and strike, but then he went stiff and gray, a statue.
Snow’s shrill scream drowned out all other noise and when Aurora clenched her eyes shut and covered her ears with her hands, it stopped.
Her eyes burst open and she looked around frantically. She was safe, she was okay, and she was back. The fire was down to its dying embers and on the other side of it, Mulan had finally succumbed to sleep. She lay on her side, one hand resting on the sword that lay beside her. Her hair: dark as a raven’s wing and as straight as rain, fell across her face. She breathed steadily in and out and Aurora could not believe how relaxed she looked. Sleep made her look years younger and somehow innocent, like the girl she must have been before whatever had happened to make her such a fierce warrior.
Aurora wiped the clammy sweat from her brow and settled back under her covers. They had a long ride ahead of them and she couldn’t wake Mulan crying about a strange dream every time she had one. The other woman hardly slept as it was. No, Aurora decided, she would keep this to herself. There was no reason to worry Mulan with a silly thing like a harmless dream, no matter how odd it had been.
Their morning of riding melted into a warm and breezy afternoon. It was a remarkably pretty trek for a journey that destined to end in such a dark and evil place. The Forbidden Fortress had not been so called because it was popular with visitors. It was a twisted palace of treacherous magic and a sorceress whose blood ran colder than a mountain stream. Maleficent was just as evil as the demons that her grandmother’s stories featured so often. She ached to bring up her protests again, but Aurora had her mind set, and with the Sanctuary gone, where else did they really have to go?
They rode in comfortable silence. An unusual silence to be sure, Aurora was uncharacteristically quiet. Perhaps she was weary? Mulan looked at her, but couldn’t be sure. The princess’s face was carefully blanked, the mark of a well-trained warrior or diplomat. Mulan’s lips twitched into an almost-smile. A royal mask, she supposed, that Aurora had learned at her mother and father’s knees.
There was a stream ahead, a good place to stop for a break. The horses needed to drink and rest, she needed to fill the water skins and Aurora needed to rest.
They dismounted and Mulan looked around to ensure that this was safe location. She saw rabbit tracks in the wet silt by the stream and shouldered her bow and quiver. If she was lucky, they could have fresh meat for dinner.
She knelt by the stream and let her fingers slip through the prints, grinning as they came back slick and gritty. They were fresh. She opened her mouth to ask Aurora if she wanted her dinner spit-roasted or stewed, but before she could get a syllable out, she saw pebbles dancing in the dust. Her eyes cut to the water and the large and ominous ripples that broke the stream’s flow. She had just enough time to draw her sword when they heard the first tree crash.
The grotesque trio emerged from the forest with rumbles, grumbles, and the bloody corpse of what might have been a cow swinging from a mangled leg. The ogres, three of them, caught their scent almost immediately. They were large, pale creatures made out of hulking muscle, sinew and pure rage. Their sightless eyes, dark and soulless, couldn’t see them, but their fine-tuned hearing and smell more than made up for that. Their patchwork loincloths and armor were smeared with mud, blood and other sorts of filth. Bones and skulls hung from their waists and weapons, trophies of their blood-thirsty journey across the Enchanted Forest. One carried a heavy double-bladed axe, another carried a crude spear, and the third, the biggest by far, had nothing in his hands but the dangling cow, apparently needing no weapon.
“We have to run.” Aurora hissed at her, voice full of fear. She handed Aurora her bow, arrows, and a dagger. “Stay here with Sampson. If they come towards you, get on him and gallop away. Do not look back.” She looked into Aurora’s sapphire eyes with an intensity that sliced the princess through with fear, “Do you understand me?”
“But–but no! Mulan, run with me. They can’t see us. We can go now.”
Mulan mounted Khan, her warhorse more then used to foolishly rushing into danger. He snorted and tossed his black mane.
“No but they can smell us. They can smell me.”
Mulan knew that she still reeked of sweat, blood, death and burning flesh. She smelled like war, an ogre’s favorite thing.
She repositioned her sword in her hand and pulled her helm onto her head. She pulled the chainmail across her face. The beasts had heard them and grunted at each other; Mulan didn’t need to know their primitive tongue to understand they had decided she and Aurora smelled like easy prey.
Others had made similar mistakes when challenging her and paid the price.
She had fought ogres before, it wasn’t easy. The best way to take them out was an arrow to their useless eyes, but with three of them, she would not have time to pick her shots before they were upon her. No, she would have to take a slightly more hands-on approach. It was more dangerous, but if they were all occupied with her, maybe they wouldn’t smell Aurora.
She raised her sword and pressed her knees into Khan’s side. He took off in a full gallop, ready to fight. She charged right at the ogres, aiming for the largest one. Her speed and direct attack would catch them by surprise. She was downwind of them, meaning that her scent was already being blown to them, immediately alerting them to her position. The hoofbeats probably made it sound like she was running away. She could not out-fight the ogres, they were simply too strong. She would have to out-think them. They were just, she smirked, very big Huns with even worse breath.
She dropped the reins (Khan knew what he was supposed to do), and reached into her belt pouch. She took a handful of poppy powder, the last handful she had, and readied herself. If she didn’t do this exactly right, she would meet a swift and painful end. She rode up to them at full speed and ducked the largest ogre’s haymaker punch with only a moment to spare. When his shoulder rotated from the momentum of the punch, she blew the red powder into his face. He stumbled back, stunned and confused, pawing at his nose and mouth, trying to clear the dust away, even as it started to hit his system. She pressed her knee into Khan’s left flank hard and he made a sharp turn, his hooves kicking up grass and dust. This brought her around the back of that same ogre and then around to his right side. Khan twisted, a true fighting warhorse, and delivered a devastating blow to the ogre’s ribs as they moved by. It roared in pain but the sound was quickly cut off when Mulan flew at him with all of her strength, her sword sinking into the thick meat of his neck with a sick swack of steel slicing flesh. Leaping off the back of a galloping horse had been risky but gave her the advantage of surprise. She didn’t take the ogre’s entire head, his neck was too thick, but she kept pressing into him as he fell, gravity helping her slice away a significant amount of his neck. Blood spurted onto her, coating her arms, chest and helm. When they hit the ground, she rolled away, pulling her sword from the deep wound as she moved. His head was still on his shoulders but the gurgling rush of blood told her that he would soon be dead. She leapt to her feet, sword at the ready. “Fănhuí,” she called. Khan immediately responded to her command and doubled around to pick her up. It was a maneuver they had practiced and used countless times. Only this time Khan was just a little too slow, and their enemy a little too fast.
The other two ogres, both big, ugly, and armed, rushed her.
It had only been seconds, but it felt like she had already been fighting for hours. The ogres had recovered from the initial shock of her attack and were now on the offensive. She dodged the hard chop of one ogre’s axe, but before she had time to turn all the way around, five strong and filthy fingers seized her. The ogre’s grip was painfully tight. She could hear her armor creak and crack. She struggled to breathe.
He didn’t squeeze her for long, though, before sending her flying through the air, lobbed as easily as a child tossing a toy, into the trees. She hit hard against a pine tree and slid down, her entire back and left side a fiery mass of pain. She muttered curses that honorable soldiers of the Imperial Army weren’t supposed to know, and tried to get back to her feet. Every single part of her hurt, she couldn’t feel her left leg and the taste of smoke and copper in her mouth told her she had bit through part of her inner cheek. She shook her head to clear the lingering fuzziness and pushed her pain away, she would deal with her injuries later, and started to sprint. It wasn’t exactly graceful or fast, but she didn’t need to be pretty, just deadly. The spear-wielding ogre, the one who had thrown her, roared at her, but as he lunged to grab her, she slid between his legs. Two fast slashes of her sword left the tender meat behind his knees in shreds. The lumbering beast fell to the ground with a howl. He was down, but not out. He spun his spear, a heavy and roughly hewn weapon, in a wide arc and she stumbled backwards, but not quickly enough to avoid a blow. She, by battle-honed instinct, tried to catch the blow on her gauntlet but it landed on the joint of her armor instead, cutting through the leather that secured it to her body. She grit her teeth against the pain, unwilling to scream. She felt her ancestors had to be looking out for her, though, because the blow had not been to her sword arm. In the moment it took her to cover her wound with her opposite hand, the ogre swung again, this time catching her square on the helm. She lurched to the side, trying to roll with the blow. Her helm flew off her head, chain mail scraping her face as it was ripped away. Her long dark hair fell loose and she wiped her bleeding lip with her glove. She wasn’t totally sure when she’d fallen to her knees, but knew she had to get up. Only there was a sharp pain in her side and her legs felt weak. If only the gongs would stop going off in her head, she might be able to think.
Her vision swam and she watched two ogres become four. They were still scrambling to get at her, blind rage and instincts driving them. One had retrieved the cow carcass and swung it around hard, presumably to hit her, but it flew over her head by several feet and smacked into the other ogre, with a disgustingly loud squash of wet tissue and blood. The injured ogre, now covered in cow blood, roared and swung his spear again, but found nothing but air as the axe-wielder had already moved away. His nostrils flared and the muscles in his jaw contracted right as he caught her scent and turned to face her.
Mulan swallowed bile and blood and lifted her sword again, for all the good it was doing her.
She pressed her hand to her mouth to muffle her screams. The ogres were going to kill Mulan. First the tree, then her arm, and now her head. Aurora watched as Mulan’s helm bounced away from her, dented beyond repair.
Sampson stomped his hooves and pressed his nose against her, trying to get her to leave with him. The horse was trying to tell her to run. No. She wasn’t a knight or a warrior, but she could do something (couldn’t she?). She looked at the bow and arrow wistfully. She was not Snow White and while she knew the basic theory of archery, she had no practical knowledge of how to use the weapon. She desperately tried to remember her history lessons. The Ogre Wars had been so long ago, though, and her tutor had been so very boring. Did ogres hate fire? Or was that trolls? Or witches? No, Aurora told herself, she was sure it was ogres. She looked around at the grassy fields, dry from lack of rain and tending. Ogres hated fire and they were surrounded by dry kindling. She went to Sampson’s saddlebag and found the flint stone. She could do this. She could help Mulan escape.
She hit and scraped her dagger against the stone once, twice, thrice, until sparks jumped from the stone and landed on the weeds. She fell to her knees and started to blow the cherry red smoldering embers, fanning them to life. The grass caught fire quickly, burning bright and hot, and spread fast, sending gray smoke into the air. She coughed and fought against the memories of the burning room. She forced herself to focus; she was doing this to help Mulan, after all. She unpinned her cloak and started to flap it, feeding the fire and directing it towards the fight. The fire, hungry and eager to burn through whatever it could, moved quickly towards Mulan and the two remaining ogres.
Did they look more nervous now? It was hard to tell from this distance. She gripped her dagger. “Come on, Mulan.”
As if she had heard her, Mulan looked up surprised but pleased, and for a moment their eyes met across the broad field. The quick nod told Aurora that she had done something good, she had helped. She wrapped her cloak, dingy and full of smoldering holes now, around her wrist, continued to flap it, and sent a prayer to all of the gods, holy, unholy, familiar and foreign, to protect Mulan.
The ogre that had a spear lurched to the side when the other ogre hit him with the bloody carcass, roaring his disapproval. Mulan had seemingly, caught her breath and moved again. Not as fast or as fluidly as she had before, but she was faster and smarter than the ogre. She unhooked her own cloak, long and red, and threw it over the ogre’s pale and hideous face. Aurora watched, amazed, as Mulan twisted and pirouetted, twisting her cloak around the creature’s head and neck. Though he was on his knees, he was ferociously strong. He twisted and bucked, trying to throw Mulan off of his back. She held fast, strangling the beast, pulling back so hard that Aurora feared she would pull apart her own shoulders.
The other ogre, the one with a massive axe dragging behind him, snorted, huffed, then attacked. He was following Mulan’s scent, though, so his axe chopped a huge gouge into his companion’s arm by mistake. The beast on his knees twisted around to see what had struck him, and Mulan was exposed to the other. Aurora bit back another scream and watched on in terror, but Mulan responded quickly, jerking her cape fast and hard, yanking the ogre back around. The monster roared and bucked again. Aurora watched helplessly as Mulan was tossed about like a limp rag doll.
The axe ogre roared and swung his weapon around again, trying to hit something, anything. His barrage of beatings helped Mulan force the spear ogre down. Then, without missing a beat, she put her boot against the neck of the one beneath her feet and jerked her shoulders back with all her might. Aurora did not need to hear the sharp crack of bone to know she had snapped its neck.
The smoke from the now raging grass fire had finally reached the battlefield and Aurora hoped that it masked Mulan’s scent. She also hoped the fire would burn the last ogre, blistering and charring him to death.
The final ogre, a beast with an axe as long as she was tall, realized he stood alone (maybe he knew the scent of his brothers’ blood?) and let loose a blood curdling scream. He charged at Mulan and Aurora opened her mouth to scream, but Mulan was gone. She had retreated into the thick smoke from the fire.
Aurora couldn’t exactly see what was happening, but she hoped Mulan was okay. She knew the other woman was hurt and, to Aurora’s dismay, the ogre didn’t seem to be bothered by the smoke and fire. She wasn’t sure who attempted the first blow, because the flashes of metal in smoke was hard to follow, but when it started to dissipate from their position, she could see Mulan, dark hair blowing in the light afternoon breeze, her sword held in an attack position, face set in a scowl.
The ogre swung his axe, chopping at Mulan clumsily. Mulan dodged the first two blows but the third landed a blunt blow from the handle solidly on her side, the same side that had been thrown into the tree. She was dazed and the ogre struck again, this time hitting her in the chest, rough-hewn axe-blade angled, but cutting.
Aurora’s scream made the ogre twist its head and grunt.
But luckily, without knowing it, she’d given Mulan another gift of battle: distraction. Her scream had given Mulan a moment and, still dangling from the brute’s axe, she’d lunged at him with her sword, kicking her legs for leverage. Her sword, bright in the sun and flames, sank into his soft white belly and she pulled it sideways, hard. His grasp on her broke and she fell, tearing him as she went. His guts and bowels, a mess of red blood and disgusting innards, spilled out onto the ground. He fell to his knees and Mulan slashed his throat, a mercy blow he hadn’t deserved. A new spurt of blood splashed across her face and Mulan barely registered it.
“Mulan!” Aurora called out and ran to her, cloak and dagger still clutched in either fist, towards the wounded warrior.
There was so much blood, on the ground and on Mulan, she wasn’t sure what belonged to what —or who. She knew, though, that Mulan was hurt.
She ran and didn’t even notice when her tiara fell off of her head. It landed in the blood-tainted mud, unimportant, unnecessary, and abandoned.
She pulled Mulan, still standing, into a hug the moment she reached her, all concerns about Mulan’s modesty pushed aside.
“You’re okay? You’re okay? Please say you’re okay!”
Mulan coughed, “I am alive.” Aurora pulled her away from the gore and back towards the stream where both horses were waiting for them. She gently pushed Mulan onto a flat stone.
“You’re alive. How, though? He hit you in the chest. I saw you dangling and—”
Mulan shook her head. “My armor took the brunt of it.” Aurora looked down and saw that the intricate black armor had a large gash in it, cracked all the way through. There was some blood, but nothing like she had expected.
“It’s barely a scratch, Princess.”
Aurora’s fingers started their search for ties and buckles, “We’ll see about that. You sit right here. We’re camping here tonight. You will rest.” Her tone, so like the way her mother sounded in her head, brokered no argument. She pulled Mulan’s ruined armor off of her with careful, gentle hands, to reveal a sweat- and blood-soaked, unbleached linen tunic. She gingerly lifted it, peeling it away in some places, and hissed at the gashes and painful bruises.
The woman let out a breath, “I’ve had worse, really.”
Aurora shook her head. “Stay still.” She took the dagger and shredded the bottom of her dress and petticoat so she would have something almost clean to wipe the blood away from Mulan’s wounds.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.” She grinned, “For a change.”
The sun started to set and Aurora wrapped the cut and mostly clean remains of her cloak around Mulan’s bruised and possibly broken ribs. “Now you just rest here. I’m going to set up camp.” Mulan nodded, obviously too tired and sore to argue. Aurora ran her fingers through Mulan’s hair. “Thank you for saving me. Again.”
Mulan nodded, “I swore I would protect you. Always.”
Aurora felt a wave of warmth go through her. “I know.”
he Jolly Roger, once the shining beacon of the growing Naval power in the Enchanted Forest, the ship supposedly made of love and powered by hope, was barely floating. Killian Jones knew every inch of his ship, from bow to stern, and he felt sick with its destruction. He propped his boot on the ragged stub of the mainmast and took a deep drink from his flask. He winced at the harsh burn as the cheap, gut rot rum went down his throat. Pirate’s swill. One thing he had rather liked about Storybrooke was the fact that there had been an overabundance of alcohol of all sorts. He, a seasoned sailor of more seas than most men knew existed, had discovered alcohols there that he had never even imagined. Hoppy beers, sweet wines, warm rice-derived liquors, bourbons, scotches, and rum. Oh so much rum. Flavored rum, even. He had no idea who Captain Morgan happened to be, or what ship he sailed, but if he ever met the scallywag, he would buy him a never-ending parade of harlots as thanks for his delicious, private label rum.
The sun had risen and set once more by the time they finally reached Pirate Bay. He had sailed with some truly salty and slipshod sailors, but he was half-drunk and still embarrassed by the people crewing his precious ship. They were all damp, dirty, surly and sore. The Charmings, Mommy and Daddy Dearest (and Emma too) were all severely sunburnt. Regina, the ‘All Powerful Evil Queen’, could barely stand under her own power, and the Crocodile had disappeared beneath the deck to do whatever it was he did to stop the ship from sinking into the deep. Hook took another long drink. He turned his head to stare at the island. It had been a Hell he thought he had finally escaped, but like time and time again, he was back.
It looked beautiful from here, a paradise with white beaches, lush forests and hidden grottos full of sweet fruits and refreshing waters. Lies. All bloody lies and trickery. He hated every single grain of sand on the damn island and the fact that he seemed forever fated to return.
He turned his head and clenched his jaw. His hook, sharp curved steel that had served him well over many years, twitched. The muscles of his arm and shoulder, the fleshy parts that should be attached to a whole and healthy hand, bunched and flexed. It was not physically painful. The twinges and tingling were only in his mind. The rum usually numbed him to the sensation.
The Dark One, the damn Crocodile who had taken his Milah and his hand, strutted across the deck. He had redressed himself in black leathers. He did not have the gold skin and cold eyes, but he was a crocodile none-the-less. Killian’s hand fell to his sword and he itched to draw it.
The Crocodile looked around them, twirling his cane in his hand, “You think you can save Henry? Look around, Dearies, you can’t even save yourselves.”
He had everyone’s attention now. He laughed, an ice-cold titter that made Killian’s stomach jerk.
“A one handed pirate, an out-of-luck bounty hunter, a dog catcher, a school teacher and a second-rate small town bureaucrat.” Everyone had been shocked to silence, even Her Majesty, though he could see the woman mouthing the words ‘second rate’ as if it were the worst insult she’d ever heard. “I’m sure all of Neverland is quaking in its boots.”
He twisted a hand in the air and a cloud of scarlet smoke covered them. Killian drew his sword, but as the smoke started to clear, realized the magic had been unusually helpful.
“There, now you at least look the part.”
Killian raised a brow as he looked at the lot of them. Snow White was dressed like a woods woman, (or bandit?), complete with bow and quiver of arrows. David stood beside her, dressed in fine leather armor and cloak, sword strapped to his side, every inch a knight and prince. Swan stood with her hands on her hips, face set in a scowl. She looked very much the way she had when they had first met; tight blue breeches and white shirt covered by a blood red leather jacket. He watched her jaw drop and eyes widen when the smoke cleared and he followed her eye line, only to find that Her Majesty had returned to her full, dark glory. The dress was ornate, a rich and deep purple with low-cut front, fan collar, and jeweled pendant that sat in the hollow of her throat just above the luscious sweetness of her generously displayed cleavage. Her face, though, was set in a furious scowl. Her hair, still cropped short, looked oddly modern in comparison to her queenly garb.
Swan still hadn’t spoken or blinked. He could hardly blame her. The Queen might be evil, but she was undeniably beautiful. It hadn’t always been magic that had brought nobles and common men alike to their knees in front of her, she was almost ethereally bewitching. Currently, her lip was curled in a sneer, eyes darkened almost black, glare leveled at the Crocodile. She looked angry enough to kill, and Rumpelstiltskin had apparently offered himself up as tribute.
He didn’t seem overly worried about the Queen’s fury, though. He only shrugged and flicked his wrist again. Scarlet smoke surrounded the woman, and when it cleared, the dress was gone. Regina had been re-attired in sleek black leather breeches that fit her sinfully well. She was also wearing a loose and teasingly thin white shirt beneath a long leather jerkin. She was shorter than usual, though, and when he looked down he realized that her customary high heels had been replaced with black riding boots. Regina looked herself up and down and crossed her arms over her chest, seemingly satisfied with her appearance.
Swan still looked as though she had been stunned, and both David and Snow looked acutely uncomfortable, as if this relatively plain outfit was somehow more intimidating than the dress.
“Well at least you’ll be pretty corpses.” The Crocodile commented in a snide and condescending voice.
“No one is dying here, Gold.” David puffed out his chest and raised his chin, “We’re going to save Henry and go home.”
Rumpel laughed, another spine-chilling chuckle. “Ah ah ah,” he wagged a single finger in the air. “You’re setting yourselves up for suicide, and I for one, don’t care to see that.” He turned sharply, and paced the deck, “I will save my grandson myself.” He put his cane on the deck and leaned against it for a moment, “And if you were as half as smart as you seem to think you are, you will stay here and wait for me to return with the boy.”
“Over my dead body.” Regina’s harsh response was fast and furious.
The Crocodile spun his cane and in one last puff of red smoke, was gone. The cane fell to the deck with a clatter and rolled to a stop, useless without someone to lean upon it.
Emma blew out a loud breath, “Well, shit.”
Snow told herself that it was just going to be like old times. Only it wasn’t. The bow’s weight was familiar in her hand, the quiver riding on her shoulder the same way it always had, and her leathers felt comfortable, her boots silent on the forest floor. Only she wasn’t the bandit she had once been. She didn’t feel like a princess fighting for her realm, either; instead she felt like a school teacher who had dressed up for Halloween. Only that wasn’t right either. She wasn’t Snow White and she wasn’t Mary Margaret, she was an odd mix of both. She looked to her right. Emma, dressed the same way she had been the first time they had met, looked distinctly uncomfortable and worried. She looked to her left, and saw that David looked confident and oddly comfortable, but his eyes betrayed his concern, having not left Regina since the magical smoke had cleared. Regina, she sighed, not wanting to look at her. She couldn’t. The clothing change been jarring to say the least. Regina was dressed so casually, by Enchanted Forest standards now, that Snow almost wished she had remained in the dress. She had never seen Regina like this, dressed to comfort and function, not beauty and intimidation. Well she had once, a very long time ago, but as Regina herself had said, that girl who wore sky blue riding jackets with ribbons to match, was gone. Wasn’t she?
Snow dragged her fingers through her short hair and, not for the first time since the curse had broken, wished she still had long hair to toy with. Still, it did not matter if she felt like it or not, she was a Queen, a leader, and a mother and grandmother. “So tell us about Neverland, Captain.” She tried to imagine that she was talking to one of the men of her army back in the days so long ago when she’d had one. Her voice was hard and steely, firm and resolute—she sounded like a queen. She didn’t notice that both David and Emma had looked at her with matching expressions of shock. Later, David would confide in her that she had sounded a little too much like Regina.
Hook didn’t seem to mind, though. He found a stick and scratched a map into the sand. It was not especially pretty and, Snow imagined, exactly accurate, but Hook seemed confident in his general knowledge.
He dragged a long line through the approximate middle of the island. “Crocodile Creek. It’s a dark and twisting waterway that we should avoid. The Lost Boys will be the least of our worries there.” He drew something that resembled a mountain. “The volcanoes, another nasty place to avoid.” He moved to the left. “and the Western Peninsula. . . well, we just won’t go there, mates.” He sighed and drew his stick across the map and scratched out something that looked like a skull. “Skull Island, not a place for those with light hearts.” He drew an x a bit above and to the the right of the volcano and so-called Crocodile Creek.
“Let me guess,” Emma said with a healthy dose of sarcasm in her voice, “somewhere else we shouldn’t go.”
Hook looked up, his scruffy face suddenly serious, his laser-blue eyes sober, “This is Pan’s Camp. It’s the absolute last place anyone wants to be, Love. It’s also our destination, unfortunately.” He sighed and lifted his flask to his lips and took yet another swallow of alcohol. “Our best bet is to go through the Dark Jungle on the far side of the river. It is a longer route, but less likely to be booby trapped.” He took a swig.
“What’s to the West?” David asked, his hand, warm and reassuring, rested on Snow’s shoulder.
“Trust me when I say you don’t want to know.”
Hook tilted his flask again, but before he could drink, it was propelled from his hand. The offending arrow that had torn through it pierced the sand, ruining their map.
Snow moved before she thought, before she even realized she was moving. She stepped in front of Emma, shoulder to shoulder with her husband, and drew her bow with an arrow ready, in one smooth motion. They strung themselves out in a loose line, weapons drawn, all but Regina.
Though the way she flexed her gloved fingers, it was obvious she needed no weapon.
Another arrow flew through the air and it was quickly and easily caught in one deft movement. Regina turned her head, as if offended that someone dared to shoot an arrow at her. It was clutched in her fist. A small drop of blood slid down her wrist and stained the sand. She didn’t even flinch.
“Here they come.” Her words were low and throaty, the tone and cadence of the feared and loathed Evil Queen. No matter how dark her words were, though, they were true. Boys, at least ten of them, seemed to appear from the shadows themselves. They were armed with bows, swords, spears and thick and deadly looking clubs. There were, though, just boys. The oldest couldn’t be more than sixteen.
“They’re just—”Emma’s voice wavered, “kids.”
Hook raised his sword, “Don’t let them fool you, Love. They’re little monsters through and through.”
“Well, well, well,” one of the boys stepped forward, “if it isn’t our old friend Captain Hook.” He pushed back his hood to reveal a shock of pale hair and a scarred face. “Here to die on the exact same beach as your dear bro—”
He didn’t even finish his sentence before Hook lunged at him, sword already coming down in a hard and fast arc.
Snow wanted to protest, that regardless of the stories she’d been told as a child, now that they were here, she could plainly see they were just boys, only a little older than Henry.
Regina, suddenly blood-thirsty, sent the arrow she had caught back at the boys in flames. Snow let her arrows fly, sure, but couldn’t aim directly at the boys, just around them, lest she might hurt them. She knew that as soon as they realized she meant business, they would run away. She choked on her thoughts almost immediately as an arrow flew back at her, specifically at her head. She had to duck or die. She opened her mouth to shout in protest but when she turned to call to Charming, she saw Emma.
Emma, her daughter, was chopping inexpertly at one of the boys with a cutlass. The boy, obviously skilled at fighting, brought his club around hard, like a baseball home run derby contestant, and the crack of wood on skin and bone echoed across the beach.
“You little fucker!” Emma ducked away and hissed, limping and holding her side. Snow didn’t even think twice. When the boy lifted his club again, she fired an arrow straight into his eye. He was dead before he hit the sand.
Emma straightened up, hand still cradling her ribs, “Thanks.”
Snow looked across the short expanse of sand at David. He was fighting two boys and beating them easily. He caught her eye and they looked, in tandem, at their daughter. Their conversation was silent and their decision all too easy.
They moved in sync with one another and planted themselves on either side of their daughter. They had to protect and defend Emma.
Two yards away, Regina was fighting a handful of boys, blasting them with fireballs, throwing them with her magic. Her eyes were wide, black, and frighteningly empty. Her mouth was stretched in a manic smile and she moved with quick graceful bursts of speed and magic. She didn’t seem so tired now. It was almost as if she was enjoying herself.
Not that Snow was worried about her or Hook, who appeared caught up in some sort of personal vendetta against the blonde leader he was fighting—Pan, she assumed.
David and Snow were so close that they were elbowing each other with every step. She couldn’t move without tripping over one or both of them. Okay, so she wasn’t that great with a sword, she got that. She flipped the handle around and pistol-whipped (sword-whipped?) a kid too young to shave right in the temple. He fell down immediately, instant sack-of-potatoes-deadweight. She tried to step over him, but Snow, seemingly attached to her at the hip, tried to do the same thing. They both tripped and stumbled, which would have been funny if the Lost Boys (another movie she would never be able to enjoy again) weren’t kicking their asses. She looked around. Hook and one of the boys, a skinny, bleach blonde Kiefer Sutherland wanna-be, were still going at it.
Regina who had twisted around, chucking fireballs like it was nothing, let out a scream, “Enough!”
She drew herself up to her full height, a few inches shorter than usual without her heels, and raised her hands in the air. Purple mist, a color she was always going to associate with Regina, enveloped the beach and sped towards the tree line. The trees shimmered with her power and Emma didn’t know what to expect, but the magic suddenly halting, the trees and vines suddenly bending, hadn’t been it. Regina smiled, something both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. She was wild and darkly beautiful, and in her clothes, she looked like she belonged on the cover of a fantasy novel. Then Emma noticed that the vein on her forehead was pulsing and Regina’s full lips were tight over a grimace. Her hands were shaking and Emma saw dark eyes go wide with something that looked very much like fear then a boom, like a rocket launch, drowned out all other sounds. Regina flew backwards, legs kicking, and landed hard in the sand as her own magic, now tainted with swirls of black, flew back at her in full force. The trees returned to their former, stationary position, and the boys laughed and mocked the sorceress as five of them descended on her in a deadly dog pile.
“Did you see that, Felix?!” One of the boys laughed as he twisted the sword in his hand, “she tried to control Pan’s island!” He jumped into the fray, sword point pointed down, ready to impale the prone brunette.
She tried to reach her, to run across to help defend her, but David turned and Snow pulled back her bow and Emma was knocked to the sand. She fell and didn’t even have time to brace herself. She landed flat on her stomach on the not-so-soft-sand. Her chin smacked into the damp ground hard enough to make her chomp down on her tongue, her mouth filling with the nauseating iron taste of blood. Fan-freaking-tastic.
Snow tried to fire an arrow and turn around to help her up at the same time, which worked just about as well as could be expected, and Emma blew out a breath. This was ridiculous!
A moment later, though, Regina appeared to be handling it as the boys that surrounded her were blown back and Emma watched the her stagger to her feet. She didn’t look all that great, none of them did, but she was alive.
Emma’s head snapped up when a shrill whistle sounded three times. The Lost Boys all stopped, and when two more whistles sounded, even the blonde stopped fighting with Hook. The blonde back-flipped (really?) away from Hook, kicking him square in the jaw as he went, and sheathed his sword. He brought his hands to his mouth, “Caw-Caw! That’s it, Boys, you heard him!” He pulled his hood back over his face, “Back to the shadows!” They all followed his order immediately, picking up their dead or unconscious friends as they went. They melted back into the jungle, and if not for the footprints and blood stains on the beach, it would be impossible to tell they had ever been there at all.
Emma pushed herself to her knees and then stood. Damp sand clung to her clothes and she grimaced, she’d just gotten them.
“Well that—” a way-too-cheerful Snow chirped in her Mary-Margaret voice, “—didn’t go too badly.”
Emma almost laughed out loud, Regina actually did. “Are you serious?”
Not for the first time, Emma wholeheartedly agreed with Regina. They hadn’t won or even tied, for chrissakes, they had come up dead LAST. They had just been handed their asses on silver platters.
They were a sweaty, panting mess. None of them were hurt, but that wasn’t the point. The damage had been mental. They had just been beaten by a freaking junior high soccer team, more or less. Some “savior” she was, right? She had fallen flat on her face, literally, while trying to fight off a kid who should be more worried about braces and pimples then sword fighting. It was freaking demoralizing.
She looked around, David and Snow were checking each other for wounds, Hook was glaring at the woods, and Regina was glaring at the space just over Snow’s left shoulder. Great, Emma groused, it was apparently up to her. She wasn’t a leader. She hadn’t even lead her class in the Pledge of Allegiance in school, not even once. Her random memberships in clubs and associations, two months in Brownie Scouts, a year and two days on a JV basketball team and two and a half hours on the Debate Team had not taught her any valuable leadership skills.
She was gonna have to improvise, which actually was one her skills. She pushed her sword through her belt (because wasn’t that how pirates did that?), and cleared her throat. She crossed her arms over her chest, and was thankful that Gold had provided her with her favorite jacket. At least she looked like a badass, even if she felt like an idiot.
“Well that sucked.” Everyone turned to her, but no one replied (well, unless she counted Regina’s sarcastic snort, and to be honest, she kinda did). Emma looked around and pushed her hand through her sweaty blonde hair. “Well after the not-so-welcome storm and having our asses kicked by the 8th grade detention brigade, I think it’s pretty safe to say that isn’t going to be a Carnival Cruise.”
“What sort of Captain would permit a carnival to take place on his ship?” Hook’s honest question made Emma want to scream.
“Look, here’s the thing. This isn’t Walt’s Never-Never Land. It’s creepy, dangerous and it’s going to be tough going. So I don’t think any of us—” She stared pointedly at Snow, “—should underestimate the island or the boys who live on it, and especially not this Pan kid. Gold said we were on a suicide mission, but I think we can pull it off, IF—” She stopped and looked around at the group that had gathered around her, “—we work together.”
That was immediately met with resistance.
“Well of course, we should work together, we’re family. But we can’t really trust Captain Hook and the Evil Queen.”
“The last time we worked together, you left me chained up with a giant, Love. I don’t forgive and forget so easily.”
Emma looked over at Regina, hoping to find back-up there. The brunette only raised a single aristocratic eyebrow, “What, you think joining hands and singing Kumbaya will help save Henry?”
“Y’know what?” Emma raged, “maybe Gold was right.” She threw up her hands in exasperation, “We’re going to get ourselves killed if we keep going on like this.” She took a deep breath, “Fighting for ourselves, staking out territory and not communicating worth a damn. We were a mess. YOU—” she turned to her parents, “were so busy being—” She didn’t even know the word, “Charmings” (close enough), “that you were falling over each other trying to protect me, making us utterly useless.”
She shook her head, “I can handle myself, I don’t need an overly-optimistic Mommy and a Daddy with a Hero-complex fluttering around me constantly. I regularly located, tracked, and trapped scoundrels for a living, on my own, for YEARS—I’m not in any way helpless.”
She then turned to look at Regina, “And you overextended your magic. Again.” She scowled, “You heard Hook say that Pan is literally the island and it is him, and yet you still decided that the best idea was to go toe-to-toe with him on his own turf? Really?”
Hook chuckled, “True words.”
Emma whirled on her heel. “And don’t get me started on you. You started this whole mess by having a pissing match with teenaged-Dennis-the-Menace.”
The dark haired pirate crossed his arms over his chest, “His name is Felix and he is a menace. He will die by my sword.”
“You see?!” Emma looked around at all of them again, “A freaking mess. The only reason we aren’t picking our body parts off the sand right now is because those kids retreated.” She saw Snow open her mouth to protest, but Emma sent her a glare telling her not even to try. She shut it again and looked away. “We have to work together,” Emma stated firmly. She looked at her parents, Hook and Regina, “for Henry.”
Hadn’t she just had this conversation? She didn’t look at Regina, though, didn’t meet her gaze.
“We’re Henry’s heroes because he is a kid and still believes in good and evil and adventures and that right will always beat wrong in the end. Only, here’s the thing. That’s all bullshit. We’re not heroes.”
Only these people did expect her to be a hero. She rolled her eyes internally. She was supposed to be this bigger than life savior who had all the answers and could break any curse and save the day. She was the daughter of Snow White and Prince Freaking Charming, a perfect little princess grown up into some kind of knight in shining armor. Her lips twisted into a small smirk. Yeah, right. Man had they put their bets on the wrong horse in this fairytale race. Still, she had to try, for Henry, for her son. She had to be the best ‘Savior’ she could be.
“So yeah, we’re not all heroes. Hell some of us aren’t even the good guys.” She chuckled at the carnival side-show her life had become. “I mean yeah we have a princess and a knight in shining armor but we also have a pirate and—”
She let herself look at Regina, really look at her. The woman she had thought she had known, the power suit and perfectly coiffed mayor that had been suddenly replaced by a flesh-and-blood version of a story book villain. She had never, ever, seen Regina as the Evil Queen, but now? How could she forget what she had seen? Regina had been breathtaking, so gorgeous it had stopped her heart, but so very dark too. It wasn’t just the dress, either (though Dear God that had been amazing), but when she was fighting. It had been her eyes and the way she had moved, and the way that she had destroyed those boys, using magic as a deadly weapon. The same hands that had bandaged Henry’s skinned knees had just thrown fireballs and spewed magic with deadly accuracy at kids his age. The two images just didn’t gel in Emma’s mind. Henry’s Mom and the Evil Queen seemed so different and yet they were the same person. . . something she could not let herself forget.
“—an evil queen.” She regretted the words as soon as she’d said them, but there they were all the same. Emma knew she was reacting in fear, but just couldn’t stop the hurtful words pouring from her face. “And—” she shrugged, “there’s me.” Because Gold had been right. She was just a bounty hunter who was always balanced on the thin edge between wrecking and winning (but here goes nothing, Swan). “Now I’m here to kick ass, take names and save Henry. Who’s with me?”
They all nodded (even though Regina’s was more like an involuntary flick of her chin; god that woman infuriated her sometimes), and she felt a little tiny flame of hope come alive somewhere deep inside of her.
She pushed her hand through her long blonde hair. “So, Hook, why don’t you lead the way.” She held out her hands, gesturing to the thick jungle Vanna White style.
“Why him?” Snow quickly asked, her eyes narrowing, “We can’t trust him. Don’t forget what he did in the Enchanted Forest.”
“And,” David added, “he took the bean. We can’t trust him. Why is he even here?”
Emma paused and waited for Regina to chime in, that Hook had traded her to Greg and Tamara to be tortured to near death, but the other woman stayed silent.
“I don’t trust him. That’s why I want him where I can see him.”
Hook started walking with only a jaunty eyebrow raise and a smirk, “I like it when you get feisty, Swan.”
She glared at his back as she fell into step behind him. “Yeah well, you have no idea what I’m capable of.”
Snow and David followed her, and Emma knew that Regina was bringing up the back, silent and probably pissed. Emma knew she had hurt her and would have to apologize, that she’d had stepped way over the line and she would . . . later. When everyone wasn’t hanging on her every word and her parents weren’t hovering like helicopters around a police chase. And maybe she wouldn’t even have to apologize if she could get their son back for her quickly. She set her jaw, determined, and kept step with the scruffy pirate in front of her.
Regina followed the group, but not too closely. There was only so long she could deal with the idiots before she gave into her homicidal tendencies and she was already far beyond her daily recommended dose of ‘The Charmings’.
Regina shook her head, and now she apparently had three of them to deal with. How lovely. She understood the pressure Emma was under, better than anyone else. She had gone through it herself, once upon a time. She remembered what it was like to be suddenly royal. The expectations, the constant judgment and demand of perfection. She knew Emma was struggling with it all and she had silently encouraged her, though she would never admit that out loud. She had been so proud of her. Emma had taken charge and reminded everyone that she wasn’t just Snow’s precious daughter, she was a fighter and a leader. Regina had been behind her all the way. Until she had called her an Evil Queen. That had been so unexpected, it hurt her. Despite everything Emma had said earlier, with the trigger and on the ship, the woman obviously still didn’t see her as Henry’s mother or even a woman—just the Evil Queen. Just like everyone else. Why had she thought it would be any different? She was the Evil Queen, after all, and everyone knew it. It was foolish to think anyone saw her as anyone and anything else. Even this woman who—she dropped that train of thought like a hot stove. Even Henry— Again she stopped herself, shaking her head. No, with Henry she knew. She loved him, always had, and Henry loved her. He was her everything and she would save him all by herself if she had to. She was a fool to trust anyone else with her son. Hadn’t they all turned on her when Archie had been dead (as temporary as that had been)? It had been foolish of her to think that they could all work together as a team, that she would be accepted onto their team of do-gooders. Foolish, emotional, and weak, and she couldn’t afford to be weak. Not now, not even with what she knew, not in Neverland, and not with Henry’s life on the line.
So she walked behind the Charmings and hardened herself, she raised her shields and built high castle walls around her aching and terrified heart. She slid her royal mask of indifference over her features and reminded herself that she was the Evil Queen and she owned that title, not the other way around. Perhaps Rumpel was right, Regina could not survive in Neverland, but the Evil Queen certainly could. Henry might never forgive her, but at least he would be alive and safe in her arms once more. If Emma and her precious parents and the pirate wanted the Evil Queen, then who was she to argue?
She paused and indulged herself for just a moment. She wrapped her arms around her own middle, imagining as she always did, that it was her father, her fiancé, her son—loving her, holding her, telling her that they loved her.
She let her arms drop, her hands curled into fists and she lifted her chin. She would have her Little Prince in her arms once more, she would save him if it was the last thing that she did. She was going to save Henry.
. . . To Be Continued in Episode 4
Total Word Count: 12265 words