Wow, Daring thought to himself as he continued on down the hallway. People sure were taking a big interest in his new mirror. Not that he could blame them; after all, it was highly recommended by the catalog he’d ordered from, even if it was a bit smaller than he would have liked. The bigger model wouldn’t have fit through his door, so this was the best he could do.
After waving to a few of his fans, who seemed a little bit more stunned by his presence than usual, he finally arrived to his dorm room and reached for the handle. But as he pushed forward, he must have misjudged his distance because he was started by the striking of his nose coming into contact with the wooden door. The prince yelped at the unexpected pain and drew back, careful not to drop the mirror under his arm. After adjusting his grip on the glass item, he felt something on his face sliding down, dripping, and was stricken at the thought that he’d gotten a nose bleed from the impact. But when he reached up to touch his face, all felt normal. His smooth skin and perfectly structured face. Shrugging, he opened the door and went inside.
Hopper had been pulled away by the other students for some kind of project or something, so he had the space to himself. Taking a moment to look around the room, seeing the snow piles strewn in every corner and dusting every surface (why had they left their balcony door opened), he put the mirror down in the gap by the door where his old upright mirror used to be and extended the stand so it would stay up on its own.
Daring sighed, remembering that other mirror and the many hours he’d spent gazing at himself in it; he’d used that mirror to prepare for both Legacy Day and Thronecoming. It had so many memories and so much sentimental value. He still couldn’t believe how it had met its end and that it had been his own fault.
Storming into his bedroom, Daring looked around the room and found that he couldn’t bring himself to look at any of his mirrors. After an entire day in a world where he couldn’t see his own handsome face he’d thought the bevy of reflective surfaces would have filled him with joy but instead, he felt dissatisfied.
Trying to shake it off, he ventured to his standing mirror, gazing at himself in it and giving a big smile like he always did. For a moment, he felt that familiar spark of glee but the longer he looked, the more the cold he’d been repressing started to fill him up.
When he looked into that face, that smile, he remembered that he was not what he seemed. He may have looked like the Prince of Destiny, but he wasn’t. He never had been and never would be Apple White’s prince.
Should it matter? It shouldn’t. He looked the same, acted the same; he was still handsome. But did that handsome face mean what it once did now that everything else was changed? Did it matter like it once had?
Was it enough anymore?
So overcome with all these conflicting thoughts, anger suddenly flashed in him, an emotion he didn’t feel often and never to this extent. He turned away from it and went to sit on his bedside. The lights in the room were off but the moonlight coming in through the window still lit up the dorm.
Without thinking, he raised a hand to his head and removed the golden crown, turning it around in his hands while he continued to ponder his situation.
He was still Prince Daring, still a Charming. And that should have been enough to give him the confidence to face the rest of the school even after all of this Destiny business.
But right now, it didn’t feel like it was. It was already a week past and just thinking about facing the looks and whispers again the next day seemed so hard.
Disgusted by these thoughts, not wanting to look at this crown anymore, he tossed it away from him and was startled by a crash that made him look up. His golden crown had struck his beautiful standing mirror and shattered the glass all over the marble floor.
Smooth, Prince Daring, he thought to himself. Walking over and looking at the mess, he groaned in regret, then searched his pockets for his MirrorPhone. He needed to call a cleaning fairy before Hopper arrived and risked injury when he came through the door. Daring looked to the almost empty frame and gave another sigh. What was wrong with him?
That was such a foolish thing to do, Daring thought as he went to work removing the rest of the paper from the glass. Sure there were other mirrors in the dorm, but what did that matter if he couldn’t see himself in full view? He needed to ensure all of him as presentable.
Now that his destiny was up in the air, being handsome was all he really had. It was all that mattered to him anymore so he needed to properly cultivate it until he figured out what to do with himself.
He happily adjusted the glass up against the wall and prepared to look into his handsomeness, but was surprised to see frost had coated the surface of it in just the few minutes he’d had the top half uncovered while walking through the frigid hallways. The cold must be getting worse, Daring figured. He hadn’t really been able to tell since he was wearing his special jacket tailored to give him extra warmth. It was a gift from an admirer of his and at a time like this, he really appreciated it. He’d have to write an extra-long Thank-You letter.
“Oh well,” he shook his head dismissively and, after finally shutting the opened balcony doors that had let in all this frost, turned to the fireplace located on Hopper’s side of the dorm. Raven had been going around the school providing fire via Nevermore, but as a Dragon trainer himself (and for quite a bit longer than anyone else, he would also point out), Daring kept a supply of bottled fire courtesy of Legend that he quickly put to use. The room would warm up over time and once it did, all the mirrors would defrost.
As the smoke of the blaze drifted up into the chimney, the strong smell of hickory wood caused Daring to sneeze, and much stronger than he was expecting. The room actually rumbled a little bit. How odd! He quickly extracted his Charming Crest embroider handkerchief and blew his perfectly sculpted nose, hoping this chill wasn’t giving him a cold. Though he did notice it felt a little more sensitive than usual, a little bit swollen from his earlier contact with the door.
The warmth of the fire felt nice on his skin. The glow was soft and comforting but sent an odd shiver up his spine. He felt cold all of a sudden, which was pretty silly. He had on his spelled coat, and moreover, he was a Charming. Cold wasn’t something he would usually be bothered by. And yet, for some reason, he now felt like he wasn’t warm enough, as if his thick winter garment had turned to chiffon, leaving him exposed to the elements.
Shaking his head, Daring rose from the hearth and started to yawn, a strong fatigue taking over him. He didn’t know why, he hadn’t been doing much activity since classes had been canceled for the blizzard, but the exhaustion was undeniable. Maybe he needed a nap?
When he left the warmth to venture towards his bed, another shiver rocked his body, stronger than the last. He looked back and forth between the toasty fire and his comfy bed for a long moment, then made a decision. He grabbed the feature pillow off the bed, the one with his face imprinted on the sleeve, and brought it over to the fireside. The carpet was plush, decorated in lily pads and pond flowers, and with a pillow to prop up his face, Daring laid down to sleep without giving it a second thought as to how undignified such a thing was. Though, just before he let the exhaustion take him over, his body started to move on its own, adjusting him from his usual sleeping position into one more reminiscent of a cat curling up at someone’s feet.
Fire. His body was on fire.
An unbelievable kind of heat was taking Daring over from the ground up but he was unable to see from where it came or where it ended. It was simply all over him. Trying to move, his limbs was restricted by tentacles of bright red flames that wrapped his body like ivy on a marble column. He’d known heat before, years of battling dragons made this a pretty common thing for him. While everyone else was dying in the heatwave yesterday, he’d been alright with the weather as the sun’s heat wasn’t enough to combat his Charming genes to handle extreme temperatures. This fire, however, was seeping into him and scorching not his skin but his very heart, making his entire being subject to its burn. It was charring him from the tips of his toes up to the follicles of his hair. What was it? Was it trying to strangle him? But it didn’t feel threatening, in whatever way he could sense how fire “felt”. It was more like an embrace. Like someone who found him precious was taking him into their arms. Despite the lack of hostility, it wasn’t a comfort. It hurt him all over as if it just couldn’t help itself.
A sound reached his ears then, a child’s giggle, and he opened his watering eyes to find where it came from. Before him, he saw a young child walking, a boy with a bright gold circlet on his head, skipping along without any care in the world.
Cute kid, thought Daring in a lethargic state of mind. Despite the circumstances, he could never ignore the presence of small children, always comparing them to his adorable tiny cousins he loved to play games with during Family get-togethers. He tried to call out to the child, tried to ward him away from the blaze, but found his voice hoarse, the invisible heat pressing into his lungs and tightening his chest when he opened his mouth.
The boy turned to look at him, glancing him over for a long moment, tilting his head until golden-blond hair fell across his sapphire irises. He looked like he was trying to recognize the trapped teenager calling to him, but not once reacting to the flaming bondage. Then he smiled and Daring flinched as a strong light struck his eyes. The boy’s smile was blinding him, the pearl-like teeth too glittery to look at and it hurt as badly as the fire. Why, this child was just like…
In spite of the pain, Daring’s eyes snapped open and, disbelieving, he looked the kid over again. The boy closed his lips, but was still grinning happily as he gave a wave and another giggle. “Hi there, old chap,” he cried happily. “I’m glad to see you again. Did you miss me?”
It was…him. Himself as a child. Wh…what…?
Daring tried to speak, but that suffocating heat was still in his lungs and he couldn’t force out so much as a word. His silence only made the boy laugh and, giving a playful wink, he strolled away.
“Hey, want to see what I can do?” he asked the teen and approached a tree. A tree? Were they in a forest? Everything else was disguised by the fire’s smoke.
The boy looked up at the tree, as tall upwards as Darling’s tower it seemed, and after only a moment of contemplation, he started to climb it. That was nothing odd. The blond prince had climbed towers as a small child, evem won awards for the skill. Climbing trees was an easy feat.
And yet…watching his miniature self, Daring noticed that his technique was odd. He didn’t pause to search out footholds or test the weight of branches like he had been taught to. He just climbed. Like it was something he knew about too well to pause and think. He went up with the speed and confidence of a jungle cat. The higher he climbed, the faster he became and the smoother his motions. He kept going and going, but still right in Daring’s line of sight, never pausing to look around while his joyful laughter echoed in the empty space around them.
Then the echo became a separate laugh, accompanied by the grunting of an animal. Daring turned as far to the side as possible and saw another version him standing out from the smoke screen, still a small child, rolling around in the mud as he wrestled with a boar. He remembered that animal, one of his first conquests. He internally shivered at the sight of all that mud caking his youthful hair and face, but the other him didn’t seem to care. He was having too much fun rolling around and pulling on the creature’s fleshy ankles in an effort to trip it up. He was having a blast and as he fought, little noises escaped his grinning mouth. They sounded like growling.
Identical growls came from his other side and Daring turned again, glancing over the child still climbing the endless tree, to see another Him chasing around a butterfly that fluttered above his head, reaching out his fingers and making growling sounds from his lips. The hands swiped around in the misty air, clawing towards the delicate wings that remained just out of his reach, but still looking happy for the chase.
And on it continued until every way he looked, Daring was looking at a version of himself in his young age, all of them acting in such odd ways. One of them was jumping around on his bed, hopping up and clinging to his tall bed posts like a lemur before dropping back down. Another was sitting at the family dinner table, his face leaning into his soup bowl and licking at the contents like the royal hounds in their food dishes. Another one was using his little fingers to pull on a window drape, ripping it into strips and still pulling harder, like he wanted to take it down off the wall. And there were still more appearing.
What is this? Daring wondered as he watched this strange show. Were these supposed to be memories of his years as a child, events he’d forgotten about? But…none of the seemed princely or heroic, just wild and destructive. He tried to reach out to the one running by his legs, chasing the family cat, but that fire burned him every time he twitched.
“Oh, you don’t realize?” the little one asked, stopping his pursuit to look up at his older self. “It’s you. Who you are. You’re finally letting us all come out again.”
Who are you, Daring thought since he couldn’t speak. Why are you here?
“Because we’re free now,” was the reply. “We get to play around again. After so long, we’re coming out to play!”
“But you will.” The young prince grinned and looked around at the pandemonium. Daring did as well and was shocked to see that all the little Hims were transforming into older versions of himself, at his current age, still doing all the same actions. Climbing, wrestling, breaking, slurping. So undignified! None of it was Charming behavior!
“And soon…” the being before him continued, him too aging. “Soon you’ll see us all.”
Daring was staring at this image, seeing him like a reflection. Unlike the others who were wearing his casual wear for relaxing at home, this one was dressed up in his current winter clothing and around his feet was a low-burning flame as blue as his eyes.
“It’s time we all come out now. You need us now.”
Why do I need you?
“Because the time has come. Destiny has come. It’s early, but it’s here.”
The visions surrounding them each erupted into blue flames that scorched out the images. All the fires trailed lines through the thickening smoke and converged on this last mirror image until he was as alight as the real Daring, but it didn’t seem to be trapping him. He embraced it like a trusted ally and, smiling with pure joy that made his whole appearance glow as brightly as Daring’s teeth, he reached out towards Daring.
The prince drew backwards, trying to fight the burning on his body and in his soul as the flames tried to hold him still. No! he struggled harder. No, I don’t like this. This isn’t my destiny. It’s not!
I don’t want to burn away to nothing.
You won’t. You’re about to grow, Daring. Like a beautiful rose.
The hand touched his chest and at the contact, the red flames around his limbs slithered down like snakes and starting merging with the blue fire. Likewise, sapphire flames spread out and took the place of the former red ones. Both Darings were being engulfed in a mix of red and blue infernos but while Daring just felt a stronger pain that made him cry out in agony, the other him smiled even bigger.
“Here we go,” he called. Then, paying no heed to Daring’s exclamations, walked forward and hugged the prince.
The world around them exploded into purple blaze.
Daring snapped his eyes open, shocked right out of dream land, and tried to rise.
But his limbs were so heavy and they all ached like he’d just had a hard Bookball game. His eyes were bleary, showing him visions that were unidentifiable. Shifting a little, Daring felt something under his head and gave it a lethargic tug to see what. His eyes were having trouble adjusting and he found himself staring into a bleary image of another him, glowing bright red.
Overcome with a brief but startling flash of that horrid dream, Daring let out a distressed shriek and batted the face away before it could hurt him again. He must have struck it harder than he was expecting, because it flew right out from under him and into the hearth, the printed face soon burning away like in his dream.
“Oh no,” Daring gasped, his voice still harsh. That was his favorite pillow. He had to save it!
Rising up to his knees, that weird ache was still all over him, but he was too busy looking for a way to put out the fire. He spied a persistent lump of snow under the foot of his bed and swept it into his arms, chucking it all into the fire which went out with a hiss. He could already tell the pillow was unsalvageable.
Giving a groan, he lifted to his feet and went to grab his MirrorPhone from the mantel to see what the time was.
And was taken aback when a searing pain shot through his face after apparently bashing his nose once more, on the stone shelf.
“Ow!” he cried, jerking back and landing on his backside in the carpet. “Not again! I wasn’t even close enough to…”
He lifted a hand to touch his throbbing nose but what his hand came in touch with was not what he was expecting.
….The time has come….
Rather than smooth skin on a handsomely straight bridge, he was greeted by something cold and damp, but still causing a flash of pain when he prodded it. Was…was that his nose?
Taken aback, Daring ran his hands up and down, stunned that what was supposed to be the lower half of his face from his nose down to his chin felt different. Like a…a…
Destiny has come. It’s early, but it’s here.
There was a strange noise going on in his head, like whispered words, but he ignored them. His breathing became more hurried and shallow as he felt around this odd structure on his face. Was it a mask? Was he imagining it? Had the cold numbed his hands so much that he wasn’t feeling things as they should be?
Stumbling back, Daring went to the wall of his room to see himself, but the mirrors were still clouded by ice. The balcony doors were open again, unable to stay closed with that blizzard blowing. The prince took the mirror down and held it to his chest, hopping his own body heat would be enough to show him what he needed to see. The closer he hugged it, the more desperately he wished it wouldn’t show what he feared it would.
You don’t want to do that….
There was that noise again at the back of his head. Like something trying to talk to him. To warn him.
Don’t look? But he had to look. Something was up with his gorgeous face!
Ignoring the weird feeling, he pulled the mirror back and saw that drops of water replaced the melted ice.
In one motion, his arm swept across the damp surface and he could now see himself.
I warned you.
A gust of air left his lungs as he looked into the surface. It was…it was huge! And it was on his face! He tentatively raised a hand to the structure and found that it wasn’t moving even when he prodded it with his fingers. He taped the big black nose of the muzzle and felt the fading ache of where he’d bumped it. It was his nose. It was his face…he had a muzzle!
Daring dropped to his knees, mouth hanging open at this oddness, and gave a startled cry when his reflection did the same, revealing sharp fangs where his once beautiful teeth had been. Those teeth, that smile had been his trademark.
He let the mirror fall, the soft carpet saving it from shattering, and he hurried away until his back collided with the frame of his bed.
It was just a dream, right? He was still dreaming and just imagined this was happening. He needed to wake up.
Nodding to himself, scooped another handful of snow that littered the shadows around his bedspread and tried rubbing it into his face but all that did was send a shiver of pleasure down his back. It felt...really nice. His body was still aching and liquid fire was surging beneath his skin. It was so weird. His skin was icy but his blood was burning him from the inside. What was happening?
Destiny is happening.
A rupture came through him and without any control, Daring clasped his hands to his skull, a headache like he’d never felt coursing from his mind and down over his whole body. The aching in his bones reached an unprecedented degree of pain and suddenly he felt them moving, shifting and…stretching. He recognized this feeling, felt it in a less powerful way during a few classes when an experiment went wrong or when Baba Yaga was made angry and punished the class with a spell. He was making a transformation. But into what?
His arms seared and he clapped them to his chest, trying to will away the pain. No magic spell ever hurt this way. It was always instantaneous and painless. This was…this was horrible.
His clothes felt tight, much too restricting; like he was a balloon blowing up and filling them out. He heard a seam burst and felt the fabric of his black dress shirt ripping up the back, followed swiftly by his sweater vest. His letterman jacket held out. It was spelled to act as armor against some of the common dangers of hero training so ii wouldn’t rip so easily. But the arms were getting uncomfortably tighter. The legs of his jeans felt tight as well and just like his shirts, started to split up his calves but stopping right above his knees where it tattered away around the knee bones. His shoes were another matter and he felt the agony of his toes being crushed before the fabric ripped apart and freed his feet which, like the rest of him, was lengthening and growing. And changing.
Something around his head was shifting and Daring raised his hands to his skull as if to stem it. A pressure was rising from the areas of his ears and he felt them moving upwards on his head until they were perched on his temples. Around his clenched fingers, his hair grew long and dense as an animal’s pelt. Daring closed his hands into his hair, not caring when the action knocked his crown to the ground. It all hurt so much and he was desperate to wake up before he died from the agony. But just like that, something sharp pricked his scalp and with a shout, he pulled his hands away, crying out to see his fingernails turning pasty white and lengthening into deathly-looking claws. Then his hands were becoming huge and thickly muscled, paling even more than usual as a dusting of white fuzz swept from the back of his hands and spread across the rest of them. He was growing fur.
He looked to his legs where the exposed skin of his calves was also sprouting that same white-gray fur. His bare feet distorted into the paws of an animal, his toenails becoming claws and his arches stretching him up into a strange degreed. His center of gravity shifted and he fell to the floor, catching himself on his forearms. A shiver went down his spine and started coiling around his lower back tighter and tighter at the base of his spine and burning at the skin there. The sound of his pants splitting was heard again and he felt something pushing out from his back, suspecting it was some kind of tail but being in no position to check.
Daring’s stomach hurt like he couldn’t believe, so restricted by the unfaltering leather of his belt. He had to get it off or he might be squeezed in half. When he tried to release the buckle, his enlarged fingers couldn’t work the metal free. He could see his stomach, barred from when his shirts were destroyed and overtaken by fur now, still extending past his pants line while his hip bones were trapped in his trousers. Desperately, he managed to hook one of his claws into the leather and in an instant, the belt was torn loose followed by his pants button that popped once he took on more mass.
His arms were becoming rigid from where his jacket, like his belt, refused to tear under all the pressure but he swiftly dealt with this in the same way as he clawed the sleeves off below his shoulders, leaving a ragged edge around his bulging shoulders but definitely a much-needed relief. He miscalculated in ripping them from his wrists and left rings of fabric like wristbands, but at least these were elastic enough to accommodate this transformation.
He’d been grinding his teeth to contain his cries but that made his jaw ache. He opened his mouth to let out a huff of air and it bounced off the marble floor to brush his face. He cracked opened his teary eyes to look down to the shiny surface. There was a blob of white with a black spot in front looking back. He could see it now to be the nose of his muzzle, visible to him now as it had grown considerably while he wasn’t looking.
To his immense relief, the pressure on his lungs started to ease off, the burning across his body was also lifting. Exhausted from the pain, Daring slumped onto his side, his body still aching but not as much as before. His Charming genes were starting to kick in, healing him fast and taking away the sting of strained muscles and damaged bones. His shoulders, feeling very bulky under him, made lounging position difficult, but he didn’t dare move for fear of aggravating his healing process.
He waited until everything finally went still, taking deep breaths to sooth himself, then hesitantly pushed up onto his knees. Or tried to. Once he’d managed to support himself with his hands, his lower body rose him into a push up position instead, balancing on his hands and feet like a quadruped. Oddly, it didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. It felt...natural…
He gave his head a shake and a thick wave of hair moved around his face, shaggy and heavy as it passed across eyes.
What on earth had he become?
Pushing up to his feet, only tottering for moment before he adjusted himself for this odd body structure, Daring ventured towards the entrance of his room, where his brand new mirror was situated. He needed to see himself.
And the moment he did, saw the creature that was now him, his throat closed up in fear and depression.
He was….a monster. A…a…
Hesitantly, he touched the surface of the glass, seeing the reflected picture of claws reaching back, feeling the dampness of thawed frost on the black pads of his hands.
Why? Why him? Why now? Hadn’t he suffered enough this month?
Tears started to leak from his eyes which were much bigger now and yellowed except for his blue irises. Against the yellow, even those were incredibly striking. They would almost rival the eyes of Dexter in those rare moments he removed his glasses. But was he imagining the odd lilac tinge that was there, no doubt a part of this freakishness he had become.
What had he done to deserve this? All he ever tried to be was the prince he was supposed to be: saving people, looking enchanting, being a hero.
He had already lost his destiny as a hero. Was his life as a prince doomed to end as well? Was failing to be Apple’s worth this punishment?
Brushing away the dampness, he took deep breaths. He needed to get a hold of himself; nothing would get solved if he was acting emotional instead of Charming. Internally, he pushed down all the negative feelings of fear and sadness, edging them further to the back of his consciousness so they would not get in his way. He had lots of practice in doing this; being a beast couldn’t take that training away from him.
He needed to use his brain here and the first of his thoughts was to straighten himself up as best as he could. He looked like a furry mess!
His crown was easy enough to locate and after a bit of trial and error, he perched it between his new ears, glad the magical magnetism spell could latch it to his furry scalp. Hs pants were sinking low on his narrow hips without a belt but this was fixed with a bit of emergency rope he kept in his jacket pocket, threading it through the belt loops and tying it into a bow at the front. It was amazing how well he was starting to use these weird hands. Must be his abilities to master all things heroic because right now, he felt this would really be needing some hero’s courage.
There. He looked a little bit better but he needed to make sure that no one saw him like this. Especially not Apple. His reputation would be ruined and any lingering chances to recover from his last failing would be shattered.
Who could ever look at something like him?
He was just making a motion to close the balcony doors for a second time, maybe get his phone and call Baba Yaga for help, when he heard the noise he feared most.
A knock at the door.