Chapter 1: Birth
Dishonor Tremaine was a quiet baby, from the moment she was born on the third of June. When they pinched her to ensure that she was breathing, she did not cry so much as plaintively screech once and then return to her quiet. Lady Tremaine approvingly said that she had Anthony’s coolness. She also had Anthony’s eyes and, most importantly, his surname, but everything else on her resembled her mother. Anthony squeezed his lover’s hand, and she (Chinua, a daughter of the Huns) smiled tiredly, and Dizzy cooed over the baby while Anastasia cleaned it off.
It was an optimistic evening; the baby was healthy, with a name and disposition that would serve her well on the Island. They put her in a onesie that Drisella had stitched together and set her in a crib to sleep, but she was too distracted by the colorful mobile that Dizzy had made to close her eyes, so she fell asleep in Anthony’s arms instead. Her first laugh (the creation of a new fairy, if the stories were to be believed, but it was hard to believe in anything anymore) wouldn’t be for another ten months, but it was the day that she was born, the night of the third of June, that truly started things.
Exactly three people felt Something in the exact moment of the child’s birth.
One was Fauna, who was in Fairy Cottage that night and swore to Flora and Merryweather that she itched in all of the spaces between the atoms of her physical form, to which Flora suggested that she “Just have some tea, dear” and Merryweather appeared not to have heard at all, as she was busy arguing with a pizza delivery woman.
Another was Maleficent, who was a lizard at the time (she would say through no fault of her own) and found herself reaching hungrily for the swell of magic, almost imperceptible, that she felt pass over everything...until she recognized the ‘taste' of it and recoiled, deeming, in a rare instance of near-human lucidity, this new player the last thing she needed just now.
And a third was Captain Hook, who was on the Island but rather remarkably in-tune with these sorts of things. He was actually having a fairly good night, humming sea shanties to himself and tiredly contemplating his distorted reflection in the base of his hook, when suddenly he caught a chill and found himself petrified in his seat, unsure why his heart was now thudding out a warning behind his ribs and his skin had become clammy from panic. He chalked it up to madness and, trembling all over, found the nearest bottle that had a corner of rum left and downed it slowly.
It was another few minutes before anyone else felt anything.
A majority of the citizens of Neverland merely noted the unusual surplus of fairies and sprayed their repellant accordingly, but the tribes and the men who had once been Lost Boys smelled the coming of a storm of a familiar kind, wrathful rains and furious thunder, and they had their families indoors and their houses locked tight a minute before it started up (with the exception of Tootles, now named Todd, who had to hunt down one of his daughters who had been out playing with her friends and, as such, arrived at his house drenched and shaking with fear, but with his child successfully found and procured and extremely confused).
The First Lost Girl understood the signs, as well, but was not quite as worried. She did instruct Margaret to stay in for the night and called her brother to be sure that his children were accounted for, but that was only a precaution. Jane (a common name, in this case meant to refer to the daughter of Wendy) knew that no supernatural force had any reason to be angry with her, because she had never promised not to grow up. She sat in the rocking chair in Margaret’s nursery as the little girl slept, assuming the role of sentry while reading a book that had been recommended to her by her mother’s friend, Alice. The windows were all closed, but not locked.
And then, after another hour, everyone felt Something.
Evie, who was setting out her outfit for tomorrow morning, froze in place and said “Oh!” in a tone of surprise verging on slight discomfort.
“You felt that, too?” Mal asked, throwing aside the homework she’d been doodling all over and hopping out of bed. Her eyes had gone bright green; she blinked it away impatiently.
“Um…” Evie’s lips thinned for a second, her expression contemplative. Then she forced a smile. “No, I’m sure it was nothing. What did you feel?”
“I felt like I could breathe fire right here, right now, as a human,” Mal answered. The feeling had abated, though; it had only been a moment. If Evie had felt anything like it, Mal could understand why she would brush it off as imaginary.
In another room of the same Auradon Prep building, Jane (a common name, in this case meant to refer to the daughter of Fairy Godmother) was sitting between Carlos and Jay, playing a video game while they watched and provided commentary and warnings.
“Good shot,” Jay said, a moment before all three of them went rigid.
Jane’s stomach dropped with a feeling of nonsensical foreboding. “Oh,” she breathed, unknowingly in unison with Evie.
“Whoa,” Carlos marveled, smiling uncertainly.
“Wow,” Jay said. “What was that? That felt good.”
Jane found she couldn’t disagree more.
Miles away, several pirates of the Lost Revenge whispered, “Uma?” hopefully. Harry, who was overseeing the three crew members who were on Chip Shoppe duty that night, shook his head, rambling, “That’s…That ain’t her. ’S not her. Tha’s something else. Something different,” in a sort of raving manner that the others could be forgiven for not taking seriously.
The captain herself, lurking under the sea, didn’t hesitate when she felt the seemingly-sourceless surge of power. She tried to harness it, to attack the barrier, but it was like bringing a handful of water to one’s mouth to drink; by the time the hit landed, there was no longer enough power there to even leave a mark. She growled and, in her frustration, pondered the reason for the magical feeling no more. It was just another thing that hadn’t brought her back to her crew.
To some degree, every person in every kingdom felt Something the night that Dishonor Tremaine was born, but most all of them eventually went to their rooms and beds and then to sleep, overall unbothered.
Fairy Godmother, who always tried to ignore the random magical sensations she sometimes experienced (in order to set a good example) felt as though she had gone teeth-first into an ice cream cone; she shuddered and, despite already being in her nightclothes, reached for her car keys. It might do well to pop in on the Museum of Magical Artifacts; she could feel that something very dangerous was now very angry.
A random trio of merpeople happened to have a bit more insight; as they would tell King Triton later that night, they had witnessed it with their own eyes when a lone elder fairy came into its corporeal form, saw its reflection in the waters of the ocean, and screamed in anger.
Jane, daughter of the Fairy Godmother, was used to waking to the sound of her phone, but even before she was fully awake, she knew that something was wrong this morning. Firstly, the sound she was hearing was not her alarm sound, but her ringtone, and at that it was the ringtone specific to incoming calls from her mother.
More to the point, though, the sound was coming from below her, and she couldn’t feel her bed.
Jane opened her eyes, and her arms pinwheeled frantically as she took in the sight of her night stand two feet below her face. She was hovering midair, floating, drifting sluggishly around the room. Her heels were almost grazing the ceiling.
The urge to scream was strong, but her instinctive disinclination to be too noisy in the dorms allowed her the time to regain a level head. So to speak. She grabbed her still-ringing phone and answered it.
“Mom?” she said, her voice high with stress but still politely casual.
“Maleficent has the scepter,” Fairy Godmother said without preamble.
Possibly the only sentence that could momentarily distract Jane from her own news. A chill ran over her whole body, and...
“Mom, your voice-”
“I know,” her mother said tersely. “Just relay the message to the king. I’m on my way back from the museum.”
“Mother,” Jane said, her voice having somehow jumped an octave higher. Intuiting that her mother had been about to hang up had panicked her. “I’m floating.”
There was silence on the other end for several seconds. Then, Fairy Godmother’s voice, impossibly sad and soft, breathed out, “Oh, Bippity Boppity…Jane…Call the king. Relay the message. I’ll be there in just a few minutes; I’ll help you down, okay, sweetheart? Just stay where you are, understand me? I’ll be right there.”
Her mother’s clear distress should have stressed Jane out more, but somehow it sharpened her focus. She didn’t understand; this was weird and a little scary, but it wasn’t as much of an ordeal as her mother’s tone seemed to imply. In fact, she was almost relieved to see something of her mother’s purported power in herself. Before, Mal and Uma had been the only ones she’d seen to inherit anything of the past generation’s magical prowess. She had assumed herself disappointingly normal, but here she was, in midair…
“Jane?” her mother prompted, seeming alarmed by her silence.
“I’ll call Ben,” Jane said.
“Tell him to gather his parents and Mal and the others in his office. This is an emergency.”
At some point during Jane’s phone call with her mother, Uma was also woken up. In her case, what roused her was not a cell phone (certainly not, submerged as she was), but the feeling of the surface that she had been resting against suddenly vanishing. Disorientation registered for a second, before alertness shot through her:
The surface she had been leaning against had been the barrier.
It was gone.
The barrier around the Isle of the Lost was gone.
She didn’t wait to wonder why or how; she didn’t know how long it would last. She poured all of her strength into swimming the full distance to the docks. She was in. She was in. She gave no attention to the sharks that moved out of her way with delicious deference, or even to the sludge that began to populate the water as she moved in closer, despite the pollutants stinging her eyes and the murkiness making it more difficult to find the right place.
As she began to occupy tighter spaces, her tentacles receded, replaced with her much-less-powerful legs, but she was still perhaps the Isle’s best swimmer; in another ten seconds, she was pulling herself up onto the creaky dock outside the Chip Shoppe, shaking her hair out of her face for a moment before the shocked and awed faces of Bonnie and Little Ears, who had apparently taken the morning shift fishing for Cook.
“The barrier’s down,” Uma said forthrightly. “Tell the others to get to the ship.”
Little Ears took a second to marvel at her sudden appearance, but Bonnie sprang into action, tugging him after her.
Uma sprinted to the end of the one dock that provided the best vantage point to see the other side of the Isle, and her suspicion was confirmed; the bridge was not up. The barrier was down (and she could feel the magic seeping into this dry, magic-less place, confirming that the barrier was still down), but there was no magical bridge. This would give them a little time, because it meant that it would take longer for some of the Isle’s inhabitants to know that the barrier was down at all, but it also made their ship a target. Those who couldn’t swim would want to sail. The OG villains. Their children would be welcome, but the villains themselves…no, they needed to be contained.
The doors to the Chip Shoppe opened behind her, and she heard a pair of beyond-welcome voices say, “Uma?” in unison.
She turned and saw her boys. Her Harry, her Gil. Harry, dressed in darker colors than usual, like a caricature of mourning put together by someone who was simultaneously still figuring out open emotionality and out of his seafaring mind, and with his eyeliner so thick and smeared that it was a possibility that he hadn’t actually washed any off of his face in several days, but rather just applied more each morning. Gil, dressed in a particularly coherent outfit, which suggested to her that he hadn’t had to rush out of the house; Gaston was probably in his man-cave today.
Both of them had articles of clothing on that she hadn’t seen before. New shirts, new shoes...things that had been obtained in her absence. Somehow, that, and not their relieved, confused, and positively raw expressions, was what really hammered home the wrongness of them having been apart. The space between them suddenly disgusted her. Barriers. No more barriers.
She ran down the dock, and Harry raised his hook in a way that anyone else probably would have seen as threatening. Uma felt a grin split across her face, and when she arrived in their midst, she curled her finger around the hook with a look of almost crazed excitement that he readily matched.
“Uma, you’re back,” Gil said, sounding almost as though he was informing her.
She raised her free hand and dapped him up without releasing Harry’s hook, and Gil's stunned look morphed into one of such unabashed delight that she lost her train of thought for a full second.
She wished that things weren’t urgent, wished that they could just marinate in this moment and she could ensure them fully that she was here, back with them, and they could ensure her fully that they didn’t hate her for failing or for being away. She wished they could just stay and be high on the fact that they were all in one place, in one piece.
Then the second passed, and her smile dropped when she remembered. “The barrier. Guys, the barrier’s down.” She looked past them, at the crew members who were emerging from the Chip Shoppe’s exit like bubbles from the mouth of a fish. “Half of you need to get to the ship, now. Guard it; make sure no one gets on who shouldn’t, and get it ready to set sail. After ten minutes, the ship leaves no matter who’s on it.”
“Half of them?” Harry repeated.
“The other half will run retrieval,” she said. “The kids, Harry. The young ones on the streets, the ones who can’t escape their parents, even those geniuses who went and joined the Anti-Heroes. We have to get as many as we can out of here. It will take ten minutes for the ship to be ready to sail, anyway. That is, if you guys have kept it in shape.”
“It’s not fallen into disrepair,” Harry affirmed.
“Not worse than it was already, at least,” Jonas said.
“Go then,” Uma said. “Half to the streets, half to the ship.”
They went, many lightly brushing their fingers over her as they passed, soon leaving only the captain, her first mate, and her second mate standing there. Gil doubled back into the Shoppe and retrieved a sword from the Sword Check for her, and she took it. Uma glanced at the sign over the Chip Shoppe’s door one last time, wondering with dread if her mother knew that the barrier was gone and whether her mother would take the opportunity to swim free.
“You go defend the ship, Gil,” she said (instantly hearing the sound of retreating footsteps as Gil obeyed), before looking down from the sign, into Harry’s eyes, which were focused unblinkingly on hers. He would be the best to help get the ship ready to leave. The deftest hands for tying and untying ropes, the most familiar with the anatomy of seacraft. And as long as he got on the ship now, then he was guaranteed to make it out, as long as the barrier stayed open for another few minutes. Oh, if it closed and they didn’t make it out… “You, too,” she managed to say. “Get the ship ready. Make sure at least some of us sail out of here. I’ll go round up some kids and send them your way. Make sure to set sail in ten minutes, no matter what, okay?”
His expression was hard. He knew what she was asking of him. She was asking him to prioritize the kids and the crew and himself over her, over them together. To save the Anti-Heroes Club, potentially at the expense of his captain. She was asking him to be a hero for her, and she hated it, and he hated it, and maybe this would be the time when he would say no, would defy her outright.
“Aye aye, Captain,” he said hoarsely, and he left.
Nah. Never that.
She made for the streets, running through the list in her head of kids who her crew might forget. Above her, the canopy of clouds that had hovered over the Isle for all these years began to break apart.
Jay overslept, because he was dreaming that he was locked in his father’s junk chest.
That was the chest in which Jafar had kept old, broken things, bits and bobs and parts and scraps, that could be used to fix the steals that were mostly intact. He had swiped things from that chest to give to Carlos, before, since his friend had always been curious about the inner workings of tools and machines, and Jafar had once threatened to lock Jay inside it for a night, but he had never done it. Jay was too sly to let himself get caught for the same thing twice, and at that point had been too quick and strong to be worth disciplining anyway.
But in the dream, he was locked in the chest. It was…hot. And musty. And cramped. The edges of various objects digging into his skin, barely enough room to breathe, and he knew, in the ridiculous sort of way that one knew things in dreams, that he had the strength to break the chest apart from the inside, if he just pushed hard enough. He pushed, straining his every muscle, exploiting every angle...He could faintly hear Carlos’s voice outside the box, calling him:
If only he could manage to-
And suddenly, his eyes flew open, the dream folding entirely. Hands were shaking him, and they must have belonged to Carlos because that was Carlos’s voice- he’d know it anywhere -but he couldn’t see through the red smoke that was filling the room.
He coughed and rose lithely from his bed, grabbing onto Carlos to be sure he didn’t lose him. But it didn’t seem like there was a fire or anything. Just smoke. “Aw, geez. Chad try to microwave popcorn again?”
“It’s coming from you,” Carlos said.
Jay let go of his friend. “What do you mean it’s coming from me?”
“I mean it was issuing from your body while you were sleeping. See, it’s clearing now.”
So it was. Enough that Jay could see that, despite his vaguely annoyed tone, Carlos looked extremely worried. Was it possible that…that Jay had actually been…?
Then a shrill ringing had them both covering their ears. Dude whined and scurried under the bed.
The smoke alarm. Of course.
“They’re gonna think we were smoking weed in here,” Jay groaned, hoping the insane explanation that his body had merely been producing smoke on its own would save his spot on the tourney team.
“Forget that,” Carlos said. “We’ve got to tell Mal about this.”
Jay snorted. Carlos was all kinds of smart and fun to be around, but having been the smallest of the four for so long had made him quite the little kiss-up. It was always “We have to tell Mal”, “Does Mal know?”, “I agree with Mal”. Sort of adorable.
“Oh yeah, she loves being woken up early in the morning,” he said sarcastically.
“It’s after ten; she should be up. Come on, let’s go to the girls’ room.”
They left the room, walking against the current of people who were heeding the smoke alarm and flocking outside.
Incidentally, the girls were not in their room; they were in King Ben’s office, having been able to notice and read the text message summoning them because their bedroom had not been smoking.
That isn’t to say that they didn’t have problems of their own, though; no amount of blinking was returning Mal’s eyes to their default color, and Evie was beginning to panic over her inability to return her skin to its normal shade; it had turned blue to match her pajamas, earlier, and it was now a sort of blue-and-red plaid to match her blue dress and her red purse and shoes.
“From the reports we’ve received, it seems like this isn’t an isolated incident,” Ben said. “There was an unexplained surge of magic at four this morning. It’s been impossible to get in contact with any of the other kingdoms, but we know from Audrey that Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather have been frantic; she said she called them, like she does every morning, and they were barely coherent. She said they were all talking over each other and that it sounded like they were panicking about their magic, and then the phone cut off. Fairy Godmother called Jane from the Museum and told her that…that Maleficent has taken her scepter back.”
“So she’s the one who's doing this to us?” Evie asked, looking to Mal who had gone as white as a ghost.
“No way,” Mal said uncertainly. “There’s…there’s no way. I would have noticed if she wasn’t in her cage, wouldn’t I?”
“Not if she got out while you were sleeping,” Ben said gently. “When I texted you to come here, you were just waking up; you were still reacting to your eyes and Evie’s skin, and you came straight here when you saw my text.”
“But if my mom…If Maleficent came back into power, why didn’t she end us then? I mean, she was in my room. She could have just gotten rid of me, and Evie. Why would she leave us?”
“Maybe she learned to love,” Ben suggested. “Maybe that’s why she came back.”
That was when Fairy Godmother and Jane arrived, and everybody gasped when they saw how the former hobbled in, her hair white, her face lined. Not the fairly-young headmistress they knew, but every bit the old woman who had gotten Cinderella ready for the ball, even to the point of being dressed in a hooded cloak.
“Fairy Godmother?” Belle said, her eyes as wide as saucers.
“This is Maleficent’s doing,” Fairy Godmother replied, and even her voice sounded old, barely like herself. “We don’t have time for questions, so I’ll explain everything now. Where are Carlos and Jay?”
“Thought we didn’t have time for questions,” Mal muttered.
“We’ve been calling them,” Evie said. “Over and over again, but they haven’t answered.”
“Calling is no good; there’s a smoke alarm going off in the dorms. I doubt they can hear you.”
“Fairy Godmother, can you fix this?” Evie asked, desperately holding out her still-patterned arms.
“Only you can fix it, because only you made it happen.”
“What do you m-?”
“No time for questions!” Fairy Godmother reached into her cloak and pulled out her magic wand.
“Fairy Godmother, that belongs in the Museum,” the Beast chastened.
“Not anymore it doesn’t. Maleficent has the scepter, and she’s even more powerful than before. Zip!” she added when everyone in the room tried to question her. “Just let me…Bippity Boppity Boo!”
With a flourish of her wand, Jay and Carlos appeared in the office, both looking startled and holding each other.
“Good. Everyone’s here,” Fairy Godmother said dryly. “Have a seat. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
It was a slow morning for fortune-telling in Celia's alley. The uptick in customers she’d had in the immediate aftermath of Cotillion was a distant memory; hope had gone out of style again, in Uma’s absence.
Celia liked Uma, but she also liked winning, and everyone knew it was the Good Guys who won. (That was why they were all here, after all; Good triumphed over Evil.) And Uma couldn’t shake the villain aesthetic, no matter how often she broke the mold and did lowkey heroic stuff. So Celia stayed neutral, instead of aligning specifically with Team Uma or Team Whoever.
But anyway, that still left her…here. At her table, with her cards, waiting for a taker. Normally she made sure to sit up straight and keep her expression cryptic, so that anyone who rounded the corner would think that she had been expecting them. But today she sat with her face on the table and her fingertips idly skimming the cards. There was a sensation there that was entrancing her; something like static electricity between the cards and her hand. She sat up to inspect…
And then she saw a shadow on the wall to her left. A human shadow.
Oh good; somebody's coming, she thought with glee. “Would you like to have your fortune read?”
The shadow tilted its head, then nodded.
She beamed and looked to see who was rounding the corner, but there was no one. Nobody casting the shadow, just…a shadow, by itself, appearing to watch her (as much as something with no eyes or obvious facial features could watch anything).
She stared for a few seconds, then waved at it.
It waved back.
She returned to her place, and fanned out her cards. She had promised it a fortune, after all, not that she knew how it intended to pay her. Running her fingers over the top edges for a few seconds, she pulled…
The Life card.
And because (as was sometimes the case) she could feel that she wasn’t done, she pulled another card.
Life and Power.
She set the cards down on the table.
Normally this was the point at which she gave her interpretation.
(On her end, they were mostly guesses, but they tended to be right like the cards tended to be appropriate. It never felt magical; just lucky, on a consistent basis. It had earned her some notoriety, when she had started fortune-telling as a little girl, giving predictions like “You’ll be getting some very bad news very soon,” and then when they actually happened, people had been furious, proclaiming that she had cursed them. The accusations hadn’t been good for business, but they had been good for making sure that she was left alone, for the most part, when she ran her errands. To the best of her knowledge, the rumors had died out now that it was clearer than ever that curses did not work on the Isle, full stop period. But that didn’t mean she didn’t still feel powerful when she made some casual statement and it ended up coming true.)
But at this moment, rather than ramble out whatever interpretation came naturally to mind, she felt like she had been punched in the chest. She inhaled sharply, and when she exhaled, the only word that she could find it in herself to say was, “Birth.”
The shadow nodded sagely, then clapped for her, odd soundless applause.
Celia pocketed her cards and walked up to touch it, but felt only the wall. The wall and maybe something like the static she’d felt from the cards earlier, but a little different. The shadow’s head bent, as if it was looking down at where her hand was touching its stomach. She retracted her arm, as it occurred to her that it was probably as rude to just reach out and touch a shadow as it was to touch any human stranger.
Her daddy had taught her better.
“Are you a Friend?” she asked.
The shadow nodded.
Celia moved to stand in such a way that her shadow stood facing the personless shadow, and in roughly the correct size proportion. She reached out her hand, and the Friend shook the hand of her shadow. A thrill shot through her, watching her shadow shake hands with another shadow while she stood completely still, her hand outstretched.
Then suddenly, the Friend ran off down the street, dragging her shadow by hand after it.
“Hey! That's mine!” she shouted, and made chase, barely breaking pace long enough to turn the ‘Fortune-Teller Is:’ sign to ‘Out’.
It wasn’t easy to keep up; the streets were crowded, even more so than usual. Maybe normally she might be curious as to what was going on that had everybody out and about, but at the moment she was preoccupied by her own little situation. She absentmindedly slapped away each hand that tried to steal her cards from her pocket and kept her eyes on the departing dark shapes.
The Friend should have outrun her easily, but it kept stopping to let her catch up, only to speed off again. It was playing with her. Making a game of it.
I ain’t losing to no shadow, she thought, smirking.
She climbed up the drainpipe of Yzma’s place and ran across the rooftops, where there was no foot traffic. She soon found herself closing in on them, only for her own shadow to point her out to the Friend, alerting it to her progress, and for them to shoot forward with renewed speed.
“Traitor!” she called down at her own shadow, which only pointed and laughed at her as they all but flew down to the street.
She was tempted to laugh, herself, but to do so would mess up her rhythm. Her feet pounded on the roofing.
Then, with a sudden squeamish feeling, she noticed where the shadows’ path seemed to be leading:
They were approaching one of the dimmer parts of the Isle: the broken docks near the wooded area where the hyenas and other villainous animals liked to lurk. Not Uma’s docks, but the utterly trash-filled docks on the opposite side, where the darkest of deals were made and the unloved dead were dumped.
Celia jumped down onto an abandoned kiosk, determined to catch up to the shadows before they reached the awful place. Her shadow finally demonstrated some reluctance to side with the stranger; it started to drag its feet and reach for her, but the other shadow refused to slow down.
“Hey, Friend!” Celia called, her trepidation increasing as the streets grew more and more sparsely populated. They were too close, too close to the bad docks. The shadows rounded a corner, out of sight. “Come back!”
She was abruptly stopped by a hand closing painfully around her arm, followed by another hand pressing a knife to her throat from behind. Big hands, rough hands. Too strong to break free of, even if one didn’t count the knife. Celia’s heartbeat stuttered. Near-empty streets and a big, strong guy with a knife. Not great. Given the part of town she was in, he was probably either one of the servants of Chernabog, or someone who made deals with the servants of Chernabog. Not strictly an enemy to her father, but there was no love lost there.
“Your daddy didn’t tell you not to come to places like this?” The voice was so low as to sound gravelly. “Shouting for attention like an Auradon princess.”
And now Celia’s mind blanked in the worst way, leaving only panic. This man knew who she was, or else he wouldn't have referenced her dad at all. He knew, and he didn’t care.
She pushed aside her fear; there was no room for it. Fear never added a coin to anyone’s pocket. “Well, my grandmama was a voodoo queen, so call me what you want.”
The man did not appreciate the boast; he twisted her arm and pressed the blade more firmly, bringing tears to her eyes. “You VK brats. All legacy, no skill. I wonder if Facilier would pay more for your return than I would get pawning your organs.”
The shadows swooped back into view, apparently having noticed that she had stopped chasing them. Celia leveled her gaze on where she imagined her shadow’s eyes to be, and determination sank into her. In a cool voice, she instructed, “Come.”
Her shadow moved with impossible speed and agility, contorting in ways she had never seen in her real body. It closed the distance between them, grabbed the shadow of the knife from the shadow of the man, and the real knife clattered to the ground; it tackled the man’s shadow to the cracked street, her hands around his neck, and the real man fell at the same time, the wind knocked out of him.
Celia was almost too amazed at her shadow's rescue to run away, but she saw the Friend in her peripheral vision, waving for her to follow it to the bad docks.
And because the few others on the street were staring at her with palpable hostility and blocking the way from which she’d come, she actually did.
She followed the Friend around the corner and down a grassy slope, soon accompanied by her shadow, which seamlessly resumed mimicking her movements like a normal shadow. Back in the area they'd just left, voices started screaming, in fear or pain or something, and Celia wasn't the least bit curious what was happening to them. (Maybe they'd started fighting amongst themselves or something.) She followed the Friend all the way to the smelly, murky docks, where she was surprised to see no trash, no decaying corpses, and no people doing high crimes. It was empty, and silent but for the faint sound of water lapping lazily at wooden posts.
And it wasn’t dark. It wasn’t even dim. It was bathed in more light than she’d ever seen on the Isle, so much that her eyes squinted, and the sky was a vivid blue that she’d only seen in fabrics and poisons before, and the clouds, far from filling the sky, were small and puffy and white. It was like the sky on Auradonian TV, but better. Clearer. Almost too beautiful to bear.
“Friend?” she breathed, tears running down her face for a different reason than before. Of course she didn’t get an audible answer, and she didn’t look for the Friend’s physical response- not when the sky was so beautiful that it felt like blinking might make it go away, turn back to gray and misery and dimness. “This is different.”
It was more than just the sky. It was her senses themselves. It was like she could smell life and death and something else that was like a thick gloss over everything, sweet and sour and bitter and hot and cold and itchy and tickly and…Magic. That was what it was. Magic was here, for the first time. No. Not for the first time. It was back, after a too-long sleep. Blood coursing suddenly through the veins of a long dead animal.
She wanted to pull it towards her, to let it coat her completely like a second skin. Lacking the ability to do that, she instead just basked in it, familiarized herself with the way it moved and pulsed. When she managed to pull her eyes away from the sky, she noticed how the magic seemed to react strongly to her shadow Friend, radiated from it and orbited it and recoiled from it, where in comparison it seemed to pass her by near-indifferently. And the Friend just lay there on the dock, arms crossed behind its head, once even picking its nose with a pinkie finger.
“You’re a powerful Friend, aren’t you,” she marveled, and the shadow visibly preened at her compliment.
Then suddenly, it was like the static electricity she’d felt earlier had become a smell and was filling her lungs. The magic that had been swirling around the shadow and bouncing off of it now went wild, and Celia stiffened as a voice said, “You think that’s good? Wait’ll ya see.”
Before she could whip around to see who had spoken, the magic was pulled over her like a shade, fantastic and overwhelming and everywhere. Her legs buckled, and she was caught by someone who smelled like…birth. And death. And every horror in-between.
The magic was a gloss over her mind, slowing everything down and making it smooth and soft.
She was already too far gone to try to get a look at the entity that was holding her; all she managed was to deliriously mumble, “Daddy…” and then slip entirely into sleep.
“We made a mistake,” Fairy Godmother said, the moment they were sitting on the sofas she’d conjured. “Really the mistake was mine, and I may as well say that now; I’ve always been too easily influenced by humans, and we fairies are supposed to be above that. So first and foremost, I am sorry.”
“What are you talking about?” Jane asked. “Isn’t it in fairies’ nature to be influenced by humans? Maleficent literally cursed a kingdom because she was kind of mad at two people. No offense,” she added to Mal.
“Yes, but she felt she had been scorned. She was wrong, obviously, but she exhibited normal fairy behavior; fairies often take great offense to the slightest wrongs and develop extreme loyalty based on the smallest favors. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather had been loyal to Aurora’s ancestors for nearly a century, and remain so to this day. Likewise, invitation to the kingdom’s ceremonies were always extended to Maleficent, to prevent exactly what ended up happening from happening; I’m sure King Stefan and Queen Leah thought that standing up for themselves and denying the dark fairy a seat at their table set a good precedent. They failed to understand how fairies think, and it cost them.”
“Hold on.” Jay made a ‘time-out’ sign with his hands. “You said Maleficent is back and has her scepter. Why are we talking about fairies?”
“She is, and she does, which is exactly why you all need to understand these things, quickly.”
“Where is all of this coming from, and what does it have to do with-?”
“King Beast, with all due respect, I really cannot get through this if you interrupt.” Fairy Godmother huffed. “I have to explain a lot, because I know these kinds of things aren’t taught anymore. To start, fairies, by definition, are beings that consist of more magic than organic matter. They are made either from pure magic congealing into a corporeal form on its own or from already-corporeal beings becoming so in-tune with magic that it begins to comprise them; as their cells die off, magic takes their place. The latter is rare- the Enchantress is one of few known cases. She was once a witch, but became a fairy through thorough and reflective pursuit of magic.”
King Beast made a face at the mention of the Enchantress, but did not interrupt.
“However a fairy is made, though, we all share certain characteristics. We are temperamental. Maleficent is extreme, and unpleasant, but she’s normal in her wrath. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are normal in their loyalty. The Enchantress, though she is of a more lesson-teaching bent than most, is normal in her aloofness; she sets a punishment, a curse, and she leaves, uncaring of the outcome.”
“You don’t say,” Beast growled.
“Adam,” Belle chided quietly.
“I’ve always been too keen on intervening. When I first came into corporeality, I had another name.”
“The Blue Fairy,” Jane contributed. “You told me that.”
“Yes. I could not leave humans alone. Every little wish, I had to grant. An old man wants his puppet to be a son to him, and I give the puppet life. A girl with a horrible step-family wants to go to the prince’s ball, and I give her a dress and a carriage. The other fairies mocked me mercilessly for that.”
“It was kindness,” Ben said, with a warm smile.
“Perhaps. I like to think that kindness was my primary motivation, and not just being adored by the humans I helped. But I treated magic with disrespect. The other fairies saw that before I did; they saw that, despite how my actions fueled magic in the short term, I was becoming corrupted by my enjoyment of the humans’ praise.”
“What are you saying?” Mal asked.
“I’m saying that when I heard that a human king wanted to eliminate magic, the substance from which I and my kind are made, I sided with the humans. I had already felt more at home amongst humans than fairies for a very long time, so I agreed to help.”
The room’s occupants glanced at King Beast, but Fairy Godmother carried on without pause:
“What we did, it was an obscenity, against magic and against death. But it benefited humans; it evened the playing field. The power of magic-using creatures became more difficult to access.”
“I’ve never had trouble casting spells,” Mal said.
“No, I imagine you didn’t,” Fairy Godmother said. “Your predisposition is genetic instead of direct, and anyway, I didn’t erase magic. I eliminated a lot of its sources.”
“That sounds…bad,” Jane said warily.
“What sources?” Jay asked.
“Put simply, magic is sustained by itself.”
“So…you got rid of magic by getting rid of magic?” Carlos asked.
“No, she didn’t get rid of magic; instead she got rid of magic,” Mal snarked.
“Okay,” Fairy Godmother said dryly, “to be clearer, magic is sustained by reverence of magic. Belief, wonder, imagination.”
“Faith, trust, and pixie dust,” Jane mused.
“And use. There is nothing better for magic than fairies and genies and wizards reveling in it. We did our very best to eliminate those things. Stop using magic, stop treating it as a thing to revere, raise children to associate their own magic with transgression...”
“Is that the real reason Yen Sid is on the Isle?” Mal asked.
“It’s the reason for a lot of things, raindrop. It’s the reason for urbanization of Neverland, the reason magical artifacts are kept in the museum, the reason we have such dicey relationships with Arandelle and Corona. Our entire goal has been to weaken magic for many years now. And it’s worked very well; that’s the only reason Maleficent needs her scepter. It used to be that Maleficent alone was as powerful as the scepter, but now she relies on it. As I now rely on my wand.”
“But I don’t, though,” Mal stressed. “Magic has never been really hard for me.”
“Again, your relationship with magic is genetic,” Fairy Godmother said dismissively. “As a half-fairy, you're made of more organic matter than a fairy would be, so you do not rely on magic to comprise you. A decent percentage of Maleficent's magic has to go toward sustaining herself, mind and body. Hence the...effects the Isle had on both. You do not have such needs, so you can funnel magic directly into the fun stuff. And that's not to mention the fact that you were raised on the Island. Being brought up without magic despite your genetic predisposition for it increased your sensitivity. Jane has just as much magic in her blood as you, but she hasn't successfully used magic since she was two years old...until today, that is.”
“Mom,” Jane breathed, sounding embarrassed.
“Today?” Carlos repeated. “What happened today?”
“I flew,” Jane confessed grumpily.
“And I’m plaid,” Evie mused.
“And Jay oozed smoke this morning,” Carlos realized.
“Never accuse me of ‘oozing’ something,” Jay murmured.
“Yes,” Fairy Godmother agreed. “We’re getting to my point.”
“Magic’s back, isn’t it?” Mal said. “Magic has gotten stronger again.”
“Yes, it has. There has been a swell in magic, and it brought Maleficent back, and I worry it may have also b-” She broke off, sounding short of breath. She cleared her throat and conjured a chair for herself to plop into. “Sorry,” she said weakly. “I was saying, I worry it may have broken the barrier.”
“Mom?” Jane said, sounding concerned.
“What?!” Evie and Carlos shouted, concerned for a different reason.
“The barrier might be broken and you’ve waited until now to tell us?” King Beast roared.
“Back off,” Jane said, uncharacteristically firm as she went to stand at her mother’s side. “She’s not feeling well.”
“I didn’t tell you right away because I knew that you’d waste time by overreacting,” Fairy Godmother said calmly. “I did tell the border guards to investigate, which they are doing now. In the meantime, Maleficent has cursed me and I have to tell you what I know before I no longer can.”
“Cursed? What do you mean cursed?” Jane asked, her eyes wide and frightened.
“Weakening magic is no longer an option,” Fairy Godmother said, ignoring Jane’s question but placing a consoling hand over hers. “The strength of magic is back. I don’t know why, but it is. And if Maleficent can return, others can, too. There are a lot of entities that suffered the consequences of weakened magic. After what we did, Pan grew one inch taller against his will and immediately surrendered his corporeality. Merlin got trapped in time again, and has been unable to find his way back. Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch sealed themselves in Crochan, in a partially-dead state. Now that magic is back, we may see them again, and their ilk. We need to fortify ourselves against it. Jane, take this.” She pressed her wand into Jane’s hands.
“Oh, no, I…” Instantly, the wand started jerking around wildly in Jane’s hands the way it had at Ben’s Coronation. “I can’t,” Jane said helplessly.
Mal reached for the wand, and Jay reached for Jane, but Fairy Godmother raised one hand to stop them both. “No. She has to do this on her own.”
“Why can’t you wield it?” Jane whimpered as she struggled to keep the wand still. Golden sparks shot out of the end.
“Oh my daughter,” Fairy Godmother lamented. “I’m so sorry that you were raised human. You are so much more deserving of magic than I was. It’s time for you to stop being afraid of your own power. It’s alright, Jane. It’s alright.”
Jane took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The wand’s movements became a little less jerky. “I know it’s alright. My power isn’t what I’m afraid of. I want to know why you keep saying things that make it sound like you’re going away.”
“Maleficent cursed me. She said that I am a waste of the magic that comprises me, so she saw to it that my magic will be redistributed. Very soon, my organic matter will be all that remains of me as the person I am now. I don’t know how much of me that is; my appearance, my mind, they have always been shaped by magic, held together by it, so I don’t know what will be left when it goes. But I doubt it will be of much use to you. I will try to surrender my corporeality at the last second to spare you all the sight, but I’d like to get my affairs in order first.”
Her words hit like a physical blow. Actually, like a sequence of physical blows, and they all fell silent to process them. Belle was the first to speak, but it was only a horrified, “Fairy Godmother…”
“It’s alright, dear. It’s time for the new magic holders to have a chance. And I hope that my deindividualized magic will do some good. Adam?”
“Yes?” the man replied shakily.
“We should never have made the Isle of the Lost. I was tempted by your idea; you were tempted by my magic. It should never have happened. I am facing my consequences, and I truly hope that you will be spared yours. King Ben?”
“Yes, ma’am?” Ben replied, hoarse with emotion.
“What we did must never be done again. You have goodness in your heart, but magic will always be a temptation. Mal?”
Pale and uncharacteristically fidgety: “Yes?”
“Magic will always be a temptation,” she repeated, more pointedly. “You are not your mother and never have been, and I failed you like I failed all of the children of the Isle, but…” She broke off, her hand flying up to her heart, and gold dust burst from her mouth as she coughed once.
“Mother?” Jane exclaimed, tears already filling her eyes and the wand movements becoming sharper.
“Keep working on that wand, sweetheart,” Fairy Godmother instructed, her voice rough. “Evie, your skin…” She coughed out more gold dust, and some fell out of her ears. “I recommend deep breaths. It’s all in the breathing…and the feeling…remember, faith trust…” She groaned, as if in intense pain.
“Fairy Godmother,” Mal said urgently. “If the barrier really is broken, how do we put it back up again?”
“Put it…?” Another cough. “Dear, did you listen to a word I just said?”
“If we don’t put it up, we’ll have to defeat the original villains all over again,” Beast protested.
“That is the essence of the problem, yes. If you remember, though, we did choose to bring them back to life in the first p-” The longest cough yet; gold dust filled her lap. “Almost time. Jane…?”
“What can reverse the curse?” Jane asked. “Why are you giving up so easily? What about the Enchanted Lake? Or we could modify the curse, like Merryweather did for Aurora…”
“Not for a curse that is magic-deep,” Fairy Godmother breathed, as though she could barely get the words out. “Life, death, state of being…magic will sooner...turn those...than turn itself. Maleficent’s curse…she will have been weakened by its casting, but strengthened by its consequences…That’s why I wanted all of you here. When my magic is released…” Her whole body started to tremble. “Oh dear. I’m going to go, now, right away. I love you all. Give your Auntie Ella my best. And I’m proud of you already.”
She squeezed Jane’s hand one last time, and then she just…wasn’t. And the gold dust wasn’t. And the hooded cloak wasn’t. The chair and sofa still existed, but no one was sitting in them; everyone stood, stunned and despairing.
The plaid faded from Evie’s skin, and the green from Mal’s eyes.
Jane was breathing hard, tears streaming down her face; Belle and Ben both moved to comfort her, but she ground out, “No!”
“The wand, guys,” Carlos reminded them quietly.
“Mom said I have to do this on my own,” Jane confirmed. The wand's movement was tight, less like an escaping animal, now, and more like a car whose driver did not yet know how to remain in one lane. Jane gritted her teeth and glared at the object through her tears. She could feel her mother’s magic in the air. Her eyes turned gold, bright gold, and slowly but surely, the wand stilled.
Jane brought her arm down to her side, and the wand went tamely with it. The gold left her eyes.
“You did it,” Evie said.
And that was when Jane finally started sobbing.
“The ship, I said!” Uma snapped impatiently. “I said to go to the ship!”
The small child gripping her leg did not relent. “I wan' stay wi' you,” she whined, tears cutting trenches in the dirt on her face, blood dried darkly on a probably-day-old split lip. (If things had been normal, Uma would have asked her how she’d gotten that.)
“Fine,” Uma growled, prying the child from her leg and hoisting her, instead, into her arms. “We gotta go.”
She continued racing through the streets, now with a child on her hip, which was a danger to them both because she now only had one arm to defend herself, but she didn’t have time to argue with little kids. Three minutes left.
She consoled herself with the reminder that if the ship left without her, she could always swim to it, but she couldn’t shake the thought of the barrier closing between herself and her crew…being trapped on an island where no one was loyal to her, like going ten years backwards except with no Harry or Gil to make the ordeal livable.
“Fig say you die,” the little girl moaned. “You die, you dead…”
“Fig’s a liar,” Uma replied. A lot of the children seemed to be shocked that she was still alive. That couldn’t be good for her rep. “I’m right here.” She peered into another nook where lost kids tended to hide, but it was empty. Either the crew or the commotion seemed to have driven them out.
“Whoa…Look!” The girl pointed up at the sky, a smile breaking across her face and reopening the split in her lip. Uma observed that she had lost a tooth and hoped that it had been the normal way. Then she looked where the child was pointing.
The cloud cover that had been a constant feature of the Isle for all of her life was nearly gone now.
“Oh, it’s…it’s broken broken,” she whispered.
“The barrier. It’s not just down, it’s broken.” It should have been a relief, but there was too much she didn’t know. How would Auradon react? Did they know? And what had broken the barrier, anyway? Could that same thing un-break it? She needed to get to the ship. She needed to get there now. “Alright. Hold on so I don’t drop you.”
She broke into a sprint, winding through the least populated alleys. The places where a scared kid might bunk down if they didn’t understand what all the noise was about. She unearthed two more boys as she went and sent them to the ship ahead of her.
Then they were clamoring onto the docks, and…
…and it was a war on two fronts. OG villains and Auradon guards were assailing her crew, the villains from the docks below and the guards swinging onto the Lost Revenge from their own more modern ship. So, Auradon was trying to do damage control on this whole barrier situation.
Not on her watch.
“I don’t wan’ go on the ship anymore,” the little girl fretted.
“Hide here,” Uma told her. “I’ll get ya out when the coast is clear.”
This time, the girl did not have to be told twice. Now Uma’s arms were free, but she did not feel moved to unbelt her sword. The fact that all of these adults thought that they could attack what was hers, right when they at last had the hope of leaving this prison, the idea that any of her crew members could get hurt fighting these utter waste-bins…Swordplay was too good for them. Too validating of their feud.
The sea churned beneath the enemy ship, and she could feel it awaiting her command. Capsize? it seemed to ask, almost eager. The sea was cruel. It did not forgive mistakes. It gave indifferently and took greedily. Plunge them to the depths, never to be seen again? The sharks, likewise, had begun to swim closer to the surface, ready for whatever she had in store.
The ones fighting noticed her. She heard Gil call her name and felt Harry’s ravenous gaze. The air felt humid with her magic, and even in her anger, she could feel something else weaving through; some magic that was not hers; something joyful and anticipating and darkly amused, feeding her strength, urging her on. She did not fight it; she drew from it.
With a thought, she sent the sharks away. (They were disappointed, but did not resist.) She stretched out her hand over the water, and immediately, almost before the order was fully formed, a column of it erupted vertically into the air, enveloping the enemy ship and only the enemy ship, somehow not displacing any of the water nearby (as though new water was being created instead of surrounding water used). She closed her fist, and the water froze solid.
She had never frozen anything with magic before, but then, a few months ago she had never cast a love spell or turned her legs into tentacles before.
The ship hovered there, encased in ice, all of its occupants trapped or preserved or dead or whatever happened when you froze a ship around a person; she didn’t exactly have a background in science, and she also didn’t care much what happened to them right now; her anger and her magic fueled her thoughts with too much forward momentum. The guards who were not on their own ship dropped their swords, and the adult villains dropped their swords, and Uma dryly said "Sup," and beckoned the little girl from her hiding place (the two little boys they had sent ahead ran out, too) and held her hand while she strode up the gang-plank to the Lost Revenge, the magic in the air not diluting in the slightest.
She glanced and saw Harry’s manic grin, and she glanced and saw that Gil had been fighting at least four people at once, and she glanced and saw- and this with some surprise -that most of the villains who had been fighting for a place on their ship were from James Hook’s crew. James Hook’s crew, minus Hook himself.
Didn’t they have their own ship?
She took the final loud steps on-deck, then looked around at all of the people who silently waited for her words.
Her first ones were directed at Harry. “Is the ship ready to leave?”
Harry’s grin didn’t flicker in the slightest. “That it is, Captain, should these fine men and women be so kind as to make themselves scarce.”
Uma turned and finally acknowledged everyone else. “We got some kinda problem here?”
The remaining Auradonians fled at once. The grown up villains hung back, though. After glancing at each other for a while (with no captain among them, it seemed they didn’t know how to interact with her), one of them spoke up, “We seek passage on your ship, Captain.”
Uma snorted and released the little girl’s hand as Jonas ushered the child belowdeck, along with the two boys. “That was you seeking passage?”
“Apologies.” The man bowed low, and the rest followed his example.
Harry looked as if he’d been given an early Christmas; his father’s crew, bowing to his captain. He hovered behind her, seemingly high on the stormy smell that accompanied her magic.
“What’s wrong with the Jolly Roger?” she asked.
The man dipped his head, now. “Hook has said we’re not to leave.”
(Odd, but Hook was far from playing with a full set of marbles.)
“Ohh, so you betray your captain by finding the closest working ship you think you can seize. That about right?” She watched them squirm and enjoyed it too much. But then, Harry deserved a show, didn’t he? The crew deserved to witness the humiliation of the ones who had attacked them. “Too cowardly to even carry out a proper mutiny; too cowardly to leave in his ship. And too weak to take ours. Half of my crew wasn't even on the Lost Revenge at first, and you still couldn't take it. And you call yourselves pirates.”
The dressing-down did not deter them; Hook had done far worse to them in the past, and would do far worse if he knew how starkly they had disobeyed his command. “If you grant us safe passage, we are willing to serve you.”
“Like you served Hook, until he said something you didn’t like.”
“You’re not like Hook.”
Uma smirked. This was too good. “You got that right. Get off my ship. You earned your place on this rock, unlike us.”
A few of the Jolly Roger crew slunk off immediately. (They had not survived Hook by sticking around after having been dismissed. Some of them had even been killed by him once before, often for lesser offenses.) A few, including their spokesman, stayed put, as if hoping to convince her. One of the villains who wasn’t among the older pirates looked as though he might go for his sword again. The sight infuriated her all over again.
“I said ‘Get off my ship!’” Uma roared, and thunder cracked overhead.
The last of the interlopers fled, and Harry cackled gleefully, and the crew chanted her name. Uma worked to push down the magic that she had let build in herself; it was hard, because that little bit of seemingly-sourceless joy, enthusiasm, and darkness that had been dancing around and feeding her strength before was still there, trading anger with her and then trading back, and they made each other’s anger new each time. Protect my people. They want to hurt us. But she forced the fury to the back of her mind, and the entity (if that was the right thing to call it) eventually quieted.
“How many did we get?” she asked. The kids were good motivation to focus.
“At least twenty,” Jonas replied. “Maybe thirty.”
“They're belowdeck,” Harry added. His arm was touching her arm, now, and that also helped to draw her out of her own head. One of her fingers found his hook and curled around it again briefly, shook it a little so that he could feel her holding it, then released.
“You guys got busy,” she said appreciatively.
“I got the Smee twins, Hadie, and the Mims,” Desiree bragged immediately, and just like that there were a dozen voices trying to top her (“I got Madame Medusa’s kid.” “I grabbed an armful from the arcade.”), fishing for praise, for acknowledgement after such a long time apart.
She grinned widely at all of them, so widely that her gums hurt. She made eye contact with Gil, whose eyes were wide with excitement.
“We ride,” she prompted him, and he enthusiastically finished:
“With the tide.”
The crew stirred giddily.
She grabbed a handful of the front of Harry’s shirt, where he was standing beside her, and with barely a tilt of her head repeated, “We ride.”
“With the tide, Captain,” Harry said with relish.
It almost felt too familiar, their excitement, this feeling that their imprisonment was finally done. By the power of the sea, tear it down and set us free. For a fraction of a second, she doubted. Not only doubted; she feared. If something like this got their hopes up again...Then she glanced up at the sky, and it was still Auradon blue, and she called upon the magic inside of her, and it reacted so readily, and with all of the confidence she could gather up behind her ribs, she shouted, “WE RIDE!”
The resounding “WITH THE TIDE!” felt as though it should have been heard from Auradon’s very coast.
Then everyone was moving around her, scattering to their stations. Gil made to go to the crow’s nest, but Uma caught him by the belt loop and told Bonnie to do it instead. She gave no reason and tried to sound as dry about it as possible, but Gil’s wide smile was just about a neon sign broadcasting that there was sentiment involved in keeping him by her side.
Harry bowed to her so low that the tip of his hat grazed the deck of the ship, then rose and offered her his arm. “Accompany me to the wheel, Captain?”
“You know, I think I just might.”
And so it was the three of them at the wheel: Uma steering, Harry and Gil on either side of her. Their ship eased away from the docks, past the ice sculpture that had once been an enemy ship. Uma hadn’t been aware that she was still tense with worry until they cleared the spot where the barrier should have stopped them, and all at once her whole body relaxed. She turned her head and saw the utterly blazing light in Harry's eyes, and it was like a pleasurable punch to the chest. Already, everything, everything that had happened and would happen, everything was worth it, and turning to Gil and seeing the awe on his face as he silently mouthed "whoa" was like someone had reached into her chest and turned her heart like a doorknob.
Whooping noises filled the air as the crew loudly celebrated. Someone had evidently signaled to the children belowdeck that it was safe to come out, because they were emerging now and all of them either flocked to the railings straightaway to peer at their surroundings or merely stood still in the middle of the deck, mouths ajar with wonder. Many were hastily wiping at damp eyes, hoping no one would see.
Anthony Tremaine and his lover (those “aristocrat” types were more openly monogamous than most, though even they stood a coy few inches apart) had a baby with them, a tiny thing who, unlike its parents, seemed unimpressed by the display around them, because it had no reason to think it remarkable that the sky should be blue or that the world should be boundless. Squeaky and Squirmy Smee were among the stand-completely-still crowd, and they were gripping each other tightly and seemed not to notice that people in the high-energy crowd kept bumping into them. Dizzy Tremaine and Yzma's daughter and one of the Mim girls were actively in the way of the crew, as they kept trying to climb the ropes to get a better look at the horizon.
“Someone tell them this ain’t a nursery,” Uma said, and Gil moved to do so.
The sight of Dizzy and Yzla and What’s-Her-Name Mim, though, had gotten Uma to idly scanning for another young troublemaker. This one it wouldn’t be such a travesty to leave behind, in the scheme of things, as she had always been fairly well taken care of, but even so…Ah! There she was: Celia Facilier, uncharacteristically, was the very last to emerge from belowdeck, and she looked as though she had just woken from a deep nap and had no idea where she was.
The Something Ain’t Right alarm went off in Uma’s head; Celia was never confused. She always knew what was going on, even when she wasn't supposed to. That was her whole thing.
Uma gestured for Harry to take the wheel, setting a hand on his wrist for a second, after he reluctantly complied, to silently convey that she would be right back. Then she strolled down and snagged Celia before she could be ushered back belowdeck with the rest of the kids (with the exclusion of Anthony’s little group; he was arguing with Gonzo that his infant needed the fresh air, which was not an easy point to counter).
“What’s wrong?” Uma asked immediately.
Celia looked more rattled than she normally allowed herself to seem. She was shaking her head as though to clear it. “There was a shadow, and now I’m here. Something’s…” She stopped and sniffed the air, like she had inexplicably added ‘bloodhound’ to her fortune-telling credentials at some point in Uma’s absence. “Something’s magical.”
Then, without another word (Kids are freaking impertinent, aren’t they.), Celia started purposefully scampering around the deck, investigating every shadow, leading Uma to notice that Celia, herself, did not appear to be casting one. Well that was...
“Captain?” Jonas walked up to her, drawing her attention away from the weirdness of the youngest Facilier. “There are more kids belowdeck than any of us remember collecting.”
“We haven’t counted yet, but it’s gotta be twice as many as we got.”
“What, so they snuck past you?” Uma asked, almost hoping for it to be true, because magically-appearing kids were not something she felt like dealing with today. Or knew how to deal with.
“Maybe,” Jonas said, sounding as though he doubted it.
Gods of Olympus. Not now.
“Someone ask them how they got here.”
She returned to Harry, and Gil joined them shortly after.
“Where shall we be docking?” Harry asked, seeming to intuit that she didn’t feel like explaining what had just been discussed.
Uma’s desire to make a grand statement warred with her pragmatism for a second. As much as she would love to park this thing right outside the palace, there were consequences to think of; there was no fighting or fleeing the amount of opposition that would attract, and it would put her crew and the kids at risk. Auradon Prep was a more peaceable option; drop the kids off there, and whichever crew members wanted to go, and then set off to…anywhere. To soak in the new world until they were all tired.
But there was also the chance that unloading at Auradon Prep would give the king enough time to arrange for her arrest. As much of a nice guy as Ben seemed to want to be perceived as, too much was on the line to trust his kindness.
But then, who needed the kindness of relative strangers, when they could rely on their own power?
Given how easily she had dispatched their opponents a few minutes ago, surely she could hold off Auradon's forces long enough to ditch the daycare procession and hit the road. Or the sea, in this case.
“We’ll drop the kids off at the prep school,” she answered. “Then…I’m thinking Motunui, then Maldonia. Really cross all the M’s off our list.”
Harry laughed his loudest, maddest laugh (because an evil laugh was the socially-acceptable way to expel happiness; they knew this) while Gil tried to think of more places that started with M. Uma knew that it was partially the gaiety of success, but she wanted to wrap them in her arms, or tentacles, or both. She wanted to hold them so close that they blocked out the sun.
Ugh. Did success really make her as gooey and affectionate as some Auradonian? Wanting to go around hugging people? Feeling such intense pride for every single person on this ship? Such weakness for the two who cared about her the most?
She didn't care. She felt too small for her emotions, as though years of muffling her vulnerabilities had come back to bite her and now she was bursting clean open. She had been so alone, and now they were here, and they were free, and she was not built for this. She had never anticipated the need to protect herself from this much joy.
Below them, Celia ran across the deck shouting “Yeah, you better run!”, seemingly to the floor. Uma thought about telling someone to send the crazy psychic back inside, with the other kids, but she decided against it. Maybe she was falling for the fortune-teller's whole 'knowing things' schtick, but she had a feeling that the younger girl knew what she was doing.
Jane wanted to land in Carlos’s arms, or Jay’s, but she ended up in Belle’s, and it turned out that was fine if not even better. Her tears wet the collar of Belle’s dress, and Belle’s tears landed in her hair.
“Guys, the barrier,” Mal reminded, catching Evie’s elbow. "All of the villains could be getting out."
"We don't know that the barrier is broken," Evie said dazedly.
"The bridge isn't up," Carlos added, having gone to check the window.
"It is broken," Mal said. "I can feel it."
"If you feel it now but didn't feel it before Fairy Godmother mentioned it, then that's just confirmation bias," Evie rambled.
"E," Mal snapped. "I know it's broken."
Ben's cell phone rang, over on his desk. He crossed the room to answer it.
"That's them telling us what I already know," Mal guessed. "Let's go, guys."
"Jane?" Carlos said softly, though he was already moving to obey Mal.
"She'll be alright," Belle said, even more softly. "You go on."
Jane pulled away from Belle just long enough to nod her permission to leave.
Carlos and Jay followed Mal out of the office; Evie was the only one still in the room (and she, too, was on her way out the door) to hear Ben's confirmation: "The barrier's broken."
Evie deflated, the last shred of hope gone, and then redoubled her speed to keep pace with Mal as they flew down the hallway. "The guards will slow them down, at least," she pointed out grimly.
"The barrier's broken, the bridge isn't up," Mal said. "That means it'll be swimmers and flyers first."
"And sailors," Jay said pointedly.
Mal swore, then shook her head. "Uma and her 'crew' would side with us over the real villains, though. If they side with anyone but themselves, that is." She swore again, this time at a shout for maximum catharsis. "We can focus on sending her back after we've dealt with her mother and my mother and the ones like them. It would be better if Jane could fight them with us..."
"We can't ask her to do that right now," Jay said.
"Of course not," Mal replied irately. "But it would help things if she did; she has the wand."
"And it's hers. It belongs to her."
"Yes, obviously I know that." Mal shot Jay a look. He was being unfair; she hadn't suggested taking the wand from Jane, or getting her involved in any way. She had merely pointed out that their odds would be better with Jane, and with the wand. But then, she supposed she wasn't used to Jay's protectiveness ever applying to other people; this was about as defensive as he was when he thought someone might slight her, or Carlos, or Evie. Now there was Jane, too.
"Just checking," Jay said simply.
"Our first stop has to be the museum, right?" Carlos said.
"You mean all of us, right now, go with no weapons or plan to the last place my mom was seen?" Mal said. "No, rather not. Why?"
"Your spell book, Evie's mirror. We'll need them. Jay, you could get your dad's staff while we're there, and whatever else we might need. Arm ourselves, ya know."
"Assuming Maleficent didn't take them," Evie said.
"Oh no, Mom wouldn't be caught dead with another villain's stuff, or the hand-me-down she gave me. Her pride wouldn't let her. Destroy, maybe, but she wouldn't take them."
They turned a corner and found themselves in a noticeably more populated part of the building. The entryway rang with the voices of reporters arguing with the guards who kept them, presumably, from storming Ben's office with questions.
"Bad news travels fast," Jay muttered, and the VKs put on their meanest faces to dissuade questioning as they pushed through the throng and emerged from the front of the building, ignoring the desperate babble of journalists demanding "What do you make of the radio silence from the other kingdoms?" and "Has the king told you anything about what is to be done?". They didn't seem to know about the barrier, thankfully; the mass panic that would cause did not bear thinking about. If they were this rambunctious about not being able to contact anyone in other kingdoms...
"Guys! I know you can hear me!"
Evie and Carlos were the ones who looked back; Audrey had broken through the journalist crowd, as well, and was calling for them and making chase (impressively quick, in her pink heels), closely followed by Chad.
"My calls home aren't going through anymore," Audrey said, seemingly encouraged by having been acknowledged by two of them, even though they didn't slow down. Neither did she. "Chad can't call home, either."
"What, Audrey, do you think we sabotaged the phone lines?" Mal demanded.
"Shut up, Chad. You just came from Ben's office, which means you know something. Something is going on."
"Something's always going on," Jay joked, although the facade was weak.
"We don't have time to talk," Evie added.
"Where are you going?" Audrey's stamina was truly, truly admirable. "Not back to school. So where?"
"Audrey!" Mal shrieked, breaking pace so abruptly that Carlos ran into her back. "We will save your phone calls at our earliest convenience. Would you leave us alone now?"
Audrey crossed her arms, utterly princessy, and hotly replied, "Oh, so I guess you don't need a ride? You're going to get to where you're going on foot?"
Mal blinked, the offer having been unexpected. It was Carlos who ended up calmly saying, "Yes, we need a ride."
"Please," Evie added.
"Car or carriage?" Mal asked stiffly.
"Car," Audrey answered. "My carriage is back at the cottage. Where are you heading?"
"The museum," Mal answered.
Audrey nodded, then pointed with her thumb. "I'm parked over here. Please try not to dirty the mats."
It was only once they were well on their way that Uma started to actively wonder what was going on. Before, there had been the rush of getting everyone where they needed to be; then, it had been all joy and excitement; now, though, after minutes had passed and she had taken the wheel back from Harry and Gil was sleeping in the sun and Celia had stopped running around and was nowhere in sight, it was truly dawning on her how different everything seemed. The barrier had gone away, surely not on its own. She didn't know what had caused it. She didn't know why Hook, who had a historical hatred for being trapped on islands, was not only staying put but had apparently ordered his crew to stay put. And she didn't know why her own magic, which she had thought she had been learning and exploring since Cotillion, suddenly seemed so much stronger than she had ever felt it, as though she had been fighting with weights on that had only just now been removed.
All of this combined to give her a feeling of unease that increased as time went on.
At first, her worry was that her crew might think that she had brought down the barrier, and that finding out otherwise would shake their faith in her. If their excitement now was tied to thinking she had freed them, what would happen if it came to light that some other villain had been the one to actually open their cage?
But overhearing the conversations being had, on the deck and shouted from the crow's nest, assuaged this fear; the crew seemed to have reached the consensus that either Auradon was really, truly stupid enough to slack on their security, or someone magical, maybe Fairy Godmother, had bitten the dust and taken the barrier with her.
"Bit the pixie dust, more like," Gonzo chortled, and his crewmates groaned at the pun (Bonnie heckling from above, "She's not even that kind of fairy!").
"Think Mal had anything to do with it?" Tremaine's lover whispered to him.
At first Uma thought to admire the ovaries on her for daring to utter that name on her ship, and within earshot of her as well. But then she noticed that Harry had not reacted to the name or the question, and it dawned on her that maybe months of picking out tediously-similar sounds underwater had somehow improved her hearing. Or maybe her ears were overcompensating for being on land again. Either way, she was curious to hear how Anthony would respond, though there was a chance his answer would raise a second question of whether or not she could chuck the father of a newborn baby overboard.
"Doubt it. She wouldn't do it quietly; if Sugarplum Fairy wanted to bring down the barrier, we'd have had to sit through a week of televised parties in her honor, and some propaganda to get the other heroes on her side."
"And she'd have made sure there were more soldiers to keep us in line," the young lady agreed, "to protect peace and goodness, one skull at a time."
Anthony made a sound, just a quick breath of air that was as close to laughter as Uma had ever heard from the stodgy older boy, not that she hung out around him enough to tell. "True. If she let anyone out, she'd funnel out the ones who are willing to worship her."
"Well, don't sell her short; there are still a few people who like her."
"Yeah, the ones who wish they could've betrayed everyone with her. Zevon, and the like."
Anthony made a noncommittal sound, and Uma deliberately tuned out of his conversation to instead listen to the wind and waves. He was right, but in a way that made her somewhat sick to her stomach. Mal had a quality about her that made people want to give her a million chances. Uma had seen it in Mal's crew, that die hard bunch that had only recently started to get the "friend" treatment instead of the "closest disposable lackeys" treatment; she had seen it in Mal's new boy toy, who, spelled and unspelled and broken up with and ignored, had refused to say a bad word about her even under duress; she had seen it in herself, when she'd, shame of shames, tried to join Mal's crew. Tried to reconcile with her, after the unforgivable humiliation, despite knowing that she would never really be safe from betrayal, with Mal.
It made her feel sick, knowing that she had once been weak to Mal's influence, too.
Uma took a deep breath, and the smell of the sea and the free air and her ship calmed her nerves. Harry asked, "Shall I take the wheel again?"
He had never been in Mal's thrall. Harry had always been clear-headed about Mal, to the point that he seemed almost bored of hating her now, whereas Uma delighted in it. That was pretty much all that anyone could feel about the daughter of Maleficent: either they were stuck in her charm (the mysterious allure of a fairy, with none of the off-putting alienness), still holding out hope that the enchanting half-fairy would save them; or they hated her, in the same passive, listless way that most of them hated their parents; or they detested her with a great and active and satisfying fury.
Uma hoped to get on Harry's level, in regards to hating Mal as an afterthought instead of as a hobby, but the fact of the matter was, Mal had destroyed her, more than once. Destroyed the bold little girl tentatively hoping that her mother was wrong and that she could trust her friend; destroyed the tween hoping the whole ordeal had been a lapse in judgement and offering to bury the hatchet; destroyed the captain who was willing to suck up her resentment just long enough to hope that the person she hated so much would do one thing for her, just one, and break the barrier while she had the chance. Repeatedly, Mal had managed to shatter her in ways that her mother had lost the power to do years ago. Uma was calloused to Ursula's abuse, but somehow each surprise from Mal hurt in a new way. She seduced the king, she grabbed the wand, she held your freedom, everyone's freedom, in her hand, and she decided to let you rot, with tears of joy in her eyes and a smile on her face. And each time, Uma poured cement or liquid steel into the newest cracks in her cold heart, straightened her spine, grinned with all of her teeth, maybe sparred a little bit (imagining Mal's face onto her battle partner), and doubled down on her hatred.
"Yeah," she finally answered Harry, several seconds having passed. "I'm gonna have a look around."
She left the wheel to him and commenced wandering. Crew members stopped what they were doing to bow to her as she passed. She exchanged companionable grins with them, with some light catching up ("Juice! I see you changed your beanie for once." The Juicer paused in the middle of wringing out a mop to send her a bashful grin.). She checked knots for tightness, made small talk with the Tremaines about the baby ("Her name is Dishonor." "You gonna change that, when you go to Auradon? Make it 'Honor' or something?" They met each other's eyes uncertainly instead of answering, so she left them to mull it over.), and headed belowdeck to check on the rugrats.
It didn't take her long to deduce that Jonas was not kidding; there were way more of them down here than the crew could have reasonably gathered, in ten minutes. Even the corridor was crawling with them, as they ran from room to room, giggling and chatting.
She was so happy for them. There was no ducking that, as much as she would deny it if someone asked; she felt so glad that they were free, that they had seen the new sky and felt the new air, that they were so much closer to touching Auradon grass and tasting Auradon sweets. She couldn't even really muster envy; the version of herself who had come up comfortable and loved and well-cared-for did not exist, so she could not want for that person. That kind of make-believe had not much appealed to her in a very long time. She could only smile tiredly when she peeked into one room and saw the kids bartering snacks they had kept in their pockets and fussing with each other, and when she peeked into the next room and saw them playing some seemingly-improvised game with literal sticks and gambling over the "winner", and when she peeked into the next room and saw at least ten of them all huddled at a porthole and chattering avidly about their findings.
Her tentative headcount was fifty-one (With all that weight, she might have to hold the ship from underneath to even make it to shore.), but they were running back and forth and getting into everything, so it was hard to tell. She could not see Celia anywhere among them, but she wasn't pressed about it; there weren't very many places she could go.
"I swear, I saw a mermaid!"
It was just one kid's voice, no louder than the rest, all talking to and over each other, but she picked it out nonetheless. She straightened from her casual lounge against the doorframe and crossed the room. "What was that, Cliff?"
Several of the kids were surprised by her sudden appearance among them, but Cliff Clayton evenly answered, "I said I saw a mermaid out there."
"He did not," another boy said. "It was just a big fish."
"It had arms, idiot," Cliff returned sharply.
They all started shouting at each other, then. Uma left them to it and went to investigate.
Celia knew that the shadow was toying with her, but she couldn't help continuing to chase it. They were outside the barrier now, she knew from having been on the deck for a time, and everything was bright and keen, including magic. Magic...it felt so right, like something she was born to know, and the magic that followed her Friend the shadow was so entrancingly powerful that she was like a cat following a beam of light. Following it all around and through the ship's back rooms...
She also knew that her own shadow was gone, but she didn't mind; her shadow had proven that it could take care of itself.
The Friend transitioned from the floor to the wall but kept moving, and Celia kept chasing, until they reached a dead end and the Friend transitioned back to the floor, snuck between her feet, and doubled back down the hall.
Celia sighed, exasperated, and crossed her arms. Cornering the shadow should have been victory, but her Friend was a cheater. She called out, "This is getting boring!" Then she sat down on the floor, closed her eyes, and waited for the Friend to return to her. She would know when it did; she would smell its magic. Until then, she was content with the dark behind her eyelids.
She had never been afraid of the dark, as a child. Maybe it was related to her dad being the Shadow Man, or maybe it wasn't, but she had always found darkness sort of comforting. Sometimes, when she sat in the dark for long enough, she actually had what could be considered visions of the future. Or, it was more like...she would find herself knowing things with absolute certainty. Small things: It will rain tomorrow. My lost bracelet is behind the slot machine. Simple things.
Right now, though, she couldn't focus on the future, because these new smells were distracting her. The smell of the shadow's magic, yes; a green smell, with only a hint of the birth and the death she had smelled so strongly before she had passed out and awoken on this ship. But there was other magic to smell. Uma's magic, she had noticed on the deck, smelled like the white caps of waves, and the start of a storm, and also fish (but she knew better than to bring that up, lest fish be considered too close to shrimp). The Mims' magic each had different smells; Maddy's smelled like fireworks, and Maisy's smelled like the moment you miss a step on the stairs, and Millie's smelled like the kind of moonshine that makes grown ups go blind.
The green smell grew stronger, closer. She smiled. "You're back, Friend?" Then she opened her eyes.
Her Friend was back, alright, and it had brought something; the shadow's hand now held the shadow of an apple, and where the shadow's counterpart would be (if the shadow was actually attached to a person), a real apple hovered in midair.
"'S that for me?" Celia asked, pleasantly surprised.
The Friend nodded.
Celia took the apple and was surprised by its firmness and redness. No part of it looked molded or felt overly soft under her fingers; no, it felt like something you'd beam through somebody's window and then run for your life. She took a bite, and the consistency was so crisp and the juice so sweet that she squealed and her feet, of entirely their own volition, danced in place. "Where did you get this?" she asked her Friend excitedly. It couldn't have been from the ship; no one on the Isle had food this new, not even Yen Sid.
The Friend only shrugged coyly, which reminded Celia of a story that should honestly have come to mind the moment anyone handed her fruit out of nowhere, but she didn't feel poisoned and it was the best apple she'd ever had, so she quickly reduced it to a core and resolved to be less trusting in the future. The Friend's dizzying magical presence had gotten to her head.
"Thanks," she said. "It was really good."
Her Friend looked quite proud of itself.
Celia's shadow was glad that Celia was eating. It was good when Celia ate. Celia ate fairly often, but not often enough, as far as her shadow was concerned. And her shadow was concerned, as much as it could particularly concern itself about anything. Things were different for shadows, though; there weren't really things like love so much as investment. Celia's shadow was invested in her, for entirely self-centered reasons. When Celia did well, her shadow did well. Celia took the horrible light of the world, and her shadow was what she left. When the world was dark, like when it was time for Celia to sleep, her shadow hovered over to protect her from the darkness. They were sort of a package deal.
They were apart now, though, which unsettled it somewhat. They had never really been apart before. And it was a young shadow, because Celia was a young person. It could appreciate some new things; the way the tethers between its limbs and Celia's had seemed to snap when the barrier went down had been appreciated, for example, as had meeting a shadow who had been actually interesting for once (Celia's normal friends had terribly boring shadows; completely devoid of will). But it had not enjoyed all of the new sunlight that had so entranced its Celia, nor being taken from her by the creature with which it now dwelled.
"Would you calm down?" the creature said, annoyed. It was shaped the way humans were shaped; human eyes might even see it as a human. But Celia's shadow did not use human eyes. "I told you, she needs to be on the ship right now."
Through a series of dramatic and quite well-executed gestures (including an immodest amount of foot stomps), Celia's shadow expressed: But why can't I be with her, though?
"Because I'm not supposed to be alone," the creature answered, as though it were obvious. "That's not how it works. And anyway, if you weren't here, how would I have known to send her an apple?"
Celia's shadow crossed its arms, hard, and turned its nose up at the displeasing entity.
"You'll get over it," the being said dismissively.
Wow, this chapter really just kept on growing, lol.
Please please please please comment. Please. I need positive reinforcement. XD
The First Lost Girl awoke quite early, with the feeling of having been physically shaken by someone's hands. The nursery, when she opened her eyes, was almost exactly as it had been the previous night: Margaret in bed, window closed but not locked, down to even the book in her lap, but there were a few subtle differences.
Firstly, the crispness of spring was in the air, despite the muggy downpour outside, giving Jane-daughter-of-Wendy a peculiar feeling of bodily stamina and uncharacteristic optimism. She rose from her rocking chair not only certain that there was something that needed to be done right then (for something had deliberately woken her, and she was not fool enough to ignore such signals), but also serenely confident in her ability to do so.
The second thing she noticed was that there were footprints in the carpeting. Someone had tracked a frankly impressive amount of mud through the room, in a very specific path, starting at her rocking chair and progressing over to Margaret’s bed, and then to the door.
Those were her instructions, then. Jane pushed away her reflexive upset at the implication that something as-yet-unidentified (technically, at least) had been near her child; she kept a factual mind, for now.
Jane rubbed her eyes, slipped her reading glasses into the pocket of her robe, and put on her house shoes. She woke Margaret, who whined that it was much too early (fair point, given that the sun was barely a thought on the horizon), then led her by hand through the door to the hallway, where predictably more footprints awaited them.
“I swear I left my shoes on the mat,” Margaret said groggily.
“No, it wasn’t you this time, biscuit,” Jane agreed.
They followed the tracks into their front room, where their vacation bags awaited them, packed to the point of bulging.
Jane frowned, raking at her short, auburn (no longer the vivid red of her youth) hair with the hand that wasn’t holding Margaret’s.
“Are we going on a trip, Mummy?” Maggie’s little voice chimed.
“It seems so,” Jane sighed. Mentally, she lambasted herself for having let herself be convinced to move to the altered Neverland, to begin with. She had known that the changes they had made were wrong, a ridiculous risk, provoking all sorts of forces. It was entirely Daniel’s fault; he had been in love with the idea of reclaiming the favorite place of his youth, their youth, in such a way, and the old Lost Boys had been playfully coercive about it as well- All of those pointed text messages from Slightly Soiled, now named Seamus, asking when she would move...She should have known better. Consulting the clock on the wall, she added, “It’s three minutes to six; the bus will be passing here in eighteen minutes, and we can catch the six-thirty ferry to England. Let’s get dressed, quickly.”
They did. After five minutes, Margaret dutifully returned, fully clothed, to find her mother likewise dressed and chopping up some apples and carrots into a resealable plastic container, to eat on the way. The snack container and a sandwich wrapped in aluminum foil went into a brown paper bag, which Margaret was instructed to hold, along with her backpack, while Jane dealt with both suitcases. They boarded the bus when it came, and they saw a few familiar faces once onboard.
"Tiger Lily," Jane greeted, directing Margaret to a seat one away from the backmost row; in the very back, Tiger Lily and her immediate family were chatting with Nigel (once the Lost Boy called Nibs) and his. "Nigel. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"I awoke with a strong impression that today would be a good day to visit the mainland," Tiger Lily said, her lips pulling into a grim smile. "Nibs and I were discussing why that might be."
"We locked all of our windows last night; something shattered them all at once, at four this morning," Nigel said before Jane could ask.
She winced sympathetically. Locking the windows had been a fool's move; closing them at all might have provoked anger, but locking them? There was nothing he more despised than a locked window.
"It's him, isn't it?" Nigel continued, his voice lowered in reverence or fear. "He's back, and he's angry with us." There was a certain intensity in his eyes; he had always been a bit intense.
"When he was truly angry, he did not give warnings," Jane said plainly, because to point this out was more tactful than to bring up the fact that she and Tiger Lily had not given anyone a reason to resent them, and it was more comforting than to focus on on the unnervingly out-of-character dearth of preening or posturing or crowing from the one of whom Nigel spoke. "Have you spoken to any of the other boys?"
"They haven't been answering their phones."
"I called Daniel; he and his family will be meeting us at the ferry. I doubt he has anything to worry about, since he didn't receive any warning, but all the same..."
"Uncle Dan is coming?" Margaret interjected, her tone bright.
"Yes, and your cousins as well," Jane replied. "Biscuit, why don't you go talk to the other children while Nigel and Tiger Lily and..." She found herself trailing off, which she rarely did, on principle. Her gaze had caught on an astonishing sight.
Every passenger of the bus (who wasn't half-asleep) craned their neck to peer out the windows as, per the usual route, they drove past the famed Pixie Hollow. It had been ostensibly nothing more than a tourist trap for years now; there were tables where venders sold t-shirts depicting colorful drawings of the tree in its prime, and key chains and night lights and just about any merchandise a person might possibly consider buying. The tree itself had been little more than a dull, rotting old thing into which children could shout that they did not believe in fairies, for the entertainment of their peers and to establish themselves as too old or too cool for childish fantasies.
(Jane could not really judge them for that, as much as the phenomenon upset her. Glass houses, and all that.)
But this morning, the tree was alight. It was alight, and it was positively teeming with tiny fairies, with more flying in every second.
Jane drew in a breath and shortly found herself rubbing tears from her eyes. She turned to Tiger Lily and saw that the other woman appeared to be deep in thought. Nigel's agitation had clearly doubled; judging by his frequent glances in the direction of the driver, he seemed to have half a mind to take the bus's wheel himself and drive them to the ferry at full speed.
"What could have caused this?" Tiger Lily murmured, in a world-weary tone that began to betray her age.
"He's back," Nigel said tensely. "He's back, and the rain...it's him, he's unhappy."
"Nigel, you're scaring your children," Jane said quietly.
Tiger Lily, as always, stayed on-task: "But why? Why now? What's changed?"
"It would always have happened eventually," Jane opined. "You can't have really believed that he was gone forever."
"You assumed that he would return because, in your short life, he seemed permanent," Tiger Lily said simply. "You were raised to know him as a constant. I was raised to know him as a fairy, and fairies die, or they go away. He is the oldest my family knows, but that does not mean that he will always live." She glanced between Jane and Nigel, as if to make sure that they were still paying attention. "He went away because he could not bear to grow old, and his magic was insufficient to prevent it. What has changed this?"
"I don't know."
Tiger Lily rubbed her forehead in weary frustration, and just like that, all of a sudden, she could have been Jane's age or even a bit younger. "I don't know either. He may truly be the death of me this time."
Alice's cell phone rang while she was taking her class on a field trip to Camelot. Seeing as her cell phone was off, this meant that it was someone from Wonderland. Off things were never off, for them. The sun was shining on the sea, shining with all its might...And this was odd, because it was the middle of the night. Technically, they weren't supposed to be doing impossible things anymore. Improbable, yes; they could have as many tables on the ceiling as they wanted, so long as they were secured there by nails or glue (and there were surprise inspections to make sure that everything was up to Plausibility Code). Silly, certainly; the tourists who managed to chase down the White Rabbit reveled in the locals' exotic weirdness and sharp wordplay. But they had been urged to avoid actual impossibility. Off phones did not ring.
Nevertheless, Alice answered hers; she had never been impressed with King Beast's rules. "Good morning?" she posed primly, holding a hand up to signal to her students to hold on.
"Quite so!" a familiar voice enthusiastically agreed.
Alice smiled warmly. "Mr. Hatter! As lovely as it is to hear from you, I am quite terribly busy at the moment."
She knew better than to say 'this moment'; though his mind was not as agile at running circles around hers as it once had been, he was still quite the pedant about phrasing. She made sure to be specific. "Every moment between seven o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the evening."
"Why, my dear, every moment is between seven o'clock in the morning and five o'clock in the evening, either backwards or forwards."
Drat, that was true. Rather than further insist that she only meant it forwards (and having the dreadful and no doubt unnecessarily lengthy "which way is forwards?" conversation), she conceded, "Fair enough, old friend." She sent an apologetic look to her waiting class. For their part, most of them had decided to talk amongst themselves. "Would you please give me the reason for your call, in ten words or less?"
Another voice, the March Hare, spoke (sounding a few feet away from the phone): "Tell her about the cat."
"Quite right, the cat. He has woken from his nap."
Alice's amused expression fell. "The Cheshire Cat?"
"My dear, I've used my ten words. Good day!"
"Never mind how many words you use," Alice said. "Do you mean the Cheshire Cat?"
She was met with silence; not even the crackly ambient noise that always accompanied phone calls, or the tone that sounded when a line went dead. She looked down and found that she was once again speaking into an off phone.
Alice had difficulty believing it wasn't deliberate that the Hatter had piqued her curiosity only to ignore her follow-up questions. He could be a frightfully petty little man; she would have hoped that he could be a bit serious, in a matter of this importance.
Because of course he meant the Cheshire Cat; what other cat was worth successfully (and impossibly) using a telephone over?
Removing the Queen of Hearts from Wonderland and sending her to the Isle had merely been Auradon's way of getting their foot in the door. After all, no one in Wonderland was sane enough to complain about the queen, and even Alice's documentation of her own time there (And yes, she was partially to blame, for writing about it in her youth; she hadn't been world-savvy enough to think of imperial threats when she had penned her stories and articles, which had led to renown for herself but heaps of attention and scrutiny for Wonderland.) had kept a neutral and nonjudgemental tone about her near-beheading. The queen was simply mad, like everyone in Wonderland was mad. Not the menace as which she had been painted by those who wanted to control Wonderland and not protect it.
But removing the queen had been the premise they had used to excuse their meddling in the Wonderly affairs they actually cared about: the sometimes-called Keepers of Chaos. The Cat, the Tweedles, all of the most impossible-leaning creatures which they could not really justify imprisoning. The Hare and the Hatter could be reasoned with, convinced to only pour their tea into whole cups instead of half ones, but the Cat would never stop unzipping himself and smiling where his body was not.
So they had put him to sleep. A catnap, they called it, uncreatively.
Alice remembered having calmly asked King Beast (as he shook her hand in celebration of one of her bestsellers), "Aren't sleeping spells more the domain of those you despise?"
Beast's whole expression had gone as stony as his statue's, and he had tersely replied, "It's not a spell; it's a gas."
She had not been invited to any royal affairs after that, no matter how many books she sold. She was surprised they had let Ally into Auradon Prep. Then again, having her daughter's schooling on the line had tamed her disapproving tongue quite noticeably. When was the last time she had written about politics? Her last overtly political piece had to have been her op ed from years ago about the morality of forcibly sending the Tweedles to different ends of the earth...She hoped they would find each other again, now.
Alice blinked a few times to regain her focus. So the Cat was awake. That was none of her business. She was happy for him, and that was all. At the moment, she had a class trip to supervise. You must not be curious, Alice, she instructed herself sternly. Not this time. You mustn't be curious, and I mean it. "This way, children," she chirped out, waving a hand to regather them. "Down this trail, we can see King Arthur's old house. Who remembers what his name was back then?"
Ursula had never intended to keep her child.
That is, it hadn’t been the plan.
Chernabog, despite being roughly immortal, had wanted an heir (although saying that Chernabog “wanted” things perhaps risked humanizing him a bit too much; rather, he had observed himself to be without an heir, while all of the Isle’s other occupants had been getting so busy as to make spectacles of themselves, and he had sought to rectify that). He had figured that a creature of Olympian pedigree would be his best chance at a mate who could survive both the conception and the birth, and Ursula had more or less been bored enough to go for it.
Neither would have dreamed that Ursula’s type of magic would end up the child’s dominant energy. As powerful as Ursula was, Chernabog was something primordial. Maybe it was the barrier’s effects in action, but Uma had emerged legged, like her father, and wingless, like her mother- by all appearances, human, but for the undeniable thrum of sea magic at her core. It had left Ursula with an unforeseen charge and Chernabog thoroughly disgusted with the concept of procreation.
(To her knowledge, he had never tried again. A part of her was extremely indignant over the fact that he evidently wanted only a younger replica of himself, with no trace or influence from his partner. The rest of her thought it was hilarious, in a sadistic kind of way, that Uma’s mere birth had turned a primordial being off of the idea of reproducing.)
That sort of deal was a common thing, among the magic users and magical beings. (Ursula wondered if the sheer amount of interbreeding that had taken place on the Island had any precedent at all.) She had also mothered one of Facilier’s daughters, though she could not remember which and didn’t particularly care. Fortunately, his energy had won out, absurd though that was.
A similar arrangement had been made, she understood, between Maleficent and Hades to make the traitor-brat. (Not that this was public knowledge, any more than Ursula's stint with Chernabog. The only reason Ursula knew of it was because one of the involved parties happened to be her uncle.) Maleficent’s magic had won out, there. With wounded pride which he had disguised as self-righteous fury- “I am a god! She is a fairy!”-Hades had chosen some human woman next, and Hadie had been the result of that. (Hadie, the one who, as much as her uncle claimed to despise sentiment, he always seemed to bring up in their periodic conversations. He wanted to introduce his son to his wife. He so clearly missed the queen of the underworld (whose name Ursula did not invoke lightly, even in thought).)
Madame Mim had been known to try to drown whichever children did not take to her magic, which was why she was in a permanent blood feud with the Horned King for destroying what belonged to him (and why she had been Ursula’s go-to example for why Uma should be grateful).
On the utterly human side of things, Gaston’s ego was so fragile that he refused to bed anything magical- and he never kept girls, either, but that wasn’t really a point of interest. In contrast, it was said that Gothel would screw anyone with a lick of magic, be they a primordial being of enormous power (which, fortunately for her, would not so lower themselves as to even think of it) or just any old alchemist here for overdue parking fines or whatever the weak did to get imprisoned. Just so long as she could keep the child.
The point being…The point…
What was the point?
Ah yes. The girl. Ursula had never meant to keep her. She had told her as much on several occasions- whenever possible, in fact, to the point that Uma had come to ignore it as easily as she dodged her tentacles (most of the time).
Ursula had spent Uma’s entire life in a near-perpetual state of annoyance at the girl’s existence. And then she had gone, gone to that Cotillion failure. And she had stayed gone.
The cruel words that Ursula had come up with for when Uma returned in disgrace had gone unused; her daughter had not returned to the Chip Shoppe, not returned to the Island at all. Occasionally, Ursula’s senses had lied to her, and she had thought, Isn’t that her, yelling at a customer in the other room?, but it never had been.
For this reason, she was almost convinced that the feeling she had had, around the time that the barrier fell- the feeling that the familiar magical aura with which she had cohabitated for nearly two decades (And she hadn’t actually counted the years, it occurred to her. Had Uma counted? How old was she? Roundabout the same age as Maleficent’s girl and Grimhilde’s girl.) had returned -was just another such hallucination. A trick, played by an idle mind on an ambivalent soul. But she knew better.
The girl had been here. She had been here, and she had gone again, and this time she had taken the children of the Isle with her.
Just like she had always said she would.
And when Ursula took to the underwater, gloriously returned to her home element with her beloved eels, she was tempted, to a concerning degree, to follow her. She thought to attack the girl’s ship full of dreams until it came apart, reduced to the worthless trash from which it had been tirelessly mended. But to do so would be to admit that she cared about the girl, even in the negative, and worse yet, it would force her to be conscious of her own bitterness over the girl’s months of absence.
No, instead she put aside the temptation and struck out for the free waters. She meant to keep to the unpopulated regions of the sea, but it seemed she had become unfamiliar with the world; there were new cities, now, where before there had been none. Being dead awhile and then being imprisoned, of course the world was unfamiliar.
Cries of shock pierced through the water as she ducked into a trench she had expected to be unoccupied.
"Ursula! The sea witch, from the story, you remember? Morgana's sister." And Triton's, you clod!
"Are you sure that's her? She looks..." Oh, do finish that sentence. (She prayed she did not look as diminished as she felt.)
She was shortly surrounded by merpeople with spears and non-magical tridents, but she made quick work of them and fled the new eyesore of a town. Their reinforcements were pursuing her, which was a dreadful nuisance, but she hoped to lose them in some trench or grotto.
"Stop right there, Ursula!"
"We're gaining on her!"
Apparently, however, the years of not swimming, of lazing about, watching the television and letting herself go, had rather imminent consequences. She shortly found herself encircled, again, by merpeople, and more of them this time. They did not fall victim to her tentacles the way the others had; shortly they had her tentacles pinned (Not without sustaining several injuries among them, she sourly consoled herself.) and she was reduced to biting them and swinging her fists while Flotsam and Jetsam attacked the ones holding her down.
Two tentacles went free, for her eels' efforts, and she choked the life out of two of the mermen holding the rest down, allowing another tentacle to go free. The assailers who had been trying to bind her hands redirected their efforts to aid their comrades. She stirred the current with all of her strength, to make it harder for them.
And that was when she felt it again. The familiar energy, unmistakable. In the distance, far enough that the ones fighting her tentacles and her eels did not notice, she saw the white, inverted mushroom shape of bubbles spraying from something that had just dropped into the water. The bubbles cleared to reveal a dark figure.
How had she let herself become so distracted by the blasted merfolk as to miss the ship? Yes, it was far away, but that was no excuse. She was slipping. And she had laughed so heartily at Maleficent's sorry state on the Isle; had her mind lost its keenness, as well? Why had she watched so much television, anyway?
Ursula's physical resistance went into autopilot (And why had she learned such words?!) as she had a small crisis, exacerbated by her inability to focus. Yes, her mind had been different on the Isle; that much was clear now, as her shortened (practically human, ugh) attention span was forced to contend with the fullness of her mind returned to her by the broken barrier. She was no longer used to this.
There were words, magical words that had once fallen from her lips as naturally as breath, but she could not remember them. Her mind was too large, and there were many words, words like telephone and pavement and barstool. Finding the ones she needed amid all the clutter, when her mind had carved itself into the mold of Wednesday specials and soap opera characters...It was like wandering a pitch black forest in search of a nickel.
The girl was moving closer. Coming to investigate the shapes in the distance; it was doubtful she could recognize them from so far off, but she could apparently tell that they weren't fish and that their presence here was a potential threat to her ship. Ursula didn't watch her approach (There, that was generous, wasn't it? Mim wouldn't have given such charity.), but she felt the increased pressure of her magic against Ursula's own. Stupid girl, with no control over her aggressive magic; any magic-user within a mile had to know that she was here, because she did not know how to rein in the energy or how to make it yield to other things. Even in the ocean, it rang like a dissonant note. And the girl had her tentacles out, as well, so any chance that the merpeople would not recognize her from Auradon news was irrelevant; they were automatically suspicious of cecaelia.
Ursula felt a sharp pain as one of her tentacles was suddenly skewered on a spear that was then lodged into the ground. The triumphant mermaid who had accomplished this soon lost her pleased smile as Ursula wrapped one of her free tentacles around her and crushed her ribs like a bag of corn chips. A merman cried out in horror; another mermaid howled and threw her own spear at Ursula's face so suddenly that her cheek was cut in her slightly-tardy dodge. Ursula waved a hand to quickly dilute her blood in the water, before it could impair her eyesight.
The merpeople shouted; Jetsam had bitten one of them on the torso and was not letting go for anything. Using the distraction this caused, Ursula yanked the spear out of her tentacle (loosing more blood into the water) and gave a great tug at the rest of her tentacles, freeing herself completely.
Flotsam and Jetsam were caught in a net. Ursula's cold heart ached for them, her loyal darlings, but she would not let herself be dragged back to Triton, or back to the Isle, or back to the jaws of death, over such sentiment. Never again.
She might have escaped, but then another wave of reinforcements- Ursula would have been flattered that they knew they would need so much manpower to take her down, were it not so utterly inconvenient for her -descended, driving Ursula back to the ones who had nearly caught her before. She growled; she was a daughter of the gods. Time after time, in her first life, she had been denied power, but to be denied even freedom, now...
And then she had the words. She murmured them, at first to herself, and then louder, the incantation taking form, taking shape, taking hold. The talents she had chosen to refine were largely promise-based, contract-based; in her youth, she had always gotten a thrill out of letting her opponents' own choices be their downfall. They couldn't prosecute someone who only took what was agreed upon, only carried the bargain to completion...(until apparently they could; Triton was an utter tyrant). Now, she reached for the familiar seams, the gaps between the tectonic plates that were her enemies' commitments. Who here had outstanding debts, violated contracts, promises unkept?
Everyone, of course.
Most of the gaps were too small, just lies with no agreed-upon consequence, but some...The "or may I's", she called them: Of course I'll keep my promise, or may I...etc. The more dramatic the end of the sentence, the more useful for her. Judging by the way a few of them fell limp immediately, some had bet their lives on false promises. Casual use of "I swear on my life", probably. Not meant literally, but magic didn't care. Ursula felt winded, carrying those oaths to fruition- it was a complex curse, and one that she wouldn't have used had any other one come to mind -, but there were still about ten merfolk about her, in varying degrees of wellness. (It seemed one of them had at a point in his life used some phrase to the tune of "...or may my hair and teeth fall out", which was hilarious to her but not strictly helpful at this moment, as bald and toothless mermen could still wield tridents...and were perhaps even more motivated in doing so.)
It was time for a tactical retreat. Ursula turned her head to once again locate the girl. Uma had clearly come close enough to recognize her; she was still a bit of a ways off, now, but she was no longer approaching, but rather watching. Closer to her ship than to Ursula, but not returning to it.
Treacherous thing wanted to watch them take Ursula down. She was being more stupid than usual, loitering in harm's way just out of hope for the satisfaction of vicarious vengeance. Ursula made eye contact with her and came to a realization: She would not have any help from her daughter, unless...
With all of her remaining strength, she swam toward the ship. Her injured tentacle was numb and barely moved; the rest were stinging and haphazard. Still, she was faster than the merfolk, for as long as her stamina would hold, and she could count on Uma's cooperation once she was close enough to the ship that anything the merfolk did to her guaranteed collateral damage.
She both saw and felt when Uma caught on to her ploy; the girl's eyes widened, her face the picture of outrage, and her magic lashed out deliberately, now, trying to hold Ursula back. Pitiful effort; all brawn, no refinement or wile or subtlety.
Uma growled, and the sound ripped through the space so that, if the merfolk somehow hadn't taken notice of her before, they undoubtedly did now. "You hag!" she shouted at Ursula, as she often had. Ursula felt something like nostalgia, experiencing again that bratty, indignant expression. It was no wonder people had liked to torment the girl; she was so reactive. Even when she was schooling her expression, there was never nothing.
"Make yourself useful," Ursula suggested as she drew her assailants nearer. The first words they'd exchanged in months, a distant awareness noted.
"I hate you!" Uma retorted. Another reason she had been so easy for the others to torment: she took things so personally. Astonishingly thin skin; it was honestly embarrassing. But the very next thing that she did was reach out her hand in the direction of the pursuing guards, too close to her precious crew to ignore.
Ursula was curious as to what she would do. The girl had been raised on land, and from the Cotillion footage it was clear that her instincts, when it came to defensive magic, were to use her advantageous affinity for water against those whom she was fighting. But these were creatures of the water she battled now. Would she fail to adapt?
Uma closed her fist, and Ursula turned to look for effects on the merfolk. Her insides turned in disgust and dismay when she saw that the idiot girl was trying to freeze them in ice. Trying to freeze the water through which they were moving; what had possessed her to try something so stupid? Clearly, Uma quickly gathered from the lackluster results (bits of ice forming and quickly being batted away) the foolishness of her idea, as she aborted it almost straightaway.
She opened up the fisted hand, then stretched out her other hand beside it so that she held both hands out in front of her. She made her palms face each other, then pushed her hands together as though she was very slowly playing an accordion. Again, Ursula turned to see what happened to her enemies.
The water around them swirled like a spherical whirlpool, pulling them in closer to each other and preventing them from advancing any farther. As Uma's hands were brought closer together, so her magic pressed harder and harder, the sphere swirling tighter and tighter, the pressure of the water increasing so that Ursula began to wonder if her girl was going to crush the pesky merfolk like dry beetles underfoot.
But whether she would have done it could not be said, for Uma's power was soon at peak exhaustion just maintaining the ball of armed merpeople.
Ursula thought about fleeing then, but knew that if she abandoned Uma now, the girl would only release the merfolk and let them chase her once she was sufficiently far from the ship.
She thought about helping Uma power the spell, but she found the idea instantly repugnant; she did not want her magic touching the girl's magic. Entangling her magic with somebody else's risked enjoyment, which risked sentiment, and she was trying to find a way to leave the girl, not love her.
She waited to see how the girl would handle the problem, and that was when she felt...something; a foreign magic that felt so intrinsically different, that Ursula's whole body went rigid (She sunk a few inches in the water, due to having pulled her limbs in closer.). There were different flavors of magic, incompatible to her own, that could make Ursula feel vaguely uncomfortable (fairies, genies, things of that nature; Anywhere other than the Isle, she could not have enjoyed much of anything in Chernabog's presence, him being such a powerful entity whose magic did not derive from the Olympian pantheon.), but such a visceral discomfort could only be caused by a lot of incompatible magic. Many fairies at once, or the most powerful genie, or...
Surprisingly, the energy seemed to be trying to feed Uma's; it wound itself into her magic so readily, so easily. Were the girl smarter, she would probably be worried by this, but as it stood she merely seemed annoyed.
"No," she ground out, expending a bit of her already-taut energy to push the new presence away. Then, as the strain apparently became too much, she relinquished her control on the water.
But the ball did not collapse, nor did the currents disperse. Uma was not controlling the sphere, and the foreign presence was not controlling the sphere, and Ursula was not controlling the sphere, yet there the sphere remained, trapping the merfolk still.
As though the sea itself had opted to indulge the girl for free. There was a precedent for that, but only one that Ursula knew of; The Wayfinder (or the Wayknower, or whatever name people used for her now) had been personal friends with the ocean, if the stories were true. But there had been a mission, then; a stolen gem or something. Now? Ursula wondered what the ocean was playing at.
Uma pointed her finger. The grandness of her movements, the melodrama, reminded Ursula of someone else. Someone who, the stories said, had made the dead dance with a single imperious gesture.
Interbreeding, Ursula cursed as, with that pointed digit, Uma convinced the ocean to send the swirling ball of enemies shooting leagues away, as though they had been sucked through a long tube. She did not even feel a change in current. What sort of creature had they made? No wonder Maleficent's brat could best the old dragon. She had, hadn't she? The lily-white halfling had bested the Queen of the Fairies (Well, the queen of the fairies in the vicinity of Kingdom Auroria. Not that Miss Horns didn't milk that title for all it was worth.) and then danced along with the heroes as though it had cost her nothing. Ursula hadn't thought on it much, in her lessened state on the Isle, but nearly all of them had been mating out of type, mixing things, and then raising uniquely magical creatures in a uniquely magicless place. Nearly all of them had been dead; had the formerly-dead ever procreated before? If they had, surely not in such numbers at roughly the same time. So much birth from death...
All she knew was that her girl had better not be more powerful than her.
Speaking of the girl.
She met Uma's eyes and saw that she was doing that wide-nostril breathing that happened when she was weak enough to have let herself get angry but self-aware enough to know that she shouldn't have.
Ursula would never admit it, but she felt somewhat at a loss for words. Everything she wanted to mock seemed to come with a concession that she didn't want to make. She couldn't mention the girl's clear ineptitude at maneuvering with tentacles, because acknowledging the tentacles felt sentimental somehow. They were features she had often mentioned wanting in a daughter, and now the girl had them. Ugh.
It occurred to Ursula that her flattened mind had navigated these situations with much greater ease. Viewing the girl with dimension and self-awareness was not something she was used to, nor something she enjoyed. She even thought, for a moment, that she might tell Uma about Chernabog. Not that the girl would believe her; she had lied to her about her father plenty of times (most often saying that Oogie Boogie was her father, because it made more sense, given the girl's personality. She wasn't entirely sure Oogie Boogie could copulate; if the Boogeyman had something down there, Mim would have made something of it long ago. Plenty of somethings, if bugs were involved, and Ursula couldn't imagine they weren't.). Still...the urge to tell the truth...Where was that coming from, anyway? When had the girl earned something as rare and mercurial as Ursula's sympathy?
To compensate, she swiped with one tentacle and caught the girl around the stomach, squeezing tightly enough to hurt but not actually crushing her. (Mim would have crushed her.) "Don't follow me," she warned, even though she knew that she wouldn't.
Uma's outraged expression flared, and then faded, and morphed into a positively insufferable smile. "Aren't you gonna go hide in your cave?" she said, as sweetly as she could manage with this much constriction on her diaphragm. "They might come back."
Ursula thought about squeezing hard enough to do some damage, just as a parting gift, as it wasn't like she expected to see the girl again. Seemingly in response to her thoughts, or at least in response to her taking so long to let the girl go, the foreign magical presence returned, thickly, threateningly.
Something was protecting the girl. Something old.
Well, that wasn't worth contending with.
Ursula released the girl and swam away without another word.
All things considered, Maleficent should probably have been saving her magic, but vanity had always been something of a flaw of hers.
On that accursed island, she hadn't had a choice but to use the trace amounts of magic left to her to sustain her form, skimping on unnecessary physical attributes to keep from spreading too thin; she had lost a few inches of height, and she had lost some of the thickness of her vocal chords, and she had taught her organic matter to reproduce the way human cells did, just out of convenience. She had resorted to doing a shameful-many things the human way, up to and including bearing a child.
The indignity. She had stricken down a henchman just for seeing her in the swollen, impregnated state.
Now, the constraints on her magic weren't as plentiful, but there were constraints; having had to allow so much of her magical form to be supplanted by physical matter, on the Isle, inhibited her from her normal greatness, and she still felt her treacherous (and not in the wanted way) daughter's curse tugging annoyingly at her. After the resurgence of magic early this morning, she had been able to return to her wits at least enough to leave her daughter's presence in her lizard form (Imagine that, the Queen of the Fae, reduced to fleeing a child.), and by her own power had eventually resumed uprightness so that she'd had the appearance of her Isle self. That had been a constant strain, akin to holding up a many-pound weight, but it had been enough to get her to her scepter, which she now held. And as long as she held the scepter, she could easily maintain her form. But she had to be holding the scepter.
Cursing the Godmother had been a whim of cruelty; it felt gratifying, but she had been shortsighted. She could not afford whims of cruelty just yet. She was still recovering, still drawing power and suffusing this body with magic like that from which it was primarily constructed. She felt like the peasants of the Isle, eating what scraps of protein they could find to build their muscles.
And yet, despite all of this, she was devoting some of her energy to purely aesthetic changes. Sharpening her chin to its former knifelike point; greening her skin in angry defiance of the cream tone more common to humans; deepening her voice to the mysterious, sultry timbre it had once been.
Queen of the Fae, in hiding, making her face her own again. She might use the Isle face sometime in the future; she couldn't say that she would never miss it, for of course she was striking in any form, and even the voice that she had so despised when it first came out of her had a certain lilt and vibrato to it. But for now, she wanted to claw away everything the humans had made of her. Once her power was back (which should take a day, maybe two, at this rate), she would have her vengeance on those who had earned her enmity.
And she would do it as herself.
"That's not true," Chad rambled. "There's no way."
"Do you think we'd lie about something like that?" Mal asked, before noticing Chad's expression and realizing he had not actually been making accusations.
"Fairy Godmother..." He trailed off and just shook his head over and over.
Audrey removed one hand from the steering wheel to squeeze his hand. "I'll take you to see Jane after I've dropped them off, okay?"
Chad nodded mutely.
"Then I'm going to Fairy Cottage." Audrey's voice shook a little, but she spoke loudly, decisively, as though she expected someone to either argue with her or knight her on the spot. "If Maleficent is taking revenge on fairies she doesn't like, I'm going to check on mine."
"And do what, if she's there?" Jay asked incredulously. "Throw yourself in front of them?"
"I'll do what my dad did," Audrey said simply. "Throw a sword through the wench." (And for Auradonians, "wench" was practically a swear word.)
Mal chuckled; she couldn't help herself. "Why didn't I think of that."
They rode in silence for a bit. Mal, Carlos, and Chad all gazed out of their respective windows, each with their mind on a different dimension of the horrible situation they were in. Jay sighed and found, with alarm, that red smoke puffed out of his nostrils when he did so. He diluted it with his hand and glanced around to see who had noticed.
"Fairy Cottage is a good lead," Evie broke the silence. "I hadn't thought about who else Maleficent might have a grudge against...besides us."
"I wouldn't rule us out, though," Mal said, in a deliberately flat voice to cover up her fear. "Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are definitely targets for giving the Sword of Truth to King Phillip-"
"And the Shield of Virtue," Audrey interjected, and Mal managed not to roll her eyes at the unnecessary addition.
"-but we're the kids who humiliated her on TV. I think the only reason she got Fairy Godmother first was because she happened to run into her at the museum."
"So your plan is to also happen to run into her at the museum?" Audrey said, meeting Mal's gaze in the rearview mirror.
"Carlos suggested we arm ourselves with the magical artifacts," Mal said. After a pause, she added, "And it's not a bad idea. Anyway, she's weakened from what she did to Fairy Godmother, and that's more than we could say at the Coronation. And we're still four hearts as one."
"Got that right," Jay said.
"It would be pretty funny if we just...immediately turned her back into a lizard," Carlos said.
"Yeah, hilarious," Chad said harshly, dousing the mood before it could lighten any more. Because Fairy Godmother was still gone, no matter what else happened now.
They went silent again, until Audrey said "We're here," and pulled up in front of the museum.
The VKs suddenly found it a bit difficult to breathe around their heartbeats in their throats. Jay was the first to actually climb out of the car, and he peered around at the emptiness around the museum, making sure the space was safe for his friends to get out. He eventually waved for them to go ahead, and they each climbed out and shut the car doors behind themselves.
Mal knocked on Audrey's window, and she rolled it down.
"Thanks for driving us," Mal said. "We'll take it from here. Just don't go to Fairy Cottage, okay? It won't be pretty if my mom's there. Wait at school, and we'll send you word about your fairy godmothers."
"Nice try," Audrey said with a smile, "but you won't be the only ones picking up the slack around here. We need all the magic-casters we can get, and my fairies are some of the oldest ones left."
"Yes, and we will get them," Mal insisted. "The school needs you, Audrey. Jane's with the king, and they'll probably be spreading the word to the Council. You have to explain to the students what's going on. Maybe some of them have repressed magic like Jane. You're our best shot at guessing who; you know everyone."
Audrey shrugged. "We'll see," she said, which Mal hoped meant that she agreed with the idea but was too proud to say so. The window rolled up, ending the conversation, and Audrey pulled out of the museum parking lot.
"After me," Jay said, stalking toward the museum door.
Mal followed close behind, and the only sign that she gave of how tense she felt was the fact that her arms weren't crossed; she always made sure her hands were free when she was nervous. "So, it's spell book, staff, mirror, then we leave; zip off to Fairy Cottage before Audrey gets herself killed."
"Carlos needs a magical weapon, too," Jay protested.
"I assumed he would soak some arrowheads in some poison apple juice or something," Mal said.
"May I?" Carlos asked Evie.
"By all means," she replied. "Mother's apples don't really interest me."
The tension thickened as they drew nearer to the door of the museum. It wasn't just regular tension now, though; Mal could feel her dragon self stirring restlessly under her human skin, ready to spring at the slightest provocation. Her eyes had gone green again, that much she knew. Evie, meanwhile, looked suspiciously...desaturated. As though her skin and clothes were losing color, to blend in with her surroundings.
Mal took a deep breath and reached for the handle of the museum door, but at a sudden nervous spike in her magic, the glass door shattered into pieces; even Mal's reflexes couldn't get her arms in front of her face in time, but evidently Jay's magic had a quicker reflex to protect, for before the glass could reach them, they were all covered in a globe of red smoke, and the shards glanced harmlessly off.
When the smoke cleared, the four of them exchanged a glance...and found that Evie was now almost entirely transparent.
"Whoa," Jay said appreciatively.
"Whoa yourself," Evie replied, smiling at him. Then she looked down at her body, made a disapproving sound, and returned to her normal colors.
"So your powers mostly alter your appearance," Carlos surmised.
"Seems that way," Evie sighed, rolling her eyes as though her magic was more a nuisance than anything.
"Makes sense; your mother did that, too."
"She turned into an old woman, yes."
"And none of you are really in control right now, is what I'm gathering."
"Well, it's not easy, Carlos." Mal huffed, embarrassed. "This is, like, ten times more power than I felt when we first got to Auradon. And it's just...hanging out, ready to bust some glass, all the time. It feels..." Mal didn't finish her sentence, so as not to alarm anyone. Given what had happened to Fairy Godmother, it probably wouldn't be encouraging for them to hear that she felt like her magic was literally exceeding what her body could handle and she might come apart any moment.
"You leveled up," Jay said, shrugging. "Let's go get the stuff, right? Then head out to find your mom?"
Mal nodded tersely, then griped, "I wish this museum had a map!"
For a second time, red smoke reflexively issued from Jay, this time leaving a map of the museum in his hands before it dispersed. "Huh," Jay said, holding the map up with a befuddled expression.
"Nifty," Mal murmured.
Carlos cupped his hands around his mouth and said, "I wish I had a million dollars."
Nothing appeared, and Jay noogied Carlos's head.
"Prep school in sight," Bonnie called down from the crow's nest, even though the gargantuan set of buildings were pretty hard to miss. Auradon Prep was pretty much a castle in its own right, and they were so close to it now that even Uma, who would not be attending, felt a bit of a flutter in her chest.
There was something to be said for the rolling hills, the wooded areas, the bright abundance of green that made everyone audibly gasp. Things here were so alive. Not just alive; full of life, and the difference between the flora and fauna here and that of the Isle was like comparing a plum to a prune.
"How are you completely dry?" Gil asked Uma, his hands playing with her braids.
"I didn't want to come out soaked, so I decided not to," she replied, glad to further impress him. She thrived, seeing the awe in his eyes. It was the perfect remedy for having seen her mother again. "Water pretty much does what I say."
"She's very modest," she overheard Tremaine whisper to his lady friend, and the two quietly chuckled.
Uma thought about calling them out for talking about her, but decided to let them continue thinking she couldn't hear.
"Think we'll have to fight the dragon when we get there?" Harry asked.
"No way Mal can get mad at us just for dropping the kids off," Gil said, frowning.
"I'll deal with her, if she shows her face," was all Uma said.
Harry exhaled enrapturedly, not in response to Uma's words but rather to the fact that Uma was flexing her magic as she spoke. She couldn't help it; she was trying to feel for the presence that had fed her energy back at the docks and then again in the sea with Ursula and the mercops. It didn't seem to be emanating from this ship, but then she hadn't noticed it anywhere nearby earlier, either, and yet it had seemed so close when it'd made itself known. It had to have either accompanied them or followed them.
"You expect me to focus on steering when you're doing that?" Harry near-purred. He didn't know how to do magic himself, but he was extremely sensitive to the feel of it.
"Yes," Uma replied, probably not sounding quite as firm as she would have before she left, but still sounding firm enough (she thought) given the circumstances.
"Captain," Jonas called. "What's the plan for getting the kids into the school?"
Uma reluctantly ignored the part of herself that wanted to say, Just let 'em rush the place. "I guess we'll have them leave the ship all slow and peaceful-like," she sighed, "so the Auradonians can't say they felt threatened. The Tremaines with the baby can go first, then the little kids, then the bigger kids. And we'll spot them in case Auradon decides to do something stupid."
"Are you gonna turn into an octopus first?" Desiree asked, seeming to hope desperately that the answer would be yes. "Y'know, like a threat?"
"Nah," Uma said, earning disappointed sighs throughout the crew. "Not for this. I'm plenty threatening with legs, and we don't want this to come to blows. We want them to let the kids in."
"Captain. Dizzy got a scroll inviting her to Auradon Prep next year," Harry informed her. "Shall we have her in front with the other Tremaines?"
"Wow, they stay inviting just their friends," Uma murmured, before agreeing, "Yeah, someone get her and a handful of the tiny kids. Remember, we want them to come out slow. Don't wanna scare the fragile heroes."
Jonas went under to grab Dizzy and the little ones, as ordered.
"Can't we scare them a little, though?" Desiree wheedled. "At least put on the war paint so they know we mean business?"
"No war paint," Uma said.
"Takes you an hour to put it on, anyway," Gonzo teased Desiree.
"You know if the Auradonians have any reason to think we're attacking them, they'll fight back, even if it's little kids at the front. So, no weapons already drawn. Desiree, no face paint. Harry, no rhyming threats-"
"But so many fun words end in '-ate'," Harry whined playfully.
"Gonzo, no tongue wagging. Juicer, no head squeezing. Lim, no twirling. Bonnie..." The crew laughed after each comment; it was becoming a game, showing off how well she knew each of them, listing off their individual quirks. She rattled a few more off, just to watch each of them enjoy the attention.
The camaraderie was interrupted when children suddenly started to spill out onto the deck from below, significantly more and faster than Uma had instructed. Jonas staggered out amongst them, clearly trying and failing to maintain order. It seemed there wasn't a way to put "We've arrived, and it's time for some of you to get off the ship," that wouldn't result in these hooligans rushing the gangplank.
Fortunately, the gangplank wasn't yet down; they were only just pulling up to the coast, so they could at least hope to put the rugrats in their place.
"HEY!" Uma shouted, but even her loudest-ringing shout, the one that always put the crew in their place, only amounted to a few turned heads from the closest kids and barely a dent in the excited uproar. Fine. Uma prepared to draw on her power, but suddenly the magical presence she had just been wondering about returned again, this time not to feed her magic, but to constrict it, tightly. As though the unidentified entity did not want her to hinder the children from rushing the school, even as the teens and preteens among them were beginning to lower the gangplank themselves (paying no heed to the protests and attempts at interception from the pirate crew who would not attack them without Uma's permission). The magic far exceeded her own, no matter how she pushed against it, and more frightening still, Uma found that it wasn't only her magic that was kept in check; her muscles had tensed and felt as heavy as though one of Tarzan's gorilla friends were sitting on her.
Alarmed at the sheer strength of the force holding her back, Uma met Harry's gaze and was surprised to find that he was already equally alarmed and moving closer to her. His body blocked her from view of the crew, for which she was grateful; Gil took his cue to do the same. With some difficulty, she inclined her face closer to theirs.
"I don't know what's happening," she breathed, in a fearful tone that even her boys had only heard once or twice before.
"That's fairy magic," Harry said, leaning his forehead against hers as a comfort so that his breath tickled against her lips as he spoke. She couldn't tell what made him think that this was the work of a fairy, but she believed him. "I've been feeling it since the docks. Thought it was friendly, since it was helping before."
"Is it Mal?" Gil asked.
"She's half-fairy; feels different."
"Mal isn't this powerful," Uma ground out, "and Mal would never have helped me take on the Auradon guards and the merguards."
"Tell me what you want me to do," Harry said. Both of his hands already gripped their weapons: his hook and his sword. But there was nothing to fight. Nothing visible, at least.
Just something meddling in Uma's magic. Something with its own agenda that was served by protecting the kids from guards and mermaids but not served by stopping the kids from rushing Auradon Prep. Some fairy.
"Just let them go," Uma said, just as the gangplank slammed down, and the magical constriction released its pressure somewhat.
Harry raised his eyebrows to be sure that she meant it, and when Uma nodded, he turned toward the deck and called out, "Let them go!"
Gil took it a step further, running down to personally inform the crew of their captain's change in orders.
Uma felt lightheaded as the magical restraints lessened as more and more children gleefully raced ashore. The satisfaction she felt at having actually fulfilled her goal of freeing the children now felt horribly mixed with dread. She did not like having her magic grabbed in some unknown fairy's fist, nor the feeling of being coerced into changing her plans. Whatever game this entity was playing, she would not continue being a part of it, and she wasn't glad that the Isle kids were clearly (and most likely unwittingly) involved. Something seemed to have gone out of its way to get them here, and would not allow her to delay things for even a second. Something wanted them all in one place.
It seemed she would not be going to sea quite as soon as she'd hoped.
The Prep school was beautiful. It was so beautiful that Celia mentally congratulated herself for being about to enter it.
Her Friend seemed excited about it, too; whenever she paused to look at something, it impatiently waved her in the direction of the school.
"In a minute," she said. "I've never seen a real water fountain before."
Her Friend did everything it could to express its exasperation.
"Yeah, yeah," she said. Her daddy would probably have a whole lecture for her, for talking to a capital-'f'-Friend like this, but she couldn't help that hers was such a drama queen. And speaking of things her dad would want her to be careful about... "When are you gonna give me my shadow back, anyway? She's been gone for hours."
The Friend just pointed at Auradon Prep again.
"When I go in there?" Celia interpreted.
The Friend nodded eagerly.
"Cool. Just a minute." She continued turning the water fountain on and off. They really just had water all the time here! And vending machines, those were real, too! She could have so many bags of...of...whatever those were, if she only broke the glass...
Her Friend threw itself onto the front of the vending machine, darkening all of the snacks with its body and crossing its arms petulantly.
"Move," Celia whined, even though she could break the glass through the shadow. "I wanna steal some..." (She squinted to read.) "...'Hundred Acre Gummies'."
Then, all of a sudden, a white rabbit that stood as tall as her waist (not counting the ears) ran out of the bushes, squeaking out "Help!" as it came, and positioned itself in the little corner made by the vending machine and the wall. (Celia's Friend moved to the wall and inched its face closer to the rabbit, as though to sniff it.)
"Wow. Barrier goes down and everything's just random now, I guess," Celia commented, and her Friend shrugged, seemingly in agreement, and then gestured at the school as though hoping she might listen to it this time. "Not now," she snapped.
"Hide me," the rabbit begged. "Don't let it catch m-" The rabbit broke off, staring with horrified eyes at something over Celia's shoulder.
Celia whipped around to see what was behind her, but there was nothing. And by the time she turned back to the rabbit, it was running away with redoubled panic.
And of course, Celia had to make chase. Everyone knew that chasing a white rabbit- which, now that she thought about it, might have been the White Rabbit; this was Auradon, after all -led to great adventures. She ran into the wooded area near Auradon Prep and slowed down as she could no longer see the Rabbit through the trees.
"Where'd it go?" Celia asked her Friend excitedly, but the shadow appeared to be giving her the silent treatment, as it had its arms crossed and its back turned to her (as best as it could while still following her). "Fine; be that way," Celia said, before something burst through the brush.
It was not the White Rabbit.
Instead, out burst a sweaty man about her height but easily four times her age, carrying a large, terribly nailed-together wooden box over his head. It was so heavy, he had to support it with both hands and his temple. Celia watched him struggle to walk while holding up his giant box for about a minute before he broke the silence:
“It’s quite rude to stare. And most would bow, in the presence of a king.”
“You’re a king?” Celia said skeptically. She didn’t see a crown, but maybe it had fallen off at some point after he rested the huge box on his head.
“The King of Hearts,” the man replied. “I was told the barrier for the Isle of the Lost is broken, so I had them move the Rabbit Hole closer to the coast and decided to take a carriage over to collect my queen.”
Celia opted not to mention that “take a carriage” did not usually mean to carry one and walk. “That doesn’t look much like a carriage,” she observed.
“Well, it’s horse-drawn,” the King of Hearts explained. “Only, horses don’t draw very well.”
Celia couldn’t help but to laugh. It was hard to imagine this weird, diminutive man married to the mean old Queen of Hearts, but if he was this determined to have her back, then she was happy for them. She watched the man labor away until only the distant sound of his struggle with the carriage remained.
"Just ahead," a cloying voice suddenly spoke behind her.
Celia startled, whirling around and curling in on herself slightly. (She was comforted to see that her Friend left its indignant, inattentive pose and swiftly positioned itself on the ground between her and the source of the voice, so loyal that it could have been mistaken for her own shadow, if they didn't have drastically different features.)
The speaker was a cat, but an extremely large one, practically human-sized and no doubt heavier, with playful eyes and a broad smile that would put most of the Isle's villains to shame. It was draped among the branches just slightly above her head, somehow not breaking them despite its size. Its fur was dark purple, and soft-looking; she longed to reach out and touch it, pet it, but the intelligence of its gaze held her back.
There was blood in its teeth, and in the fur just under its mouth. Hard to see in the shadows, but she didn't doubt her senses. That was blood alright. Others might have found it off-putting or frightening (well, not others from the Isle, but Auradon kids maybe), but Celia had seen her share of street cats pin rats down. It was gross, but not scary.
"What did you say?" she asked the cat.
"You asked about the White Rabbit," the cat reminded her, his words honeyed and sluggish as though he had just woken up recently. "He's just ahead." And as if to help her figure it out, the creature made its body disappear, so that it was only a disembodied cat head, floating in the trees with its crimson smile.
Just a head.
Oh. "Did you eat the White Rabbit?" Celia demanded.
"I ate three-fourths of the White Rabbit." The cat's body reappeared as it spoke. "It's in the Rabbit's nature to be a bridge between this place and the Wonderland," it sighed, its tail dangling idly, like a pendulum, making a slow, almost hypnotic arc. "It could not be allowed to continue." A pink tongue as big as Celia's hand licked casually at a paw, but the cat's eyes remained trained on her.
In the corner of her eye, Celia could see that her Friend was waving spastically for her to leave, but she was disinclined to move a muscle until she knew she had the cat's permission to go; she was pretty sure she'd need it.
"That wasn't very nice," she scolded, wagging a finger the way the Auradon mothers did on TV. ("What's she threatening to do with that finger?" she and Dizzy had ruminated once. "You can't hit someone with a finger." "Maybe she has sharp nails." "Maybe she can do magic." "I'll bet she can shoot lightning.") "You can't eat everyone you disagree with."
"You can, if you are very agreeable," the cat disagreed lightly. "Or very large."
"Or if they're very small," Celia tacked on despite herself; the cat had a compelling train of logic.
"Precisely." The cat seemed to think for a second, then hopped down from the tree. Its landing made no sound, nor did it send a ripple through the cat's body the way it should have. "Your Friend has my...gratitude," it said, pacing around the shadow at Celia's feet (which remained rather still, with its arms crossed, as though challenging the cat). When it passed Celia's shins, she felt its fur tickle her skin, and she discovered that she had been right about its softness. "His return is what woke me up. I slept for rather too long." On the word "long", the cat's back legs stopped walking, but its front legs continued, so that its body had to stretch to accommodate it.
Too long; I get it, Celia thought.
"What do you mean 'his return'?" she asked the cat.
"And I suppose I should thank you as well." The cat brushed against her legs again, and she could resist no longer; she crouched down and stroked its lengthened back. It purred at her, then suddenly vanished into thin air.
"Hey," she complained.
The cat's voice lilted through the air around her, though it remained invisible: "Twas brillig...and the slithy toves...did gire and gimble in the wabe..." it sang, in a peculiarly melancholy way that made Celia shiver. It reminded her of the tone her daddy used on the rare occasions when he went into detail about his broken Friendships, or his time on the other side. The sound became gradually fainter as the cat grew farther away.
Celia looked down at her Friend and asked again, "What did it mean, 'your return'?"
Her Friend merely pointed her to the school again.
"But the cat's going back to Wonderland," she protested. "I just know it." She sniffed the air, but somehow the cat had left no magical scent behind. No way to follow. Given what had been done to the White Rabbit, that was probably the point.
Her Friend pointed all the more insistently.
"Oh, fine," she sighed, and headed back toward Auradon Prep.
Collecting their magical weapons wasn't too hard, at first. They easily found the Exhibit of Magical Items Throughout History, or whatever it was called. Mal's spell book was right on the pedestal where she'd so carefully placed it, the last time she'd been here; Jafar's staff practically flew to Jay's hand as soon as he decided to grab it; and the basket of apples that Carlos was thinking of weaponizing was just sitting out, too- unnaturally red given how long they'd been here.
The magic mirror was the problem.
"Whoa," Jay said, in that mild way he had of reacting to things. "So that kind of...grew."
The magic mirror was now so large that it had fallen off of its pedestal, and miraculously hadn't shattered.
"Mother did say that it wasn't what it used to be, back when she first gave it to me," Evie whispered. "I guess now it is."
"Well, go on; put it in your handbag."
Evie flashed an exasperated look at Jay, for his sarcasm. "I can't even carry it. Do you think we can break off a shard, maybe? And bring that with us?"
"It didn't break when it fell," Carlos remarked. "Mal, can you break it?"
They all looked over and saw that Mal had an extremely strained look on her face. The feeling that her magic might pull her apart at the seams had only intensified after walking into this room. "I can try," she said regardless. "Back up; don't want you to get cut by the glass, and we don't know if Jay's smoke shield thing will happen again."
Once her friends were out of the way, Mal attempted to focus her magic on just the mirror, but the magical items around the room reacted straightaway: the Black Cauldron started spitting ominously; Triton's trident sparked; various magical swords clanged as though they had been struck. When Mal's magic actually reached the Evil Queen's mirror, it merely reflected off, and hit the Beast's enchanted mirror, off of which it also reflected, and hit the already hissing Cauldron, which fell over onto its side and immediately started gushing white mist that smelled like death.
The four coughed and covered their noses.
"Well that didn't work," Mal said unnecessarily.
"That wasn't Crochan, was it?" Carlos coughed out.
"Maybe," Mal answered. "Why, is it dan-?"
Evie let out a startled yelp, and Mal whipped around, eyes blazing green and hair catching fire, and protective smoke issued from Jay again (thankfully blocking out the smell of death with the stronger smell of boy deodorant), but there was no threat; Evie was looking down at the mirror, where a mask-like face had suddenly appeared within the glass. "What's that?" Evie wondered aloud. "I didn't ask a question; why is it showing me something?"
"I live here, young Evelyn," the mask replied curtly. "If you wanted to wake me, the familiar 'Magic mirror on the wall' recitation would have done nicely, rather than firing magic at me."
"You're not on a wall," Carlos pointed out.
"Magic mirror on the floor, then."
"Mom said the mirror used to talk to her," Evie recalled, seemingly awed. To the mirror, she added, "Pleasure to make your acquaintance. I'm afraid I don't know your name."
"The Evil Queen merely called me 'slave' most of the time."
"Yeah, I know, but I definitely can't call you that; we don't do slavery."
"I see, so you'll be paying me, from here on out?"
"I'm kidding. What would I even use money for? Glass cleaner?"
Evie smiled uncomfortably.
"The stories never said you were this chatty," Mal noted, crossing her arms.
"I've been silent for a long time. I was conscious of everything even while I was shrunken, you know. I was fully aware, but I couldn't speak. Couldn't even do magic, on that Island. I was just a fully conscious regular mirror. It was torture. So I suppose I'm quite disenchanted with being taciturn, now that my full faculties are returned to me."
"That's fair," Evie said. "You'll still answer our questions, though?"
"Evelyn, do you know how boring this museum is? I'm begging you to ask me something."
"Alright." Evie straightened, as though making a formal address. "Magic mirror, full of knowledge, show me the three fairies at Fairy Cottage."
The mirror mask made an unimpressed face. "That does not really rhyme, you know."
"Do you like answering questions, or not?" Mal asked.
In response, the mask vanished and was replaced by an image: a positively picturesque little house, with Flora out front gardening and Fauna and Merryweather arguing earnestly nearby.
"They're fine," Mal said as the mask man reappeared.
"For now," Carlos said grimly.
Evie sighed and next instructed, "Magic mirror, get a grip; show me what's happening at Auradon Prep."
"Poetry truly isn't your strong suit, is it?" the mirror snarked, before obediently fading away again. Several seconds passed, though, and nothing replaced it. No images of Auradon Prep, or its students- only blackness. The mask shortly returned and said, "Apologies; it seems Auradon Prep is unreachable."
"Unreachable?" they all repeated.
"It is magically fortified against surveillance."
"It wasn't before," Carlos said, exchanging a wary look with the others.
"Magic mirror, so we don't fret, show us, now, Maleficent," Evie said.
The mirror sighed. "You are doing this on purpose." Then the glass went black, again, for a few seconds before the face returned. "Also unreachable."
"But not because she's at Auradon Prep, right?" Evie said, her colors fading again with her mounting distress. "It could be a coincidence, right?"
"It could be," the mirror agreed. "I don't have access to that information."
"Either way, something's going on at the school," Jay said. "We have to go back."
"What about the mir-?"
"Hey!" Carlos shouted, but he wasn't talking to Jay, or to the girls, or to the mirror. His back was turned to them as he suddenly lobbed one of his poison apples at a figure who had not been in the room moments before; what looked like a decaying old witch with wisps of red hair had been creeping over to the display of magical swords, until Carlos's apple hit her squarely in the head and she pivoted to face them, a hostile expression in place.
"Good throw," Jay said, pushing Carlos and Evie behind him.
"Thanks," Carlos said.
"Who and what are you?" Mal demanded of the old thing.
"That's gotta be Orddu," Carlos said.
There was more movement on that side of the room as a foot suddenly emerged from the fallen Black Cauldron, shortly followed by the attached leg, hindquarters, and finally body of a second decaying witch. Inside of the Cauldron, a woman's voice called, "Wait for me, Orgoch!"
"Orgoch," Carlos surmised, pointing at the newly emerged witch, who was eyeing up the situation and edging closer to her sister(?). "And I guess Orwen is still inside Crochan."
"None of these words mean anything," Mal said.
"From History of Magic, remember? The story of Crochan, the Black Cauldron."
"That was the most boring subject," Mal protested. "All of the names had a million letters. Just give me the gist."
"Remember, Orddu, Orgoch, and Orwen traded the Cauldron for Taran's sword, then traded the life of Taran's friend to get the Cauldron back. When magic started to go away, they sealed themselves inside the Cauldron in a partially-dead state."
Right. Fairy Godmother had even mentioned something about that before she went away.
The head of the last decaying witch, Orwen apparently, popped out of the cauldron's mouth, long red hair spilling onto the floor. "Who's here?" she asked curiously, while trying to squeeze her body out.
"Young heroes," Orddu said scornfully.
"Again?" Orwen lamented. "Is there at least a handsome...older fellow with them?"
"You mean Fflewddur Fflam," Carlos guessed, then turned to his friends. "She means Fflewddur Fflam."
"I'll bet that name has more letters than it needs," Mal said.
"Do the heroes want to bargain?" Orddu asked. "Those are some enticing magical artifacts you carry."
"None of this stuff is up for grabs," Mal said bluntly. "This is a museum; you can't take stuff."
"Oh? And you're doing what exactly?" Orddu challenged.
Mal smiled. "I said you can't."
"Let's turn them into frogs," Orgoch growled.
Orddu shook her head vexedly. "We can't turn the half-genie, or the half-fairy, or the witch."
"The human boy with the apples, then. I'll boil him up into a nice-"
"I have a better idea," Mal said brightly, fanning a hand idly through the air because Jay was releasing red smoke again and it was becoming slightly hard to see. "How about you climb back into that Cauldron before you're all the way dead?"
"Leave them, Orgoch," Orddu suggested, picking up the Cauldron (from which Orwen was still struggling to emerge) and holding it under her arm the same way Jay usually held his gym bag. "They are already claimed, and there's no need to get in a magical spat so soon."
"Because you know you'd lose?" Mal challenged as the three witch women started to leave the room.
Orddu cackled. "Not with you little things. That wouldn't be much of a spat at all, believe you me."
The First Lost Girl had known that there was a reason she and some of her friends had been instructed to leave Neverland, but she hadn't allowed herself to think on it much. Even if she had, she doubted that her imagination could have conjured an answer as extreme as the one they received.
"What is he doing?" Nigel choked out as they all gazed out the window of the ferry, at Neverland, which was beginning to, slowly but surely, sink down into the sea.
Jane met Tiger Lily's eyes and saw her own set of emotions reflected back at her: relief that she had gotten her family, immediate and distant, out in time; shame for such relief; horror at the destruction itself (Jane's mind kept frantically reminding her that there could be rescue ships for the inhabitants; they would be fine, they would be fine...); and, past it all, absolute certainty as to the answer to Nigel's question.
She suspected that Nigel knew it, too, for she could practically hear the answer being spoken in an eternally boyish voice, practical and horrible in the way only a child- perhaps only that child -could be. "He's washing it," she said flatly and tightened her arm around Margaret.
Thank you for commenting; please continue doing so! I really need it, lol. Also, the perspective will jump around less once more of the characters end up in the same place. And the cameos won't be so obnoxious later in the story.
Again, please comment!