The Dunphy household was pitch black. Luke was fast asleep, shaking the house with his snoring and Haley was hopefully still downstairs, but was most likely somewhere illegal. It was the middle of night, a time when the world should be fast asleep.
Alex Dunphy didn’t usually do what the world wanted.
She was diligently studying by the light of a small lamp, eyes moving across the lines faster than most people could boast. She was working on a school essay. The topic was fairytales and how the messages inside them can be applied to real life. Alex couldn’t quite figure out which one to choose, so her eyes scanned her options, trying to pick the one that least enforced the patriarchy.
“Alex, what are you doing still up? This is the second night in a row,” Claire asked, rubbing her eyes tiredly. She had just gotten up for a pee break and noticed the light coming from Alex’s room.
“This has to be perfect mom,” Alex replied, not bothering to look up. “It’s about sending a message. Almost every princess has needed a prince to save them. If I could write a good enough essay that proves-”
“I’m too tired to process this,” Claire muttered. “Just don’t stay up too long. We have a big day tomorrow.” She yawned, then walked away from Alex's room, heading back to bed, back to Phil. Alex continued reading.
The hours passed as she made sticky notes and flashcards, trying to pick out a perfect thesis. She ran her fingers down the dictionary and tried to link topics and ideas. The moon moved slowly across her vision, but it wasn’t something she noticed. She was too focused on the books in front of her.
At 3 am she finally had the perfect thesis that would get her a good grade. She unplugged her laptop from the wall, hoping to get in a few good paragraphs before she lost her train of thought. She brought up a blank page and cracked her knuckles, ready to begin.
The page began to swim in her vision as she yawned, long and hard. She tried to rub the sleep away from her eyes, but only succeeded in making herself more tired. Even she was smart enough to know whatever she wrote just then would be barely comprehensible.
“Just ten minutes,” she promised herself, placing her head in her arms. Everything was so warm and comfy, and her back barely hurt the way it usually did when she slept at her desk. She shut her eyes, vowing to wake up soon and continue her work.
Everything faded into black as she slipped into slumber, feeling herself begin to relax little by little.
“Where am I,” she muttered, lifting her head groggily. The light hit her eyes and she shielded her face from the brightness. She blinked her eyes, letting her eyes adjust. When she no longer saw black spots when she opened her eyes, she picked herself up slowly and dusted the dirt from her skin.
She was in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by trees. The woods covered the path, and mushrooms and moss grew on the sides. The sky was bright blue and birds chirped loudly, seeming unafraid of humans, the way the animals were in the city. Alex blinked her eyes in confusion.
“What the hell?” she whispered. “Where am I?”
She looked both ways. Either direction seemed to lead to more woods and more paths. She wrinkled her nose, trying to look at it logically. She was in a strange area, wearing her pyjamas, with no way to know which way to go. She had no phone and she had nobody there with her. The only logical conclusion was to just keep walking, to see what she could find. She picked right, then started to move.
A few hours went by, as shown by the sun's path across the sky. Alex was only wearing a tank top and shorts, and she was burning up, her skin turning an uncomfortable red. At least the scenery was pretty; the woods looked like something out of a fairytale. Everything was picture perfect.
While she was walking, she tried to figure out where she was. She had studied numerous countries, travelled all across the country for projects, but she could not for the life of her identify where she was. She tried not to think about it, but her mind was whirling and she found it was the only thing distracting her from her long walk.
Everything mostly passed in silence. She didn’t see another person or even another living thing through her travels. Everything was quiet and peaceful, and Alex was grateful for the solitude. It made it easier for her to think.
Of course that had to be ruined eventually.
She was walking in the middle of the road when she heard heavy footsteps coming towards her. She turned to see some horses running at full speed through the road, the driver gesturing for her to get out of the way frantically. She screamed and tossed herself to the side as the carriage barrelled by her, leaving a cloud of dust behind. She coughed slightly, before gaping at the back of the wooden contraption. She never thought she would see one in her lifetime except in a history museum. She wondered why one was being used out there in the woods.
The carriage came to a stop in the road and Alex approached cautiously, not knowing who was in there, or if they were dangerous or not.
“Hello?” she called, coming to a stop in front of the carriage doors. “You almost ran into me there. Do you have no sidewalks I can use?”
“Well, I don’t know what a sidewalk is, but I’m certain we don’t have them,” a voice laughed joyfully from inside the carriage, and Alex balked, her face turning pale.
“Grandpa?” she whispered and the door was thrown open. The man standing there was dressed in royal silks with bells hanging from his hat, and was carrying a trumpet. It was Frank Dunphy in all his glory, looking like a fool. Alex watched in amazement as he did a flip off the carriage, before posing excitedly in front of her.
“I don’t think I look that old just yet,” Frank laughed, bowing low. “But I don’t think I recognise you. Maybe you should give me your name and that might jog something.”
“Grandpa, it’s me,” Alex said desperately, thankful to finally see someone she knew. “I’m your granddaughter, Alex Dunphy.”
“I’m sorry miss,” Frank said sadly. “I’m afraid I haven't heard that name in my life. I think it’s my face. I’ve been told I have very recognisable features.”
Something in Alex dropped to her stomach. Her own grandfather didn’t recognise her. It was Frank alright. The looks, the mannerism, even his funny laugh was all the same, but he didn’t know who she was. It hurt though she tried to hide it.
“Well, that’s my mistake,” she said, looking at the ground. “I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“Hey now,” Frank said gently, lifting up her chin. Alex looked into his eyes, the same colour as the ones she always saw back home. “Even if I’m not who you’re looking for, I can still help you. What’s a young girl like you doing out here?”
“I’m not sure,” Alex laughed bitterly. “I don’t even know where I am.”
“You’re in the Enchanted Forest of course,” Frank exclaimed, throwing his arms wide. “The only forest in the entire kingdom.”
“Right, of course I am,” Alex muttered in disbelief. “And tell me,” she continued, louder this time. “How do I get out of the Enchanted Forest?”
“Well you don’t,” Frank said bluntly. “It’s nearly impossible unless you have a proper guide. Luckily, Gil over there knows his way around the forest.”
He pointed over his shoulder where Phils greatest nemesis was sitting at the front, a whip and some reins in his hands. He turned around when he heard his name in the conversation.
“That’s not the only thing I know my way around,” he winked, and Alex shuddered in disgust. He hadn’t changed a bit, even in this strange world.
“Careful there Gil,” Frank warned, his voice still filled with laughter. “That’s my lookalike’s granddaughter over there.”
Gil obnoxiously laughed, then turned back to the front.
“Well, thanks for your help,” Alex said politely. She tried to step away, but Frank grabbed her arm before she could.
“You can’t leave,” he said, sounding worried. “It’s dangerous out there, especially for a young lady such as yourself.”
“Um excuse me,” Alex said, offended. “A woman can do just as well as a man-”
“This forest is filled with magical creatures of all kinds that will not hesitate to tear you to shreds. Staying out here will result in your sudden death.”
Almost on cue a long howl filled the air, sounding close to them. The forest seemed darker now and Alex could see the sun going down behind Frank. Alex gulped, then looked at her not-grandfather. “Fine, I’ll go with you.”
Frank nodded happily, then helped her into the carriage. Inside was covered in soft velvet and sweet smelling wood. A small compartment offered some gold wrapped chocolates, which Frank pointed out and Alex politely declined. Frank made some sort of gesture outside the window and Gil snapped the reins, the carriage moving once more. The contraption shook horribly and Alex's stomach turned. She tried to make some conversation to ignore the pain.
“So what do you do, Mister….” Alex trailed off and Frank laughed.
“How silly of me, I forgot to introduce myself! I’m Frank, the messenger for the King. Well,” he added thoughtfully, “one of them.”
“The King,” Alex said in disbelief. “Of course there’s a King.” She rolled her eyes, then regretted the action when she became more nauseous than before. Frank didn’t seem to notice her discomfort.
“Yes, the King,” Frank exclaimed, sounding in awe of the man. “A fair, wonderful man who rules this kingdom with a firm grasp. But lately,” he stopped, looking sad. “Well, you’ll see when we get there.”
Alex watched him carefully, but Frank seemed unwilling to continue the conversation, so she set her head down on the soft seat. She took some deep breaths to steady her stomach and prepared herself for whatever she would find when she stepped out of the carriage.
The carriage came to a stop and Alex breathed a sigh of relief. She was so close to throwing up all over the expensive seats and she really didn’t think that would go over so well. Frank barely seemed bothered by the rocking and was talking excitedly in her ear, something about swimming.
They stepped out of the carriage and thanked Gil, Alex a little reluctantly. He winked at her and blew a kiss, and Alex nearly threw up again with disgust. She felt so bad for her father if he had to work with that man everyday. The carriage ran off, and Alex turned to Frank.
“So what now?” she asked.
“Now,” he said mischievously. “I give you the tour of your lifetime.”
He turned her by the shoulder, pointing her in the direction of the palace. It loomed over her, all shining marble and gold swirls, reminding her of the Taj Mahal, with high arching windows and stone floors. It was impressive and Alex could feel her jaw drop. She had barely even noticed it.
“This is an incredible feat of architecture,” she muttered, looking at the arching doors and the walls that glittered in the fading sun, turning the palace a bright pink. “How is this possible?”
“I don’t know what architecture means,” Frank said smiling. “But it’s impressive isn’t it?”
“It’s amazing,” Alex breathed. She turned to Frank with shining eyes. “Do you live here?”
“Yep,” Frank replied proudly. “Well, I live in the servant quarters, but they are fairly impressive too, especially compared to the Southern Isles. Those poor people….” he shook his head sadly.
“Yeah okay,” Alex said, ignoring the last bit. “Can I see the inside?”
“Of course you can, that’s why I brought you here.”
Alex nearly squealed in excitement. She was going to make so many notes. “Then what are you waiting for? Lets go.”
Frank laughed at her excitement, and led her to the side of the building where the servants entrance was. Alex was a little disappointed she hadn’t got to enter through the main doors, but Frank was right; the servants quarters were just as impressive. She wondered what kind of King would let his servants have such a nice area, or how amazing the other parts of the palace were if this was considered lowly enough for servants.
Frank led her around, eventually taking her out of the quarters into the main palace. They were stopped a few times by some guards, but they seemed to recognise Frank and let him move around freely. Frank got along with everyone, Alex was finding out, just like he did back at home. It appeared that not much had changed regarding his personality.
He showed her the kitchens where they met an elderly lady named Miriam, who was the head chef for the palace. She was short and stocky, with sweaty grey hair piled in a bun. Her cheeks were rosy and Alex was overcome with the desire to give her a hug. She looked like she gave great hugs.
“Picking up strays again?” she teased when she caught sight of Alex.
“Hopefully just for tomorrow's ball,” Frank laughed. “She isn’t from around here, hence the clothes. She can stay here, experience the ball, then I’ll take her home, wherever that is.”
“Oh Frank, you’re too kind for this world,” Miriam laughed. “Here dear,” she said, dropping a warm dessert into Alex's hand. “That’s on me.”
“Thanks,” Alex said, biting into it. It was sweet and salty, obviously homemade. It was one of the best things she had ever eaten in her life and she quickly devoured the rest, Frank laughing at her haste.
Frank continued the tour, leading her to the library, which Alex had been loath to leave. She vowed to come back that night and hopefully get some studying in. She may be in a strange land where kingdoms and Kings existed, but she wasn’t falling behind on schoolwork.
Frank eventually led her into the throne room, where various lords and ladies were socialising. He led her to the very corner, hidden by large marble columns. Alex looked around at all the ladies covered in fancy clothes and makeup and shivered in her pyjamas. Frank noticed and slipped off his jacket to give her, giving her a little modesty. Alex smiled at him gratefully.
Together they watched the party, silently observing. Alex watched little servant boys run through the crowd to give drinks and little appetisers to ungrateful elitists. She shook her head in disappointment.
It was slowly turning into night, the stars shining through the windows. The rest of the room was lit up with warm candles, and Alex began to relax. They were hidden far away from prying eyes and she was free to observe the people around her. It was almost peaceful in a way, almost like being a ghost.
That peace didn’t last long however.
The door slammed open and everyone in the room jumped in terror, their hearts skipping a beat. Alex craned her head, trying to see who was there, but Frank grabbed her wrists and forced her into a low bow.
“It’s the King,” he whispered frantically, and Alex ducked her head quickly, understanding his fear. Around the room, the lords and ladies who were previously up on high horses dropped to their knees, trying to look humble as the King passed through. His footsteps made loud noises on the stone and Alex resisted the urge to look up. She kept her eyes firmly on the stone.
The King settled into his throne and everyone slowly stood back up, silent. Alex raised her head, and nearly gasped.
Jay Pritchett, her grandfather, was on the large throne, looking at his subjects with angry eyes. Beside him was a large throne, empty and alone, with two smaller ones beside it. He looked painfully alone up on the podium, the absence of the three others echoing through the room. He was covered in jewels and colourful items and Alex almost laughed. She knew her Jay from the real world would hate himself here. She couldn’t imagine him willingly wearing all those layers.
A small man quickly ran to the side of the throne, unveiling a long piece of paper. He cleared his throat and began to read.
“Presenting His Majesty, King Pritchett of the Northern Kingdom, Ravager of the Eastern-” Jay waved him off.
“Shut up,” he growled, and the man trembled, stepping away. “I know who I am. Bring forward the knights.”
Four men were pushed forward, looking terrified. The youngest of them couldn’t have been more than fifteen, while the oldest looked around fifty. Jay regarded them carefully, looking angry. Alex watched curiously.
“What have you found out for me?” he asked, his voice booming around the room. Alex shivered; she had never seen her grandfather so mad before.
“Well,” the youngest one whispered. “We searched far and wide, but we couldn’t find anything. It's impossible, Your Majesty.”
“Dammit,” Jay yelled, slamming his fist on his throne. The sound filled the room, some of the more delicate ladies flinching. “It’s not impossible, you just need to work harder.”
“We’ve worked as hard as we can-”
“And yet I still don’t have the book in my hands,” Jay said mockingly. Alex watched the scene unravel with confusion. She had no idea what was happening, nor what book they were talking about.
“Perhaps Your Majesty,” the oldest one said calmly. “We can start to consider the possibility that the book doesn’t exist.”
“Bullshit,” Jay muttered. “If I say it exists, then it exists. God, is anyone out there capable of getting me this book? The most powerful kingdom in the world and you can’t do one simple thing?”
“What’s wrong with him?” Alex whispered to Frank. Frank looked around frantically before leaning in.
“You really aren’t from here are you?”
Alex shook her head and Frank sighed.
“The King had two children, Princess Claire and Prince Mitchell, with Queen Dede. But when Prince Mitchell was just a babe, he was kidnapped and taken away somewhere. The Queen fell into such deep despair and took it out on her daughter. Eventually it became too much for her and she ran the Princess out of the palace a few years ago before disappearing herself. The King hasn’t been the same since.”
“That’s horrible. Why does he want a book so badly?”
“It’s the book of knowledge. He thinks it might help him find where his lost children are.” Frank shook his head sadly. “Poor man. He was so kind before everything went wrong.”
“So this book can grant the user any bit of knowledge they want?” Alex asked curiously.
“That’s what I said,” Frank replied, and Alex could feel herself begin to grin, to Frank's confusion.
A book of knowledge. That would be incredible to have when she was writing her essays and it would let her learn some secrets of the world. She could finally know about the galaxies beyond their own and the secrets deep beneath the waves. She could feel herself yearn for this book more than she ever had. Before she could stop herself she was already running from the wall, Frank trying to grab her back.
“I can do it,” she yelled and everyone turned to her. She shrunk within herself, trying to appear more mature now that all the eyes were on her. “I mean, I can do it.”
Jay narrowed his eyes, looking over her carefully. “Who are you?”
“I am Alex,” she said, bowing. “And I can find the book for you.”
“I am so sorry, Your Majesty,” Frank said desperately, trying to drag Alex back. “She is my responsibility and this is all my fault-”
“Quiet,” Jay said and Frank fell silent obediently. “I want to hear Alex. What makes you think you can do this?”
“Well,” she said. “I am very resourceful and I am very skilled in finding things.” That was a lie, but how hard could finding one book really be? “All I ask is that once you are done with it, you grant it to me.”
Jay leaned back in his throne, considering it. “I agree to those terms Alex. If you find me that book, you may have it after letting me use it. You are to leave today. Frank, get her what she needs.”
Frank bowed his head. “Of course Your Majesty,” he said, taking Alex’s hand. He tugged her away and this time Alex followed. He tugged her out of the room, the heavy doors shutting behind them. When he was certain they were alone, he turned to her angrily. Alex almost jumped; she had never seen her Grandfather look so mad. Frank never yelled, but now he seemed almost on the verge.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
“I am finding the book,” Alex replied softly. “It’s a book of knowledge, do you know how helpful that will be with my homework?”
“I don’t know what homework is,” Frank shot back. “What if you die Alex? While you are here I am responsible for you. What will I tell your family if I ever meet them huh? Oh yeah, I’m just the idiot that got your daughter killed. Please forgive me.” He sighed. “Alex, this is a bad idea.”
“It’s okay Frank,” she said, taking his hands. “I’m going to be okay. It’s not your fault. And besides, I think I’ll find my family soon.” She smiled knowingly; she thought she finally figured it out. But she had to see for herself first.
Frank sighed, then smiled gently. “I trust you,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I feel like I know you.”
Alex almost laughed at the irony. “I feel the same.”
Frank led her back into the servants quarters to his bed. It was crammed in an area with five others, wooden chests at the feet to put their belongings. They didn’t have much; they were servants after all. But Frank reached into his with love. He had already given her some clothes from some other servant boy; a pair of pants, a soft cotton shirt, boots, and a large jacket. Her pyjamas had been burned and Alex couldn’t bring herself to care. Someone had dug up a leather satchel for her and it hung from her shoulder.
“Here,” he said, handing her a piece of paper. It looked old, with yellow strains and running ink. “This is for you.”
Alex looked at it curiously. “What’s this?”
“It was a gift from my own father when I was a young. It’s a map that leads you to where you’re supposed to go.”
“So this will lead me to the book?”
Frank shrugged. “It could. It leads you to where you need to go. It might lead you to the book, but it might take you somewhere more important first. It led me here nearly thirty years ago.”
Alex tucked it into her bag, before hugging Frank tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered and Frank returned the hug eagerly.
“Good luck Alex,” he whispered back. Alex pulled away and took a deep breath. She was nervous; any person would be if they were in the position she was in. But she wanted that book and she was willing to do whatever it took to get it.
Besides. She doubted she could die here. It was just a theory now, but Alex had faith in herself.
“Here you go dear,” Miriam said warmly from beside Frank. She handed Alex a cloth bag. Alex peered in to see some roast beef, two dinner rolls, some cheese in a damp cloth, and some carrots. A small chocolate was nestled at the bottom. “Good luck. Hopefully you can be the one to save our King. He used to be such a good man.”
“Still is,” Frank corrected her. “It's just a matter of time.”
“Oh Frank,” Miriam laughed. She turned back to Alex. “My dear, there is a horse waiting for you in the stables. Frank will take you there. Good luck, come back safe.” She kissed Alex's cheek gently and Alex smiled.
“Thank you ma’am.”
“Come on,” Frank said, tugging Alex away. “It’s time to go.”
Outside it was night. The stars glittered in the sky, looking so much clearer than they did in the city. Alex was almost in awe, but she expected it. She was in a land with no pollution. The stars were the one thing she was excited to see and they did not disappoint her.
Frank led her to the stables. There was a small blond horse picked out for Alex. She was named Starlight and Frank assured Alex she was perfectly tame. On her saddle, hooked up high, was a lantern already lit so she could see where she was going. Alex hopped on the horse with the help of Frank and settled herself in.
“Thanks for everything,” she said and Frank smiled.
“Just promise you’ll be back by tomorrow night,” he said. “There will be a ball and you mustn’t miss it. Miriam has already picked out a dress for you.”
Alex melted at the warmth both Frank and Miriam had shown her. To them, she was just a stranger but they were still making sure she was safe. It takes a good heart to be kind like this to someone you barely know.
“I promise,” she replied. Frank moved out of the way, then handed the reins to Alex. Alex had only ridden a horse once before, when her family had taken that vacation to the ranch and her first kiss was stolen. She wondered how that boy was, if he was doing okay.
She gently squeezed Starlight and the horse went forward. Alex carefully led her out of the stables, Frank following behind.
She left the gate into the open road, where the Enchanted Forest lay. She could hear growling coming from inside, but she took a deep breath to steady herself. She was doing this for knowledge.
And to help her grandfather, uncle, and mom, but they didn’t matter that much.
She squeezed tighter and Starlight took off, running through the path, seeming to know exactly where to go. Alex felt adrenaline fill her; she was finally on the way.
The sun was rising in the distance, filling the sky with a variety of beautiful colours. It had been a long night for Alex. She spent the time carefully reading the map, gently leading Starlight where to go. She quickly realised two things; on the map were two dots. The yellow represented Alex and the red one represented where she had to go. She also realised that riding a horse was quite difficult, especially if you don’t have much experience. She got the hang of it soon enough though, but she wasn’t going as fast as she wanted to.
The bright side of things was that the red dot wasn’t that far away. She rode Starlight leisurely down the road, checking the map every once in a while to make sure she was on the right track.
She arrived at the destination at the crack of dawn. The ground was covered in dew and Alex could see her breath in the air. She hopped down from her horse, looking for the book around the area.
“This can’t be right,” she murmured softly. She was right on top of the red dot, but she couldn’t see anything. In fact, the destination was on the side of the road in a random spot. She would think the book would be hidden somewhere more discreet. “Do you think it’s underground?”
She toed the ground reluctantly. She really didn’t want to dig today.
“Maybe this map is broken,” she said, looking at it carefully. She was right where it told her to go, but she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. “What am I going to do?”
“Howdy stranger,” a voice called from behind her, and she turned quickly, not expecting to see another person on the road.
A man was riding up to her on a large gray horse. He moved slowly and the sun was right behind him, so Alex couldn’t see his face. She tried to appear polite and friendly just in case it was someone evil. She didn’t know what to expect in this land.
The man came right beside her and hopped down, finally obscuring the sun. Alex sighed and dropped the act. Of course.
Phil Dunphy smiled down at her, looking goofy and strange. He was wearing a flamboyant outfit, shining in the sun. It looked expensive and well made. A crown was on his head, slightly lopsided because of the riding.
“I’m Prince Phillip of the Southern Isles,” he said proudly, hands on his lips. Alex almost laughed. This was exactly what she expected from her father in this strange world. “But uh, nobody's around. You can call me Phil.”
“Well Phil,” Alex said, feeling weird calling her dad by his first name. “I am Alex from…” she trailed off, trying to think, “some village.”
“Alex from Some Village,” Phil said, nodding his head. Alex sighed. “I haven't heard of it, but it sounds amazing.”
“It sure is.”
“I hate to be asking this,” Phil said, leaning in close. “But do you think you can help me?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m kind of on my own quest right now,” Alex said apologetically. “I’m running out of time and this map doesn’t seem to be working properly.”
“It won’t take any time at all,” Phil begged. “Yesterday I saw some woman here and she was beautiful. I’m talking about the prettiest woman in the world, but now I can’t remember where I am. We spent the day with each and I’m probably in love with her, and I desperately want to see her again.”
Alex sighed, then looked down at the map and almost gasped. The red dot had moved, just a few paces outside of the path into the woods. She looked at Phils pleading face and sighed. She supposed she had a new destination anyway and something told her it had something to do with the man in front of her.
“Fine, I’ll help you,” she relented and Phil cheered.
“Thank you so much,” he laughed, hugging her tightly. Alex tried not to relax into it the way she did back at home when her father hugged her. “Come on, let's go.”
He grabbed her hand and tried to pull her into the woods, but Alex stopped him. He looked at her, confused, and Alex rolled her eyes.
“The horses are too big to fit through the trees, but we can’t just leave them here. They might get stolen.”
“Alex,” Phil said, laughing at her, like her fears were illegitimate. “We are in a totally secluded spot. Nobody is going to go through here. Now come on, you need to get back to your own quest.”
Alex sighed, then followed her father into the woods. It would be his fault if they were gone when they got back. Phil was excitedly rambling as they headed into the thicket and Alex rolled her eyes again.
Alex always had trouble connecting with her dad. Phil never said it out loud, but everyone knew his favourite child was Luke. They were able to laugh, goof off together, get each other's jokes. And even though Claire never said it either, Haley was her favourite. Haley reminded her of how she used to be and as Haley got older, the closer they became. Alex was usually just there for them. She was self reliant, self sufficient, the child her parents were able to brag about. She wasn’t really close to either of them. She pretended it didn’t bother her, but sometimes she felt alone in her own house.
This anonymity gave her a chance to connect with Phil. Phil didn’t know who she was, or who she was going to be. To him, she was just some random person he met in the woods. It was so much easier to connect with him now that he didn’t know Luke existed, now that she didn’t have his imaginary standards to live up to. She even tried to joke with him as they walked. They didn’t land as often as they did when Luke was telling them, but Phil laughed enough and Alex was happy.
Eventually the forest led them into a small clearing. Alex checked the map to confirm it; they were at the red dot. It had only taken a few minutes of her time.
In the middle of the clearing was a group of five small men crowded around a glass coffin. One of them heard the commotion, running over to them. Alex recognised him as Pepper, one of her uncles gay friends and one of the banes of Jays existence.
“Phillip, thank god you’re here,” Pepper said frantically. “You have to save her. She isn’t breathing. We tried everything, but there are just five of us.”
“Isn’t there supposed to be seven?” Alex asked curiously, and Pepper turned to her angrily.
“You don’t ask about the other two,” he snarled and Alex held up her hands in surrender. Phil paid no mind, instead hesitantly approached the coffin.
“Is this her?” he asked, looking down sadly. Pepper rolled his eyes.
“Of course it is. Who else would it be? I don’t see any other blonde princess around here,” he said sarcastically. Phil paid no mind to his mocking tone. He knelt by the coffin, taking off his crown in mourning. Alex slowly moved forward, peaking at the top.
Inside was her mother, her blonde hair spread along a soft pillow. She was wearing a long gown, holding some flowers tightly in her hand. Her cheeks were still rosy even in death, like she had applied too much blush.
“Snow White,” Alex muttered and one of the dwarves looked at her weird. Alex identified the voice as Longines. She didn’t look at him, just looked at the real life fairytale playing before her. She couldn’t believe this was happening, but she knew she shouldn't be surprised.
“I am so sorry I couldn't be here in time,” Phil muttered, looking close to tears. “I should have saved her. This is all my fault.”
“It’s not too late,” Pepper begged. “You just need to kiss her and everything will be okay.”
Phil looked at him in disgust. “I am not kissing a dead body,” he said. “No matter how beautiful they look.” He looked longingly at Claire, then shook his head frantically. “No. No. I’m not doing that.”
“You have to,” Pepper yelled. “It’s the only way to save her.”
“I refuse. It’s not ethical.”
“Dad-” Alex cried, before stopping herself to correct her statement. “I mean Phil. Normally I would be against kissing dead bodies as well, but you have to do this. Trust me.”
She remembered how disgusted she had been at the fairytale, even at such a young age. The idea of kissing a dead body was horrifying, but this had to happen. It was the only way to save her mom, no matter how much she hated it.
Phil looked at her carefully. “I trust you,” he said carefully. He wrinkled his nose at her, like he was thinking hard. “Do we know each other?”
“Nah,” Alex said, waving him off. “Just do it.”
The dwarves pushed off the glass lid, revealing Claire. She still looked alive, like there was a spark inside of her. Alex watched with bated breath; Phil gently leaned down, still looking hesitant. He took a deep breath, then quickly leaned down, pressing his lips to Claire's. It was quick and easy, barely even a peck. He pulled away, wiping his lips like he was disgusted with her.
Inside the coffin Claire's eyes fluttered and the dwarves crowded around eagerly to see the results. Claire shifted, before her eyes opened gently. She yawned, then sat up, the flowers falling down into her lap. She blinked, looking confused.
Phil gasped, then wrapped his arms around her to Claire's shock. The dwarves around them cheered loudly and Alex smiled. The sun shined down through the trees, illuminating the scene.
“I am so sorry,” Phil was saying, holding Claire tight. “I kissed you when you were dead and I know it was wrong, and I am so sorry. I get it if you hate me-”
Claire cut him off with a soft kiss. “You saved my life,” she said when she pulled away. “I forgive you.”
Phil laughed, then helped her up from the coffin. Claire stood up on unsteady legs, before brushing herself off. “What happened to Dede?” she asked, looking around suspiciously.
“She fell off a cliff,” Pepper said casually. “A fitting ending for someone like her.”
“I’m sorry,” Alex interrupted. “Dede did this to you?”
“Of course,” Claire said. “She’s always been jealous of me, especially after…” she trailed off. Phil hugged her, trying to be supportive. Alex could fill in the blanks for her; after Mitchell disappeared. When everything went horribly wrong.
“Wait a minute,” Claire muttered, looking up at Alex. “Who are you?”
“She’s a hero,” Phil exclaimed, looking at Alex gratefully. “She is the one who led me to you with her little map or whatever that is.”
Speaking of the map. Alex reached into her bag to look at it. The red dot was gone, now further down the road and she sighed. Hopefully this time it will be the book, but something inside of her told her not to get excited. She wondered who else she would meet along the way.
“I’m sorry to run off like this,” she said, “but I have to go.”
“We have to go too,” Phil said. “There are some horses by the road we can use to get back to your home. I’m sure your father will be happy to have you back.”
“What about us?” Pepper cried, looking angry and Claire laughed.
“Of course you’ll be coming with me,” she said and the dwarves cheered again.
They walked back through the forest and Alex found out what happened. A few years ago her mother, Queen Dede, had gone crazy after the disappearance of her son. She chased Claire away out of jealousy and rage. Claire had run into the woods and met the dwarves, who worked with clothes, sewing and repairing them. The dwarves took her in because she was too scared to return home. Soon Dede had found out about her daughter being alive and tried to poison her disguised as an old woman offering an apple. Claire fell for it, and fell into a deep sleep that was mistaken for death. Alex listened from behind them. She could easily see Dede doing that. She loved her grandmother, but she was a little crazy.
Soon the road was visible through the trees and they all ran towards it, desperate to be out of the woods. The trees hid secrets, and Alex couldn't shake the feeling she was being watched. They emerged from the forest on an empty road. Their horses were gone.
“Told you,” Alex muttered. She was going to miss Starlight. She was a good horse. She hoped whoever stole her would take care of the horse properly.
“No,” Phil yelled, his voice echoing around the woods. Claire cringed slightly. “This is horrible!”
“It’s okay Phil,” Claire comforted. “It’s only a few hour’s walk to my dad's palace. We can do it. I need the exercise anyway.”
Phil nodded sadly. Claire took his hands and intertwined it with hers, smiling gently at him. Phil smiled softly back and they leaned in, kissing each other intimately. They deepened the kiss after a few minutes, a smacking noise filling the air.
“Okay, this is disgusting,” Alex said, averting her eyes. “It was wonderful meeting you Phil, but I need to go.” She really didn’t want to see her parents French each other. She was already scarred from that one anniversary. That scene sometimes showed up in her nightmares.
Phil didn’t even pull away from Claire, just waved goodbye. Alex almost threw up and turned away, beginning to walk away.
“Don’t leave us with them,” Pepper cried, but Alex didn’t even turn around. She had a book to find.
Alex continued along the road for a few hours. When the sun was high in the sky, she took out the food Miriam gave her and ate while walking so she wouldn’t waste anytime. She assumed it was around lunchtime. The beef was delicious, just like she expected it to be. Miriam was a food genius. She ate one of the rolls with some cheese, then decided to save the rest of the food for dinner later.
After a few hours the scenery began to change. Around her rose mountains, covered in rocks and trees. The path became winding, sometimes going uphill, sometimes going downhill. Alex's legs burned but she kept moving on. She promised Frank she would be back by nightfall that day.
Of course that was when she had a horse.
Alex kept her eyes firmly on the map, making sure that she was getting closer to the red dot. Soon she was standing horizontally from it; all she had to do was turn right. The red dot was only a few minutes outside the path. Alex put down the map and sighed.
She was at the base of a large mountain. It loomed over her and she couldn’t see the top. It was sharp and steep, and Alex shuddered. The rock in front of her was covered in vines, an inky blackness behind it. She looked at it quizzically, before walking forward. She pressed her hands into it and like she suspected, her hand went right through. She felt relieved that she didn't have to climb a mountain, and she walked through the vines.
Behind it was a large cave. It was dark and Alex reached into her bag for some matches. She only had five and she wasn’t going to waste them. She caught sight of a dry tree branch on the cave floor, probably remnants of a horrible storm. She picked it up and lit the match, allowing the flame to grow. Eventually it covered the tip of the branch and she could see clearly. The wood would burn down soon, so she moved forward without admiring the cave for too long.
The cave was wide and covered in jewels that shone under the flame. It looked exactly like somewhere a book of knowledge would be hidden, and Alex could feel hope grow in her chest.
After a few minutes of walking she caught sight of a prick of light. She began walking faster so the flame wouldn’t run out. The light grew bigger until it showed a way out and Alex ran towards it. Then flame was at the very bottom of the branch, and she dropped it just as she emerged from the cave into the most beautiful place she had ever seen. She paused, trying to take it all in at once.
A large waterfall fell down the side of the large mountain walls that enclosed the entire thing into a small river that ran through the area before emptying into a small pool of water. Alex assumed there was a hole at the bottom that allowed water to escape.
There were small rolling hills that had fruit trees and flowers growing on them. The grass was greener here and everything smelled sweet, but it was a large building in the centre that caught Alex's attention.
The tower was huge, stopping just before the mountain halls which kept it hidden away from prying eyes. Vines and moss were growing up the stones, and at the very top was a balcony where someone could sit comfortably.
Alex sighed. It was probably too much to ask that the book be hidden up there, but she knew the fairytale already.
She walked to the base of the tower and cleared her throat. “Uhm, hello?” she called up, hoping her voice was loud enough to reach the top.
The window slammed open and a head peeked out from the top. “Cam, I thought I told you to stay away,” someone called angrily down and Alex wrinkled her nose.
“Mitchell? Really?” she muttered to herself. “I thought he would have been the Beast from Beauty and the Beast instead, not Rapunzel.”
She sighed and took out her map. It was like she suspected; she was right over the red dot.
“It’s not Cam,” she called up again. “It’s Alex. Can I come up?”
It was silent. Alex rolled her eyes. She didn’t want to deal with this, but the red dot wouldn’t move unless she dealt with this problem first. As much as she didn’t want to, she had to do this so she could continue on.
“If you can climb up,” Mitchell called, and Alex reached into her bag. She pulled out two small daggers. The tower looked pretty old with lots of footholds and vines to use as rope. She could do it. How hard could it be?
Thus began the long climb up a tower. Alex had to stop a few times to catch her breath. Luke was the athletic one in the family not her. The most exercise she did was when she had an essay due and she typed one hundred and fifty-three words per minute. She didn’t even think that counted as exercise. But little by little she inched up the tower, making sure that she was secure before moving on.
Halfway up the tower Mitchell stuck his head out again. “Oh, you’re actually trying it,” he said, sounding surprised.
“You offered,” Alex countered, heaving herself up a particularly long spot. Mitchell watched her carefully, face unreadable.
“There’s a foothold right there,” he pointed and Alex looked up. He was right. She sunk her dagger into the spot, moving up some more. They continued like that; Mitchell pointed out some spots to use when Alex couldn’t see them, and Alex climbed further up with Mitchells guidance.
Eventually she hit the balcony and she heaved herself up, breathing hard. She rolled off, falling into the tower with an ompf. Her face was flushed and she knew she was sweating. Mitchell looked at her strangely.
“I don’t want to be a bad host,” he started. “But what are you doing here? What do you want? Who sent you?”
“I just climbed up a fucking tower,” Alex muttered. “Give me a minute.”
Mitchell held up his hands and moved away. Alex rolled over on her stomach to get a good look at him.
He didn’t look much different than her other Mitchell. This one was a bit younger, wearing a very fashionable black outfit and a golden crown on his head. He looked like he was barely stopping himself from freaking out and Alex couldn’t blame him. From his perspective someone had basically just broken into his home.
“Okay, I’m good,” she said at last, getting up. She brushed herself off, then held out her hand for Mitchell to shake. “I’m Alex. And you are…?”
“Seriously? You don’t recognize me? What other red haired prince would be locked up here?” Mitchell asked, sounding shocked. Alex shook her head; she figured it would be better if Mitchell was the one to introduce himself.
“I’m not from around here.”
“Well, that’s actually good. I’m Prince Mitchell of the Northern Kingdoms.” He bowed slightly, a symbol of respect Alex didn’t think she deserved. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“A prince huh?” Alex asked, looking around the room. It was modest; there was a small stove to the side, a bookshelf covered a bunch of different things, and a table. There was a second floor opening near the shelf that Alex knew led into a bedroom. “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?”
“Why are people usually in towers? They are kidnapped.”
“Oh, that’s rough,” Alex muttered. She moved over to the table, collapsing in one of the chairs. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Mitchell gap at her. “Is there any reason why you were?”
“I’m pretty sure it was just a drunken dare that wasn’t supposed to succeed,” Mitchell muttered. “It was a witch named Sal. She wanted revenge on my father for banning magic, and decided that kidnapping his only son was an appropriate enough punishment. Not like my dad would actually care about it.”
Alex shook her head in understanding. She had only met Sal once and gotten all she needed about the woman from one interaction. Sal was definitely the type of person to drunkenly kidnap someone.
“It did work out in my favour though,” Mitchell continued. “Sal says my father is a cruel man who kills and destroys everything in his path. I’m better staying up here where I’m safe.”
“That’s not quite right,” Alex said softly. When she was in eighth grade she studied Stockholm Syndrome, where a victim latches onto their kidnapper because it’s the only love and affection they get. Alex wondered if that is what Mitchell is suffering through.
“Well what about you? What are you doing up here?”
“I’m looking for a book,” Alex answered. “It’s the book of knowledge. I thought it might be up here.”
“There’s only three books here,” Mitchell explained. “I don’t think they’re what you’re looking for, unless you want something about law and order.”
The room went silent. A clock that Alex cannot see ticks away, filling the room with its noise. Mitchell opens his mouth like he is about to say something, but then someone calls up from the ground interrupting him.
“Mitchell! Are you there?”
Mitchell closed his eyes and Alex could see him slowly count to ten like he is preventing himself from snapping. He went over to the window and threw it open once more. Alex followed him, waiting to see what would happen. She already has a pretty good idea about who’s down there.
“Cam, I thought I told you to stay away from here,” Mitchell yells down. Alex peeks her head over the ledge. At the bottom of the tower was her uncle Cameron, decked out in an outfit more flamboyant than her fathers and a large crown on top of his head.
“It’s like he’s compensating for something,” she muttered under her breath, then remembered that’s her uncle, then remembered it’s technically not her uncle in this world, so she’s good. Mitchell laughed at her comment, eyes twinkling.
“I couldn’t stay away from you,” Cameron yelled up, sounding smitten. “It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other.”
“It’s been three days,” Mitchell called back. He turned to Alex and rolled his eyes. “He does this all the time. It’s annoying.”
“Really?” Alex asked, looking confused.
“Really. He comes here with flowers and chocolates and outfits and love poems. It’s all so stupidly romantic.”
“I thought people like romance?”
Mitchell walked over to the table and sat down, crossing his legs. “Not this person. I know Sal would never let me leave, and I’m fine with that, but if I ever did run away, it would be with someone like me. Someone I can relate to.”
Alex slowly wandered over to the table. Cameron continued yelling compliments up the tower and she tried to drown them out.
“I mean yes,” Mitchell said, waving his hands. “Is Cam cute? Yes. Is he funny in his own way? Yes. Is it kind of flattering when he writes his own ballad for you and sings it through the night? It’s annoying, but yes!” He sighed. “Cam has been coming here since I was fifteen. It gets old.”
“How old are you?” Alex asked.
“I’m twenty-five. And I want someone who gets me. Someone who isn’t stupidly romantic, someone I don’t have to prove myself to.” Mitchell stopped suddenly, and uncrossed his legs. “I’m sorry I’m rambling, but no one ever comes here and you’re really easy to talk to. I feel like I should know you.”
Alex pictured her uncles back at home. Mitchell and Cameron, the couple that always gave the best presents, the couple that offered amazing advice on boys, the couple that Alex sometimes trusted more than her own parents. They fought and they bickered, and sometimes Mitchell would come to their house almost in tears because of something that he had done or something Cameron had done, but they also balanced themselves out nicely. Mitchell was the emotional support and Cameron was the dreamer, and they were perfect for each other. Alex couldn’t picture a world where they weren’t together, where they weren’t stupidly in love raising a daughter together. She had to fix this.
“I think you should leave with him.”
“Why?” Mitchell said simply, like he had spent his whole life waiting for someone to convince him. “Tell me why.”
Alex took a deep breath, then started. “You don’t want to be with Cam because you don’t think you can prove yourself to him.”
Mitchell laughed uncomfortably. “I never said that-”
“No, you did. And that’s not a valid reason. Who cares if you’re not romantic enough?”
“I do,” Mitchell said, leaning forward. “I’ve already said, Cam has been coming here since I was fifteen. For almost a decade Cam has been trying to get me out of here. What if I don’t live up to his expectations? I’m not romantic like he is, I’m not bold like him. He’ll be disappointed.”
“I don’t think he will,” Alex murmured. “Trust me. You’re treating this like a competition when it’s not. Cam can handle the romantic stuff. You just have to be yourself. That’s all he wants from you.”
They were silent for a few seconds, Mitchell looking into nothing, thinning hard.
“Mitchell? Are you still there?”
“I am in a tower,” Mitchell screamed. “Where am I going from here?”
“Home with me?” Cameron asked hopefully, and Alex laughed at the stupid pickup line. Mitchell groaned and slammed his head on the table.
“Just think about it,” Alex said, patting his back. Mitchell groaned again and Alex rolled her eyes. It seemed like this version of her uncle was so much more dramatic. Or maybe he always was like this, she just didn’t see it.
“Mitchell! I forgot something that I made for you back where my horse it, just hang on while I go get it.”
Alex ran to the window and watched as Cameron walked back into the caves, whistling a jolly tune. She almost laughed at how optimistic he seemed, like this was the day Mitchell would finally agree to go home with him.
“You should probably go right now,” Mitchell said, sounding tired. “He’ll be here all night and if you want to find that book, you’re going to have to go now.”
“Thanks,” she said, grabbing her daggers. She shuddered, not ready to go back down the tower again. She’ll be looking down this time as well and she never did well with heights. Going up was easy, she didn’t need to look down. But this time wouldn’t be like that.
“Just use one of the vines,” Mitchell suggested.
Alex went over to the balcony and dangled her feet off of it. She got ready to grab one of the vines when she looked back at Mitchell. She looked around at his prison and felt her heart clench.
“You know,” she said. “I’m not just looking for the book of knowledge for myself. I’m also looking for it so I can give it to your father.”
“Why would Jay want the book?” Mitchell said, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“So he can find you,” Alex said softly, before hopping off, grabbing the vine. She remembered what they did at Luke's fifth birthday, when they bounced back down the rock wall. She applied that same technique and was at the bottom in no time.
“Alex,” Mitchell screamed down. “What do you mean by that? Alex!”
Oh my god, she thought as she hopped down. I’m in a family of morons.
She waved goodbye, running towards the caves, hoping Mitchell could figure it out himself. She slipped in and hid behind a rock. After a few minutes Cameron went by again, humming a lively tune. Alex waited until she was sure he was gone, then ran out. She didn't bother with a light this time. She just blindly ran until she went through vines, back onto the path. A horse was hitched onto a tree branch, obviously belonging to Cameron.
Alex reached into her bag and pulled out the map. It was like she expected; the red dot was in a different position. She sighed and put it away, then continued on.
It was about 5 o’clock when Alex reached a small village. The houses were made of cobblestone and fire lanterns lit up the streets. It looks perfect and homey, smelling of baked bread and burning wood. Townsfolk of all kinds passed through, yelling insults at each other from across the street, competing for a market, a friendly rivalry to be won. Alex watched the chaos in awe; she always wanted to see what this time period would be like and it was even better than she imagined.
A large carriage went barrelling down the street and Alex barely got out of the way before it passed dangerously close by her.
“Ta-ta Gloria,” someone mockingly called from it. “The house better be clean when we get back.”
Someone else laughed, a sharp bitter sound, that echoed until the carriage was far out of sight. Alex watched it leave, then looked forward.
Gloria. She knew that name.
Alex reached into her bag and pulled out the map. The red dot was right in front of a house a few minutes away. Alex sighed; it wasn’t the book, but she was so close, she knew it. All she had to do was deal with this, deal with Gloria.
As it turned out, Alex didn’t need the map to find Gloria. A few minutes of walking and Alex could hear her. She was singing loudly out the window, off-tune and off-key. The birds flew away from the open window, trying to get away from the awful screeching. Alex loved Gloria, but she wasn’t the best singer. In fact, she wasn’t even an okay singer. Alex covered her ears as she approached the door. She pounded on the wood, knowing it would take quite a racket to get Gloria's attention.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Gloria cried after a few minutes, and Alex uncovered her ears relishing in the silence. The door opened and Gloria stepped out, and Alex had to keep her jaw locked so it wouldn’t drop.
She knew Gloria grew up in poverty. She also knew she raised Manny in poverty before she met Jay and gained a fortune overnight. However, she wasn’t prepared to see her normally put together step-grandma (though she would never call Gloria that to her face) look so poor. Her dress was patchy and covered in ash, and she wore no makeup. Her hair was pinned up in a ponytail, and she held a broom in her hands.
“Yes? What do you need?” Gloria asked, looking down at her. Alex shook her head to get rid of the shock, then stuck out her hand for a handshake.
“I’m Alex,” she said, feeling a sense of loneliness fill her as she kept having to introduce herself to family members that should already know her. “I heard your singing.”
Gloria’s eyes lit up. “I’m Gloria. And did you like it? My stepsisters say that I’m no good, but I think I sound great.”
“Uh yeah,” Alex lied. “You sound amazing.”
“This is wonderful,” Gloria cheered, tugging Alex into the house. Alex stumbled slightly over the doorstep but Gloria kept tugging until she was in the kitchen. Gloria shoved her into a chair, then started to flit around the kitchen, preparing something. “I can finally stick it to my stepsisters. You have to tell them what you said.”
“Okay?” Alex said, confused. She didn’t know why it mattered so much to Gloria. “Where are they? I think I just saw them leaving.”
“Oh yes,” Gloria said sadly. She stopped moving around, instead resting on the counter. “They are going to the ball tonight. Every girl in the country was invited.”
“Why aren’t you going?”
“I didn’t get my chores done in time,” Gloria said. “They said I could if I cleaned, but I got distracted. I really wanted to go.”
“That’s not fair.” Alex fiddled with the straps of her leather bag, trying to find the words. “They can’t make you do anything, can they?”
“I can’t go against my stepmother,” Gloria said, sounding almost offended on her stepmother's behalf. “Do you know what she would do to me?”
“You know, where I come from stepmothers are treated with a lot less respect.”
“Sounds like paradise,” Gloria muttered. She threw a bowl down in front of Alex and handed her a spoon. “Eat, you are a guest.”
Alex pushed the bowl away politely. The food looked amazing, but she was here for a reason even if she didn’t know what it was just yet. “I’m sorry, but I just ate. If you want to go to the ball, you should be able to.”
“Even if I was able to, they would recognise me and I would get in trouble,” Gloria replied. “No, it is not worth the trouble. I’ll just stay here.”
“Come on,” Alex insisted. “One night for yourself. If every girl is going to be there, I’m sure you can blend in easily. They wouldn’t even be looking for you.”
Gloria bit her lip, like she was thinking very hard. “I don’t even have something to wear,” she said hesitantly. She sat down next to Alex, looking crestfallen. Alex knew if she pushed a little harder she could get Gloria to agree.
“Well, you don’t have to look pretty,” Alex replied, grabbing Gloria's hands. She looked deep into the woman's eyes. “This night is for you, not some stupid boy that wants to dance. You go have fun, you go be free. You don’t have to be pretty.”
“Easy for you to say,” Gloria muttered.
“Wow,” Alex whispered, trying not to be offended. “Look,” she said louder. “This will be fun. You deserve one night for yourself. And with your confidence, you can make anything look pretty.”
“You’re right,” Gloria exclaimed, slamming her hand down on the table with vindication. “I deserve this one thing. Thank you so much Alex. I’ve only known you for ten minutes, but I feel like I’ve known you my entire life.”
“You have no idea,” Alex muttered, and smiled gently when Gloria gave her a strange look. “Let’s go find you something-”
A large crash from behind her interrupted her words. Both women jumped and turned to see a pile of limbs on the kitchen floor, struggling to get untangled. Screams and shouts came from the pile as they tried to stand up and failed to even coordinate themselves.
“What is that?” Gloria whispered to Alex.
“I have no idea.”
Eventually they were untangled, and they slowly got up from the floor, brushing themselves off. Now that Alex could see them clearer, she could understand their mess. Each of them had two large wings sprouting from their back, which would make it harder to balance. She recognised them both now that she could see their faces. She actually expected to meet the two much sooner.
“I’m Lily,” one of them said, looking about six years old. She pointed to her companion, an eleven year old boy. “And this is Manny. And we’re your fairy godmothers.”
“Fairy godfather in my case,” Manny added and Lily rolled her eyes, looking annoyed.
“Yeah yeah whatever. Sorry we’re late, this one had to get changed twice.” She pointed at Manny, who glared at her.
“The red cardigan clashed with my wings,” Manny argued. “You want me to go out looking like that? Do you want me to be undermined?”
“You’ll do enough of that yourself.”
“I am confused,” Gloria said, watching the exchange with interest. “You are my fairy godparents?”
“Ew that makes us sound like we’re married,” Lily cried, shaking with disgust. She pretended to gag and Alex snorted. Manny looked offended, clutching his chest like there were pearls at his neck.
“Hey, you would be lucky to be married to me.”
“Anyways,” Lily said, rolling her eyes again. Alex couldn’t hold in her laughter; she was glad Mitchell was teaching her something. She was excited for when Lily was older back in her own world. “We aren’t fairy godparents just yet. We’re just trainees.”
“Which doesn’t make us any less capable,” Manny chipped in. “We are just as experienced as any other fairy.”
“The only reason I came along is because this one can’t make a proper dress.” Lily leaned in like she was telling a great secret. “It always comes out too poofy.”
“I can hear you,” Manny said. He sighed and scratched his head. “We’re here because you need to go to the ball and you need a dress and a ride. And we are here to provide you those things.”
“That’s great,” Gloria clapped, before turning to Alex apologetically. “I’m sorry, I actually do care what I look like. I want to fall in love, I want to have fun tonight.”
Alex looked at her, warmth growing her chest. She knew she could say some snobby comments about her but she pushed it down. Gloria looked too excited for Alex to break her heart right then. She supposed every girl deserves a night like that.
“Go ahead,” she said, waving Gloria towards them. “They’re probably much better than me anyway.”
Gloria clapped her hands and laughed, before running up to the two fairies in her house. Alex watched her and smiled softly. She still had time to get the book before heading home. She knew she could do it.
The next few minutes were a blur. Lily set to work making a perfect dress for Gloria, who laughed and twirled in the sparkles that flowed from the girl's wand. Manny was stuck with the job of rounding up some mice and pumpkins to turn into a ride for Gloria and he ran around the house frantically. At last the job was done. Gloria stepped into Alex’s vision, looking so happy.
“So? How do I look?”
She looked incredible. She was wearing a long flowing gown made of a deep red fabric and golden highlights, and her hair was curled. Her makeup was flawless, some black eyeliner highlighting her eyes.
“Wow,” Alex said bluntly. “You look fantastic.”
“I do,” Gloria cried, smiling wide. “This is going to be the best night ever. And my stepsisters won’t suspect a thing. I am unrecognisable.”
“Madam,” Manny said, stepping into the house and they all turned to him. He bowed low, before pointing outside the door. “Your carriage awaits.”
They all walked outside to a large silver carriage outside the house. It was pulled by four strong horses, controlled by a large man who tipped his hat at them as they stepped out. Manny looked proud of himself as they admired it. It looked like a work of art.
“Oh Manny, this is incredible,” Gloria yelled, running around, checking every corner. She ran up to Manny and enveloped him in a large hug. Manny looked unprepared and terrified, and Alex laughed at him. “This is too much.”
“Just doing my job,” Manny said and Lily glared at him.
“So we’ll just ignore the dress I made huh?” she said sarcastically and Gloria turned to her, smiling wider.
“How could I ever forget my little dressmaker? I love it. I love all of this.” She twirled around in her new outfit, admiring herself. “How can I ever repay you?”
“You don’t,” Lily said, waving her off. “Just remember that this isn’t permanent. All of this wears off at midnight. You must be out of the ball by then.”
“Of course, of course,” Gloria said. She walked over to the carriage and opened it up, stepping inside. There wasn’t a man inside to do it for her, but Alex assumed Manny’s magic only went so far. Gloria didn’t seem to care about that. “Thank you so much, the three of you. You have all made my night magical.”
“What has she done?” Manny complained, pointing at Alex. “We did the work. Well, I did most of it. Lily just helped.”
Lily looked at him in disgust. “Why do I work with you again?”
“Because you love me.”
They were still arguing even as they faded away, heading back to wherever they came from. Alex watched them leave, before turning back to Gloria, who was sitting in the carriage. She walked up to the window, smiling gently.
“Hey,” Alex said, and Gloria turned to her. “Have fun tonight.”
“I will,” Gloria promised, then the carriage took off, moving at speeds Alex wasn’t able to comprehend. Within a few seconds the carriage was gone and Alex was left alone at Gloria's house. She breathed a sigh of relief, thankful for the silence. She reached into her bag and pulled out the map, checking the location.
On the paper, right in front of Alex’s eyes, the red dot faded and reappeared just as quickly. Alex’s nose wrinkled as she looked over it. She almost couldn’t believe what she saw.
“That can’t be right,” she murmured, looking at the new destination. She slowly put down the map, looking across the street where the map told her to go.
The house across from Gloria's place looked old, covered in many different plants and vegetables. The garden was the largest Alex had ever seen and the house was barely noticeable through the vegetation.
“Well,” Alex muttered. “This is it. I have no one else to meet.”
She took a deep breath for courage and crossed the street to her final destination.
The inside of the house was clean and modern, a style that wasn’t obvious from the outside. Alex had knocked on the door for a few minutes, before giving up and trying the handle. It was unlocked and she slipped inside. She figured it was okay; she was on orders from the King.
The house was larger from the outside. Regular Alex would have chalked it up to angles and shadows, but this was a dream world. She knew that magic existed in worlds like these ones. It did make finding the book harder though. She promised Frank she would be back in time for the ball and she was so close. So close to discovering secrets of the universe. She could taste them, the flavour of metallic blood and bitter coffee.
She walked through the house, trying to be as quiet as possible. She didn’t know who lived there. It could be someone dangerous, someone who would hurt Alex without a single thought for her well-being.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” someone said sleepily, and Alex turned around, ready to defend herself. When she saw who it was she sighed. Of course.
Haley was standing in front of her, her hair a mess. She looked like she just got up from a nap, a look Alex was incredibly familiar with back at home. She was wearing a long white gown and had flowers in her hair. She looked almost like a goddess from the myths Alex was obsessed with as a kid.
“I’m sorry,” Alex said, trying not to say something snarky. She didn’t know this version of Haley. “I’m just looking for something and I think it’s here.”
“You’re looking for the book of knowledge?” Haley asked, before yawning. She looked really tired and Alex almost felt bad for disturbing her. “People are always looking for that. They never know to look here. And when they do it’s just annoying.”
“I wonder why,” Alex muttered. “You look like you couldn’t hurt a fly, much else hold the secrets of humanity.”
“Okay chill,” Haley said, holding out her hand. “I don’t use the book for that. I use it to make my skin creams and for magic lessons. That’s what all the plants out there are for.” She beckoned Alex into the house. Alex reluctantly followed. That sounded like something Haley would do.
“I just want it for research,” Alex said, following Haley into a study. “I won’t do anything to hurt anyone. I’ll take good care of it, I promise.”
“That’s not what I’m worried about, I trust you,” Haley said, reaching up on the shelf. The bookshelves were mostly empty, save for a few ancient tomes. Alex looked at them with shock; that wasn’t like Haley. “You can have it.”
“Really?” Alex asked. That had been easier than she expected.
“Yeah, I’ve already memorized every recipe I need anyway,” Haley laughed, pulling down a heavy book. She handed it to Alex, who looked at it in awe. It wasn’t very impressive; it had simple leather and silver lettering, but Alex could feel the power it held. It hummed in her hands, almost like a warning. “I’ve just been waiting for someone else to take it.”
“And you think I’m good enough?”
“I mean yeah. Everyone else is such a macho man who thinks he could beat me in a fight.” Haley laughed, sounding bitter. “Let me show you something. Luke!” she called into the house. Alex looked confused until a golden dog came running in.
“Oh my god,” Alex murmured. The dog was large and soft, but it’s eyes were intelligent. Alex could see the human boy behind them. She knew them as the eyes of her younger brother. She wondered what Luke had been in this world. Perhaps a knight or a simple peasant boy.
“I wish you could do that to my brother,” Alex sighed with jealousy, looking at Haley with awe. Haley laughed and Alex laughed with her at something else entirely.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. But I sense that you’re okay. You’ll do good things with this,” Haley said sincerely. Alex smiled happily; even if it wasn’t really her sister, hearing Haley say that was important to her.
“I mean, you could probably benefit from those skin recipes,” and they were back to regular Haley, “but you’ll do some good things,” she continued.
“Thanks so much,” Alex said softly, hugging the book close to her chest. “And for what it’s worth, your skin is flawless.”
“I know,” Haley replied smugly. “Now let's get you back.”
She reached out a hand and grasped Alex's shoulder. She chanted something under her breath and a golden light began to surround Alex. Alex looked around nervously, but placed her trust in Haley; even if Alex might not say it often, she loved Haley. Haley was her sister and Alex trusted her.
The light began to grow larger and Alex had to shut her eyes so they wouldn't burn. She could feel herself begin to fall, like she was the waterpark on one of those drop slides. She allowed herself to fall until she felt herself stop suddenly. She hesitantly opened her eyes and she was back at the palace just in time for the ball.
“There you are,” Frank cried, running up to Alex, breathing heavily. Alex looked at him with relief; it felt good to see a familiar face that actually recognised her. She spent the last day spending time with people she knew who had no idea who she was. She was glad that she knew him. He looked at her arms in shock, like he hadn’t thought she would succeed. The book was still nestled safely in Alex's arms. “And you found the book.”
“I did,” Alex said. “It wasn’t that hard.”
“Really?” Frank asked, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I expected nothing less from my lookalike’s granddaughter. Now come on, Miriam has your dress picked out and the ball has already started.”
He tugged her through the palace, past bustling servants who were scrambling to make the ball perfect. Alex watched them so by, making sure the book was out of sight. She didn’t need some nosey servant boy ruining everything for her.
Frank fretted around her, making sure she wasn’t hurt as Miriam stuffed her into a dress back in the servants quarters. It was a fairly simple garment, something that someone who had money but not a lot would wear. Alex liked it; she honestly didn't care, but she enjoyed the colours, a rich blue and orange. Haley would kill her if she saw her wearing it.
“-and it was the most incredible thing,” Frank was saying, hands waving everywhere. “Princess Claire returned, vowing to marry her saviour, Prince Phillip. Lets just say His Majesty wasn’t so happy with that. But his joy at seeing his daughter was enough to convince him. The wedding is in the spring.”
Alex laughed. She knew how much Jay hated Phil at the beginning. She knew it had taken a long time for him to warm up to Phil. She hadn’t expected anything less from Jay in this world.
“You can give the King his book after the ball,” Miriam said, combing Alex's hair. “He can celebrate the return of his daughter, then go looking for his son.”
Alex nodded; this gave her plenty of time to learn about some secrets she was burning to learn. She knew she probably wasn’t going to dance much anyway. It wasn’t like anyone was going to ask her.
When Miriam deemed her ready, Frank led her to the ball. The ballroom was decked out with tinsel and golden streamers, lanterns burning bright. Every young lady in the kingdom was dancing, the room hot and humid with the energy of thousands of people. It was an exhilarating experience; Alex hesitantly walked through, clutching the book close to her chest.
She made it to the corner Frank had taken her the day before, where she had hid from the King. She was able to watch the party in full here, watching as Claire and Phil waltzed in the middle of the room, as Jay clutched his champagne glass so hard it almost shattered. Watched as Gloria approached him nervously and suddenly his anger at Phil was forgotten in the face of such a beauty. Jay and Gloria danced with each other the entire night, twirling around expertly, like they had known each other for years. Alex watched them happily, then turned to her book.
“How was Earth created?” she whispered, watching as the words arranged themselves in their answer. Alex could feel her eyes widen as she scanned the page frantically, finally glad to have the right answer.
The rest of the night passed in such a way, Alex asking questions and watching the pages show her the right answer. She could feel herself gain much more knowledge as the answer slipped into place, creating her own theories and connecting the dots. It was an incredible feeling; she almost didn’t notice when Jay clinked his glass, getting everyone's attention.
“Welcome everyone,” he boomed, his voice carrying over the crowd. “I am so glad you can make it. Today we are celebrating the return to my glorious daughter who will one day take over this kingdom.”
Claire flushed from beside her father. Phil kissed her cheek, looking so excited for his fiancee. Alex watched them happily, loving that they were together and she had helped them.
“The only thing that could make this day better,” Jay continued, “is if my son were here as well. We haven’t given up hope just yet and the return of my daughter has only made my desire to find him stronger. We will not rest until he is brought back, no matter what.”
“You really mean that?” someone yelled, and the crowd parted in curiosity. Alex craned her head and smiled softly when she saw who it was. She didn’t think he would actually listen to her; Mitchell was always known for being stubborn.
Mitchell walked through the crowd, holding Cameron's hand tight. “Because I thought you didn’t even care.”
Jay stepped towards him, looking shocked, like he had just seen a ghost. In a way, Alex supposed he had. From behind Claire wiped her eyes, looking happy. This was the first time she had seen her brother for years, ever since he was taken from them in the middle of the night. Phil put his arms around her comfortingly and she turned her head into his shoulder.
“Oh son,” Jay said gruffly, “I searched for you every day for a year. Then every week for two years. Then every month for three. I never stopped.”
Mitchell smiled softly, then stepped into his father's arms. The guests cheered, celebrating the return of both their lost heirs. Gloria came down as well, joining in on the group hug. Cameron, Claire, and Phil ran over, ready to get involved as well, like they were a family. Which they technically were now. Alex watched the scene from afar, smiling wide.
“Why do I think you have something to do with this?” Frank whispered, and Alex shrugged, keeping her mouth shut. She wasn’t about to reveal anything; now she didn’t even need to give Jay the book.
“Wait,” Mitchell said, pulling away from the hug after a few minutes. He looked around frantically, looking for someone else. “Where is mom? What happened to her?”
“Funny story,” Claire said awkwardly, and Alex turned her head back to the book, not willing to hear about the family drama. She already had to deal with that back at home.
After Mitchells initial shock over what Dede had become, he was okay, looking around in awe. The last time he was at the palace was when he was a small child; he didn’t remember anything. Claire showed him around, telling what happened while he was gone. Jay vowed to hunt down Sal and execute her for taking his son. It was filled with many threats of bodily harm, but Alex thought it got the point across well.
The party continued to pass by, Jay giving his blessing for Cameron and Mitchell to get married. Cameron was the prince of the Western Fields and he would be a good alliance to have. Phil, a prince of the Southern Isles, was already an ally, but with Cameron they could truly be powerful. Alex continued to pass the time reading, learning about the history of the fictional world she created in her head.
A loud banging filled the air. In the corner of her eye, Alex could see Gloria run towards the exits, Jay running after her. It must be midnight, the clock alerting everyone to the time. Alex started to move away from the wall, but a wave of nausea filled her and she stumbled slightly. The banging filled her head, ratting her brain. Everything pounded, like there was someone in her head trying to get out.
“Alex, are you alright?” someone called, but Alex couldn’t hear them as she hit the floor, her vision slowly going black.
“Alex honey,” Claire said, shaking her daughter awake. Alex startled, before opening her eyes, lifting her head for the desk. In front of her were her notes and flashcards, the laptop still open, displaying a black screen. “It’s time for school.”
“Wait what?” Alex cried, now fully awake. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She looked around her room, almost expecting it to be a palace. She tried to think of what she learned from the book of knowledge, and cursed when she came up blank.
“I just did,” Claire yelled, watching as her daughter frantically ran around the room, gathering her stuff. She sighed, watching as Alex ran out, getting ready to leave. “I worry about that kid sometimes.”
“I don’t see why we have to watch a kids movie,” Jay complained as they settled into the living room of his house, all crowded into the small leather couches. “We are all adults here. We should watch something with action or romance, not some stupid animation.”
“Disney is a family movie corporation,” Gloria shot back, pulling out some DVDs. “And we’re a family, aren’t we?”
“I actually don’t mind this,” Cameron added, getting comfortable. Mitchell draped his legs over Cameron and Claire, laying down across them both. Phil sat beside Claire, getting squished. “Disney is a classic.”
“Of course you’d say that,” Jay replied.
“Sorry Jay, you're kind of outvoted here,” Phil said. “Everyone else wants to watch something Disney. Watch your manly stuff when we aren’t here. When we are, it’s an all ladies night.”
Everyone turned to him. Phil looked around obliviously. “What?”
“Y’know what?” Claire said, waving her hand dismissively at him. “Nevermind. We just need to pick what to watch now.”
“Oh, do you know we should watch?” Mitchell said. “Tangled. That’s one of my favourite Disney movies. I’ve always liked Rapunzel.”
“Because you want to be swept off your feet by a dashing rogue?” Cameron interrupted. “Well, I hate to break it to you dear, but that’s already happened.”
Mitchell looked at him funny. “No, that’s not true. I just really liked her tower. If I lived there, I wouldn’t be leaving, not even for some stupid lanterns.”
“We should watch something classic,” Claire added, shifting through the DVDs. After a few minutes of searching, she pulled out a disk. “Snow White. The best Disney film of all time.”
“Isn’t that the one with the necrophilia?” Gloria asked.
“That’s one way to describe it,” Mitchell muttered.
“Fine Gloria,” Claire snapped, putting down the disk. “What do you think we should watch?”
Gloria smiled like she had been preparing for that moment all night. “I think we should watch Cinderella. It’s an amazing story. I’ve always felt like Cinderella. From rags to riches in a day.”
“Okay, that’s cute,” Cameron said, before turning to Mitchell, looking pissed. Mitchell looked around awkwardly, like he didn’t know what he did wrong this time. “What do you mean that’s false? Because I seem to recall you confessing-”
“Okay,” Jay yelled, stopping him. “I don’t need to hear anything else from you. Whatever gay shit you get up to can stay in your own house. Phil, what do you want to watch?”
Everyone turned to the man, who looked nervous with all the attention on him. “I think we should watch Frozen,” he said quietly and was immediately pelted with pillows and a chorus of no.
No one noticed Alex in the background, trying not to die of laughter.