“What better way to begin than with Once Upon A Time…?”
It was a scene straight out of a fairy tale. A dark, twisted fairy tale, but a fairy tale nonetheless. Standing before you was an ebony carriage, no driver in sight. A horse darker than midnight stood at the reins, grunting out breaths that formed clouds of vapor and stomping its front hoof on the stiff ground. The carriage’s cargo held a chilling nature. It was a black coffin, with golden-winged embroidery and a mirror-like design that glowed bright green, like a beacon in the night.
Then came the voice, unlike any voice you’ve ever heard. It was not something you heard with your ears, but rather with your mind and soul. Chills traveled down your spine as the darkness closed in.
“Ahh...my dear beloved. A lovely and noble flower of evil. Truly you are the most beautiful of all. As long as your heart desires, take the hand that appears in the mirror.”
Something grabbed your hand, firm and unrelenting. Bone-deep drowsiness fell over you. You felt your consciousness fade. Before you, the coffin opened with a loud creak, spilling out a dark green light.
“For me. For them. For you. We are all running out of time. No matter what, never let go of my hand.”
As you were swept away and dragged out to unknown waters, what choice did you have but close your eyes and hold on tight?
You groaned, unwilling to open your eyes. You couldn’t hear your alarm, so you probably woke up early. Dang it, what day was it again? Monday? Wednesday? You were too tired to put any real mental effort into it.
I’ll just sleep until Mom comes to shout at me, You decided. Even five more minutes would be worth it.
You tried to roll onto your side but found your movements constricted. Huh? You felt boxed in.
Realizing that you weren’t in your bed, your eyes opened with alarm. It was too dark for you to make out anything. You reached out in front of you, to find that you were truly caged in from all sides. Were you in a box, or…
Okay, now you were panicking. Full-blown heart racing and stomach curling panic. You were definitely in a coffin. Why the heck were you in a coffin? Your mom always joked about how you slept so deeply that you made the dead jealous, but this was ridiculous! Were you somehow mistaken for a corpse? Tried as you might, you couldn’t even remember what you had been doing prior to falling asleep.
Oh no. Were you about to be buried? Were you already buried? Dammit, this wasn’t how you wanted to go!
“Help!” You yelled, banging your fist against the coffin door. “Somebody help me! I’m still alive here, you dolts!”
Then, you heard something.
“Crap! People are coming. Gotta grab a uniform…”
Someone was nearby, and very close to your coffin from the sounds of it. You pounding became more frantic.
“In here, in here! Get me out of here!”
“Gahh! What was that? Sounded like it came from this coffin?”
You heard and felt the door of your coffin shift ever so slightly as someone tried to push it open.
“Uggghhh, the lid is too heavy…”
A moment of silent contemplation passed.
“Oh! I know, I’ll use my secret move!”
Secret move? Before you could question this, the coffin door began to redden and burn, blue flames licking at you through the cracks. You screamed.
Holy shit! Are they trying to cremate me?
The coffin’s door dipped before falling forward completely. Your eyes widened as you gazed into a dark room kept alight with green flame lanterns. A seemingly endless number of coffins floated in the air all around you. To add to the strangeness, in front of you was a floating cat.
“Gaaahhh!” He screamed when he saw you, his paws flying up in alarm. “Why are you awake?”
You screamed at the same time, “Aaahhhh! Talking cat!”
Though, you used “cat” loosely, since he was unlike any cat you had ever seen. His fur was dark grey, with a large tuft of white fur on his chest. He had a black and white ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. His tail was shaped like a pitch-fork and there were tufts of blue flames burning within his ears. His eyes were blue, like his flames.
So, you were pretty sure there was a fifty-fifty chance you were in hell. How nice.
“Who are you calling cat?” The cat-creature-whatever scowled, paws on his hips. “I am the Great Grim! Tremble before my presence!”
You stared at him blankly.
“Hmph! Overwhelmed by my magnificence, I see! You can prove your awe by giving me your clothes.”
That broke you out of your stunned trance.
You scoffed, “Excuse me?”
“Your clothes! Give them to me!” Grim demanded impatiently.
“Are you crazy? Why the heck do you want my clothes?” You screeched, glancing down at yourself and having to do a double-take.
Okay, you definitely don’t remember ever owning clothes like these. You were dressed in black robes with golden embroidered sleeves. A purple sash was tied around your waist and held in place by a golden buckle. What you could see of the inside material was purple fabric decorated with more strange designs that formed little x’s. A long skirt with matching designs to the rest of the outfit fell down to your ankles. This was a far cry from what you last remember wearing, forcing your brain to come to a single conclusion: someone had stripped and changed you. If red flags hadn’t been blaring with the coffin, they were certainly ringing now.
You frowned, “Don’t you think these are a little big for you?”
You were by no means a giant, but you were certainly bigger than a cat.
This hadn’t seemed to have occurred to him, seeing how his eyes widened and his mouth hung open. You would joke that you could see smoke coming out of his ears from all that thinking, but seeing as how he had actual fire in his ears…
“That…” Grim attempted to recover. “That is not your concern! I need those clothes, so give them to me or I’ll roast you.”
He took a deep breath and you paled. You weren’t awfully keen on becoming a barbecued version of yourself. You bent down and pulled your shoe off.
“You want my clothes, hellcat?” You yelled. “Here, fetch!”
You threw your shoe at him, hitting him square in the face.
While he was distracted, you leaped down from your coffin. It was a good couple of feet in the air, but you managed to land without twisting your ankle. Without wasting a second, you took off, running out of the room and into a long, medieval hallway.
Grim’s voice called after you, “Hey! Get back here, human!”
You didn’t stop or even spare a glance backwards as you ran. You ran through dark stone hallways, past suits of armor, and down spiral staircases. It all whirled past you, your mind barely registering what you were seeing as it was all so foreign to you. Your movements were off-balance and awkward thanks to your missing shoe. Your chest was tight and your lungs were burning.
You ran without any sense of direction, eventually finding yourself in a courtyard where you were forced to catch your breath. In the center of the courtyard was a well. You stumbled towards it, leaning against its stone walls for support while you took deep, greedy breaths of air. You couldn’t hear the cat chasing after you anymore, so you had probably lost him. Thank goodness for that. Talking floating fire cats were a little too much for your brain to handle at the moment.
Looking around you, you could see that the courtyard was filled with tall arborvitae evergreens that lined the stone-paved trails. You even spotted an apple tree with the ripest apples you’ve ever seen in your life, their skin such a deep red color that they almost didn’t look real. The sight of them made your stomach rumble, and it occurred to you that you couldn’t even remember when you last ate.
You groaned, running a hand through your tangled hair, grimacing as your fingers got caught in a few knots. You were practically bending over the well as you gazed down its bottomless center. It was nighttime, so you couldn’t see the water pooling at the bottom.
Staring down the dark depths, you desperately tried to recollect anything that could shed some light on your current situation. From what you had seen of the building, and given the shadowy outline of towers you could make out in the dark, you had come to the conclusion that you were in a castle. It was a startling revelation all in itself because, as far as you knew, you didn’t live anywhere near a castle. Just how far from home were you? Were you even in the same country? At this point, you couldn’t be certain about anything.
What was the last thing you could remember? Hadn’t you been at school? You were with your friends and they had been excited about something, some activity they wanted to do. They had invited you to go along, but you had been hesitant. You hadn’t been feeling well lately, something had been bothering you but you couldn’t remember what. You couldn’t remember what your answer had been to their inquiries. Everything after was nothing but darkness that stretched all the way to the moment you awoke within the coffin. It didn’t feel like you just couldn’t recollect the events, it was as if your memory was missing entirely, having been stolen away from you. There was nothing but a large gap where your memories should be and that was frightening.
Your head felt fine, so you probably hadn’t been hit there in a way that would cause you to have amnesia. Perhaps you had been drugged? That brought a whole other sleigh of fears that you couldn’t handle at that moment. One thing was for certain though, and that was you had most likely been kidnapped. How else could you end up in a place you didn’t know with no knowledge of how you got there? You had been trapped in a coffin for crying out loud! This was the kind of thing you watched on a documentary about psychotic serial killers and what they did to their victims. The thought of serial killers made your stomach drop.
You know what, screw it! So what if you couldn’t remember how you got here, in the end, it didn’t really matter. What did matter was that you got out of here as soon as possible. You were determined to run out of this place and not stop running until you found a police station. Bye-bye, creepy castle with floating coffins and hellcats! Not going to miss you!
Before you could steel yourself and break out into another run, a voice echoed through the courtyard.
“Hahaha!” That little devil-spawn Grim laughed as he flew into the courtyard, his blue eyes gleaming with self-assured victory. “Thought you could escape my nose, you stupid human? Hahaha! Now, hand me your clothes or you’ll get roasted!”
Shoot! Why couldn't you shake this little gremlin? You glanced down the well. Perhaps you could cool him off with some water? Hmm, you probably didn’t have the arm strength to accomplice that, not to mention that you couldn’t see a bucket anywhere.
“If you roast me, you’ll end up burning the clothes you want too,” You pointed out instead of running for it because you had your priorities straight. “Either way, it's a lose-lose situation for you.”
Again, you could visibly see the cat’s brain come to a screeching halt. His dumbfounded expression nearly made you laugh.
“Aaaaahhhh! Stop confusing me, human!” Grim stomped his feet in midair, glaring holes through you. “That’s it! You’re getting roasted!”
He took in a deep breath of air. Frantically, you glanced down the well and wondered if you could survive that fall.
Suddenly, something snapped through the air with an audible crack. Grim choked as some sort-of black rope wrapped around him tightly, a pathetic plume of smoke escaping his mouth.
“Ahh!” Grim struggled fruitlessly. “What is this rope thing?”
“It is not a rope,” said a voice. “It is a lash of love!”
You raised an eyebrow at that. Lash of love? That didn’t sound age-appropriate.
The clinking sound of heels on stone alerted you to someone’s approach. Your eyes followed the rope back to its origins to see a man approaching you from the shadows. His face was concealed with a mask that resembled the blackened skull of a bird. His eyes were barely visible thanks to it, but you were able to discern a golden glow. His ears were pointed and he had dark wavy hair. He was wearing a top hat with an accessory that resembled a mirror that reflected a purple color yet was surrounded by gold. He was wearing a sparkling suit and tie, over which he wore an elaborate coat with feathers around the collar. The coat itself ended in a similar feather-like fashion that created the illusion of wings. Around his waist were ornaments that resembled mirrors and keys. His hands were gloved and accessorized with golden talons on each finger. He walked with a cane, though it appeared to be more of a fashion accessory than being an actual necessity. The cane itself resembled a key with a golden raven as its handle.
Of all the things you imagined your captor to look like, this was not one of them. Immediately, you moved to the other side of the well, putting some barrier between yourself and the increasingly strange residents of this castle.
The man’s golden eyes landed on you, causing you to freeze in place.
He frowned, “Little one, if you are going to bring your familiar with you, you need to be more responsible for it. It’s unbecoming for a magician to tremble before their familiars.”
You blinked. Huh? What? Familiars?
Grim fought against the “lash of love’s” bindings, “I’m not their familiar! Let me go!”
The man rolled his golden orb eyes, “That’s what all the unruly ones say. Now, hush up, I’m trying to have a conversation.”
As if acting on its own, the rope wound itself around Grim’s mouth, effectively quieting him. Grim made several sounds of protests, squirming about.
“As for you,” The man returned his attention to you, much to your dismay. “Why aren’t you in the Hall of Mirrors? The Entrance Ceremony is already well underway.”
Hall of Mirrors? Entrance Ceremony? Great, more words strung together that can’t register in your frazzled mind. An explanation right now would be nice.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about?” You said, your voice firm even as you cowered behind a well. “Who are you? What is this place?”
The man tilted his head in a very bird-like manner, “Hm? Are you having problems with your memory? You must have had an adverse reaction to passing through the gate.”
Great, more questions and fewer answers. This was getting old very quickly.
“The door you arrived in? Surely you must remember that much. You woke up in a room full of them.”
“You mean the coffins?”
The man smiled, “Yes, exactly. For a moment there, I was beginning to worry that your mind had been impaired. It hasn’t happened in centuries since stable teleportation was established, but you never know.”
“Teleportation?” You yelled, standing up straight and startling the man. “What the heck are you talking about? There’s no such thing as teleportation!”
The man shook his head, “You still seemed to be dazed. Don’t worry, your mind will clear itself within a few hours. Come along, now. We must get you to the Entrance Ceremony before-”
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” You snapped. “Not until you give me some answers.”
That, or you could still run for it. However, there was something about this man and his presence that led you to believe that you wouldn’t get very far.
The man sighed, long and drawn-out, “Why must the youth of today be so unruly? Very well, child. If you insist, then I shall do my best to sate your curiosity, for I am gracious. However, I must insist that we make our way to the Entrance Ceremony. It wouldn’t bode well to miss it.”
The man smiled charitably at you, but there was something false within it. You had a funny feeling that if you continued to refuse, he would bring you by force. You weren’t awfully keen to find out what would happen if you pushed him too far. For now, your best option was to play along until you could find a way to escape.
You nodded in compliance, causing the man to smile, “Wonderful! Now, let us be off.”
You walked alongside the man down the castle’s corridors, heading to an unfamiliar destination. Behind you floated Grim, who was being dragged along thanks to the man’s binding rope. Grim appeared to be every bit as thrilled as you were.
“Now, let’s see,” The man said, tapping his clawed fingers against the edges of his mask. “Let’s start with the basics, see if we can’t trigger your befuddled memory. This is the Night Raven College, the most prestigious magic academy in Wonderland. Only students blessed with a unique aptitude for magic are summoned here by the Dark Mirror. How honored you must feel!”
“W-wait,” You stuttered. “Did you say magic?”
“I believe so, yes.”
“But...magic isn’t real,” You said softly, and the man looked at you in confusion. “Magic is for...fairy tales and stuff. It’s pure fantasy.”
The man blinked, then burst into a fit of laughter, “Oh, I see! You seem to have a knack for humor. My, my, what a jest. ‘Magic isn’t real’, ha! I’ve never heard of such a ridiculous notion.”
You blinked, taken off guard by his reaction, “But, I wasn’t-”
“In all seriousness,” The man continued, completely ignoring you. Rude. “Once you were chosen by the Dark Mirror, the Ebony Carriage should have arrived to deliver a gate for you to pass through. Do you recall this?”
You were about to refute him but paused as the dream you had came back to you. That horse-drawn carriage carrying a coffin fit too well with what this man was describing to be a coincidence. Perhaps you remembered more than you originally thought. You tried to recall where you had been and what you had been doing when the carriage arrived, but you had no luck. This whole amnesia business was seriously frustrating.
“Yeah, I think I remember something like that.”
“Wonderful! Now that you’ve been chosen to attend this institution, you must be sorted into one of our esteemed dormitories,” The man explained. “That is the purpose of the Entrance Ceremony. It’ll be drawing to a close by the time we get there, so you’ll probably be the last one sorted.”
Okay, you were hitting all of the classic magical school tropes. Great.
“And, who are you?” You finally decided to ask. You’d appreciate a name, though you supposed you could always call him “Birdbeak”.
“I am the Headmaster of this school,” The man introduced himself, golden eyes burning into you as he smiled with amusement. “Dire Crowley, the ever-generous at your service.”
He paused, staring at you expectantly.
“Oh, uh…” It hadn’t even occurred to you to introduce yourself. “I’m Y/N.”
“Y/N? What a peculiar name for a young man.”
You nearly stopped dead in your tracks. Young man?
“Um, hate to break it to you, but I’m not a man. I’m a girl,” You explained, gesturing to yourself. Were your robes really that baggy?
Crowley’s eyes widened as he took in your appearance for the first time, a startled gasp escaping his lips, “Oh my. It appears you are a girl! My apologies for the assumption, for we do have young lads with feminine features. However, for the Dark Mirror to choose a girl to attend this school is most...unprecedented.”
“Well you see, dear Y/N, this school has always been an all-boys school,” Crowley explained, and yeah, you could see the conflict there. “You will be the first female to attend this institution. To think today would be a historic one!”
“Well, gee,” You sighed dramatically. “If this is an all boy’s school, then I can’t really stay here, can I? I’d hate to break centuries of tradition, and whatnot. So, if you could just send me home that would be great…”
Crowley waved his hand, “Now, now, there’s no need to be so apprehensive. Surely the Dark Mirror has simply evolved with the times to become more inclusive. This is simply marvelous.”
Hmm, you’ve come to the conclusion that Crowley is delusional and that returning home would not be that easy. Typical.
The Entrance Ceremony was drawing to a close and the Headmaster was nowhere to be found. This was truly irresponsible, even for him. The dorm leaders were nearly finished giving their introductory speeches, which meant it was almost time for the Headmaster to give his closing remarks. This was hardly the time for him to go gallivanting off to do Godmother knows what. The teachers had remained to supervise the ceremony, but it was only a matter of time before the students grew restless. They would be wanting to go to their dorms and settle in, as it had been a long night and classes would begin early.
“Where in Wonderland could that naughty little birdie have flown off too?” Professor Crewel wondered aloud, twirling his pointer between his fingers out of sheer boredom. He would very much like to leave and return to his adorable little puppies, thank you very much.
“If he does not return soon, one of us shall have to go search for him,” Professor Trein remarked coldly, stroking his cat Lucius who was content to be judgmental in his master’s lap. Professor Crewel glared at the wretched little thing, who’s mere existence offended him.
That thing should be turned into a purse, he thought savagely. Or perhaps a chew toy for my puppies.
“As an experienced hunter, I would have no problem finding him,” Coach Vargas exclaimed, practically jumping at the opportunity to self-promote himself. With his chest puffed out and large muscles flexing, he continued, “With a physique as well-sculpted as mine, it would be easier than-”
“Defeating the beast of Villene,” Professor Crewel finished for him. “Yes, yes, we’ve all heard this story a thousand times before. Now, settle down hound, before you pop a vessel with those things.” He gestured to Coach Vargas’s biceps absentmindedly with his pointer.
Coach Vargas scowled and opened his mouth to start an argument with Professor Crewel which he would sorely lose when the door to the Hall of Mirrors flew open. Headmaster Crowley waltzed as if he was the greatest thing to grace the hall, a student trailing behind him and a cat bound by his magical rope.
Professor Crewel glared at the cat in disgust.
Great. Another feline.
“Hello, student body!” Crowley declared at his entrance. “Your gracious Headmaster has returned.”
Crowley then huffed, hands on his hands, “I apologize for my sudden departure, but it seems that there had been an oversight by the staff.”
The teachers all scowled at him for how quickly he was willing to throw them to the alligators. What had he done this time and was now trying to divert the blame for?
Crowley gestured to the student beside him, who had raised their hood to cover their face in embarrassment, “One student was left within their gate and had to be retrieved. Once she is sorted into a dorm, then we can continue with the closing remarks.”
Crowley then turned to you, urging you forward, “Go on then, Y/N. Stand in front of the mirror to be sorted. I will watch over the raccoon.”
Grim made loud complaining noises.
The teachers and other students watched you as you walked forward, murmuring amongst themselves. They had all caught the “she” in Crowley’s statement.
“A girl? I don’t believe there’s ever been a girl student here, has there?” Professor Crewel wondered.
“Not to my knowledge,” Professor Trein frowned. “It certainly is unprecedented.”
Professor Crewel was surprised, but not particularly put-off by the presence of a female student. After all, this drab little dungeon could do with a feminine touch. However, another matter concerned him.
“I was certain that we checked each gate,” Professor Crewel stated. “Did we not unlock them all?”
“It would appear not.”
“Hold on now,” Coach Vargas barged into the conversation. “I unlocked those gates myself, and I wouldn’t make such a careless mistake.”
As annoying as he was, Professor Crewel had to admit that the man was diligent in all that he did. So, if he said that he had checked every gate, then he most certainly had. However, that begged the question as to how this little lost puppy hadn’t been found before.
You approached the mirror as you had been instructed, nerves causing your stomach to twist uncomfortably. You could practically feel every eye within that room on you, examining and evaluating you. The room itself was ginormous and filled with people all wearing the same robes as you. The walls were lined with seven alcoves with a symbol over their archways. Each alcove contained a mirror, each one unique. You saw one decorated with cards and hearts, and another with horns and dragon wings. However, the largest mirror was the one that floated in the middle of the room, directly above a fountain that spewed a bright green liquid. As you drew closer to the mirror, a sinister green mask-like face appeared within its surface, with dark patterns circling the holes of its eyes.
A deep voice echoed not around you, but within your mind.
State thy name.
You swallowed harshly, “...Y/N.”
Y/N...the shape of thy soul is…
You waited, your nerves mounting with each passing second.
I do not know.
“Come again?” Crowley exclaimed, looking startled.
I sense not a spark of magic from her. The color, the shape, all are nothing. Therefore, she is suited for no dormitory.
Those who had been whispering before were now in an all-out uproar. The urge to run away was overwhelming. You were in no way prepared for this. Accusatory words began to echo in your head.
You don’t belong, you don’t belong, you don’t belong.
“This is preposterous,” Crowley said, sounding outraged. “The ebony carriage would never go to meet someone who can’t use magic. In 100 years, there has not once been a mistake in the student selection.”
So I’m the first, you thought dryly. Lucky me.
At least now they’ll definitely send me home. Though, it’s a little disheartening to get kicked out of school before the first day. That’s got to be a record.
While Crowley was distracted, Grim used the opportunity to break free from his bindings. The rope disappeared in a puff of black and purple smoke once the creature was free.
“Pah!” He floated high into the air, his paws mimicking the making of a fist. “Then I will take her place!”
“Stay right there, raccoon!” Crowley shouted.
“I’m not a raccoon!” Grim shouted back. “And unlike that dumb human, I can use magic! Let me in the school instead.”
Well, I’ll give him this much, he never misses an opportunity, you thought.
“If you need proof, I’ll show you right now,” He declared, taking in a deep breath of air.
Oh, no. He wouldn’t.
“Everyone, get down!” Someone shouted.
Grim exhaled a great column of raging blue fire. That’s when the screaming began.