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Dark As Knight

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SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ

It has been five years since the princess of the White Kingdom has disappeared, five years since she entered Dead Man's Land, the land of the dead magic. The White Kingdom hasn't stopped searching for their lost princess, but since the birth of their second child Prince Henry was born; the King and Queen of the White Kingdom have put their daughters name to rest. Assuming she will stay the lost princess. Forever.

This Fact; however, only stemmed to fuel Emma's frustrations into pure anger. Snow White and her precious Charming not only allowed their five year old son outside of the kingdom walls, they allowed him to do all the things Emma wanted to do but was never allowed. She didn't understand why they let him become his own person and not her, why they tried so hard to create her personality and not his. She used that frustration during her sparring sessions with Rulf—the blacksmith—and with his help over the past five years Emma transformed from a girl...and into a woman. A strong one, who was able to defend herself better than any man can defend himself.

He trained her with every blade he has fashioned in his shop and more than half of those blades left a mark on Emma's pale skin, and over the years they faded into white scars on the sides of her neck, her forearms, sides, legs...they were hardly noticeable to any not looking for them, almost invisible.

Rulf taught Emma the basic means of survival, how to kill animals without crying, how to cut flesh without dropping her weapon and apologizing. These were the very laws of the land and tantamount to her survival in the years to come. He took her outside the land and they robbed and murdered anyone they came across whether they be peasants traveling for a new beginning or knights from the the Dark Kingdom or the White Kingdom. Sadly for Emma, when her mighty steed could not survive his third winter, Dead Man's Land took the steeds body beneath it's soil and released his spirit.

In the course of five years, the former princess of the White Kingdom was trained to be an expert huntsman and deadly assassin in one. One would no longer recognize her as the meek girl she once was, but now in her stead, stood a ruthless and well-honed killing machine. One who took no mercy on the unfortunate opponents who crossed her path. Today Emma was preparing herself to spar with Rulf in the mud field just behind the saloon as were their usual schedule. She didn't have to wait long in the drizzle before the big man joined her but he was unarmed save for the item on his broad back, this was out of the ordinary and Emma was confused, "Are we not sparring today Rulf?"

Rulf smiled at her, it came out more as a grimace, but Emma knew he was smiling. "I have no more to teach you...Dead Man's Land ain't ya home anymore."

Emma swallowed thickly, refusing to appear weak and keeping her tears at bay. She wasn't sure how she felt about this news although she has been preparing herself for this for a year now. It was still hard to process it. "But...I don't have any other home to go to Rulf."

Rulf simply shrugged, "My deed is done...ya have to make ya own path now. Ya heart...tis black as night...ya don' need a home, ya won' fin' one...not here anyways. Hm!" he reached behind him and pulled the sword and tossed it towards Emma. She caught it's hilt and examined it carefully. It was a pure black steel sword; it's blade longer, thicker and far sharper than any blade she's seen before. Above it's grip sat a single talon made to jab into her victims and pull out whatever it grabs.

"Ya take that sword...and ya care for it. It shall care for ya as well."

Emma nodded to him, "Thank you Rulf. It's beautiful." Emma knew that this was truly a treasure and vowed to cherish it for the entirety of her life, this was no ordinary sword.

Rulf shook her head, "I ain't make it, it came from the ground. Now git!"

Emma nodded once more and slung the beautifully crafted blade onto her back and turned on her heel and simply walked away, Rulf wasn't one for goodbyes—so abiding his boundaries, Emma left Dead Man's Land on foot...taking everything it gave to her. She had no clue where to begin but she figured she would head towards the Dark Realm of the Enchanted Forest and see where to go from there. Her soul was being drawn towards something, no, someone…In all the passing years of discovering who she was, she found a part of herself that would send her parents to their graves. Her fascination for the Evil Queen had not gone away, but on the contrary; it had only continued to grow.

SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ

Traveling on foot through the winter wasn't something Emma thought was fun but until she found a suitable horse it seemed her only choice.

Emma had enough currency on her to buy herself a new steed,but she hardly needed them for anything else. If she needed food she could hunt it and cook it herself, if she needed extra padding and lining for her armor against the harsh winter...she could find something suitable to skin and sew it beneath the worn leather she still wore proudly since escaping her dreadful fate.

It's been a full two days of walking through the Enchanted Forest towards the Dark Kingdom and Emma hasn't really stopped to eat or sleep not that she was particularly hungry or tired.

It took Emma two more cold days and a winter night until she reached the village just outside the dark palace. The village was better kept than the White Kingdoms own home village. Emma did not lower her hood as she ventured deeper into the village to the market. She didn't want to call attention to herself just yet. She found a vendor selling assorted fruits, some Emma was familiar with and others Emma wouldn't touch with her sword. As she approached, an old hag came up from behind the table. Her hideous looks nearly caused Emma draw her sword. She almost told the old woman she shouldn't be jumping out at people looking like that, but she held her tongue. Emma picked up two plums with one hand and held out her other hand with two gold coins resting in the palm of her hand. It was far more than what they were worth but it was all Emma could offer.

The old woman regarded the hooded person in front of her with those beady brown eyes of hers, it unnerved Emma and she wanted to be away from the old vendor as soon as possible. "Are you going to take the gold or not old woman?"

The old woman grinned showing what was left of her teeth, "Wherever did you get those gold coins?"

Emma sighed deeply, reaching passed the fruit display she placed the two gold coins on the table and proceeded to walk away, until the vendor caught her wrist in a surprisingly strong grip.

"You wouldn't know who has been stealing the Queens gold would ye?"

Emma snatched her wrist free of the womans grip, causing the old vendor to crash into her own table knocking over a few fruit and drawing a few eyes. "I haven't any idea...and you will do well minding your own old witch."

The old hags eyes narrowed for a beat, "You enjoy that gold...thievery comes with a price nomad."

Emma scoffed and walked away from the old woman disregarding her useless warning, for it meant nothing to her. She ate her plums peacefully observing the way the village worked from beneath her hood.

"Stop."

Emma stopped though she was completely relaxed, even as two knights came from behind her on either side. She stared at them, still eating her fruit. "Yes?"

"You ain't from 'round here are ya nomad?" the rugged one asked with a small smirk

"Nope."

"The old woman back there...she said you have something that belongs to the Queen."

Emma rolled her eyes and bit back a laugh, "I don't."

The dark skinned knight smiled, finally speaking. "Then you won't mind if we saw your satchel then?"

Emma smirked and removed the leather satchel and strap from her body and handed it over. That was not where she kept the stolen coins, the last two that were there she gave to the old woman. The dark skinned knight opened it up and reached inside...slowly pulling out two gold coins with the Evil Queens crest on them.

Emma almost choked on her plum, that was impossible. Those coins shouldn't be there at all, immediately she knew that the old woman had something to do with it. "I can explain this."

"You will. To the Queen!" They both grabbed her by the arms and dragged Emma off. If she really wanted to, she could have effortlessly gutted them and left their bodies to bleed out in the snow and go back for the old woman for her troubles. But she chose not to, her curiosity for the Evil Queen was much too deep, and she saw this as a way it could be sated.

SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ

The two knights led a willing Emma through the palace halls to the throne room. They would've preferred this hooded person to be begging and attempting to bribe them to release her. It made for a much more interesting time, but this quiet woman would not give them the pleasure of the fight. She remained silent as they forged on through the palace halls. The knights guarding the throne nodded and pushed open the double doors and closing it behind them just as quickly and quietly.

The Evil Queen herself was sitting on her throne with her legs crossed beneath a dress that Emma figured she plucked a thousands birds of their feathers to make. When they finally released Emma once they were just a few feet away from the steps beneath the Evil Queens throne. Both knights pushed her forward roughly in no attempts to push her down subtly, yet she held her ground, she's been pushed around by a man three times their size for too long time to go down so easily.

"Lancelot, what is this?"

The dark skinned knight to Emma's right bowed slightly, "My Queen, we believe this nomad knows who has been taking the profits. That or she has been doing it herself. We found these," he held up the two gold coins that Emma was mentally swearing up and down, were not hers. "when we searched her satchel."

The Queen stood and came down a few steps to take the gold from his hand and examined it. Chuckling she waved the two knights away, "Leave us, this nomad has some explaining to do—and if you hear screaming, do not be alarmed...it won't be mine."

Lancelot chuckled and bowed once more along with the other rugged man, "Yes Your Highness."

Regina waited until they were alone in the throne room before addressing the nomad who stood quietly a few feet away from her, "Why aren't you begging for your life nomad?"

Emma pushed off her hood, and moving blonde locks from her face. She had faintly changed over the five years she'd been living in Dead Man's Land. She no longer had the chunky face and soft green eyes and a flawless face, gone was the girl and replaced with a woman with green eyes that has more wit and grit, a strong face that wore a small scar that split her right eyebrow. All the same, there was no doubt in her mind with whom she was dealing with. Queen Regina recognized her as the lost princess. "Well because I didn't do anything your majesty, those gold coins were planted there. I'm innocent."

Regina laughed,deciding to keep the lost princess' identity to herself—for now. She would use it to her advantage later. "Dear no one is innocent, and it would do you no good by lying to me. Especially in my own palace—that is just rude."

Emma saw the purple mist forming behind the Evil Queens brown eyes, she decided on a new approach. "You're going to kill me now...aren't you?"

"What makes you think that dear?"

"Because that's what you do."

"Normally yes—but you my dear...you have looted 16 of my profit carriages. Were you alone?"

Emma nodded curtly.

Regina looked Emma up and down, "Interesting. That was more than enough gold for one person. Though I can clearly see that it did not go to your wardrobe." Emma shifted her footing but she said nothing. Still Regina turned back up the stairs and sat down on her plush throne once more. "Do you have a name nomad?"

"Um.." Emma faltered as she didn't want to push her luck by giving the Evil Queen her real name seeing as she apparently didn't recognize her face. After a moments hesitation, Emma blurted out the first thing on her mind though it sounded more like a question than anything. "Swan?"

A single delicate eyebrow was raised, "Swan?"

"Swan." Emma sounded more confident, and stood a little taller. While mentally slapping herself for coming up with such an odd and ridiculous name.

Regina fought away the smirk that was threatening to break through, she was going to have fun with the White Kingdoms princess."Alright Swan...I have two choices for you. Death or your servitude and loyalty to me."

Emma blinked, scratching her cheek. She saw death in both of those choices. Though one was probably quicker than the other. She thought back to what her mentor, her friend, Rulf, told her before they parted ways. Emma was to never have a home again because she gave away part of her soul, the only good in her to Dead Man's Land. "What about your gold? It's no good to you if I'm dead."

The Evil Queen waved off the former princess' concern, "More where that came from, though I am curious. What were your plans with all of that gold? What was so important to risk your life 16 times Swan? Besides being greedy."

"I needed a friend...I, um, I wanted to purchase a stallion to make my travels easier and to keep me company. That and I love to ride."

Regina's features softened for a split second before her Evil Queen persona took over once more almost making Emma think she had just imagined it. "Very nice Swan. Stop stalling and make your decision. Now."

"I happen to like living, so.." Emma bowed, albeit mockingly. "I, Swan, offer my services and loyalty to your kingdom until the end of my days."

Suddenly all of Emma's airflow was cut off as an invisible hand grasp her neck and squeezed, she could even feel nails digging into the sides of her neck. "You are not vowing to this realm, but to me. You do what I tell you to do, and you will do it respectfully. Is that clear?"

Emma's fist were tightly clenched at her sides, nodding the best she could. Regina held on a few seconds later and when she saw the woman's green eyes rolling she finally released her. The Evil Queen took small satisfaction of making the strong woman kneel at her feet trying to catch her breath. "Can I...can I go now your majesty or—"

"No. you can not." The Evil Queen cut in tersely. "I don't trust you. You will stay in the dungeons until you prove your worth."

Emma finally got to her feet, massaging the side of her neck, over the crests from the invisible hands fingernails. "The- the dungeon?"

SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ

The Evil Queen kept Emma, weapons and hood, down in the dungeons for nearly a week, with just food and water being delivered and nothing else. Emma didn't take any of it. She let it collect in the corner for the rats. Rulf would usually starve her out just to see how long she would last. A week for Emma was like a couple of days, even though she was a pig at heart. She knew that the Queen of the dark palace was doing it just to show Emma that she could.

Emma was tossing a rock back and forth against one of the dungeon walls when unfamiliar click clacking footsteps were coming her way, she was curious but she kept her hood up.

"Enjoying your stay nomad?"

Emma smiled,despite her annoyance with the Queen, and stood dusting off her pants and pushing down her hood, shocked to see that the Queen was actually alone but then again she possessed dark magic. "Yes. Your Majesty."

"Really? I wasn't quite sure." Regina opened the cell door and stepped in, glancing at the food sitting in the corner far from Emma "The guards say you refuse to eat—why?"

"Why do you care?"

Regina thought about throttling the woman once more but she simply shrugged. "You're infuriating but I don't want you dead just yet. I have a quest for you."

"Do I have a choice?"

Regina ignored her and paced the small cell, "I have this...problem on the outside."

"Great, sunlight."

Regina shot the former princess a glare but ignored that comment as well. "I need you to kidnap someone for me—a little girl."

Emerald eyes widened, "What?" Emma learned many deadly deeds during her time in Dead Man's Land but she refused to use that against children, innocent children. "No."

"No?" The Evil Queen inquired coldly, turning on her heel quickly. With a flick of her wrist Emma was sent crashing back against the stone wall of her prison. "You don't get to say no!" With another lazy hand gesture, Emma was—for the second time in her life—being choked by the Queens invisible hand and held down on the floor as Regina stood over her, staring down at her menacingly with hard brown eyes. "I will have your loyalty," she crouched down and pushed open Emma's hooded vest as she pressed her right hand over the place where Emma's heart is supposed to be—she could feel the faint thumbing beneath her palm. "Even if that means if I have to rip your heart out. You understand?"

Regina wasn't sure why she didn't just rip this woman's heart out and kill her the first time they met in her throne room for stealing from her and for being outright disrespectful. And now here when the Emma was trying to refuse an order.

And yet Regina still hadn't pulled out her heart like she did so many others in all her years. She has yet to figure out what it was about the blonde that interested her but she will soon, when she is sure she could trust her...somewhat, when she has a real name perhaps. Regina stood and backed away before releasing her magical hold on the thief on the floor...Regina wasn't too sure how to address this woman. Thief? Assassin? Huntsman? Nomad, definitely. She watched as the mysterious woman, the one who bested her men 16 times, stand on her own two feet and pull up her hood. When it was becoming clear that she had nothing more to say the Evil Queen merely smirked, "Her name is Grace. She lives approximately two days from here in a trade village before the White Kingdom. You have two more days to get her back here."

Emma shrugged slightly, "What did the little girl ever do to you?"

Regina almost told her to mind her business and do as she was told, but she enlightened the woman anyway. "Her father owes me a favor and he has been neglecting to acknowledge our little deal."

"How will I travel?"

"I will have one of the guards escort you to the stables, you pick a horse and then you do your deed. Questions comment or concerns dear?" She finished with a sickeningly sweet smile and tone, Emma shook her head almost chuckling. "Good." Emma watched her go with a small smirk, she liked pushing the older womans buttons. She had a feeling deep down inside that she was going to like it here, but for the time being...she was going to earn her keep to make sure she gets to stay.

SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ

Emma hated being here already, visiting a trade village meant no horses or carriages...simply too much traffic for such large beasts and carts to be maneuvered safely. Emma had to do the rest on foot. She didn't exactly blend in with her all black leather armor and hooded vest, and her weapons of choice that she barely bothered to conceal made the people around her nervous and they gave her a bit of room to walk.

Emma was surprised to discover that the trade village was as big as it was, she expected something less than spectacular...this was spectacular. She needed a new approach to finding this little girl. She stopped an elderly man carrying a yoke, "Old man..." though when he saw how she was dressed she quickly took a step back and pressed her hands together in front of her as if she were about to pray, "I will do you no harm if you tell me where all the children are."

The old man with the yoke was really eying the dangerous hilt to the right of Emma's head from the sword that was warming her back. He didn't even realize that it was a woman in the shadow of the hood, "I...children? You won't harm them will you?"

"No. I simply wish to settle somewhere with lots of children for my small brother. He is a lonely child."

The elderly man relaxed once he realized that it was a woman and not a man, "Certainly, the school yard is just up yonder...ya keep straight an' all the children are there."

Emma bowed slightly and stepped aside to let him continue on to where ever he was going, nodding her appreciation. The old man smiled and went on his way while Emma thought of a new plan. There was no way she could get the girl without people noticing a distressed child being carried through the village to the entrance. Emma decided to go figure out what this girl looked like first and figure out the rest later. Since she only had two days.

SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ

"She is perfect." the Evil Queen marveled as she sat in front of her vanity mirror watching Emma find the school house that had a yard full of children. She stood out in the open watching them play yet no one seemed to notice her...she stuck out like a sore thumb, yet she belonged at the same time.

"I suppose." replied the Magic Mirror sounding as if her were almost bored, but Regina didn't comment, she had better things to do than soothe his feelings; like watch the beautiful blonde woman that captured her interest the first time she pushed down her hood and settled those green eyes on her, and not because she was the daughter of her sworn enemy. "Can she be trusted my Queen? She has already stolen from you...who knows what else this woman is capable of."

"Who knows indeed—no need to worry, genie, I intend on discovering what she is capable of very, very soon."

SQ :: SWAN QUEEN :: SQ