The trees were coated in soft fluffy white snow. The flakes sifted slowly down through the air. A slow breeze slid through the trees, biting through me. I huddled under the cloak, stumbling ever forward through the forest.
It had been what felt like hours that I was walking. The only change in time was the shift of the weather. Sometimes warmer, sometimes colder, and now the snow.
I knew I had to find Lage. Lage, or someone who could bring me back to my world. Somewhere, somehow. I’d be safe there, I told myself. I knew I wouldn’t, but I told myself I would. I told myself that at least there wouldn’t be a stupid princess throwing me in a dungeon with … an assassin? Who rescued me?
I plodded on, gritting my teeth at the complexity of this newfound world. The princess, the dying Queen, the gun, it was all piling together in my head. I knew I wouldn’t be safe in my own world – and stumbled over a branch. My arms flung out to break my fall – and I landed in something white.
Not the snow. A pair of arms.
Slowly, I looked up. Red eyes looked down from a white-as-snow face with icicles for hair.
I gaped. The creature grinned, revealing a fanged set of teeth.
I screamed, jumping back and flailing. The creature was a disembodied thing, a torso with just a whispy tail-like bottoming out. It had hands like claws that were tipped in blue talons.
Spinning, I darted straight back the way I came, floundering through the snow.
A high-pitched chuckle echoed in my ears as I ran, and the ‘thing’ rushed along behind me, in the corner of my eyes, clacking its teeth and snagging at me with its claws.
Breathless, I crested a small hill- and tripped over a root. I tumbled straight down the hill in a blundering blurr of white that bit at me and roots and stones that jabbed into my sides.
When I floundered to a stop, there was a horses’ nose before me. A soft brown horse nose that snorted at me. I scrambled to my feet, thinking that I was lucky – when I saw that there was a guard atop this horse. And on the horse beside it. And on that horse, beside it? Another guard.
A clacking sound from behind made me spin. The strange ‘thing’ was rushing towards me, eyes glowing, jaws open, and blue finger-talons out.
“Enough!” barked a voice. The thing reeled to a halt just before me, its talons a mere foot from my face. It looked to my right, where another horse was stepping forward. On this horse, dappled gray, sat Rebella with her white cloak. “Come,” she ordered, holding out her arm.
With a squeal, the creature turned into a snowy white owl and flapped its way to her arm. There, she gave it a small bit of meat. It looked suspiciously like a dead mouse. Rebella turned her cold glare to me. “It looks like we found it,” she sneered.
My blood boiled. “Me,” I declared. “You found me. Not an ‘it’. I’m a person.”
“Oh, well, person,” sneered Rebella. “There I was thinking you had rocks for brains.”
My fury bubbled over, but I was speechless once more, silent in my white-hot fury. Rebella nodded to a guard. “Take it,” she ordered before wheeling her horse around.
The guard reached down, seizing me by the shoulder. I wrenched free.
I wished for a knife. Some dagger, magic maybe, to help me overcome all of them. Maybe even a gun – which I normally hated.
Between two guards I was lifted up, kicking and biting, up onto one of their horses, before the rider. Then, with an armored arm around my waist, we wheeled around to follow Rebella.
I gave up on fighting as we trudged back through the forest. I turned limp, glaring viciously at Rebella’s back.
I hated her. I wanted to utterly destroy her. She was quickly enlarging in my mind, becoming synonymous with ‘them’. Those hated unknowns now had a face and persona in Rebella.
When we trudged back within the cities’ walls, I had decided that I was going to kill her. No matter what. It was my chance to hit back at ‘them’.
We plodded through the grubby city, the horses’ rhythms suspiciously lulling, annoyingly slow-paced compared to a car. Houses that were mere shacks passed on and on. People covered in filth stared, mouths agape, pointing at me but never at Rebella. She must be a villain they were used to.
What struck me was the silence, though. The people whispered but voices never rose into spoken words with clarity or force. They merely whispered, mumbling from mouth to ear behind hands. Definitely no one shouted.
My chance came when we entered the castle’s walls. There, the guards visibly relaxed. They began laughing among themselves, cracking jokes I didn’t listen to and laughing rowdily. Rebella, however, had her back to us and rode on ahead. That is, until we dismounted.
I was dropped to the ground, aching all over and numb from the cold. But I sensed a window of opportunity. A tingling came over me. Rebella had her back to us still, throwing her reins to a servant. The guards were dismounting around me, trading jokes.
I spun, seizing the sword from the hip of the guard behind me. With a hiss of metal the sword drew clear. I stumbled, but swung it with the momentum, lurching forward at Rebella.
In slow motion, I saw Rebella turn. I saw her eyes widen, her lips part slightly in surprise.
With a shriek, the owl burst at me, wings flapping at my face. I stumbled back.
Time jolted back to full speed. Rebella was before me, the bird tossed aside. She grabbed my arms, wrenching the sword from my grasp. I kicked at her, but she deflected it with a swipe of the leg that sent me falling face-first into the muddy snow.
“You are all so useful,” Rebella sneered at her guards as she turned her back on me once more, dropping the sword to the snow mere feet away from me.
The guards murmured apologies. I staggered up, but was dwarfed by hands. No more freedom for me. As Rebella marched on ahead I was bodily dragged after her, arms held out like a scarecrow. My feet dragged, catching in the stones and earth as we marched into the castle.
This time, we did not enter the huge gardens within that dome. Instead we marched up a flight of stairs, turned left, and found ourselves in a dark corridor. At the end of it, servants lined a room. These guards were adorned in purple with large feathers atop their helmets. The servants exchanged nervous looks, but bowed their heads as Rebella approached them.
“What are you all doing out here?” Rebella demanded, half-yelling. “Why have you left her alone?”
“She ordered-” murmured one servant who was standing before a door. She didn’t finish her sentence, as Rebella took her by the shoulders and threw her out of the way, crushing into the other servants.
“Bring the thing!” shouted Rebella, yanking the door open and barging in.
The guards yanked me forward. I was shoved into the room seconds after Rebella entered it. It was almost a touching scene. Almost.
The grandmother Queen was laying on a giant red four-poster bed with the curtains drawn shut. Rebella had opened one side and was now clasping the grandmother’s hand in both of hers. The grandmother’s good eye was open, but it too was now turning milky white. The decay had almost taken over her entire face.
“Child,” said the grandmother, breath heaving.
“It’s not your time. We need you,” whispered Rebella, clutching the withered hand to her chest.
The grandmother smiled mysteriously. “That’s not how the world works.”
Determination came over Rebella. She lowered the grandmother’s hand. “Get out,” she ordered, backing away from the bed. “All of you. Leave the thing here. I have something to do.”
The guards backed away, shuffling nervously out the door. It shut behind them with a creak and a clap, and I was alone with Rebella and her dying Grandmother.
Rebella wasted no time. With a yank she drew a dagger from her belt. With a toss her cloak fell to the ground and she marched towards me, head held high.
I just wasn’t expecting it.
With a flash of the arm, she stabbed me in the chest. I gasped, the sharp pain slicing through me. I found myself gripping at her arm as she yanked the dagger out of me.
I staggered as Rebella yanked away. The world swam as her back walked away, back to the bedside. My knees struck the floor. I was clutching at my chest, watching the blood seep out from between my fingers. I knew enough to know that this was severe. I was going to die.
And Rebella was still alive.
“Blood of the heart, lift this curse,” I heard Rebella whisper as she was lifting a bloody finger – full of my blood – to her Grandmother’s lips.
“Child, no,” whispered the fading Grandmother. The good eye fluttered closed.
I was taking that bitch down with me, I thought. I saw the dagger set beside her on the bed. I launched myself.