Battle may never end, for there chaos thrives;
And only in chaos can we live our lives.

After Snow takes the Assassin's curse, she leaves to rebuild the Four Kingdoms. But she finds the Beast impossible to control and will do anything to get rid of it and spare her kingdom carnage. Enter Rumplestiltskin, one of seven equally enigmatic and long-named dwarves. Their requirement for breaking the curse? Snow must live with them for a year. She leaves a serving girl in her place, who must lie to--and fall for--an unwitting Huntsman.

But curses can never be broken. Evil can never be killed. And Snow can never stop fighting.


21. Chapter 10

"Is there really any chance that the Grandmother or Baba Yaga may still be alive?" I asked, looking between all seven dwarves. We were back in the cottage, all seated at the table.

"She's a Rumplestiltskin," said Rumplestiltskin. "An immortality curse is no easy feat, but anyone who can create a curse that does that as well as all the other layers to the Beast would have no issue at all with such a thing"

I grimaced. I kept forgetting that I was immortal.

"This feels unwise," said Grimdelwaller sadly. I had come to realize that Grim did everything with a certain sadness, which didn't seem to match his ridiculously stained white robes. He looked between Rumple and Talminage.

Talminage sighed. "A curse's castor sometimes builds in a... fail-safe, one could say. If Snow does not allow me to simply shift the curse, it may be our only choice, unless we try to seek out Dedenfell." The name was venomous on his tongue.

Grimdelwaller lowered his head. Talminage knew what affect that name would have.

"You want to find Baba Yaga and ask her to help destroy the curse?" I asked, floored. "You knew of her guardians," I said to Tandemore. "That means you've heard the-"

"The tales," said Bandeleck, sober voice matching Grim's. "We have."

"Then I suppose you recall what nearly happened to Vasilisa," I said. "And if that weren't enough, she also ran the most powerful and secret group of mercenaries I've never heard of."

Tandemore looked up at me. "What do you fear, Snow?" I was silent. "You're a soldier."

"Yes," I said, looking out the window at the sea. "I'm a soldier. I make plans here I will have the full advantage over an adversary. I control a sword and a bow and arrows. I give and follow orders. And I'll follow these if you seven give them to me in unison, but mark the words of this soldier. We do not have the advantage against the likes of Baba Yaga."

Talminage stood, his purple cap rising no higher than when he sat. "This is who we learn to rid you of your Beast. Face the witch you fear, and you can rule your kingdom in peace."

I looked down at the table. I never wanted to rule! part of me wanted to cry out. But that was my battle, and I would fight. I looked back up.

"Then let's begin the witch hunt," I said.

The dwarves predicted that we should set out in a wee'k's time. They wanted to take no shortcuts in preparation, and they seemed to have plenty to do.

Oklaflay was busy mixing and stirring and causing minor explosions in his little alcove set into the shelved wall. Occasionally sending one of the others off to retrieve some non-magical ingredient for his alchemy. Crospaltine was taking stock of what was on the shelves themselves, packing and repacking amulets and artifacts for him to use when we faced Baba Yaga.

Rumplestiltskin and Talminage were consulting each and every text in the cottage, which was a miraculous amount considering the size of the building. They were memorizing every curse they could, as well as researching all that was available on Baba Yaga. The two worked as one, as though they were interconnected in mind and soul.

Bandeleck and Tandemore were sparring, as Talminage called it. Bandeleck would hastily throw out spells as practice, and Tandemore would calmly practice hexing them away.

Finally, Grimdlewaller was sitting soberly at the table as he created more of his dust that I could only assume to be magic. He was all alone, his double mysteriously gone from the seven.

I was busy making preparations of my own. Crospaltine had retrieved more armor and weaponry for me from the White Castle. I had killed every tree in their yard a dozen times with my arrows as I practiced until I felt that my ears would fall off for the cold.

But something still felt amiss for me. Each time I had gone into battle, I had Oudin with me,s ave for when the Assassin had taken me to rescue Belle. I wanted him here all of a sudden, fighting beside me. And I knew that, if he were aware of what we were about to fight, he would want to be here as well.

Perhaps it was the visit to the Assassin and Belle that made me yearn for a little affection, despite never having yearned for it before. Oudin had been strict at times--what general hasn't?--but never unkind. I missed my old friend, and I missed the feeling of comfort he brought.

"I want my general to come," I told Rumplestiltskin one night. He looked up from a particularly thick tome in surprise.

"Your general?" he asked. "Oudin?"

"Could Crospaltine take me?" I asked. If I were lucky, I might also get to see Jehanne and Casin, and perhaps get to thank Ella a bit more thoroughly than time had previously allowed. 

Talminage looked up, dark eyes almost pitying. 

"Let her bring her friend," he said gruffly. Crospaltine hesitated. Rumple nodded. I nodded as well, the matter settled. 

"They'll be back at the White Kingdom soon," I said. "That will be a better time to appear. Mid-travel could cause some issues." The dwarves nodded. 

I had nothing to do in the meanwhile. I had murdered more than enough trees, and if I spent one more second inside my head with all those voices I was going to go insane. 

I began to clean the cottage, happy to feel a wet rag or splintery wood beneath my fingers, the dirt flying up into my face and spiders scuttling over the backs of my hands. Rumplestiltskin may have been perfectly content to stay in their heads all day, but I needed to be in my body. 

I scrubbed every window, shelf and stick of furniture, and swept all the floors. I even dislodged some spider from their homes in a zealous attempt to clean out cobwebs. I'd never really cleaned a house before, but i was no stranger to chores or hard work. It felt good to lose myself in it for a period of time. 

We waited a few days--during which the entire house had become cleaner than it had been since it was first built--before Crospaltine called me into the main room. 

"I'm just going to talk to Oudin," I promised. "Then we'll come right back." 

Tandemore nodded, looking worried all the same. I knew he would not try to deter me, however, so I gave what I hoped would be a reassuring smile.  

Then I was staring at a tapestry, the voices assaulting my ears with information on everyone in the castle and what they were doing. I didn't want to stay long. 

I looked at Crospaltine grimly. "Oudin's in the war room, sulking." Whoops. He wouldn't have appreciated me saying that. But with so many voices in my head, it was little wonder they didn't all slip out of my mouth more often. 

Crospaltine nodded. "I'll attract attention, your majesty. But you belong here. Meet me back in this hallway." I nodded, unwilling to open my mouth until it was necessary. I hurried down the hall, ignoring the waves pounding information through my skull. 

But I should have paid closer attention. My vision was going blurry with tears of pain as my brain vibrated in my head, and I needed some of those voices to navigate. But I was so preoccupied with not giving into the Beast and his murderous demands that I massacre the entire castle that I ran into the Huntsman. 

The Huntsman. I had never read that note he gave me, I realized. It was still tucked away in the bosom of my gown at the cottage, uncharacteristically neglected. I found myself wondering how Ella had dealt with whatever it was he was so desperate to get my attention about. 

The Huntsman looked around, then placed his large hands on my waist. He bent down, looking as though he were about to kiss me. I pulled away from his grip, shocked, hand reaching for a knife at my waist. 

"What happened? I thought, almost frantically. This was no attempt at wooing; he had acted as though he fully expected me to reciprocate. But hat was preposterous. I had never- Ella

She wouldn't have known I was coming back in order to inform anyone who knew of the masquerade. I was uncertain about how I felt, knowing that Ella and the Huntsman had fallen in love--and while she was wearing my skin, no less--then decided it had nothing to do with me and I should move on. 

I walked past the Huntsman. Ella could explain my momentary return on her own terms. Irritably, I added it to my list of things to do while here. 

It idd not take me too long to reach the war room. Oudin was inside, sitting at the table and staring at a map that was far too outdated for him to actually be studying. I hesitated, then knocked on the door. 

"Oudin?" I asked, pushing it open. Part of me almost added 'sir.' 

"Hello, Ella," he said. "How did you know I was in here?" A slight frown turned down his lips. The upper one had a small scar cutting through his greying beard, a physical memory of the wars we'd fought. 

"It's not Ella," I said in a whisper, shutting the door behind me. "I'm Snow." 

"Snow?" Oudin's frown faded, leaving a rare smile in its place. "Thank clergy, I was going mad." He stood, watching me carefully. The voices swelled. 

"I know the feeling." I sat heavily in a chair, rolling my head back to rest on the rim. 

"It certain is good to see you in your body, instead of that.... that fairy wearing it," Oudin said. "She crosses her legs, which you haven't done since you were nearly six, according to Jehanne, and she's never been confrontational about a thing. Worst of all, she smiles entirely too much." 

I chuckled at Casin's discomfort with Ella. 

"But how has it gone? Are those dwarves any closer?" Oudin sat back down, leaning forward to listen to me. I lifted my head. 

"That's what I'm here for," I said grimly. "We have a lead, but it requires our going after Baba Yaga." Oudin frowned. "Yes, the fairy tale." 

"Why did that bring you here?" The general watched me intently. 

"Come with. She's dangerous. I hate to go into battle armed with only seven magical dwarves. I want someone I can trust to guard my back with a blade." 

"I'll be getting my sword then," said Oudin, standing again. He understood me. Oudin always understood me. 

I hadn't realized how much I had wanted my old friend to come with me. Everything felt much safer all of a sudden. 

"Get mine too," I said, standing. "I need to have a talk with Ella." 

Oudin nodded, asking no question. I was glad. I hated emotion. I hated the fluff of Ella's forbidden romance, and the awkwardness it caused. 

"She's in your room," a helpful voice whispered, softer than the others. 

"Much obliged," I murmured, leaving the war room. I traveled the corridors of the castle, avoiding the busiest ones. 

"Ella?" I called softly, coming to a stop outside my bedroom. There were muffled sounds beyond the door. 

"Yes?" My own voice called back. It was higher, however, and clearer. I recoiled slightly. Do I sound that way to everyone? 

"It's Snow," I said, opening the door. I stopped. 

The strangest creature I'd ever seen was sitting on my bed. She was so pale that she looked like Death herself, and it was only amplified by the pure black hair and the lips like a smear of blood. She might have been pretty, if I could judge such things. But first and foremost, she was a shock. I pitied who had to look on such a sight daily. It was much easier not to see myself; then I was just limbs and a mind, muscles and thoughts. Not a shockingly colored doll in a gown. 

"Queen Snow" said Ella. There was shock to the voice, but well covered. Good. She had been an excellent actor in my place. 

"I'm not here long," I said. "I only needed to speak with you. 

"Yes?" She looked at me happily. 

"The Huntsman," I said. The girls' eyelids flickered, but she remained still. 

"What of him?" she asked. 

"Has he... attempted anything with you?" I knew the answer. 

"I don't quite-" the girls tarted. I bit back an angry tone. She was lying to me. 

"I do not care what you and the Huntsman do," I said. "I care what the Huntsman and I do. Ensure no one knows, Ella." 

The girl hesitated before nodding. But she had hesitated. And it was just long enough. 

"Ella." My voice was cold. "Does the Huntsman know who you are?" Silence. 

"I don-" 


"It was all... so fast! And I will tell him, it's me... you..." she stuttered. 

The Beast screamed at me to rip my own throat out, to watch the blood cascade over the perfectly white skin. I had to leave. Now. 

"Tell him who you are or end it," I snapped. "Now." I left, eager to forget this side of the whole affair. Eager to go with Oudin and the dwarves and be done with the whole bloody curse. 


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