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.


13. Chapter 2

In the moments between seeing the Red Castle and seeing the dusty interior of a small cottage, I had done nothing more than blink. The transition was instantaneous and shocking.

My first thought was that it would be a marvelous way to transport troops-- no more struggling with supply wagons or putting up with the hundreds of complaints a soldier could think up.

"Now for the really hard work," mumbled Rumplestiltskin, walking past me to a dirty white door. He opened it, giving a brief glimpse of a grassy hard and trees. I could hear sea gulls squawking loudly in the distance.

We've traveled a long ways from the Red Kingdom if I can hear gulls, I thought.

"What does that hard work entail?" I asked. Rumplestiltskin spun in the doorframe to face me, his yellow robes swinging around him.

"You are going to stay put until I return, he said. The door shut with a smack.

I looked around me at the new surroundings. I was in a small cottage, brightened only by the dim light filtering through the windows by the door and on the adjacent wall. Those looked out to a grey sea, covered by a sky of a slightly brighter grey. On either side of that wall were alcoves. The one set into the wall with the front door housed a stove and two chairs, while the one opposite seemed to hold items of magical import. That wall was lined with shelves of broken and dusty crockery.

The other side of the shelved wall opened up to a stairwell and a filthy kitchen, as well as a back door. The final wall had another door, one that could cause quite a jam if opened at the same time as the front door.

The middle of the room was filled with a massive wooden table, lined with worn and broken wicker-back chairs. With nothing else to do, I sat down in the safest looking one, leaning on the wrinkled tablecloth that had endured many moth seasons.

It could be a cozy home, no doubt, if it underwent a bit of upkeep. A clock ticked unseen, either up the stairs or in the kitchen that I'd not quite dared to investigate.

I sat there several moments before there were footsteps on the stairs. I turned in my seat to see a dwarf, not unlike Rumplestjiltski, but clad entirely in green. He was just shorter than the thin metal handrail, yawning as he made his way down. He was also covered in ink stains and blotches of something orange.

He reached the final step then stopped, eyes having landed on the guest sitting at his table.

"Who are YOU?"

"I'm Queen Snow of the White Kingdom," I replied, wondering if it was wise response. The dwarf merely laughed.

"What? So we're having tea with the queen now, are we/" He whipped a blotch of the orange stuff off his cheek.

"If you have some tea, I wouldn't turn it down," I said. Actually, I would have preferred something stronger. "It's been a heck of a night for me. Rude guests, nasty beasts, and strange dwarves." I glanced at the door. "And Rupmlestiltskin's been gone some time now."

"I should have known this would be Rumple's doing," sighed the dwarf. He turned into the kitchen, then returned a little later with two cups of steaming tea.

"Thank you," I said, relieving him of one of the massive mugs. He grunted in response.

"So why did Rumplestiltskin bring you home?" He asked, sitting beside me. "That's odd, even for him."

"He said this particular curse would take studying to break," I answered, taking a gulp of the tea. It tasted unlike any I'd had before.

The dwarf shook his head. "I won't be much of a help with curses. I bet he's off to find Tandemore. He might e of use." He took a large gulp of the tea, leaving a stain on the lip of the cup.

"Just who are you?" I asked. I hadn't realized there were others like Rumplestiltskin.

"I'm Oklafaly. Translated, it means... eh, alchemist." He nodded, satisfied with his explanation. I wondered if his name was a part of why he wouldn't help with my curse. Did he--and this Tandemore--have a different sort of magic than Rumplestiltskin? I was looking forward to an explanation when he returned.

But we sat for even longer, till the cups were emptied and cold. Oklaflay didn't seem interested in leaving me alone, but neither was he interested in any sort of conversation. That was fine by me.

Finally, the door opened with a salty breeze. The sun had begun to set behind the thick wall of cloud in the sky, making it even darker in the cottage. Oklaflay had gotten up at one point to turn the stove up higher, letting in a bit of firelight.

"Rumple!" called Oklaflay. "How about warning us next time you bring one over, eh?"

"No time," said Rumplestiltskin, shaking off his yellow robes. "Did you see that curse, Flay?"

Oklaflay inspected me. "I'm not an expert on curses, but she did say it'd take a while. What sort is it And did you get Talminage? He might be of more use than Tandemore."

Rumplestiltskin wiped off his muddy shoes on the floor as two dwarves came in after. One was dressed in blue, and the other in purple. "Yeah. I wanted Crospaltine too, but he's off on one of YOUR errands." The other dwarves tossed their muddy things to the floor and sat down.

"I would like an explanation now," I said, a little stonily.

"Right. Magic," said Rumplestiltskin. "I take care of curses, but there's not really an anti-curse curse. So I got Talminage." He said, pointing at the purple-clad dwarf. "He's my opposite. I suppose Talminage would translate as..." he looked helplessly at the others.

"Necromancy?" suggested the dwarf in blue. Rumplestiltskin shrugged.

"It's as good a human word as any," he said.

"You raise the dead?" I asked, horrified. Not even the tales of the worst villains, such as Baba Yaga, would dare do such a thing. Even witches fear for their souls.

"Clergy and Curses no!" said Talminage. "I'm the opposite of Rumplestiltskin. Curses inflict magic that's semi-permanent, you could say. It stays there until shifted. Whereas I take magic AWAY from things to be inflicted elsewhere."

"Speaking of which," interrupted Oklaflay. "Crospaltine wants you to put the magic back in his ruby amulet." Talminage waved a hand dismissively.

"I'll deal with that later. Now, Snow. How long have you had this curse?" He sat at the table, and the others followed suit. They didn't seem in the least worried about the chairs collapsing beneath them.

"Two, three weeks?" I said. Talminage was inspecting me carefully, reading this curse, I suppose. 

"And you realize that it'll shift with just a kiss? Of someone who loves you?"

"No one loves me enough for that," I responded.

Talminage looked horrified. "That's impossible!"

"No one's voice stopped the curse's voices," I said. Oh, those voices. They were quieter and more manageable than they had been during the ball, but they still spat out every detail and every movement of the dwarves in the room. Anything outside felt strangely muted.

"What do you mean?" ventured Talminage, leaning forward.

"When the previous owner, the Assassin, had this curse, whenever the girl who loved him spoke, the voices... went away..." I frowned as well. Why did my voice not stop the voices for him, then?

"That girl must have been Dedenfell," hissed a blue dwarf, who had been silent sof ar. "It had nothign to do with love, stopping the voices."

Oklaflay looked very grim. "Tandemore, we can't jump to conclusions. Let's stay on teh matter at hand." The dwarves nodded ina greement.

"It was Belle's magic, not her love," I mumbled. That meant Jehanne, Casino r Oudin very well could have broken the curse, yet I'd left them feeling like they didn't love me.

Talminage gave a heavy sigh. "So this little affair is over. You can go get kissed by whomever loves you, and we find-"

"No," I said firmly. "I don't want the curse shifted. I want it GONE."

"That's powerful magic. Magic we haven't seen in years, or may not have seen at all," said Rumplestiltskin.

"That," I said. "Was our deal. No one else will suffer this blasted beast."

Talminage looked at Rumplestiltskin. Tandemore nodded, blue hood flopping.

"We'll do what we can," said Rumplestiltskin. "But you cannot leave, and you need to..."

"NOT be in the way," grumbled Oklaflay.

"Deal," I said. "But I want to know everything you're thinking and doing."

"You're a warrior, not a scholar," scoffed Rumplestiltskin. "And this is... complicated."

"I can learn."

"We said NOT in the way," Oklaflay said.

Talminage nodded. "I will teach her."

"You'll be busy, Tal," Rumplestiltskin countered.

"I will not be," said Tandemore. "Either my magic works or it does not."

"What is your magic?" I asked. "Rumplestiltskin means curse, Oklaflay alchemy, Talminage... well, not Necromancy, but something like it. What is Tandemore?"

Tandemore smiled. "It will not be so hard to teach her, I think." 

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