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.


19. Chapter 8

When I woke the next morning, the sea was gone. 

I froze at the head of the table, staring at where the grey ocean had been. Now there was only a plain of mud, a brown expanse as far as I could see through the window. A sun shone palely through the murky clouds, showing the boats sitting in the harbor, hulls muddy. 

"Good morning, Snow!" said Bandeleck cheerfully from his seat at the table, where his orange robes were mostly obscured by a potted pant. 

"Where did the water go?" Snow looked from the dwarf back up to the missing water, wondering what magic had happened there. Did a spell go wrong? Did Crospaltine have some charm to suck up water? 

"Well, the tide of course." Bandeleck gave her a confused smile from between the green leaves. 

"Tide?" Snow had heard of tides, but she had never expected one to take away as much ocean as could fit into a lake. It seemed as though nothing was left. 

"It might be a bit more extreme here than other bits of ocean," Bandeleck admitted. "But it'll be back by midday." 

Snow shook her head and sat down. "I don't think I'm fond of oceans," she muttered. 

"I couldn't' live without one," said Bandeleck. "None of us could. Dwarves are too fond of water." 

"Sirens and grindylows and the whole thing moving away for half the day... I prefer a mountain," Snow said. A mountain never changed. 

Bandeleck gave a shrug before returning to what he was doing, which appeared to be charming the potted bean plant to grow. Snow watched him concentrate on the task at hand, noting his very bored expression. 

After five minutes or so---in which the plant had gained an impressive foot or so in height--the dwarf sighed. "The least useful one here..." 

Snow shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "I'm sure that can't be true," she offered. "The evil queen used spells and she was pretty damn hard to stop." 

"Bah," said Bandeleck. "Spells are god in a fight. But there aren't many of those up here. Day-to-day, you want someone like Oklaflay. Nothing I put a spell on stays for longer than I can hold it. I can't produce anything or even work for much longer than that at a time." 

I grimaced. "You're still more useful than I would be here." 

"I'm usually just told to clean something," said Bandeleck glumly. 

He should be told to clean things more often, I thought. 
"Where are the others anyhow?" I asked. There were only the two of us in the cottage. 

"Looking for answers," he said. "Rumple and Talminage couldn't find any sort of solution to your curse in their books, so they left me to guard you while they went off for more information." 

"How useful of you," I said honestly. "What do they know about it?" 


Bandeleck moved the potted bean plant aside eagerly. "Less than we thought. It originated about two hundred years ago. All we really know is it came from someone in the Family." 

"Well, yes," I said, disappointed in just how little they knew. "He took it from his daughter. But Bandeleck shook his head. 

"Not that sort of family. But... well, in any case, they're preparing to go see him. The Assassin. They need to inquire more about it." 

I straightened. "They haven't left yet, have they?" 

Bandeleck looked at me in surprise. 

"No, I don't think so." 

"I'd like to go with them." 

Bandeleck tilted his head. "Are you certain that's wise? Crospaltine hasn't really got a charm for damping things that can be transported yet..." 

"I'll manage the bast just fine," I promised. 

He hesitated, then nodded. "I'll make certain you go with them," he promised. 

I wasn't entirely certain as to why I wanted to go so badly. History and stereotype dictated that I must still love the Assassin, an long to be with him. Logic permitted me to be sensible, and that I only wanted a hand in my own fate. 

I thought it would be safe to say that I no longer loved the Assassin. I felt a sadness still. Rejection, however indirect, had left a bruise, and we had shared a spark in common. Never truly being like others around us, having a hardness. We had shared an enemy, a cause. 

I had thought there would be something there that I could not find in others. But i was no longer certain that whatever affections I had for the Assassin would take the curse from him should I try it now. 

In any case, I did have a curiosity for the origin of the curse. I was far from a naturally scholarly or curious person, but no one could have such a strange thing mumbling and murmuring and  screaming in their head every day and not wonder at least a little. 

An hour or so later, the other dwarves had returned to the cottage. Tandemore in particular was concerned about the Beast, but I assured them i could control it. We would not be there for long. 

The party would be Rumplestiltskin, Talminage, Tandemore, myself and Crospaltine, aided by some ancient artifact to take us there and send us back. 

"And please, Snow," said Tandemore gently. "Simply tell us if you need to return. Of anyone, the Assassin and his wife will understand. 

I gave him a smile. "I don't believe embarrassment or ridicule has ever prevented me from  doing what I thought was right." He nodded to me, and then to Crospaltine, and the cottage vanished. 

Then we were standing in the entrance to the Assassin's fortress. 

The fortress was of a far smaller size than any of the Four Kingdoms--smaller than the intimidating exterior made it appear. Not entirely unlike the Assassin and his character. 

"Hello?" Snow called. 

"You should have set us outside," Talminage said. Crospaltine apologized, putting away his amulet. 

"Snow?" The voice was not the Assassin's, but belle's. The voices quickly informed me that the Assassin was several rooms away, that they had been cleaning, and that I should kill Belle. 

"Hello, Belle." 

The former princess looked at me, surrounded bythree brightly colored dwarves. I nearly chuckled, realizing what a sight we must have made. 

"Can I help you?" She stood in the doorway. Her tan skin had dirt and dust all over it,and there were shreds of fabric in her dark, cloud-like hair. 

"We need to speak with the Assassin," said Talminage brusquely. "The family." 

"I'm the only family he has," Belle said. "now, at least." 

The voices informed me that the Assassin was drawing near. I looked over Belle's shoulder to see him standing behind her, unhooded. He nodded to me. 

"Not the fat family, Belle," he said. She turned to face him. 

"She's remembering strange thing he said anything for family to the Huntsman.," the voices chattered. 

"Is he a part of it too?" I asked. "The Huntsman, the Assassin..." I felt asinine for not seeing it sooner. The Assassin nodded, face deadly serious. 

"I think," said Tandemore. "That we should all sit down." 

It was Rumplestiltskin who lead the conversation. Belle, the Assassin, the dwarves and I were all seated in a parlor-like room that was in terrible shape. It was nearly as bad as the dwarves' cottage. 

"-and so we need to know more about how the curse originated," said Rumple. 

The Assassin studied me carefully, and the voices told me that he wanted to put off telling the curse's origin. "When did you stop losing control?" 

"He got stronger and stronger up until three days ago, when he nearly had me massacre everyone at a ball," I said. 

I knew he was thinking of how it was the opposite of him, where he'd lost all control then slowly gained it. After a moment, he turned to Rumple. "It's not my favorite story to share." 

I found myself watching Belle. How much--or how little--did she know? Would she sit there pitying her husband because he had to relive nightmares? Or would she be learning things about him for the first time? A bitter sliver in my heart, still disappointed in losing such a practical romance--noted how unconventional their romance was. The Assassin had taken Belle as a servant, and now she watched him with such love in her eyes that I found myself saddened. Or perhaps wistful. There was something to that look, something that I wanted sharply. 

"Two and a half centuries ago," said the Assassin. "There was a woman that we simply called the Grandmother. She was small, save for her nose, and wise, safe for her greed.She had magic. Curses. Rumplestiltskin." 

"You speak the old language," noted Talminage. 

"The Grandmother did, and we were her pupils. At the inception of the family, there were five. The Assassin, the Thief, the Physician, the blank and the Rider," he said. "We were exactly what our names were, sold out to others at the Grandmother's bidding. We had no qualms. There were none better or better treated than us." 

He paused. "I was surprised to see the Huntsman. We had never planned on lasting more than a generation. I had thought myself to be the last of them. The last of us. The Grandmother didn't want us to spend time on anything other than our jobs, including having families. But the Rider and I... we broke that rule." He cast a quick glance at Belle, but the girl had to of known he had a family previously. "When she died in childbirth, the Grandmother ordered that our daughter take her place. I had no objections. Rider had been a Currier, sending messages all over the world. What child wouldn't love adventure?"

He smiled. "And she did love adventure. She was never not exploring. Poking into cupboards and snake's nests and the Thief's things." I could see Talminage growing impatient at the time that the Assassin was taking with his story. 

"When she was nearly fifteen years of age, I sent her to see the Grandmother for her assignment. It was nothing unusual. She knew the woods well, with all the time she had spent there. But she was taking far too long. I knew something was right. I went to see, to find her, and she was in the village. Doing things no girl should ever do."

Tears were dropping from his chin at this point in the story, and Talminage held his peace. 

"Her hood used to be white. The Physician had made it for her when she was just a little girl. But by the time I got there, it was stained red with all the blood. So I ... I knew what it was. I took it from her. She didn't know what she was doing. I an. I think I ran. I tried to run, so I didn't kill her. I prayed later, when I had some mind back, that whichever of the others found her would tell her I had done it. No one wants the Beast's burden for the whole of their life." 

"And how did you know what the curse was?" asked Talminage. "Where did she get it from?" 

The Assassin looked up, his eyes rimmed with pink. "The Grandmother had more than just us five," he explained, voice husky like grain rustling in a field. "She had three that she had not told us of. Each cursed in their own way. One had the Beast." 

I looked up at him, frowning. "The Grandmother. Three guardians. The grandmother is the translation of..." 

"Baba Yaga," said Belle, eyes widening. "The three guardians!' 

The Assassin frowned. "Who?" 

"It's a tale told to children," his wife explained. "Baba Yaga is a lady who lives in a house with the feet of chicken, and she's guarded by three creatures." 

The Assassin gaped. "Well, I had intended to leave out the bit about the house's mode of transportation, but... how could anyone know that? She was so secretive." 

"The guardians were black as midnight, white as the day, and... red as the sun, yes?" I asked. 

"The Day, and Bright as such," murmured Tandemore. "The Sun, and Red as such. The Night, and Black as such." 

The Assassin shook his head. "I don't know about colors. But the Grandmother used her magic to curse the three. I... I don't truly know how Rider got the curse from the poor fellow with the Beast. Unless... but she was only fifteen." He sighed, rubbing his face. "Perhaps a life of adventure was not enough. The company of adults can grow wearisome." He drifted off, lost in thought about his long-dead daughter. 

Talminage studied the Assassin, looking thoughtful. 

"Then I believe I know how to break this curse. Or have a lead, at least" 

Belle looked between them. "This curse. How powerful is it?" 

Talminage regarded her gravely. "I doubt I have seen one stronger, Princess Belle." 

"Then if the legends are as true as they have proven, there are two more curses just as powerful." She said. "This curse... that voice. It's red as blood. As the sun." 

The Assassin looked at her. "You want to find two more curses?" 

Belle shook her head. "If this one can be broken, we should break the others. Who knows what they may do to the poor souls under them?" 

Talminage thanked them for their time, and Crospaltine took us away. But not before I saw the Assassin kiss Belle, overcome with her overflowing love. 


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