Chapter 1: Chapter One
The lack of light in the dungeon produced an environment consumed with stale air and a foul stench.
Though Belle could not see much of her prison, she could feel the layers of grime covering the stone floors. Late in the night, she could hear the rustling of bugs and rats as they finished the rotting food she had left unfinished from the day before.
She had been locked in the prison for weeks, causing her heart to grow heavy with the burden of a life she no longer lived. She had once been a princess, helping her father plan wars, dancing with knights...
She had taken so much of her life for granted. She ran away from her responsibilities so that she could sword fight. She left her needlework to the moths while she read her favorite adventure stories...
Then the Ogre Wars reached the kingdom. Everything changed then.
No matter how well the battles were planned, no matter how much money her father spent, nothing could stop the Ogres. They destroyed everything in their way.
And her home, her life, had been right in the middle of their path.
The Ogres had demolished her home, leaving nothing in tact, not even the stone walls of the castle.
But to the surprise of all, the Ogres had spared the lives of the royal family and the advisers. Belle had not, and still did not, know for sure why her life was spared.
Why her life, but not the life of her people?
However, once the Ogres had separated her from her father and transported her to a faraway dungeon, Belle began to understand what was happening.
She had been tied up and blindfolded during her journey, but Belle knew the feel of a castle. The Ogres had transported her to a dungeon in the belly of a huge palace...but Ogres do not own palaces.
They destroy kingdoms, they do not live in them.
Belle could only figure that the Ogres were working for someone, whether they were being controlled by magic or chose to aide a faraway king of their own free will, she did not know.
All Belle knew was that she was important enough to be spared the fate of becoming a meal for a hungry Ogre.
But not important enough to be spared the from the terrible confines of a dark dungeon.
All Belle knew was that she was not alone in her prison, she could hear the mournful sounds of the other prisoners at all times of the day and night. Some of them would scream. Others would cry.
Every once in a while, the reek of rotting flesh let her know that one of her fellow inmates had succumbed to the inevitable.
But, Belle did not know what had happened to her father. Or to her friends. She was sure they were not trapped in the prison with her...she would have recognized their voices.
She could only hope they were somewhere safe. It was her only thought as she fell asleep at night. It was her only thought as she ate. It was only thought that mattered.
So, it was with the weariness of a caged bird that Belle woke up on what she thought to be her sixty-second day in the dungeon.
There was a bowl of gruel and a moldy slice of bread awaiting her when she woke up. She quickly ate the bread, despite the awful taste, but left the gruel on the floor. She did not think she could stomach thin mush for the sixth day in a row.
Something was different about her sixty-second day in captivity, though. There was something new to inspect.
There was a new sound- one she knew quite well.
It was the sound of a pen scratching on paper.
When she had been a rebellious princess, locked in the castle, Belle had busied herself not only with reading, but with writing as well. She had spent many a late night listening to the sound of her writing instrument teasing the strange fabric of the paper as she wrote her own stories about daring princesses and knights in distress...
She crept along the wall to her left, where the sound seemed to be strongest. She knew nothing about the prisoner situated to her left. She had never heard the person talk. Or scream. Or cry.
She had always been curious about her fellow inmates, but never so curious as when she heard the sound of the writing.
The prisoners were not permitted to speak to one another, but Belle could not help herself," Hello?"
Her voice came out scratchy and strained, but to her luck, none of the guards heard her.
But the only reply to her question was a slight pause in the scratching of the pen.
Then the writing resumed like nothing had happened.
Belle couldn't help but feel disappointed. She had hoped to find some way to communicate with someone... or at least some way to pass the time. Sitting in the same cell day after day, with nothing to look at but the darkness and faint outline of stone walls was driving her mad...
But, Belle was a patient soul, so with a sigh of desperation, she forced herself to go back to sleep. If the other prisoner did not want to speak to her, then he didn't have to.
When she awoke a few hours later, the sun had risen outside the dungeon, shedding a slight bit of light on her surroundings. Belle had come to relate the lighter portion of the day with noontime. That was when her cage seemed to be the brightest.
Which is how, by some miracle of the noontime light, Belle happened to see the small piece of yellow paper sticking out of a tiny hole in the wall.
Her first reaction was to laugh, but she dared not let the guards notice her, so she merely smiled.
Belle gently plopped down on the stone floor and slid the paper out, wincing when it made a scratchy sound against the rock.
She searched around nervously, making sure she wasn't being watched, then, opened the folded square of paper.
There, written in a sprawling curve of letters, were the words: My name is Rumpelstiltskin. Who are you?
Belle smiled, hopelessly happy at the idea of knowing the name of one of the fellow prisoners. In her excitement, she had already planned her answer. It was only when her empty fingers touched the paper, that she realized she still had no pen. Or quill. Or pencil.
Clearing her throat, ever so lightly, she asked," Pen?"
Once again, there was no apparent response, but a second later, a black fountain pen was shoved through the hole.
Belle grinned," Thank you."
There was a grunt on the other side of the wall, which Belle could only guess was meant to shut her up. If the guards heard her, she would be forced to become quiet.
Belle considered her answer for a moment. Paper was a precious substance in the prison. As was ink. She would hate to waste both with her endless questions...
So, she wrote only: I am Belle. It is nice to have met you, Rumpelstiltskin.
Her writing looked childish next to his...but Belle was too happy to berate herself for her child-like hand. She set the note and the pen back in the hole, anxiously awaiting a response.
She listened as for a few precious minutes, she could hear the sound of the writing once more, then the note re-appeared in the hole.
She was quicker about removing it this time, and she held the pen tightly in her fist, awaiting her chance to reply once again.
I would hardly call this a nice meeting, dearie. How did you come to be in this house of nightmares?
Belle stared down at the paper, clenching and un-clenching the pen in her hand. She was at a loss for how to answer his query. How does one explain the horror of being stripped of her only family and carried to a far off land by Ogres to a complete stranger...in a few lines?
She could hear the rustle on the other side of the wall, a sound she had come to associate with the movement of old clothes against stone. It was nice to know Rumpelstiltskin was as restless as she...it was nice to know she wasn't alone in her need to talk to someone who could understand her.
I was a princess in a far off land. Ogres attacked our kingdom...destroying everything. Only my father, our loyal advisers, and myself were spared. I was separated from my only family to be brought here. I wish I knew why, but I do not. How did you come to be here?
Belle quietly slid the paper back, sniffling. Tears were pricking at her eyes, making her feel like a silly little girl. She had spent weeks being strong...she had barely made a sound until today. She hated to feel weak.
This time, the sound of the writing was sped up, as though Rumpelstiltskin was writing the note in haste. Within a minute, he had passed the letter back to her.
I am but an old and poor spinner. My only family, my son, was taken from me when I was sent here. I do not know why I was chosen for this, either, but please, do not cry Belle. You and I are ensnared in this terrible trap together. So, we shall find a way home, to our families, together. I am sure of it.
Belle smiled, using the back of her hand to wipe at her eyes. It was somehow funny to know that Rumpelstiltskin had recognized the sounds of her cries, when she had never before cried in front of him.
His kind words gave her hope, but she feared he only wrote them to alleviate her pain.
I hope you are right, Rumpelstiltskin.
She heard the thunder of boots descending the stairs into the basement, and hastily stuck the pen and paper in the hole, praying her new friend had sense enough to leave the letter alone while the guards inspected them.
But, despite her worry, Belle was smiling, now she had another thought to occupy her time. No longer would her night be spent thinking of her lost family...
Instead, she could think about Rumpelstiltskin... and his conviction that they would be able to escape.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
"She leaned close to the cold stones, worried he wasn't even awake to write her back, and said," Rumpelstiltskin?"
There was a moment of silence, then," Yes, dearie?"
Belle smiled at the sound of his melodic voice. It was deep and rough, probably from the lack of water given to them in the cells, but it was the most beautiful of sounds to her."
Conditions in the prison were worsening, but Belle hardly noticed. She distracted herself with Rumpelstiltskin's notes. They were a wonderful blessing, she knew, he told her jokes, that weren't really all that funny, but she always laughed anyway, much to the anger of the guards.
And at night, when the cries of the other prisoners were louder than ever, Belle thought about the loopy curves Rumpelstiltskin used to write her name. She had memorized his handwriting like one would memorize a face or a voice.
She hoped that one day she would be able to memorize his face and voice too, but it was becoming more evident that her hope was futile one.
Each night Belle woke to the sound of jangling keys. The guards were removing prisoners all the time now. Of course, the prisoners rarely returned, but Belle was sure they were being sent somewhere nice.
In fact, Belle didn't think they were being sent anywhere at all. They were dying, she was sure of it.
Belle only wished she knew why.
She stayed up at night, trying to think back on her life...trying to remember a time that she might have done something to make another royal hate her, but Belle didn't even recall meeting another royal.
Her father's kingdom was secluded from most other places by the Dark Forest and the mountains...the only people who had ever visited their home were merchants.
She hated to think back on her life. It made her think of her father, of his smiling face, of the home she could never return to. Even if she escaped her prison, how would she ever find her father?
The thought made her chest ache and her head pound. She had never been so afraid before. What would she do?
Belle sat up, intending to write to Rumpelstiltskin. He always knew how to quiet her fears, either with a kind word or a funny story. She knew it was selfish of her to wake him in the middle of the night, but she feared she would break down if she did not talk to him.
She sat for a moment, hoping to let her eyes adjust to the darkness of her cell. It had to be late...close to midnight, perhaps. It was hard to keep track of the time of night, but Belle knew that the guards always came to take a prisoner in the hours just before dawn.
And the guards had yet to come, so it wasn't too late.
When Belle could finally make out the vague shape of her cell, she stood and walked to the left, letting her hands slide across the squalid surface of the wall, searching for the tiny hole that housed their notes.
She kneeled on the stone floor, wishing she had memorized the location of the hole like she had memorized Rumpelstiltskin's handwriting.
Finally, her hand brushed something coarse and dry, a stark contrast to the wet and slimy stones of the wall. The paper.
She smiled and pulled the paper and pen into her cell, feeling relieved.
She leaned close to the cold stones, worried he wasn't even awake to write her back, and said," Rumpelstiltskin?"
There was a moment of silence, then," Yes, dearie?"
Belle smiled at the sound of his melodic voice. It was deep and rough, probably from the lack of water given to them in the cells, but it was the most beautiful of sounds to her.
She did not answer him, knowing it was dangerous to speak more than a few words inside the dungeon, lest the guards hear you. Instead, Belle unraveled the paper and replied with written words.
It was harder to write in complete darkness than she had expected, and Belle panicked for a moment, worried that Rumpelstiltskin would be unable to read her note.
Belle peered out to the edge of her cell. It was actually a good deal bigger than she had thought it was, but no one ever dared to sit at the edge next to the barred teeth.
She bit her lip, staring into the dim light reflected from the narrow hallway, then scooted up toward the light so she could write more legibly.
Belle had always wanted to be brave, but she never thought this would be her defining moment of courage. Life was truly unpredictable.
I'm sorry to bother you so late at night, but I couldn't sleep. I was just thinking...even if we escape, how will we ever find her our families? It will be impossible. What if we never find them?
She quickly retreated back into the darkness of her cell, slipping the note and pen back into the hole as she did.
Belle tried to ignore the goosebumps rising all over her body, but the night was growing cold, and the stones were like ice under her legs. So she curled up, leaning her head back against the wall, and listened to the sounds of Rumpelstiltskin scurrying around in his prison.
He was replying to her, she could hear the sound of his pen scratching the paper.
She smiled to herself as she curled her arms around her knees. He was the only one who could make her happy in a place as terrible as their prison.
Not a minute later, she heard him slip the paper back into the hole, and it took all of her self-restraint to stop her from snatching at the paper like a petulant child.
She once again crept into the dim light, trying to ignore the dark spots of blood that adorned the corridor.
You are never a bother, Belle. I do not sleep in this place. We shall search together, and that will make all the difference. We will find those we love, and if we do not, then we will always have each other. You might not feel as I do, Belle, but I love you. I realize that you are young and probably cannot find any interest in an old and lame spinner, but I will always feel this way about you. You have made these tortures bearable.
Belle felt her heart twitter inside her chest. Rumpelstiltskin loved her? The idea filled her with a warmth she hadn't felt since she was a little girl.
But she knew she was being ridiculous, clearly he only loved her as he would love a child. As he loved his son, perhaps.
You are the only light in this darkness, and I love you very much. However, I am confused by your feelings. Do you love me as a child? As a daughter? Or as a woman? As a woman you would wish to spend your life with? I must confess I do not love you as a father or an uncle. What I feel for you is much deeper...it is something completely different.
Belle had only just inserted her letter into the hole when she heard the footsteps. They were loud and heavy...
She scrambled further into her cage, until she was once again lying on the hard slab of her makeshift bed, scarcely breathing.
Who were they coming for this time? The steps steadily came closer, and Belle found herself shaking. What if they took him?
The one who loved her...the one she loved in return...the idea of losing him to the wretchedness of the prison guards made her stomach drop helplessly.
Belle had the sudden urge to throw up. She was making herself sick with worry for him, but she couldn't stop herself.
She hated to be weak, but when it came to him, she had no choice.
The keys jangled...but they were closer than she had thought them to be.
And that was when horror struck her, the keys weren't jingling in the lock of his cell, the guards stood outside her cell.
They were stone-faced and apathetic. One held a lantern, but it barely illuminated their faces. All Belle could see were dark lines and empty eyes...
"Are you Belle, the daughter of King Maurice?" The man's voice was monotone, and so unlike the melodic tenor of Rumpelstiltskin's accent that Belle was shocked.
It was the first voice she had heard, besides Rumpelstiltskin's, in months. And it was cruel.
But Belle was a brave soul, so she stood on shaking legs," I am."
"Then you need to come with us. If you remain docile and quiet, we will let you walk. If you try to fight us, we will be forced to drag you."
Belle smiled, despite her watering eyes," That will not be necessary, gentleman. I can walk."
She followed them into the blood stained hall; they would not see her beg.
She was a brave soul.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
"Belle could not call her beautiful in the usual sense of the word. She was dark haired, dark eyed...and darkness seemed to become a tangible feeling around her.
She was older than Belle, but she seemed timeless. Untouched by age. Belle had never met another woman like her. The Queen."
Belle could hardly keep up with the guards. They were all monstrously tall- standing somewhere between the height of a normal man and an ogre.
Belle was not a tall woman and was easily lost in the long shadows of her captors, but she kept her head high. She was royalty, even when locked away like an animal.
She had heard many of the prisoners crying and screaming as they were sent to their fate...and she was determined to be different. The Guards seemed to take note of her countenance, all of them stood at least two feet away from her at all times, they used the lanterns to illuminate her path, and they used gentle words to call her.
Still, Belle was scared of their strange monotone voices, so deep that they sounded more like a rumble of thunder than a man's pitch. She couldn't believe that they could be ordinary men. Not with their voices, height, and empty eyes.
But they treated her a lady, so she treated them as gentlemen.
They led her up a staircase, lit with dim torches. It was shaped like a spiral, and in the dim light, Belle imagined that it was probably made of pure gold. The stairs gave way to an even grander sight- a hall, lined with mirrors.
Belle had to squint to see in the bright lights of the hall, making her gasp. Her eyes burned...
The lead guard, who had spoken to her in the cell, spoke once more," It will take your eyes a moment to adjust, Lady Belle."
Belle nodded, feeling like a silly little girl. She shouldn't have gasped.
The guard turned out to be right. After a few seconds, her eyes adjusted to the light of the room, although her vision was still blurry from the change in scenery.
The mirrors were all lined with gold and silver, with the more ornate pieces bearing many jewels. Belle couldn't help but feel impressed," Your King must greatly enjoy looking at himself."
The lead guard seemed startled by her tone," Watch your tongue, m'lady. Our Queen is practiced in many arts. She uses the mirrors to watch her prisoners."
Belle's blood thinned in her veins," What? She watches us? Why?"
She felt suddenly dizzy. The Queen, her cruel captor, had watched her write letters to Rumpelstiltskin. She would torture Belle for breaking the rules, then do the same to the lame spinner.
"I am not allowed to answer that question."
Belle rolled her eyes. Whatever the Guards were, they clearly lived only to serve the queen.
"I feel sorry for you," Belle said, trying to keep her fear out of her voice. They were fast approaching a large set of golden doors. They were wider than six men and much taller than her guards. They were meant to draw attention to the wealth of her captor, obviously, and were inlaid with gems of all colors.
The guards ignored her comment, so she tried again. Having an ally in the throne room would be a great asset, if she could only make them trust her.
" To live your lives, unable to pursue your own happiness, to be forced into the service of a powerful monarch who uses you as dogs. It must be a dull way to live."
The lead guard snapped his head around, to stare at her," Whatever makes you think that we are forced?"
Despite his words, Belle could tell she'd struck a chord. All of the guards were staring at each other, looking uneasy. She could only hope she had gained their trust, not their hate.
They had reached the doors, and up close, Belle was even more astounded with the magnificence of the structure. The jewels glittered in the light, almost blinding her sensitive eyes...and at the very center of the doors was an onyx stone, easily the size of man's head.
Belle tried to keep her manner reserved, but knew she was failing. How could any kingdom afford such riches? Her father's merchant kingdom was nothing more than a shack in comparison.
The lead guard noticed her awe-struck look and smirked at her. Then, without pausing a beat, he touched his hand to the onyx stone.
It glowed for a moment, making Belle shield her eyes. Then, as if by magic, the doors swung backwards, revealing a glowing throne room.
Much like the hall, it was lined with mirrors, all of them sporting different images from around the many kingdoms. The floor was black onyx, matching the stone at the entrance.
And on the throne, which was such a deep red, Belle thought it must have been made of blood, sat a stunning woman.
Belle could not call her beautiful in the usual sense of the word. She was dark haired, dark eyed...and darkness seemed to become a tangible feeling around her.
She was older than Belle, but she seemed timeless. Untouched by age. Belle had never met another woman like her. The Queen.
The lead guard kneeled in front of her," My Queen, I have brought Belle, the daughter of King Maurice, as you asked."
The other guards pushed her forward, then kneeled like their leader. They looked terrified of the woman, but though she seemed formidable, Belle did not kneel.
She would kneel to no one.
Rumpelstiltskin could not hold himself up.
All of his hope had been stolen. It was a curse he could never escape. First, he had been taken from his village. Then, his son had been ripped from his arms.
Now, Belle, his love...the only light in the darkness, had been snatched from him.
His bad leg hit the ground first, making a thud so hollow it made his ears ache, but he did not feel the pain. He was so crushed by his own loss that physical pain couldn't harm him.
His cries were terrible. They were not the quiet tears of a man- they were uncontrollable sobs. His body shook with them...
His throat became so tight from his screams that it hurt to swallow, to breathe, and a part of him hoped he would suffocate so he could leave his misery behind.
He cried like an animal.
Rumpelstiltskin sobbed until he was too exhausted to think, until he couldn't muster enough energy to cry anymore.
"Why has this happened?" His voice sounded raspy and sick to his own ears, but it was comforting to hear something human.
Of course, he had never planned for anyone to answer his question. He had planned to die in his cell, alone and hopeless.
In spite of his plans, a deep voice drifted to him from outside the bars of his cage," The question should not be why it has happened, but what you can do to fix it, my friend."
Rumpelstiltskin scrambled to his feet, terrified.
"Who are you? Who said that?" He snapped, his limbs shaking with exhaustion and anxiety.
"Let's just say I'm an...interested third party."
The deep voice was closer this time. It sounded as thought it was coming from inside his cell.
"H...how can this be? How are you in here?" Rumpel blindly stepped backwards, searching for a wall to prop against.
"You'll find that cages mean nothing to me. Nothing can hold my magic."
"What are you?" Rumpelstiltskin asked, jumping in fear when he backed into a person, not the hard stones of the wall.
The man's face was hidden by a dark hood, but it did little to help Rumpelstiltskin's irrational fear.
"I am the Dark One, and you, Rumpelstiltskin, need my help."
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
"Belle was impressed. In all of her finery, the queen truly was a fearsome creature to behold. The longer she stood next to the woman, the more self-conscious she felt about the tattered rags which covered her.
She swallowed her feelings of inadequacy and smoothly replied,' If you would like, I'll kill the invalid myself.'"
The queen shifted in her chair, staring Belle down.
Belle kept her eyes trained on the woman, not daring to look away. To back away would be weakness, something Belle could not afford to show. She wanted to defy the queen in every possible way, but her purposes were better served to impress the cruel ruler.
As if hearing her thoughts, the queen's red-tinted lips stretched into a false smile," It is nice to finally meet you in person…I daresay you enjoyed your time in my dungeon?"
Belle clenched her teeth, attempting to hold back her angry words," It was an…enlightening experience, your highness. Unfortunately, I cannot say I found it to be enjoyable. "
The queen's smile only grew," Ah, but if I'm not mistaken, you made a friend in your prison? It couldn't have been that bad to make a friend, could it?"
Belle swallowed, hard. She wanted nothing more than to flee from the room…or perhaps to beg for the promised safety of Rumpelstiltskin, but her pride would not let her. Her father had always warned her that her pride would be her undoing.
"The lame spinner was only a friend of convenience, nothing more. I goaded him into speaking with me…I had hoped to use him as means for an escape. He meant nothing to me and knew nothing of my plots. He is an innocent peasant; you need not waste your time with him, your highness."
The queen pursed her lips and stood, waving a hand to dismiss the guards," What a pretty little speech, princess, but you could be saying it all merely to spare your friend, so it is worthless."
There was a loud thud as the guards exited, letting the heavy golden doors slam behind them. The queen stalked closer to Belle, her heels snapping against the black onyx floor. She was an imposing woman, standing several inches taller than Belle.
Belle knew the queen had only stood to intimidate her, so she raised her chin. She stared the queen right in the eyes, challenging her," If you need proof of my intent, there is a simple solution."
The queen narrowed her dark eyes," And what is the nature of this proof?" She crossed her arms over her chest, drawing attention to her attire.
She was clothed in a dress as red as an apple, but nearly every inch of the red silk was covered with perfectly shaped onyx stones.
Belle was impressed. In all of her finery, the queen truly was a fearsome creature to behold. The longer she stood next to the woman, the more self-conscious she felt about the tattered rags which covered her.
She swallowed her feelings of inadequacy and smoothly replied," If you would like, I'll kill the invalid myself."
She was proud when her voice didn't shake, but she knew it was futile. If the queen caught her bluff, they would both be doomed. Hopefully, the queen didn't understand Belle well enough to know she could never harm Rumpelstiltskin.
She loved him…even though she had never seen him, never truly touched him, she loved him dearly. He was the only thing she had and she was protecting him to the best of her ability.
The queen was quiet for a moment, staring at Belle as if she could sense her intentions, then she started to laugh.
Her laughter was a terrible sound. It was joyful, there was no doubt of that, but it was filled with joy for the wrong reasons. It was the kind of laugh that made Belle want to scream.
It reminded her of the laugh of an Ogre when he killed someone new…
The queen clapped her hands," Well, you are certainly steelier than I thought. I've always believed that the world is home to two kinds of people: wolves and sheep."
The queen paused as she examined her pointed nails," Up until I saw you walk through that door…I was sure you were the latter."
Belle said nothing, instead she just watched as the queen circled around her.
"But now that I know the truth, I'd like to make a proposition," She turned to face Belle, expectantly," I know you were bluffing about killing the spinner, but the fact that you would dare to lie to me is proof enough that you are just what I am looking for."
"And what exactly are you looking for, your majesty?" Belle asked, trying to keep the curiosity from her voice. She failed, of course, Belle wanted to know everything she could…
And the queen's interest in someone as her was unbelievable, was it so bad to want to know why? To want to hear the proposition?
"I have to be away from my kingdom often…and I've been needing someone trustworthy to stay and look after things for me. The few times I have left my palace in the hands of the guards…I've come back to disastrous circumstances. I need someone who is intelligent, someone who is cunning…someone who is strong enough to run a kingdom. You are all of those things, I believe."
Belle nodded, hesitantly.
"However, there is one other thing that is needed to make you eligible for this position."
Belle frowned," I do not understand what you're getting at."
The queen rolled her eyes, exasperated," Don't be stupid, Belle. Why do you think I locked you up in my dungeon?"
"I can only imagine that you thought me to be some sort of threat, your highness," Belle replied, coolly," but I cannot imagine why, I have nothing that could challenge you."
"That is where you are wrong," the Queen snapped," As I'm sure my guards told you, I am very adept in the magical arts and mirror divining is my…specialty. With my ability, I have been able to capture and contain every person of magical importance before they've even discovered it."
Belle was shocked," You…you were able to discover all of those who could…one day become a threat to you by looking into mirrors…"
The queen laughed again," Don't look so surprised. I am the most powerful enchantress in all of the land; of course I took precautions against those who could harm me. You have magical ability, and I am in need of an apprentice."
"But why would you trust someone like me? You just said that I was only locked up because one day I could become a threat to you." Belle protested.
"It is a simple. Magic is binding, once you agree to become my apprentice, you will be unable to harm me with magic."
"And why would I agree to something like this?" Belle demanded," Do you honestly think me capable of being bought through promise of magic?"
"The positives to this deal far outweigh the negatives, my dear. With your agreement to apprenticeship, you will be untouched by time; you will be protected by my magic. If you don't agree, I will kill you."
Belle shook her head," I'd rather die than sign my life away to you."
The queen smirked," Perhaps, but would you rather Rumpelstiltskin die for your freedom? That can be arranged."
Belle froze, studying the evil queen. She wasn't bluffing. Why would she care about the death of one of her prisoners?
"Will you become my apprentice?"
Belle treasured her freedom…and her hatred for the queen was stronger than anything she had ever felt before, but she couldn't let him die for her.
She had always believed that doing the brave thing would make her brave…Belle could only hope that she was right.
" I will."
Rumpelstiltskin shook desperately as he backed against the stone walls of his cage," I..I don't want your help! Leave me be!"
The Dark One cackled loudly," Leave you be? You mean leave you to rot in this cell? Leave you as the cowardly fool you are?"
The Dark One towered above Rumpel, and the lame spinner could do nothing more than cry and shake, like a frightened animal. He hated his weakness…and in that moment the idea of sinking straight into the ground was more appealing than listening to the demon in front of him.
"Please, I don't want you to help me. I am but a lame spinner…please!"
The Dark One made a sound of disgust," Pleading will not deter me, Rumpelstiltskin! When two people have something they want, a deal can always be struck."
The demon pulled Rumpel away from the wall, rougher than he needed to, then growled," So name it. What do you want, Spindleshanks?"
"I-I nothing. I want to be left alone! I have lost everything! Nothing can bring back the things I have lost…"
"That is not true. The woman you love can still be saved. Your son is still alive. I am cursed with a great power, one that allows me to do whatever I want. My power can save those you love and set you free. No longer would you be a coward."
Rumpelstiltskin gaped up at the Dark One," You would help me?"
The Dark One hissed," I will not help you, but I will offer you a deal. You can have my power, all of it, if you do one thing."
"What? I'll do anything! Anything to save Belle."
A knife appeared in the demon's outstretched hand," This dagger holds my power. If you run this threw my heart, it will all belong to you."
He placed the dagger in Rumpelstiltskin's hand.
Rumpelstiltskin stared longingly at the dagger for only a moment, then plunged it into the Dark One's chest, knocking them both to the ground.
In the dim light of the room, he watched as the dark magic left the demon before him...and enveloped him.
The dagger now bore his name. Rumpelstiltskin.
And he could feel the magic flowing through his veins. He was powerful, but there was something else.
Something dark...the compulsion to kill. Even the idea of hurting those around him filled him with a dark joy unlike anything he had felt before.
"What's happening to me?"
With one last breath, the former Dark One grinned at the one who had taken his place," You are cursed with a magic so dark that it will still your humanity. You just made a deal you couldn't understand. All magic comes with a price."
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
"But he also knew that the power was corrupting. He could do anything. With just a thought, he could turn someone into an insignificant speck. He could turn the bars of his cage into water.
He could kill the beasts who had taken Belle away. He could kill any Ogre with the snap of his finger. More importantly, he could find Bae."
I'm also terribly sorry for my grammar mistake at the end of the previous chapter. ( I wrote still, it should have been steal.) I promise I know the difference, I just wasn't paying attention.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rumpelstiltskin's resolve to find Belle had faded to the back of his mind, replaced by an obsession to understand the Dark One's dying words.
He still cared for her as much as ever, but with his new power, he knew he had no reason to be in a hurry. He could sense she was in no immediate danger.
It was a strange power. And he could do so much more, he was sure, but in that moment, the only power he wanted was to be able to understand the nature of the very power he had come to possess.
The Dark One had said that his new power would steal his humanity, but Rumpelstiltskin still felt human.
But he also knew that the power was corrupting. He could do anything. With just a thought, he could turn someone into an insignificant speck. He could turn the bars of his cage into water.
He could kill the beasts who had taken Belle away. He could kill any Ogre with the snap of his finger. More importantly, he could find Bae.
The power was a wonderful thing. With but a thought, he was clean of all grime. With a few whispers, his rags had turned into leather with expensive fur trims.
But in the dim light of the prison, he could see the change the curse had caused his body.
His skin was no longer human...it was rough like scales. The scales were green and gray and much darker than the human skin he was used to.
He studied the scales with a morbid fascination. How could a covering so beastly hold such power?
He flexed his leg, the one he had injured in his youth, but he felt no pain. It seemed he no longer suffered from human ailments.
With a cackle, he abandoned the old Dark One's deathbed. He had been a stupid fool to hate the power. It made him strong. It gave him the ability to save those he loved.
The bars of his cage melted into water, but Rumpelstiltskin could barely feel the cool drops when they hit his new skin.
When he reached the dimly lit hall, he waved his hand. Tiny orbs of light stretched down the hall, illuminating the cesspool of weak human prisoners.
Most of them cowered in corners, shielding their eyes from light. Rumpelstiltskin knew that had he still been human, he would done the same.
Some stood at the edge of their cell's and reached through the bars with needy hands.
Rumpelstiltskin stared at them all. He knew they were all nothing but waste. Wasted humans, as he had been. They could do nothing. They meant nothing to the world.
But a part of him was repulsed by those very thoughts. He knew that he was still human, at least until he stopped acting like it.
How long did he have before that happened?
With another dramatic wave of his hand, all of the bars in the dungeon became water. The room was filled with gasps and screams and laughter, but he quickly called upon his new power, vanishing in a flash of light.
He had a damsel to save, but he was no prince charming.
Belle was standing alone in the Hall of Mirrors. It was the only place in her new home that she felt comforted.
She could be alone in her thoughts without truly being alone. She could stare into one mirror and see a dozen different images of herself- a dozen different images of the girl who had chosen to bind herself to a cruel witch.
It was a pretty image on the outside. She looked as she always had. The Queen had even conjured a dress made of gold. She had returned Belle to the pretty princess she had been for so long.
But Belle wanted nothing more than to return to the dungeon, to return to writing notes to Rumpelstiltskin.
She focused her attention on the mirror before her. The glass was simple and smooth, so she reached out a hand to feel the strange texture of the glass.
But when she did, something else caught her eye.
A shape, clouded neatly by a mist of green and gray had appeared behind her. With a gasp, Belle spun around, expecting the cloud to become the queen, but it didn't.
Instead, the cloud became a man. A strange man, with skin the color of a dragon's scales and eyes that were clouded and wrong.
His skin caught the light and glittered a brilliant gold that was reflected in all of the mirrors," Belle."
He reached for Belle as he spoke, looking both relieved and forlorn that he had found her.
"Rumpelstiltskin?" Belle asked, her voice breaking. She wanted nothing more than to run into his arms, but something was holding her back. Though, she had never seen him before, there was a different feeling around him now.
Before, she had known he was human. Vulnerable. Now, things had changed.
He nodded, searching her face," It is me."
He dropped his hand, but Belle leaned forward and caught it. Instead of human flesh and nails, it was now more like a claw.
Instead of asking the obvious questions, Belle flung herself into his arms," It is you!"
Rumpelstiltskin staggered backward at first, not expecting the sudden movement, but when Belle buried her face in his chest, he relaxed.
When she finally pulled away, he was the first to speak," Belle, I know I look-"
"Different," Belle suggested, smiling slightly," I kind of like it...it's very-"
"Beastly," Rumpel clarified, scowling," Do not lie to me, Belle. I look like a monster. I am a monster."
Belle frowned," What are you talking about? You're not a monster."
She caressed the rough skin of his face, lightly brushing her fingertips over the glittering scales, but he pulled away.
"You don't understand...I am cursed. I am powerful beyond any measure, but it has marred me. You deserve someone-"
"Who loves me, I deserve someone who loves me. I deserve someone who I can talk to. I deserve someone who I love!" Belle cut in, moving closer to him," Even if you think I'd rather have someone else, even if you think you are not worthy, it cannot change the fact that I need you."
Rumpelstiltskin eyed her warily," You do not need me."
"I gave up my freedom for you!" Belle protested," I'd do it again and again, just to show you how much I need you."
He froze," You did what?" He could feel the powers of the Dark One flooding into him. He stalked closer to her, until he could seize her by the shoulders, holding her perfectly still.
" I-I am the queen's apprentice. She offered me a deal I couldn't refuse," Belle floundered, struggling to remove herself from Rumpelstiltskin's grip.
He released her suddenly," Why? What could she have possibly offered you? Your safety? Life in a castle? A new dress?" His voice was high pitched and inhuman. It sounded almost like a goblin, like a mischievous and malicious creature...
Belle was stony faced," You've changed."
He laughed," I tried to tell you! It's the curse...it has changed me, it's filled my soul with darkness."
"How? Who has cursed you?" Belle asked, and though her face remained stony, he could see the glint of un-shed tears in her eyes.
"No one cursed me, dearie. I killed the Dark One, I brought the curse upon myself," He sounded bitter," So that I could save you. So that I could find my son."
Belle could hear his regret, but she couldn't pretend that his curse didn't scare her. It was daunting. It was terrifying to see someone so kind-hearted turned into something evil.
She couldn't tell him that. She cared for him, despite the curse. Under all of the evil...she knew he was the same person. She could not have loved him if his soul no longer contained any good at all.
" Curses can broken, Rumpelstiltskin," She whispered," We'll find a way to break it."
" Don't you understand? I don't want the curse to be broken! At least, not yet. I need my power to find Baelfire. Just like you need to learn magic...so you can find your father."
"That's not why I chose this!" Belle replied, coolly," And if you do not want to be rid of your curse, what do you want?"
Rumpel was quiet, he tore his gaze away from Belle to stare at his strange reflection in the mirror. He was a beast.
"I want only to find my son. Then, I can find you, and we can lift my curse. Then we can be together."
Belle stared at his reflection too, but she didn't see the cruel face of a beast, she saw the face of a man.
"Then do what you want, Rumpelstiltskin. Don't let me stop you."
She turned away from him.
"What do you want, Belle?" He whispered. Although he was several feet away from her, it sounded like he was just behind her.
"I just want you to be happy," she lied. She did want him to be happy, but she also wanted him to stay with her.
"You make me happy. You could...come with me?" He sounded so hopeful, Belle couldn't bare to turn around. She didn't want to see his disappointment when she explained the terms of her deal to him.
"The terms of my deal were specific. I cannot leave the queen's castle unless she wishes me too. I am sorry." Her voice was breaking. She tried to keep the tears silent, she hoped he couldn't see how he affected her.
" I see."
There was a terse silence, then Belle said," I will wait for you, Rumpelstiltskin. When you find your son, I'll be here."
Belle heard only the sound of his footfalls in response.
She spun around," She told me she'd kill you if I didn't agree to her deal."
Rumpelstiltskin paused, as if he wanted to say something more, then turned and kept walking.
A/N Yes...angst! Lots of angst! Sorry, but you knew it was coming...Rumbelle is an angsty couple. Don't worry though, there's more yet to happen. Also, I'm curious about something, so if you have time, could you guys give me your opinion on the following question?
For a girl who's only seventeen years old, how is my writing? I am curious to know how my style and ability is in comparison to others my age. Let me know? :)