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Seven for a Secret

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1. The Legend of East Kingdom

She was given until midnight to capture the prince's heart.

When her fairy godmother appeared, Cinderella had been full of despair, wondering if there was any chance of her dreams coming true. She had been trodden upon for so long that she didn't know if it was possible for her to get back up after this latest, greatest disappointment. She had always believed that hard work and a positive attitude would help things end happily, but she was running out of hope.

Then, like magic, a grandmotherly figure draped in blue appeared, a smile on her face as she began to work wonders with a wave of her wand. She promised Cinderella the chance to go to the ball.

But there was a catch.

“All magic has a price, dear,” her fairy godmother said. “Are you willing to pay what it demands?”

“I don't have anything...”Cinderella replied hesitantly.

“The magic will take what it wants from you,” her fairy godmother told her. “But only if you fail.”

Cinderella didn't believe things could get any worse than they already were. She was tired of always being told “no,” of always forcing herself to smile even when she wanted to cry about how unfair her life was. She was tired of always being kind, because kindness was wasted on people like her stepsisters and stepmother. Cinderella was tired of it all, and just for once she wanted to have something for herself. Surely the price couldn't be more than she could afford.

She smiled and agreed to accept whatever happened, not understanding what she was agreeing to. She didn't think to ask what would happen if she failed.

Later, a legend grew in a small town far to the east of the kingdom, in a village that once skirted the former capital city, which had long since fallen into ruins. Young women knew better than to venture out on their own because it was not safe to travel alone.

Nobody knew for certain what it was that hunted them, but there were stories. They claimed a woman rode in a coach made of a pumpkin, drawn by a team of rats with a cur as the footman. Sitting in the driver's seat was an old nag, twisted yellow teeth bared in a grin as the carriage raced along at impossible speeds, driving straight for the girl unlucky enough to be caught alone. There were no descriptions of what the passenger looked like, because no one who had ever seen her survived. A couple – those who made the closest escapes, those who had almost been taken – claimed to hear a creaking woman's voice singing about dreams.

Everyone knew someone who had barely survived, or had a distant relative who hadn't made it. Stepping off the path was useless, because the carriage would not be thrown off course, and didn't need paved roads to move. A girl could try to run, but she would have to be lucky to escape. Only crossing over water would keep the monstrous apparition at bay.

The wives-tales always carried the same advice. If a girl should be so unfortunate as to encounter the midnight carriage, the only thing to do was remove her shoes and pitch them in opposite directions. The carriage would wheel back and track the shoes down, and the footman would leave the carriage to fetch the footwear. The pause could create just enough time for a would-be victim to cross a river or stream and make her way home.

If not.... well, the bodies of those the carriage caught were always found the next day... without their heads.


2. Leashed

There were some days when it was too much to get out of bed.

For as long as she could remember, Rapunzel had struggled to perform the duties of daily living. She had vague memories of being able to play, but nowadays she was weighed down by the weight of the world, barely able to move. Mother visited her every day, bringing food and helping her dress, because Rapunzel was unable to do even the simplest task by herself.

She was tethered to the ground by her hair. Sitting up was a fight against herself in the most literal sense.

Her hair grew so fast that she couldn't keep up with it. Sometimes it felt like she blinked, and suddenly there was another foot of hair to contend with. She didn't know it wasn't common for people to have hair that would gain an inch a day, since she didn't have anyone to compare herself to except Mother, and Mother always looked the same.

Once a year, she would drag herself over to the window to stare out at the lights that appeared on her birthday, wishing she was as free to drift away. There were times when she wanted to give up, to chop off the glorious healing hair that Mother claimed she needed to protect. She wanted to stand up, to go outside and meet people.

There was nothing sharp enough in the tower to make that fantasy a reality. Mother was too cautious.

Once, the day after her fifteenth birthday, she tried to pull her hair out of her scalp strand by strand, but it would not break. Mother had been correct about how magical her hair was.

Rapunzel was a tiny thing, and her hair was anything but, heavy in a way she couldn't describe. Lying down all day wasn't healthy, but neither was trying to move her slender neck when hundreds of pounds pulled down upon it. Sometimes she felt like her neck would snap if she moved too suddenly.

The constant headaches her hair caused were only alleviated by the medicines her mother brought. It became their final act of togetherness, with Gothel mixing Rapunzel a soothing draught to help her sleep and dream. Those days, she didn't bother to try to do anything, since it was more pleasant to sleep.

Then one day, Mother never came.

It took Rapunzel a while to figure out that Mother was late. Time was a funny thing, especially since Mother had begun to give her medicine for the headaches. Hours slipped by, unmarked, and she would open her eyes to find time had passed without her awareness.

Approximately two days passed before she recognized that Mother wasn't coming. Her bladder burned, and she whimpered as she tried to wait just a little longer. Finally, she had to give into the inevitable, and wet herself. She couldn't make it to the chamberpot on her own.

Humiliated, she was trapped in her own filth, unable to do anything except weep. It had been months since she had risen on her own, and to her horror she found she could not manage to sit up without assistance. Without Mother, there was literally nothing she could do to save herself. All she could do was wait and wonder what had happened to prevent Mother from coming. Her Mother loved her, and would never willingly abandon her.

Something must have gotten trapped in her hair and again. She could smell something rotting, but she couldn't get up to see what it was. Where was Mother?

There was nobody for her to ask, so she mused on this question as she slipped in and out of consciousness and time continued to slide by. She laid unmoving in her bed, waiting and waiting, but no one ever came. No one brought food and no one brought medicine, but it was okay because after a while the headaches stopped forever.


3. Patient Zero

Her prince awakened her with a kiss, but that wasn't the end of the story.

That night was a blur of feelings as she and Phillip danced around the ballroom before their combined kingdoms. She stared into his eyes, feeling happy as she had never felt before. They danced until their feet hurt, and then they sat together with their parents and discussed getting married. Aurora didn't offer any opinion as they talked about protocol and ceremony, because she didn't know enough to have one. She sat and smiled, figuring she had all the time in the world to learn.

The next day, she awakened in the room in the tower. She took a moment to stare at the canopy, reminding herself that this was real. She really was a princess, and her prince had saved her from the curse of a wicked witch. She has been reunited with her parents, and was going to get married to the man she loved. It was a dizzying sea of changes, but Aurora was fairly sure they would all prove to be for the better.

Once she got used to the changes, she was sure she would be deliriously happy. She wasn't comfortable in this overly ornate bedroom, but she knew it would be petty to ask to be moved somewhere else, somewhere smaller and less grand and where she hadn't slept under a curse.

Aurora told herself not to be a fusspot, just like Merryweather would. Rising to her feet, she began to sing to greet the new day.

Two hours later, after the maids have visited and stuffed her into a lovely green morning gown, she went down to breakfast. Phillip met her in the foyer, offering her a smile and his arm to lead her to the informal dining room.

“Good morning, my love,” he said. “Shall we brave our parents again?”

“Surely a dragon slayer can't be afraid of mere people,” she teased back as they made their way to breakfast.

“Your father is a very scary man with an army at his beck and call,” Phillip replied gravely, although she liked the way his eyes sparkled merrily. “It's common sense to avoid making an enemy whenever it is possible.”

She was so happy to be with him she wasn't bothered when he turned his head away from her to cough to clear his throat.

By that evening, she wished she had paid better attention.

Phillip had taken to his sickbed, stating that he felt unwell. Aurora, worried, had asked her aunts if they could help, and all three agreed to take a look at him. Aurora bathed his forehead with a cool cloth as her aunts murmured in the corner. She whispered words of love and encouragement for Phillip to come back to her, to open his eyes and see.

His hands were turning blue and she wept as she listened to him fight for every breath. He had been healthy the day before, dancing and laughing with her. Now he laid near death, and she didn't know what to do. Aurora had never nursed anyone before; her aunts had always had immaculate health.

None of the spells her fairy godmothers cast had any effect on the illness. She watched as they tried incantation after incantation, with Phillip's skin turning blue and his cough deepening as each effort failed.

“I don't know if there's anything we can do, dear,” Flora said finally. “None of our spells are working.”

“Please... try,” she begged, unable to think of anything else to do and hating her helplessness. Unlike a dragon, this was not a foe that could be defeated through love and courage.

Fauna squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.

It was all for naught. Despite her pleas and the magics of her fairy godmothers, all she could do was watch him die. Phillip coughed himself away from her, finally shutting his valiant eyes for the last time as his breathing ceased. She kissed his bloody lips one last time, but unlike her, he did not awaken.

The next week, she spent every day wishing she could just go back to sleep. How very strange that she should become an insomniac. The only thing Aurora remembered about the funeral was thinking it should have been her wedding day instead.

While Aurora grieved, a frightening miasma spread, striking the people down one by one with inexorable force. The court musician was the next to fall, blood streaming from his lips as he coughed. As they readied Phillip for burial, several maids fell ill with a similar sickness. Most who fell ill eventually recovered, but one in three sickened to the point of death, and slipped from the world. As winter crept, the illness swelled like a moving crescendo that never reached its peak.

Merryweather fell ill the day after they buried Phillip. She ended up being the fourth casualty.

The strong were the ones who die. Sickness typically took the young and the ancient, but this illness was different. The victims suffered greatly, coming down with extreme fever and chills, shuddering, shivering as they huddled under piles of blankets. The illness sometimes struck with violence, an invasion of the body, a most personal kind of rape. Some vomited; others bled. The one thing they had in common was the suffering the illness caused.

It came in waves, and those who had not fallen sick the first time took to their sickbeds when the illness roared back into life.

Around her, her father's people dropped like flies, the deaths coming hard and fast and too quickly for anyone to process. There were not enough hands to deal with the illness, to tend to those that suffered, and everyone was pressed into duty to keep the palace moving.

Aurora learned how horrible an enemy a person's body could be. Some of the bodies crackled when they tried to move them to proper graves, and others oozed substances she couldn't identify. Some of the living begged to be put out of their misery. The patients that begged Fauna tended to succumb shortly thereafter, and Aurora wondered if her kindhearted aunt was helping the only way left to her.

The ones who were lucky faded away without realizing they had caught the great sickness. The unlucky ones were those who realized exactly what was happening, and were powerless to fight. The people were in desperate condition, and houses were marked to indicate which households had come down with the sickness.

A stench unlike anything she had ever smelled before filled the castle, bed linen and clothing rank with urine and feces from men incapable of rising or cleaning themselves. Blood was everywhere, on linen, on clothing, pouring out of men's nostrils and even ears while others coughed it up. Aurora watched in horror as skin turned blue from lack of air, and the flies swarmed around both the sick and the dead.

And then they ran short of coffins.

All the beds were long since filled, every corridor, every spare room filled with cots of the sick and dying. The undertakers, many sick themselves, were overwhelmed and had no place to put the bodies. Bodies lay where they died, as they died, often with bloody liquid seeping from them. The king ordered several rooms of the palace to be c closed off, leaving the for the dead, but a closed door could not alleviate the knowledge and the horror of what lay behind the door. The dead remained in their places while the living toiled beside them, horrified but too sick to move themselves away from the plague.

The death toll broke one hundred, and people began to flee the court, heading to the countryside in an attempt to avoid the plague. Aurora's father belatedly ordered a quarantine, but it was too late. Reports of the illness spreading across the land came to the court in steady streams.

Aurora had a hard time caring, her naturally kind heart having died with her love. Now she was just a set of extra hands, working as Flora bid as they struggled to aide those who fell ill.

The survivors wrapped their faces in cloth in an attempt to protect themselves from the swelling miasma that was spreading the illness, leaving only their fear-filled eyes bared to the world. Everyone seemed alien, and Aurora couldn't help but hope she was still asleep, and this was a nightmare she could awaken from.

Aurora wondered if this was Maleficent’s final curse.


4. Égalité

Her name wasn't Belle, because that would be too convenient. In truth, her name was Beatrix, and she didn't live in a quaint French village. This was the truth: she was an extraordinary pretty child, and somewhere along the way she was dubbed with the monicker which became her sole name. The village her family lived in was poor, since there was no such thing as a “quaint” French village in the time of revolution.

Belle couldn't remember a time when the villagers hadn't been frightened. Her parents had both been born to the petite bourgeoisie, but after Belle's mother passed away, her father's madness had gradually eaten into their status until they were forced to live in a poor, provincial town far from the city.

It was not a good time to be a stranger, and Belle found it impossible to make friends. People were suspicious enough that they didn't trust family members, so there was no hope of anyone deciding to reach out to the new people. That was fine with Belle, because almost all of the villagers were illiterates, and there was nothing she loved more than books.

She read books by candlelight, the books that her father acquired whenever he went to the city for meeting of the Jacobin Club. He would come back full of ideas ofLiberté, Égalité, Fraternité.She would listen as he expanded on the themes, and gratefully accepted the pamplets and books he handed to her about how the Age of Enlightenment was upon them.

The ideas were revolutionary, and Belle could not stop thinking about their grandeur. She read Rousseau and Antonelle, and contemplated the unfairness of the world. From there, she discovered the works of Olympe de Gouges, which led to Madame Roland, which led to her thinking about journeying to Paris to join the revolution. It was a journey she would eventually make, but not by her free choice.

The evening her father didn't come home, she wondered if the supporters of the regime had found him. She waited as time slipped by, her emotions moving from annoyance to concern to fear. France was a dangerous place, and she knew many people were disappearing without explanation. When Philippe arrived back at the house, lathered and panicked, she didn't hesitate to climb up into the saddle and order him to retrace his steps.

As she half expected, the horse backtracked through the woods, veering off the usual road into the dark forest path that none of the villagers would take. She struggled to stay calm as Philippe moved through the thick, overgrown wilderness. Around her, the sounds of wolves lifted into the air, raising the hair on her skin as she struggled to keep her terror at bay.

Then, suddenly as a mirage, a palace appeared in front of her, locked behind magnificent gates. Her breath caught as she stared at the architectural wonder that lay spread out before her, elaborate and decadent in a way that she wouldn't have believed if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes. There were so many windows that she doubted she would ever be able to count them all, and the lawns were manicured into absurd perfection. There had to be enough space to fit five of her villages into one wing.

It looked like the way she imagined the Palace of Versailles did.

The thought returned her courage to her, the cause of her father's disappearance confirmed as an attack by the aristocracy against the opposition. Squaring her shoulders, she led Philippe through the gates and into the courtyard.

Only to encounter the Beast.

She couldn't think of words to describe the twisted monster that materialized out of the dank. It was like someone had taken the fiercest beasts of the natural world and stirred them together to create a living nightmare with blazing blue eyes. He circled at her, and threatened her, and ordered her to leave.

She looked up into the Beast's face, and reminded herself that she was his equal.

“I will not be cowed by a monster,” she told him, squaring her shoulders and glaring at him with fiery eyes. She was her father's daughter; she would not kneel because she knew she was not inferior to anyone or anything.“Give me my father back.”

She would not let him see that she was afraid, because she was not afraid. He roared in her face, but she did not flinch. She kept her back straight and glared at him, knowing that he could only offer her physical violence.

She wasn't sure which of them was more shocked.

He hemmed and hawed, demanding that she stay and take her father's place for the crime of trespassing. Her courage grew as she recognized the Beast's lack of intelligence, since he simply demanded her word that she remain, forever. It was a promise she gave, since he was foolish enough not to have her swear by anything that mattered.

Belle planned to escape as soon as she could.

He led her through the dark rooms of the palace by candlelight. Out of the corners of her eyes, she saw the glimpses of priceless artwork and opulent furnishings that would have fed her village for a year. When he forced her into a room and ordered her to get ready for dinner, she refused.

He lost his temper, stating that if she wouldn't eat with him, then she would starve. She had to bite her tongue, since the immediate retort on her lips would have been something about the peasants who were already starving.

He slammed the door shut behind him, and she gasped as a wardrobe spoke and tried to persuade her to be reasonable. A candelabra appeared next to her and persuaded her to follow him to the dining room. They presented a grand spread, but all she could see was the decadent waste. While people were starving for lack of bread, they were trying to feed her haute cuisine.

She only accepted a crust of bread and a glass of water.

Escaping wasn't as simple as she had originally thought it would be. The castle's magical denizens were constantly underfoot, an army of spies that wouldn't hesitate to tattle if she made a wrong move. Philippe had stayed with her, but all of the stable creatures were constantly around and would surely report immediately to the Beast if she tried to run.

The Beast tried to soften her, playing on her love of books by presenting her access to his magnificent library. It only took her a couple of hours to realize none of the books were newer than ten years old, and much of it was fiction. It was better than nothing, but she longingly wondered about the new books that she was missing.

Life in the castle was a strange, isolationist state, but it was also enlightening. Her feelings softened slightly as she realized how helpless the Beast was. He was utterly dependent on his servants for everything, and was ignorant of the world around him. He would listen to her patiently as she explained the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen. To her shock, he didn't argue with her, instead thinking on what she said and asking questions the next day.

Maybe his ignorance – and the ignorance of the rest of the aristocracy – could be countered with education. She began to understand how the people became so divided, and her fingers started to itch to write her own book about ways to bridge the gap between the classes.

It was a book she would never have a chance to write. The mob came before she had a chance to even compose the first sentence.

The people were insane, led by Gaston as they stormed the castle, carrying torches and threatening to have the Beast made into a trophy. Without thinking of anything but her own safety, she grabbed the nearby lighted candelabra, and threw it into the midst of the crowd – right onto the cannons they had dragged along with them. The resulting explosion took out more than half the marauders, and quite a few of the castle's animated objects.

It only made them crazier.

Belle screamed and screamed and screamed about how she supported the Revolution, but a mob could not be placated by mundane things like reason. They grabbed her and dragged her away from the palace, and put her on trial for treason.

She never did find out what happened to the Beast.

The result of her trial was a foregone conclusion. Madame Guillotine had no love for happy endings.


5. Siren Song

They never told the stories right, but that was because they didn't want to scare the children. They wanted their children to be comforted and happy, but in protecting them they unwittingly made them vulnerable. The adults lied and lied and lied until the fiction became the truth, and people forgot that there really were monsters under the bed.

When the old seamen spoke of King Triton, their voices were hushed and reverent, but not afraid. Eric was too young to realize these were the survivors, the ones who had lived long enough to recognize both the Sea King's blessings and rage. They had long ago surrendered their fates into his hands.

He took the ship sailing on his twenty-first birthday because there was nothing he loved more than the scent of the sea. He dreamed of taking the ship west, as far as it would sail, and finding that something magical that would make his life complete. He didn't know what he was searching for, but he always felt it was just over the next horizon.

What he actually discovered was far more fantastic than anything a mere mortal could daydream about.

There was a fireworks display to celebrate his coming of age, beautiful rockets set off over the water. He stared at the brilliant colors painting the sky, the reflection against the water was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. He played with Max and tried to ignore Grimsby's plodding reminders that it was time he took a wife.

He ignored his faithful servant, used to the plaints. He would think about it tomorrow – tonight he only wanted to enjoy the freedom of the ocean.

Then the storm came.

Eric had known that storms at sea were nothing to be trifled with. Triton's rage, as some of the sailors called bad weather, was unpredictable and could sink the mightiest of ships within a matter of moments. The prince's ship was the finest of the fleet, but as the deck heaved below his feet, Eric couldn't help but think of how fragile the wooden planks were when compared to the vastness of the sea.

The ship moved suddenly, lurching to the right, and Eric's feet lost their purchase on the slippery deck. All of the sudden he was staring up at the sky with nothing beneath him, for the moment given the illusive gift of flight as he plummeted toward the roiling waters below.

The shock of hitting the water stole his breath away. He hit with such impact that he forgot which way the surface was, and picked a direction at random and started to swim. Eric was a good, strong swimmer, being the prince of a seafaring nation, but it was more luck than skill that had him breaking through the surface. He gasped for breath, trying to figure out how to save himself from the fathoms below.

There was a hand on his shoulder, and he turned his head to see a beautiful woman, swimming beside him. When the lightning flashed, he caught a glimpse of hair the color of blood.

Strangely, she was singing. Her voice went into his head, a swell of endless music that was meant just for him. He forgot his panic as he listened to her song, a melody too lovely to withstand.

Smiling, she reached out and wrapped him in her arms. All he could see was the beauty of her eyes, and all he could feel was the slippery wetness of her webbed, comforting hand.

He never realized he was drowning. His people never found his body, although one of the sailors repeatedly told the story that there had been a mermaid next to the prince.

The sailors recognized what it meant. The people chose instead to delude themselves with hope.

A year passed, then two. There was a revolution in the country because Eric had left no clear heir, and people began to speak wistfully of the lost prince. There were stories that he survived, that he was waiting for the right moment to return and claim his throne. The stories became legend, and somehow became twisted up in fantasy. A hundred years later, the people believed the story of a prince falling in love with a mermaid.

The truth was far less wonderful. Eventually, Eric's body turned to foam, and there was nothing left but the tale of a brave prince who dared to love a mermaid.


6. If Thy Right Hand Offends Thee

She almost bled to death before they got her back to the palace.

It had taken the merchant less than thirty seconds to recognize who she was, but those thirty seconds had been too late. They could not reattach the hand that had been taken for thievery.

Jasmine didn't realize this immediately, because she passed out from pain almost immediately above having her limb severed. One moment, she was fine, and the next she had agony racing up her body as her brain failed to process the sudden new reality. She raised her arm, staring at the bleeding stump in disbelief, before she collapsed to the ground.

In the weeks that followed, she sometimes wished that she hadn't been recognized at all, and had been left on the street to bleed to death.

She didn't recognize the man who hovered by her bedside, night and day, because their was no smile on his face, no sign that he was anything but the Sultan. She didn't ask what had happened to the merchant who had assaulted her. While her father was a gentle, funny man, he would not tolerate anyone who hurt her.

Gradually, the pain ebbed and she began to heal. Jasmine learned how to use only one hand for everyday tasks, bracing herself with the stump as she struggled to brush her hair. She had always been fiercely proud of her ability to do for herself, but within a couple of weeks she was forced to accept the help of the palace servants to care for herself. It was a bitter pill. She had so long yearned to be free of the shackles of her position that embracing her privilege was a betrayal, but the only option she had.

On the night before her birthday, the night her father had previously given her as a deadline to choose who she was to marry, she sat on her balcony thinking about her diminished fate. The suitors did not come anymore. A crippled princess was no great prize, since many believed the Sultan intended to remarry in order to replace his ruined heiress.

She buried her face in Rajah’s thick fur. He was the only comfort she could find, because Rajah was the only one she dared cry before. She didn't want her father to think about what had been done to her, didn’t want to remind him that it was her own folly that had doomed her.

Staring up at the night sky, she couldn’t help but think of the irony. Her one attempt to grasp freedom has effectively damned her to the prison of the palace. For a second, she considered how much heartache she would cause if she simply stepped off the edge of the balcony.

“Pst,” a voice whispered, coming from that direction.

She almost jumped out of her skin, spinning around and trying to locate the source. Beside her, Rajah growled threateningly, ready to spring to action to protect her. Her heart pounding, she demanded, “Who’s there?”

“Nobody important,” the soft tenor voice replied, and a handsome young man in peasant’s clothing climbed over the wall.

“What do you want?” she asked, wondering why she wasn’t yelling for Razoul and the rest of the palace guard. Somehow, this stranger had made it into the complex and scaled the walls without being caught, and Jasmine felt the stirrings of her disused curiosity start to stir.

“To apologize,” he told her.

“For what?” she replied roughly, a sense of foreboding lodging in her throat. Ever since that day, everyone had been apologizing for not anticipating the disaster, trying to claim blame for her actions. This boy had to be one of the mad ones.

“I was there in the market,” he said. “Sitting on top of the melon vendor's stall,” he murmured. “I should have done something..”

“It's not your fault,” she said. She had run the scenario through her head a countless number of times, about how things could be different, but had always reached the same, inevitable conclusion. She had doomed herself the moment she'd gotten it into her head to wander away from the palace on her own. She had been too innocent to survive without the protection being her father's daughter offered.

“I want to make it up to you,” he replied, pulling an oil lamp out of his vest and setting it on her knees. “Rub the lamp and make a wish, princess,” he told her.

It was crazy, but she wanted to play along with this charming stranger. Using her only hand, she brushed her fingers across the lamp, playing along with the game. It was an easy wish to make, since she had been thinking about it for so long. “I wish I had never gone down to the market that day.”

The sky rumbled, and the lamp flared into life, casting out blue smoke and red sparks that did not burn. Her jaw dropped in awe as a gigantic man materialized from inside of the lamp.

The man's blue face looked pained and announced, “Wish granted.”

*

The Sultana of Agrabrah was a hard woman. Hard of heart, hard of will, hard to love.

No one dared to speak openly of her except to offer her praises. She was a strict ruler, prone to using her guard liberally at the slightest provocation. The only being that ever was allowed close enough to touch her was her tiger, and the tiger would rip apart anyone who dared come within arm's reach of her.

There were not many female rulers in the world, but the Sultana was determined to rule on her own. After her husband Jafar had killed her father to ascend the throne, she had become cold. Her father had loved her, and she had been the tool used to destroy him. She had never forgiven Jafar for that.

Luckily Jafar was stupid enough to actually sleep in her bed, not realizing she kept a knife under the pillow. He had been her first kill, but not the last. There were many people who refused to be ruled by a woman, and the Sultana had to prove, time and again, that she was strong enough to survive.

Agrabah was a barbaric land, but it was her home.


7. The Woman in White

She was always kind, but she was no longer good.

Snow White didn't remember how she ended up in the forest. She remembered her stepmother's huntsman leading her into the forest to gather flowers, and setting the flowers aside so she could speak with a lost bird. The next thing she knew, she was wandering alone, feeling colder than she had ever felt before.

Everything in the forest was twisted and dark, lingering shadows transforming into terrifying monsters. She walked among them, pulling her cloak closer to her shoulders in a futile attempt to warm herself. Strangely, she wasn't afraid. She had never been particularly brave, but nothing in the woods seemed like it could actually hurt her.

She was freezing, and she was lonely. Every now and then she would try to sing to comfort herself, but her voice sounded strange to her ears, so high that it would shatter glass.

Eventually, she stumbled upon a cottage which contained seven strange little men. They looked at her as she stood on their threshold, asking to be let in so she could warm herself by their fire. She offered to clean and cook for them in return for their invitation.

They were kind, and stepped aside to let her in. One of them pouted angrily about letting a stranger come into their home, but he was overruled by the rest.

She sang for them that evening, watching without emotion as one by one they fell to her feet and transformed into slavering things. She was not afraid or sorry for it, because at least she wasn't alone anymore.

Perhaps she should have stayed in the cottage with her new friends, but she couldn't bring herself to remain still. They left the cottage and wandered the forest, searching for... something. Snow White didn't know why she did anything anymore, but the restless rage in her wouldn't let her rest.

She didn't understand how she could be so angry all of the time. She wandered and wandered, the dwarves appearing and disappearing at strange intervals she couldn't predict.

Snow White remembered falling in love once, but that feeling was distant. Her prince never came, and she could not to find the path back on her own.

Every now and then, she encountered a traveler in the woods and asked for directions. Some offered her an answer, but eventually most flee before she even had a chance to ask. The ones that remained were rewarded with a song and maybe even a dance, because Snow White still believed in returning kindness with the same, even though her version of kindness might not be embraced at first.

Kindness killed, just as surely as the huntsman's knife.