Ginny Gothel was used to a lot of things. For starters, she was used to the sour coffee of the goblins that always left her with a bitter taste dancing in her lips, to the winter-y coldness that took possession of the island during all four of the seasons despite the scorching sun above them, to the feeling of an empty stomach, not only because there was not much to eat in the Isle but, more importantly, because she still held on to the mild hope that, one day, if she was thin enough, made up enough, graceful enough, Gothel would turn to look at her. Talk about heedless thinking.
Of course, living in the Isle of the Lost one had to get used to some things.
However, there was one thing that she would never, try as she might, get used to, and that was Gothel ways. The reason for it was simple and no, it was not that she was not yet ready to accept the fact that Gothel would never change. It was the complete opposite: what made it impossible for her to learn and resign herself to her so-called mother's ways was the fact that they kept changing.
At the moment, all Ginny wanted was to get her out of her hair. Literally.
"It's time, it's finally time!" That's what had woken her up, just before Gothel's long fingers found their way to her curls and dragged her out of the heap of dirty rags she called her bed.
"What are you talking about? You're hurting me!" Ginny screamed back at her, trying to make her mother let go of her hair. Old as she was, Gothel had a strong grip and, what was more, a crazed gleam in her eyes that had only worsened with the years she'd spent in the Isle.
"Ha! It's finally time, finally time! After sixteen years of being trapped with you, useless child, I'll finally get a chance to come out of this place and be young again!"
"What are you talking about, Gothel? It won't work, let me go!"
"Sixteen years, but it will be over soon, very soon!"
"It won't work, let me go!" Ginny repeated, already feeling tears prickle in the bottom of her eyes.
This wasn't something out of place, dare she thought about it that way. Gothel had been "working" on a way to leave the Isle long before she was even born, though those last "sixteen years" Ginny had become nothing other than her guinea pig. Well, that and the one responsible for her stretch marks and even more premature aging process. Not that Ginny would have been born to her if she'd had been given the option.
"This is stupid, Gothel, let me go!" Ginny cried, knowing full-well that it was stupid to try to reason with her mother, but knowing, as well, that she was not above it.
"I've waited long enough, idiot child!" Gothel laughed, her iron grasp around Ginny's locks seeming tighter to the girl once she stopped fighting back and allowed her mother to haul her out of their deteriorated hut.
This wouldn't work, Ginny knew that. The barrier wouldn't come down even if she bled to death and her hair was cut and washed away by the sea. No, Gothel wouldn't become younger even if she bathed in Ginny's tears and she transfused Ginny's 'purer' blood into her body. And she had tried all of those things.
No matter what Gothel did, Ginny wouldn't become a blonde, willowy girl with huge emerald eyes and a hair so long it wouldn't fit in their shack.
No, all Ginny had to offer to her mother was a skinny daughter with waist-long curly hair and chestnut eyes. All she was could be summarized in raven hair and 'not enough.'
Yet, Gothel wouldn't stop trying to get her 'poor flower' back. She wouldn't, for the life of her, accept the fact that beautiful, innocent Rapunzel was gone and all that was left behind to replace her was the maiden she was dragging towards the woods, the maiden with eyes darkened with blood and sleepless nights.
"Hickory, oak, pine and weed, bury my heart underneath those trees*," Gothel started chanting, unheeding of Ginny's huffs. "And when a southern wind comes to raise my soul, spread my spirit like a flock of crows."
"It won't work!" Ginny shouted once again. "You will never see Rapunzel again!"
That was when Gothel's fingers let go of the girl's hair, and despite the fact that Ginny had thought that to be the one thing she desired, the gesture wasn't as she'd pictured it―instead of simply letting her free, Gothel shoved her against the trunk of a tree. Before Ginny even had time to scream in pain, Gothel's jeweled fingers were already in her cheek, the strike of her slap strong enough to make Ginny's neck crack as it was forcefully turned.
"You have no right to speak her name!" Gothel roared. "My baby is out there, living with thieves and monsters and meanwhile I'm trapped in this dumpster with you and your pitiful attempt of being her!"
"I will never be like her!" Ginny managed through the blood that dripped from her mouth.
"That I know," her mother spat, gripping the neck of Ginny's dress so she could pull her closer to her as she spoke. "And that is why I need to get rid of you to get her back."
Gothel was crazy, that was all Ginny knew for sure. She became crazier by the second and nothing, magical, medical or mundane would give her back the sanity she had lost centuries in the past.
"Old heat from raging fire, come and light my eyes. Summer's kiss thru electric wire, but I'll never die!"
Ginny had heard that song a thousand times, as seasons changed, as she became older, and it could only mean one thing: Gothel had come up with another way to reach immortality and de-age, which, in return, could only mean one thing―Gothel had a plan to torture her so she could recover her own youth.
"It won't work, it won't work, it won't work," Ginny whispered, a plea so notorious in her voice it would have been painful, had they not been in the Isle of the Lost. Gothel, however, had long in the past turned a deaf ear to whatever her daughter said.
Ginny closed her eyes and let her tears run down her cheeks freely, careful, nonetheless, of biting the inside of her cheek to prevent a scream from coming out once the pain began. She didn't get to see the dagger that shimmered in Gothel's hand, neither did she take note of her mother's triumphant smirk. What she did feel, though, was the acute end of the weapon as Gothel stabbed her chest.
"Sycamore, ash moss and loam, wrap your roots all around my bones. And when they come for me, when they call my name, cast my shadow like a bellow's flame."
She didn't have time to cry in pain before Gothel made her next movement: dragging the knife across her skin, first vertically, then horizontally, up again and then from left to right, as if she were marking something, typecasting it into a squared box of blood and flesh.
True to her word, Ginny didn't scream, and it wasn't only because she had a reputation to live up to, but rather, because she was too horrified to even utter a witness to the agonizing convulsion that pierced through her body.
"You can bury my body, but I'll never die! Hickory, oak, pine and weed, bury my heart underneath those trees."
"M-Mother…." Ginny managed through her trembling lips, surprised even in her state that Gothel didn't correct her.
Gothel, to not break the habit, ignored her and continued with her newly invented ritual, this time, letting go of the dagger, which fell, blood-stained and harmless, to the ground before her fingers, with nails so long they seemed a crow's claws, entered the ensanguined cavity she had just created in Ginny's chest.
To be honest, the girl didn't even feel the pain anymore, she didn't force herself to choke down sobs or a plea for mercy. What she did feel, however, was the warm liquid that exited her chest and was soon tainting her torn-up dress with a bright red, brighter than Ginny had ever seen, warmer than she had ever felt.
It was only a few seconds before Gothel found what she had been looking for and, with hands that dripped blood and vengeance, took Ginny's still-beating heart out of her chest.
"Sixteen long years, that's how much I've waited for this!" the old hag laughed, bringing the blood-soaked organ to closer to her face. "Sixteen years with you, a useless nobody, tugging at my sleeve and twenty years of torture away from the mainland! That's how much I've waited!"
Thunder roared in the distance, and either Ginny's vision was clouding or there was really something magical in Gothel's actions, as the unforgiving sun of the Isle was suddenly covered by a veil of clouds as gray as her mother's hair.
"M-Mother, please…" Ginny let out in a shaky whisper, knowing full-well, that Gothel would ignore her. It didn't matter, she would think later, since her voice had been so low she couldn't even remember if she'd actually said the words or just thought about them.
She must have been delirious, Ginny thought as she saw Gothel prepare to chew on the heart that she taken out from her body, heart that she could still feel beating loudly in her ears, heart that, if the crimson lines that marred her vision didn't deceive her, was still connected to her body.
The ground started shaking. Cracking. Disappearing.
Who knew, Ginny thought dizzily, perhaps it had worked. Perhaps, this time, her mother's spell had finally worked. And through all of it, the only thing that she was certain of was that, be it that Gothel recovered her long-lost beauty or not, at least, at least it would be too late for her. She wouldn't recover from the gap in her chest or the blood loss. At least, for her, it would be over.
Soon, soon enough, in a jiffy, and what an irony it was that she thought of her death in so mundane words.
Suddenly, there was a scream in the distance. Or had it been close to her?
Numbly, Ginny opened the eyes she hadn't noticed she'd closed and was even more flabbergasted than she was already at the bizarre sight that greeted her: a humanoid blue figure towering over her mother, boney fingers making wide gestures.
"And I've spent twenty years listening to you idiot mortals lament over what you lost when that stupid beast put you here!" the newcomer exclaimed in disgust.
Whatever her mother answered ―if she even did― was lost for Ginny. In fact, she must have lost conscience all together, because the last thing she recalled thinking was: he must be Hades, Lord of the Dead.
And, by her train of thought, that could only mean one thing―she was, as she had predicted and even desired, dead. Dead, there was no more to it. No more scolding from her mother, no more cuts, no more anything. She was dead. Funny, Hades was another villain and through her hazed state all she could think of him was that he was her savior.
Hades, despite having spent the last twenty years trapped in the Isle like all the other villains, was rarely seen. He didn't like to mix with those commoners. Dirty mortals, that's what he called them.
"Oi, girl, do you plan to lay there the whole day or stand up?" a murmuring voice questioned her limp body. Ginny didn't even stir, so Hades sighed. Mortals.
Tracing the girl's sweaty forehead with his ice-cold fingers, he finally managed to make her eyelids flutter. As soon as Ginny's eyes focused on him the scream she had been swallowing for oh-so long found its ways through her lips.
"What are you doing?" she let out hoarsely as she tried to gather the rags of her torn dress and cover her breasts with it.
"Oh, no fancy introductions?" Hades smiled with his pointy teeth. "No 'Oh, lord Hades, I am so fortunate to have you here, thank you for saving my life'?" he questioned. "It's a shame, you mortals are losing your manners."
"What do you want?"
"Quite some things, actually. To get out of here, to conquer Olympus, to see my wife, but then again, none of them can be granted by you, can they?"
"Oh, girl, how is it you're called? Gin?"
Numbly, she nodded, despite the fact that no one had ever called her that. She had always been Ginny, nothing more, nothing less.
"Alright, so, Gin, if I wanted to take away your innocence and your ephemeral life, don't you think I would have done so already?" he inquired, pointing at something in the ground.
That was when Ginny noticed it―the unconscious body of her mother, sprawled on the dry grass as an open wound on her head bleed.
"G-Gothel!" she whispered. "Is she… is she…"
"Dead?" Hades offered. "Ha! She is as dead as you are, and by that I mean very much alive!" He laughed, nudging Ginny's side as if to question why she wasn't cracking with laughter as well.
"What did you do to her, you monster?"
"Oh, here's what I get for saving your life," Hades said, a smile much more sinister than the one he'd sported until then plastering his lips. "This is why I'm not a hero, it would have been much easier to let you die, if you prefer that I can disappear and leave you to the tender mercies of your progenitor."
"What?" Ginny uttered. And that was when she remembered―the dagger, the knife, the blood. Forgetting about her inhibitions, she stopped trying to cover her naked breasts and instead dropped what was left of her dress to inspect her wound.
There was dry blood prickling at her skin and some of the liquid was still warm in the fabric of her skirt, but, where she should have had a deep gap and an empty chest all that was left was a scar. A prominent, notorious, worm-like scar but she supposed that was better than bleeding to death.
"You did this," she let out, more a statement than it was a question.
"Wrong again, sweet pie, I didn't do that," Hades laughed. "I put your mother to sleep, but you? You're not my problem."
"Oh, sweet children like you don't stand a chance in the outside world, do you?" he continued. He had a smile that made Ginny uneasy, and not precisely because it was vicious, but rather because it looked almost… nice. Kind. Those were not things you encountered in the Isle. Suddenly, his snicker turned darker. "The barrier around us does not only keep magic out. Far from it, there's magic inside the Isle as well, though it's not one we can bend and use, it has specific instructions. For example, no one can die inside the Isle. How else do you think you children haven't died after your parents drink too much? How else do you imagine villains haven't killed each other in a battle to gain power."
"But, darling, I'm a god, and the silly magic the fairies possess is no match to my powers. Fairies die, gods do not, girl, remember that," Hades continued, not paying attention to Ginny's interruption, much like Gothel had done. "The barrier, however, is becoming weaker. Soon enough, there won't be a barrier anymore. Strange things are happening in Auradon, and it's just a matter of time before they start happening here as well. Hide from Gothel, there's nothing more she can take from you and don't trust I'll have your back a second time. Hide and wait for whatever will happen to happen. This will be over, and despite the fact that I cannot see the future, I foresee it won't be as bad as you expect."
"What?" Ginny whispered, her head throbbing.
The earlier fog seemed to reappear as her mind whirled, the forest around her seeming to tilt on its axis as she tried to comprehend all she'd been told. The barrier? Weakening? One day… to fall? That was… that couldn't happen. Thinking it could would be like hoping the sun would fall off the sky or that one day her mother would start treating her like the queens from Auradon's corny shows did their daughters. It was, simply, something that wouldn't happen.
"What are you waiting for, girl? An invitation," Hades taunted, the sand under his feet turning to a blueish smoke that was soon swallowing his figure completely. "Get out of here, Gin, before I regret having come out of my house for you."
Ginny ran. She didn't remember raising to her feet, she couldn't conjure the last image she'd seen of Hades or of her mother. She ran, that was all she knew. And in the distance, louder than the waves crashing on the shore, all she could hear was Hades' maniacal laugh.
She arrived to the place she'd called her house and packed. She changed her dress and tried to wash the blood away. She tried not to flinch whenever the wound in her chest sent waves of pain through her back and arms.
The only place she could think of to "hide" was the old church of the Isle. The fact that they had an emaciated replica of the Cathedral of Notre Dame had been hilarious until then, mostly because the majority of villains were god-less and the their descendants didn't want anything to do with a compassionate god when they had only known the opposite of that in their lives.
She didn't arrive to the cathedral, panting, because of what it represented to the believers. She only went there because Claudine Frollo, the only girl she had some kind of relationship with, lived there.
They weren't friends, of course, there were no friends in the Isle of the Lost, but they had spoken a handful of times and she had defended Claudine from the Gastons on a couple of occasions. Claudine had fed her in return.
This time, Ginny didn't want food, she didn't even want clean water. All she would ask for was a place to stay.