Chapter 1: an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill
For the four of them, it didn’t start as a question of who would be chosen, but rather, how many children could be crammed into a limo at once.
By Auradon standards it was eight. There were only eight seats in the limo, not counting the driver. And, yes, you all have to go too, they trust you above anyone else because you’re one of them. No, they can’t sit in your lap.
However, the four of them weren’t from Auradon, and the last experience they had with a passenger vehicle on the Isle of the Lost was the down-up bus.
So called because there were no continuous roads from the Isle’s south shore to north peak and its driver used a compass to navigate, the down-up bus came to the Isle fully assembled on the supply barge. "THIS PIECE OF SHIT IS ABANDONED," read spray paint on the windshield before someone wiped it off, though enough was left that you could tell something was there. When the storms kicked up and the lowlands flooded, the bus departed the south shore packed like sardines. Sometimes there were even kids on the roof.
About two years after it arrived, the bus’s engine suddenly blew out. They paid that whiz kid from Corona to look it over, who declared the fan belt to have snapped, and the bus to be as good as dead with no viable replacements for it.
Of course, things on the Isle weren’t very good at staying dead. A week later, there was the down-up bus again, racketing slowly up the road.
From a distance its resurrection was a mystery. But it didn’t stay that way—soon enough Jay got on to go to the wharf, and it was immediately evident what was going on. There were a dozen or so children sitting up front with a big barrel of rubber grass. They were weaving the grass as fast as their little hands could go. And every five or ten minutes the engine would go dead, and one of the children would jump out with a new fan belt, made of grass, thread it on easy as you please, and keep driving until the belt broke again. Rinse, repeat.
“I suppose it just goes to show,” Ben had mused when Mal told him this story, “that anything’s possible. If you just adapt a little, you know?”
Mal smiled tightly, and didn’t say anything else on the subject.
Eight seats in the limo. Floor space could seat four people on average. One person in each lap, that’s eight more people. Two people in the seat next to the driver. Add the trunk, two more people.
That’s twenty-four, not even counting the roof, or how hard it was to believe that a school with gilded ceilings couldn’t afford a bigger limo.
Ultimately, the list came down to who was the most maimed. Getting communication in and out of the Isle was tough—the barge goblins ripped up electronics for their own profits, so they pretty much had to entrust computers with internet connection to sentient birds. And that was before they even got ashore. Apparently one laptop each was sent to the Core Four’s parents, but three out of four got destroyed or otherwise carried off. Trying to ring the remaining laptop was fruitless.
So they had to count out the injuries they heard about right before leaving; the gut wounds, the high fevers. “It’ll look bad if we get to the bridge, call for someone, and it turns out they’re dead,” Jay admitted, spitting out the one thing that nobody wanted to address.
( No, not bad, Mal wanted to scream. Show everybody, show the world. )
“Yeah, let’s... not do that,” Evie said, drawing the eraser across the whiteboard once more. All their names were written on the top. The space below each was a marker-blurry mess—except that of Evie herself, who had written “Dizzy Tremaine” in her slot at the start of class and no one had dared contest it.
Fairy Godmother sat across the room at her desk, occasionally looking up from her taxes and her lunch croissant to make sure the four weren’t running amok. They weren’t. They took this, unlike anything else in her class, serious as cancer.
Evie rubbed her temples and sighed. They’d been going in circles for an hour. “Okay, let’s—Mal, don’t scratch your face like that or it’ll peel right off—let’s review. Who’ll get the most long-term benefit from coming over here?”
Carlos snapped his fingers. “Hetty. That’s her name.”
“The Headless Horseman’s kid.”
“It took you ten minutes to remember that?” Jay snorted.
“Ha- ha . But seriously, she’s been saving up for a prosthetic head for years. In Auradon, she could get one in hours .”
“Headless… Hetty,” Evie muttered, writing it in Carlos’s slot. She doubted it would last long. “Jay?”
“Claudine. ...What? What’s that face?”
Evie wasn’t aware she was making a face. She’d been smiling a lot more lately, and she guessed that after that, the floodgates kind of opened on every other facial expression. “Uh, nothing, you just seemed to have your heart really set on bringing Celia yesterday.”
“Say what you want about Dr. Facilier, he’s at least a decent parent. Claudine’s dad is fucking—” There was a rustle as Fairy Godmother glared over her taxes. “—freaking Frollo.”
“Yeah, freaking Frollo, so what if she’s dead?”
“He didn’t kill Quasimodo.”
“Only because someone stopped him, and also, Claudine’s a girl. He has no problem with murdering women. If we’re talking about bad parents, Ginny Gothel, she’s still available.”
“Claudine,” Jay insisted. “I’ll go up there and write it myself if you won’t. And, I mean, we have Mal’s slot, if we’re still bringing Celia. Mal? Hello?”
Mal shook her head. “Yeah, sorry.”
“We are bringing Celia, right?”
Mal stared at the board for a long time before saying, “Maybe we should draw up a full list again?”
“Oh my god,” Evie said. “Fairy Godmother, how much time do we have left?”
She checked her watch. “Thirty minutes or so. You’re still deadlocked?” she said, a glint of irritation disguised as sympathy in her eye. “You do know that VK Day is in three days?”
“It’s not our fault! They gave us the census the other day—according to that, there’s over fifty kids still on the Isle, and that’s not even counting the ones you don’t know about. We’re threading a camel through a needle’s eye here.” Evie turned to Mal, who was glancing under the table at her spellbook, and, oh dear, Fairy Godmother was about to look at her too— “Mal!”
“What?” she said, snapping the book shut, back cover up, which made it look like an innocuous brown-covered novel.
“Uh… who are you bringing over?”
“Well, I was thinking of Celia, since she’d have the least trouble integrating, but the whole long-term benefit spiel got me considering Jack.”
“Jack?” said Carlos. “As in ‘of Hearts?’ He went missing for, like, a week, everyone thought he was dead.”
“Nope, I actually saw him a couple hours before the limo showed up. Apparently he had a drink at the Mad Flea Party and woke up on the far side of the island. He had to walk back.”
“Ha! Should’ve known better. The drinks there are basically rat poison.”
“Sometimes they are rat poison,” Jay added.
Evie had finished writing “Claudine” in Jay’s slot, but hesitated over Mal’s. “How do you know Jack? I don’t live that close to his mom’s salon. All I heard was… the rumor,” she said delicately, glancing at Fairy Godmother.
Carlos almost instantly screwed the pooch. “The rumor that he kills people with the shaving razor and Frollo’s crepe place uses the bodies for processed meat, or a different rumor?”
Fairy Godmother choked on her croissant.
Evie clicked her tongue ruefully. “That’s the one.”
“Calm down!” Mal snapped, with surprising viciousness. Evie blinked in surprise. Mal softened her features and rubbed her temples. “I mean—there’s no way he really does that. It’s a small island, someone would’ve noticed. Rumor aside, he’s… not doing well. He’s started doing that wandering thing his mom did a few years before she died.”
“Everybody on the Isle wanders,” Carlos said. “There’s not much else to do.”
“In his boxers.”
Even eliminating every able-bodied able-minded well-parented VK on the island didn’t shrink the pool much, because those people were in the minority. With no easily accessed medical care, amputation tended to be the jump-to, and there always seemed to be someone with no feet or an eye put out. Evie could’ve looked out her window at any time of day and spotted someone with something missing off their body. Sometimes they’d wave a stump at her.
Mental diseases were a different, probably thornier issue, which was why they hesitated to mention Jack in the first place. The stress of perpetual poverty, times perpetual crime, times perpetual starvation, times clean-water-is-hard-to-come-by-but-rum-isn’t, equals a tangled mess that the Auradonians would be quick to call hereditary insanity. And the worst part was they had no way of proving it wasn’t.
“You are broken in body and soul!” exclaimed a missionary with stones the size of Jupiter once. “Living in darkness, ignorant of how you can be healed!”
Yeah, they got those. Not even villains were safe from Mormons. Though between the Catholic extremist, Slavic demon, and literal Greek god, they never stayed long.
Downstairs of the Queen of Hearts’ Salon was Frollo’s Creperie, and a bucket of snails, and Claudine crammed the last decently palatable butter on the island into their shells.
Her trick to getting fresh food was not to camp out on the wharf, as many did, but wait until the barge was just inside the barrier and swing down a rope from Dragon Hall’s belltower onto the deck before it unloaded. Did she make an easy landing? Never, but Claudine had a high tolerance for pain.
Claudine was not pretty. She had a square jaw, a mannish frame, and cropped hair that grayed prematurely around her temples. Lines were beginning to form around her mouth from stress. And she, like everyone, was very, very sallow.
The Isle did not receive sunlight at the best of times, but the creperie laid in the dark district, the part of town in the shadow of Bald Mountain. Day and night were indistinguishable. So outside, there were torches.
Next to the torches was a soapbox. On the soapbox was a girl. Her hair was wild and red like some predator, and there was an epauletted coat on her shoulders that looked as though it might have been white once. And she shouted.
“They say we're ignorant. They say we hate the victims of the crimes of our fathers!” Claudine sighed and turned up the volume on the shop television set, but it didn’t drown out Andersen’s ruckus or the clatter upstairs. Claudine approached the open door. “Victims! Who are the victims? Huh? We!” the girl cried, pointing at a dirty child holding a baby, a boy with a false leg, a girl with facial sores. “We, we, we are the victims! We have been bound with the chains of poverty, of overcrowding, and where do those chains lead? They lead to Agrabah! They lead to Arendelle! They lead…” she pointed at the horizon. “To Auradon!”
"Auradon is over there , Andersen," Claudine said, pointing in the opposite direction.
Andersen Westergaard wrinkled her nose indignantly as a peal of nervous laughter rang out. “You think that’s funny? They are coming for us! It doesn’t matter to them that our heritage is as much a part of us as our skin. They believe that flaying us, mutilating us, stripping us naked would be an improvement over what we are!”
Claudine just shook her head and went back inside. The TV continued running the newsreel. Mal was there, with her fake hair and fake smile. Claudine didn’t know Mal very well, but she knew that the politickers of the Isle were very, very upset about her, on all sides. Claudine didn’t politic much, so she felt lukewarm.
The bell rang; finally someone who actually came in and bought something, except—oh, it’s Andersen again. “What do you want? Trying to register me to vote?” Claudine scoffed.
“Get fucked,” said Andersen. She took a can of sliced peaches out of her coat and slid it across the bar. “Cigarettes.”
“What do you take me for, a gas station?”
“I saw you pick them up,” Andersen insisted.
Claudine threw up her hands. “Fine, but this only gets you a half pack.”
“Whatever. I need a smoke, and Uma won’t sell to me anymore. Something about party lines.”
“See, if she keeps talking like that, she might send Harry over to fuck up your day.”
“I’m not scared of Harold. If he so much as spits in my direction I’ll cut the Jolly Roger’s crop supply. My father’s farm is what’s keeping half this island from keeling with scurvy.”
“They’ll probably thank you, your crops are so foul.” Claudine went under the bar and retrieved a pack of Marlboros, splitting its contents between the actual pack and an empty playing card box. She handed the card box to Andersen and struck a match. Andersen leaned forward with a cigarette in her mouth and lit it. Claudine shrugged, lit one for herself too. Might as well, this was the good stuff. On every street corner there was a grimy little kid trying to sell you one cigarette at a time, but the brand was always something like Jolly Roger or Esmerelda’s Revenge, just to remind you that Isle tobacco tasted like burning tar and would kill you just as quick.
“Ah, isn’t that better?” said Andersen.
Claudine coughed and puffed, eyes watering. “God gives you lungs fit to blow the trumpets at Rapture and this is what you do to them?”
“If you didn’t like them, why’d you break Cruella’s nose for them?” Andersen said, as a customer entered.
Claudine didn’t initially see anyone, before turning her gaze downwards and seeing the top of an oblong squash. “Hey, Hetty.”
Pumpkins did not grow on the Isle of the Lost, just gnarled bitter squashes. Hetty was small, with a thick purple scarf tucked around her neck. Set atop it was a squash with faintly glowing eyeholes. “Good morning.”
“You’re in luck; a can of peaches just fell out of the sky,” said Claudine, opening the can and transferring the fruit to its own mason jar. Hetty put a book of bus vouchers on the bar and drummed her hands excitedly as Claudine gave her the can of peach juice. She took her squash off, put it on the bar, and poured the juice into her neck stump.
Claudine looked back up at the TV set. “This is going to make me sick,” she muttered.
“The cigarettes or the news?”
There was another loud crash. “What on earth is he doing up there?” said Andersen.
Claudine put the cigarette out on her palm, the burn grounding her back in reality. “Have this, on the house,” she said, flicking it at Andersen. (“Wow, I feel like queen of the Isle already,” Andersen grumbled.) “Hetty,” Claudine continued, throwing a brass key with a heart-shaped hole in her direction, “go check on Jack for me. There’s a soda in it for you.”
“Is it cold?”
“It’s room temperature.”
“Okay,” said Hetty, putting her squash head back on and disappearing up the stairs.
Andersen looked befuddled. “Why don’t you just check yourself—”
The door creaked and a meaty whack sounded from upstairs.
Hetty calmly walked back down with a meat cleaver blade planted in her squash. “That really hurt, you know,” she said, sounding insulted almost to the point of tears.
Chapter 2: how is it right to slip free of an old skin and walk away from the scene of the crime?
or: mostly an extended metaphor about Mal and an axolotl, and Harry being sketchy. Just bear with me on this one
Also, there's an instance of ableist language during the Isle scene, due to... the speaker being from the Isle, and also a teenager. Be aware
Things that can make you want to drink bleach if you encounter them at the wrong time: a neotenous axolotl, the toothpaste aisle at Rite-Aid, and Mary Poppins.
Mal’s seams were unravelling, mentally and literally. Lately she’d been operating like a piece of Isle machinery: always coming up with some strange new catch or missing part, but few people could figure out what was really wrong, so they just lived with it, none the wiser, but wearier for it all.
First it was a creeping rash, then a deep toothache, and now a headache that started behind her eyes and was moving up to the very crown of her head. At Evie’s behest, she had to take time out of her schedule to go to a doctor. (She had a schedule. What on earth?)
Problem was, this doctor was doing everything in his power to make Mal want to punch him.
“Are you experiencing higher than normal levels of stress?” said the doctor.
Don’t punch him, Mal Bertha Eficent. Don’t do it. “Not higher than usual. Just… different.”
Between her arrival in Auradon and dating Ben, the first thing that struck her was how still everything felt. Despite the school being far from a calm ocean. She couldn’t figure it out for the longest time until she realized it was the complete lack of need to look over her shoulder. No jumping at shadows that might be highwaymen or making someone else eat the food first to make sure it wasn’t poisoned by a gang boss. It was strange. Then the space was immediately filled with the tasks of being a media deity—jumping at shadows that might be paparazzi or making someone else eat the food first to make sure it wasn’t poisoned by a political assassin. It was parallel, but sunnier, more redundant, and with the baggage of knowing she was doing so at others’ expense.
The doctor wrote it down. “You’re sure that isn’t sunburn on your face?”
Mal scratched it instinctively—all four of them had burned pretty badly at first, having never received that much direct sunlight in their lives. “It’s been there for a week.”
“Okay…” He scratched some more. “And it says here you’re half-fairy?”
“It doesn’t say what the other half is.”
“I didn’t know my father,” Mal said, trying to sound nonchalant, and making a mental note about telling the doctors examining the next VK wave to be a little less tone deaf. Isle culture regarding parents was very different. Everyone knew that they had a second parent, yes, but it was a faux pas to try and address that person as such. The reasons why things were like this were nebulous, but Mal always chalked it up to not keeping the eggs in one basket. She knew she had a half-brother that lived with Hades. Would things work out if her mom, Hades, and Hadie tried to move in together? No, no, no; even excluding the fact that such a household would tear itself to shreds immediately, such a consolidation of power wouldn’t fly, and that house would be stampeded by a herd of angry villains.
“Any other symptoms? Including the ones you may be attributing to outside factors.”
Mal shrugged. “Eh… my ankles have been really hurting, but that’s because I live in heels now.”
The doctor examined her rash again. “Joint pain isn’t out of the ordinary for someone recovering from poor nutrition, but we might want to do a blood test for lycanthropy and other transformative diseases. Do you perform a lot of appearance-altering magic?”
“On myself?” Lately, yes. “No.”
“Buy a pint of milk and leave it in your room overnight—if it’s spoiled by morning, we’ll have a better picture of how much fairy blood you actually have. I may have to refer you to a specialist for the toothache…”
On and on and on. Where were the specialists for the kids weaving fan belts until they went blind? Where were the blood tests for the girls on street corners?
You’re hoarding them, she said to herself, false nails cutting into calloused palms. You.
“Jack?” Claudine said, ducking under the disarmed booby trap into the staff entrance of Off With Their Hair. It was an upside-down crutch rigged to swing down and hit the intruder in the neck. Combined with a meat cleaver on its end, it was very fatal, unless you were Hetty, in which case it was very inconvenient. “Jack, what are you doing?”
She could have sworn the salon had been swept last time she was in here. The only conclusion she could reach regarding the clouds of loose hair carpeting the area was that Jack had emptied the garbage bags directly onto the floor, which didn’t speak well of his mindstate.
Jack, a bright-eyed, pasty lad with red hair, emerged from behind the pay counter holding a pink plastic flamingo. (Not Westergaard red, playing card red.) “Claudine! It’s so good to see you—c’mere, I’m cleaning up, it’s a mess in there. I swear, I’ve been sweeping for hours and it never gets clean...”
Claudine barely said anything before Jack thrust the flamingo into her arms. Its head was dented from attempts to use it as a croquet mallet, as well as various other percussive instruments. She knew he’d owned a real mallet at some point, but one day it just vanished and the flamingo replaced it.
“How’s work? Are you still friends with Nora?” Jack chattered as he swept up the hair.
“No, she went to the Lost Revenge and joined the reformers. Don’t see much of her now.” In truth, Claudine didn’t know anyone named Nora and likely never would. Jack emptied the dustpan into a trash can that was already full. It promptly tipped over and crashed onto the floor. He didn’t notice. “Jack, did you sleep?”
“Why would I sleep? It’s, like, six in the afternoon.” Claudine had to check the clock if he was right. The worst part about living in the dark district, concerning Jack at least, was that it wasn’t immediately apparent if he’d lost time or not. He turned around once, seemed to forget what he was doing, and turned around again to see the spilled hair. “What? Where did that come from?” he said, sincerely confounded.
Claudine sighed. “Jack.”
“It’s like it just—”
“Jack, you need to go to bed. I think you were sweeping the floor all night.”
“All night? I’ve only been here for twenty minutes.”
“You said it was six at night. It’s five in the morning. You’ve been sweeping the floor for eleven hours.”
“But… I could’ve sworn…” Jack blinked in confusion.
“Don’t worry about sleeping. De Vil can go five minutes without a new wig.” No sooner than that escaped Claudine’s mouth did someone knock on the door and Jack waved them in. “Jack!” she snapped. “Sleep! Now!”
“What? It’s just Harry,” said Jack.
“ Just Harry,” said Claudine, feeling her stomach plunge. Sure enough, it was Uma’s red right hand plowing right into the building. She calculated just how much trouble they were in. Uma was vocally opposed to Westergaard doctrine, and Jack was only two steps removed from Andersen.
Harry’s hat was slightly too wide for the doorway and came off as he walked in. He reached over the railing trying to catch it before it fell two stories and made a frustrated noise when he didn’t. That made Claudine regain her nerve. “Jack, my good man!” he declared. “I need to take out another loan.”
“Okay,” said Jack, opening the cash register.
Claudine stepped in front of him before he could get the chance. “A loan ?” she said skeptically.
Harry either smiled or bared his teeth. Not much of a difference on the Isle. “Oh, Claudine! I didn’t know it was time for the old maid’s walk.”
“Hook,” she said, not tipping.
He pouted dramatically. “Well, that’s no way to treat a friend of Jack’s.”
“Funny, I don’t remember you ever being his friend.”
Jack’s hand hovered over the register drawer, looking genuinely upset and disoriented. “Jack, don’t you remember that one time—” Harry said.
“You’re really going to do this?” said Claudine. “You’re really going to rob a retarded kid in broad daylight.”
“Of course not!” Harry chortled. “Ain’t no ‘broad daylight.’ This is the dark district.”
“ Kyrie eleison. ”
Ben took Mal to a few foreign delegations. Sometimes it went over badly—Agrabah was a highlight—and sometimes it didn’t. Atlantica went well. Shockingly well.
They couldn’t actually enter Atlantica, but the dignitaries met them on the shore of the neighboring kingdom. They were presented with gifts from below: pearls and sea silks, which were quickly whisked off to be searched and processed, but what caught Mal off-guard was a clear glass tank of… something.
The creatures slapped their little white feet on the glass. “Axolotl,” explained the mermaid. “Exotic creatures from our furthest shores.”
Ben accepted them politely, though he later confessed that he wasn’t sure what they expected him to do with a tank full of axolotl. He supposed they could stay in an aquarium, but not a lot of people in Auradon even knew what an axolotl was, lived in, or ate other than the mermaids themselves. They were oddballs—technically salamanders, but unlike salamanders, which eventually breached the water, axolotl stayed under their whole lives long.
Things didn’t get any less strange when they got shipped back to Auradon and they were completely different animals. Black as loam and perfectly comfortable on land, it was thought to be the wrong crate, but how many salamanders were getting shipped to Auradon Castle?
As it turned out, axolotl were neotenous: perpetual children. But when exposed to a new situation, in this case, a dark shipping crate, their youth was no longer useful, and they ventured into their long-lost adulthood. The adult axolotl now lived in a terrarium in the Auradon Prep biology classroom. Mal stared at an axolotl doddering around in the tank. “Mal, can you please answer question number three?”
It makes sense for something to remain in its juvenile state if it benefited the creature. But if it’s in the wrong place, if that benefit stops working? It remembers a developmental path forgotten by nature millions of years ago. It changes. It wraps itself in a cocoon.
What emerges may be unrecognizable.
“Mal? Question number three?”
She stared into the axolotl’s beady eyes and tried to will them pale again.
Chapter 3: into an eden where, presumably, god had just turned loose elephantiasis
It was VK Day.
In the jags surrounding Bald Mountain, there was a place from which food grew, which was as much a miracle as the inhabitants of the Isle would allow themselves. They called it the Peach Pit.
The Peach Pit didn’t grow peaches, but it did grow potatoes, lettuce, and beets, the foundations of life. The ground was loamy and well-fertilized (whether it was because Chernabog was shitting off the mountain or not was neither here nor there) and the drain of melting mountain ice wetted the soil. The open side received the most sun anyone on the Isle would see—not an impressive amount, but the pit was fairly high in the cloud cover, so more than usual.
It was practically the Garden of Eden, complete with God barring them from getting in.
It was flanked by ninety-degree cliffs on three sides and a white-water river on the fourth. Rappelling the cliffs was nearly impossible to do without dashing your brains on the rocks; managing to navigate the path to the river side took a week at best and you still couldn’t cross the stream without getting swept away. Even if some crazy bastard managed to survive, you’d probably burn more food getting there than you would find in the pit itself. No one would attempt it.
Except Hans “crazy bastard” Westergaard, who was now squinting at the top of the north cliff with his one remaining eye. “Do you hear something?”
Christian shook himself like a dog, jostling the dirt from the basket of potatoes on his back. His face was covered with a filthy t-shirt he’d converted into a mask. “Big bee.” The rains had just finished and his footsteps squished.
“It could be your sister screaming in the distance,” Hans mused.
“Could also be lift. Could broke.” Christian’s clipped manner of speech was the result of a bout of malaria years ago that had damaged his lungs. Bullheaded as he was this did not stop him from lugging several pounds of potatoes, or speaking, though the latter didn’t typically exceed five syllables.
“It had better not be.” Hans was walking with a cane, except it wasn’t a cane, it was a machete, but also not a machete. At its basest parts it was a lawnmower blade with a piece of tire rubber melted over the end and a leather sheath. The lift approaching on the horizon was also rather cobbled—pieced together painstakingly with raw wooden planks and bicycle parts.
There was a young man, younger than any other first generation villain, sitting outside his house, which was a hundred paces away from the lift. (It could’ve been closer. He trusted his own craftsmanship. But he didn’t trust that someone wouldn’t rig it to explode.) He yawned. “ Guten Morgen , Westergaards.”
“Good morning, Varian. Going up,” said Hans.
Christian grabbed the prescribed bag of potatoes off the top of his load and set it at Varian’s feet. He walked over to the lever only to have his hands smacked away.
“You can’t pull that! Someone’s already up there,” Varian said. Christian squinted up at the clifftop, to no avail, as the sun glared off the rocks, but sure enough the ropes were moving. Hans started interrogating.
“Hell if I know.”
“What do mean, hell if you know? What kind of security gap is that?”
“I don’t exactly have a periscope installed.”
“Then install one, this place is turning into a gang capital! I cut you a great deal when I said you could live on this land—you know where I was when I was your age? On the street, selling my backside! Now my kids can barely date because I can’t tell them which one of these little bastards are mine!”
“Thanks, dad .”
“Ex cuse me!”
As they continued arguing (“If it’s such a problem, why don’t you pose as Mal’s father to score money?” “I tried that. For some reason Hades popped out of the ground and punched me in the throat.” The mountains rumbled ominously. “What? You know what you did!” cried Hans, shaking his fist.) a line piled up behind Christian. The caravan of other harvesting children was beginning to catch up. A gaggle of orphans with dirty faces, rolling eyes, and potato baskets. Christian kept his gaze upwards.
“Look,” he said, and finally they all looked up.
Four flying objects crossing the sky, with a clear mechanical buzz. Each held a package.
Ben’s initial idea of a grand announcement was shot down moments out of the gate. The gang divides meant that large gatherings of VKs in a small space wouldn’t go down well, even disregarding the wider political situation.
It was very cold, which meant lice season. Jack’s mother was shaving heads. Jack had to sweep up the hair twice as fast so the colors wouldn’t mix. Mother always said she never used the lice hair but she was lying. They boiled it in vinegar first, but then they sewed it into a wig. Don’t tell them, it’s a secret, Jack. Because, hey. Free hair.
It got cold sometimes and he’d forget it wasn’t lice season and he started shaving someone’s head even if they just wanted a trim. Less people came in now. That wasn’t so bad. Jack didn’t eat that much.
There was Hetty. She had a thing of twisted metal in her hand. “This was stuck in your clothesline,” she said. “I got one too. You’re lucky nobody saw it.”
Jack didn’t know when he’d picked the straight razor up but it was inconsequential. He tapped the blade flat against the counter, the chairs. The vibrations felt good. He peered into Hetty’s glowing eye holes as she gave him the thingy. It grasped a manila envelope tied around a brick with twine, there was a white rose slipped between the twine and the package. “I shouldn’t let my mother see this. She doesn’t like white roses,” he muttered, throwing the rose in the trash.
That made Hetty tilt her head but Jack didn’t know why. There had to be a reason, but remembering felt like grabbing wet soap. “Well, you can tell her later. Just open it.”
Jack trailed his finger down the page as he read. He swore he could feel his marbles rattling in his skull. “They’re really doing this?”
“I’m surprised, too.”
Hetty sounded sad. “Are we in some kind of trouble?” said Jack.
“I don’t know, Jack.”
Jack went to say something. His tongue extended with effort. “I—I feel like I forgot something just now, but for the life of me I don’t know what it is.”
He could’ve sworn he heard Hetty mumble “oh, boy.” She pointed at a piece of paper taped to the counter.
Certificate of death for… oh. How could he forget something like that?
There were still some relief workers and missionaries ashore, and according to them, not everyone found the idea of emigration appetizing. Mal’s sudden absence meant a power vacuum, and the Westergaards rushed to fill it. Their new following was only ever referred to as the “Founders.” Their aim was to consolidate power on the Isle into a true, self-sustaining, governed country, and snub all Auradonian attempts at intervention, which didn’t bode well for anything .
Animals that recognize their own faces in the mirror are like celebrities. There’s only a handful of them in the whole wide world. One for each finger on your hand: great apes, Asian elephants, Eurasian magpies, bottlenose dolphins, and humans. Out of them, only humans have been able to show dismay at the sight of their own faces. Hetty guessed this was why she felt at war with her own headlessness—she was part human, her father wasn’t.
The signal of her father’s coming was, ironically, headlights. They just barely worked, but in the dark district even a little flame was a beacon. Hetty told Jack goodbye and went down the staff stairs to the bus. There was a big barrel of grass waiting up front, interspersed with rubber bands and ladies’ hair ties. The barge haul must’ve been good. She shifted the strands in her hand as the Headless Horseman turned around.
His flaming, fleshless skull looked her over. “Hi, honey,” he said, teeth clacking together like closing coffins. “How was it?”
“Frustrating,” said Hetty, starting a new fan belt. “I might have to stop by Jack’s place when I leave, just to make sure he didn’t forget the whole thing.”
“Nobody said you have to, it’s no skin off your gourd if he drops his marbles again.”
“ Dad! ”
“Hey, if you show up late, they might leave without you, and you won’t get that wacky plastic head you’ve been harping on about.”
“It’s not wacky , it’s humane.”
“Humane, schumane. I know you’re still in your ‘murdering people is wrong’ phase—and murdering worked out great for me—but there are dead people all the time without our intervention! Why not just use one of their heads if you want to eat solid food so badly?”
“Oh my god.”
“What? What are they gonna do? Die some more?”
Hopefully the kids they had picked were on their side.
Forgive Claudine, Father, for she has sinned: she has lusted in her heart to break a child’s skull and spread the squash puree of her brains all along the street.
Her father wasn’t in the room when the drone smashed through the front window. She took the letter and the rosary, threw the drone out. Left the brick on the floor to make it look like some pirate did it. Claudine couldn’t tell whether the letter was important but she could wait for Hetty to show up and read it for her. Funny that a literal eyeless ghoul could read and she couldn’t.
When Hetty did read it, Claudine didn’t know how to feel. Relieved that she would soon be out of her living? Afraid to get too hopeful? Horrified that the hell her father always said was just across the strait was about to get much closer?
Claudine, ruminating, reached down and struck a match to stroke her arm gently with. Not the best use of matches, but it helped her think better than a razor strop to the leg did. It was a hobby when doing anything on the coast facing Auradon to speculate wildly on just what it was they did over there. Jack—this was before his mother died—offered the joke that they had so many razors just lying around that for fun they shaved their arms. Well, at least she would fit in.
That train was wiped away when she heard Jack crying upstairs and Hetty creaking the door slowly shut. Her first feeling was confusion, and perhaps, just a bit of anger. “What did you do? ”
“He forgot about his mom again.” Hetty shrugged.
“So you tell him point blank?”
“He taped her death certificate to the counter, he would’ve seen it eventually.” Claudine was about to say something kindness to neighbors when the bus headlights shined in the window. “Gotta go. Bye!”
“Wait—” Hetty was gone, as was any hope for catharsis.
Claudine, sighing, slipped the letter into her shirt, so it rested against her skin, and continued immolating herself on a little piece of hellfire.
But considering their luck, they probably weren’t.
Some more OC fleshing out, which naturally correlates with fewer comments. Ha ha, ha haaa...
I had fun writing Hans and the Headless Horseman and how they're getting along on the Isle. Hans may seem out of place as a farmer, but I picture him as being a pretty shrewd guy, so it would be in his best interests to control the Isle's only on-site raw food production. Also, about the "selling my backside" line... presumably there was a dearth of good looking young men on the island at its founding, so that seemed logical to write.
As to their qualities as parents, I don't see any obvious reason for either of them to be abusers other than it's a trope in Descendants fanfic, but that's not a trope I'm gonna follow blindly. Much of bleakness of the Isle comes not from the abuse, which IS terrible but is mostly background noise for the VK protagonists, but from the all-around terrible conditions, especially for the rare villain parent doing their best.
I'm particularly satisfied with my depiction of the Headless Horseman. Something about a dude with a flaming skull for a head casually embarrassing his daughter while driving home is really funny in my mind's eye. That skull is Ichabod Crane's, by the way. It's alluded to obliquely, but the Headless Horseman and Hetty both need human skulls (or some other structure with a hinged jaw and teeth) to properly eat. Hetty doesn't have one, so she's stuck having to mash up her meals and dump them in her neck hole. It's not a pretty picture.
So that's it. Updates will most likely slow considerably after this one. I'll see if this works out.
Chapter 4: if they bite you, they are trying to fix things in the only way they know
this is the funniest way i've ever ended a chapter i s2g. also what does "gang activity" mean mal. mal we want answers
It took a while for the VKs they were looking for to show up. “They probably think the limo’s like the barges,” Carlos said. “Y’know, how they say they’re gonna come Monday, they’re coming Tuesday, Wednesday, or not at all.”
No other explanation made sense, given the dark district’s proximity to the bridge. All of the VKs on the list lived there—probably, since no one had ever seen where Hetty lived. “Pull forward a little,” Jay muttered.
The driver raised his eyebrows. “That’ll put us right under the clotheslines.” Said clotheslines were dripping with wet cloth.
“You heard me. ...Keep going. Yeah, that’s good.” The limo rolled forward until the damp rags were shielding it almost completely, with only the headlights visible. Wet slaps. The side windows went dark. Well, darker.
“Any particular reason why we’re hiding under a pile of wet laundry? ‘Cause they already know we’re here. We sent the guards out,” said the driver, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the gaggle of dirty children pressing their faces against the windshield. Their speech was muffled, but clearly not English. “What are they saying?”
“ Cadeau. Last time anyone else from this island was in Auradon, French was still a major language.” Jay pointed at the ceiling. The little buggers threw him ruder gestures, but left.
“And that? What does the pointing mean?”
“‘The gods will provide.’”
He made a so-so gesture. “Eh.”
They practically had bulls-eyes painted on their backs. If a riot broke out, the rags would provide marginal protection. Meanwhile Evie was looking desperately for something to do to get her mind off the danger, but if she filed her nails any more she would bleed. She looked to Mal. “You think they got—Mal, your dress.”
“Are you wearing heels? What am I saying, heels wouldn’t do that. The hem’s all wrong.” Evie delicately took the rayon between her forefinger and thumb. “Either I dozed off while hemming this or you grew three inches overnight.”
Mal laughed far too quickly.
Claudine and Jack arrived first. Jack had a heart shaped backpack. Claudine didn’t have anything, though that wasn’t a surprise. Claudine talked first, brusquely, like always. “How long until we leave?”
Three out of four weren’t sure how to respond to that. Jay did, though he felt like he’d been slapped. “What? No, ‘Hi, Jay, it’s been an eventful six months, what with you joining the dark side and all and literally no one is happy about it?’”
“It’s no matter to me anymore; since you clearly know better than I do,” Claudine bit. Then she smacked Jack’s hand away from the candy jar in the door. “Don’t put the decorations in your mouth.”
“It’s okay. It’s all edible,” said Carlos, offering Jack a whole jar. His eyes went as wide as dinner plates as Claudine’s frown deepened at the perceived clownery. “No, really.”
Claudine watched as Jack stuffed a peanut butter cup into his cheek, then slowly, skeptically, nibbled the end of a candy cane. Jay wasn’t surprised but reached out again regardless. “That is definitely not the best thing you could eat in here.”
“I’ll go at my own pace, thank you.”
Claudine turned and refused to make eye contact. Jay looked to Evie for support, but she just coughed and pretended to look out the window. The driver said, “Tough breakup?”
“Something like that,” said Jay.
Carlos scoffed. “It’s tougher trying to find someone he didn’t break up with.”
“Ohhh, so he’s a ladykiller?”
“Nah,” Carlos continued, helping himself to one of Jack’s peanut butter cups, “if he’s Casanova, so’s everyone else on the Isle. Most of us have dated at least three people at a time when we did it.”
“‘Gang activity,’” said Mal. “I never went over two. I don’t know how anyone can do more, just two can get really messy if you don’t know what you’re doing. Remember when they cut Clay Clayton’s right arm off?”
“Just to keep our options open; there’s usually no telling who’s related to who. If you accidentally dated your sister, at least that’s only a fraction of the people interested in you.”
Evie shuddered. “You think it’ll never happen to you, but it turned out four out of seven of the people I was stringing along were my siblings. I knew my mom got around, but come on, four? That’s not even a minority.”
“Personally, I’m kind of glad you guys don’t do it that way in Auradon. The whole setup seemed super stressful to me.”
“Not to mention primitive and barbaric,” Claudine said, with an audible crack of the candy cane.
“Claudine didn’t want to be a Baptist bigamist,” Carlos said sotto voce.
“A Pentacostal pentigamist,” grumbled Jay.
“I’m Catholic. ”
Jack kept putting different stuff in his mouth and Claudine continued gnawing the same candy cane until Hetty knocked on the window. “I wore my good head!” she said, the sound echoing around the hollow turban squash. The low placement of Hetty’s eyeholes made the protrusion on the top look like a hat.
Carlos said, “Fucking superb, you funky little ghoul. Get in.”
“Guys, Dizzy still hasn’t shown up,” Evie said softly as Hetty started stuffing hunks of taffy in her throat.
The others knew Evie well enough to recognize that particular volume as concern. “Maybe she can’t find us,” Carlos said, trying to reassure her.
“We’re parked right next to her house. Hetty found us and she literally doesn’t have eyes.”
There was a loud thunk from the top of the car. They all jumped, seized with the sudden terror that they were being attacked, the limo interior briefly flashing green with the strength of Mal’s magic, and the driver whipping out a shotgun that raised a lot of questions no one cared to ask at the moment.
The roof squeaked and a girl with red hair pulled herself bodily to the front of the limo, head hanging over and down in front of the windshield. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen. More dirty children appeared with her, peeling the wet cloth from the windows. They were considerably less friendly than the last bunch. They sneered, brandished knives and two-by-fours.
“Good morning!” the redhead said, waving jauntily. “You’re all in a hurry, so I’ll not waste your time telling you things you already know like who I am and what I want. Just kindly let your three guests out of the car.”
The driver cocked the shotgun. “Who is that?”
Mal blinked in surprise, her eyes still straining to calm down. “I have no idea.”
She really didn’t—this kid wasn’t ever in Mal’s gang or Uma’s crew, so this girl’s identity was beyond her.
“Are you kidding me?” the redhead snapped. “Claudine! Tell them who I am!”
Claudine didn’t even remove the candy cane. “I don’t know what she’s talking about.”
“Jack!” the redhead cried angrily.
“Oh, you’re Claudine’s angry girl with the gross fingers,” Jack said. “Uh… Natalie! Nora! Nina? It starts with an N, right?”
“Fuck you,” said Hetty.
“ Helvede , you’re all assholes! My name is Andersen of the honorable house of Westergaard, daughter of Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, baroness of the Peach Pit, and leader of the Founders.”
The second-wave VKs ate their candy in silence.
“Wow,” said Mal, when she recovered. “Bet I’ll be able to see the size of that ego from Auradon.”
Andersen growled, physically growled. The only other human Jay had seen unironically growl was Ben. (In Ben’s defense, he had been trying and failing to thread a needle at the time and didn’t seem aware of it.) “The point being, give me my investors back .”
Jay already knew what was going on. This wasn’t a real gang boss—this was a small-time pipsqueak with a self-image the size of Jupiter and the fragility of a helium balloon. To draw a gun or a knife on them wasn’t a deterrent, it was a stroke to their ego, reassurance that they were a threat that needed to be addressed. There was no need to fight. You just had to refuse to take them seriously, and they’d beat themselves up.
Carlos cackled, and the situation was so absurd that Jay doubled over himself. “Your investors?” said Carlos, slapping his knee. “What are you gonna do? Tank our stocks?”
Andersen’s cronies started to giggle themselves. She definitely wasn’t the boss. Nobody laughed at the boss. “Ex cuse you! My family spent years cultivating that spot of land! You’d all be dead if not for us! You hear me? Dead! ”
It was sad. It was really sad. And it only got sadder when the driver turned on the windshield wipers.
Andersen howled in defeat as the soap squirted her and she fell off the roof. “My hair!” she cried, trying to free herself from the wiper. “Damn it, you morons, do something!” Someone sheared off the stuck bit and ran away with it triumphantly, harping about how much money it was worth. “Hey! Get back here!”
The group got a good, stress-relieving laugh as they watched Andersen bolt down the street with a massive chunk of hair gone from her scalp.
That got ripped out of them as a dead body hit the car roof like a sack of potatoes.
Ben’s face was starting to ache from smiling and he subtly started fanning himself with the stack of introductory pamphlets. Was it just him, or was bringing this wave of VKs to Auradon ten times harder than the last?
For one, it wasn’t a novel concept anymore. When he tried pitching it to the Hero’s Counsel it was either soft eyes and “oh, but the first ones just got here” or “the last guys almost got you killed, do you have a death wish?” At least the first one was fresh and all opinions were based on theory. Now everyone was up in the Core Four’s personal lives trying to find foundations for their next article or paper.
Even the welcoming committee wasn’t as cheery as last time. It had shrunken considerably, as a fair deal of them were protesters that had to be—ironically—put behind a barrier of foldable fences to avoid aggrieving the new VKs. Chad managed to get through but he was on thin ice. Audrey didn’t even bother showing up. Jane and Doug being present and supportive made him feel marginally better, but every time the band switched pieces, Ben could suddenly hear distant shouts of “stay lost, gang boss” and “two, four, six, eight, we don’t wanna integrate.”
It just—it sucked. It really, really sucked, but Ben really, really couldn’t admit that without casting doubt on his own cause.
Ben was roused from his stupor instantly. “Look, everyone, here they come!” he shouted at the crowd. The band managed to revive themselves for another number. Signs that had been lowered went back up.
Fairy Godmother approached Ben’s side, frowning. “Why are they holding down the horn?”
“Maybe the limo’s so full the driver’s pressed up against it.”
“A lot of things aren’t safe. That doesn’t make them b—” Ben cut himself off. “Uh oh.”
The limo was coming, and it was splattered with blood.
“Bippidi bobbidi fuck .”
Chapter 5: #VKDay
YEAAAH EPISTOLARY CHAPTER!! YEAAAAAAAAH
Adam Delabête @realBeast · 46s
The royal family commends the National Guard for their speedy response but decline comment at this time. #VKDay
ANN @ANN · 2m
Why is there violent backlash against #VKDay, and why does this matter to Isle integration? More tonight at 8/7 c.
Weselton News @WeseltonNews · 4m
BREAKING NEWS: Auradon Prep in lockdown, King Ben claims that integrated VKs had "nothing to do with it" #VKDay
Jane Desfées @bippidibobbidijr · 10m
#VKDay UPDATE No active danger on campus. Lockdown is in case there's magic contamination or intruders in limo. My DMs are open for details
Esmeralda @dieuaiderlesparias · 16m
dans le sillage de #VKDay, rappelez-vous: blâmer tout un groupe pour les actes d'une seule personne n'est pas justice. c'est un crime de guerre.
Prince Chad @ceaddacharming · 22m
Did we just forget about what happened with the last #VKDay? Why are we still doing this shit? We should just close up the whole thing and let them kill each other!!
Princess Audrey @AethelthrythRose · 19m
@ceaddacharming The entire Heroes Council seems to be thinking, as if they had never considered this idea before in their lives. Truly you have opened their hearts and minds.
Finally, the king speaks:
"what the hell chad"
then he shoves you in a locker.
Benjamin Delabête, King of Auradon, confirms no Auradonian citizens or Isle emigrants harmed; VK Day program will continue as planned despite Tremaine incident.
[-] GrumpyGuy 2031 points 1 day ago
What is he doing? The Isle gangs are fucking rioting and getting barge workers killed, he has no plans for the Paris Plan that would actually improve conditions INSIDE the barrier, and his only concern is whether the fucking VKs are okay? Fuck this.
[-] RealBoy 30 points 1 day ago
Welcome to Auradon! please go fuck yourself
[-] GrumpyGuy 1001 points 11 hours ago
Lol. Nah, TIL God probably got run out by the Olympians, so we're still good.
[-] ratpatootie 330 points 9 hours ago
With our luck God is probably on the Isle at this point. (List of people He murdered: technically, everyone, by designing mankind to be mortal?)
[-] timousethy 23 points 7 hours ago
beast putting god and hades on the same inescapable island: FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT
[-] WoodsLife 2301 points 11 hours ago
the delabetes have always been about money and money alone so im not surprised they went for this program and not the paris plan. sending enough aid to get the isle to some semblance of a functional prison let alone a country would cost money, so much that it might put them out of business forever. it seems they would rather let people die than pay this right now unless were missing something.
[-] thirdcaballero 193 points 3 hours ago
I'm a bit mad, but I think I know why they aren't doing this. I am like 99% certain that because of the recent uprising among Isle farmers, the Paris Plan would probably fuck over most people around the wharf and the Bald Mountain-ish area, which would probably cause more harm than good. Probably.
It's still a dick move, though.
! Answered What's up with the "Paris Plan" and King Ben?
all 3 comments
[-] snickersnack 132 points 39 minutes ago
Essentially, it was a pitch made by the Parisian government in order to raise the quality of life on the Isle of the Lost to somewhere above "incompatible with life itself" by installing a puppet government. It would require the budget from several large Auradonian states, and would consist of the deployment of several specifically trained militias to take over the local authorities. The plan required the Auradonian government use around 90% of their budget, due to the fact that overthrowing an island full of villains, even depowered villains, is no small peanuts.
King Adam was set to adopt the Paris Plan, but a couple years ago he suddenly moved his son's coronation up from "when Adam dies" to "when Ben turns sixteen." Then King Ben dropped the Paris Plan and came up with VK Day.
Speculation about the timing here is all over the map.
Saw an... interesting parade float driving around the school.
all 1 comments
[-] lost_ish_boy [score hidden] 10 minutes ago
Dude, that's not a float.
can you imagine being a vk literally putting your life on the line to key a royal limo with elaborate political art only to get upstaged by some yahoo accidentally throwing a dead body on the car and the driver TAKES OFF in a panic without removing the body meanwhile your art gets completely ignored for like half a day until somebody else posts a picture of the limo on reddit and the royal guard didn't even see it at first so they're hearing about all this secondhand and as far as you know they never even noticed because you're still on the isle of the fucking lost.
What a wild hypothetical that, for the sake of my release from the psych ward, I will assume is not based in some hellish current event I have yet to hear about!
god fucking damn it
I'm holding out in the gym. If anyone needs to get inside, come. The lockdown isn't going to lift for a while, the guards need more time to search the limo and interrogate people. Pray for the VKs
if you go to auradon prep and have to go outside for any reason, TAKE YOUR ID. national/royal guard are still here and WILL detain you if you don't have it.
god they finally took the new vks up to the hospital im in for a workup and the baymaxes are absolutely losing their shit in the hallway. they're all "HELLO I AM BAYMAX YOUR PERSONAL HEALTHCARE COMPANION" at the same time to each of them and wait somethings happening
a girl knocked one over the railing and hes just bouncing like a fcuking beach ball asdlkfjdjk
me @ that girl who pushed a baymax off a balcony and now the doctors are trying to catch him but it's like trying to catch a balloon in a mosh pit
[Meme: woman crying and saying "Fuck everybody else. I respect you!"]
i got detained but the guards forgot to take my phone. im really scared
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)15:33:17 No.3338182
Hooo boy one of the VKs coming over is the kid of the guy who tried to kill my mom... I want to be angry but he was the one who attempted CPR.
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)15:36:27 No.1933681
>find out the average villain on the isle of the lost has sired at least 3 kids
>throw a sack of kittens in a river
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)15:39:35 No.8201934
Even when the topic is literal war crimes, cunts like you are still rearing their heads. Unbelievable.
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)15:41:54 No.1818201
my friend worked for the horned king to pay for college. he got hauled off to the isle with the rest of them Hes 1st generation so hes not eligible for the vk day program. the news is hitting me really hard right now i hope hes ok.
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)18:07:34 No.9607818
they took my father. I was born before he committed his crimes so they didn't take me
he tried to kill a bunch to people to avenge my death. obviously I'm okay, I got better, but it kills me a little bit to know hes still in there
counting how long I was in the coma I havent spoken to him in 30 years . when I heard about vk day I was so angry I just wanted to throttle someone. still am. god
File: one hell of a light show huh.jpg
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)18:22:01 No.2019623
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)18:23:40 No.8182019
Where is that? Are you posting from the Isle anon?? How the fuck did you do that???
Anonymous 08/18/19(Sun)18:25:41 No.6258182
necessity is the mother of invention, bitch.
i... love epistolary chapters... so much. and the fact that the main characters are canonically major public figures with roles in politics allowed me to play this from a different angle than i normally would. the plot stuff will be elaborated upon later but for now :,) epistolary chapter...
Chapter 6: let others do the pushing and shoving, the neck you save will be your own
Currency on the Isle of the Lost was fickle and rode on the trash that rippled off Auradon like the wake of a boat; what was worth as much as diamonds could be dirt the next time the barge came, as was the can of peaches that Andersen Westergaard had paid for her cigarettes with, due to a recent hurricane scare on the mainland that resulted in many, many unused canned fruits coming ashore.
But one thing was certain: Dr. Facilier was making bank today.
The first person who came in was the Headless Horseman. He paid in potatoes, fresh ones that were still worth something, and Facilier gave him tokens to operate the TV. “Heard about some good news today?”
“Something like that,” said the Headless Horseman, who, for a flaming skull, looked positively giddy.
Time passed. Kids came and went, the Headless Horseman kept watching the news anxiously. Facilier was half-curious what could possibly be of such interest, but if he left the front counter the dinky prizes would “go missing.” “Oh boy,” said Facilier, rubbing his temples, as Frollo hobbled up to the counter.
Time wasn’t kind to Frollo, and neither was Jay, as rumor had it that the latter had whooped the former’s ass. Though considering that the victim was Frollo, Facilier seriously doubted it was unwarranted. Frollo was hatless, stooped, walking with a cane. “Mr. Facilier,” he regarded.
“Doctor,” Facilier corrected. “I didn’t do three years of residency to be called ‘mister.’”
“And I didn’t raise my daughter for sixteen years only for her to shamble into your den of iniquity, but we’re both of poor fortune, it seems,” Frollo grumbled. “Where is she?”
“Not here. Also, this is an arcade.”
“You entice children to flail madly under the light of the moon to pagan chants.”
Facilier glanced at the kids dancing to “Ra Ra Rasputin” in the corner. “You think that’s witchcraft, take it up with Boney M.”
“How dare you—”
“Where—?!” cried Hans Westergaard, slamming the doors open before they swung back and hit him in the face.
“They’ll swing back if you don’t hold them open,” said Facilier.
Hans got up and tried again. “Where’s my son?”
Evie and Carlos drank some Red Bulls after all the security stuff cleared, which was well after the sun set, and escorted the five new VKs to the hospital.
Evie still looked ragged. Her makeup had mostly flaked off, leaving her complexion bloodless. The chair under her was royal blue and beige. She seemed to blend into it. Carlos squeezed her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m just…” Evie dragged her clammy hands down her face, smearing her mascara in thick stripes over her cheeks. “...I guess I’m in shock, a little.”
In his mind, Carlos replayed the thunk of Lady Tremaine’s corpse hitting the limo roof, the sound of her legs snapping from the impact. Dizzy running out, screaming, shaking her grandmother. Andersen’s gang running. One of them doubling back to try and revive her, despite Andersen telling him to get the fuck away from there. The driver said something about not letting villains onto the mainland, Tremaine can’t get in the limo. They told Dizzy to get in the car and she said, either they’re coming with her—he, Andersen’s white sheep doing the CPR, and she, Lady Tremaine—or she’s not coming at all. They said, fuck it, just drive. They drove back, crammed inside, sticky with blood, as the white sheep continued compressing Lady Tremaine’s chest.
“I’ll say,” he said. “If you were in your right mind, you wouldn’t let yourself look like Harry.”
Evie laughed bitterly, staring at her blackened palms. “Hartholomew Hook wishes his eyeliner were this heavy.”
Lady Tremaine hadn’t made it. Maybe they should have been relieved—they would be in much more trouble if they’d let a living villain out of the barrier. Instead, the authorities were whisking her corpse away for revivification. Easier said than done. The process was a bitch. It could take upwards of four years, and Carlos had read, uneasily, that in cases of a person being revivified twice, the time between the two revivifications was rarely ever remembered. Who was going to tell Dizzy?
Dizzy, who had been whisked off to a physical with the other four. That was another difficult subject. They went in saying they were only going to get four and they came out with five. He doubted Ben was going to make anyone go back, but would Fairy Godmother?
Speaking of, there was a shout from down the hall: “Get away from me, golem!”
Moments later a BAYMAX waddled into the hallway with an open cup of pudding stuck to its face. “The patient appears to be agitated,” it said, before turning to Evie. “Do you desire emotional support?”
Carlos really didn’t want to deal with Claudine tossing another BAYMAX, so he stood up. “You stay, I’ve got this.”
Machines, machines, everywhere. Four looked around like they’d never seen so many machines in their lives, let alone in the same room—they probably hadn’t. One didn’t look around. If Rosemary had to guess, that was the one the nurses were whispering about, the one whose grandmother got thrown out the window. Ouch.
Rosemary heard a noise near her room, so she momentarily put her eyes back in her head. But the hype was for nothing. It wasn’t a nurse telling her she was free to go, it was just the de Vil kid and the other BAYMAX that had gotten assaulted by Miss Jesus-Loves-Me walking by. Rosemary pretended to read as de Vil momentarily slowed down to read the sign posted on her glass door: MAGSAT ISOLATION. DO NOT ENTER WITH MAGIC OR ANTI-MAGIC ITEMS. His brow furrowed. What, hadn’t he ever seen a person with magsat before—scratch that, of course he hadn’t. Dumb question. The pentagram probably raised some questions, too.
She went back to spying. The girl with the pumpkin head was closest. The nurse said, “So you were born without a head?” and she said “Yes, I’m half ghoul by birth so it doesn’t hurt me but it really impacts my quality of life because I don’t have teeth and my vision and hearing instantly go out if my head is removed for any reason blah blah blah boring medical stuff.”
The fifth one, the one that wasn’t supposed to be there, was more interesting. He’d flaked off from a major gang, the gang that was top suspect for the old lady’s murder. He was the boss’s brother, if you could believe it. Rosemary didn’t even realize he was a guy at first, not from his face. It wasn’t a face you could really assign a gender to, but from the angle she was viewing it looked like it was actually two faces, like one person was peeking out at profile right behind his head. Had the name “Christian,” guilt levels befitting such. Breathing issues from a fucked up lung.
This was fun. Rosemary wondered why her mother never told anyone she could do divination. Maybe she valued her reputation as a “hero” too much to reveal she had powers traditionally associated with evil, but what the hell, the floating broad had already gotten away with indirect murder. By laughing , but still.
Sad girl, Dizzy was her name, was getting her blood taken. They gave her a cookie afterwards. She looked a little less wilted afterwards, having clearly never had a cookie before, and wow. Rosemary had to get out of there before she got depression again.
She jumped to the next room. Card guy was getting his neuro workup. It was actually kind of funny watching the doctors keep going “please close your eyes and point to your big toe” and him going “okay” and immediately forgetting to close his eyes or where they wanted him to point before they reminded him, over and over. Rosemary had to wonder whether they were using human or Wonderlander diagnostics. They were totally different brain structures, though even in a Wonderlander this had to be an extreme level of forgetfulness.
De Vil and Jesus-Loves-Me walked in. (Rosemary liked Jesus-Loves-Me, hence the proper noun.) The doctor said, “Does he normally have this much trouble following instructions?” and Jesus-Loves-Me said “You shouldn’t have done this so late in the day, his memory’s shot, you can try again in the morning—”
Oh, okay, now the nurse was here.
“Ms. Poppins, why are you giggling?” she nagged. “You’ll float again if you’re not careful.”
After Mal got out of detainment, she went and threw up. It was mostly unrelated to the dead body.
Was it horrible? Well, yes, but not for the reasons that everyone else thought it was horrible.
Everyone was talking about how terrifying it was, that the VKs leaving the island were being threatened. But Mal just felt this sense of relief .
Relief that it was someone who could get carted off by the authorities to get resurrected later. Relief that the only person who’d died was someone the outside world cared about. Relief that it wasn’t Dizzy.
Because on the Isle, disposal of the dead was a mundane issue. It was like taking out the trash or washing clothes. Death itself? A primal fear. The terror expressed that Cruella might one day choke on her own vomit or that they would open a relief package and it would be full of anthrax.
Mal got out of detainment and went to Rite-Aid because she needed a loaf of bread. She meant to go to a real grocery store but she got confused and took off in the wrong direction and by the time she realized she was going the wrong way it was too late. She stood in the parking lot looking at a straight yellow line on a straight cement curb when she did realize. How much human labor went into making the paint, the cement, the cars that transported them both there, the effort that went into putting a curb next to a Rite-Aid nobody went to.
She went into the toothpaste isle at Rite-Aid and wondered what she could say to justify such a level of excess. A gilded ceiling could be written off as an endeavor of beauty. But there was nothing beautiful about five different brands of the same toothpaste. Crest and Colgate are words that mean nothing, basically, when you’re dealing with five or six hungry orphans and there’s clothes to put on the line and it looks like it’s gonna rain.
Mal went home.
The next day she took the peanut butter and jelly sandwich outside, and she poured her magic into it. Not like sugar into cake batter but like vomit into a bucket. When she was finished there was a beautiful picnic.
Mal pushed her tongue against her bleeding teeth until they finally came loose and she spit them into the grass. Something was growing in her mouth, behind her eyes.
She put on sunglasses and sat down.
And she waited for Ben.
okay, THAT'S the last oc. can you believe i scoured the descendants wiki to find a basis for including the spawn of mary poppins in this or what. rosemary is... how you say. on paper she's the token good teammate for the second wave vks the way ben is the core four's token good friend, but i'm going to be straight with you, she's an asshole. like, a fun asshole, but still an asshole, and kind of my favorite character to write because for god's sake she's satanic mary poppins
and yep. nothing else of note in this chapter at all.
Chapter 7: the power is in the balance, we are our injuries as much as we are our successes
The first day of school for the five new VKs, the Surviving Five, as the media had epitheted them, was a mixed bag of gut-roiling anxiety, stunned silences, and anger so intense it could make you want to chew glass.
Dizzy was the darling of both the news and the students, which was unfortunate, because it seemed all Dizzy wanted right now was to be left alone. Claudine didn’t know Dizzy very well, but she was aware of her dream of coming to Auradon. Likely spoiled now. “No matter how your heart is grieving,” indeed.
As soon as Claudine made it to her first class, however, she was confronted with her first and most inescapable problem.
Her first period class was literature.
Someone had sat them down and explained earlier that their schedules were scattered, with the exception of Remedial Goodness and the lunch period, which would occur at the same time for all of them. Claudine supposed it was lucky that another VK was in this class. Not so lucky that it was clearly one of those rich kids who came over first. Rich by Isle standards, anyway.
Claudine held something of a contempt for the noblemen of the Isle. They had a particular uniform that they even seemed to hold to in Auradon—the brightly colored poor-grade leather and plastic thrown out by clothing companies.
Nobody wanted it because it was hard to work with. The nobles hoarded it in great quanities because they had the resources to make someone else sew it into new clothes for them. (Or, in Evie’s case, the skill to do it herself.) Everyone else made do with either donated or junked clothing or sewed new clothes from whatever raw cloth they could find.
Claudine was presently wearing a dark headscarf made from the remains of the Lost Revenge’s last flag. She supposed she should’ve felt shame in the presence of these well-dressed royals, but what could she do. The scarf draped low enough to disguise her chest, and her dress was growing too small for her.
And, more pressingly, it hid her look of confoundment when the teacher asked her to read off the board.
She squinted in an attempt to resolve the swimming lines into something intelligent. “I…” she said slowly. She thought about Dizzy’s glasses. She thought about how the optometrist said that she would look at everyone else’s eyes at a later date. “I’m sorry. I can’t see the board.”
The teacher’s face fell in an expression of pity. A resounding success.
At its conclusion Claudine walked out of class as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, de Vil caught up to her. “You didn’t say anything about eye problems at the hospital.”
“I didn’t think it was important,” Claudine said, walking faster, quickly outpacing de Vil’s short legs.
“And then she said she didn’t think it was important and just left!” said Carlos, getting his practice sword behind Jay’s knees, dropping him to the floor. “That’s super sketchy!”
“Not really. I think I know what’s going on,” Jay grunted as he got back up.
Fencing practice was the back half of the lunch hour and some curious souls occasionally crept up to watch. Jack and Dizzy were lurking by the edge, though because it was Jack and Dizzy, it was impossible to tell whether they’d come over with any sense of purpose or were simply wandering the campus.
Carlos pressed harder. “‘Well,’ what? You dated for like a year, how do you not know?”
“I do know, I’m just not going to blurt it out in front of the whole fencing team.”
“Ooh!” crowed Chad. “Jay has a girlfriend!” Chuckles from the rest of the team.
“At least he’s doing better than you, Ceadda, ” Lonnie snipped, walking into the arena. She wasn’t dressed to watch—she had a tank top and a wooden sword strapped to her back. “Are tryouts still open?”
Jay and Chad said “yes” and “no” at the same time, respectively.
“Why not? We still have an open spot.”
“Read the manual,” said Chad, taking out a copy and smacking it for emphasis. “It says the only people allowed in the fencing team are the captain and eight men.”
“Wow, Chad! I didn’t know you could read,” said Lonnie.
“Thank you, I— hey ,” Chad said, realizing. “My point is, it says men. It doesn’t say girls .”
“Then why are you here?” said Jack, sounding genuinely confused.
Chad was red. Carlos lost his shit. That managed to get a giggle out of Dizzy, even. Jack just scratched his head, looking ever more puzzled.
Initially the plan was for all the VKs to room together. This fell through when the kids on the list weren’t two boys and two girls. The situation hit rock bottom with the unplanned addition of Christian.
Claudine spent her lunch hour procuring a shovel and getting ready to dig.
“Hi,” she said at the housing desk. “I have an issue with my room placement. I was placed in room 319 with a Hiroko Hamada. I was told I could be moved on the basis of my religious beliefs.”
“Well, Hiroko is a witch.”
To understand how Claudine came to this bafflingly wrong conclusion, please keep in mind that:
- There is very little technology on the Isle of the Lost, and even less magic. The people who possess things like TVs and busses tend to be the same people who would normally do magic, like Dr. Facilier and the Headless Horseman.
- Frollo is stringently anti-magic, but he’s also from Paris circa 1482. He wouldn’t know that a TV isn’t magic. (The TV in his crepe shop is there purely to boost sales, and under the counter there’s a crossbow meant to shoot it to death if it ever turns against its masters.)
- Claudine has never seen actual magic before. This is important to remember.
Therefore, Claudine walked in, saw Hiroko programming a computer, and immediately assumed she was a witch.
After some stubborn back and forth with the secretary, in which Claudine notably insisted that there was no plausible way to harness lightning in a metal wire without magic, the former finally gave up. “Fine, fine. There’s a new girl on the second floor with no roommate. I’ll see about getting you moved in there.”
“Thank you,” Claudine sighed as the secretary handed her a slip of paper with the room number and the roommate’s name written on it. Said secretary also wrote down a note for the counselor to put Claudine in remedial physics. Really remedial , read the note.
Claudine didn’t bother trying to read her own note, but here’s what it said:
Room 220 Rosemary Poppins
Christian almost was late for Remedial Goodness because he sat on the wrong bench.
The events of the day had been oddly taxing despite involving less hard labor than he usually engaged in at home, and he couldn’t quite catch his breath between classes. Though he’d initially scoffed at the offer of a rolling oxygen tank, he was seriously reconsidering.
It was thinner air. Auradon Prep was miles above sea level. And he was pretty sure his body was overclocking itself looking for air impurities that weren’t there. There was a total lack of stench to Auradonian air that was throwing him. On the Isle, if you didn’t smell anything, you just had to try harder, and it wasn’t a reflex he could stop.
He sat on the bench outside one of the glass-wall classrooms. The people already in the classroom opposite stared a bit, one took pictures; Christian wondered if his lips were turning blue. He wondered if they were having a good time gathering their pity pornography. Look at the poor suffering children of the Isle. If you donate one hundred dollars a month we’ll use fifty cents to buy dog food for them and use the rest to get ourselves a yacht. Smily face, heart, shooting star.
There was a blonde girl in blue and a brunette girl in pink crossing the hallway. “...Doing something nefarious right now,” the girl in blue asserted. “I bet even the CPR was just a ploy to get in the border.”
The girl in pink didn’t like that. “Ooh, he wanted to get a good meal and a decent bed. So nefarious.”
“Audrey, this is serious! Border security’s been breached and Ben won’t even do anything!”
“Neither is Westergaard. If he wanted to do something bad, he would’ve done it by now, not just sit on a bench doing nothing.”
“Yeah? That’s what my Aunt Anna thought about her first fiance. Oh, wait!”
“No, I mean, literally. He’s sitting right there.” The girls turned abruptly to Christian. He could’ve sworn he felt the temperature drop a few degrees.
“Something to say?” said Christian calmly.
They stared for a moment. “Do I talk first or do you talk first?” the blonde finally said, pointing to her companion. She had these weird non-gloves on her arms, like gauzy sleeves, but unattached to her dress. “Which one of us talks first?”
Audrey threw her hands up. “Hey, it’s your ancestral grudge, Eli. He’s all yours.”
“I… really? Alright.” Eli cleared her throat. “Stay away from me.”
“Okay,” said Christian.
“Stay away from my cousin.”
“If you ever come near us or Arendelle I’m going to freeze your tongue until it crumbles. I’ll lock your little friends in a fridge and make you watch them die. I’ll make you all regret ever setting foot in Auradon.”
“If—what the—stop just saying ‘okay!’ I’m trying to be scary!”
“Aud-rey!” Eli whined. “Back me up! You’re a nativist too, you know!”
“Whoa, time out. Don’t lump me in with your brain fungus conspiracy theory people.”
“You hang out with me!”
“And I regret every second of it.”
“You hate Mal!”
“I hate Mal , yes, and her friends. Christian is not Mal’s friend. I’ve never even seen them in the same room.”
Eli’s face flushed. “You can’t prove that. They all love her; he’s probably her goon or something.”
“I am not ,”
Christian snarled, grabbing Eli’s shoulders,
“Mal’s anything .”
He held her in a crushing grip until his hands went numb from the cold and his chest burned.
When he released her, Eli backpedaled in a dramatic panic until she hit Audrey. Audrey pushed Eli aside.
“See? Not Mal’s friend. Now in case you forgot, this is a school, and we’re late for class.”
Eli looked over her shoulder as Christian dragged himself away, the thin, clean air cooking his lungs like cold fire.
see, this was supposed to be a remedial goodness chapter... but then i kept writing and i hit my self-imposed chapter wordcount without ever getting there. whoops.
very little of this is going to be rehashes of d2 scenes, unless i'm really trying to emphasize something that'll be important later. no spoilers but things go off the rails HARD after mal leaves auradon.
audrey's characterization is a bit different here, but hey, even the canon has different iterations of her personality so i'm probably home free. i'm taking a page from "her reign is for..." in that audrey has been knocked down a peg by mal, and still holds a grudge. but by this point she's mostly cut her losses, started rebuilding her friend group, and accepted that vks are not going away in the foreseeable future so she may as well pull some into her sphere of influence