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let the shadows fall behind you

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She’s never seen so much new.

Beside the bowing, curtseying, and smiling, everything around her is sparkling. Elegant gowns, polished jewels on shining chains, shoes that can’t be worn just any old day. Gold filigree, silver accents, pure white paint shining on a carriage.

A part of Mal wants to be disgusted by the extravagance. Shopping’s not an option for the penniless quartet. And while Mal’s the one who uses old-fashioned paper, Evie’s able to sculpt life from cloth. Mal’s new dress is paired with earrings Jay long ago “borrowed” for her and a hair ornament Carlos proudly pressed into her hands just that morning. The earrings have never been in her earlobes before: they matter too much to risk losing by daily theft on the Isle. The weight in her ears is almost distracting.

Not enough to divert her heart-hammering attention from the softly glowing wand on the pedestal.

The bowing and curtseying starts in front of her as Ben completes his walk down the hall. He stands so proudly, looks so handsome. This boy-man who gave her a naïve kind of trust, something she thinks (learned) is weakness. Yet the way he slips a smile at her as he stands in front of his father makes her foolishly wish. (In her mother’s revenge, is there the slightest chance she can keep—)

(Why even ask herself that?)

So, the wand.

She planted a little seed in Jane’s head because, well, objects of magic have rules. Like her mother’s staff, one that she’s never allowed to touch. That one’s liable to transfer allegiance depending on which holder is strongest, and it’s full of darkness. Not that she’s stronger than Mother. (She can’t be, because—)

This one? A wand infused with light, with good, and that means it cannot simply be taken against the holder’s will. In order to transfer hands there has to be genuine care from the taker towards the holder.

The things one learns when they read the information panels in museum archives.

Of course, then Mal had to work hard on compassion, which should be enough in terms of magic loopholes to exploit. As long as she doesn’t outright hate the person who holds the wand, enough positive feeling mustered up will let her take it from them.

Trying to like anything about Jane’s mom would be so much harder.

While Jane’s a little irritating, she’s also sort of pitiful. She’d have been bottom-rung on the Isle. And Mal’s not one for care beyond her three friends-whom-she-protects (and maybe also one prince— No. Not allowed). Mal’s a very particular half-fairy.

She can handle small doses of Jane. She even half respects her for being so mean to them after Family Day. Rudeness after asking for a favor? Normal on the Isle. Undoing her hair was just the expected response (not hurt feelings, not allowed to be). And the incident didn’t stop her feeling some pity for Jane—so desperate to be happy, for her mom to make her pretty, for others to make a place for her in their worlds.

(It’s not empathy. It’s not.)

She watches Jane’s face as Ben kneels. Everyone around them glows in happiness and the plain-face girl who has been withering for ages stares hungrily at the magical instrument.

(It is not empathy.)

Mal keeps her eyes from the balcony her friends have ended up on. Their plan is set. That surprise video conference made their purpose final. They’re seizing their evil futures with both hands and eyes wide open. (None of them has a choice. Only fools wonder about possibility.)

Jane’s mother raises the wand, lowers it, raises it—

Mal sees the decision made: fingers coiling, eyes flashing, jaw tightening. Jane’s eyes narrow. Mal’s own face twitches.

(Her lips should have curled up. Lesson Nine in Steps of an Evil Scheme).

Leaping forward, Jane snatches the wand from her mother’s hand. Her hand points up, victorious…and then her arm starts twitching. A buried concern bursts to life and Mal grimaces at the ignored side note about magical artifacts.

Jane’s emotion towards her mother? Love.

But Jane’s intentions with the wand? Selfish.

The wand fights back.

Damn. That makes the Evil Scheme a smidge harder. (She feels frustrated by that. Not…anything else.)

A wild, magical bolt shudders through the room, out into the open air to land somewhere outside the palace. The audience, as a mass of gaping sheep, backs up. Shocked cries ring out. Mal roots her feet into the ground, having anticipated it, waiting for her opportunity. 

“Child, what are you doing?”

“If you won’t make me beautiful, I’ll do it myse—aah!”

Sparks fly off the wand. Mal is suddenly sheltered behind Ben’s strong, spread arms. (Her heart feels…something about that). While prepared to leap for the wand, his sudden hamstringing only causes a slight lag.

What really startled her was the sound of the sparks. That electrical snap, a crackle, as Jane spun around, desperately trying to control the wand. Heart pounding, Mal watches her spin and stagger.

(Jane will be fine.)

Another step, and there is an opening. She jumps away from Ben, around him, and takes the chance. (The sparks. That’s why she does it.)

Mal’s hand lands on Jane’s shoulder and wrist. One moves to slide her fingers beneath the other girl’s, a hard task when they clamp so fiercely. She pulls Jane closer, arms around her, chest-to-back, as Jane fights to keep her prize, or maybe fights the wand’s backlash. The sparks, a hoarse grating sound, continue. Mal tugs firmly (fearfully)—then, suddenly, easier. The wand feels smooth and light in her fingers.

Jane stumbles away, looking stunned. Mal’s hand follows her, reaching out.

For a moment, she thinks the wand will fight her too. She’s prepared for it. Instead, she feels only a mild buzzing in her hands, nothing to indicate what Jane had clearly felt as she tried to use it. In her hands, the wand is quiet (almost welcoming). Odd, but opportune.

Jane’s expression shows only terror, and Mal’s hand quickly withdraws to help stabilize the wand she now possesses. Amidst gasps and cries of fear, she stands triumphant.

(So why doesn’t she feel it?)

Mal feels an echo of Family Day when the hall’s response is so clearly fear. All around her are unfamiliar faces, in an unfamiliar place, where she is unwelcome (and it can’t feel like loss). None of that matters: she’s succeeded. She’s not a failure at this task, and finally made her mother proud.

As to why she feels nothing, just an emptiness… That doesn’t matter. (It can’t.)

And then there’s Ben, kind Ben, careful Ben, again in front of her, again protective. “Mal?” One arm stretched to her, one arm stretched behind himself. Towards his parents. Like they’re in danger from her.

(Oh. That’s what her mother wants.)

The other arm, though, the one stretching out to her, is not palm-out but palm-up. Beseeching, asking, almost trusting. “Give me the wand,” he says.

(He doesn’t understand what he’s asking.)

“Stand back.” She’s alone down here. The balcony’s too far, and there are too many guards, staff, assembled gaping audience… She’s on her own.

“It’s okay,” he tells her.

What a lie. There’s a gathering darkness at the windows that no one seems to have seen yet— and it’s not her. The sleek white instrument in her hands remains almost dormant. She recalls: a bolt blasting out and into the air and landing elsewhere. Those storm clouds are right out of a bedtime story.

Mal’s shriek pierces her own ears. “Ben, stand back!”

The barrier is already gone if her mother’s out making a storm.

(Nothing is okay.)

Audrey shrieks something at her, rude and mean and probably true, but all she hears is Ben’s raised voice, ricocheting above the rest in the hall as he asks her, “Do you really want to do this?” He sounds like he’s asking about poorly-written notes from class, if she thinks they’ll be useful.

Abruptly, she’s no longer feeling blank—her body trembles in well-repressed fear, a deep well of anger. It burbles past her lips without permission. “We have no choice!” (He has no idea.) “Ben, our parents—”

“Our parents made their choice. Now, you make yours.”

A hushed silence falls. The thunderclouds outside roil.

And Mal swallows back a wish, a hope, and ruthlessly reminds herself that time is out. No more Auradon Prep. No more dorm rooms. No more dates. (… Might as well admit it. That makes her sad.) The four of them have no choices. No chances. No possibilities. The others are even stuck on the balcony, otherwise they’d be beside her right now.

Licking her lips, she looks only at this boy with so much faith she doesn’t know where to put any of it. “You don’t understand what you’re asking. My world doesn’t work the way yours does.”

Lightning finds its way into the hall, illuminating the young king. His sad eyes bruise her heart, but only for a moment. Because then, those brown eyes are wide and looking past her.

A lack of thunder in a lightning strike can only mean the darkest fairy of them all.

“I’m back!” Mother cackles, laughter rolling wild between her teeth.

Mal doesn’t back away from Ben. He’s tugged back by his father, his mother grasping his other arm. United, the royal family is a cluster of fear smothered in stone-stern expressions. The rest of the royalty is all terror, all around.

And Jane’s mother is no help, crying out, “Maleficent!” as though anyone is ignorant of her appearance.

“Oh, I missed magic! I must say, you, girl, you have the makings of a minion, or even a mediocre villain. That inept flailing shattered a wicked hole in that wretched barrier!” Mother glides by, clutching her staff and garbed as she’s always been.

She spares Mal not a glance.

Jane clearly considers the compliment worse than her own plain appearance. Jane’s mother puffs up. “That is uncalled for!”

“Am I not appreciated?”

“Guards!” the queen demands, thin voice firm. A faint clanking rises up on the edges of the audience.

It seems the Beast can still be called upon, judging by the high-king’s slight metamorphosis and his growled, “You will be stopped! You’ll not remain free for long!”

Ben’s broken free from his mother’s grip, his own flashing eyes and snarling lips betraying just how much he’s taken after his father. He takes three steps before Mal sees her mother’s signature evil grin.

“Won’t I?”

Cackling, her mother raps her staff against the ground twice. A green-edged ripple pulses out into the mass of panicked royalty and terrified common folk. All around Mal, the world slows, then freezes.

She casts her eyes about the hall. All movement has ceased. A glance at the balcony, then a scan of the floor, shows her friends frozen in their haste to reach her, between the wall and the masses. Not trapped then, but too late to be by her side.

Their eyes meet in a brief second, full of frantic movement.

Oh. The living statue spell.

Turning back to Mother, she meets Ben’s likewise-living gaze beyond the black robes and staff. Without eyebrows or eyelid creases to illustrate emotion, she cannot read what he wants to say, but knows there’s something. Knows that his eyes are following her when she forces herself to watch Mother.

(She always hated the spell in writing. In person, it’s worse.)

“All that commotion,” her mother snorts. “What an irritating lot. I’ll have to keep a lot of these around, until everything else falls into place,” she says, poking Ben’s father with her staff. She bats his crown from his head with a flick of her wrist. “But it is so much more fun when they can’t talk back!”

Back on the Isle, Mal would have laughed. No evil cackle even nudges up her throat to join her mother’s.

Seemingly undisturbed by Mal’s response, the horn-crowned fairy snaps her fingers and holds out her free hand, saying, “Wand me, darling.”

Mal hesitates.

(“Our parents made their choice. Now you make yours.”)

The thought has always been there, prickling in the back of her mind. Even after the threat inherent in the video conference, even with her desire to make her mother proud, she’s wondered.

If she says it, she’s the only one who’ll get in trouble. Her friends are safely stuck: unable to move anything but their eyes, able to hear and feel while stuck in place (unable to interfere or take the blame).

(That’s the only reason she has the courage.)

“And then what, Mother?”

First, blinking. Then, sneering. That’s her immediate answer.

Mal was trained to be obedient. Bouts of curiosity and contrary emotional responses were quickly and ruthlessly squashed until her younger self learned to hold it in. But now, Mal… Well. She’s holding a powerful, contrary wand that isn’t defying her like it did a good-born half-fairy. 

(Jane got credit. What about her?)

With a curl of her lip, her mother turns away and starts inspecting other statues, starting with a nearby princess. “That should be obvious even to you. What have I been waiting for all these years, Mal?”

“Revenge.” (Not… a better life for both of them?)

(That’s an Auradon thing. She can’t expect—)

“Revenge. We have been living for it! It’s all we’ve been waiting for and training for and planning for, so I don’t know why you’re asking such a ridiculous question now, darling.” Her mother’s noticed Audrey. “Is this—it is! Oh, Mal, you found a present just for me!” One claw-tipped hand reaches for Audrey’s cheek.

“And what about me?”

(So what if the question stops her mother from touching the other teen?)

Looking at her with that green gaze, Mal can see suspicion starting to form in her mother’s mind. She tries to slow it as her mother walks toward her. “In your whole revenge plan.” Because it never has been Mal’s. “Where do I fit in your world?”

(Do I fit? Do you care about me?)

Her mother tuts dismissively, like she did when Mal once showed her a drawing that had taken her hours to finish. “Are you concerned about being successfully evil again? Because I understand, after not taking down the barrier yourself, you did fail that one job I asked you to do.” Her fingers pinch the air in between their faces as she stands in front of Mal, looking down at her in disappointment. “But you’ll get another chance to do something right!” Her mother grins at her, pacing away again, and her clawed nails dig in to Ben’s jaw. “Maybe I’ll let you can keep this one. As a toy.”

No answer to her question.

“Mother.”

“Oh, all right, he can be your slave.” She cackles again, releases Ben, then reaches her hand out to Mal. “Now. Wand, darling, we have lots more to do today.”

That’s the second time she asks.

(Mother does not ask. Fact.)

She realizes in that very breath that she should already have been punished for disobedience, the wand snatched from her hand. The rules of the artifact are—

Her brain skitters over the thought.

The one thing she’s always wanted is her mother’s acknowledgement (love). That was her question, that went unanswered. (Intentionally?)

Harder than breathing underwater, Mal asks, “Why haven’t you just taken it from me?”

Mother scowls.

(That means— The wand cannot be— No. Not after every damn day of her life—).

Head in turmoil, Mal voices the thought that everything now depends on. “The wand has protections. I found. No one can take it from the holder unless they—unless they really, genuinely care about them. So Jane could take it from her mom.” She leaves her own morsel of compassion towards Jane out of it. Implying it is dangerous enough. More dangerous when she asks, “But you—is it that you won’t take it from me, or that you can’t?”

The air seems to crackle with such a loaded question out in the open.

(Please. Please…)

Her mother snorts. “You have been here for too long, if they’ve gotten into your head with those sorts of thoughts. Genuine care! I thought you were smarter than that!” Scowling and stomping, she snaps, “I taught you everything you needed. I taught you, ungrateful wretch, about caring.” She sneers the last word, disappearing behind Mal as she does.

(Oh.)

Behind her, Mother says a phrase she’s said a hundred times. Mal repeats it voicelessly, lips perfectly echoing. “Love is weakness.”

The rant continues behind her. Too familiar. Too harsh in this hall of white marble and gold.

(“I don’t know what love feels like.”)

The memory focuses her eyes and they land on Ben’s, on warm brown eyes that rove in a frozen face. All the same, she wonders if when their eyes meet, she’s seeing pity there (or maybe, that tender fragile feeling she thinks might maybe be love). She wonders what he wants to communicate when they keep staring at each other, her mother’s rant white noise in her head.

While in Auradon, she’s come to learn that she has been standing on a ledge her whole life. Waiting to tip, to fall off into some grand adventure—to be free with her friends, to be known as a person. Evil was taken for granted. Happiness, though, was new, something found and hard to keep. Yet they had all felt it here. Jay’s never smiled so wide, Evie’s never laughed so loudly, Carlos has never flung about his hugs so carelessly. And Mal had her art and a tender boy-man looking down at her with a gentle smile.

(Love?)

Just looking at Ben’s frozen form is enough to make her want to find out. Because this, what precious little he’s given her in the short time they’ve known each other, makes her feel alive. Wanted.

The opposite of what Mother makes her feel.

Her mother’s rant has tapered off to the usual muttering. She can interrupt now. Her eyes stay on Ben’s when she states, “So. You can’t take it.”

Subtext: you don’t love me.

Mother stalks around her, completing her circle. “Stop believing in their nonsense. It hardly matters when you can just hand. It. Over.”

Mal’s throat feels full, her eyes tingly, her chest tight.

That’s no denial (wanted without consciously waiting for).

Her mother’s never going to be proud of her. Never going to tell her she’s done everything right. Her mother’s never going to steal earrings or a hairclip to make her smile, never going to make her a new dress to make her feel beautiful, never going to feed her strawberries and say, “I can teach you.” Never going to kiss her cheek or hold her hand.

It’s a fragile new dream, but it suddenly weighs much more than her old Isle dream of every person in the market quaking and shivering when she walks past.

“You never will,” she says, slowly, understanding it as it is said. Evil has no place for caring (love).

(“In her own way,” she’d said to Evie. How naïve. How stupid.)

“I’m becoming rather tired of this disobedience,” Mo—Maleficent says, growl partnered with a magic eye-flare. “Now give me the wand!” It’s a roar, in her face, and the ties that hold them together are unravelling rapidly.

Her friends might forgive her (since they won’t be in trouble, too). Maleficent never will (but that’s always been, even if she never quite realized it). And Mal? She’ll be able to live with herself (however long that might be).

She says, “No.”

The denial is soft. Maleficent’s response is not.

Mal’s ready for it. Her forearm catches the blow. Her other fist, clenched around the wand, swings up in response to a fist full of green flame. Instinctively, she asks—and a short-burst shield diverts half of the fire.

The other half lands on her too-long skirt, quickly crawling before she swipes a sharp blast of air to smother it. (Memory: the lab, an experiment of Evie’s, a quick spell). Except—she had only asked, in a way hard to explain.

The wand’s not fighting her. The magic is doing what she needs it to do, without a spell.

(Think about it later. Fighting Mother now.)

Her dress’s hem is gone, and a jagged swath up to her right knee. She grabs at her throat and quickly releases the magnificent lavender cape before she has to duck another staff-strike.

“Insolent girl,” Maleficent hisses, stalking forward, forcing Mal to back up.

Her fists are up, almost uselessly—one clutching the wand, the other unable to reach the distance and punch back. While Maleficent trained her (by throwing her into minion fight-circles), with the staff in her hand she’s magically formidable and Mal has too little practice in using magic to make it flow naturally into her usual fighting patterns.

She arches around another fireball and reaches out with the wand, asking again, and the fire smolders to nothing before reaching the statue-audience.

But the time it takes to do that distracts her—the staff slams into her knee.

White hot pain.

She stumbles, sliding sideways, closer to the raised dais in the hall.

Maleficent snaps, “We’ve already established that you cannot beat me. That leaves your options at death—” another strike, forearm-blocked again “—or obedience.”

What a choice. She never has any.

If she did, right now, she wants like she’s never wanted before. She wants go back to before she knew what she now knows, to before she chose to defy, to when all she had to care about were her trio and their next meal because tomorrow didn’t exist. The times when they ran about the Isle causing chaos—she remembers them in brief, in a series of smirks and traded loot and laughs. (Unthinking, she wishes: home.)

Clutched in her hand, the wand vibrates a gentle pulse.

Glows.

Gives a dazzling burst of white, and—it’s gone.

For an instant, they both stare at Mal’s empty hand like they are also frozen people. Mal breathes deeply, taking in the surprise and subsequent pause, knowing it’s short—

A snake-strike hand reaches for her throat and (NO) she knocks it away, both hands now free.

“What did you do?”

Far more terrifying than Maleficent’s anger is her calm. Never has she spent a day truly calm: the worst punishments only came when she stopped cackling and raging, becoming cold and emotionless.

Mal knows this Maleficent to be worse than dangerous.

She still chooses to meet Maleficent’s eyes and lie. “Hid it. Somewhere you’ll never find.”

Maybe no one will: she doesn’t know why it disappeared, never mind where it went. But bluffing keeps Maleficent’s focus on her, away from the living statues. She’s always been good at redirecting, for her trio’s schemes. (For their safety.)

Maleficent’s face hardens, as though carved from ice. “You’ll regret that.” She swings the staff like a club—and makes a mistake.

The angle makes easier for Mal to use her palm instead of her forearm. With both hands free, she uses both.

No-touching rule: broken.

Two people are touching the staff at once, and that’s taken as a challenge.

Mal feels her muscles lock, arms raised in defense, back and knees bent to move more quickly, one heel behind the other for stability. Maleficent, seeming taller and terrible, is just as stuck, staring at the bright green pulse at the top of the staff.

All around their hands, black strands seep from the staff. Twining around their wrists, whipping the air around them, growing larger. And larger.

Like a sharp rap on the knuckles, Mal’s fingers jolt and release the staff. Her footing is lost as she tumbles back. Recovering on bent knee and outstretched leg, she gasps as the black twining threads remain swirling around her wrists, curling up her arms.

The staff stands on its own between them. Maleficent is recovering on hands and knees down the hall, blown back halfway to the doors.

Mal, opposite her, closer to the dais, recovers first.

Smoke curls, tentacle tendrils, and ribbons of dark light keep curling towards her as she stands, then stumbles forward. They caress her, curl around her, playful and devious. She feels a thrill at the sense of welcome, of belonging—then a deeper curl of satisfaction when Maleficent, on her knees and reaching out one hand, seems unable to call the magic back toward her own body.

Layers of her black robes seem to be peeling away, exposing what looks like a deep green, and her horns start to appear more brown than black.

Mal is hardly trying to call the darkness to her—it flows on its own. She glances at her own previously lavender gown, noting detachedly that, even if it’s a fruit, eggplant is a more fitting shade for her. And growing ever more dark, as the ribbons of magic clearly swirl in her direction.

(Deep inside, a small voice whispers: but Evie made it lavender.)

She strides another two steps before Maleficent cackles. Her eyes shine a brilliant green as she calls, “Clever brat! Fighting dirty. But do remember why you are so determined. You wouldn’t want to lose that reason.”

Lightning crackles at Maleficent’s fingertips. Tinged green, a spell, one that Mal prepares to attempt flicking aside with a wave of her fingers—until Maleficent’s aim is clearly to her left.

(Deep inside, a small voice whispers: the dais.)

Her eyes glance, calculating the trajectory, concluding that the handsome boy-king frozen mid-stride is in Maleficent’s sight.

(Not so deeply, a small voice says: Ben.)

(Stronger, says: danger.)

(NO.)

Her stride turns into a pivot-lunge as lightning leaves Maleficent’s fingertips and zags past the staff—

A glance into brown eyes, wide—

Green lightning collides with her back.

Screaming.

Like lightning, it burns. It jolts her entire frame and blots out the world in a flash of blinding light.

Unlike lightning, her eyes flutter and crack open once it has roared through her body. Spasms shudder through her, aftershocks. Her hand, lying limp on the floor in front of her face, shows the green jumping on her veins with each uncontrolled jerk and twitch. Her legs, curled toward her chest, strain her abdomen with every breath she gasps.

She cannot move for long enough that her slow mind finally pieces together that she has collapsed nearly where she leapt. Nearly, because the toe of a shoe is underneath her ribs and the shoe's wearer stands frozen behind her. (Ben. Knowing hurts. Not like the magic but close enough.) 

Through hazy eyes, she watches. Maleficent has managed to crawl to the staff. Her fuzzy edges don’t stop Mal from seeing her haul herself hand-over-hand up the stuck-fast artifact. Dark shadows flow away from her, spinning around the glowing green staff—and back to the horned woman whose robes are returning to black.

Outside, the clouds gather anew.

Her bones ache. The crackles are fading, but her energy hasn’t returned yet. She weakly tries to lift a hand and it wobbles disobediently. The black swirls away from her more quickly. The darkest fairy is on her feet once more.

(Her heart aches.)

Maleficent’s face is lit by the glowing green of her staff. She stands there, imperious, as the rest of her power returns to the staff, returns to her.

Mal’s weakness ebbs enough for her to shove one hand underneath her torso. She makes it to her elbows and knees before a malicious purr weaves through the storm-heavy air: “I told you love was weakness.”

Her skin rips.

A thousand paper-cuts coated in lemon juice. Broken bones poking out. Flayed skin.

Or so it all seems, that’s how it feels, and her throat feels raw when she screams, and her eyes barely a crack—only enough to see the claw-shaped darkness that drags a lilac mist from her body, a faint pulsing green mixed with it.

“It’s like an infection, isn’t it? All that good. Don’t worry, Mother will take it away.”

Magic. Her magic. And she’s too weak to stop it. (She’ll be nothing without it.)

The last fragile wisps detach from her body. Her thoughts return as she hears her own broken sobs. She stifles those immediately, clenching her jaw tight.

Maleficent watches as the swirl packs itself into the glowing orb of her staff. “So disappointing. I had hoped you would continue to be useful.” The gem flickers stagnant as the last visible threads of darkness dissolve.

The toe of that shoe is digging into her ribs again. Knowing he’s right there behind her is a small comfort, and that brief feeling dies instantly when Maleficent plucks the staff from the ground and strides toward her.

That rouses enough energy in Mal for her to push against the floor with weakened arms. (Not Ben. Not her, not again while she’s at his feet.)

The staff swings about in the air and, from the dust or the stone itself, she draws up soldiers clad in dark armor. Shadow-warriors. Limited usage, hardly a substitute for real minions, but enough for now. Enough until Maleficent can bring over those submissive alliances made on the Isle.

Two form close to Mal, and their jagged armor scratches her arms as they unceremoniously haul her up. Her toes splay against the ground, reaching for footing that she’s denied. They carry her closer to where the evil fairy has now taken center-stage in the hall. Dramatic pose, cold gaze—and Mal knows.

To the mother, this is a minor conflict and bump on the path to her revenge.

To the daughter, the world imploded and she took herself out along with it.

Upright, her head’s spinning and everything is wavering in and out of focus. Maleficent’s cold gaze holds a fixed point in the hazy room until her eyes flick away. “Despite all that we have to get revenge for, it seems I have another charge to level against you, Beast.” Her hazy-edged form waves one hand carelessly in the air. “While it was an excellent disciplinary tool, your little magical preventative stopping any person from killing any other on the Isle led to this unsightly display.”

(… No, no more. Surely nothing could hurt worse than her earlier realization.)

Maleficent’s eyes are back on hers, glowing from several feet away. “We’re not behind the barrier anymore. When you die this time, you won’t come back again.”

(She was wrong.)

Numb, she blinks as a blurry hand moves. “Take her down to the dungeon for holding. I’ll get to her when I’ve dealt with more important matters.”

Those cold eyes disappear and the room returns to a darkened, spinning whirl. Mal won’t have to watch Maleficent take her seat on the throne. Mal can’t get a last look at the boy-king she thinks she might love. Her arms already ache as the shadow-minions start marching.

Mal also can’t look to her friends to confirm that they are all right, or even if they care after she self-destructed and took their plan with her. (Might they still care about her…?)

Turning her head on her aching neck is too difficult, but she tries to hold her head up (a last show of defiance). Feeling the stones under her dragging toes, she won’t let herself focus too much on the audience passing by. They are silent statues, faceless except for their roving eyes.

Some are crying. For their beloved royal lives, for the horror of villains escaping the Isle, or even because they are stuck frozen and that must be terrifying.

(No one would weep for her.)