And they all lived happily ever after…
That’s what they told everyone and everyone seemed eager to believe it. After all, their lives were happy and surely, those caught up in the middle of the magic, as opposed to living at its edges would be deliriously happy. Mal guessed it made what they did to fulfill the curse easier for them to swallow, easier to live with.
Mal looked around the castle, her castle, polished to a pristine shine, full of soaring ceilings and brillant stained glass, and was not awed by its beauty. There was no happiness, no joy — only a bonedeep misery, a sorrow so deep and a loneliness so profound that she wanted to fling herself off the parpapets to her death.
Not that it would work. She’d done it before. The curse wouldn’t let her die that easily. Not until it was her time. Not until the story was ready for its next victim.
Once upon a time beyond that…
She paced the halls a thousand times a day, for a thousand days, a thousand times over and nothing but her ever changed. She wore the same clothes, always fitting just right, never fraying or aging. It was the same for the servants, perfectly groomed butlers and maids, guards waiting alert in immaculately polished armor. Every day the same staff waited on her whims, never ceasing to smile, never aging, always fulfilling their duties with faces alight and song in their heart.
As time passed they all forgot about the magic, the curse, the entirety of the tale, the reason for their health and good humor. The difference between Mal and the others of her kingdom was that Mal remembered, was denied the ignorance of bliss, though truth be told she knew she was quite aware that their bliss was not just born of ignorance. She began slowly to resent them them mirth despite knowing that assurance of their happiness and well being was why this had all happened in the first place.
Some ever-after later…
Mal mindlessly waved her hand through the open flame below the kitchen cookpot, wishing to feel fire, heat, pain, to feel anything at all beyond the hollow desire aching in her chest. The cook did not bat an eye, only continuing to stir the pot while smiling and humming a jaunty tune. The staff had long ago ceased to be concerned by Mal’s stranger habits, having come to terms with the fact that no harm could come to her and that all was well. Truthfully, it had not concerned them much anyways, the magic kept them complacent through almost any circumstances. It had grown stronger over the years; perhaps if another kingdom were to lay siege to her castle and surrounding lands tomorrow, they would be smiling as the pikes skewered them, Mal mused.
A sudden cry of pain startled her from her malaise and she raised her eyes to the sight of the cook clutching at his eye, crying bloody murder. A potato in the soup had perhaps burst and spit hot agony directly into his eye. Mal’s initial instinct was to help, to offer aid, but she froze in place upon realizing what lay before her. Here was a person not flush with glee, no grin on his face, no tune on his tongue. Mal had not seen this in uncountable years. She paused for a while and examined him, eventually returning to her endless roaming of the castles many corridors, a spark of some emotion reignited in her heart.
Later on a midnight dreary…
The guard outside her door smiled as Mal exited her bedchambers, her candle lighting the corridors with a pale orange glow. She wondered what he thought about her, wandering the castle in her bedclothes, her hair unkempt. She wondered if he had any thoughts at all; the look of utter content on his face offered no answers. She beckoned him to follow her and he obeyed, humming a jaunty tune as he did so. Through dimly lit corridor and down many grand stairwells did she lead him. They were decending into the dank underbelly of the castle which had not been used since the fall of the old king.
Their journey reached it’s endpoint at the entrance to the castles holding chambers. Upon entering, Mal strode to the far wall, where many rows of manacles hung from chains, abandoned for ages. With a gentle grasp she pulled at his arm, guiding him to the wall. He offered not even a hint of resistance as she clapped cold, rusty iron over one wrist and then the other. The guard, whose name she had remembered once upon a time, was still humming that same tune as she drew his sword from it’s sheath. For hours that followed all that could be heard througout the castle depths was the sound of screaming, tortured wailing announcing the coronation of the new Queen.
In a land unquestionably bright with a dark blotch latched upon its core…
The Queen sat upon her throne, a magnificent throne gilded with rubies and garnets, clapping merrily as the people performed for her. The sound of swords clanging and death cries rattling echoed off the polished stone walls as the pristine marble floors soaked in the blood of her fallen subjects. A fire burned bright inside of the Queen as she witnessed the dramatic tableau of violence raging in front of her. Her handmaidens sat on either side, smiling gleefully, oblivious to the tragedy that unfolded in front of them.
“Stop. You may all leave us.”
Surprised, the Queen looked to find the speaker. Standing in the doorway was a tall man of pale complexion wearing strange black clothes of a cut most definitely foreign to her kingdom. Her servants and soldiers gave him a respectful amount of space as they filed out on either side. She made no attempt to stop them, her gaze fixed on her new guest. In truth, she was not sure she could stop them anyways; the man emitted what could best be described as a feeling of intense pressure on her senses as she looked at him. She was slowly drowning, suffocating in his presence.
“I’ve come to tell you a story and remind you of a deal struck long ago.” His words echoed through the chamber as he spoke. “Once upon a time in a dark and evil land, there was an evil King. The King lived eternally off of the sorrow of his people, part of a bargain he had once struck with an ancient, powerful… being.” The man paused at that, a smirk on his face. He continued; “He warred and he pillaged and he had his way with the people, and all did hate him but none could stop him. Until one day there was a girl named Mal. Mal’s mother had died serving in the Kings armies and Mal’s father had been killed on suspicions of being a traitor. Mal had felt sorrow, seen agony, and was empathetic enough to know that many had it even worse than she did. Every night she prayed to God for for her people to be free of this evil King until one night, she aimed her prayers elsewhere and then she did receive an answer. So the deal was struck; she would lead her people, they would all know happiness again, they would have health eternal, and the King would be deposed. And so it was.”
The man paused, watching her reaction. “I’ve come to tell you now of another deal, soon to be struck. The land has another evil ruler, a Queen of evil that despises her people to the core. Years of bearing their sorrow have turned her against them. The people are begining to awaken, and after that..” he grinned, pearly white teeth flashing before finishing, “it’s only a matter of time before one of them comes to me out of desperation, and then it’ll all happen once again. The story will have it’s next victim. When the deal is met and you are replaced, I’ll have a special place for you.”
The devil licked his lips. “A special place indeed.” With that, he was gone, nothing but empty air and the stench of sulfur and the promise of a worse tomorrow to come.