Cold is what she felt – something aching and numbing, starting from the tip of her nose to the ice that was her toes. A brief thought of her fireplace burned into her mind as she opened her eyes, slumber no longer an option in such an uncomfortable state. Darkness was all she could see and she would have assumed it to be nighttime, as she often had found herself awake at such an hour, but the hard pallet in which she lay upon had produced a stirring worry.
Her limbs ached when she moved to discover if she had perhaps fallen onto the floor, but as she had, something beneath her poked her through the thin material of her nightdress. Even as she continued, disregarding the painful reminder that she was no longer in the comfort of her own bed, she found something moving with her, attached to the delicate fabric that covered her pebbling skin. Reaching for it, she plucked the strange source off her, quickly identifying it as burlap.
What is this? She wondered, pulling the coarse material away to sit up, her bum being poked, still, by the hay underneath her. Wherever she was, someone had attempted to make her comfortable, or, at least, their definition of it. But, she knew she must make her leave.
The tightness in her chest was pushed away for later. She needed a clear head if she wanted to get out of here. Perhaps she was only in her own castle, or at least that's what she had hoped. But, as she moved, carefully attempting to navigate her way around the area she could not see, a sinking feeling took its place inside of her.
A memory, something foggy that twisted her stomach, had slowly crept into her mind. The darkness, the cold, frightful feeling, and the soft glow of a flickering flame had her recalling a shadow; something that laughed mockingly, but never spoke.
She could feel her head grow heavier and her throat tighter as she moved, hands before her to discover anything, a wall, an object… An iron bar. Her heart fell into her stomach when fingers slid along an entire row of them; cold, jeering, and daunting. Immediately, her hand snatched back to her being as she swallowed around the lump in her throat. There was a source of light, she saw as she grew enough courage to near those cylindrical bars; it was in the distance, something that brought hope to her as it winked in the darkness and floated like a lightning bug.
"Is anyone there?" Her voice was cracked and weak, and she knew it once her words bounced off the walls and reverberated in her ears. Clearing her throat, she pushed away any bubbling emotions and replaced them with a stronger voice, something that she hoped would frighten, or at least draw out, her captor. "I demand you answer me!"
It was growing, she noticed; the light. Whoever had toted the torch was drawing near and a sense of satisfaction filled her. Despite the butterflies that stormed in her stomach, she straightened out her spine and hardened her features. Even if they couldn't see her, she would rather stand tall and face her enemy with grace; something that her father had taught her.
As the flame grew nearer, she was able to vaguely make out the contents of the cell she was hostage in, and the musty, stone walls that surrounded her. They were cracked, worn and old. Clearly the upkeep of these cells weren't top priority. But, her thoughts of the decaying wooden bucket placed in the corner of her cell vanished when she felt an intense presence. It was here; that flame that captured her interest.
"What do you want of me?" Her voice wavered as she spoke to the figure that was nothing more than a shadow.
It was a woman, she concluded, of the lines and shapes she could make of her face. She had dark hair and dark eyes. Her smile was crimson. "Princess Emma, you are awake at last." The voice was throaty, but there was a certain venom that made her wince.
"Who are you?" Emma demanded, though absent as her interest was taken by something else. It was oddly captivating, the way her eyes twinkled in the dancing flames of the torch, and she found herself getting lost in the shimmer.
Instead of an answer, the mysterious woman said in her husky voice, "your betrothed is certainly a lucky man, or perhaps… unlucky. He will be very disappointed when he learns of your sudden abandonment." The laughter that soon followed echoed off the stone walls, booming like thunder and filling the princess's every sense.
Emma found herself backing away when the woman approached. She could feel her power; her aura. It was enchanting, but it was also daunting. "Abandonment? I didn't abandon anyone," she said, her voice shaking once again. How did this woman know of this information? "You have stolen me. Do you not know who I am? What is it that you desire from me?"
The mysterious woman tilted her head back with a loud guffaw and Emma found herself frozen in her spot, the strong grace that she once had dissolving into something worth far less as every hair on her body stood on end. "Foolish girl. Innocent girl. Not everyone of this realm is kind and truthful. Of course, you would fall behind on such knowledge, being kept in your castle like a prisoner. We all hold a great falsehood."
The shadow of a woman stepped away from the cell and paced as if she were on the prowl, the clicking of each movement reverberating off the stone walls. "Those who are not closest to you will believe you have abandoned them, sweet princess. After all, you are a frightened, spoiled little girl. You wish not to marry, I am sure. No one wishes to marry against their will." She turned back to her, a wicked smirk on those blood red lips. "You ask too many questions. People who irritate me get punished. Perhaps I should have you whipped."
"I–" She wanted to argued, Gods, she could feel the anger on the tip of her tongue, but there was something that seized her, coiling around her like a snake and disallowing her to breathe, especially after the woman's words had registered. "Wh-Whipped?" Just who was she? "I-I will give you anything your heart desires if you release me unharmed. I am worth much."
The woman, though, merely cackled in response, seeming pleased by the weakness the princess had shown her. "I merely jest, sweet princess. Truly, you do not know who I am? Well, I do suppose I could grant you as much." There was a brief pause, as if for some dramatic effect, before she spoke again, her voice a pleased purr. "I am the one your mother calls the Evil Queen." She took a step forward, this time, fingers trailing along the wrought iron bars. Emma was captivated once again, for more reasons than just the lack of distance.
"You? You're her?" As if something drew her near, like a moth to a flame, she was closing the small distance between them, breathing in the scent and the warmth from the woman who stood as her name had stated; like a Queen. She was far taller than Emma had imagined because she towered over the blonde princess, but she didn't mind, for she merely stared at the features that were covered in dancing shadows.
In a flash, Emma felt the Evil Queen's fingers digging into her flesh as she gripped her jaw, forcing the princess to stumble as she was pulled against the iron bars, their faces but a breadth apart. "Did you think me to be a mere tale? Your dear mother… always trying to cast me aside." A dark chuckle sounded, casting hot air against the blonde's pale skin. Their eyes met, obsidian and jade, and she was frozen again. "Why do you think you are here?"
"I-I am unsure," she answered meekly, her entire body buzzing. She wanted to look away, Gods she was desperate to pull her gaze from the one that swallowed her up, but there was something pulling her in. "B-Because of my mother?"
"You are smarter than you let on, princess." Those slender digits squeezed her jaw, fingers pressing into delicate, ivory skin. "I have watched you, princess, since you were just a wee babe. I know quite a bit about you." The next words out of her mouth sent a chilling shiver down her spine. "And you will soon learn about me."
The revelation had sparked something deep inside her and she shook, a sudden desire to escape as she was held by the grip of the Evil Queen. Her jaw ached from the hold and her heart hammered in her chest. If this woman was as evil as her mother had said, then the blonde was no better off than dead. "N-no…" she whispered, her throat constricting.
"No?" The witch tilted her head, brows furrowing. Those fingers only seemed to grow tighter but Emma made no noise and merely grit her teeth. "Tell me, princess." She jerked Emma closer, slamming the blonde further into the bars as the Queen's own pressed against them. "Do you wish to live? To go back to the safety of your castle?"
Her brain buzzed, wondering if this was going to be her out. But it was too easy. It had to be. She nodded, bidding her words to follow, but the tightness in her throat had only allowed a small squeak to follow in the form of, "y-yes." Her body shuddered slightly the tighter the dark Queen had held her, as if urging more words to follow, like she knew there was more. Emma closed her eyes, relieving her of the burning stare, and sought solace in the darkness that it had provided.
"Yes?" the Evil Queen pressed, her breath warm and moist against Emma's skin.
"What if I wished not to return?" The question fell from her lips before the princess could think to stop it, those fiery emerald eyes opening once again, shimmering with a shred of fear. "What if I were content on being released into the world?"
Those words seemed to have taken the Evil Queen aback, for her lips curled into a tighter, more sinister smirk. She released the princess, then, roughly pushing her back as she recoiled, allowing the blonde barely enough time to keep herself from hitting the cracked stone floor. "And why, my princess, do you wish not to live in the safety of your castle?" She turned, knowing dark eyes pinned to the young woman. "Does this have to do with what you spoke of last night, to yourself, when you thought no one was watching?"
"I have always dreamt of being free," she answered simply, taking every desire within herself and placing it into that one thought. Again, she stepped forward, drawn, and wrapped her pale, thin fingers around the rough cylinders.
"Freedom, princess? You get no freedom. You will never have freedom, not while you are a chain in the royal link," the brunette hissed, fingers gripping the bars alongside the princess's. "Tell me, child, what you would do without your guards and your castle and the food that fills your belly?"
Bristling, Emma's grip on the bars grew tighter, her knuckles aching under the pressure. The self-proclaimed Queen had spoken as if she were a mere child, condescendingly, as if she knew nothing of the world. "I could certainly take care of myself. I could hunt for my own food and I could find shelter, and perhaps a few acquaintances," she argued, though the hostility slowly trailed off once she realized she did, in fact, sound like a spoiled princess.
"I would bid you good luck on your dreams, child, but they are just that, which merely makes you a foolish girl with bees in her brain. And that is exactly what thieves and rapists will think as they take you and your things, then leave your body to be eaten by wolves," the Queen sneered, fingers turning white against the iron bars.
Silence reigned over the cells after the remnants of the Evil Queen's words faded away, leaving a ringing in Emma's ears as she mulled over the older woman's words. Her dreams had always been something in her head, for how could she ever make them a reality when her life seemed too important to throw away? Her mother and father expected much from her, as did their kingdom, and not to mention her betrothed.
But there was something here, something that tore her away from her mundane life and that had gotten her tired brain whirling. "You took me away from that," the princess found herself voicing her next thoughts.
"I almost did you a favor, sweet princess. But here is no better than out there. I am not here to protect you nor am I here to heed your deepest desires. I am here to punish your mother; to break you." She pushed away from the bars and eyed the beautiful princess, lips curling once again to show her pearly teeth. "Whatever infatuation you might have grown with the thought of freedom will soon perish, I will be sure of it. For now, I will take my leave."
"W-wait!" Emma's eyes widened when the woman stepped away from the cell. She paused, dark eyes piercing the girl who still held onto the bars with desperation. "You are not letting me out?"
"Now, why would I do such a thing?" The Evil Queen's cold laughter filled the foreboding air, drowning Emma in its dark sea. "You are foolish to think that I will help you. I am no friend of yours nor will I ever be. You must learn that not everyone is here to do your bidding, princess."
"I-I wasn't–" The blood drained from her face. Her mouth tended to be faster than her brain, as it were earlier, but now, it seemed to have blanked. "I-I did not mean-"
"I know well what you meant, child. You called me your savior. I am not that." The Queen drew closer to the cell. Emma wanted to back away, but she felt immobilized as she met the cold, chestnut gaze that pulled her into the darkness. "I am your worst nightmare."
A chill crept up the blonde's spine at the final growl and a warmth seemed to stir in her lower belly against her better judgment, her face growing warm in shame despite the sick feeling in her stomach. She swallowed hard around the lump in her throat, trying her best to keep the welling whimper quelled and the urine in her bladder. "I thought so," the Evil Queen growled, pulling away from the iron bars, her laughter chasing her as she sauntered down the dark corridor, damning Emma alone in the darkness once more.