A/N: Again, I took way too long to update, and I'm really sorry:-( But first I had finals and then my cousins were up for 3 weeks. It was hectic. But aside from my excuses-
We all stared at the house before us.
"You can't be serious." Jocelyn was shaking his head.
I looked over at him. "I am."
"Are you serious? Are you baldechrit well serious?"
We were standing before a house made entirely of gingerbread. Delicate icing around the doorposts, gumdrop doorknobs, chocolate mold curtains, sugar crystal windows and licorice shutters – it was a candy store motel.
"Yes, swineherd, she's serious!" Charming snapped, growing irritated with Jocelyn's uncharacteristic bad temper. "What is wrong with you tonight?"
Jocelyn made a rude gesture with his fingers, which involved cocking his ears and shoving his thumb at Charming's eyes.
Piper sighed. Jocelyn was taxing all of us tonight. "Being brought back from near death does tend to bring out the pricklier side of people, Charming," she said, "Especially if nobody told Death about it."
"Well then," Jocelyn cried, throwing his hands up in the air, "since I've already knocked so rudely on Death's door, I suppose I'll give this eyesore's door a few whacks, too." He slammed his fist obnoxiously against the door and crossed his arms. "Anybody home?"
I opened my mouth to warn him, but then thought better of it. The rat-faced halfwit had it coming, what with the attitude he'd given my Charming.
The door swung open and hit Jocelyn on his nose. Two very ugly women stood on the threshold, staring down at the swearing swineherd. The taller was dark-haired, one huge eyebrow stretching across her face. Her eyes were pecan-shaped in her square head, and a rather large nose hooked downward into a nasty point that ended just in front of her upper lip. Her huge nostrils flared as we met eyes, and my fists clenched instinctively.
And beside her, the cruel redhead stood, red arms crossed in front of her chest. Freckles dotted every inch of her skinny body. Frizzy hair was brought into an unruly twist atop her head, and her enormous green eyes were the size of quarters, bulging out from her sallow face. A razor-thin nose ran down her face, ending with a huge glowing red bulb. Aside from her yellow face and red arms, the rest of her had a nasty green hue to it.
I clenched my fists even tighter, fighting that ever-strong urge to strangle both of them. Lady Malifice's two hideous daughters stood before me in all their eye-burning glory. Too bad I didn't turn to stone. Stone eyes don't have to look.
They were, by law, my sisters. Step-sisters, of course, but sisters all the same. Bleugh. I couldn't stand either one of them. Drizella the dribbling red-head. Grizelda the man-woman wonder. How shocking that they were still single.
For once tonight, Jocelyn was quiet, obviously shocked by the gruesome sight. Try seeing them at nine in the morning, bucko. "Toads and weasels…" He trailed off, mouth useless and slack. Charming, beside him, was equally speechless, though he turned to me, eyes pleading for help.
"Dashing's here and we know it," I snapped, eyeing Grizelda. Being the aggressive man-woman driven by testosterone, she was the master of business issues and the one I had to talk to about customers.
"And what if you do, Cinders?"
My mouth dropped a bit and I twisted my jaw to the left. Go ahead, chump. Say it again. Say that name one more time. I dare you.
Drizella snorted. "Don't you mean CindersElla?" she teased, smirking derisively at me. They both snickered, leaning towards one another like it was some great private joke.
I got your joke right here, ladies.
My fist made smashing contact with the sensitive red lump of cartilage on Drizella's nose. She squealed nasally, arms slamming into the doorpost as they flailed. But she fell on her fat rump anyways, and then the least important part of her – that head she never used – dropped onto the floorboards with a suspiciously hollow thud.
"Violence ain't getting you anywhere with me, pretty girl," Grizelda sneered, arms crossed as she advanced. Aw, crud. I always forgot about her-
"Then how about this?"
We both snapped our heads around to see what it was. There was Jocelyn, arms spread wide and a devilish smirk across his face. But it wasn't anything above the waist that amazed me.
Running in hordes over his feet and in circles round our entire group were rats. Piles upon piles of rats. I moved closer to Charming, backing away from the swineherd. Hornets and beetles, that was creepy.
Charming turned his gorgeous eyes to mine and we both gulped.
But Grizelda was the one in real terror. "No! Don't let those vermin eat our house!" she bellowed, straining her man's voice as close to a scream as she could get. Jocelyn grinned maniacally, bringing his hand upward. "I cock my ears at just the right angle…"
"Dashing's in the chocolate room. Third floor. Purple door. Can't miss it." She threw her key ring at him, fear in her eyes. "Just go, please! And don't let those rats eat our motel!" Jocelyn grinned maniacally and strode towards the gingerbread monstrosity, his army trailing him. He was obviously quite proud of himself, swinging the key ring and brushing shoulders with the man-woman fearlessly on his way in. The rats didn't follow him inside, but they kept watch outside, staring up at my ugly stepsisters.
I grinned obnoxiously at Grizelda. The swineherd who had just knocked her in the shoulders was likely one of the easiest people to bully I have ever seen. But he'd just gotten the better of her. And she knew it, watching him retreat into the sugary recesses of her hotel. Oh, revenge was sweet. (No pun intended)
Ever since Lady Malifice had married my father, life had gone straight down the well. We had to move into the palace and deal with countless young noblemen seeking our hands. Unfortunately for the two ugly ducklings, most of them had been smitten with me. Malifice couldn't stand it, and the night after she and my father had an argument over whether I was a whore or not, he was found dead in his bed. It looked like natural causes to everyone else, but I'd seen the blue glow on his fingers.
Not an hour after the funeral I was shipped off to the king's kitchens. Drizelda and Grizelda were given my inheritance of the Gingerbread Hotel, thanks to Dashing's intervention on their behalf. May they all rot.
And now the tables had turned and they were the ones being toyed with. By a dethroned king who was at least thirty pounds underweight and bleeding from his nose.
Celebratory champagne anyone?
I grabbed onto Charming's strong arm and smiled lovingly at him. Toads and newts, he was gorgeous. He smirked awkwardly in return, still struck with horror from his encounter with my stepsisters. I kissed his forehead and led him into the gingerbread hotel, sure to stride confidently toward the doorway. Grizelda considered stopping me, but at that moment she heard the loud squeak of Jocelyn's rodents. I bobbed my head grinningly at her, completely content with the way that things were going.
"Baldechrit!" I peered up a stairway of white chocolate, knowing that particular curse had come from Jocelyn. "Is something wrong?" I called, placing a hand on the stair rail. The Gorgon twins had seriously damaged the delicate molding of the railing; neglect and ignorance had worn away the once-crisp carving of a flying bird. Typical.
"Get Piper up here!" he cried in return, amidst a shuffling of papers. I hopped outside and grabbed Piper by the arm to drag her up the stairs. "Jocelyn needs you," I snapped, flinging her towards the staircase. She tore up them, sure that Dashing was up there trying to stab him again. Charming and I came in close pursuit.
We drove through the doorway, crashing into Piper and landing hard on our tailbones. She was standing not two inches in front of us, intently reading some worn piece of parchment as if nothing had struck her. I brushed a few stray curls from my face and surveyed the rest of the room. Jocelyn sat cross-legged atop the pillow of Dashing's recently vacated bed, biting at a thumbnail as he pored over a piece of parchment. A few rats scurried about the room, and one was on his ear, dropping any parchment they found in the stack at his feet. He looked up and turned to Piper. "See what I mean?" he asked, picking up a long sheet of bright green.
Piper nodded, for once unable to find the words.
Charming and I looked at one another, eyebrows arched. "What are they talking about?" he whispered. I shrugged. "Who knows?"
"Erm…Jocelyn?" I called, and he turned around. "Do you mind telling us what's going on?"