Authors: Adrianne Brooks
Rachel was dreaming again.
She didn’t enjoy it any more now than she had all the other times.
Rachel was sitting in a chair across a desk from
Zaran. He wore a pair of rimless reading glasses and he was looking through a pack of papers and muttering to himself.
“This is weird,” Rachel said. Her words made him glance up in surprise and after a moment of disbelief, he smiled. Taking the glasses from his nose, he leaned back in his chair and regarded her levelly.
“Rachel Constance Dupree,” he said warmly, voice verging on sultry. “What brings you here, little love?”
“I don’t know,” she said honestly, glancing around at his office as she spoke. “I think this is a dream. Is this a dream?”
Instead of answering, he rose from his seat and came around his desk to sit on the edge closest to her. He reached towards her, and she would have flinched away from his touch, but it was too late. His bare skin brushed across her cheek, fingers caught in her ringlets, and he smiled.
“Did you like my gift?”
“The fairy dust?” she asked, feeling dazed. “It worked out great.” She grinned.
“Lovely,” he said. “Now I’ll need you to do something for me in return?”
“Why?” she asked. “I thought it was a gift?”
He threw his head back and laughed boisterously. “Nothing in this world is free, and everything in the
next is overpriced. I helped you, now you’re going to have to help me.” As he spoke, his fingers had been trailing down the side of her face. He cupped Rachel’s chin and angled her head slightly so that he could gaze sternly into her eyes. “If you don’t, I’m afraid that my good graces won’t feel so good anymore.”
Agony spiked through her and she rocked back, but he jerked her forward and held her still. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he said. “We have history, you and I.
A good working relationship. That’s how I knew I could trust you with this instead of that bitch Rapunzel. I’d hate to think I was wrong.”
Leaning forward, he nuzzled her ear. It felt so real, it was hard to remember that all of this was nothing but a dream. “Was I wrong?” he asked quietly, and she shook her head in denial.
“Good,” he said with a grin. “Now, your job is a simple one. When Danielle comes for you, listen to what she has to say. Go where she tells you to. Then break the vial. Simple.”
“What does it do?” she asked, thinking that if
Zaran could be trapped in a bottle, then anything else could too.
“It breaks your spell, little love,” he said, sounding amused. “It sets you free.”
“How does breaking my spell help you?”
He pressed the palm of his hands over her eyes and spoke low and deep.
“You’re the last one to suffer the curse. You’re the only one who can break it. Break the vial, break the spell, and you’ll free the other sleepers.”
His hand pulsed with warmth and all of a sudden her dream changed. She opened her eyes to find herself standing in the middle of a room.
Surrounded on all sides by bookshelves. Only the shelves held bottles and vases instead of books. They reminded her of the crystal vase that had once held Zaran. They each had a sparkling, shimmering light within them. Something tangible and sentient. As they caught sight of her the lights surged against their delicate cages, their musical voices filling the air with desperation. There had to be hundreds, even thousands, of the bottles, but only one caught her eye.
It was empty and sitting on shelf directly before her. There was a label on it that read “Sleeping Beauty” and Rachel would have sworn that it was mocking her. Rachel lunged for the container, but the dream swirled in blackness and disappeared as she jerked awake.
“Rach?” She flinched, twisting on her cot to look toward the locked door. Alex was standing on the other side, her hands clenched around the width of the bars. Her face contorted and tears filled her eyes. “Rachel,” she sobbed. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Rachel got to her feet, her steps unsteady as she stumbled towards the cell door. She grabbed Alex’s fingers with her own and their foreheads pressed together.
“You’ve always been such a crybaby.”
“Where the flying
fuck have you been?” she sniffled. “And why the hell is Maleficent going all Legally Blond in the lobby?”
“Maleficent?” she queried. “Who are you talking about?”
Alex sniffed one more time before pulling back to look her in the eye.
“That psycho-bitch stripper,” she said. “She’s talking to a bunch of cops, and I’m not really sure if she’s berating them or listing her prices for lap dances.”
Alex shrugged. “I didn’t really want to get too close and find out.”
“So Seraphim’s real name is Mal-?”
“Don’t,” Alex shook her head vehemently. “Don’t do that.”
“Say her name three times. Beetlejuice rules on this one, bae.”
“Did you just call me ‘
“Times, they are a’changin.”
“Whatever.” Rachel rolled her eyes. She shook the cage like an animal. “Now get me out of here. You posted my bail, right?”
Alex nodded, but for some reason her gaze dropped and her mouth pursed.
“What?” Rachel asked, growing suspicious.
“First,” she began, “this isn’t my fault.”
“Don’t take that tone with me,” Alex groused. “I posted bail. But for some reason we can’t get anyone to come unlock the cell.”
“They sort of…keep…falling asleep.”
Alex sent a significant glance over Rachel’s shoulder, and Rachel turned to follow her gaze. All the women who’d been in the cell with her were deeply asleep. They slumped against walls, curled up on the ground, intertwined with one another like puppies. There was something…familiar about this sleep. Something frightening.
“Has anyone woken up?”
Rachel asked, her voice strained.
She could practically feel Alex hesitate before she answered.
“No. No matter what we do they won’t get up. The paramedics arrived a few minutes ago. They think it’s because of a gas leak or something.”
“Alex,” Rachel began. “It isn’t-?”
“I know,” she hissed, interrupting the rest of Rachel’s words in a rush. “How far is your reach?” she asked.
Rachel shook her head. “I don’t know. This is the first time it’s happened.”
“Ok. Stand back.”
Rachel did as she was told and Alex pressed her palm against the cell lock. Her brows furrowed in concentration, and for a moment Rachel could swear that she saw thin vines defined beneath her skin like veins before slipping back beneath the surface.
“What the hell?”
“Shh,” Rachel growled.
The lock turned red and began to smoke. Rachel stared on in astonishment as the steel melted down into a mangled mess. She pulled away with a gasp, her face pale and slick with sweat. Then, shooting Rachel a wild grin of triumph, she grabbed the door and yanked it open.
“How did you do that?”
“Momma taught me.”
Rachel stopped where she was and stared at Alex in horror. “Danielle?”
“Well, yeah,” Alex said, obviously confused. “It’s not like I have another one.”
Rachel scowled, her heart beating a terrified tattoo within her breast.
“You’re just like her,” Rachel whispered. Her body was feeling hot and she shook her head angrily. “You’re just like her.”
“No, I’m not. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Where were you then? She locked me away and left me to rot, but where were you, Alex? When I needed you?”
Alex lunged forward and grabbed her by the wrist. Her face was no longer pale, but flushed with angry color. “I was looking for you. I never stopped looking for you. And I’m nothing like my mother. Don’t you ever say that again, you ungrateful tramp.”
They glared at one another for precious seconds, before Rachel shook her head and laughed.
“You’re adorable, you know that?”
“And you’re a pain in my ass. Now let’s go before they find the gas masks and take us down like a pair of wild hyena.”
Rachel laughed, her heart lifting despite the dark turn things had taken.
They had only taken a few steps down the hall together when Rachel pulled Alex to a halt.
“What is it?”
“We have to stop somewhere first.”
Chris was crouching in a corner, his palms and feet flat on the floor and his eyes heavy-lidded with exhaustion. It hadn’t been long since Samantha had given up on him under the pretext of “letting him think.” He wasn’t thinking about how he could make her job any easier by telling her his name and what had really led up to he and Rachel showing up at the mini golf course and starting a riot. Because that would be silly. Mostly he thought about how it would be so easy to break out of this place if he could just shift into a frog. He’d never thought he’d miss being able to shift, but after going through one Twixt and Twain as human, he wasn’t nearly as impressed as he’d expected to be.
Humans were big.
Chris was even bigger than most.
They were cumbersome and heavy. They moved slowly. It was a chore to carry around two hundred plus pounds all the time. The worst part was that he couldn’t even make timely exits when he wanted to. There was something slow and peaceful in the mind of a frog. The brain was a lot smaller for one, so he had less room in there to worry and doubt. His human mind was way too focused, too fixated, on thoughts and ideas.
On emotions, and consequences, and people.
Or rather, one person in particular.
He wondered how long it would take for the effects of the fairy dust to wear off.
The door creaked open and he tensed, the muscles in his thighs and calves bunching as he gathered himself. He thought back to when he’d jumped up to catch Rachel. The power that had sang through his body. The certainty that he could go higher if he really wanted to. Further. He wondered what would happen if he did so right then. Simply gave it his all. Would he brain himself on the ceiling, or pull a superman and make the ceiling his prison bitch?
Psst.” His tension drained away immediately as Rachel stuck her head around the doorframe, brown eyes sparkling. She grinned. “Someone call for a large order of ‘save-my-ass?’”
He sighed, and shook his head. “I told the girl on the phone I wanted a large ‘I’m-too-pretty-to-go-jail,’ with a side order of emasculation. But this’ll have to do.”
“Is this banter?” came a second voice. A young woman leaned in past Rachel and grinned. “Cause I like this. It feels good. It feels natural. Rachel, hun, when did you pull that stick out of your ass?”
Rachel gazed down at her sadly.
“Your lifespan will be tragically short,” she spoke with such conviction that the other woman bit her lip and bowed her head in sudden trepidation. She cleared her throat.
“We uh…we should get out of here.”
Rachel smiled after her, before waving for Chirs to get a move on. He hurried after the two of them and they all made their way through the prison. He was surprised when Rachel reached back to grab his hand. His fingers tightened around hers and she responded with a squeeze. He was trying to figure out how they would make it past the policeman along the way, but the first cop they found was leaning against the wall asleep. So was the second, and the third and fourth. By the time they reached the main room, bodies were strewn everywhere and Chris had to keep his eyes on the floor to keep from stepping on anyone.
“Is this something we’re going to talk about?” he asked.
“We should probably skip it for now.”
He knew enough about magic that he could connect some of the dots. Something, probably the fairy dust, was protecting Rachel from her own curse.
Shielding her. If that were the case, the magic had to go somewhere. Which meant that everyone else who couldn’t fight it were going to suffer from the rebound. Only one man was still standing in the building by the time they reached the front door and he looked mildly confused by the sea of bodies.
“Sam,” the woman called out. The man looked at the three of them and his eyes got wide.
“Didn’t do it.”
“Sam,” she said in warning.
“Not my fault,” he said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Nobody’s blaming you, sweat pea.” The woman said fondly, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek as she passed. “Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
Maleficent loved men in uniform.
They were so cute with their little weapons and their tiny little badges.
If they hadn’t all been bitch slapped by Rachel’s sleeper spell, Maleficent would have had an interesting time on her hands with a certain Officer Terrance. As it was, she’d have to get back to work. Other humans would begin to notice the trail of sleeping bodies that Rachel had left in her wake during her mad dash through the city. It was like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, leading anyone interested right to her location. She’d have to clean that up too. Danielle would figure out that Rachel and Chris were back soon enough, thanks to this little stunt. Even so, there was no point in alerting her sooner than necessary.
With that in mind, Maleficent moved quickly, stepping delicately over splayed limbs and peacefully sleeping faces. She snorted. Poor Rachel felt awful about this. She had no idea that thanks to her, these men had gotten off lucky. So what if they were doomed to sleep for the rest of eternity? It was better than being poisoned by a Toadstone. Right now it was only physical contact that transferred the venom, like what had happened to Miss Muffet. Soon, however, he’d be leaking poisons into the very air. It would be death to meet his eyes, feel his breath, touch his skin. Rachel should enjoy whatever interaction with him that she could, while she could, because in a few days their boy would be too toxic for her to stand.
Sad really, but not her concern at the moment.
Oh no, her main concern were dreams.
She loved playing with sleepers. They had such a mastery over the ether, over dreams. They could even step inside another person’s dreams and bring them to life under the right circumstances. Maleficent wasn’t trying for anything as fancy as all of that. She simply wanted to check on something.
Or to be precise, someone.
You don’t wake a sleeper. Not ever. Not for any reason. Their curse was supposed to be broken naturally or lifted by the Widow that cast it. The only thing that could have woken Rachel so prematurely and set off this epidemic of narcolepsy was fairy dust. Since there was only one place to find the stuff, it wasn’t hard to figure out where, and more precisely who, the mischief was coming from.
This whole thing was turning into a lot of unnecessary work. She was only supposed to save Chris. Since his match was Rachel, it had only made sense to kill two birds with one stone. But too many enemies were scheming in the background. It was making keeping her charge safe and happy a hell of a lot more complicated. She was supposed to be working doubles all this week at the Hungry Kitty. She didn’t have time to save Chris from the ones who would take his Stone.
Mal sighed when she finally made it to the cell where Rachel had been held overnight. She could smell the Dreams in the air. They stank up the place like burning cotton candy. Fried brain cells sent off in a fiery barge towards the afterlife. Her eyes narrowed, focus shifting so that she could pull up her second sight and see into the ether. Alex’s magic was a gathering storm by the door, turning the ether a nasty shade of blood red, thanks to her Widow’s magic. If she could have saved the girl from it she would have, but there was no escaping an oath. She’d made a promise to Danielle to learn whatever she could about being a Widow and she’d have to keep that promise or suffer the consequences.
Luckily, there was a loophole.
Mal was pretty sure that sweet Alex couldn’t be expected to learn anything from a dead bug, which is exactly what Danielle would be once Mal got her hands on her. When she realized that she was gritting her teeth, her eyes literally glowing in rage, she shook her head and tried to remember why she’d come here. She knew how
Zaran worked because his methods weren’t all that different from her own. Find a vulnerable patsy and manipulate them into doing all your dirty work. If he’d given Rachel fairy dust, he’d want some sort of repayment. Now that they were in the real world and no longer in that in-between hell the Fairies had built, he couldn’t visit her in person. Which meant that dreams would be the only way they could communicate until someone summoned him to the human world to make a contract.
Mal moved to one of the thin cots on a metal frame that had been shoved into one corner. The smell of burning candy was even stronger here, and her nose wrinkled in distaste even as she crouched beside the bed and reached for the pillow. She smoothed her hand over the length of the cotton and smiled.
“Tell me what you saw, darling.”
Rachel’s dreams, absorbed as they were within the pillow gave their cautious assent and Maleficent called her magic forth to give them depth,
color, and substance. The events of Rachel’s dream unfolded around her in a glimmering 3D wave, and she sat back and watched them with a jaundiced eye. Eventually she shook her head at the lavender eyed demon smiling down into Rachel’s eyes.
“So that’s what you’re up to,” she muttered. She bit her lip, and for the first time in centuries felt fear stir to life within her.
“Son of a bitch.”
Rachel never thought it would feel so good to sit on Alex’s crappy couch in the middle of her messy living room. She wanted desperately to get up and clean, but didn’t want to ruin the moment. The essence of reunion. It was lovely. She and Alex had spent the last hour catching up and she was trying to find a good moment to transition into the whole long lost brother thing. Chris and Alex’s fiancé, Sam, were in the kitchen talking about manly things. Unfortunately, she could feel him glancing their way every now and again and she knew without checking that he was eyeing Alex.
Surprisingly enough, she wasn’t the one who brought the subject up.
“Soo,” Alex said slyly. “Is your nudist buddy the reason you were missing for a year?”
“He’s not a nudist.”
“Well non-nudists don’t play peek-a-boo during mini-golf.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Rachel,” Alex said, growing suddenly solemn. “Talk to me. Who is he?”
During her recounting of her latest adventures, she’d avoided the topic of Christopher very carefully. She wasn’t sure how to mention a single part of it without having to talk about all of it. But Alex, despite her oddness, had always been a sharp woman. She paid just as much attention to what Rachel said as she did to what she didn’t say. Rachel sighed and began picking at the cotton of the throw pillow she held in her lap.
“So this is going to sound crazy,” she warned.
“Well, you know how you always wanted a brother?”
Alex frowned. “No. Not really.”
“Oh. Well…you have one.” Rachel jerked her head in Chris’s direction and his conversation with Sam abruptly ceased as both men realized that they were being acknowledged. Alex’s jaw dropped and Rachel’s brows shot up in an exaggerated show of amazement. “Surprise!” she said.
Alex looked away from her slowly, turning to lean on the backrest of the couch so that she could stare at Chris with all of her might. Rachel glanced at Sam and he gasped.
“Damn,” he said suddenly. “I forgot I have this…this thing that I…um…do. So I’m going to go do that. That thing. Cause it’s important…Bye.” He took off for the front door and Rachel climbed over the arm of the couch to launch herself after him.
“I’ll go with you,” she said quickly, and he held the door open for her, his expression slightly panicked as he ushered her out into the hallway.
They stared at one another and the silence in the apartment grew thick and uncomfortable. Chris shifted from one foot to the next and tried to smile.
“You look good,” he said finally. “Healthy I mean. Robust,” he winced. “Do women like being robust? Is that a compliment?”
“In light of all the jelly doughnuts I ate this week?” She shook her head, “No. Not especially.”
They stared some more.
Little Alex. Whoever would have thought that he’d see her again?
favored their father more than Danielle, and that was somewhat of a relief. He would have loved her either way, but he found it easier to relax since he didn’t have to look into the spitting image of the woman who had single-handedly ruined his childhood. As it was, he found himself staring at the female version of his father. The brown hair with hints of red, eyes the color of fine wine and chocolate. Because he could see his father in her, he could also see bits of himself. It was easy to see that they were related, and the knowledge filled him with a sense of belonging that he’d never felt before.
“You have a good face,” she said suddenly, and he found himself grinning.
“Thanks,” he responded. “Yours is cool too.”
Sooo,” she drew the word out and twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “A frog?”
They nodded together.
“I hear you have some mad pheromones,” Chris commented.
“They get me out of my fair share of parking tickets.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“You hate Danielle?”
His answer was immediate.
“With all my heart. Do you?”
“I dislike her intensely,” she answered slowly, then shrugged. “But she’s my mom.”
His throat felt tight, but he managed to nod anyway.
Her eyes filled with compassion and he could have hugged her. She looked so much like his dad that it made his chest ache and it was a struggle not to flash back to the last time he’d seen his dad, laid out on the ground while Danielle ate his heart.
“Do you want to get drunk and watch Adventure Time?” she asked gently.
He nodded, relieved.
“That’d be nice.”
She scooted over and patted the empty space beside her on the couch. He grabbed a bag of chips and a six pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade from the kitchen and sat beside his sister as she flipped through channels.
It had a nice ring to it.