The front gate was standing wide open as the three women ascended the final part of the climb, and a single, solitary figure was standing within the darkened opening, her velvety robes drawn about her and the dark, ebony-black locks she was so well known for cascading down behind her ears. Skin the pale white of newly fallen snow accentuated the dark red lips and strange, dark eyes that stared at them from within sockets that had a slightly sunken look. Snow White looked as though she’d seen little rest since her disappearance, and even less peace. The skin of her face was flawless, though it appeared slightly stretched over her skull, as though she hadn’t eaten in days, or longer.

More disconcerting were the grubby-looking things around her that wore filthy, tattered garments of different colors and bore only passing resemblance to the individuals that each of the three had met in the past. Where their noses should have been was only smooth, bald skin, while their eyes were slanted, beady slits in their head that glowed with a foul malevolence. Their mouths had been stretched to an impossible width and had been filled with what looked like squat, sharp-tipped fangs that gnashed as they opened their jaws wide at all three women, growling or snarling as they came within a few yards of the opening.

A single gesture from Snow quieted the dwarves, if that was indeed who they’d been. Her eyes never left the trio, but her expression did not change as she spoke, her voice rough and far less than the sweet melody it had once been.

“Why are you here?”

Mulan wasted no time, “The Dark has been driven from the realms,” she said, keeping her words steady but not rushed, “The Champion was successful, though he has not been seen since.”

Snow White’s expression didn’t change as she replied, “And this means what to me?”

Mulan looked to Red and then to Merida. Neither woman could offer much of anything in this moment, so she continued onward.

“We’d heard that you had returned to this place,” Snow merely nodded once, “but we also heard that you were not well.”

Snow White closed her eyes as she inhaled slowly, taking a long drag of air as she drew herself up just a bit. The three were hoping to be ready for anything, but thankfully the new resident of Grimhilde didn’t attack, nor did she order her demonic dwarves to attack.

“I am fine,” Snow White replied, “I have my home back, and thus all is right.”

Mulan was about to speak when Merida piped up, “Yer town below is dyin’ Snow,” she said with a huff. Mulan tried to silence her, but the redheaded archer kept going, “Yer creature’s won’t let ’em leave in order t’ trade. The people need-”

“I will give them what they need,” Snow White said suddenly, cutting Merida off and casting her gaze in the young woman’s direction. Merida did not back down, but she did feel a definite chill run down her spine as she looked into those dark, pupil-less eyes. It was like looking into a pit that has no bottom she told herself, a yawning chasm that could surely suck her in if she wasn’t careful.

“It is time for you to leave,” she said quietly, turning as though to depart. It was Red this time however that stopped her, and as Mulan and Merida listened both of them closed their eyes in frustration as they figured that the red-cloaked woman had just signed their deaths.

(to be continued)


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