"Really dear," I scoffed as I stared down the point of an arrow head, "It took you long enough."
We were in a dark forest surrounded by infinite, dying trees. Branches curled out like claws reaching for a soul to revive them. I had managed to back Snow White against one of these trees and with a flick of my wrist the branches took hold of her limbs and held her in her struggle.
"Why would you do this?" I heard her say as eyes full of betrayal searched mine for some form of light.
"I needed to know of your intentions, which kingdom you were to contact in order for me to build my forces tactfully."
"I don't want war, Regina! I told you that."
"And you expect me to believe your words? You expect me to believe that you're willing to leave your life behind, forget that I murdered your father, simply turn a blind's eye and walk away? I'm not a fool, Snow! You've always been a deceitful child."
I walked towards her in long, elegant strides until I stood a foot's length away from her. As if my magic had never faltered, I conjured up a sphere of fire within the palm of my hand and watched as the flames reflected within hazel eyes.
"Please, Regina. Let's talk about this."
"What is there to talk about? Are you going to tell me that you're sorry for taking away my only chance at happiness? That you never meant to cause your father to claim me like a piece of trash? Did you know it was your mother's name he cried out on the night of our wedding? You don't deserve to have a chance at happiness."
"Regina, I know you're better than this. You're not evil. You can change! Let me help you."
"This is who I am!"
It was unknown what stirred me from my sleep, but I had never been more grateful. Upon opening my eyes, I took notice of how badly my bones ached regardless that I had been sleeping on the earth for the last several months. Part of it, I knew, was from summoning up the amount of magic to travel such a large distance while the other was from…
I didn't even want to think about it. There was no sense in weeping over something that couldn't be changed, yet still I felt weaker than I had ever in my entire life. My body was heavier than a bolder as I grabbed hold of the end of my bed post to lift myself up, yet I nearly slipped from a thin layer of sweat that covered my skin.
The thought that I should alert the guards that I was back flickered across my mind, but it distinguished like a faint candle in the wind. Instead, I headed towards the balcony, but not before I caught a quick glance of myself in the mirror. My eyes were dark, but not from makeup, and my hair was in disarray. I was used to seeing Wilma that way, but I hadn't seen my actual face in so long that it made my eyes ache. I didn't think I was ever going to see my real self again and I had finally made peace with that, but now that I had caught a glimpse, it felt like a ghost from a nightmare, one that I had thought I had escaped.
I simply gave an apathetic sigh, unable to accept all that happened. There was a whisper of familiarity running through my veins, and before I had the chance to realize it, I was holding a spherical flame within my palm. The colors reflected off my brown eyes, dancing to a tune that I didn't understand anymore. How could I have let it come this far?
My face contorted with disgust and in a flash of anger, I was hurling the fireball in front of me towards dark fabric that blocked the sunlight. They lit ablaze almost instantly, and I watched as smoke swirled up in dark wisps. I couldn't look away.
As the flames ate away what used to be curtains, the view from my balcony was revealed. Without worry, I walked between the dying flames into the morning sun in a futile attempt to touch what I had recently lost. I don't remember the last time I had come out here to simply enjoy the overlook from my bedchambers; it had never been of importance and I stuck to the shadows lit only by candlelight. However, now the only thing I wished for was to be surrounded by the chill of the mountain forest.
Out not so many miles away were rolling hills that could have been connected to the mountain we had traveled, but I knew little of the geography unless it dealt with a war map. However, as beautiful as the scene was, it didn't touch what had been seen during my months-long journey.
"Enjoying the view, dearie?"
My hand went to my chest in fright as the familiar voice of the imp's made my skin crawl. My freehand gripped the balcony hard before I let go and faced the man who ruined everything.
"You," I snarled under my breath.
"Me? Why yes it is though if I'm not mistaken it seems you're not so delighted to see me."
In a few rapid steps, I was towering over the crocodile skinned man. The fire running through my veins singed with a familiar sensation that I had once felt for Snow White.
"I called for you! Why didn't you come?"
He shrugged and waved his hands with a laugh that made my stomach churn.
"Did you? I'm sorry, dearie; you know I'm a busy man."
Taking a step away, Rumpelstiltskin sat upon a chest in front of my bed and crossed a leg over his thigh. I always hated how he made himself at home in my own castle, especially my bedchambers. He may have still been the most powerful being in the land, but it was my castle. Not his.
"You look a state, Your Majesty," he pulled his lips to the side in an faux pondering motion, "Do all peasants usually sport their attire in such a manner?"
Glancing down at myself, my mouth fell open upon seeing that I was only wearing my fur coat with nothing else underneath. I had been in such a state, as Rumpel called it, that I didn't even manage to grab my clothes. I ground down on my teeth to hide away the stinging feeling in my chest.
"—I don't want to know, dearie. None of my business what pleasures you partake in. Here, let me assist."
My cheeks were burning with embarrassment, but just as quickly as it came, I was surrounded by a puff of smoke. Once it faded I was back in my usual royal attire. It should have made me feel at home, but the feeling of soft silk against my skin unnerved me.
"…Thank you," I was barely able to mutter.
I watched him bring a finger to his chin as he studied me.
"You seem troubled, dearie. Are you not happy to be home?"
Home. That was a strange word. What was home? This extravagant castle filled with endless halls and rooms that would never be filled enough to patch this hole I had torn in my chest?
"I wasn't ready to come back yet."
"Curious. So why did you?"
My eyebrows furrowed and I angled my head.
"You brought me back."
"I did no such thing, Your Majesty."
His tone was mocking. I wasn't in the mood for one of his games, but here we both stood muddled puzzlement. If he didn't break the spell than who did? A sense of confusion raced through the air, thick and unbearably tense.
"I," he pointed to himself and then said the next words slowly with derision, "didn't break the spell."
"—I don't know. That's what I came to ask you. There aren't many things that can break my spells and that cloaking spell took away your magic."
There was faint commotion in the distance, perhaps the guards cracking an inappropriate joke to one another down the corridor. Nevertheless, I paid no mind to it as I tried to summon up any possible explanation as to how the cloaking spell was broken. I knew very well I had no magic then; the gods know I tried to overrule that minor detail.
Turning around on my heels, I looked up at the soot marring my walls, but I couldn't bring myself to care. I walked back out onto the balcony and watched as an array of what looked like ants scurried across my kingdom.
My Kingdom. I hadn't thought of it as such in a very long time. What had happened during my disappearance? They were probably rejoicing while they had the chance while cursing my name and damning me to hell through every mug of ale.
"There's something you're not telling me."
I didn't turn.
"What is there to tell?" I inquired over my shoulder more weakly than I was content with.
Rumpelstiltskin opened his mouth to speak, but his attention was drawn to the sound of several footsteps beyond the door. The clinking of armor made me realize it must have been the guards, but why were they coming closer to my chambers?
I suppose it made sense for them to be guarding my room except I wasn't here. Or so they thought at least.
"We'll continue this conversation later, Your Majesty."
Before I could stop him, the Dark One vanished and a set of my guards were barging into my room.
"Stop thie— Your Majesty!"
Both of the men dropped to their knees. Behind the shadow of their helmets I caught an overwhelming fear cross their face. That's when I remembered where I was and who I was, and regardless of the issues that plagued my mind I threw on the mask that I had so well mastered.
"What is the meaning of this?" I demanded with the narrowing of my eyes as I strode over to them like the Queen I used to be.
"My Queen," one man stuttered, "We saw the smoke coming from your balcony. We thought someone had—"
"And why on Earth would you think that?"
"You've been missing for nearly four months."
I waved my hand and forced them to stand up by my command. I saw their grimaces, but continued my role.
"I wasn't missing. I was called away urgently by a nearby kingdom to—" I stopped midsentence and shook my head, "Why am I telling you this? I don't need to explain myself to you. Alert the rest of my arrival."
Both nodded their heads, their gazes downward.
"As you wish, Your Majesty. Apologies."
They scurried out of my room. When the door was closed, I sighed and sunk into a chair in front of my vanity. What was I going to do with this entire kingdom? I didn't want this power anymore yet it was the only thing I had left.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror for a long time unable to convince myself that this was me; I didn't want to be her. The Evil Queen. What was I going to do?