Usually these stories start with “Once Upon a Time in a land far away…” but that’s not the case with this one. If you think this is going to be a fairytale, then you’ve got the wrong story. In case you haven’t noticed, life doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. Endings suck, but they are inevitable. No good story starts at the end, but neither does it start at the beginning. We’ll start in the middle, in a Kingdom called Karid….5 years ago….
The Kingdom of Karid
5 Years ago…
“Queen Lucille hereby cordially invites you to her Mid-Winter Ball in celebration of Prince Henry’s birthday.”
Cinderella let out a breath, handing the invitation to her step-mother after she finished reading it out loud. Her stepmother took another sip of tea before taking the invitation, raising one finely plucked eyebrow. The woman’s long nails scraped against Cinder’s skin, making her shiver. She took a step back, folding her hands behind her back as her step-mother’s yellow eyes scanned the invitation.
“It’s addressed to all the young ladies of Karid. It seems like the Prince is going to be choosing a bride at this ball,” her stepmother purred, looking up at her two daughters. Anastasia was busy buttering her toast, her eyes still closed as she was half asleep. Drizella was just as asleep, light snores coming from her mouth. Cinder had to cover her mouth to hide a smirk. The two of them were out all night doing who knows what…or rather, who knows who. Cinder knew that her stepsisters were just as likely to become queen as she was, but she couldn’t tell them that.
Her stepmother cleared her throat loudly, kicking Anastasia underneath the table. The red haired girl jerked awake, her toast flying out of her hand. She elbowed Drizella, who also jerked awake and sat up straight. Cinder rushed to grab the toast off the floor before Lucifer the fat cat could sweep it up. She disappeared into the kitchen, dusting the toast off before all but shoving it into her mouth. It was the first food that she had eaten in two days. Her stomach was grumbling so loudly she was sure it would eventually cause an earthquake. She swallowed, breathing hard as she leant against the wall . If her stepmother found out she ate that piece of toast she would get another beating, and her ass was still sore from the last one.
It was a chance she had to take, she was hungry, and she didn’t know how she was going to get through her chores today without some food in her stomach. She made her way back to the dining room, where Anastasia and Drizella were fighting over who was wearing what to the ball. Cinder could feel her stepmother’s eyes on her as she swept through the room, straightening things up and refilling their tea cups.
She didn’t risk asking about the ball in case one of the lashed out at her. The invitation was technically extended to all of the ladies in the kingdom, but that didn’t apply to her.
12 years, that’s how long she had been working for her stepmother. Ever since her father died and that wretched woman “inherited” her. They were awful, just horrible people. The first time Cinder’s stepmother beat her was when she was fourteen.
She hadn’t been given food in four days, and she fainted while carrying a tray of very expensive teacups. Every cup broke, and Cinder was hauled downstairs into the basement, where she was chained to the wall and given four lashes on her back by the evil woman. By the third one she mercifully blacked out again, and when she woke up the floor was soaked in blood. They left her down there for two days before giving her food and something to patch her back up with. It was a miracle that she didn’t get an infection, but then again, her father always told her she was lucky.
After that beating Cinder stepped lightly, she obeyed every command and didn’t say a word. She still slept in the basement, and some nights Anastasia or Drizella would come in, drunk and looking for someone to pick a fight with. They would chain her to the wall and beat her too, but after a while Cinder didn’t feel their punches anymore.
“I suppose you want to go to this party?” Her stepmother’s voice rang out, silencing the two bickering girls. Cinder froze, not entirely sure what the right response would be.
“I would like to, yes, but I understand that I cannot,” Cinder answered cautiously as she straightened her dress. Anastasia snickered and Drizella scoffed. Her stepmother stood up, walking over to Cinder. Yellow eyes scanned her up and down before her palm flew over Cinder’s cheek. Cinder’s head snapped back and she cursed internally as her cheek stung. Tears flooded her eyes, but she bit them back, not breaking eye contact with her stepmother.
“Anastasia, Drizelle, take her downstairs, she’s not allowed to come up for the rest of the week.”
Cinder’s eyes widened and her mouth ran dry. It was only Tuesday, which meant she was going to go six days without food. That’s the longest she’s ever been without food. Before she could even protest her stepmother slapped her again, this time across the other cheek. Anastasia and Drizelle each grabbed an arm, dragging her down toward the darkness. Cinder closed her eyes, wishing she was anywhere but here. Chains rattled as Drizella closed the shackled around Cinder’s wrists. They were already hard and calloused, so Cinder didn’t even feel the rough steel anymore.
“Poor little Cinderella, wants to go to the ball,” Anastasia sneered pulling Cinder’s dress up. There was a sickening smack of leather meeting flesh as the whip cracked over her back. Cinder could feel old wounds opening up again, warm blood dripping down her sides. She bit her lip, closing her eyes and counting the hits until her world went dark.
She woke hours later, groaning softly as the pain chased all the grogginess away. The basement had a small window which usually let in sunlight, but it was dark out now. Cinder held her breath, listening closely for sounds of life in the house. She must have slept the whole day away and most of the night, because all around her it was silent.
“Aaah..” She groaned as she attempted to sit up straight. The dried blood on her back cracked as she moved, and the wounds burned and protested against the movement. She took a few deep breaths before trying again, pulling herself upright against the wall. Her hands were still shackled, but that was something she could fix. She learned long ago how to outsmart her dim stepsisters.
With another groan she pushed herself onto her knees, holding her head against her hands. She was able to make a spare key for the shackles on one of the trips she was allowed into town. She hid the key inside her hair every day, just in case she was going to be thrown into the basement. She reached into her hair, grunting and breathing heavily as her fingers found the cool metal object. She twisted around, pushing the key into the lock and opening it. As soon as her hands were free she fell back down on the ground, crying out in relief.
“Fucking hell…” she groaned, giving herself two minutes to just lay on the ground before getting up. She didn’t have a lot of time, but now was the best time to do this. Cinder scrambled over to the far corner of the basement, digging her nails into the ground and lifting up one of the heavy stone tiles. She discovered it was loose when she was fifteen and had been secretly digging a hole underneath it and hiding things there for years. Now she was finally ready.
She picked up the small box inside, opening it up. It had everything she needed. Chalk, the bones of a small child whose grave she robbed, rosemary and blood. She had lots of blood. Inside was also a few bandages and clean water, and she took a few minutes to wash her back as best she could and wrap it up. When she was finished she grabbed the chalk, copying the runes she had seen in a book and committed to memory.
It happened accidentally one day while she was cleaning the library. She had stopped believing in Gods a long time ago, but the book that fell out of the shelf and landed on her head gave her hope. It was a book on the god of the underworld, Hades. The book also detailed how to summon him, and how to strike a deal with him. Cinder was sceptical about this, but then again, she didn’t exactly have much of a choice. The man upstairs failed to answer her calls, so maybe the man downstairs could.
After she finished drawing all the symbols, she mixed the baby bones, the rosemary and some of her blood in a bowl before setting it on fire. A strong metal smell hit her in the face and she gagged, holding her hand over her nose as she started to recite the words she had memorised to summon Hades.
“A summons, how exciting. Most people these days prefer to send ravens. No one has had the balls to summon me in quite some time.”
The voice behind her made Cinder jump and she turned around, her eyes widening. In front of her stood a painfully beautiful woman with chestnut hair that hung to her waist. Her skin was so white it seemed to glow, illuminating the tiny basement. Her eyes shone like a pair of bright coals, and when she looked at Cinder she had a strange urge to claw off her skin.
“H…Hades?” Cinder asked softly. The woman scoffed and laughed, a horrible sound that made Cinder cringe.
“That bastard? He got flushed down the drain a few millennia ago. I’m Queen of the underworld now. The name’s Megara, but my friends call me Meg.”
“C..Cinderella,” Cinder said, her voice still a little shaky.
“I know who you are dear. I’m Queen of the dead, and honey your soul has been dead a long time. What do you want?” Megara waved her hand in the air, conjuring up two black chairs. She sat down on one, her purple dress twisting around her like smoke. Cinder watched the goddess warily before settling down into the other chair.
“If you know my name then you must know why I called you here. I want out of this house, and I want out of this life. I want to be free.” Cinder took a deep breath, proud of herself for keeping her voice even around the Queen of Darkness.
Megara’s eyebrows raised and she smirked, showing her sharp teeth. “You want freedom? Don’t we all sister. What kind of freedom do you want? I could unlock the door to your cell and you can walk out of here,” Megara snapped her fingers and the basement door flew open. “I can put your step-family to sleep permanently.” Her eyes flashed red and Cinder sank back in her seat. “Or I could give you a prince and a castle. I heard Prince Henry is looking for a wife. You’re a pretty girl. Lucille would be fond of you.”
Cinder swallowed, not sure what to make of the offer. She didn’t even think this far ahead. Did she want a life in a castle with a prince? All she knew was that she needed to get out of this hell hole.
“Tick tock kiddo,” Megara said, glancing at an imaginary watch on her wrist.
“I want a weapon, and I want to walk out of this house and I never want my step-family to find me.” The words fell out of Cinder’s mouth before she could even properly think about them. Why did she ask for a weapon? What was she even going to do with it?
“What kind of weapon?” Megara asked, leaning forward, her eyes on fire with mischief.
Cinder’s next words answered all of her questions. “One that kills monsters.”
“Human monsters or actual monsters dear?”
“All monsters are human Megara.”