* * *
Snow rode Cloud Dancer as fast as the animal could do. He stopped abruptly at the same spot where Sky had picked him up.
“Only this far?”
Snow hopped down and took her sword from the satchel. She gave the horse a brief tap and watched him disappear into the forest.
She walked with caution looking for signs of lurking Tenyks or steaming Automation, but nature was quiet. Snow realized she couldn’t hear any birds chirping, and her old familiar path seemed less lavish than she remembered it.
She passed a grave marked by sticks and rocks. One of the dwarfs must have made the little gravestone, but it was beautiful craftsmanship bearing the dwarven sigils of honor. It had just a name engraved – “Tobias”.
Snow walked along. When she reached the spot and knew no danger lurked here, she called at the dwarves.
“King Odc? Pelyse?”
When she heard none back, Snow traversed further into the deep of Rennoc Woods where no light shone through the thick crowds of high trees. She saw them at the foot of the active portal, a round structure swirling in a red vapor and spitting demonic hisses. Their beards and boots and belts had turned to stone – arms outstretched, mouths shouting, sword thrusting – the last image of their death was imprinted forever in stone. Despite their arguments Snow had much respect for the merry bunch. She may have been the Queen of the Meadows, but Odc had been the King of the forest for centuries. She placed a kiss upon her fingers and delivered it to Odc’s cheek.
“Sleep well guardians of Time and Magick.”
Before the portal still wrapped in its outstretching tendrils lay the Automaton. Snow looked down upon a younger Sky’s face, but when she kneeled to close its eyes the Magick faded away and an old woman, small and dry of age was held tightly in the brass prison. Repulsed, Snow pulled back.
She stepped over the prostrated body and sword at the ready with no hesitation to waste; she stepped into the portal.
* * *
The portal illuminated and startled both Jarvis and Ceridwen. Jarvis ran for his staff and held it carefully, pointing it toward the portal.
“Here she comes,” Ceridwen purred, steam rising above her head.
* * *
Snow felt torn apart as she cascaded through the portal. Time pulled her in all directions, stretching her skin and her limbs to excruciating pain. She had only to focus on where Brass Ceridwen was and as soon as she did the portal at the end of this tunnel illuminated correspondingly.
Snow tumbled out of the Portal still clasping to her sword. When she looked up and ignored the bruises, she saw Ceridwen’s burning gaze.
“You have the nerve to seek me here.”
Snow shrugged as she was standing up. She observed the room and found the Mirror in its corner, but it was already damaged.
“Whatever it takes to end you for good, Sky.”
“Ha!” Ceridwen laughed. “So you do know. The warlock did not lie. Tell me, Snow White, why did you keep your love for her if you knew she was a piece of me?”
“Because she was a good person, perhaps the only one who vowed to me to stay until the end no matter what. But you are not, and none of your other Brass forms are too.”
Ceridwen, unthreatened by Snow’s edged sword began a slow walk back and forth.
“Do you remember how we met Snow?”
The Queen nodded.
“You poisoned my father and took the place of my mother.”
“Mmh. I was a poor girl, brought up in the farthest house of your kingdom. My father made brews for the local taverns and sent me to sell it. Have you ever stepped in a tavern? It stinks of urine and puke; the men are dirty and drunk. I dreamt to be in that castle, to live as luscious as the royal family. I imagined how I run down the corridors, playing hide and seek with my servants, or how I had my morning feed in the gardens, lying beside me my faithful hounds. You were but a babe when the Queen took to bed, ill. Your father was coming home from a hunt unaware that he would soon be a widower. He passed right beside your house and looked down from his silver steed. He looked at me and smiled. I was a young girl then, but old enough for marriage. He was so handsome, the King.”
“You enchanted him,” Snow said in a gravelly voice.
“I had to. He loved your mother too much. On that day, I promised myself to be his next Queen no matter what. It was a silly thought, but a powerful one. Days passed, and your mother perished. On that day, a cloaked man came to me and told me he could help me be Queen.”
Ceridwen looked at Jarvis and smiled, but her brass mouth twisted it into a grin.
“He told me how to trick your father into loving me. He gave me a piece of glass and a potion to drink. It was filled with Magick which made me the fairest of them all. As I walked through the village, all of the men turned to look at me, men who had ignored me beforehand. I already felt like a Queen. Jarvis became the King’s advisor and me his Queen. I kept King Richard mine with the power of the mirror and took to Jarvis for advice. We ruled the kingdom until you dear Snow became of age and the mirror spoke your name instead of mine. I was so angered one night my magick poisoned him. He was talking about how beautiful his dearest daughter had become. His love for you was stronger than my curse.”
Snow kept the tears from running down her flaming cheeks. She remembered the day her father died, and her stepmother sent her to the forest with a young Huntsman, a year or two older than herself. He was to kill her, but John was kind, and he was the handsomest boy she had seen with his golden locks and wolfish gray eyes. The Queen tried many times to kill her, but no matter what Snow pulled through. She and John banished Ceridwen from the kingdom. Many years had passed before she rode back from the Rookskye, a diplomatic advisor to help propel the kingdom to a brighter future. How she propelled it…
Next: The Brass Queen