"Well?" Raven asked quietly, hoping beyond hope of the contrary. "Would it work?"
Dexter pushed up his glasses and sighed. "I'm not sure what to tell you, Raven. I mean... with just the right number of stories, it sounds actually pretty feasible. Especially because we already know Apple's story and how it ends. This might be our best hope of successfully fixing everything, once and for all... It's just, well, I wish..."
"I know," Raven hesitated, then took his hand. "Me too."
"It would change everything back to the way it was supposed to be. Not like... Storybook of Legends supposed to be," Dexter made sure to clarify, "But the way things were really supposed to be, before anyone had ever heard of a fairytale at all. When destiny was just something made-up, told in silly stories to entertain kids... before 'happily ever after' became a thing."
"That sounds like a dream, but..." Raven sighed. "I can't. I couldn't even bring myself to poison Apple when I knew she'd wake up after maybe a week. And now, the world rests on my ability to k-kill..."
"I could be wrong," Dexter hurried to assure her. "I mean. 1 to 26 odds of it, which is pretty good."
"That means it's 26 times more likely that you're right about it," Raven shuddered. "I can't do it, Dex. Even if I managed to get past... that part... there's still the whole 'scribing the storybook in blood' thing. I just... I can't do it. She's my friend."
Dexter paused and thought of something, "You know, a friend of mine once told me that I shouldn't focus on what I can't do... and think about what I can do."
Raven followed his line of sight-- Cupid, she thought. Of course. Few were wiser than she, when it came to following one's heart.
"Your friend sounds pretty smart," Raven ventured a smile. "You're right... we won't think about it until it's our last resort."
Dexter just lightly squeezed her hand, turning pink to the tips of his ears from the contact. Raven flushed and softly squeezed back.
Then, Dexter's headset pinged, the moment utterly disturbed.
"Little bro, are you in?" Daring's voice cracked from the headset.
Dexter reluctantly released Raven's hand to pick up the call, "I hear you, Daring. What's going on?"
"The village isn't holding up well," he answered, seeming to heave some heavy object on the other end. "Cerise and Hunter are already evacuating the citizens of Book End-- I need you ask Headmaster Grimm to give them shelter. The school, at least, is still intact."
Dexter glanced up at the classroom.
"I'll get a team together to get blankets and bedding," Apple volunteered.
"I'll post the evacuation notice to my MirrorBlog," Blondie added, already typing furiously.
"I'll cook together a nice, warm stew-- I'm sure they're hungry," Ginger offered.
"I'm taking Herowing and going into Book End to help rescue people," Darling lifted her chin, as if daring Dexter to try to stop her.
"Just... be careful," Dexter stood, and ran a hand through his hair in worry. "I've got to go run for Headmaster Grimm."
"You may wish to check the castleteria," Giles Grimm glanced up. "My brother has never been able to say no to a good taco."
Dexter nodded, sighing faintly. He tried to offer Raven a reassuring smile, though he'd never been particularly good at keeping his smiles anything less than wonky, faintly askew.
"I'll get us a teleport there," Raven wiggled her fingers, summoning forth a purple miasma, and in the next second, the pair of them vanished.
But, in the eyes of at least one other, the sight of their soft exchange lingered on still.
Cupid tapped her paper, thus far only filled with doodles as she tried to brainstorm ideas. 'C+D' encased in elaborate hearts, arrows, curlicues. She glanced forth at the place where Dexter and Raven had once stood, and promptly tore the paper from her notebook, crumpling it up into a ball before depositing it in the trash.
"Blondie," she said reluctantly. "I have an idea for the storybook."
And so, after Blondie's enthusiastic approval, Cupid gathered her notebook to her chest, writing the story that was the beginning to so very many of her own daydreams.
- Once upon a time in a faraway land, there lived a young cherub-- or, as some may call them, a Cupid. These winged, immortal beings were at once children and servants alike to Eros, the God of Love, assigned to help every creature learn to follow their hearts and someday find their true loves.
- Thus far with her voice of reason, the Cupid had guided several couples to their heart's delight. And where love grew misguided or unrequited, she held her bow and arrows at the ready, prepared to strike infatuation into the heart of a proud or stubborn match, unable to admit their feelings even to themselves, or to strike a temporary distaste into a persistent, noisome suitor unrelenting. Like a tender gardener, she attended the growth of love so that it may bear fruit.
- Though dearly she loved this job, there was yet one feeling the Cupid desired to know above all others: to experience true love for herself, if even but once.
- And thus, she set out from her home and traveled forth, seeking out love for herself as well as others. With her arrows, she helped some, and with her voice, many, many more. And though she found many discontent hearts and mended their ails, still, her heart did not find the one it was meant for.
- But then-- eyes of blue captured her sight, set gloriously upon the face of that most Charming Prince. Those windows into their bearer's soul betrayed a gentle heart, one fraught with uncertainty but still yet filled with good intent and devotion. Cupid could see deep, deep within his heart, and could feel the depth of love he held within, trapped beneath the surface, a love that ached to come forth.
- She fell in love, then, as surely as she fell into the ocean-blue of that one gaze.
Nearly drifting off into that sweetest dream, Cupid nearly put down those words she was most accustomed to writing: 'he fell for her, too, in his tender heart-- though his mind did not realize it yet.' But she shook the clouds from her eyes, in that moment, and though she loved, though she dreamed still... Cupid set her jaw and began to write the truth of it.
- But the Prince whose eyes shone as beautifully as the stars held his heart for another, an affection yet unspoken. No worthier a woman could there be to hold his heart, a beautiful sorceress whose hair hung black as a Raven's wing, whose eyes shone like amethysts concealed deep within stone having met their first taste of the light. Not even Eros himself could have fathomed a pair so well-matched in temperament, kindness, loyalty.
- The Charming Prince, however, could see little potential in himself. Where the Cupid could see only beauty within him, he himself saw only unworthiness-- fear that he would never be able to match that brave sorceress fair. He was afraid to place his most vulnerable heart on the line, though it swelled heavy with the weight of his feelings.
- The Cupid tried to console him, but each time: where her advice had rung true for the others she'd advised, these words rang with the edge of hollow falsity, for she did not mean them from the very bottom of her heart. Her secret hope, secret from even herself, was that the one she loved would fail in this endeavor, and then the gentle blue of his gaze would turn towards the Cupid, and see how amazing their love could be.
- But the kind sorceress could not remain blind to the prince's affections forever, and a gentle poem brought his love to light. It stirred something within her, awakened that amethyst-heart until its affection grew. And when she met the eyes of that Charming Prince, that shining sorceress fell for him, too.
- Bitter, cruel envy nestled in the Cupid's heart, a feeling she had known never before. It weighed down her winged soul like poison-lead, and drew her into the depths of despair.
- "One prick," she whispered to herself, soft, soft, fingers gliding over those arrows of distaste. She could sever this love in an instant, she thought, and clenched within her fist her bow. An arrow of distaste for each was all it would take for those fragile, cautious feelings to dissipate. An arrow of infatuation for the prince, to turn his sights to her.
- But when she looked upon them, gentle and shy but shining brightly, as brightly as oceans and amethysts alike in the light-- the goodness within her own heart spoke up, "It would be wrong."
- And so she snapped those arrows and tossed them to the ground, and gazed upon the prince and his beloved, watching as their hearts flew to heights the Cupid hadn't even known could exist. She, with her own leaden heart, knew then that she still yet had much to learn about the nature of love.
- She had cast away her wings with those arrows, perhaps the one chance her heart would ever have to soar. Thus did she return to her work upon the earth, never more to lift above the ground-- and there still yet she bides her time, walking among the mortals, and waiting, yes, waiting for her heart to someday teach her how to truly fly.
- The End.
Cupid wiped her cheek and shut the notebook. She stood, and handed it carefully to Blondie, her hand leaving the book's cover reluctantly, as if even her fingers knew what she was truly letting go of for good with this fairytale. Blondie accepted the notebook eagerly, and Cupid felt something in herself sink. She watched her friend's expression falter, momentarily, soft pity settling into her eyes.
"I'm so, so sorry, Cupid. I won't say a word about it," Blondie's unusual tact almost made it even harder to let go.
"That doesn't matter right now," Cupid swallowed, feeling very much like she was going to cry. "Was it good? Will it work?"
"That story was... that story told it just like it is," Blondie nodded, sliding the notebook into the pile of stories awaiting translation. "It was just right."
And then, with a voluminous puff of lavender smoke, Raven and Dexter made their timely reappearance in the room, stumbling faintly from the teleportation, seeming light of mood and bearing many, many takeout containers.
"You were right about the castleteria, Professor Grimm," Raven nudged her pile of takeout containers on top of the nearest empty desk. "We caught the Headmaster just as he was heading out; he approved the refuge for the citizens of Book End."
"We, uh, figured you guys might be hungry? And... well, it is Taco Tuesday," Dexter tried to find another empty desk, nearly tripping over the enormous piles of books strewn over the ground. "W-woah!"
"I got you!" Raven caught the takeout boxes with her magic, and placed a balancing hand on Dexter's shoulder. "You almost went flying, there... that would've been a pretty nasty fall."
"Thank you, then," Dexter smiled at her, sheepish but sincere. "I'm glad you were around."
A moment passed, and then two, and Cupid finally, softly, broke out into the tiniest of smiles. She felt the enormous weight within her chest begin to lighten its load, though not yet wholly freed of the burden of that chapter in her tale.
"The opposing side a coin of quarrel bears the flight of dove and laurel," Maddie reminded abruptly, offering at last the peace to lay her feelings aside for good.
And so, too, Cupid's mind was drawn towards the events on the staircase. How quickly, how foolishly she had learned to fall. How Maddie had all but begged her to fly. Her heart leaped into her throat, and she wondered just exactly how much Maddie had known of what Cupid felt in her heart, wondered just how much she had seen.
"I guess that means you ought to be first to get your tacos," Raven chuckled, not understanding wholly.
"Yay, tacos!" Maddie clapped her hands, looking for all the world as mad as she was.
But when she winked, knowingly winked-- only Cupid saw.
Darling Charming could little believe her eyes when she saw the Village of Book End, scarcely able to reconcile the sight with her own recollection of it.
"Help!" Poppy cried, leaning out of the upper window of a trembling Tower Hair Salon, and Darling could think about the matter no longer. She and Herowing burst into action, drawing Poppy from the tower mere seconds before it was about to fall.
"Watch out!" Darling cried below, cringing as the intimidating mass of stone was set to fall on a crowd of patrons fleeing from Hocus Latte.
"Never fear!" a hulking white blur leveraged himself between the stone and the helpless citizens, even still but scarcely holding it up with his tremendous strength. "Cerise! Hunter!"
"We've got it!" Hunter answered, hurriedly hefting the slower citizens from beneath the falling mass as several of them ran.
Cerise, carrying five or six people at once, hastily helped clear the area. "We're clear, Daring!"
The eldest Charming huffed, and with a sound rather more like a wheeze, he let the falling remnants of tower down to the ground. He rammed his headset, "As much as I hate to admit it... little bro, we need reinforcements!"
"Your reinforcements are already here," Darling swooped down in front of them.
"Man, you and Herowing are definitely a sight for sore eyes," Cerise grinned, patting the dragon's nose.
"I didn't bring a dragon, but I can lead the others to safety," Poppy volunteered.
"If you can lead them back to school, we would royally appreciate it," Darling nodded at her.
"And if you see a pothole in the road, make sure to go around it," Hunter advised. "It's the same thing that's causing all this here in Book End. Dangerous."
"All right." Poppy nodded before running to catch up with the crowd of fleeing civilians, warning them as loudly as she could.
"I think I see a building on fire," Darling exclaimed from her vantage point on dragonback. "It's in the West Quarter! We have to hurry before it spreads across the apartments."
Daring hefted himself onto Herowing right behind his sister. "We'll meet you there!"
Cerise and Hunter looked up at him, and then towards each other. They nodded in tandem, and Hunter, being the slower of the two, tried not to let his heroic pride hurt as he let Cerise run for both of them... piggyback-style.
Looking at her now, Hunter was almost embarrassed he had ever considered her to be anything nearing a damsel in distress, destiny or nay. Fairy Godmother, he hoped she wouldn't enter next year's damsel-carrying race... and, for that matter, he certainly hoped there would be a next year at all. But there was no time to think on it as Hunter rushed to whack loose the wheel of a fire hydrant with his axe and direct the resultant water forth unto the flame, leaving the charmed spray to work on its own as he assisted Daring and Darling in busting open doors to free those trapped inside.
Much to the extreme relief of all, their quick work had managed to prevent the fire from spreading to the neighboring apartments, where another team of heroes labored to evacuate all its residents before more fires caught, everyone clustering outside as a whistle and a sharp order sent a small coalition of heroes to lead the citizens to safety at Ever After High, their designated emergency shelter.
"You and you, check that nobody's been left behind," King Charming barked, directing orders to his men. His eyes alighted on the terrifying beast that carried two frightened citizens over each shoulder, "And you! Beast! Unhand those innocent civilians at once, lest you taste my steel."
"Dad?" Daring seemed surprised to see him, least of all in his own current form. He pressed a citizen each into Cerise and Hunter's arms, for the civilians' leg injuries had prevented them from making their escape as hastily as they wished.
"Dad!?" King Charming turned very, very red. "Why--"
"Dad!" Darling cried, drawing herself in between the two. "That so-called beast is just Daring! And he's been using his new strengths to save people."
"Darling!" King Charming promptly went pale. " What are you doing here? You are surely not so serious about pretending to be be a hero that you endanger yourself like this?"
"I'm not endangering myself any more than you are, Dad," Darling scowled. "And I'm not pretending to be a hero. I am one."
"But... but..." he sputtered. "But you're a damsel! And damsels do not gallivant about in dangerous, collapsing, burning buildings!"
"Darling is as much of a hero as I ever was," Daring's furred chest seemed to fluff in fraternal pride. "And you should see her Fireman's Carry."
"I'm not finished talking to you either, son," King Charming rubbed at his budding headache. "You are far from following the Twelve Tenets of Looking Good that all Charmings adhere to. Besides, I thought we agreed! You and Dexter would protect your sister!"
"Sorry, Dad, but I don't need to be protected," Darling huffed. "And Daring's saved tons of people, especially as a beast. You should have seen him when I got here, Dad... he was holding up the entire Tower Hair Salon to stop it from falling on a huge crowd of innocent people! With nothing but his own hands... um, paws!"
"I... well, that is impressive," King Charming couldn't help but admit. His mood quickly soured, "But I don't seem to see your brother anywhere. Where is he now... off playing with computers while we fight for our lives?"
"Helping to write a spell that could save all our sorry lives," Darling bit, frustrated to the core. She hopped onto Herowing once more, "Daring and I will see you after we finish evacuation. We're not having this conversation without Dexter."
King Charming nodded once, cautiously. He agreed, "The people come first."
On that note, he watched as two of his three children left his company on dragonback. It was the sort of image he had long dreamed of, his most heroic children teaming up to fight some long-lost evil. But he had imagined that those two children would be Daring and Dexter, with the latter along as a bumbling assistant and their sister presumably safe at home. Never had he imagined that one of them would take the form of a very large, very furry-- and, if he had to admit it, sort of intimidating-- beast. And so, with those unlikeliest of forms superimposed over the vision he had once held in his imagination, King Charming did the only thing he could do.
He whistled his heroes back. "Men, to the South Quarter! We have a town to save!"
But, too... far, far away in the quiet corners of Wonderland, a knight of a different color stood careful guard at the gates of Wonderland High, keeping watch over the 363-day holiday, the very last among those who would stay. And thus, it was only Chase Redford who saw as a startling, verdant figure appeared in a puff of deep orange smoke and flame.
"You're trespassing on school grounds, sir," he steadied himself, lifting his blade defensively. "School is not in session today. Please remove yourself from school property and attend in one hundred fifty one days--"
"Hm," a sly, black-lipped grin peeked out from beneath his wide-brimmed witch's hat. "One knight. You'd think they'd make it more of a challenge, if they didn't want people getting onto school grounds. Perhaps I should have a talk with your... principal."
"Our former principal has left school, and therefore it falls to the acting vice-principal to be principal," Chase scowled beneath his helmet. "And the current acting vice-principal is also the school attendance officer. Which means the person you want is me."
"Well," enunciated the wizard slowly, dark lips forming each syllable. "I suppose, then, it's a matter of principle."
"It is," Chase cautiously agreed.
A grim chuckle. "You give up your weakness too easily, knight. It almost makes me wonder-- how would you stand up against someone utterly unprincipled?"