Once Upon a Nightmare
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The sun was getting higher in the sky and as it did the temperature was rising drastically. The summer heat was setting in for the day and there wasn’t a breeze in sight. That morning had been so lovely. The air had been crisp and cool. Dew had drenched the earth, sparkling as the sun rose over of the hills. The had all melted away and now any refreshment would have to wait till the next night. It was going to be a scorcher, everyone could feel it.
Alone in a small room in an inn in Easthaven sat a beautiful woman with long dirty blonde hair. She stared out the window looking toward the castle several miles away. This woman should have been smiling or at the very least happy to see the capitol. After all everyone in Easthaven and Westhaven loved Caerleon. The two towns used to be refugee camps and they were populated now by those same refugees and their families. The town, despite the summer heat, was bustling with activity. Everyone wanted to complete their new home. Echos of saws slicing through wood, hammers banging against nails, and the general bustle of the town reverberated off the walls of the inn. There was no love for that great castle in the distance within the blue eyes of the woman who sat alone.
Blue eyes darted about watching the activity in the streets as she waited for her “companion” to return. The longer she waited the more anxious the woman got. Soon she found herself pacing about the room wringing her hands. The blight was gone, but this woman’s troubles had not gone with it. Oh no, the Lady Elaine’s problems were far from over. Elaine was trapped still, perhaps more so than ever. The last thing she wanted to do was go to Caerleon.
If she was being honest with herself, Morgana might have admitted that she was tired.
Malificent had failed - Morgana had seen that coming. She had built a powerful base, seemingly unstoppable even, but she had overreached. It had been the look in her eyes that had first caught Morgana's attention. The Queen-goddess had cared too much. Been too absorbed in her plan. She'd been too attached to that one plan... Morgana tried to avoid those mistakes. Oh she had anger, and she had dire ambitions. But she was patient. If one plan slipped, there was another... and she tended to avoid knock down drag out fights with the deity of chaos when she could, too.
The vision had cemented it. Perhaps if she'd seen more, and earlier, she might have been able to salvage the Queen's plan, but it had been too late for that. And it was quite possible that would not have ended in the best way for Morgana anyway. After all, it wasn't her ambition to be a servant or advisor of the land's true Queen.
So she had withdrawn from the final fights - not idly, oh not even a little. She had worked furiously, saving what she could from Malificent's coalition and resources as the wheels came off. She had managed to save the life of Melusina, and oh was that going to be a nasty surprise for Arthur and Gwen. She'd pillaged her fallen father's empire, quietly enough that even her half-brother currently sitting on the phone would never know what he was missing. And since she knew during this period of rebuilding, the exhausted masses and heroes of the realm would think themselves safe, at least for the moment, she once more began sinking her hooks in.
This particular hook, she thought could be very promising.
She entered the room silently while Elaine looked forlornly out the window, letting her spell of concealment fade away as she stepped into the light, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck. Morgana might have been a sorceress, and a creature of the court, but she had been raised in the wilds. Moving silently, stalking prey... these things came naturally to her. She was dressed simply, as she often was, but she had avoided even the appearance of wealth or taste this time. For now, she might as well have been a serving girl at the nearby tavern, though there were few with her grace.
"Don't look so down, Elaine. After all, you're going home. And not to try and eat anyone, which I dare say is a step up from where you were a month ago." she purred, stepping up beside the other woman and leaning her shoulder against the wall, an easy smile on her lips. Despite her confidence, there was something slightly drawn about her - she was paler than she had been, moved more carefully. Keeping the dragoness alive had cost her dearly... but it would be worth it in the end.
A chill crept up Elaine’s spine and the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as Morganna’s spell slipped away. Elaine did not turn to see who was there. In her mind’s eye she saw the person that stalked toward her silently. The blonde noblewoman felt her whole body tense. Every muscle became wound tightly and the breath caught in her throat as her teeth grit together as Morganna entered her peripheral vision. Elaine shuddered as the velvet purr sounded on the air. Her eyes pressed shut as she tried to imagine herself far away from everything. An ocean danced in front of her. The pale blue waves crashing on the golden sand. Wind molesting her hair and making it dance all around her. Bare feet pressed into cold wet sand not the hard wooden floor. ‘Take me there,’ she thought. ‘Take me to this shore and let me just stare out at the horizon that goes on and on. Set me on a ship and let me sail to world’s end. Let me fall off the edge and let the universe swallow me up.’
The loud caw of a raven broke her concentration. Elaine’s blue eyes opened up and every muscle tensed yet again. Frustrated she pushed away from the window and crossed the room to the small desk in the corner. A melted stub of a candle stood in the candle holder still flickering and holding on to life. “Home? That’s not my home. My home is in Dokrayth at Lighthouse castle. My home is gone,” Elaine said blowing out the flickering candle. The smoke danced and curled up toward the rafters disappearing into the wood.
Sighing Elaine turned to look at Morganna. The woman looked thin and fatigued. Her eyes glimmered with confidence, but she did not exude the strength she usually did. A smirk dared to dance across Elaine’s pale blue eyes. “Lucky for you that I do not still hunger for the blood and flesh of another. I’d say you’d be a fine snack in your current fatigued state.” Again her eyes danced to look at Caerleon outside the window. Birds flew over the castle as did the sun. “I wish I had perished. I wish that I had never come back. I should have remained at that whorehouse in Dokrayth….I wish I had perished in that witch’s tower when I was fifteen. All this world has to offer is usury whether it be of money or people,” she said just above a whisper.
"Well, we all have to adjust our definition of home from time to time. I wasn't even born on this world, and yet I've come to think of it as home." it was a sentiment she wouldn't speak to many, but there was no risk in it. After all, it wasn't as though her heritage and blood was totally unknown.
At the next bit, she grinned, the lopsided expression showing her teeth, just slightly. "I may be diminished, dear Elaine, but I think you overestimate the degree." She took a deep breath, looking back out the window, and intended to grow more serious, but she couldn't help a laugh at Elaine's next thoughts. Before the woman could say anything else, she held up a hand.
"Forgive me, I do not laugh at you this time... I am merely surprised. You should be cautious... keep talking like that and I may begin to like you." She turned her eyes back to Elaine's, her dark gaze intense, icy cold as her smile. "Very few humans see the world with such clarity, you see. They think themselves superior creations, given purpose and morality and spirit... but all of them are simply animals, tearing one another apart for advantage or need as soon as they find themselves out of comfort... or simply for ambition."
"That is so much of the point. Why the idealism of Arthur and his wife will always end in tragedy, for themselves and for the people they think themselves protecting. I don't expect you to see me as a better alternative. Not yet. But then I do not require your belief... Only your obedience. We can work on the rest later. Do you understand the task before you?"
Elaine met Morganna’s gaze. There was nothing in those eyes that said anything good. Most people had a glimmer of light behind their eyes. It was that tiny spark that said someone had a heart. Even the cruelest men Elaine had met had that tiny miniscule spark within their eyes. Most people couldn’t see it, but Elaine always could. Perhaps it was one of her gifts as a grail maiden. Perhaps all those who were grail maidens could see it. This spark might have given some hope, but instead it irritated Elaine. ‘Even the cruelest of eyes has that spark and gives you pause. It stops you in your tracks just for a split second or even smaller than a fraction of a second. And yet those men behave like beasts. They betray that spark.’ she thought. Morganna was different and for that Elaine was grateful. It meant that Elaine knew who and what she was dealing with.
The laughter tickled Elaine’s ears, but no emotion passed across Elaine’s face. Morgana was not the first to laugh at her or at a statement she made. Being laughed at or causing other to laugh was all part of the facade, the game, the mummer’s dance, or whatever else one wanted to call it. Morganna truly liked no one but herself by Elaine’s estimations. At Morgana’s words a small smirk tugged at Elaine’s lips and she couldn’t help but shake her head. Elaine approached Morgana her blonde hair catching the light of the summer sun. Pale blue eyes searched Morganna’s once again knowing full well she’d find nothing but ice and darkness.
“Why would it surprise you that I see the world clearly? I know what hunger feels like, thirst, fear, betrayal. I have experienced them all. I’ve lain with the monsters and the beasts and let them crawl between my legs to take their pleasure. I’ve lied, cheated, and even killed all before the black curse entered my veins. You and I Morgana are not so different in how we look at the world.”
Elaine leaned closer and brought her lips to Morganna’s ear. Her words dripped with anger and venom. “The difference is Morganna you wish to live and revel in that darkness and mold the world into your image and likeness. Me? I just want to live in peace away from it.”
Elaine pushed past Morganna shoving her out of her way. She sat down on the hard mattress and swung her legs up on the bed before laying down and staring up at the rafters. “The task is simple. You wish for me to spy on my king and queen.”