Word Count: 23,000+
Rating: NC-17/ Mature Content
Summary: Eureka plunges into a dark fairytale world where its citizens must figure out the curse of the Red Witch and break the spell in order to get back to their lives. Written for the Marshal Science August Challenge and Musingdarkly/Becca who wanted "anything, hot smut would be a plus".
Chapter 4: The Reigning Queen
Jack's hangover went away fairly quickly, but he was still suffering for the night before. Stark hadn't spoken more than a handful of words to him since their argument and Jack wasn't about to be the one to apologize first. He told himself that he didn't care what Stark thought he did after he left their room the night before.
Upon finally meeting the Queen, Jack found it difficult to actually look at her considering the clothes she wore – or rather didn't wear. The only thing he could say for the shiny, dark blue material that barely concealed anything at all was that at least it matched her crown and riding crop.
“You're the Tailor,” she said in a disbelieving tone. “The one that's come to end the curse of the Red Witch?”
“That's what I've been told.”
“Are you sure?” she directed her question towards Stark.
“I know he doesn't look like much Your Highness. He's short, slow and a bit cowardly,” he said, causing Jack to sputter, “but he does fit the profile.”
“I saved you from those trolls!” Jack argued back. “I'm not cowardly.”
“You were the reason I was there in the first place,” Stark argued back, “and you only came back because of the collar around your neck. You ran away at first.”
“I was luring the trolls out,” Jack lied. “You know, I should have left you there you arrogant, controlling jackass!”
The Queen clapped her hands together. “Boys!”
Jack and Stark closed their mouths.
She cleared her throat. “As amusing as the two of you are, let's stay on topic.”
“Huh?” Jack asked before remembering about the whole Red Witch's curse. “Oh yeah.”
“The curse,” she reiterated with a condescending nod at Jack. She turned her attention to Stark. “You plan on escorting this Tailor to the Fortress?”
“What Fortress?” Jack asked, but no one responded.
“That's the part I haven't figured out,” Stark admitted. “I've managed to navigate through the Bridge of Illusions and avoid the Fortress's initial defenses, but there's some kind of invisible barrier guarding it that I haven't been able to penetrate yet.”
The Queen nodded sagely. “I'm aware of this obstacle and I believe I have a solution.”
“What Fortress?” Jack asked again.
Fargo took pity on him and whispered, “the one you have to get inside of to free the Princess to break the curse.”
“I know of another entrance to the Fortress. It's through the Kingdom of the Caged Princess.”
“The Princess I have to free to break the curse?” Jack asked Fargo directly this time.
“No, that's another princess,” Fargo whispered back. “This one you have to free to break the curse is in a glass coffin.”
“Do you have the key to the Kingdom of the Caged Princess?” Stark asked the Queen, ignoring the conversation going on between Fargo and Jack.
“What's the other one in?” Jack asked.
“A metal cage,” the Queen answered before Fargo could. She gave them a quelling look before answering Stark. “I do have the key, however I can't give it to you just yet.”
“Why not?” Jack asked.
“You must prove your worth,” she said simply.
Jack had to roll his eyes at the cliché. “And how do we do that?”
Her eyes fell upon Taggart. “One among you still suffers from the dark magic of the Red Witch. Lift his curse and I'll grant you the key to the Kingdom of the Caged Princess.”
“We are not magicians,” Stark replied politely, but Jack could practically see the irritation rolling off of him in waves.
“No,” the Queen agreed. “However there is a wise Hermit who was once a great magician living in the heart of the forest. He might be of assistance.”
“I know the man you speak of and he does not welcome outsiders onto his land,” Stark dissented.
“You were once his student,” the Queen answered. “He'll welcome you.”
“I'd like to go with them Your Majesty,” Zane spoke up, still gazing at the Queen as if in rapture. “There is no hero in their group and I've grown fond of the Tailor.”
“You're bored,” the Queen said with amusement.
“I live to serve you Your Highness. However despite my love of Your Majesty and the great kingdom of Eureka, I should on occasion undertake a Quest to prove my worthiness to be in your presence.”
The Queen seemed pleased enough by Zane's words, although Jack sensed annoyance from his three companions.
“Very well. You may go with them if you wish,” she granted him. “Take whatever supplies from the store room that you deem necessary. When you return, you will report to me on the actions of the Tailor and his friends.”
“As you wish,” he smiled beatifically at her.
Jack felt like throwing up again – just a little.
“Good luck Gentlemen. You have my blessing.”
“I don't see why he had to come,” Fargo grumbled to Jack not event fifteen minutes into their journey, sneaking glances back at Zane who guarded them from behind.
“I don't know,” Jack replied. “He seems alright and he did get us some tents and food.”
“It just means we have to carry more,” Taggart joined in on the complaining, scratching at his head furiously. “We don't need all this stuff.”
“You've got fleas, don't you?” Jack asked.
Taggart ignored him. “I don't care if he's bored in town, he's a pretty boy and a blow hard.”
“Even Stark hates him,” Fargo added.
“No he doesn't,” Jack replied, raising his voice so Stark would surely hear him despite him walking a careful distance in front of Jack and the others. “Stark likes Zane. There's no reason for him not to.”
Stark didn't even bother turning around. His antlers caught on a lower tree branch and he had to stop for a second to get untangled.
Jack smiled. “So what's with this Hermit guy?”
Fargo shrugged, but Taggart stopped his scratching long enough to get a serious look on his face. He lowered his voice when replying to Jack so much that Jack had to walk closer to hear him. “He had a student,” he nodded towards Stark, “who was almost like a son to him and his wife. One day he was away and the student's magic spell went awry and she died in the accident. In his guilt, the student left the magician to see some form of penance and ever since losing his wife and student, he's been a hermit - living alone in the thickest part of the woods.”
Jack didn't know what to say, so he kept his mouth shut and a watchful eye on Stark's form. He felt some of his anger and irritation ebb, replaced by sympathy. As their journey wore on, the forest once again became almost as dark as night, even though Jack was sure it was only about midday. With the loss of light, the woods took on a more sinister ambiance and their group walked tighter together along a trail only Stark seemed to be able to follow. They stopped briefly for a break and a meal, but mostly spent the entire day on a silent trek towards the heart of the forest.
Once Jack could have sworn he saw one of the troll brothers out of the corner of his eye, but when he looked, only trees stared back at him and no one else seemed to see anything either.
They didn't stop until they came to a small river and there was enough of a clearing that Jack could see the sun setting just behind the tops of the forest trees.
“We'll camp here,” Stark announced.
Jack, Fargo and Taggart gratefully dropped their packs down where they stood and breathed sighs of relief.
“We could go on a little further. A few hours more in this direction and there'll be a cottage.”
“The sun's setting. It'll be dark soon,” Taggart pointed out. “And you've brought enough stuff for us to have all the luxuries of home right here.”
“There's a fishing pole in your pack, isn't there?” Jack asked hopefully, eying the fresh water bubbling no too far away.
“If we only walk during the day, it'll take us a whole extra day to get to the Hermit,” Zane argued. “It's not that much further to the cottage.”
“Feel free to continue then,” Stark stepped in, “but we're staying here.”
The Hero seemed to contemplate it for a minute before he relented and set his own burdens down. “Nothing exciting happened all day,” he sulked.
“And I'd prefer to keep it that way,” Stark replied.
Jack couldn't help but agree with him. “I wouldn't mind staying out of trouble tonight myself.”
Zane looked at him as if Jack had said “the Queen wasn't all that” or something else equally unexceptable.
Despite the pleasant night, the toasty fire and bubbling river nearby, Stark proved to be proficient at maintaining a polite, remote, frosty demeanor well into the evening.
“Hey,” Jack approached him cautiously on his perch by the river shore, “I brought you some fish.”
Stark shook his head and looked back over the water. “I don't eat meat.”
“I've could get you an apple.”
“I already had one, thank you.”
“Look, I know we had a bit of a fight and said things we didn't mean...” Jack started.
“I meant what I said,” Stark interrupted him. “I don't care who you sleep with as long as you complete the quest you agreed to. I'm sorry you seem to want a different response from me.”
Jack huffed. “Ok, one – I didn't sleep with Zane and I don't want to. We got drunk and passed out in separate beds.”
Stark didn't respond, but his shoulders did relax a little.
“Two – it wouldn't kill you to show a little emotion once in a while. It doesn't necessarily mean your weak or whatever it is your afraid will happen.”
Stark's shoulders tightened back up and he turned even further away from Jack.
“Three,” Jack said, circling closer and around until he could see Stark's face again, “That's not what pissed me off. You try wearing the collar for a little while and then being all happy about me reminding you that you have no choice about what you have to do.”
“You think the rest of us have a luxury of choices,” Stark turned back towards Jack, looking furious. “You think I or anyone else in this town likes living under this curse and not being able to leave. That's why we need you.”
“Yeah I get it,” Jack yelled back. “Breaking the curse is the only use you have for me and everything else that happened between us was just a means to an end. Sorry I didn't get it before, but I do now.”
Jack stormed off, determined to get as far away from Stark as he could while still staying within the relative safety of the group. He settled for a little outcropping upstream where he could sit with his feet in the water and sulk by himself. As he drifted off in thought he didn't really pay any attention to the occasional flickers of light from under the water. At least until something grabbed both his legs and pulled him in.
The fairy lights were brighter under the surface of the water, illuminating the river bed below and the fish swimming through the water. Jack couldn't see anything around his legs or what had pulled him down, but when he tried swimming back up top, he found himself pounding against a shiny, dark surface, trapping him below. He tried swimming back and forth, looking for the surface, but had no luck.
Jack bruised his hands pounding on the surface. He panicked when he ran out of oxygen and started gulping water, then he passed out.
The first thing he heard when he came to was the gentle laughter of little girls. Jack opened his eyes, still under the illuminated river water. He felt fine at first and tried holding his breath again, looking for a way out until oxygen deprivation almost made him pass out for a second time. He gulped the water again and felt it rush into his mouth and throat and out through the sides.
Jack felt the side of his neck with his hands and instead of encountering smooth skin, there were slits running diagonal from back to front.
“Gills,” he said to himself, surprised to find his voice vibrating at a different pitch in the water, but otherwise clear.
He heard the laughter again and jerked his head around to see three fish laughing at him. Their bodies were large for fish and their scales shone like the inside of an abalone shell.
“Where am I?” Jack asked.
They only laughed some more and then sped off. Jack looked around briefly and seeing no other way to go, he followed them.
The three fish would stop every so often for Jack to rest and catch up with them while the little flashing points of light always hovered close. He'd figured out that they wanted him to go with them quickly enough, but after what seemed like an eternity swimming, he still didn't know why.
They never spoke – only laughed.
The further along he swam, the warmer the collar around his neck seemed to get. He seriously debated whether or not to stop and swim back downstream, but something in the back of his mind kept urging him on until the currents eased and the floor of the river bed dropped, expanding widely. He followed the fish ever forward, downwards and through colder water until he saw another light through a window at the bottom of the water. The other side of the window looked like nothing Jack could remember ever seeing. It looked alien and cold, even colder than the water he swam in. Inside, a beautiful woman paced back and forth while a child slept. She looked just as trapped as Jack felt most of the time and he felt sympathy for her right away.
Suddenly she spotted him and rushed to the other side of the window, pounding on the thick glass.
Jack, she mouthed.
He tilted his head, reading her lips, but unable to hear her.
“How do you know my name?” He swam closer to the window, until he was touching the glass with his hands.
Jack, she said again. Get me out of here.
He looked around the window, trying to find a way to open it, but had no luck. Jack looked back at the woman and shook his head back and forth. “I don't know how.”
Nathan, she replied. Get Nathan.
“Who?” Jack asked, vaguely unsettled. He felt like he should have known who Nathan was.
Nathan. Tell Nathan that we’re trapped. I can’t shut the defense system down without his passcode.
She said something else, but Jack couldn't tell what it was because the next thing he knew, the three laughing fish had grabbed his clothes and were dragging him away so fast he couldn't tell where they were going.
They stopped sharply before somehow tossing him up through the water and onto the shoreline.
Jack was suffocating again, gasping for water this time instead of air until he passed out once more.