Chapter 9: Maleficent's Temptation
The sun sank slowly into the west, casting an orangish glow over the land. Along the outer edge of the Forest of Hope, Phantom's head popped out of a bush. She looked left and right, to see if the coast was clear; when she was sure that everything was safe, she motioned to the woods with her tail. And then, from the fog in the forest, emerged Belle, Flonne, Reminy, and Jaqulin, along with their friends; the Mages of the Rose looked around every once in a while for anything suspicious. Jaqulin was draped in a long, white cloak, so nobody could recognize her coming into the kingdom. Phantom hopped out of the bush and walked alongside Dr. Dude.
Everyone stayed silent as they walked towards the kingdom. Not just because they didn't want any attention attracted to them, but there was an air of sadness hanging over everyone. For the authors, they were losing someone that they only saw so many times, but were still very good friends with regardless. But for Reminy and Belle, they were losing so much more; Reminy was losing the only sister she had come to know, and Belle the only other daughter she knew beyond Reminy. As for Jaqulin, well...she was losing her one chance at love, even if she didn't know that the person she met in the woods that day was the same boy that she'd wind up marrying, anyway. Either way, everyone was losing something of value to them, and it showed just by the silence of the procession.
At last, the crew finally made it to the castle grounds. Nobody was around to see them in, but that was what they wanted. The group stuck to the shadows as they slipped underneath the roof of a hallway, opening a door and filing in. Up the long, winding stone steps they went, until they reached the top and entered the castle itself.
"This way," Belle motioned to the others. They made their way down the hall, staying close to the wall, until they came up to a door. Belle slowly opened it; nobody else was in the next room, thankfully. Belle lead Jaqulin inside while the others followed. "Right...in here, Jaq..."
When everyone was inside, Reminy closed the door behind them, sighing in exasperation.
"Reminy, lock the door!" Belle instructed. Reminy quickly turned around and moved the latch forward. "Pull the drapes, Flonne!" Flonne did so, with a little help from Essteka.
"Now, Jaqulin, if you'll just sit down..." Belle gently lead Jaqulin to a stool in front of a table with a mirror. Belle, Flonne and Reminy gathered together, their magical instruments in hand. "This one last gift, dear child of thee...a symbol of thy royalty." Belle, Flonne and Reminy's magic created a pure gold tiara with a single ruby in the center. "A crown to wear in grace and beauty...as is thy right, and royal duty." Belle placed the crown upon the young princess.
Jaqulin looked in the mirror for a brief moment...but couldn't bear to look at herself wearing the crown. She lowered her head onto the table and sobbed, her face buried in her arms. The others looked at each other sadly; they knew this was coming, but it wouldn't be like this.
Molly was the first one to step forward. "Jaqulin, we're so sorry this had to happen to you," she said sadly. "I wish we could---?" Molly felt a tug at one of her pant legs. She looked down and saw that it was Phantom, looking up at Molly with her closed eyes. She slowly shook her head, as if telling her not to go on. Molly could only look at Jaqulin sadly. A small sob escaped her lips as she held her hands to her heart. Taylor came up behind her and placed a hand upon her shoulder; Molly looked back at Taylor, and saw that her eyes were misty. She nodded once gently, as if to say that she understood how Molly felt. Taylor pulled Molly into a comforting embrace, wrapping her wings around her gently.
"Come on," Belle sighed. "Let's let her have some time alone."
The others nodded in agreement. Phantom leapt onto Papa T's shoulder as they slowly exited the room. Dr. Dude was the last one out, sadly looking back into the room one last time before slowly shutting the door.
"Oi...this is awful," Essteka sighed, shaking his head.
"It's that boy she met, isn't it?" Flonne asked.
"Well, if you guys met him, you honestly couldn't blame Jaq for being so broken up," Papa T said, folding his arms. "He seemed like a genuinely nice kid when we met him back in the Forest of Hope earlier this afternoon."
"Was he, really?" Reminy asked.
"Yes," Kira nodded. "And he and Jaq seriously hit it off when they finally started warming up to each other. Almost like they were truly meant to be!"
"Oh...what're we going to do now?" Belle wondered.
Back in the room where Jaqulin was crying, mysterious things were happening. An eerie voice echoed inside the room, sounding almost like it was calling out to the princess. The fire in the fireplace slowly started to diminish, little by little...until the whole thing went out in a puff. The smoke rising from the embers curled into an orb of green light, with Maleficent's face right behind it. The voice called out to Jaqulin once again as the orb grew brighter. Jaq herself ceased her sobbing, and rose her head. Her eyes looked lifeless...almost as if she was in a trance. Jaqulin rose from her seat, the white cloak sliding off, and began to follow the light as it called to her.
"I don't see why she has to marry some boring old prince," Phantom complained. "This kinda stuff only happens in fairy tales! And I mean the cheesy ones where some brave knight slays a dragon to rescue the girl he loves, not the cooler ones with the plot twists in them!"
"Phantom, I don't exactly agree with the notion myself...none of us do!" Taylor shook her head. "But the thing is, it's not our place to decide Jaqulin's destiny. It's been set in stone ever since she was born." Taylor thought for a brief moment. "Hmm...then again, it really shouldn't be her father's place to decide her destiny, either."
"Y'know, they really should consider abolishing these sort of things," Dr. Dude deadpanned. "What is this, the thirteenth century? Seriously!"
Meanwhile, Jaqulin followed the little orb of light into the fireplace; the minute it touched the wall, it disappeared, revealing a hidden corridor inside.
"Maybe we ought to tell King Cloud about all this," Flonne suggested.
"Why don't we?" Reminy asked.
"That's easy," Papa T explained. "The king's been looking forward to this moment his whole life, from what you guys have told us. There's no way he's going to let Jaq leave that prince she's supposed to marry hanging on the alter, there's just way too much pressure on him OR the prince's father to let it fall through. Maybe we shouldn't tell them about this."
"It's better that they know now than never," Belle said. "The king may be able to talk Jaqulin out of falling in love with the peasent boy once she sees the prince."
"True," Papa T shrugged.
The mysterious song from earlier echoed through the halls. A worried look spread across Essteka's face. "Uhh, guys?" he asked. "Where's that singing coming from?"
"It sounds like it came from inside..." Molly stopped talking as her face went pale with realization. "Oh, no."
"It's Maleficent!" Belle gasped. "Jaqulin!!"
The others charged inside the room, only to find Jaqulin slowly walking down the hall, following the light. "Why did we leave her alone in here?!" Flonne cried.
"Regret that later!" Taylor snapped. "Jaqulin, stop!"
The group quickly made their way to the fireplace, but were immediately stopped by the stone wall. "Oh, you have GOT to be kidding us," Reminy moaned.
Jaqulin slowly ascended the stone stairs, following the light's long, wispy trail. It flashed twice further down the corridor, beckoning to the princess again.
"Stand back, I'll get us through this door!" Papa T bellowed as he rolled his right shoulder. Lowering it and squaring himself up with the stone wall, he charged forward and tried to break it down...only to bounce off of it and crumble to the floor in pain. "ARGH! Ow, ow-ow-ow..."
"Are you alright?!" Taylor gasped as she and Dr. Dude raced to Papa T's sides and helped him up.
"Nnngh...Maleficent must've hexed the door so nobody could break it open with brute force," Papa T groaned. "She's smart...TOO smart!"
"Here!" Belle used her Keyblade to make the door disappear. Quickly, everyone ran into the doorway. "Jaqulin!!"
Inside, everyone realized that there were stairs and pathways going every which way; they had no idea where Jaqulin would have gone. "Now where do we go?!" Kira cried.
"I can't find her on my radar," Dr. Dude said worridly as he looked at a screen on his mechanical arm. "There's too many walls, and it's interfering with the signal!"
"Wait, my Skitty Senses are telling me she went up this way!" Phantom pointed up the same staircase that Jaqulin had begun ascending before. "Jaquliiiin!!!"
"Hold on, Jaqulin, we're coming for you!" Belle cried as they raced up the stairs.
As the others frantically searched for their friend, Jaqulin neared the top of the stairs, where the light passed through a doorway and into another room. When the princess finally reached the top of the steps, the light drifted to the center of a windowless room, and formed something: a spindle. The very thing she had been avoiding all her life. The tip of the spindle glowed eerily, as if it were beckoning to her. She slowly started to reach for the spindle, compelled to touch it.
"Jaqulin!" Reminy called as she ran up the steps ahead of the others. "If you can hear me, than please, DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!!"
Reminy's words echoed throug the tower halls as Jaqulin moved toward the spindle. She hesitated as her former sister's words reached her ears. But then, another voice called out to her...
"Touch the spindle," it echoed. Jaqulin remained hesitant. The voice called again, this time in a more urgent tone, "Touch it, I say!"
Failing to resist the temptation any longer, Jaqulin placed a single finger upon the top of the spindle. Green lights flashed from where the two touched as the Mages of the Rose burst into the room, with Jaqulin's friends close behind. They all stopped cold in their tracks when they saw a face that Belle had hoped they would never have to meet again.
"Maleficent!" Belle gasped.
"So THIS is the witch you guys told us about," Essteka growled, drawing two kunai.
"You poor simple fools..." Maleficent said coldly. The authors glared hard in Maleficent's direction. "Thinking that you could defeat me! ME, the Misstress of All Evil!"
"That's enough!" Kira snapped, drawing her sword and pointing it at Maleficent. "Where's Princess Jaqulin?!"
Maleficent grabbed her cloak as she said, "No need to act so hastily, young one...she's right HERE!" She pulled her cloak back to reveal Jaqulin, face-down on the floor and motionless. The others could do nothing but stare, comatose and overcome with shock, as Maleficent laughed heartily and disappeared in green flame.
"Jaqulin!" Reminy gasped as she, Belle and Flonne quickly came to her former sister's side.
"No..." Taylor said worridly to herself as the others looked over Jaqulin's lifeless body.
Dr. Dude crouched down and took Jaqulin's arm, laying two of his mechanical fingers beneath her palm. His expression dimmed as he looked at the monitor on his arm. "It's no use, guys...she's gone," he said grimly. "We're...we're too late."
Reminy's eyes grew teary as she held Jaqulin close to her. "This...this wasn't supposed to happen," she choked, her voice trembling. "Not like this...not when we were so close to escaping the curse..."
"Oh, Jaqulin..." Belle said sadly, her eyes watery. "I'll never forgive myself for this..."
"We let everyone down!" Flonne sobbed. "I can't believe we let everyone down!"
Phantom came over to Flonne and nuzzled up against her as she cried. Dr. Dude stood up and slipped his hands into his lab coat pockets, looking away sadly. The others could do nothing but mourn the loss of their friend. Papa T looked down at his hand; he curled it into a fist as his face darkened. He turned around and punched through the wall behind him in frustration. From beyond the smoking debris, the sun was almost completely down in the west.
Jaqulin was so close to escaping Maleficent's curse, and yet, she didn't make it. It had only been so long...but already, the world had seemed a little less bright.
End of Chapter 9