Solange was gone. All of that magic must have shredded her as it ripped free of her veins, and it looked like her magic wanted Rory, too.
Maybe it was for the best. With both bearers of Unwritten Tales gone, no one like the Snow Queen could ever exist again.
There is more than one way to give your life, Rapunzel had said. Rory’s hand closed over the light she’d given her.
Stupid. Deciding she wanted to live right then.
The sound of shattering attacked her eardrums, echoing across the bay like the Glass Mountain itself had been smashed. Frozen chunks exploded outward.
She curled her arms around her head. Around her, light pulsed brighter and redder, until she saw nothing.
From The Tale of Rory Landon
His hand freezes against her cheek.
“Come on , Rory!”
Her eyes don’t open. Their faces are inches apart. “It’s too cold for you out here.”
There’s a hole seared through her coat. She lost a shoe, and the breeze is ripping through her ragged sock. Her jeans - thanks to all the water the heart had melted - are frozen up to the knee.
She has no pulse.
The Snow Queen and the magic that poured out of her had killed her. The Arctic Circle never even had a chance.
His arms slide around her body, warm against cold. He’s trembling. “Wake up, Rory. You can do it. You did do it. It’s over. You won.”
For a moment, he thinks she moved, but it’s only Lena’s shadow on her body.
“Chase, there’s nothing you can do. We were wrong.” She shivers, looking anywhere but her hands. “Rapunzel was wrong. She’s dead.”
“No!” He looks around wildly, but all there is is snow, snow and his best friend slowly taking the cold body of the girl he had loved from his arms. “No, this isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. Lena, where’s the water of life? Where’s the portal? I can save her!” Lena doesn’t reply. She knows where the water of life is, and she knows that it can’t bring someone back from the dead.
They sit there, boy and girl and body, alone on the ice.
“I was supposed to save her.”
They carry her body off the battlefield on a stretcher. No one knows yet, they’re celebrating. He stumbles, tripping over his own feet as they approach the portal. He has no one to steady him.
Jenny pounces on George and Lena, but then she sees what the elves are carrying and she only holds them closer. Ben starts towards Chase, his smile melting into shock once he gets close.
When the twelfth graders step into the line near the back, George excuses himself to go to Miriam. She beams at him, then pales as he whispers something in her ear. Chase can only watch as the news spreads through the remaining Characters, a pulse too similar to the one that went out just hours earlier from two girls on an iceberg.
Chase steps through the portal after the elves, then follows them to where they set down the stretcher by the burned corpse of the Tree of Hope.
“Rory!” Her dad yells when he sees her body, “Rory, what-”
Maggie looks older then she ever had before. “No,” she keeps whispering, “no, no, no, no, no.” Amy just holds Maggie as she sinks to her knees by the body of a once-Destined girl.
“I’m sorry.” Chase looks up at them. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t save her. It’s all my fault.”
Lady Aspenwind comes up behind him. “Chase.” Her voice is kind and her eyes are sympathetic. She has seen too much death, and so has he. She leads him away, to where Ellie and Gretel have left a stash of sleeping potions. “It was her Destiny. There was nothing you could do.”
But it wasn’t, he thinks, and, this isn’t the way it was supposed to go.
“I’m supposed to bring you before the Canon for a meeting.” Chase can’t see Sarah Thumb and Mr. Swallow, perched on a branch above his head, but he knows they’re there.
“You can tell the Director to wait.” He is kneeling beside Rory’s body, his legs beginning to cramp.
“Mildred’s dead, Chase,” Sarah Thumb says, and he knows she’s trying to be gentle, but he doesn’t want gentle. He just wants her back. “The tenth and eleventh graders were having a hard time defending their portal. The Director was bringing some students as reinforcements. The Snow Queen had just sent a fresh slew of wolves. They went straight for the spearmen, who weren’t in position yet, and the Director threw himself between them.”
It’s not that Chase doesn’t care, it’s just that Rory matters more. She always has.
“You can tell whoever’s-in-charge to wait.”
Sarah Thumb frowns, but flies away on Mr. Sparrow.
That night, he hates his dream. He hates the table, carved with pictures of their exploits, hates the house that they had picked together, hates the gigantic cake, filled with candles for every year of his life. He hates that she’s right next to him, smiling, laughing. Happy Birthday.
Chase stands with Lena the next day.
“It’s not fair,” she whispers. “Rory wouldn’t have wanted this. They don’t deserve it. None of them failed. They won. They shouldn’t put the names in here.”
Chase privately disagrees. Rory had left her mark on EAS, and it should be remembered. Carved in stone.
Sarah Thumb, as deputy-director, is in charge until a new Director is chosen. She makes sure that, in a cruel mockery of Hansel’s inscription, the ninth graders go immediately after the Canon. Chase picks up the chisel and sets it to the spot where the “z” in Rapunzel begins. It trembles in his hand, and he sets it down.
“Chase!” Sarah Thumb hisses at him.
He picks up the tools and positions the chisel at a spot almost a foot down from Rapunzel de Chateies. It makes a perfect tiny chip, just the beginning of the letter A. Chase hands the tools to Lena.
Everyone pretends not to notice that the Wall of Failed Tales is wet.
Outside, the sun is just beginning to set. Ellie is standing by a flickering fire in a brazier. In her basket are hundreds of paper hearts.
Chase hadn’t known what happened when a Character died at EAS. There haven’t been any deaths since before he arrived, and he hadn’t gone to Hansel’s funeral. He doesn’t know where he had gone instead.
The only thing he can remember is long, blonde hair, flashing eyes, a blinding smile, a glimpse of pink. Running his fingers through that hair, it looks and feels like honey, pressing his lips against those cherry-pink ones, the taste of chemicals, he wants to pull away, he can’t, he can’t. Cherry-pink chemicals. Honey-colored hair. He feels the ache, there is something else, someone else, no. There is only cherry-pink and honey-blonde, and the feeling of panic quelled by the same enchantment that kept his lips against hers, that closed his mouth whenever he spoke about it.
He does not know what happens to the dead.
They are almost all children.
Unbidden, the memory springs to mind, as it always does when death rears his ugly head. A scar on a right cheek, a hole in a right ear, eyes as green as a parrot.
He doesn’t know what happened to the goblin.
He does know, all too well now, what happens to the dead of EAS.
There are catacombs, hidden in the mass of tunnels and corridors and secrets. There lay the bodies of two hundred and fifty years of Characters, from the first to die on North American soil to that of a Southern Belle who sealed the passage off during the American Civil War to prevent the bodies from being desecrated. No one has touched the catacombs since they were sealed. No one remembers that they exist, much less how to find them.
The dead of Ever After School’s North American Chapter are given to the family, if they want to bury the body. The crematorium has not been used in decades, but Rumplestiltskin remembers how to operate it.
They do her body last.
Chase doesn’t watch.
He knows how they put her body into the machine, how Brie sobs and tears silently stream down Eric’s cheeks and Dani won’t stop wailing in his arms; how Lena is mumbling to herself all the things she could have done; how Ben and Chatty grip each other tight enough that Ben’s fingers take on a purplish tinge and Chatty’s hand bruises; how Amy just stands there as if she can’t process that this is even happening; how Maggie kisses her forehead one last time before Rumple presses the button and Rory slides into the flames. He knows that she won’t rise out of the fire like a phoenix, one last miracle, that this is just a reminder that she’s gone forever, even her body is, now, but he can’t help but hope.
He knows because this is what he dreams. Rory used to dream things three times before they came true, but he knows. All his dreams are true, now.
Lena finds him in her tower. He can hear her coming. Her beads tap the stairs as she climbs. He doesn’t move.
She sees him, nods, and wipes her eyes again.
“About two hours,” she answers his unspoken question. “They’re starting a columbarium, but Maggie wants to scatter the ashes around the Tree.” There’s a new Tree of Hope now. The burned carcass of the old one was hauled away, and that’s when Chatty found it. A sapling, hidden beneath a fallen limb. Melted magic snow and ash make a strange fertilizer. The new Tree is three feet tall now.
He sits behind a dresser. Lena stands by a worktable.
“I just keep thinking, what could we have done better? I know there must be something, anything, like maybe we followed Rapunzel’s instructions wrong? Maybe the light was really supposed to be a heater, to keep her from freezing, or maybe we were too slow, no, it was probably something we misunderstood. Rory,” her voice shudders, and he sees her fingers turning white as they grip the edge of the table.
She breathes until she thinks she can get her voice under control. She is wrong. “Rory always understood Rapunzel best. I mean, I can’t even figure out when such an obvious quest is a diversion, how could I ever understand something like this,” her hands are in the air now, the sparse light coming through the window making them shine. She’s gesturing at nothing and her breath is coming in short spasms now.
She spins around and falls on Chase. “Just tell me what I did wrong!” and now she’s full-on sobbing and the tears are coming and they’re falling, and she’s falling and he’s failing and it’s all too much and too little and the one person who could help is gone, gone, beyond the veil, and then he has an idea.
There is a room, deep in the heart of Ever After School. There is a room and it is legend. Tales whispered in the dark of the night say it will open only for those who have lost everything, or to those who have only hope, or to those who have lose even the hope of hope. They’re never specific, and never the same.
Those whispers say that if you find it, you can summon Them. The Goblin Priestesses. The few beings powerful enough to fix things, to make them right. Maybe. They might kill you instead, or drive you mad with longing, or let you think everything was alright when around you people wept in the streets. Or, once, the story wasn’t of the Goblin Priestesses, but on a rock band whose music could save the world. Or maybe it was.
Chase Turnleaf has heard the whispers. There’s only one way to find a room that doesn’t want to be found. He blindfolds himself and holds a hand out and walks with faith into the corridor. He walks and walks and never hits a wall and never looks.
His hand touches a doorknob and he pulls off the blindfold, opens the door. Inside, the fire of the brazier bounces off mirrored walls. The knife on the dais shines brightest.
He knows what is to be done, how it’s always done. Death magic is nothing like his magic and all too similar to his magic. His magic takes spirit, takes power. This magic takes physically, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
He takes the knife and makes a short, deep cut on his arm. Blood wells up and he lets it drip, holding it over the fire.
His tongue isn’t made for speaking any of the Goblin languages, so he calls out the invocation in Fey. He didn’t know it before this moment, and he forgets it as soon as the words leave his tongue.
Nothing happens, then, a shimmer in the air.
He dreams. A table, in a house, a cake as big as a giant’s palm, blue icing. Happy Birthday, Grandpa Chase. Next to him is a woman that is both Rory and not-Rory, because Rory will never grow older, Rory will never even make it to fifteen.
She flickers, the not-Rory, between a thousand faces, a fact that he doesn’t find strange until he realizes that everything else is gone. The table, the cake, the guests. There is only him and the not-Rory, who is four not-Rorys. The Goblin Priestesses speak with four voices, all at once.
“Chase Turnleaf,” they say.
He stares at them.
Chase is next to the Tree of Hope. It’s yesterday, it’s her funeral. He left before they scattered her ashes. He sees himself leave. He sees how green the grass is, how blue the sky is, and how it mocks him. How can the world possibly be this bright when all the light is gone from it? How can there still be flowers?
He sees Lena, standing next to her grandmother, tears shining brighter then her hands.
He sees Maggie, Amy, Eric, Brie, tiny Dani, dressed in a tiny black dress made for children who don’t survive their first year.
He doesn’t see the triplets, still in the infirmary with Kevin.
He doesn’t see Ben and Chatty, whose legs were gone after 24 hours.
He watches as they pour her ashes onto the new Tree, and for a moment, Rory appears, a figure made of ash. Chase doesn’t recognize it, but Lena remembered the death of Rapunzel.
“I don’t understand. Why show me this?”
Chase is in a hallway, deep in the depths of Ever After School. It’s tomorrow. It takes him a while to realize that this is not his EAS. This is the European chapter, and here is Adelaide. He can’t help but pull back. Cherry-pink, honey-blonde. She is neither of those, now. Her face is red and blotchy and her hair is a mess.
The European chapter of EAS has very sound-proof walls.
Her face is red and the knife is silver.
He doesn’t know where she got it.
He can’t move. He reaches out, tries to touch her, to stop her, but she is just out of reach.
He can only listen to the screaming that she can’t control as she brings the knife against her flesh, again and again.
He can only cry out soundlessly, as his memories of cherry-pink and honey-blonde are replaced by silver and red.
He can only watch as she carves her arm into ribbons. The scars on his arm, shoulder, and thigh throb in unison to every flash of silver.
Her screams form into words and if he listens carefully, he can decipher them.
traitor, betrayal, all your fault, she’s dead, all my fault, traitor, snow queen, no, no, no, why couldn’t i have died instead, why, why, traitor, i just wanted, betrayal, all my fault, love, if only, i can’t, traitor traitor traitor traitor traitor traitor
No, he tries to say, but she can’t hear.
NO, he shouts, he yells, he screams until his throat is raw, he reaches for her, he can’t reach.
WHY, he screams silently, WHY?
Chase sees her, the real her. She is lost, she is scared, she runs. She is running high and fast and loud and she is all he sees.
lost where am i what is this lost solange winter death despair chase lena dani rapunzel help lost where no why what run fight give up lost
She cannot see him.
She is lost to him, forever.
“This is what is, Chase Turnleaf.”
“There has to be another way. I know you can do it. You can fix things.” He looks at each of them in turn. They look at him. He still can’t decide what they look like. He feels tears coursing down his cheeks as he looks around again. “You can save her. Reset time. Just do something!”
He falls to his knees, and he is back in the chamber. Hanging in the air like tapestries are the visions they showed him. His eyes linger on Adelaide for just a moment before they return to the Goblin Priestesses.
“You were right, Turnleaf.” It is just Unizi who speaks now.
He stares at her.
“This is not the way it was supposed to happen.”
“In the true reality, Aurora Landon survived her final encounter with the Snow Queen. Something-” Muire’s face crumpled unpleasantly, “-has upset it.”
“So fix it! There’s got to be a way! You can fix it and then everything will go back to normal.”
“It is not so easy, Turnleaf.” Ciona spreads her hands, and Chase is reminded of their school trip to the Planetarium, stars from eye to eye. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Death for death, life for life. That has always been the way of the world.” She nudges a single star our of place, and the galaxy quickly spirals into nothingness.
Vionnia steps forward. She does not speak. Her hands slide back and forth, pulling Ciona’s galaxy back into place.
“Do what you must.”
Chase is suddenly standing outside a door, the knife in hand. The door opens, and he knows what he must do.
He goes through the portal, back to the arctic circle. He wishes he could say goodbye, but they would try to stop him.
I could have left a note , he thinks, gone to Arctic Circle to right the balance of the world. May not come back.
Will not come back.
This is the only way, he thinks, the only chance I have of seeing her again. He knows it might not work. If it doesn’t, then at least they can be lost together, instead of separately.
He reaches the spot where she died. It’s not marked in any way, but he knows.
“This is the only way,” he says aloud as he kneels, even though no one can hear him. “This is our only chance.”
And he plunges the knife right through his chest, piercing his heart.
He wasn’t expecting it to take so long. He wasn’t expecting it to hurt . He had thought it would all be over, but this is eternity.
Is this what the green-eyed goblin felt? What the wolves felt? What Rory had felt, at the very end? No, Rory had gone quickly, magic born and magic dying in a supernova, ending both Unwritten Tales at once.
He can feel it beating as blood spills over the ice. His body shudders, convulsing, and he both wishes someone was here and is glad that no one is.
But, if there’s no one here, why does he feel cool fingers on his burning cheeks? Why can he see something (someone?) sharpening while everything else fades away?
“No,” she says, and it’s different than he remembers and too much the same, like there had never been anything separating them, “No, this isn’t the way it was supposed to happen!” and he’s not crying but he feels tears on his face and he sits up and oh.
There will never be enough words to describe that moment. When you see someone you thought was lost forever, when you find them again, even if it’s only temporary, even if it’s The End, it’s still one more time.
And there’s nothing between them, and they gasp, coming up for air before their lips lock again and she grasps at his coat and then he realizes.
She is cold, too cold, there’s a hole in her coat, she has only one shoe.
There’s a hole in his coat, too, and in his shirt, and it’s red , and she can see his heart through it. It’s not beating, any more then she is breathing.
“I’m dead, aren’t I?”
“But if I did it, then it should have worked! It should all be fixed, We should go back to normal! Not-dead normal!”
“Lena told me once that magic isn’t free. Everything you do has a cost. A sorceress has to give up a body part for magic, you use energy for fey spells, Lena using dragon scales to make things.”
“An eye for an eye? I don’t even care. I’ll die if it means you won’t. The world needs you more then it needs me.”
She laughs, and suddenly, she is so, so old, a Rory who has waited a hundred years to wake her sleeping prince, a Rory who has seen worlds fall, a Rory who sees everything, except, perhaps, the ones who love her most.
She laughs, and dissolves into mist.
Vionnia pulls back her hood.
“What happened to living to be an old man and dying in your sleep? No, you can’t die. Not yet. Death is easy, living, living is so much harder.
“You, Chase Turnleaf, you get to live, and remember. When you wake, everything will be as it should. Everything, except you. Remember, and remember this: there are some secrets that should never be told, and some that should not remain secret. Good luck.”
The world was mist, and then it was white, and then she was gasping for breath and he held her tight.
His hand freezes against her cheek. Chase is scared, but to her he just sounds impatient. What if, what if, what if. “Come on , Rory!”
She looks up. Their faces are inches apart. “It,” she says, “is so cold.”
She’s wearing a coat with a hole seared through it. She’s lost a shoe, and the breeze was ripping through her ragged sock. Her jeans-thanks to all the water the heart had melted-are frozen up to the knee.
The Snow Queen and the magic that poured out of her had failed to kill her, so the Arctic Circle was giving its best shot.
His arms slide around her. She needs the warmth, but he just needs to be close.
It worked, he thinks, we’re alive.
It worked, he thinks, we died.
And if he wakes in the middle of the night clutching the spot over his heart, if he finds himself squeezing Rory’s hand too hard because she might dissolve into ash, if the only thing he can hear when Adelaide’s face shows up on the M3 is her screams, well, that’s nothing out of the ordinary. After all, this is the way it was always supposed to be, isn’t it?