Continued from Before...
In conversation it is revealed that ;Prince Charming needs a princess, assuming because he is a prince and that's the sort of things that princes need, and the children need help, because they are children and that's the sort of thing they generally need. A deal was struck that they will help him get a princess and he will help them get Lance back. Towards this new common goal of princess acquisition, they venture off towards a castle, hoping that it is not the one covered in vines and flowers because there is something decidedly ominous about it. More details are revealed regarding what transpired on his previous quest to find a princess lying around. It went badly. Very badly. Though this mostly goes without saying, what with the cage and the Not Quite Dead status. He had set about trying to save Beauty from Beast who decided that being a prince was not as awesome as being Beast, to which it seems Beauty agreed. Unfortunately this means Beauty was not really in the mood for "saving" and Prince Charming found himself at the crossroad.
After some travel which reveals that Prince Charming may not be altogether right in the head, the group sights their destination: castle covered in vines and flowers, of course; thorns and roses upon closer inspection. Sophie collects a flower and finds that it bleeds when cut, though she is not to be deterred from the pretty. The drawbridge seems to have been constructed in such a way that keeps would-be rescuers out, instead of trapping denizens of the castle inside - i.e. the normal way. Prince Charming warns of a dragon that he will keep occupied while the children set about finding a princess in need of rescue inside.
Wishing upon a star, Sophie's imagination causes the roses to grow within the castle, cutting the ropes holding the drawbridge up, which is to say that the roses grow a lot. A really frightening amount of growth. As the drawbridge crashes down, the children advance with trepidation, except for Charlotte who indicates that the castle is "scary" and the outside, even with cannibals, is less so, also the prince who might not be sane enough to be afraid, let alone suffering from a slight case of trepidation, at this point. Naturally Prince Charming immediately races to face the dragon, denying any need of assistance. The children reluctantly leave him to his
Mustering all of the manners she can, Quinn befriends the spider-queen and cuts a deal: the spider-queen will not eat them if they find a bottle with a web and a tiny figure with the body of a woman and head of a spider and then, very specifically, burn it the web and the figure. Not smash, crush or cut, but burn. Seizing the opportunity to not be eaten, the children agree and venture to the first of three towers.
The door to the tower, however, is locked. Luckily Roland learned a particularly interesting set of skills at public school and makes short work of the lock. Inside they find a room coated in dust, but for finger and hand prints. Being suspicious of this new and terrible world, and rightly so, they look carefully and see hands waiting in ambush. When the jig is up, the hands fly out to attack. Despite nearly choking poor William out, the children manage to make short work of the hands, especially through the combined efforts of Roland and Elena.
Searching the room yields a skeleton under the bed with no hands, but clutched in the arms is a jar filled with fireflies. Or tiny fairies upon closer inspection. Not what they were looking for, but still useful or at least neat! They return without their initial prize and the spider-queen indicates that while she doesn't want to eat them, she has little choice. Also, she likes eating children. Suitably encouraged, they set off to the next tower.
Outside the tower they find numerous frogs that could be described as "razor bladey" hiding in the massive growths of brambles infesting this castle. Hoping for some kind of fairy godmother-like assistance, they pry open the jar and unleash the fairy horde. It turns out that horde is an accurate description as the savage fae make short and brutal work of the frogs, pausing only to feast on the still warm (or even alive!) flesh of their amphibian foes. With that chilling sight fresh in their minds, the children proceed to the tower in which they discover the jar in question.
While William disassembled his binoculars to inflict the kind of death that a child with a focusing lens and ants specializes in, the children inspect the jar more closely. Inside they see the web which seems to be the home for a tiny woman with the body of a queen and the head of a spider. She presses her hands mournfully to the glass of the jar. Getting cold feet from the humanizing antics of what would have momentarily been their victim, they decide to get answers from the queen.
Which does not go so well. The queen is very tired of waiting and while never particularly shy about her true nature, volunteers that she had her husband and the step-child in the way of her throne removed and she will be damned if these children will stand in her way any further. As time in her hourglass grows short the sacrifice is burned, returning the queen to her lovely and imperious form. The queen demands that William and Roland retrieve appropriate attire and accessories for her from her rooms and they are only more than happy to help. Perhaps the queen's words fogged their mind. Perhaps she was simply very, very pretty. Nonetheless, they do as they have been bid and Roland brings some extra jewelry just in case she wants something else. And just in case she doesn't, then he can keep it around... in case she wants it later... or doesn't... or something. (He stole it.)
At this time the children and the queen's desires align as they all wish the princess to be removed from the castle, though perhaps for differing motivations. So the children go to rescue the princess, who is naturally in the highest room in the tallest tower in the most inaccessible part of the castle. On the way the children make use of their vantage to see how the battle between Prince Charming and the dragon goes. Remarkably well, it seems, with the prince largely giving as good as he gets and delivering to the dragon's snout a thorough drubbing.
Continuing to the top of the tower they find a very small door and a table with two bottles, one with red liquid and another with blue liquid. Through vigorous application of childlike curiosity without regard to consequence, the very special children determine that the red liquid makes you small, while the blue liquid makes you big and through proper mixing you can reach just the right size to pass through the door. Sophie's knowledge of cooking and Roland's complete disregard to side-effects allow him to open the very small door and venture into the room on the other side.
Within the room he finds a spinning wheel and webs everywhere, something about it reminds him of two very lonely best friends who only have each other and a mutual love of weaving. Sad. Also there was a crystal coffin! Though the top appears to be ajar with vines growing inside. Upon returning to his normal size, his inspections reveal that the princess in the coffin is pierced all over by the thorns and seems to have been sucked dry like a juice box. Mmmm... juice box.
With that unsettling news, Sophie uses her chalk to make another door (more child-sized) into the room and now everyone wants to see the body. After much poking and prodding, William pronounces her "very dead" and doesn't think that first aid will alter this situation substantially. Having no breath or pulse. Also no blood. The children were somewhat at a loss of how to proceed when Quinn's cellphone rang, such tremendous reception!
Her fairy godmother was calling while shopping at Nordstrom, just wanting to let Sophie know that perhaps she should let the nice Prince Charming know since he might die in that fight with the dragon over nothing and the dragon as well is guarding a well kept corpse and might have better things to do. Seeing her fairy godmother's wisdom and shopping prowess, Sophie races off to dispense with indiscriminate advice!
Which does not go so well. The queen is quite elated, naturally. The dragon and the prince stop their now pointless conflict, neither wanting to continue as the prize was never the death of an honorable foe over a corpse. The dragon, saddened by the news, departs to find something else to horde. Prince Charming takes this all rather less well. His sword clatters to the ground as he drops to his knees, obviously in some kind of shock. Perhaps losing his mind entirely; it has been showing signs of wandering off as of late.
The children begin to make plans for an alternate princess to rescue and remember that Charlotte declined to venture into the castle with them, it was "scary". Turning to find their youngest companion, they see that Prince Charming has indeed found his princess. He smiles his most charming smile at her and pulls a figurine from his pocket, placing it on the ground as it turns into a magnificent winged steed. Easily pulling himself into the saddle he reaches down and scoops her onto the back. With that Prince Charming and his princess, Charlotte, fly off into the sunset on the back of a white, magical, winged horse. Perhaps it was an abduction.
The queen laughs at the children and makes them a one-time offer: she will return them home if they so desire. She walks to her mirror and speaks the words of power that open a gate to home. She smiles a delighted grin as the children decide that they will return home to rest and gather resources to rescue Charlotte and Lance. Stepping through the mirror, taking the magical sword with them, the very special children find themselves returned to their home. Though it was only five children that trudge silently down that forest path.
It has been a year since you emerged from the Black Forest at the end of that very special day. Your parents were worried, but their worry was tinged with a wild-eyed fear. During that time you have seen councilors, psychologists and therapists to come to terms with what happened. How impossible it was. How you invented those fantasies to come to terms with the terrible things that happened to Charlotte and Lance. Their bodies were never been found. You have never been able to find whatever it was that took you to the Grimm Lands, if it ever actually happened. Even the magical blade of silver and moonlight, the proof you brought back, is not how you remembered. The inscription reads "Replica" and "Made in China". It is also pitted and rusted from age and disuse and looks less like a blade of legend and more like the Anduril knock-off at the local Spencer's Gifts. Maybe you haven't given up, maybe you still return to the Black Forest with those who traveled with you before whenever you can escape from your parents' vigilant gaze. Maybe you haven't given up that flicker of hope against hope, belief against belief, that you didn't imagine it. That you can still go back and make it right. That you can bring about the Fall of the Rotten King...