The Quest: A Fractured Fairy Tale

Five

"What, AGAIN?!" Snow yelped as the great Wolf moved to block her path. She swiftly dismounted, drawing her sword in a smooth motion.

Snow had been out and about adventuring for about two months now. While the cities of most kingdoms were 'safe' for most values of safe, once you headed out to the borders things got a lot more dangerous. Outlaws and monsters lingered where army patrols didn't go, and preyed on travellers and those willing to live out there.

So Snow travelled the borders, and ended up fighting trolls, a giant, several bandit bands and other minor annoyances. Jack, her mother's vizier, was also right in that the excitement was kind of addictive. And the adventuring had been profitable, with her earning much gold and rarities from bandit hideouts and such.

Swinging back through more familiar territory, she had expected things to be a bit quieter. Well, no such luck...

The wolf snorted with amusement as the beast sat in the middle of the path. "Good to see you too, Snow," the familiar voice rumbled.

"You're not going to try to eat me again, are you?" Snow asked warily.

"I don't really eat humans much," Wolf admitted, "they're too stringy."

After a moment's thought, Snow sheathed her sword. "So what do you want?" she asked the beast cautiously.

Wolf growled softly in annoyance. "I was sent as a messenger. There is a woman in trouble, in the village up ahead. She'll find you." Before Snow could reply, the wolf swiftly disappeared into the dense woods.

"Crap," Snow sighed as her horse nickered softly. "Yes, we're going to go check it out," she admitted as she swung up into the saddle, "the Wolf would probably hunt us down in we didn't."

Rosebud made a agreeing sound, and they headed off.

The 'village' was really just a traders' encampment, with huntsmen, fur traders and others meeting and dealing with the merchants from larger towns. It was a rough sort of place, with dirt roads and timber buildings, but lawful in it's own way. Most of them men knew if you offed another hunter his buddies or family would come after you, so it really wasn't worth it.

The armed guards of the merchants eyed Snow warily as she rode by. Despite numerical advantages, city guards almost always had a hard time with adventurers. It was one of those mystical laws of fantasy, and one only flouted them at your peril.

Snow adjusted her chain mail shirt as she climbed down from her horse, looking around warily. "Wonder who we're supposed to meet?" she mused softly.

As she advanced through the village, Snow picked up a loud argument in one of the huts. A woman, she thought, said, "She's one of your best trackers! We can't abandon her!"

"I will not send any more men out," the other voice replied.

"And if she was one of your lackeys?" the woman demanded.

"Even if she was, I won't throw any more lives away," he answered.

"Cowardly bastard..."

A door slammed open and Snow watched a tawny haired, golden eyed young woman stride out of one of the shacks. She looked very pissed off, and bystanders scurried to get away. She looked around, then her gaze landed on Snow and she strode towards her.

Casually Snow put her hand on the hilt of her sword, just in case she needed to do a quick draw. She didn't think the woman was armed, but...

"You," she scowled, "are you the one the Wolf said was coming?"

'Ah,' Rose relaxed her grip on her sword. "That would be me. I take it you aren't the one needing rescue?" she asked dryly.

"No, but there is a girl in distress," she replied. "I take it that's one of your specialities?" she asked archly.

"My reputation is somewhat exaggerated," Snow answered, "Miss...?"

"Heather," she answered shortly. "Will you help?" she asked bluntly.

"Considering the Wolf would probably hunt me down if I didn't, yes," Snow answered dryly. "What are we dealing with?" she asked as she followed Heather into the woods.

"There's a witch in the woods, casting enchantments on anyone who gets too near her hut," Heather explained. She paused, "Is that horse going to follow us all the way?"

Rosebud neighed.

"Yes," Snow shrugged.

Heather sighed. "Anyway, she's luring people in and we think killing them," she explained.

"And the village headman refuses to stop it?" Snow raised her eyebrows.

"He seems to think a loss every few weeks isn't so bad," Heather answered as they forged forward through the brush.

Rose watched Heather gracefully climb through the woods, clearly a experienced forester. Though she had a slight limp, and a wicked looking scar on her leg. The way she moved almost seemed familiar, but she couldn't quite place it.

"I don't think the Wolf would hunt you down for not helping," Heather noted. She smiled, "Maim, possibly, but not kill."

"Oh that's comforting," Snow snorted.

It was the rumbling chuckle that clued Rose in on whom she was dealing with. She didn't say anything, though... there was no point revealing she knew whom she was dealing with.

They reached a path cutting through the woods, slightly overgrown looking but usable. "We're nearly there," Heather told Snow.

"Do you have a plan?" Snow wondered. Attacking a witch was a foolish thing to do, so preparing might be a good idea...

"Well, your armor is iron, which will provide you with some protection," Heather noted. "Basically I need you to distract her long enough for me to rescue her captive," she shrugged.

"So I'm canon fodder?" Snow asked wryly.

"Pretty much," Heather agreed frankly.

A few minutes later and Snow was striding up to the front door of a quaint little cottage. It looked like something from a story book, with flowers growing along the path, pretty paint and fancy decorative touches. But despite that, there was a faintly... ominous feeling about the place.

Before Snow could knock the door swung open. The old woman beamed up at her happily, "Hello, hello! Welcome, granddaughter. Come in!"

Despite KNOWING she was in no way related to the old woman, Snow nearly felt herself nodding and agreeing. It was eerie. But keeping a grip on her sword cleared her mind a bit, even as she followed the old woman inside.

The inside looked just like a older woman's home. Nice, cushiony furniture, a large bed, a nice kitchen with something on the stove. But underneath there was a scent of rotting meat and decay, rust or blood on the floor.

"You should take that horrid armor off, dear," the witch added cheerfully, "it's much more comfortable without it."

Snow could feel the compulsion in her words but fought it off. "No," she answered.

"No?" the old woman picked up a knife, then shockingly moved to stab Snow.

"Awk!" Snow staggered back, feeling like she was wrapped in toffee. It was hard to react, dodging the shining blade as the woman hacked at her, laughing.

"It's been a long time since someone actually fought back," the witch cackled, "I'll enjoy dicing you up and stuffing you in my crock pot!"

Snow grunted. It was hard to fight her, the enchantments around the place kept throwing her off. One moment she'd see the sweet little old lady, then the next a aged crone was hacking at her. She was barely managing to parry her attacks.

As they fought, Snow saw Heather sneaking in through the back. Snow attacked the witch, doing her best to keep her distracted as the other woman headed to the rear rooms of the shack.

"Feisty!" the witch grinned, clearly enjoying the battle.

"Huff!" Snow grunted in effort as she was slammed backwards. Damn it, she fought ogres before. How the hell was a old lady this strong.

"You face me in my home and think you can win?" the witch taunted. "this is my place of power! Fool!"

"Killing me is a bad idea," Snow tried to stall her a bit, "I'm royalty. Someone will come looking to find out what happened to me."

"Blue blood tastes as good as any," the witch grinned, showing misshapen, sharpened teeth, "the more the merrier!"

Snow grunted in effort as she blocked another blow. Her arms actually hurt from absorbing the shocks, and the witch seemed tireless. 'Next time, assuming there is a next time, I'm insisting on a better plan,' she thought grimly.

But before either the witch or Snow could continue, a heavy meat cleaver came down with a thunk into the witch's shoulder. "Argh!" the witch choked as a spurt of blood sprayed upwards.

The slightly shorter redhead yanked the cleaver free. "That," she growled, "was for tying me up and dumping me in your larder." She swung again before the witch could recover, "And THIS is for trying to eat me!"

As the witch staggered backwards, Snow seized her chance and ran her through with her sword. As the blade sliced deep, she was shocked at the lack of resistance.

"My heart is hidden, fool," the witch laughed, "you can't slay me."

"Maybe not," Heather noted as she strode up with a axe, "but that doesn't mean we can't just cut you up..."

THAT made the witch worried.

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

"Do you think dicing her up and burying the pieces will stop her?" the young woman who strangely only answered to 'Red' asked.

"It'll at least slow her down," Snow shrugged. She looked over at Heather, "I assume your wolf side will be keeping a eye on things too?"

Heather blinked, "You knew I was..."

"The Wolf? Yeah," Snow shrugged, "Your eyes don't change, for one thing. And you have that limp from when Charming lanced you, in both forms."

"Well hell," Heather sighed. "I'd better be more careful."

Red moved closer to Heather, "You didn't NEED to rescue me, you know. I would have gotten out on my own."

"Really," Heather said dryly.

"I would have!" Red protested indignantly.

"Uh huh," Heather smirked.

"Oooh!" Red growled angrily.

Smiling slightly Snow left them to argue, mounting Rosebud and riding off. She intended to tell the village leader about the witch's death, so that he could deal with the corpses left there. Then she intended to send a message to her mother, the Queen. She didn't entirely trust the Wolf to take care of things...

To be continued...

Notes: Yes, this is a tie in to my Wolf and Red series of stories.