Bad Cinderellas

The next morning, Cathy's enchanted bugs class continued. Now they had to learn to control them. Sukie was soon able to make the spiders follow her fingers around in a circle. "That's right, my little friends," she crooned.

"Hey! What's that?" demanded Maddie. She was pointing at a glass tank with a grey bee inside. The bee had a small red mark on its abdomen and buzzed with a weird rhythm.

"That's a Love Bug," said Cathy. "Nothing you need to know about yet, Rookie. It's quite dangerous. Its sting is a type of love spell. Anyone stung will be hopelessly infatuated with whoever they next see. It could cause havoc if it got out."

The next class was magical disguise. It was held in a draughty hall on the ground floor. As it was the very first session, it was very basic. Their instructor was Vanessa, a willowy witch with sandy hair.

"Part of disguise is really living the role!" she enthused. "It may well be necessary for you all to disguise yourselves as non magical women at some point. This flesh coloured paint will help with that." She pointed at a jar on the table beside her. The label on the jar said, "little doll – peach."

"But that comes later." Vanessa put the jar in a cupboard. "Now let's hone your acting skills. You all have to start somewhere."

They acted in pairs. Sukie and Tia acted the part of an evil warrioress and a guard. The warrioress was an evil adventurer nicknamed "The Hawk." She had cut off the guard's tongue and so naturally the guard was vengeful and pursued the Hawk whenever she tried to sleep.

Sukie put a blood pack in her mouth, so that it would look like she had a bloody mouth. It did not of course look entirely convincing, appearing to bleed red blood. Sukie's actual blood was green now, because of the magic in her.

Sukie opened her mouth wide and reared to her full height, while Tia fell back to the floor and scrambled away. "Go away! I'm not asleep!" screamed Tia, acting her socks off.

"The Hawk may be dead, but in this land, it doesn't mean she's gone," said Vanessa as she paused to watch them. "She might actually still roam the Wilderness."


It was the evening of the night of the Harvest Moon.

Sukie was uneasy, but she had agreed to go with her group of friends to infiltrate the Minister's Formal, even though she knew it was wrong. They congregated in a bathroom before they snuck out. The black tapers were burning low, their blue lights flickering and casting ghostly shapes on the walls. Chrissy and Amy had stolen the peach coloured stage paint from the drama cupboard.

"Let's do this!" said Chrissy. She put some on her face and presto! One side of her face looked just as it had done before her transformation. The other half of her face was still bright green. She looked in the mirror and grinned. "Wow. Magic."

Amy touched her green cheek. "Do I look as if I care about makeup?"

"Not makeup," said Chrissy. "It's a disguise."

The girls all painted their faces.

"Hope the Minister knows some good party games," said Amy.

"Ha ha. I doubt," said Maddie. "Statesman are boring and stuffy."

Willow glared at her. "The Minister has to be serious. He's got a serious job."

"Quite right!" said Sukie. Backbiting made Sukie uncomfortable. Why did Maddie do it? If she couldn't say nice things about someone, she shouldn't say anything.

"Why look. I do believe I look ravishing," said Tia, the corner of her mouth twitching into a smile. Her face was painted, although she did not look as pale as she had done before her transformation.

Willow peered at her own painted face in the mirror. "Wish this came with some beauty attributes, you know? I would like to have a rosy blush and maybe a freckled nose and cheeks."

"We don't have time to hunt around for beauty in jars," said Chrissy. "Let's just make do."

They had borrowed dresses from the drama prop store as well. Maddie seized a stylish black demon dress that came with a cloak and a matching pair demon horns for her head. Sukie got a golden dress with matching elbow length gloves. Sukie saw Chrissy slip a tiny earthenware jar into her pocket before she put on a frilly periwinkle blue dress.

"I'm taking a suit, not a dress" said Amy.

"Nothing wrong with that," said Sukie.

As they snuck out, the sun was already setting. Chrissy and Amy both knew the way to the Remchild manor. The manor was an elegant building made of pale blue stone, surrounded by grassy fields.

"This way." Chrissy beckoned, leading them up a dirt track that led away from the main gate where guests were arriving, and up to a tiny side gate. There was just one security guard at this entrance. Chrissy winked at them and put a finger over her painted lips. Then she walked up to the guard grinning widely.

"Hey there, guy!" she said. "You're supposed to be guarding to stop anyone leaving right?"

"No…" the guard looked puzzled. "I thought I was to stop anyone coming in?"

"No, no… you're to keep them in here," said Chrissy.

"Wait… can they leave with me?" said the guard.

"No, I think not," said Chrissy. "Anyway, we're coming in."

The girls filed past the guard, who began to follow them.

"Hold on…" said Chrissy. "Where are you going?"

"I'm coming with you!" said the guard.

"No, no, it's quite simple," said Chrissy. "You have to guard the side entrance."

"Poor guy," said Willow when they were out of earshot of the guard. "It's a shame to take advantage of him."

"Are all the Minister's staff such utter wastes of space?" asked Maddie as they walked up to the front door of the manor.

"Steady on…" murmured Sukie.

"No, not all of them. That guy is one of the cheap guards," said Chrissy. "The Minister has to cut his budget somewhere. Better on his guards then on the upkeep of the roads."

"If a guard doesn't get paid much, he shouldn't have to give the gold standard of service," observed Tia.

The front doors of the Remchild Manor were solid oak and ornately carved. The footmen on either side bowed and swung the doors open and the girls filed through.

The oak panelled hall before them looked magnificent. Gilded candelabras, bristling with candles, cast a warm glow over the scene. Throngs of ladies and gentlemen in elegant dress stood around talking with each other. There were long tables on either side of the hall and these were piled high with cakes, pastries and fruits.

Snippets of conversation could be heard over the general hubbub.

A severe looking lady in a black dress was complaining. "Merchants… nouveau riche… they are so coarse…"

"At least they are not bankrupt, unlike you, Lady Everleigh," scoffed a squat gentleman with a wide, slack mouth.

"So tactful, Lord Finis," said Lady Everleigh. "You are so nice and delicate."

Finis noticed the party of girls and sneered at them. "They are here without invites I've no doubt. What tawdry dress."

Willow smiled uneasily, but Sukie could see the other four girls were glowering and she hastily beckoned them over to the buffet.

"Ah, good!" said Chrissy, pointing at a carafe on the buffet table. She ran up to it and began to pour herself some steaming coffee into a china mug.

Tia nudged Willow. "You see something that interests you?"

Willow was gazing across the hall. She spotted something, and her painted face creased into a smile, her blue eyes sparkling. She put her gloved hands to her painted cheeks.

Sukie followed the line of the gaze and saw Martin amidst a group of nobles. The nobles were showering him with praise. "Top of his class for three years in a row… outstanding…"

"No wonder the Minister has such high hopes for you. One day you'll be a great statesman like your father."

The Minister of course was Martin's father.

"I certainly hope so," said the Minister. "I told him this: someday boy, you'd better succeed at re-election. I'll not have you sullying my name." The Minister gave a booming laugh. Martin's cheeks flushed a delicate pink.

"Aw," murmured Willow.

Amy pointed in the other direction. "There's a whole group of boys. Maybe they can get this party started." She hurried over to a small knot of boys by the fruit punch stand. "Hey! Want to play Nova Smash in the moonlight?"

"She would want to grub around in the mud, just like a boy," said Maddie, curling her lip.

"There's nothing wrong with that," said Sukie, folding her arms.

A grand lady with long, chestnut hair came up to them. She was wearing a blue satin ball gown.

"Good evening, girls. I am Lady Bellamond. Lady of the Bellamond household. You may curtsey, if you please."

Sukie and Willow curtseyed awkwardly. Tia raised her eyebrows and Maddie smirked. "We don't all please."

"Tut tut, you must try to show manners," said Lady Bellamond. "For my part, I would be a friend to all of you."

"Thank you, thank you," said Willow, twirling a strand of purple hair in her fingers.

"Aw, that's so nice," said Sukie.

"I would welcome any girl to this event, whether she was of the nobility or not," said Lady Bellamond. "Just so long as she is not a creature of the Dark Goddess."

"Ah. That is good to know," said Tia.

"Oh." Said Sukie. That stung. Lady Bellamond seemed so nice. Why didn't she like witches?

"Witches are… um… not bad," said Willow.

"I don't know," said Maddie. "If there was a witch here, she might be thinking about turning you into a warty toad, milady."

"Ignore her," said Sukie, glaring at Maddie.

"But she's not necessarily wrong," said Lady Bellamond. "The Dark Goddess has no scruples." She turned her head and called across the hall. "Marsh. Come here please."

Marsh was an older woman in a nurse's outfit. Sukie knew that lady servants got called by their surnames by the nobility. Marsh came up to them, leading a little red headed girl by the hand. No ordinary little red headed girl. She couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old, but she had the bright green skin of a witch, just like Sukie herself did underneath all her stage paint.

Lady Bellamond took the green girl by the hand. "My poor Liddy snuck off on the night of the Dark Goddess and found one of her magic spawning places in the copse. The Dark Goddess plied her with her awful magic."

Liddy scrunched her shiny green nose. "I heard the Goddess and I said I wanted to be a witch so I c'n ride a broom. I wanna fly!"

"Magic is not proper for a lady, my dearest," said Lady Bellamond sadly, stroking her daughter's hair.

Sukie felt warm inside at how Lady Bellamond clearly loved her daughter despite her prejudice against magic. "Liddy is still every inch the little lady of her household," Sukie said aloud, smiling down at the little witch.

Liddy smiled shyly up at Sukie.

"And it will be useful to have a witch in the family," said Willow.

"Yes. Don't you think magic has its uses?" asked Tia. "A witch can even grapple with ghosts."

"I don't know …" said Maddie slowly, "aren't gentlemen scared away by ladies of real power? How will she ever find a husband?"

"That's what you're mind jumps to?" said Tia. "Fear? Don't assume gentlemen are as cowardly as you are."

This was awkward. Sukie was so embarrassed, she felt her face heating up, made worse by the layers of paint caked on it.

"Magic can be wonderful," said Willow, giving her wide, reassuring smile.

"It can heal," said Sukie.

"How could the Dark Goddess do this to a child?" asked Lady Bellamond, a tremor in her voice.

"My guess – Shekka doesn't care that the law says we come of age at sixteen," said Tia. "She very likely considers transforming any willing girl who has at least begun her journey to womanhood. Sometimes a girl's moon flow starts as early as eight."

"That does sound likely, yes," said Sukie.

"The Dark Goddess sounds very crass," said Lady Bellamond.

Maddie smirked.

When Lady Bellamond and Liddy had moved on, Willow looked restive. "I wanna talk to Martin," she said.

"What for? The only guys who matter in these circles are scummy old guys," said Maddie.

"Excuse me?" said Willow, frowning at her.

"Yes, that does need an explanation," said Tia.

"What's the reason for the rudeness now?" asked Sukie.

"In this realm, they've got the power. Like the Duke over there." Maddie pointed at a grey-haired old fellow in grand military dress, including leather boots that reached up to his knees. He was questioning the Minister, who was looking a bit put out. Maddie rubbed her gloved hands together. "Ohh! The Minister looks uncomfortable. How amusing."

Willow sniffed and turned away from Maddie. Her gaze rested on Martin again and she began to fidget, twirling a strand of her long purple hair in her gloved fingers.

The Duke was leaning close to the Minister, not exactly respecting his personal space! The Duke's wrinkly face was quite pointed. He was shorter than the Minister, but he thrust his pointy old face up at him so that the Minister had to take a step back.

"The Admiral is fretful lately," said the Duke. "Do you know the reason. Hmmmmmm?" He fixed him with a theatrical imitation of a gimlet eye, that Sukie thought was rather impressive.

"I do not," said the Minister.

"Very well," said the Duke, waving his hand as if in a gesture of dismissal. "Be off with you."

"Maddie!" Said Tia sharply.

Maddie had advanced towards the Duke and the Minister and was holding up an empty jar. A weird droning rhythm could be heard over the hubbub of chatter and Sukie saw a grey bee alight on the Duke's neck.

Realisation struck her! It was the Love Bug! She opened her mouth to shout a warning, but now the Duke gave a yell and the Cupid Bee flew away. The Duke now gazed at the Minister enraptured. "Why, Minister! I must have this dance." He pulled the Minister by the arm and then did some kind of wild war dance around him, waving his arms in the air. "I'm as sprightly as a tiger, Minister, you lovely scamp, you!"

"We must kill the Love Bug and break its spell. Before it stings anyone else!" said Tia. "Deal with Maddie later."

Willow, Sukie and Tia all glared at Maddie who smirked at them.

"Better spread out," said Sukie. Tia went off towards the stairs, holding her gloved hand above her eyes and scanning the room with her intense gaze.

Sukie and Willow went in the opposite direction towards the double doors, keeping a lookout for the Love Bug. Couples of ladies and gentlemen in smart suits and glittery dresses were now waltzing in time to the music of the band, much more gracefully than the Duke's wild dance.

"Really hope we catch the Bug before it ruins the evening for these couples," said Sukie, feeling a prickle of anxiety. "What if it splits them up?"

"We won't let it," said Willow. She flashed a smile around at the couples who were dancing. "I'm so happy for them all, that they've each found someone to love them and dance with them. I want that too! A man who will dance cheek to cheek with me. Will Shekka give me that? Give it to me, my Dark Goddess!" She winked at Sukie and made a grabbing motion with one of her gloved hands. Then her blue eyes alighted on Martin in the crowd. "What if it goes after Martin? I'm going to warn him."

Martin was staring at his father and the Duke in some consternation. The Duke had paused in the middle of a wild quickstep to talk at him. "That's what I call the Chicken Dance, Minister, you radiant, elegant and cultured fellow!"

"Martin…" Willow laid one of her purple gloved hands on Martin's arm.

Martin turned to them. "Oh, hello. It's my favourite witches. What a pleasant surprise to find you here."

Willow giggled and brushed her purple hair away from her painted face. "Um… Martin, we've gotta tell you something. Er… Outside?"

"You want to dance with me in the moonlight?" said Martin.

"Yes! I mean, no… uh…" Willow took his hand in both of hers. "There's a dangerous bug on the loose. We've got to catch it. I don't want it to sting you."

"Considerate," said Martin raising an eyebrow.

Sukie and Willow linked arms with him and they went through the double doors and out onto the patio. The Moon had risen and bathed everything in an ethereal radiance, although the phase of Shekka's Moon was over now.

The three of them sat down on a bench beside a carved fountain in the shape of a girl emptying out a wine jar into the white marble basin.

"Listen, we owe you an explanation," said Sukie. "We know we shouldn't have turned up uninvited and we're sorry."

"Witches don't follow social norms," said Martin. "Isn't that a rule?"

"Not really," said Sukie. She smiled. "Shekka's kind of witchcraft is about not following the rules of nature."

"Your party's grand!" Willow interjected. "So noble."

"Glad you like it," said Martin. "I'm finding it a lot of hassle. You heard my father. I've got to live up to his legacy and win in the arena of electoral politics. That means defaming the rival noble for the position of Minister and stretching the truth a lot. Not my cup of tea."

This was Willow's chance to show Martin that she cared. Sukie would have liked to hug Martin herself, but she had to give Willow this chance. She relinquished her own grip on Martin's arm, while Willow remained clutching his other arm.

"I – I completely understand," said Willow to Martin.

"Ah really, Willow?" said Martin, gazing at her steadily. She gave a little squeaky sound. "Your… paint is peeling by the way."

Willow's pink paint was peeling from her nose to reveal her vivid green skin beneath. She tried to press the cracking paint down, but this caused it to crack and flake off her cheeks and forehead as well. "Oh dear. The magic of my disguise is wearing off," she said. "I can't keep up a pretence either."

"Then we have that in common," said Martin.

Willow swallowed. Sukie could see Willow was nervous, and she had to help her friend. "You two have a lot in common," she said. "Don't you agree, Willow?"

"I – I agree that your father shouldn't pressure you with the politics and stuff," said Willow. The rest of her paint was flaking off to reveal her green face beneath. "He should be proud of having a son like you…" She leaned forward. "If you need to talk about it, I wanna listen. I – I want to be your friend."

"Of course," said Martin with a small smile. "Always great to have more friends."

At that moment, Amy came running up to them, the group of boys from earlier following close behind. Amy's dress was in tatters and smeared with mud. Her paint had nearly all peeled off to reveal her green face beneath. "Girls, girls…" she sounded breathless. "Don't you wanna play instead of sitting around?"

"We can't play, Amy," said Sukie gently, "there's a dangerous bee on the loose. You could all help us catch it."

"These charming ladies think I need shielding from it," said Martin.

"I could shield you better," said Amy. "If I see the bug, I'll splat it." She clapped her hands together.

"It's a Love Bug," said Willow. "Maddie smuggled it in."

Amy groaned. "She needs a good slapping around the head. Right, now guys…" she turned to the boys. "The Bug in question is grey, with a little red mark. Catch it and kill it, or it'll cause chaos."

"You could be called, Miss Bossyboots!" said one of the boys.

Amy stuck out her blackish green tongue at him. "Do as I say, Hugh, or I'll beat you at wrestling – again!"

"I don't mind wrestling again," said Hugh.

"There's no time," said Willow. "Not if we're to catch the Bug."


Back indoors, the Duke and the Minister now had a small circle of onlookers.

"Don't deny what has been burning in your heart, Minister," said the Duke. "You can't really be interested in women, what with their strange sweats, and their mood swings."

"Mood swings? When it comes to strange behaviour there's none like you, your Grace," said the Minister.

"Remember, a Love Bug is grey with a red mark," Amy told them.

Chrissy spied them from the buffet table and ran up and started hugging them each in turn.

"Enjoyed the coffee?" asked Willow.

Willow was still clutching Martin's arm, so Chrissy hugged them both at once. "Your paint's all peeling off, Willow," she giggled. "You'd never make a good Cinderella. It's not as if the clock's chiming the midnight hour." Chrissy put her face close to Martin's. "She loves you, you know. But right now, so do I."

"That's nice," said Martin. "Talking of bad Cinderella's, your paint's coming off as well."

"No, it's not," said Chrissy, rubbing her face and causing her paint to smear and crack.

Lord Finis was nearby. He pointed at Chrissy. "Should have known. Witches swarming about. What a hag-ridden lot the Remchilds must be."

"I don't love you!" Chrissy stormed at him.

At that moment, there was a strange buzzing and a tiny grey spot hovered above Finis' head. It alighted on his forehead and he gave a short, sharp yell. Then he gazed at Chrissy with rapture in his watery eyes. "My humble pardon, you spell-binding enchantress. You have already charmed me as no mundane woman ever could."

"Eek!" Chrissy squeaked and leapt backwards, what was left of her paint sliding off her face.

"Hang on!" Amy leapt forward, taking a swipe at the Love Bug.

Finis shoved her to one side and she staggered. "Begone, foul witch," he told Amy. "I only have eyes for that jade hued enchantress." He lurched towards Chrissy who ran around a table.

"Why'd you push me?" stormed Amy.

At that moment, Sukie heard a weird droning near her ear, and saw a speck of grey in the corner of her eye. She made a grab for the Love Bug – she knew how to catch hold of insects without hurting them and had picked up bees and wasps safely before. She thought perhaps if she could extract the venom she could make an antidote. But she didn't get the chance. As she grabbed it Amy knocked her hand out of the way and swatted the Bug hard, knocking it to the ground. Then she stamped on it with her muddy shoe.

Finis stopped pursuing Chrissy. He rubbed his eyes. "What addled my mind? Sorcery? Some foul enchantment? Have these hideous trollops been chucking spells about?"

Tia and Maddie came up. Tia's paint was beginning to crack, and Maddie was glaring.

"What did we miss?" asked Tia. "We couldn't find the Bug, but someone tried to put centipedes in the pastries."

"It was none of your business," said Maddie sullenly.

"Terribly sorry, Minister," the Duke was saying amid his circle of onlookers. "I never meant to embarrass you. I don't know what came over me."

"I do!" said Finis. He pointed with fat fingers in turn at Amy, Chrissy and Willow, whose green faces were all visible. "It was these hags. They have broken in. Truly there can be no more evil and unwelcome visitors."

But as soon as he had said that, the lights in the hall went out. Then a white, corpse light flared above their heads. A number of the ladies screamed. A glowing spectre formed above them, a woman in worn travelling boots and a weatherbeaten cloak that billowed from her shoulders like wings.

"A revenant!" cried the Duke. "One of the unquiet dead has crossed over from the Wilderness!"

"Youuuu!" She screamed. "Youuuu! I am the Hawk! I have come to kill you all!"