Saturday, December 19, 2020

DWOA Princess Alliance: Chapter 09

Disney's World Of Adventures: Princess Alliance

Chapter 09 – Something There That Wasn't There Before

    Once upon a time, there lived a maiden named Belle. One day, her inventor father left for market, but his horse returned home without him. Worried, she followed the horse to a castle hidden in the woods, where her father was being imprisoned by a Beast. She struck a bargain with the Beast to take her father's place as his prisoner.

    At first, Belle and the Beast did not get along. However, as time moved on, both of them grew more accustom to each other. The Beast learned to control his temper, and Belle learned to see the beauty hidden within his beastly exterior. The two soon became friends, and their friendship bloomed into love.

    Sadly, tragedy struck when Belle learned her father was gravely ill. The Beast permitted her to leave and see him. Meanwhile, Gaston, a jealous admirer of Belle, invaded the castle to rescue her and slay the beast. Gaston was defeated, but the Beast was left mortally wounded. Saddened, Belle gave him one last kiss. Her kiss proved to be true love's kiss that turned the beast into a handsome prince. His curse lifted, the two of them married.

    And they all lived happily ever after.

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    Amid a brambly woods, its beauty hidden like a rose in a briar, stood a castle. From its dungeon roared an unnatural noise, the cacophonic symphony of screeching, growling, and hissing. From outside, a passerby would have mistaken this din for the roar of a beast trapped inside; but if they dared spelunk the darkness of its labyrinthine depths, they would have encountered a beast of a different sort—a beast, not of flesh and blood, but machine.

    Within its dungeon stood the most peculiar contraption. Detailing every single component and explicating their function would fill the pages of a scientific manual. Its complex machinery consisted of various moving parts from grinding gears, spinning wheels and pulleys, hissing pistons and cylinders, and pulsating pipes and hoses. The centerpiece of it all was a glass bulb, the size of two human fists, the shape of an elongated spheroid. On either end were metal bases, one of which secured the bulb in a socket on the machine, and from both bases stemmed firmaments inside the bulb.

    Attending to this machine were two people, each dressed in aprons, gloves, and other leather garb. One was an elderly gentleman, Maurice, goggles strapped over his eyes, and busy fastening a bolt with a wrench. The other was an individual whose face was masked by the fiber-metal visor of a welding helmet. Their headgear protected their eyes from the blue flame jetting from their torch, with which they fused two wires.

    Maurice, upon tightening the bolt, rose from bended knee and wiped his sweaty forehead.

    “You finished connecting the main wires?” he asked his helmeted companion.

    The person behind the visor switched off their torch with one gloved hand and gave a thumbs up with their other. Maurice chuckled at their silent response, then rubbed his gloved hands together excitedly.

    “Well, then, we’re ready as we’ll ever be. Progress waits for no one.”

    The stout old man, with youthful vigor, hopped aboard a stationary bicycle. Upon seating himself, he signaled to his companion, yelling, “Flip the switch.”

    With another thumbs-up, the masked individual threw the largest switch, awakening the machine with electric buzzes and dim-blinking lights.

    Upon tightly securing his goggles and gloves, he grasped the handlebars with both hands, slouched forward, and pumped as fast as his old stubby legs could pedal.

    His pedaling moved the front wheel, which in turn moved a pulley strapped to it and attached to a dynamo. The faster he pedaled, the faster the pulley rotated the dynamo, sparks flying from in its spinning cylinder. And the faster everything turned, the more the machine roared with energy through grinding gears, hissing pistons, and pulsating hoses.

    The more the machine roared with life, the brighter the bulb glowed as sparks leapt between the two firmaments within. At first, these sparks were small and few and far in-between; but the more energy Maurice generated, the greater and longer the sparks intensified until soon a steady electric discharge flowed between both fibers. This development attracted the attention of Maurice’s partner, who, through the safety of their visor, glanced intently at the radiating, pulsating current inside. What started as a thin steady stream of electricity soon grew brighter and brighter until its glow filled the entire bulb with a single, steady light.

    Maurice stopped pedaling and reared back from the handles, clapping intently. “Finally! It’s working! It’s working!”

    From the bike seat he leaped and waddled to the bulb. Like a child leaning against a table to curiously glance at a fish in a bowl, he leaned against the machine to get a better look at the light. He wiggled clenched fists to his face, unable to contain a gleeful squeal.

    “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.” He turned to his assistant, likewise gazing intently at the electric light. “Oh, but not as beautiful as you—”

    “Belle! Maurice!”

    An aproned maid, short and stout, entered the chamber pushing a cart, on top of which rested a full tea set.

    “Either of you thirsty?” She took a teapot, similar to the one she once was for many years before regaining her human form, and poured its piping hot contents into a cup set upon a saucer. “Made you all a fresh pot.”

    The helmeted person lifted their visor, revealing her blue eyes and messy brown hair, sweaty strands stretched across her face.

    “A cup of tea sounds lovely.” Belle wiped some sweat from her brow, and brushed aside a few stray strands.

    Without hesitation, Maurice waddled to the maid and graciously accepted his tea. “Thank you kindly, Mrs. Potts. Worked myself up quite the thirst.”

    In one swift gulp, he emptied the cup before returning it for a refill.

    From behind Mrs. Potts skirt peeked the curious eyes of a bushy-haired blond boy, a loose tooth showing through his big grin.

    “Whatcha doing down here?” Chip asked, leaping from behind his mother. “You all have any more ‘splosions?”

    “Oh, I certainly hope not,” his mother replied, pouring more tea. “We got done cleaning the lab yesterday.”

    Belle laughed, shaking her head. She knelt to face the young lad. “No explosions today, but we have something even better.”

    She took the boy under his arms and lifted him, giggling, to the glowing bulb. “See for yourself.”

    Chip let out a mesmerized “Whoa!” before asking, “What is it?”

    Maurice chuckled. “Progress, my boy! Progress.”

    Mrs. Potts handed Belle a fresh cup of tea. “Well, it certainly is a lovely glowing bulb, but I’d hardly call just a spark ‘progress.’”

    “Just a spark?” Maurice scoffed. “Why, one little spark of inspiration is at the heart of all creation. Right at the start of everything that’s new, you’ll find a spark lighting up for you.”

    Having been set back down by Belle as she accepted her tea, Chip bounced upon his heels as he stretched his hamstrings for a close peek. “What does it do, you know, aside from glowing real bright.”

    Belle set her cup on her saucer. “This little bulb right here contains an electric spark. That little spark generates enough energy to power countless inventions. Father and I already finished one of those inventions today.”

    Finishing the last drops of her tea, she handed her cup to Mrs. Potts, who immediately started refilling it.

    “I have to say,” she started, “It was generous of the Master to allow you both to convert his dungeon into a laboratory.”

    Belle accepted her refilled cup. “Well, seeing as it’s no longer being used to hold prisoners, it was probably best to put them to better use. They certainly provide Papa with more space than his cramped workshop. Not to mention his new laboratory is furnished and financed through the kingdom’s budget. It took him convincing, but Beast—Oh! I mean Adam!—finally warmed up to the idea of investing his family’s wealth toward the pursuit of science.”

    “Yes, yes!” Maurice nodded and chuckled. “Any kingdom that wishes to move forward into the modern age should finance the sciences. Any government that refuses to do so only risks being left behind in the dust of history. Progress always moves forward, and we must all keep pace.”

    “Well, I’m certain you like it, Maurice,” Mrs. Potts said, before turning to address Belle, “But I never imagined that you, my dear, would be quite the tinkerer.”

    Belle smiled, finishing her cup. “Back home, whenever my nose wasn’t stuck in a book, I’d often lend my papa a helping hand in his workshop. Now, ever since getting married three years ago, I have enough time for reading books and using the knowledge I learned from them to help with his inventions. And we certainly have an interesting new invention to demonstrate.”

    “Well, I’m sure everyone would love to see it,” Mrs. Potts gave a soft giggle, taking both cups and returning them to the cart. “But right now, you all have to get dressed and ready. The diplomats from Corona arrive this afternoon for a very important meeting.”

    “Oh, I almost forgot!” Belle gasped. She cast aside her helmet and took off her leather gloves and apron, revealing her signature blue dress beneath. “Thanks for reminding me. I’ll get ready right away.”

    The princess raced upstairs, Mrs. Potts and her son pushed away the cart as they returned to the kitchen, and Maurice returned to fiddle with the machine a little more.

    Unbeknownst to any of them, high within the dusty wooden rafters above slithered a long black snake. It crept silently along the beams before disappearing into a crack in the wall, and from this wall wafted green smoky wisps.

*****

    Rapunzel and Eugene arrived at the palace of the Kingdom of Beaumont. They were greeted and escorted inside by the former candelabra and clock, Lumière and Cogsworth. As they were led through the main foyer, Rapunzel, her neck craned, her mouth agape, gazed at the beauty surrounding her, from the sparkling diamond chandeliers and flowing tapestries to the exquisite detail of the architecture.

    “Wow!” she exclaimed through near breathless gasp. “This castle is so beautiful.”

    “Indeed it is, Madame.” Lumiere gave a haughty (and stereotypically French) chuckle. “Even three years after re-opening to the public, this castle still seldom receives visitors. What with it being concealed deep within the brambly woods, like a rose concealed within a brambly briar, it is—how you say?—the hidden gem of the kingdom.”

    “Yes, yes, of course,” Cogsworth nodded in agreement. “Its beauty, as you can see, is attributed to its architecture: a minimalist Rococo design, as evidenced by its unusual inverted vaulted ceilings, a fine example of the neo-classic Baroque period.”

    “Let me guess?” Eugene asked. “If it’s not Baroque—”

    “Don’t fix it!” Cogsworth finished with a chortle. “Yes, yes. And there are still more aesthetic wonders hidden in these walls.”

    Rapunzel pointed to the space above the main door. “Like that?”

    Everyone glanced up to see a stained glass window, its iridescent colors illuminated by the light of the morning sun shining through. The scene upon it, depicted through seamlessly-crafted segmented colored glass, was that of the prince and princess dancing in the ballroom.

    “Beautiful, is it not?” Lumiere covered his eyes, squinting past the light shining through. “We commissioned that stained glass window three years ago after the royal wedding. It not only commemorates the royal couple’s nuptial vows, but also the breaking of the curse once cast upon this castle.”

    “So it’s true, then?” Rapunzel asked. “This castle was once enchanted?”

    “It is still enchanting!” Lumiere laughed at his joke. “But, in all seriousness, yes. Thirteen years ago, an enchantress cast a spell over this castle, transforming every living thing inside it. Only through an act of true love before the prince’s twenty-first birthday could the curse be lifted, and thanks to our new princess, it was.”

    Eugene mumbled to himself as he calculated with his fingers. “Twenty-first birthday. Thirteen years minus three. That’s ten. So—”

    Cogsworth chuckled as he waved his hands. “It’s best not to take the arithmetic of magic spells too literally.”

    “And yet,” Lumiere said, “You would hardly believe that I was once a candelabra.”

    “And I,” Cogsworth added, “a mantelpiece clock.”

    Rapunzel looked at the stained glass mirror. “So that meant the prince was once—”

    “A beast.”

    Strutting down the main staircase arrived the prince. With a flick of his wrist, he puffed the collar of his signature blue coat, which he wore over his frilly white shirt. As he shook a kink from his neck, his chestnut locks, tied into a ponytail, wavered like a banner behind his neck. His matching bushy eyebrows creased as he cast his sparkling blue eyes upon his new guests and his old servants.

    “Princess Rapunzel of Corona, I presume?” He approached them at the base of the stairs.

    The princess curtseyed before her host. “That I am.”

    Eugene likewise bowed, raising a finger. “And—and don’t forget her Prince Consort, Eugene Fitzherbert, formerly known as the dashing rogue, Flynn Ryder.”

    “Yes, of course,” Rapunzel laughed as they both rose. She turned to her host. “And I take it you must be the beast.”

    The prince arched his brow, slightly perturbed, but not insulted, by her remark. He took both sides of his coat and straightened them. “I was a Beast, yes, back when I was cursed. But as you can see, my curse has been lifted, and I am now, and forever, Prince Adam of Beaumont.”

    With one hand, he held his waist as he bowed; with his other hand, he took Rapunzel by her hand and kissed it. The princess, in turn, covered her mouth to hide her smirking grin and soft charming chuckle.

    “Charmed, I’m sure.” She drew her kissed hand as Adam rose. “And speaking of royalty, where’s the princess? We wish to speak with her.”

    “Belle?” Adam took hold of both sides of his coat. “Well, she is supposed to be here by my side, but I believe—”

    “I’m here,” she called out. “I’m here.”

    From behind the staircase, entering through a door on the other side, appeared Belle.

    “Greetings,” Straightening her hair, she approached the others with a curtsey. “I’m Belle. And you’re the royals from Corona, I presume?”

    “That we are,” Rapunzel nodded. She gestured to herself, then to her husband. “I’m Rapunzel, this is Eugene, and that—” She pointed behind Belle, raising an eyebrow. “Eh? What is that?”

    Trailing behind Belle waddled Maurice as he, with the assistance of Mrs. Potts and Chip, pushed along a cart. On this cart was a wooden washtub filled with dirty plates stacked high into a constantly teetering pile. Behind this tub was a machine consisting of so many intricate parts that detailing each one and their function would take a manual. This most complex contraption captured everyone else’s attention.

    Maurice gesticulated to the machine with both hands. “This, my dear, is a glimpse into the future of technological progress.”

    Belle nodded. “Papa and I have been working on this project for quite some time, and since we have an audience here, we decided now would be an ideal time to demonstrate it.”

    Adam cleared his throat. “Well, that’s certainly an impressive—eh? invention?—you and your father have created, and which may or may not explode—again!—but now’s probably not the best time. We have vital matters to discuss with our guests, and I doubt that they have the time to—”

    “Oh, a machine!” Rapunzel raised two clenched hands to her face, excitement gleaming in her eyes. “Oh, I love machines. We’d love for you to test it out for us.”

    Eugene scratched his chin as he approached the contraption for a closer look. “Yes, quite impressive. So what does it do, exactly?”

    “I’m glad you asked,” Maurice triumphantly raised a finger. “This modern marvel you see before you is powered by this.”

    The elderly inventor gesticulated to the bulb attached to an apparatus. The bulb, pulsating with electric energy, glowing with an intense radiance, remained fastened in its socket.

    The Coronan royal couple inched their faces close, mesmerized by the glowing orb. Rapunzel mouthed an O-shape with her lips.

    “I’ve never seen anything glow more golden than my hair,” she said.

    “I take it this is electricity then?” Eugene scratched his chin. “Nifty. So how did you come about it? You fly a kite during a thunderstorm?”

    “Oh, no, no,” Maurice waved his arms and shook his head. “That was my first attempt. The electricity pulsating in that bulb was generated through my sweat and elbow. Just think: a little spark like that has enough energy to power thousands of life-changing innovations, including my newest invention right here. An electric dishwasher!”

    “Oh!” Rapunzel perked her head up. “So it’s a dishwasher powered by electricity?”

    “No!” Maurice shook his head. “It’s a dishwasher that cleans with electricity.”

    Eugene cocked an eyebrow. “Come again?”

    Maurice gesticulated at the machine again. “My friends, how long have you and the missus spent washing dishes after a messy meal? Too long! But with this new machine, not only will you be able to clean your dishes in half the time, but you can clean them all without using a single drop of water. That’s right. This dishwasher saves both time and water. Observe.”

    He turned to his daughter. “Belle, do the thing!”

    Belle flipped a switch, and the machine whirred to life. Hoses and pistons hissed with steam. Lights blinked, gears creaked, and wheels turned as the machine began to operate.

    “Now watch as this machine takes each dish and holds it up to this electric diode.”

    He pointed to the glass bulb. Attached to one side was a metal nose cone with a rod protruding from its tip and a coil spiraling around it. As the light in the bulb pulsated, tiny sparks formed and flowed along the metal rod.

    “The electricity stored in this bulb will shoot out from here and onto the dish, generating an electro-magnetic charge that will dispel the dirt, the grime, the grease from off the surface, leaving it cleaner than before it was even used.”

    A metal arm with a suction cup at the end extended outward. The arm lowered to the tub, took hold of a plate, and lifted it toward the diode. As the plate’s surface drew near, it was struck by an electric charge shot from the diode, like lightning striking the ground. As the electricity surged through the plate, it reverberated and glowed with a bright blue light.

    “See?” Maurice boasted, arms crossed, eyes closed, head held high. “Everything is going just as I hypotho—”

    The electricity surging through the plate caused it to explode into tiny fractions, eliciting shrieks from the women (and Eugene) in the room.

    “—sized.” Maurice’s smile turned into a frown as he witnessed the destruction wrought by his invention.

    Once more, the arm reached into the tub, pulled out a dish, held it to the diode, and subjected it to an electric jolt that shattered it. This process continued with several more dishes reduced to broken fragments and china dust.

    “Good heavens!” Mrs. Potts pressed both hands against her cheeks. “My dishes!”

    Maurice frantically gesticulated at Belle. “Quick! The switch, Belle! The switch!”

    The princess obeyed her father. Unfortunately, even after flipping the switch, the machine continued to pull out dishes and shatter them with electricity. She flipped it twice, then thrice, before its lever tore off from its fulcrum.

    More and more dishes were pulled away and shot to smithereens with bolts of lighting, the process continuing with greater speed and intensity. Soon the wheels and gears span faster, the hoses chugged wildly, and the lights flickered on and off, and soon the rising white steam turned to black smoke. In a blink of an eye, the entire machine leaped several inches into the air with a jolt and landed lifeless on the floor. Every little part that was once moving now returned static and motionless. Only the electric light continued to glow with energy.

    Eugene fanned away the smoke rising toward him. “Well, at least there are no more dirty dishes. Or dishes, period.”

    “Eugene!” Rapunzel elbowed him in the side.

    Cogsworth whipped a handkerchief from his coat pocket and fanned away any encroaching smoke. “On the bright side, at least this explosion didn’t take out an entire room like yesterday.”

    Lumiere nodded in agreement. “I’m sure the castle’s cleaning staff will appreciate that.” 

*****

    Meanwhile, down in the laboratory, the dainty maid Fifi busily dusted the glass beakers and cups while merrily humming the tune of “La Marseillaise.” She felt especially pleased that she only had to do some light cleaning with her feather duster. Yesterday, she required the assistance of Mrs. Potts and half a dozen cleaning products to clean up the aftermath of an explosion that cleared half the room.

    Her song was interrupted by a rattling in the shadows, eliciting from her a sharp gasp.

    “Qui est là?” she asked the foreboding darkness—or rather, what lingered within it.

    Another sudden rustle forced her to aim her feather duster reluctantly as a weapon. Hesitatingly, she inched herself closer to the unlit recesses of the chamber. She was held back by fear, but compelled forward by morbid curiosity.

    Yet another gasp escaped her lips as she looked into the darkness, only for a pair of green glowing eyes to leer back at her. To what person or thing these eyes belonged to remained concealed by the pitch blackness. All that was visible were the eyes gazing from the floor below before rising to Fifi’s eye level until they far surpassed her height and glared down upon her from above. Soon whatever creature was staring at her lurched out from the obscurity of the shadows and into the light, where, upon receiving an unobscured view of it, Fifi, from her agape mouth, let out a shrill cry that echoed through the vast stone walls of the former dungeon.

    Immediately, the maid, whose lithe stature far dwarfed the creature looming over her, turned upon her heels, ran up the stone staircase, and slammed the door behind her, pressing her full weight against it to ensure it was closed.

    Her panting and wheezing caught the attention of the others standing within the foyer.

    “Fifi?” Lumiere asked, concerned as he was shocked. “Qu est ce que?”

    The maid sprinted into the maître d's arms, sobbing through her pants. “Un serpent! Serpent!”

    Prince Adam rolled his eyes and sighed, planting his fingers into his brow. “All this ruckus over mere vermin?

    “It is okay, mon amour,” Lumiere lifted Fifi’s face to his, wiping away the tears rolling down her face and ruining her mascara. “A little snake is nothing to fret about. We will fetch an exterminator.”

    Fifi violently shook her head with a “No no no! Pas un petit serpent. Un gros serpent. Gros serpent!”

    From the door she fled through echoed a loud bang, which made her scream and the others jolt their attention toward it. The reverberating noise was like the force of someone thrusting their whole weight against it. Then came another bang, like the force of a battering ram. The third and final bang destroyed the entire door, smashing it into splinters, as a large object butted through, tearing away the door from its hinges and dismantling its entire frame.

    Through the hole that had once been the doorway slithered a triangular snakelike head as large as the door itself. It rushed out by nearly fifteen feet, and yet its elongated body remained trailing far behind, possibly stretching for a hundred feet or more. Upon its scaly hide, it rose upright. Glaring down with jaundice eyes, opening wide its maw, the serpent let out a sibilant hiss, its forked tongue flickering. From its fangs, large and sharp as scimitars, dripped foul-smelling venom, the very stench of which nauseated the others, even as they stood yards away from it. As the serpent roared, they shriek at its sight and sound.

    Eugene, his face tense in fright, turned to Lumiere and pointed to the beast lurching before them. “Your local exterminator would probably charge extra for that.”

    “Quick!” Adam exclaimed. “To the ballroom!”

    Everyone followed after the Prince as he rushed up the stairs and to the door. Only Maurice lingered behind, futilely trying to lug the machine with him.

    Belle noticed him struggling and rushed to his side. “Papa, we can’t save our invention.”

    Her father pointed to the glowing bulb. “But we can’t afford to lose that. Its power is too valuable to lose.”

    Without hesitation, she lurched toward the bulb and unfastened it. She pulled it off the machine just as the serpent lunged upon it and destroyed it with its weight. Belle pulled her father away from the impact and raced up the stairs where Adam waited for them at the open door. No sooner had her right foot passed through, Adam and Eugene slammed the door in the face of the serpent and bolted both doors shut.

    In the grand ballroom where Belle and her prince once shared their first dance, the others took refuge from another beast. The servants fled up a nearby stairway leading to the mezzanine, while Belle and the other royals remained on the ground floor. Her father collapsed on his bottom, his elderly lungs panting for breath.

    The ballroom door boomed with a thud, the serpent slamming its weight against it.

    “That door won’t hold it back for much longer,” Adam exclaimed.

    “What do we do?” Belle asked.

    Eugene and Rapunzel surveyed the room. Eugene grinned as he eyed a pair of ceremonial swords hanging on a nearby wall. He drew one for himself. “We’ll have to fend it off.”

    “Whoa!” Adam exclaimed, his hands held before him, cautiously approaching the other prince. “Those are priceless family heirlooms. They’re for decorative purposes.”

    Not paying heed to Adam’s plea, he drew the other sword and tossed it to his reluctant companion, who easily caught it by its hilt.

    “If that beast has its way with us,” Eugene replied. “The only thing these things will decorate is our graves.”

    Adam sighed, flailing his blade twice before assuming a fighting stance. “Fair enough.”

    Once, twice, the serpent charged against the door with the force of a battering ram. Upon its third strike, the beast crashed through, sending it flying off its hinges. The serpent slinked to the center of the ballroom where Belle and Maurice cowered. The snake once more propped itself up and opened wide its maw, bearing its sharp venom-dripping fangs, ready to pounce.

    “Hey, pair of boots!”

    Straddling the railing of the mezzanine, Rapunzel circled her golden tress like a lasso before tossing it toward the chandelier. As soon as it grappled its target, she leaped from the banister and swung down upon her hair, pulling it taut against the hanging light fixture. She swung underneath the serpent’s neck, flying up and over into a loop, ensnaring the beast with her hair. Landing on her feet, the princess gave a great tug to snag the giant snake in place so it could not move.

    She grunted through clenched teeth, struggling with all her strength to hold the serpent back. “Alright, guys, your move.”

    On either side of the room, Eugene and Adam stood upon the mezzanine’s banister. Once the princess gave her signal, both leaped off and onto the beast below, their swords raised above their heads. They flung their blades down in a clean arc, slicing through its neck from either side; and as they landed on their feet, their blades stained with green blood, the serpent’s severed head fell lifeless on the floor near them, green blood leaking from its stump.

    One hand pushing against the floor, Eugene lifted himself, with his sword, dripping green, thrown across his shoulder as he stood with a hand on his hip.

    “For a ceremonial sword, this blade cuts clean like a guillotine.” He glanced at his royal companion, who rose to his feet. “I, uh, hope that remark wasn’t culturally insensitive.”

    Belle gasped.

    Eugene blushed in response. “It was, wasn’t it?”

    The princess shook her head. “No! Look!”

    She pointed to the lower half of the serpent. It violently convulsed back and forth, leaking blood from its stump. Upward it leaped into the air, and from its bloody end grew another head. Its tongue flickered as its yellow eyes glared down at the two princes. What had once been a headless corpse now appeared as though its head had never been severed from its body.

    “Oh, wow!” Eugene said nonchalantly. “It can regrow its head. That, uh, certainly complicates matters.”

    The snake bared its fangs as it lurched at them. Eugene and Adam leaped away, only to discover that it was not chasing them, but rather, its decapitated head lying in a green pool. Opening wide its maw, the serpent swallowed its former head as it would swallow its prey.

    In one gulp, its scales glowed with a sickly green light, as green as the blood it spilled upon the floor. From the base of its neck appeared a growth, which expanded in size and took the form of another head. Now two snakeheads, each with a pair of yellow eyes, glared down at the others below. From both mouths erupted a loud hiss, two forked tongues flailing forth.

    “It’s no use,” Adam readied his blade. “The beast is like a hydra. Cut off its head, and two more grow in its place.”

    Eugene paced to where Rapunzel and Belle stood. “So what do we do now?”

    “No clue,” Rapunzel gave a worried shrug. “If only we had something else to kill it with.”

    Belle glanced at the bulb glowing in her hand. Attached to it was the electric diode from whence its unleashed the electricity stored inside, and at the very bottom, the trigger which the machine utilized to release that energy. As the bulb glowed in her hand, her eyes sparkled, almost as if an imaginary bulb lit above her head.

    Both heads arched back, widened their mouths, and lunged at their victims, all of whom flung their arms forward in a futile attempt to shield themselves. Before either head could strike, Belle rushed in front of them, aimed the diode at the encroaching beast, and pulled the trigger. From the diode shot a surge of electricity, striking both heads like a single bolt of lightning splintering into two.

    Where once both mouths opened to clamp down upon their prey, both mouths now opened to unleash dying shrieks. Both heads convulsed in either direction as the current rushed along their shared body. Their death throes continued until the electric surge died. The bulb shattered in Belle’s hand, sending her flying backward onto her romp. As smoke rose from her former weapon, both snakeheads fell limp. Both pairs of eyes stared out sightlessly, their mouths opened lifelessly.

    Two princesses, two princes, and an elderly inventor remained standing or sitting where they were, no more moving that the corpse that lay before them. From atop the mezzanine, the servants gazed down silently at the beast that lay in the ballroom below.

    Eugene took the initiative to cautiously step forward, extend forth a hand, and tap one of the heads. Once more he struck it. When he saw that it did not react, he wiped his brow in relief.

    “Well, the good news is that you don’t need an exterminator,” he said, turning to his companions. “The bad news is that you need to find a way to dispose of this thing.”

    No sooner had he said that, from out of both mouths came an echoing rushing sound like water. He peered inside the darkness of their throats. From them gushed what appeared to be black vomit, but as the large mass surged forth, it was revealed to be a large nest of—

    “Snakes!” Eugene shrieked. “Why did it have to be snakes?”

    From both mouths slithered so many smaller snakes that they appeared like two rivers. From both black streams, Eugene fled, the others quickly turning heel and following him. They raced to the glass doors at the end and opened them, allowing the snakes to slither outside, pouring forth over the balcony like a black waterfall. Their collective hissing echoed through the ballroom with the sound like an orchestra of rattling rain sticks.

    As the snakes slithered from out of the mouths of the two giant heads, the serpent’s body deflated like a balloon, shriveling up into itself as the smaller snakes emptied out. When the very last snake escaped, the body disappeared into nothing and dissipated into green smoke.

    And it was this very last snake that slithered across the floor in pursuit of its companions; but rather than follow them out the door, it instead leaped up and lunged upon Adam, sinking its teeth into his hand holding open the door. The prince screamed, dropping to his knees, covering the bite with his other hand as the snake released itself and slithered away.

    “Adam!” Belle rushed to her prince’s side. “Are you all right?”

    She knelt next to him as he clenched his bitten arm. He let out a scream as he fell upon his hands and knees, his teeth gritted, his breath seething in pain.

    Belle reached for the bite mark, but held her hand back upon seeing both puncture wounds glowing green as the fallen beast’s eyes and blood. Soon the green color glowed in the veins in his arms, radiating bright enough to shine through his skin. Even sooner, his entire body radiated with green glowing veins.

    Adam jolted his head to glare at Belle. His eyes burned with green fire. His teeth grew and sharpened into fangs. From his mouth erupted a beastly roar that sent Belle falling onto her rump. She gasped, covering her face from the horror developing before her.

    Adam lurched forward, groaning in pain. From the green veins in his arms grew patches of chestnut fur, quickly covering his body. His nails grew long and sharp into claws. His feet burst from out of his shoes, his toes wielding equally sharp claws. His teeth sharpened and grew into fangs. His back arched as his body grew. His shirt and coat tore away, exposing his upper torso. From his head protruded long curly horns. As his transformation neared its end, Adam let out another scream of pain, the noise of which was most inhuman.

    On his hands and knees, he remained panting, desperate to catch what little breath he had. Belle gasped. She remembered this form all too well, as did the other denizens of the castle, who remained cowering on the mezzanine above. For Rapunzel and Eugene, however, they could only silently gape at the sight which they now laid eyes upon for the first time, something they had only previously heard about through hearsay. For there, lying upon the ballroom floor, heaving in pained breath, what was once a human man now stood the Beast.

    Belle cautiously inched her hand forward. “A-Adam? Is that—?”

    In his new yet old form, Adam—or rather, The Beast—rose to his feet, arched his shoulders back, and with open hands and claws retracted, unleashed a roar that echoed through the ballroom, if not reverberated the castle walls.

    His green eyes glared at the others, their stare piercing them like daggers and eliciting a gasp from each of them. If this beast was the same person that he was before, it was quite evident that very person was not in control over this new beastly body. As he staggered forward upon lanky limbs, the others could only pace cautiously back, their attention remaining on him.

    The Beast readied himself to leap onto his prey, but before he could lunge forward, a loud clank rang behind his head. His green eyes shot wide open, his mouth opening into a silent scream, before shutting tight. He fell on his stomach, his limbs outstretched, lying limp and motionless as a bearskin rug.

    Standing over him was Rapunzel, holding a frying pan—evidently the same instrument that knocked him out cold.

    Eugene rubbed the back of his neck, feeling empathetic toward the fallen friend turned foe. “Well, that’ll certainly knock him out for some time.”

*****

    Silently Beast lied unconscious in his bed, his blankets tucked under his arms. His chest rose and fell through heaving breaths, not loud enough for him to snore, but neither quiet enough for his slumber to be restless.

    Mrs. Potts stood by his bedside, wringing a wet cloth over a bowl of cold water on his nightstand. She placed the damp cloth upon his forehead.

    “There, now,” she said. “That should cool his burning fever.”

    At the foot of his bed stood Belle, nervously biting her cuticles. “Oh, I do hope he awakens and regains his senses.”

    Lumiere pattered her on the shoulder. “Fret not, my dear. Just in case he doesn’t, that’s what the chains are for.”

    Cogsworth gave a tug upon a loose end of a chain tied to his bed. Several had been strapped over the Beast’s chest to secure him tightly so he could not move were he to awaken in his beastly form. He gave a thumbs up. “All secure.”

    Rapunzel and Eugene acquainted themselves with the Beast’s current form for several long minutes, and yet they still gazed upon his unconscious body with both awe and fright.

    “So this was what the guy looked like when he was cursed?” Eugene asked.

    Rapunzel scratched her chin. “I don’t know. He still looks kind of handsome—in a, well, rugged sense.”

    “Yes,” Belle nodded, “This was how he looked like under the curse. But I don’t understand. The curse was lifted. Why is he the Beast again?”

    Mrs. Potts lifted the sleeping beast’s arm, brushing away his fur to reveal the snake bite scars underneath. “I’d reckon it was the serpent bite that done did it. There was some evil magic in that snake.”

    “We’d seen evil magic like that before,” Eugene said. “I saw it glowing in the eyes of Bruja Dama.”

    “You think this magic has anything to do with the Ancient Evil?” Rapunzel asked.

    “What Ancient Evil?” Belle asked.

    “Oh, that’s right,” Rapunzel replied. “That’s the reason we came here. There’s an Ancient Evil threatening to come back, and we need ten princesses from ten kingdoms to stop it. That’s why we came here, to ask you to join our alliance, The Princess Alliance.”

    Belle glanced at her sleeping beastly husband, then back at the other two royals. “And if I join you, and we stop this evil, will that lift the curse on Adam?”

    Eugene shrugged. “If this evil magic cursed him, defeating it could un-curse him. But that’s just a hunch on my part.”

    “Very well, then,” Belle answered. “I will join your alliance.”

    As soon as she said that, a light glowed above her chest and that of the sleeping beast. The light disappeared to reveal magic mirrors hanging from their necks.

    Belle gasped as she picked hers up and examined it. “What is this?”

    Rapunzel and Eugene explained to her about the magic mirror and how to use it.

    Her father, who had been standing in the far corner, paced over to examine Belle’s mirror for himself. He chuckled. “Quite remarkable. Truly remarkable. A true marvel of magic and technology. Think of the possibilities.”

    Belle giggled. “Yes, it reminds me of the Magic Mirror Adam gave me when he was—a Beast.”

    Her countenance faded with those last two words, forlornly returning her gaze to her sleeping husband in his current form. She knelt next to him, gently taking hold of his hand.

    “I know you all need my assistance, but I need to look after Adam to make sure he properly recovers. There’s a person we know who may be able to reverse this curse.”

    Rapunzel nodded with a smile. “That’s okay. We’re going to travel to two other kingdoms to recruit two more princesses. We should be back within a week.”

    Belle lifted Adam’s paw to her forehead, nuzzling it. “That should give us enough time to get the help we need.”

    With that, the three royals left the room to allow the Beast to sleep well, or as well as he could in his current state. Rapunzel and Eugene agreed to stay the night before departing on their journey to the sandy beaches of Andersberg, and later, to the icy slopes of Arendelle.

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