It's said that all tales are rooted in truth. They pass from ear to ear, changing with each mouth that tells them, until they bear little resemblance to how they began. Yet there is always a shard of the original buried in every story, some small truth beneath the embellishments.

You have probably heard a version of Jess's tale. Sleeping Beauty, Briar Rose... the title doesn't matter. What matters is the truth-- the original story that led to those corrupted versions.

What follows is the truth.





Name: Jessica Bellmora

Nickname: Jess

Gender: Female

Homeland: Sylnova

Former Station: Crown princess

Current Residence: The Black Storm (ship)

Birthdate: Feb. 3

Appears to be age: 25

Height: 5'8"

Jess's attitude is frequently cynical and she tends to keep her walls high. Behind those barriers, she's kinder and less tough than she lets on, with emotions that run deeply. Close friends are allowed to know this softer and more genuine side of her, but she's still prone to covering up any embarrassment or uncertainty by lashing out.

Her upbringing ingrained several feminine preferences and habits in her: she's deeply fond of pretty clothes, tea parties, and frilly things in general. On the other hand, she's developed a strong passion for the sword, doesn't hesitate to throw herself into the midst of a fight, and likes to mercilessly tease those she's close to.

Appearance

Graced with a willowy beauty, Jess is tall and slender, with very long golden hair. She usually wears it in a single thick braid, but may let it loose when she doesn't mind it getting in the way. Her clothing style has developed into a strange mishmash of princess gowns and pirate wear; again, her exact style of dress depends on the situation. Jewels and flowers are commonly-worn accessories for her. She has wings comprised of three large feathers on each side, which are without actual function.

Despite her comeliness, she tends to avoid her reflection, as if there's something there she doesn't like to see...





Part One
Awakening

Somewhere in the darkest catacombs of her mind, Jessica knew that it was a nightmare. But the rest of her felt only terror.

The face was looming before her more vividly than ever before, a malevolent presence drawing implacably nearer. In the beginning of the dream, it had been indistinct, distant and blurry; now, she could make out its details all too well.

To Jessica the face seemed a brittle mask, a pallid veneer of ivory that couldn't disguise the lack of humanity that lived behind it. The flat, black eyes and the shapeless chasm of a mouth seemed openings into nothingness, a vast void that beckoned to her. The darkness was something feral and primal, formless and chaotic, and if it succeeded in pulling her in, she would be nowhere. She would be nothing. She would drift forever in a meaningless nihility.

She wanted to scream, to cry, to run, yet she didn't move. She wasn't even aware of herself beyond the numbing terror that kept thought and reason at bay. The face filled every particle of her mind.

The black eyes gaped in the white face, hypnotic. The gash of its mouth smiled, and the face swam into clearer focus than ever. ″Time to wake up, Princess,″ it crooned.


Her eyes flew open and lances of white light stabbed them. She tried to scream, but there was something wrong with her throat, and only dry, harsh gasps emerged. Her limbs felt weak and splinter-thin; they stirred feebly beneath the blanket covering her, which weighed on her like a sheet of iron. She couldn't see. She couldn't move. She couldn't--

″Calm down,″ a voice said. It was cold and imperious, the voice of someone used to being obeyed. It was also amused. ″You've been asleep for centuries. You can't just bound out of bed and start running. Give your body time to adjust.″

Jessica stopped struggling, though not out of obedience so much as exhaustion. Even her pathetic attempts at movement had tired her. All she could do was lie where she was and wait for the world to come into focus, to start making sense again.

″I'm sure you'll be up and about soon enough,″ the amused voice continued. ″You were given many gifts, after all-- eternal youth among them. Of course, it seems the magic that blessed you has... worn down somewhat over time. Dear, dear.″ There was a soft chuckle.

Bleary shapes were beginning to form in her vision, and the light wasn't hurting her eyes quite so badly. Her heart hammered in her throat as she struggled to recall where she was and why.

She had been sleeping...

Having a nightmare, she thought. The details of it wouldn't surface no matter how she concentrated, but she felt a creeping sense of dread when she tried.

It didn't matter. All was well. She was Jessica, crown princess of her seaside kingdom of Sylnova, and she was lying in her bed, waking up as she did every morning. Yet she was strangely weak and confused, because... because...

″Take your time, my dear. I haven't got anywhere else to be.″ The voice began to hum idly.

Because she had been cursed. She had pricked her finger and fallen into an enchanted sleep, just as had been foretold. And now, after one hundred years, she had been wakened by her prince, also as foretold. Yet the cold voice that intruded on her sluggish thoughts belonged to a female.

She could make out where she was, now: her familiar bedchamber, staring at the silk canopy draped overhead. The light that had so hurt her eyes, she realized now, was in fact dim and bluish; it struggled to penetrate the arched windows, which were encrusted with an eternity of filth. Dust coated every surface, turning her opulent quarters into a monochrome reflection of themselves. Cobwebs were draped over everything-- including herself. Her body convulsed with a retch. She raised a trembling hand and clawed the stuff away from her face, clearing her vision further.

Someone was standing beside her bed, looking down at her.

It was a faerie, one she couldn't remember having met before, with veined, leathery wings and sallow skin. Her face wasn't different from that of any other dark faerie, and yet...

The details of her nightmare suddenly flooded back into focus, and Jessica knew. This was who had haunted her sleep, watching her and intruding on her dreams. This was the owner of the terrible face, the entity made of darkness and transformed to flesh.

Jessica felt certain that what had appeared in her nightmare was the true face of the creature before her, that her subconscious had somehow perceived the true twisted evil within this faerie. Panic fluttered around the edges of her mind like a trapped bird, but she was incapable of standing, let alone running or fighting.

A thought flashed across her mind.

″Was it you?″ Jessica's voice came out in a cracked whisper. ″Are you the one who--?″

″Cursed you when you were a baby? Yes.″ The faerie's face was calm, yet it was belied by the intensity of her dark eyes. They studied Jessica with burning, feverish intensity, as though searching for something. ″Good morning, Princess.″

Jessica closed her eyes, willing herself to regain more energy, more. She could feel it flowing through her, rapidly strengthening her, like a warm glow traveling through her veins. It had always been this way; no injury or physical hardship had lasted for long, thanks to the blessings she had received as an infant. She felt her courage mount as well, chasing away her fear and confusion. ″Why are you here?″ she asked, opening her eyes. Her voice no longer wavered.

″Why do you think?″ The faerie reached out to brush a loose strand of hair from Jessica's forehead. She recoiled, sinking back into her dusty bedding. ″I came to wish you a good morning and welcome you back to the waking world. It has been such an awfully long time since we have been blessed with your radiance.″

An awfully long time... Something the faerie had said earlier registered abruptly. ″How long? You said... centuries, didn't you?″

″I did.″ The faerie wore a peculiar smile of suppressed excitement, as though waiting for Jessica to come to a realization.

″But... I was only supposed to sleep for one century. I was supposed to be wakened by a prince.″ Frightened, angry suspicions rose in her mind. ″Where is he? What did you do to him?″ She pushed herself up into a sitting position, slow but stronger still.

The faerie laughed, an oddly light, musical sound to issue from such a mouth. ″Oh, don't worry, it wasn't your prince that I harmed. As it happens, I never laid eyes on him. I took care of things in another way.″ She studied her hooked fingernails idly as though her interest in the conversation was minimal, but still her eyes burned with elation. ″You know the story, of course. A particular faerie attempted to reverse my curse on you? The first part worked-- rather than die, you slept. But I found her before the second part could come to pass. Eliminating her eliminated the certainty of her magic working.″ She paused as though to savour her next words. ″Your prince never came. The magic meant to draw him to you failed. And without him to wake you, you slept on and on, throughout the ages...″

Jessica felt something fall away and leave her hollow, as though the faerie had reached inside her gut and ripped out something that kept her intact.

Through her entire childhood, the threat of the curse had hung over her like the slowly-descending blade of a headsman's axe. Yet it was easy for a child to remain hopeful and brave when she knew it would end well. To sleep for a century wasn't such a terrible prospect when one knew it would end in love and happiness.

But it seemed she was to be denied that after all.

″Why did you wake me up?″ She tried to keep her voice neutral, but it betrayed her. It was as bleak as she now felt.

″To show you,″ the faerie said. ″Come. You can stand now, can't you?″

Jessica could. She got carefully to her feet, steadying herself on a bedpost. Its intricate carvings were runnels of dust. ″Show me what?″ she demanded. ″Why would I listen to anything you have to say to me?″

The faerie's corpse-purple lips curved into a smile. ″Do you have anything better to do? But as you wish. I'll allow you to discover it on your own.″

Jessica didn't respond. She couldn't fight, she couldn't run, and she had no way to get rid of this specter who seemed determined to haunt her. All she could do was ignore her until she got bored and went away. The idea seemed laughably feeble, but she wasn't presented with a wealth of choices at the moment.

Centuries of sleep. How had the world changed? She felt like a ghost as she moved slowly around the room that had become her tomb, the faerie following in her wake.

Time had ravaged the familiar. She picked up a tarnished silver comb from her vanity and turned it over in her hands, letting the knowledge crash over her in colossal waves. In what felt like a night's rest, the world she belonged to had aged and become history. Her life, her home, herself... she imagined it all fading to the sepia tones of the distant past, age-spotted and antiquated.

She set down the comb and looked at the mirror. Its ornate gilt frame was dulled, and its was face a sheet of dust that reflected nothing of the room. She swiped her hand across it to clear a swathe--

--and found that she could scream now.

″No,″ she gibbered, barely aware that she was speaking. She stared at her reflection and touched her own face, willing this to be part of the nightmare. ″No. No.″

″Yes, it's quite interesting, isn't it?″ said the faerie, her voice bright.

What stared back at her was a corpse, emaciated and decaying. Her dress hung off the wasted form, swallowing it in yards of fabric. She saw sickly scales and dull, deadened hair pulled into a cobweb-strewn braid, and one eye staring glazed from its rotting socket. She saw a skeleton with its hide stretched tight over brittle bones, with shorn feathers that were all that were left of her wings.

Jessica stared frantically from the mirror down at her own body, running her hands over herself. She wasn't dead. She looked and felt like her usual, healthy self. Only her reflection appeared dead.

Eyes narrowing suddenly, she rounded on the faerie, who laughed again.

″Oh, it's no trick of mine, Princess,″ she said. ″I'll give you a short lesson. Magic isn't eternal; only the next thing to it. It's fallible, and not always permanent. Time grinds away at it, turning it to dust and ashes like everything else.″

Jessica turned slowly back to the mirror. The dead thing wearing her dress stared at her. The faerie's reflection smiled at her from beyond her shoulder, dark eyes burning in a white face.

″You were gifted with eternal youth and beauty,″ the faerie continued, ″but it seems that the magic has become... tired. All it can do now is keep you alive and create the illusion of what you used to look like. I see your true self, and so does the mirror.″

″You're lying.″ The words dropped from her mouth automatically, but the mumble lacked conviction. She stumbled away from the vanity, averting her eyes. ″You're lying. Go away. Leave me alone!″ Without knowing what she was doing, she lurched into an erratic run and wrenched open the door in a squeal of tortured hinges.

The faerie's voice chased her, soft yet perfectly audible, mocking. ″You can't run from the truth, Princess.″

She flew into the cavernous corridor. Her footsteps were thunderous in the grave-like silence. Portraits and statues stood sentinel along the walls like fossils from a dead civilization, grey and somber beneath their blankets of dust. Their stern gazes chided her for disturbing their rest, for not having the decency to sleep forever the way a dead relic should.

The need that filled her now was to find her parents. They would know what to do, how to fix what was wrong with her. They were the very embodiments of royal wisdom, fair and benevolent and wise, and they always held the solutions to any problem she had. They had been planning to put themselves and the rest of the kingdom into an enchanted sleep along with her when the curse came into effect, so they would all wake and resume their lives as if no time had passed. Now that she was awake, they would wake too, and they would fall into one another's arms and weep and laugh at being reunited--

Something caught her foot. With an inarticulate noise of surprise, she sprawled forward and the floor drove all the air from her lungs.

She lay gasping for a moment, then turned onto her back and craned her neck to see what she had tripped over. Her breath caught in her throat.

A pile of bones lay in a haphazard tangle at her feet. The uniform of the royal guard was still discernible on the skeleton, its bright colours faded, the fabric tattered and holed from the attentions of moths and rats.

″Yes, another small detail.″ The faerie rounded the corner at a sedate pace and knelt before the bones, careless of the grime that streaked her dark skirt. ″It seems the spell that put your kingdom to sleep worked well enough in that no one ever woke, but...″ She lifted the arm of the skeleton by its wrist, then let it fall. It clattered to the floor and broke apart. ″Clearly, whoever worked this magic was a rather inferior faerie. A pity we can't all have powers such as mine, hm?″

For a moment, Jessica felt as she had upon waking. The strength drained from her body and all she could do was lie where she was. Tears stung the corners of her eyes, threatening to fall. ″They're gone,″ she whispered. ″Everyone is gone?″

″Oh, yes.″ The faerie leaned over Jessica and smiled warmly into her face. ″And that, my fair princess, is what I wanted to show you. Your kingdom is dust. Your people are dead. Your family is dead. You should by all rights be dead along with them, but really, the look on your face right now is sweeter than your death would have been.″

Jessica rose unsteadily to her feet. She exerted all the willpower she could to keep herself from crying in front of this creature-- but the traitorous tears spilled from her eyes, warm trails down her cold cheeks.

″There is no one left who loves you or remembers you,″ the faerie said. ″You are meaningless.″

″Why?″ she managed to choke. Hatred bubbled like corrosive poison in her throat, and her fists shook at her sides. ″Why did you do this to me?″

According to popular gossip in the kingdom, the reason for the curse had been because her parents had neglected to invite the faerie to the celebration of Jessica's birth, but that was absurd. No one would go to these lengths to punish someone over not having been invited to a party.

″Because it amuses me to hurt those who insult me,″ the faerie said. ″Because it was ridiculous for an entire kingdom to treat you as something special for the mere achievement of being born. But mostly?″ Her smile widened until it resembled the twisted chasm it had been in Jessica's nightmare. ″Because I could. It was entertaining. Yes, keep crying for me, Princess. That's it.″

The faerie stayed until Jessica's tears stopped, watching every one fall as if it were a prize, then vanished with a promise to visit again soon.


She found the late king and queen, her parents, still sitting on their thrones.

They were stately skeletons in finery and jewels, crowns perched proudly on their brows. Below them, their eye sockets stared at her, unrecognizing. Their frozen, grotesque grins violated her warm memories of them.

Outside, the grounds were as dead as the castle, and the silence was oppressive. The grey sky seemed to press down on the earth. There were no signs of animal life, and all the vegetation had withered long ago, except for a field of brambles that had grown around the castle like a plague. Not a breath of wind stirred, which made things difficult for Jessica as she hacked away a clear space in the thorns, then began to dig.

Her full strength had returned to her, yet it was lengthy, exhausting work. She fell asleep that night, and when she woke, she felt bitterly amused that all her years of slumber hadn't been enough for her.

But her parents deserved a fitting burial, and so she laboured on, sweating under the iron-grey clouds that gave no hint as to the current season. She wished she could have done the same for everyone, but even if it were feasible, the thought of spending years burying her people was more than she could bear.

She felt she ought to make a speech, something as grand as her parents deserved, but all that came to mind was, ″I love you.″


She returned to her quarters and forced herself to stare at her own dead reflection. ″This is me,″ she told herself. ″This is what I am now.″ She willed herself to accept it, to feel the certainty of it in her bones, but all she felt was lost. Why was she having such trouble with the truth? Surely she should be facing it with courage and determination.

Then again, perhaps the magic that had given her those gifts was deteriorating along with the rest. Maybe all the virtues and strength of character she had been blessed with had faded.

Which left her with... what? Without those qualities, who was she? Panic gripped her insides as she stared at the cadaver in the mirror, trying frantically to recall some trait that was hers alone, rather than a gift from a faerie. Who was she? Who was she?

″No one,″ she said softly. ″I'm no one.″

A storm unleashed inside her. Hatred, sorrow, rage, disgust-- they were a torrent. She gripped the edges of her vanity and shoved it over. The mirror shattered. A hundred shards of glass lay on the carpet, reflecting the fractured image of a monster.

With a wordless scream of grief, she dropped to her knees and huddled in on herself, shuddering.

Part Two







Part Two
Stolen

She was a creature displaced in time, breathing air she had no right to. The thought of the world outside sometimes beckoned to her, but she knew it had no place for her. The castle was where she belonged. Of course, it had transformed as thoroughly as she had. She was no longer able to think of herself as Princess Jessica, because she wasn't. She decided that from now on, she was simply Jess. An unassuming name. She was no one important.

She drifted among the dead. Childhood memories snuck up on her frequently, brought on by familiar sights. The silver dinnerware she had eaten from all her life; a chest of old toys once beloved, later forgotten; the bedroom of her old friend, a squire's daughter. Eventually, the pangs they brought with them began to lessen. She would always hurt, of course, but it was impossible to spend years in a state of suspended grief.

One day, she meandered into a vacant hall and was battered by an inexplicable wave of anxiety. Her gaze skated uncertainly around the room, then landed on the spinning wheel, grey with dust and lying on its side.

How strange that she had almost forgotten the event that led to her long slumber. She moved towards the wheel, and then, with a smile she suspected must look rather twisted, touched her finger lightly to the spindle. Nothing happened this time, of course.

Spindles, she had been warned her entire life, were extraordinarily dangerous to her. She must avoid them at all costs. They had been banned from the castle, yet she still needed to remain vigilant against their threat. The word itself, spindle, was cloaked in sinister fear; she always thought it in a whispered hiss.

She had recognized the spinning wheel the moment she saw it, although she had never encountered one in real life, because she had seen a picture of one in a book. When her gaze fell upon the artifact in reality, she had stumbled backwards, terrified-- and hands had roughly pushed her forward. She had fallen, her own hands automatically flying up to protect herself as she tumbled into the spinning wheel...

Jess lifted her finger to inspect the tiny, almost invisible white scar. Devora-- that was the name of the dark faerie, she had learned-- had no doubt brought the wheel into the castle, and the hands on her back had certainly belonged to Devora as well. It would be just her vindictive style to give Jess the shove that doomed her.

Time continued its flow, something to which Jess remained largely oblivious. She spent most of her time in the library, a vast hall of shelves that towered to the ceiling. She read book after book, devouring one then moving on to the next like a creature that fed on words. Fiction and non-, histories, biographies, folk tales and epic poetry. She lost herself in them and became a part of each story, leaving behind the shell of a wrecked girl.


″Why do you still linger here, Princess? Aren't you eager to rejoin the world?″

″Go away, Devora.″

The faerie, of course, paid no heed to Jess's listless reply. She offered a smile as though in response to a gracious invitation and settled into an armchair, crossing her legs beneath a skirt that was the dark russet of dried blood.

The truth was, on some level Jess had almost come to enjoy these visits. Every few months the faerie would materialize to pester and mock her. She seemed to feel content with watching Jess waste away meaninglessly in the castle, and therefore never caused her any further harm. As such, Jess's fear of her had waned, replaced by a need for contact with someone, anyone. Even her.

″What do you do all day?″ Devora glanced around Jess's room, wrinkling her nose. ″Sit here and brood? I've noticed you don't cry nearly as much as you used to.″

Jess smiled humourlessly. ″I guess I'm adjusting to my situation. What will you do when I'm no longer bothered by it at all? What new horror will you visit upon me to renew my misery?″

″Oh, we'll see when the time comes. Sometimes I'm a planner; sometimes I like to act on whims. By the way, I brought you a little present.″ The faerie raised a hand, palm upright, and in a brief sizzle of magical light something appeared and dropped into her waiting grip. A book.

″I've noticed you've become quite the reader of late. This one made me think of you.″

Jess took the proffered book without reacting visibly. It was a collection of short stories. ″What's this all about?″

″There's one tale in there I think will interest you. Briar Rose, I believe it's called. There seem to be a few variants floating about, but they're essentially the same.″

″Is that right?″ Wondering what Devora's game was this time, Jess leafed through the book until she found the story. It was short, and she read it quickly-- and with rising disbelief.

Details had changed, yet the story was unmistakably her own. A great celebration for an infant princess, gifts from faeries, and the curse. Briar Rose and her kingdom fell into an enchanted sleep, only to be revived one hundred years later by the arrival of a valiant prince.

″How...?″ she began slowly.

Devora gave her silvery laugh. ″Myths and rumours spread, my dear princess, and change with each new ear they find. It seems news of what happened to you escaped somehow and became something of a folk tale among the common people.″

Jess stared blankly at the page, unsure of how to react.

...and they lived contented to the end of their days.

″How silly,″ she said lightly, tossing the book back to Devora. ″I suppose since it's for children, they felt they needed to give it a happy ending.″

Devora's smile didn't slip, but by now, Jess knew her well enough to tell she was disappointed by her reaction. Her eyes gleamed with that suppressed malice that so often lurked below the surface.

The faerie made the book disappear and apparently decided to move on. ″You didn't answer my question. Why haven't you left yet? Why sit in this castle full of the dead?″

″Atmosphere,″ Jess said. ″I'm undead, or something close to it. It's fitting that I lurk in such a place, don't you think? Maybe an explorer will discover it sometime and write a story about the corpse princess, ruling over her dead subjects.″

Devora laughed again, but it had a shrill edge that betrayed her irritation. ″You truly are becoming too flippant about your situation, Princess.″ She paused, eyeing Jess for some reaction. At first, being called 'Princess' in that derisive tone was a painful reminder of the life she had lost, but she had long since become accustomed to Devora addressing her this way. The faerie continued slowly, her smile fading. ″I think I need to do something to knock you off balance again, after all.″

It was Jess's turn to laugh. ″What more could you possibly do to me? You've taken away everything. All that's left is my life, and if you take that, you won't be able to enjoy my reaction.″

Devora leaned towards her and took Jess's forearm in her unyielding, icy grip. ″Don't underestimate my powers,″ she whispered harshly. ″I could hurt you in ways you can't even imagine.″

Jess tilted her head and studied the woman's pallid face, refusing to let any of her pain or worry show. ″You know, Devora, I've always had the impression that you have more victims like me out there in the world.″

Devora arched an eyebrow, not loosening her grip. ″As a matter of fact, I do. Anyone who wrongs me gets what they deserve, and a little more.″

Jess nodded. ″You keep track of every little slight against you, hold onto your grudges, since you don't have anything else to hold onto.″

Devora's laugh was short and sharp. ″Of all people, you're implying that my life is empty?″

″You torture them and mock them, just like me,″ Jess continued, ignoring the reply. ″You enjoy making us suffer. But I'm your favourite... am I right?″

Devora's painted talons dug into the flesh of Jess's arm, almost hard enough to draw blood. Her answering smile was sweet, despite the ever-present gleam of hatred in her eyes when she looked at Jess. ″You've noticed, then? Yes, you are my very favourite to hurt.″

″No wonder you're so upset, then. I'm not suffering as much as I used to be, and you don't know how to cause me sorrow anymore.″ Jess mirrored Devora, leaning towards her and smiling, sweetly but with a hint of bite. ″I'm moving on from you, Devora, while you're still dwelling on some insignificant event. Even now, your jealousy of me eats you alive. You're pathetic.″

Devora's face seemed to freeze, the smile becoming a sickly parody of the real thing, something dying behind her eyes. With a contemptuous look, Jess ripped her arm free of Devora's hand and left the room without a backwards glance.


She was roaming the halls one day when she heard voices.

Her head snapped in that direction and her movements stilled. No, she wasn't imagining things: a cacophony of male voices was rising from below. Who in the world...? She started towards them, her steps hesitant at first, then strengthening until they were determined strides.

She halted at the top of a staircase and looked down to see the entrance hall full of men. A motley group, most of them looked in need of a bath and a change of clothes. The exception was a confident-looking man with golden curls who the rest seemed to look to as a leader.

Despite everything, she felt a flash of indignation at her home being invaded. Eyes narrowing, she folded her arms and asked loudly, ″Who are you? What are you doing here?″ Some of the men gave startled cries.

The leader, though, didn't react except to stuff a goblet into his bag and peer at her through the haze of dust in the air. ″I'm Captain Locke,″ he said. ″And what am I doing here? Obviously, taking whatever I can get from this dump. The real question is, what are you doing here? Did you hear news of this place, too? Well, too bad, sister. We got here first. And... and I have more men than you do, so you can just beat it.″

Jess stared at him for a moment, then laughed bitterly. ″Tomb raiders. I guess I should have expected they would show up eventually. Don't you have any respect for the dead? Just because they're gone doesn't give you the right to defile their resting place and steal from them!″ Her outburst startled even her.

Locke looked up at her as if considering her words. ″Well, when you put it that way... Nope.″ He cheerfully stuffed some silverware into his bag.

″Give that back, you... ruffian.″ She marched down the stairs, grabbed onto his bag, and attempted to yank it away from him.

″Hey, hey, hey! What are doing?″ Not the slightest bit fazed by her tugging, he blinked down at her. ″Oh, hey. You're rather pretty. Makes me feel slightly bad that I gotta steal from you.″

″Aren't you just a prince. Fine. I guess it doesn't matter anymore.″ She gave up on his bag, turning to look at a small marble statue in its niche in the wall. ″What do I need with any of it, anyway? Here.″ She snatched the statue up and threw it at the man's silly blond head.

″And you're feisty, too.″ He stepped out of the way. The statue crashed into the wall behind him, and Jess glared at him as though it were his fault. ″So, you mean to say all this stuff belongs to you?″ he continued. ″What are you doing out here by yourself, anyway? If you ask me, that's a little creepy, miss.″

″Well, I'm a little creepy, I guess.″ She folded her arms across her middle and hunched her shoulders slightly. ″It's none of your business.″

″Well, at least you're admitting it, eh? It's a downright shame you're out here by yourself, though.″

His men, it seemed, were done with their looting already. A few gave her shifty glances as they hurried out, their arms full; it seemed they didn't want to stay here any longer than they had to. Jess felt a surprising pang of sadness. She was... lonely.

″Well, I'd best be going.″ He offered her a smile. ″It was nice meeting you... strange lady in a castle.″

″Right.″ She hesitated for a moment. ″Wait. Do you want to stay for a little while? We have, uh... luxurious accommodations...″ She waved weakly at the hall of dusty skeletons. With rudely precise timing, the crumbling bones of a maid collapsed in on themselves. The skull rolled across the floor and slowed to a rocking halt near their feet.

Locke looked dubious, to say the least. ″Yeah... I'm sure you're a great host. I'm going to have to pass on that one.″ He eyed Jess instead, his manner suddenly decisive. ″Alright. We've stolen just about everything in this place.″ She tensed warily as he moved closer to her. Before she could figure out what he was doing and how to react, she found herself hoisted up over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. She squawked indignantly, nearly missing his next words. ″Might as well take you, too. Let's go.″ The end of her braid dragged along the floor as he moved toward the door.

″What do you think you're doing?! Unhand me at once!″ Jess kicked her feet wildly and pounded his back with her fists. ″What are you going to do to me?″ She might as well have been attacking a wall for all the impact she was having.

″I'm kidnapping you. What does it look like? And... I'm not sure what I'll do with you. You do amuse me, though. The men have been restless lately and need a bit of company. Haven't had a girl travel along with us since Marie, really.″

″You know, you could have asked me if I wanted to come along instead of kidnapping me.″ Annoyance and embarrassment swirled in her, along with a certain... excitement. A part of her was finding this situation fun. If anything, that realization increased her annoyance. ″What is wrong with people?″ she demanded of the air. ″Why won't anyone let me make my own choices? I hate everyone. Now put me down and I might be nice enough to come with you.″

″Oh. You're one of those girls,″ he said, setting her down. ″What's up with parents locking their children away in remote towers and not expecting them to have some sort of psychological damage?″ He eyed her with cautious thoughtfulness. ″So, what sort of crazy are you? Crazy in the, 'Aaahh! I'm going to kill everyone around me!' sense, or crazy in the, 'Aaahh! Spiders are on me!' sense?″

She gave that the withering glare it deserved. ″I'm not crazy. Unless it qualifies as insanity that I'm actually considering traveling with some kind of...″ She took him in properly, his coat, his hat... ″pirate?″

Absurdly, the idiot seemed to take her examination of him as one of approval. His chest swelled and his roguish grin widened. ″Yes! I am a great pirate.″ He turned to stare into the distance as if to look impressive. She could almost see his teeth twinkle. ″The best pirate there is, actually. You're rather fortunate that you got stuck with me.″

″Captain,″ a man suddenly interjected, looking exasperated. ″Stop fooling around and get back on the ship.″

Locke looked around. An impatient crew looked back. ″Right!″

Once more he relegated Jess to the role of loot, heaving her over his shoulder and carrying her outside. She decided not to protest that she could use her own feet, and instead tried to cling to what dignity she could in this position.

The pirates had hacked a path through the brambles. As the captain carried her off towards the sea, she watched the sight of her castle shrinking, becoming less significant in the setting sun.

Unseen by anyone, a small smile of anticipation appeared on her face.

Part Three








Part Three
Thereafter

Jess's story is still unfolding in the realm of roleplay, which is where her entire first encounter with Locke and his crew originally took place (all of his actions and dialogue are from his owner, Stephanie). I've chosen to illustrate some of the more pivotal moments of her later story with brief vignettes based on the roleplays.


This is my Curse

Locke quickly made it known that he wanted a closer friendship with Jess than she was prepared to allow. She knew how to handle that.

She smiled grimly, and the corpse in the mirror smiled back. Locke gave a strangled shout and scrambled away from her on frantically flailing limbs, which gave way and deposited him onto the floor.

After his initial reaction, though, she found that he accepted her curse with surprising ease. A strange man.


Settling In

She wondered if her morals had decayed somewhat with the rest of her. She dove into piracy without a second thought, learning the sword and loving it. She refused to badly harm the innocent, and that was enough for her conscience to rest easy.

When Locke named her his first mate, she knew it was just him being silly as usual-- she was the newest crew member and still learning the world outside-- but she appreciated it just the same. Not that she would ever admit it to him. He deliberately annoyed her on a daily basis, as if he actually enjoyed drawing her ire.

In truth, she kind of liked the teasing, too. She would definitely never let him know that.

Not only did she have the entire crew of the Black Storm around her, but there were other people she came to know, as well. The Crimson Jewel was another pirate ship captained by someone named Gun, who Locke named his arch-nemesis. The captains may have constantly been fighting, but the crews often freely intermingled. Jess met Marie, who had traveled on the Storm with Locke before but was now with the Jewel. At first, she felt a mild twinge of jealousy for reasons she couldn't place, but she quickly grew close with Marie and a few other crew members. It was awhile before she realized, with no small amazement, that she had friends.


The Prince

Of all the people they could have found battered and bleeding in an alley, it turned out to be a prince.

Xavier was nice enough, but the mere fact of his station was a reminder of a life she wanted to forget. Locke had invited him to join the crew, and so she was stuck with him, a regal figure moving around the ship, constantly mocking the childish fantasies she had had before her long sleep.

In spite of the unpleasant associations, though, a part of her was curious. Was it possible that she had found the prince of her girlhood dreams? The cynic in her screamed caution, screamed idiot, but the princess in her-- the one she had thought had died long ago-- couldn't help but hope.

She didn't know how these feelings could coexist with whatever it was she felt about Locke, and she avoided thinking about it.


The Betrayal

It hurt.

She had allowed herself to be vulnerable around Locke, and he had betrayed her. She realized that she hated herself more than him. She was the one who had been stupid enough to believe in his sincerity, to believe that he truly cared for her. Seeing him with someone else had been a dull but powerful blow to her gut, knocking all the air from her lungs. Please, just let me breathe.

Locke found her sitting at the bow of the ship, with her knees drawn up to her chest and arms wrapped around them. He was frantic as he tried to explain.

″Jess, please. You have to believe me. That wasn't me in there. It was Xavier.″

She stared at him, incredulous. ″What are you talking about?″

″I'm saying that-- Devora! She kidnapped me, then made Xavier look like me, and tricked you. Please Jess, I wouldn't do this to you.″ He sounded sincere. He sounded like Locke.

She spoke slowly, eyes still fixed on his face. ″Swear to me... you're telling the truth right now.″

″I swear it, Jess.″ He shook his head, grimly furious and pleading all at once. ″I can tell you what she looks like right now if you want me to!″ He described Devora perfectly, down to the last purple vein. ″She had me locked away in some cage, watching the whole thing.″

Finally, she believed him.

Of course Devora wouldn't have let her go on to a new, happy life without trying to destroy it. Yet despite the fear and anger, she also felt weak with relief.

Xavier was Devora's puppet. Xavier was the one who had betrayed her. Locke never would.


Death

When Devora appeared among them, it was so abrupt she could barely react.

″You did considerable damage, and you tried well at causing more,″ she said calmly to Xavier, eyeing him as though weighing his worth. ″Perhaps I should reward you for that. But I don't like failure.″ She snapped her fingers and Xavier began to... thin. He became fainter and fainter and began to drift and distend like smoke on the air. Then he was gone. His soft scream hung on the air for a moment longer.

″Now, Princess, since you refused to play the game properly, I'm going to take a more direct approach to hurting you.″ She pointed at Locke.

Jess felt her eyes widen. ″Don't!″ The cry tore out of her throat and she launched herself towards Locke, needing to save him from whatever spell Devora was going to unleash on him. She was almost fast enough.

A black vortex swirled upon the deck, lightning arcing across it and stirring wind around them. Locke was pulled into it, sinking down-- and Marie, too, she was too close, and she was also being pulled in--

″No! No!″ Jess grabbed for Locke's hand. Instead of pulling him out, she found herself being pulled in.

″Now, we can't have that,″ said Devora. "You have to be alive to feel pain, Princess.

The black whirlwind vanished, and Jess fell roughly onto the wood of the deck.

″They're dead,″ Devora informed everyone kindly, and left.


Hope Stirs

Guilt had taken up residence in her chest like a living thing, gnawing at her heart and clawing at her lungs. Why hadn't she seen it coming? Devora still wanted her to suffer, and now that Jess had loved ones, they were the clear targets for her to prey upon.

Locke was gone. Marie was gone. Because they had befriended her.

″It's not too late.″

The mystic's words made her freeze. There was still hope?

″They are stuck in limbo, but their souls are being dragged toward the underworld. You will have to stop them before they get to that point, otherwise, you won't be able to save them.″

And so of course they went.


Rescue Mission

Limbo was not what she expected. Shifting worlds, souls trudging towards their destinies, others waiting in surreal civilizations... We'll find you, Locke. And you, Marie. We'll find you and bring you back.

They found Locke in a place of white marble and carved columns, surrounded by adoring women.

Jess stared blankly for a few moments, then marched over and gave him her patented whack upside the head. ″You idiot. I bend the rules of life and death to come save you from a terrible fate, and this is what you're doing? I'm wracked with guilt over your death, and you're living it up here?″

″Excuse me? Do I know you?″

She stared in horror. His memories were gone.

But in the end, it only took a little more violence to restore them.

″Ow. The pain and despair... and the heartbreak.... It's all coming back to me!″ Locke's eyes widened as he stared at Jess. ″Feeling like... a child who just had candy taken away from them... Yes! YES! I remember you all now!″ He frowned and rubbed at his injury. ″Ow, Jess. That really hurt.″


Leavetaking

Things were normal again. Except she realized now that they couldn't stay that way.

She managed an awkward smile and shrug as she addressed her crew, her friends. ″It's... been a lot of fun, but I think I'm ready to strike out on my own. Really on my own. This just isn't the kind of life I was made for. Now that I'm used to being out in the world, I think I can go and do what I really want to.″

She was off the ship and ready to head into town when Locke stopped her. He knew her well enough to realize there was a deeper reason for her leaving.

Jess sighed, giving in. ″Okay, fine... It's Devora, of course. If I'm around you, you're in danger. It's better if she thinks I don't care about you.″

″Her? I don't care about her. I really, really don't, Jess. She knows that we exist, Jess, and she knows that you care. If you didn't care, you wouldn't have tried to save me from limbo, right? Walking away from the problem won't solve anything.″

She wanted to argue. If she left, wouldn't it prove to Devora that Jess didn't care about them anymore? Wouldn't it convince the faerie to leave them alone? Now that she really thought about it... probably not.

″And... and you'll just be miserable,″ Locke continued. ″Where would you even go? Back to the castle? You belong out here, with... with me!″ He faltered before continuing. Jess felt a sharp pang in her already-aching heart. ″And the other guys. You belong with us. We'll do our best to protect you. We'll find... something. Some sort of way to stop her. You just have to trust us.″

″But this is my problem, and it's not fair to drag you all into it,″ Jess said. ″Don't you see? I'm the one who should be protecting you, not the other way around. I don't want to just stay on the ship and wait for her to come kill you all again to see the look on my face. I want to... do something.″ She glared bitterly at the ground and kicked a stone in frustration. ″Right now, leaving is the only thing I can think of.″

″But how would that resolve anything, Jess? That's what I'm asking. If you're here with us, or if you're back in that blasted castle, she could come at any moment and try to kill us. At least if you were here with us, you could do something. But if she showed you an image of us being attacked while you're so very far away in the castle... then what would you do? You couldn't do anything...″

″Well...″ She was starting to feel stupid and defensive, and she wanted to snap off some insult to put Locke in his place, but nothing fitting came to mind. ″That... That's a good point.″

″I know I sound harsh when I put it like that, but think about it, Jess. You cannot do this alone anymore. Now that you've involved us, it's personal, and we want to be involved. We want to help you, if you just allow us.″

She gazed at him for a long moment, letting his words sink in. When she finally spoke, her voice was small and vulnerable in way she rarely let it be. ″...I'm not alone?″

He wrapped her in a hug. ″No, of course not. We're right here beside you. We've always been.″

″Locke...″

She couldn't say anything more, but she knew he understood. She wasn't the corpse princess roaming among the dead anymore. She was Jess, and she wasn't alone.




Crew of the Black Storm

This is the pirate ship that Jess now calls home, a magnificent vessel with its share of notoriety.

The dashing Captain Locke is Jess's best friend. They may become agitated with each other and their relationship is often teasing, but Jess trusts no one quite as much. He's the only person in the world who she has allowed to see her at her most vulnerable. Despite their closeness, she still calls him by his surname like everyone else, but has allowed a 'Zacky' to slip out once or twice.


Crew of the Crimson Jewel

The Jewel is a rival pirate ship of the Storm, but only the captains pay attention to that rivalry. The ships frequently travel together and members of each often visit the other when they converge.

Gun is captain of the Jewel, Locke's arch-nemesis, and, as they eventually discovered to their mutual horror, his little half-brother. Jess wasn't sure what to make of Gun initially, with his inattention to hygiene and eccentric personality, but she has learned to enjoy his oddball ways.


This former French noblewoman ran away from home and took up the unlikely career of pirating, something her family is still unaware of. She's got a slightly prickly demeanor-- which is to say she shows occasional signs of violent insanity-- and is tough as nails. Jess knows, though, that Marie is a good and loyal friend.


Jess quickly learned that she wasn't the only undead girl on the sea. Shira is a spirit who used to dedicate her afterlife to hating men and love, which Jess finds difficult to believe, because she's now become a sweet and often silly girl. Jess admires Shira's ability to move past her old bitterness.


Little surprise that there's an undead man among them, as well. Stigma is a vampire of few words, and most of those are cutting and derisive. Those closest to him, though, have come to understand the less caustic parts of his nature. He and Shira are permanent residents of the Jewel despite not really being pirates themselves.






As always, drag and drop each picture to your address bar for full view. A huge thank you to everyone who's drawn Jess so far!

If you've got a picture of her you'd like to be added to this page, please send it to me.


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