35. Every Body Gets a Coffin

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Dearest Reader – Are you familiar with that feeling you get when one minute you're standing on a perfectly solid surface and the next you're sinking into quicksand?


What about the horrible sensation you get when you're perched at the edge of a diving board, and someone sneaks up behind you and bounces, and you fall and hit the water with a huge belly flop?


Okay, here's a good one: You're balancing on the fulcrum of a teeter-totter when a meteor streaks through the sky, lands on one end, and your teeter-totter totters.

Seriously? None of these examples of a shifting reality have happened to you? Consider yourself lucky.

Then all I can suggest is you try to imagine the feeling then. Your beloved author can only come up with so many poetic and applicable analogies before she has to get back to telling the actual story.

Anywho, Ashley experienced that exact instant shift in her reality upon the realization of the following:

1. Her stepsister, Druscilla, was a shapeshifting magician and the daughter of The Not-so-marvelous Marvelous Marveloni. These facts alone would take an eternity for Ashely to unravel.

2. Druscilla, the cruel and twisted stepsister Ashley thought she'd escaped forever, had been at the castle since she married Charming, pretending to be a lady-in-waiting and then Princess Blanche.

3. Her evil Stepmonster had had sex with Marveloni! (The image of her stepmother—a woman partial to high necked blouses, corsets, and skirts with enough fabric to adorn the windows of an entire castle—partaking in horizontal refreshment with the creepy one-eyed magician, implanted itself Ashley's mind and grew like poison ivy on a stone wall.)

Ashley's knees shook, legs threatening to buckle. The fact that she hadn't eaten in a dragon's age, her muscles had been overworked to the point of exhaustion, she'd been nearly frozen and buried in an avalanche, had a harrowing flight on a couple of dragons, and her skin was as chafed as a baby's wet bottom, didn't help her capacity to deal with life-altering news.

What she needed was a hearty meal, a long nap, and a severe case of amnesia. Ignorance was bliss, after all. But since none of that seemed to be on the table, Ashley crossed her arms over her chest, girding herself to withstand this unexpected rendezvous with her lifelong tormentor.

Druscilla's tongue flicked out of her mouth, licking her red (non-chapped) lips.

Ashley stepped back in terror, waiting for the inevitable strike. It's incredible how, when confronted with the past, one falls into old patterns. But Ashley was no longer a kitchen maid, covered in ash, friendless, nothing more than a thorn in her family's side.

That girl no longer existed. The woman she was now had confronted far greater adversaries than a magician-in-training. She'd faced an entire coven of experienced witches, ice elves, avalanches, a troll, dragons, and a super-annoying unicorn-groom nee knight, who at this moment was beside her, head cocked as if trying to decide whether she needed him to step in and be all gallant. Ashley answered him by straightening her spine, balling her hands into fists, and scowling at her stepsister. "Trust me, 'sis,' I didn't drop in on purpose. And no one will be exterminated. If you hand over the egg now." Ashley held out her hand.

Druscilla cackled. And cackled some more. "I'm getting good at this cackle thing. I might enter the Interkingdom Villain Cackle Contest at the Games this year. I think I have a shot. Listen." She cackled harder, then began to choke on her cackles, which devolved into a coughing fit that sounded like the barking of a strangled sea lion. What had caused this reaction? Asthma? Too many toxic fumes in the lair? Excessive cackling practice? Unhealthy lifestyle? All of the above? Perhaps she'd asphyxiate herself and put them all out of their misery. 'Death by cackle' would be a fitting end.

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