This story begins at an end. Not "the end" – what proper story begins at the very end, after all – but at an end. Or, more appropriately, one story's end is merely the beginning of this one.
Everyone knows the tale by now – even in this day and age where the fairy tale has become a lost art, the story is well-known almost to the point of becoming tiresome. A child is born, a curse is cast by an unspeakable force, a lighter power amends the curse, a kiss is delivered, and two lovers live happily ever after. The obstacles along the way may vary according to the teller of the tale, but by most accounts the ending is the same, time after time.
But "happily ever after" seldom lasts forever… and one tale's "happily ever after" may serve as another tale's "once upon a time."
Our story begins at the end of this one, with a sword cast, a mortal wound dealt, and a dark power vanquished… for a time.
And as Prince Phillip rides to the lonely castle to deliver his kiss and complete his "happily ever after," a new tale begins…
It took her a moment to realize what this feeling was – no foe had wounded her in battle for so long she had almost forgotten what it was like to feel pain. But this pain was different somehow… and with a shock that was worse than the pain she realized why. This wasn't any wound – this was a mortal one.
It cannot be! She felt no fear even as mortal agony seared through her body, blooming outward from where the Sword of Truth lay buried at the juncture of neck and chest. Instead a terrible, thwarted rage burned in her, warring with the pain. This couldn't have happened! She could not have lost in her moment of triumph, so close to having that mewling Prince Phillip crushed in her grip!
Pain gave way to numbness, and her draconian body went limp, falling toward the hapless Prince. A brief burst of joy filled her as his expression shifted from triumph to blank horror. Perhaps, in death, she would win, and crush Phillip to death at the height of his glory…
But the idiot Prince managed to scramble out of the way just in time. She made a final, futile snap in his direction even as she fell, the cliff's edge crumbling under her weight. By now her entire body felt numb, barely registering the crushing blows it received as she fell down the cliff face, pummeled by falling rock the entire way.
Though her body's grip on life was fading fast, her mind was sharp as ever. And though her wounds were beyond healing, there was a final option open to her.
The Sword of Truth still jutted from her flesh, and with the last of her strength she poured her entire being into its blade – all her power, all her mind, all her soul and strength. The sword quivered like a live thing, almost shrieking as its own bright power resisted her… but as strong as those wretched three fairies' powers were, her own were far stronger. And it was the work of seconds to absorb the sword's own powers as her own, corrupting the blade and blackening it dark as night.
It isn't over, O Prince. This she vowed, even as sight and sound vanished from her conscious mind. Prince Phillip might ride off to the castle, eager to kiss Princess Aurora awake and claim his true love, oblivious to the fact that his foe wasn't truly dead. He might even live a long, happy life and die of old age, never the wiser. His children, and their children, and their children's children might live happy lives, or at least lives of relative content, and they might even forget that the great and powerful Maleficent had once threatened their ancestor.
But she was patient. She could wait however long it took for some luckless individual to find the sword and free her from her prison. And when that day came, she would have her revenge upon Phillip and Aurora's descendents.
All she need do was wait…
Hundreds of miles away, in a tiny, cluttered cottage in the middle of a dark wood, an old man opened his eyes, blinking away the vestiges of a sudden, but not entirely unwelcome, vision.
Merlin remained still a moment, taking time to properly digest what he had seen. Then he sighed and sat back in his chair, taking a long draw of his pipe. All around him the instruments of his workshop kept up their steady pace, beakers and decanters of chemicals puffing and bubbling, tiny instruments softly whirring and clicking, a tub and washboard scrubbing a set of his undershorts all by themselves. Even Archimedes, his entirely-too-chatty assistant, was silent, head tucked under one wing as he napped on the perch of his house high in a corner.
Not too surprising, he thought, that one of Maleficent's schemes should finally backfire on her. Nor was he entirely surprised that even in death, she had found a way to cheat the system. Most magicians and fae accepted that immortality did not necessarily mean invincibility, and there still existed the possibility that an ill-timed spell or a powerful opponent would finally do them in. Even he had foreseen his own death in the distant future, and had resolved to face it with quiet dignity when it finally showed up to claim him.
Why is it, he thought as he puffed his pipe, that only the dark sorcerers and wicked fairies seek to live forever? Perhaps something about the thirst for power made them reluctant to give it up in the face of anything, even the final end. Or perhaps they simply had an entitlement complex, thinking the world owed them everything, even eternal life. He had never stopped to ask the reason when he'd encountered one – too often he was preoccupied with fighting them to ask.
He sighed and tapped the table, and the tea set rattled to life, preparing him a fresh cup. There was precious little he could do to stop Maleficent from carrying her scheme out. Oh, he could go retrieve the Sword of Truth himself (though it could hardly be called that anymore – would Sword of Lies be more appropriate?), and devote the rest of his life to keeping it out of the hands of anyone who would abuse it. But he didn't exactly have that kind of time, not with his fateful meeting with young Arthur due to happen any day now.
No, the most he could do was prepare for the day – and that day would come – when some luckless adventurer would find the sword and break it, unleashing Maleficent upon the world once again. In some ways he actually pitied that poor fool – he rather doubted Maleficent would be any kinder to him than she would be to the descendents of the one who had killed her…
Another vision tickled the back of his mind, and he sighed and shut his eyes, letting it play out. Blast it, how was he going to get anything done today if he kept being interrupted?
An underground bunker appeared in his mind's eye… a ship from another world, one that had buried itself in a mountainside long ago and had lain there, undisturbed, ever since. Bodies lay scattered about like dolls a careless child had forgotten to put away, armored in multicolored metal… no, wait, they were actually made of metal, like clockwork toys. Fascinating… and if this place didn't lay half a world away he might pack up and actually go there, if only to study them in greater detail…
The vision zeroed in on one body in particular, this one silver and black, with a wicked violet crest on his chest. His body lay inert and lifeless… but his face was frozen in an expression of anger and triumph, the noble features still wearing a faint, terrible grin. In a way, it wasn't too dissimilar from Maleficent's own expression of triumph, equal parts sneer and exultation…
So that's the one, he thought, opening his eyes again. The one who will release Maleficent. Though it looks like she'll be waiting a good long while… I hope the poor fool knows what he's getting into.
The sugar pot rapped his knuckles with its spoon, and he gave it an irritable flick before reaching for his teacup. Forewarned was forearmed, at least, and while his duties to Arthur would keep him occupied here for awhile, he at least knew what to watch out for. And perhaps, closer to time, his clairvoyance would actually give him some useful information on how to stop Maleficent from wreaking too much havoc upon her return. It was such a fickle ability at times.
He would wait. However long it took for those two to cross paths, he could wait. Maleficent wasn't the only one who could be patient if she had to be… and he had nothing but time at the moment.