Disclaimer: It's safe to assume that I don't own anything. Especially not the rights to these characters.
A/N: Hi, guys! So, you've probably been noticed that I haven't written anything in ages. Well, it turns out that nothing kills my desire to write like having a full-time job. But I'm starting to settle into it a little bit, so this is one of my attempts to break out of my industrial-strength Writer's Block. Lately, I've really been in the mood to watch that one Cinderella movie from 1997, and I was listening to some of the music (hence the title) and started thinking about how I would change the basic Cinderella story to be more… well, gay. This was the result.
Part One: The Invitation
Once upon a time, there was a small kingdom on a warm coast. Its name was Sunnydale. At the highest point in the kingdom sat a huge stone castle containing the royal family, a beloved king and queen and their mysterious son, Prince Riley. The inhabitants of the kingdom knew little about Prince Riley except that he was handsome and strong. He was known by reputation to be a capable hunter, a competent ruler, and a generally nice guy. Many girls in the kingdom imagined him as the man of their dreams. However, among the royal families in the surrounding kingdoms, he had a different reputation.
You see, Prince Riley was of a marrying age. In fact, his parents had been trying to find him a wife for years. At least once a month, they sent out a summons to princesses and noble women in neighboring lands, inviting them to come and meet the prince. To their dismay, each princess who came to visit found some reason to leave early, before marriage could even be brought up. There were rumors among the royal families that the princesses all found Prince Riley to be horribly, excessively, agonizingly boring. His reputation had spread so far that the king and queen had entirely run out of princesses and nobles to invite.
The situation now called for desperate measures.
If they were out of princesses, then they needed to widen their pool. A lot. And they had to act quickly, or else Prince Riley's reputation would spread through their own kingdom and they would be left entirely without options. So, they did what kings and queens always do in times of desperation...
They began planning a ball.
At the lowest point in the kingdom sat a small wooden house containing one cruel man, one cruel woman, one cruel girl, and one Tara.
"Every female in your household between the ages of 16 and 30 are cordially invited to a masquerade ball in Prince Riley's honor."
Tara, from where she crouched, scrubbing the black ash from the gray stone fireplace, overheard her stepmother reading the letter out loud and paused for a moment, letting her arm rest. She wiped at the sweat beading on her face, leaving a long smudge of ash on her cheek.
"That can't be real," commented Tara's father, looking over his wife's shoulder and examining the letter himself.
"That's the royal seal. It must be real." Her stepmom looked closer, scanning farther down the page. "It sounds like every house in the kingdom got one of these letters. Every eligible girl in our borders is invited."
"Everyone?" Tara asked before she could stop herself. She couldn't imagine all the girls in the kingdom gathered in one place. The kingdom wasn't large, but the scale of such a ball would still be incredible. Her curiosity was met with a glare.
"You don't count," her stepmother said pointedly, pressing her thin lips into a scowl. "They wouldn't want a filthy demon child in the royal family."
Tara resisted both cringing and rolling her eyes as her stepmother pulled out the 'd' word again. Her actual mother, a kind and gentle woman, had died five years ago, when Tara was fourteen, dealing a terrible blow to both her daughter and her husband. For Tara, that meant withdrawing from life, speaking rarely and hiding in the shadows. For her father, it meant growing a layer of ice and stone around his heart and marrying a woman as cruel as he now was– namely, his late wife's sister. His new wife, Tara's aunt-turned-stepmother, claimed to have a bit of The Sight, in the same way that Tara's mother had always seemed to have a healer's touch, and said that she could see demon blood in her niece-turned-stepdaughter's veins. Her father, for whatever reason, went along wholeheartedly with this crazy statement. This led to a world of strange restrictions and frequent punishments for Tara. She personally doubted that any of these were really necessary, but her opinion on the subject didn't seem to matter. She was still locked up or beaten when she did something 'demonic,' usually along with a complicated lecture about why sleeping past dawn or getting ash on her stepmother's favorite dress had been an intentional evil act. In her near-constant daydreams, she often imagined running away, but in reality, she didn't have anywhere else to go. Family was family. Home was home. So she stayed.
"Yes, ma'am." Tara went back to her scrubbing, longing to put down the brush and go back outside. The interior of the home was a cold, bitter place, but she still enjoyed the outdoors. She tended the garden and looked after the animals, and they gave her the hope and comfort she couldn't get from her family. The horses and rabbits and chickens were her friends when she could no longer stand to be around her 'blood kin'. The horses in particular were kind to her, and she went to them whenever her heart hurt too much for her to bear alone.
"When is this thing?" Her father asked, taking the letter himself.
"Next week." Her stepmom sounded excited now, and jumped to her feet. "We'll have to start preparing immediately. My little girl might get to marry a prince!"
Tara, head safely bowed over her work, rolled her eyes behind a curtain of messy, soot-streaked blonde hair. If there were a dumber, more vapid, or more two-faced girl in the kingdom than Tara's cousin-turned-stepsister Beth, Tara hoped to never meet her. Imagining the girl as a queen was equal parts amusing and depressing. The only upside of Beth going to the ball was that Tara might get to hear about it when upon her return. Beth loved to talk, and she especially loved to brag, and she really especially loved to lord things over her former cousin, so there was a pretty good chance Tara would be regaled with every detail of the ball as soon as she returned. The castle was allegedly a beautiful place. Getting to hear about it might even be worth the work in getting her there.
Over the course of the next week, Tara decided that, in fact, it would definitely not be worth the work. As the best seamstress in the house, she had been summoned to Beth's room at least once an hour, day and night alike, to add some detail or fix some imaginary flaw in her gown. She was exhausted, and her fingers were raw and sore from the work. She tried to hide outside as much as possible, as Beth was universally terrified of all plants and animals, but her stepmother always seemed to find her and drag her back in for another round of mindless stitching.
The day of the ball was the worst. After a long morning of Beth's near-constant screaming and wailing, Tara had snuck away to the stables, climbing up to the hayloft to secret herself away from her stepsister's demands. She actually managed ten minutes of sleep, dozing off her cozy hideaway, before she was jolted to attention by a nearby shout.
"Tara!" It was her stepmother's harsh voice, coming from just outside the stables. "I know you're out here, you vile little demon! Do you think you can hide your evil from someone with The Sight?" As usual, the spoke the last two words with all the theatrics of a charlatan fortune-teller in a crowded marketplace. Tara indulged herself in another eye roll and settled deeper into her straw mattress. Unfortunately, seconds later, she heard her stepmother bypass the main part of the stable and begin to climb the ladder to the hayloft. For a wild second, Tara wondered if there was some truth to her 'Sight,' and imagined jumping out the front of the loft. That was immediately followed by another image: one of her trying to complete all of her usual chores with the addition of a broken leg.
It didn't take her stepmother long to find her. She hadn't had time to properly bury herself in the prickly straw, and the ladder was the only safe way down. With a victorious gleam in her eye, her stepmother seized her arm roughly, hard enough to leave a bruise, and began half-dragging her away.
"I don't know why I should expect any better from someone like you. Demons are naturally sinful creatures, prone to sloth, which is why you are too lazy to do even the simplest of tasks. And envy, which makes you heartlessly try to sabotage your own sister's chances at winning over the prince."
They reached the ladder, and Tara realized what had given her hiding spot away. It wasn't her evil blood calling out to those with The Sight; it was the two horses clustered around the base of the ladder, looking up curiously into the hayloft, waiting for their friend and caretaker to toss them some extra food.
"You weren't supposed to say anything," she chastised them as she was pulled past. One of them nipped at her shoulder playfully, hoping for some attention.
She sighed as her stepmother continued listing all of her faults and shortcomings and how they related to mortal sins and how she would eventually be struck down for them, just like her mother (the alleged source of the tainted blood) had been. Tara wished she could feel angry about the accusation, but the wound caused by her mother's death had never closed, and all she could feel was soul-crushing grief. As her stepmother continued rubbing salt in the emotional wound, Tara hung her head and tried to draw into herself. When she was led back to Beth's room and placed in front of the flawless (if ridiculously gaudy) dress, she did what they told her without complaint.
Hours later, the sound of the door closing behind her family echoed through the house, leaving her in solitude, and for several minutes all she could feel was relief. The relief didn't last long, however, before it faded into bottomless despair.
Tara went to the sitting room and curled up in the comfortable chair in front of the nearly spotless fireplace, an act she would never have dared do in front of her aunt. She and her real mother, before her death, had frequently sat in front of the hearth, drinking tea made from the herbs in their garden, making up stories to tell each other. Now, she sat here alone, rubbing at the fresh bruise on her arm and trying to tuck herself completely into the protective curl of the armchair, wishing it were someone's arm around her instead of just padded cloth.
She was tired of being in this house, tired of catering to her family's demands, tired of being called a demon, tired of missing her mother, tired of having no friends, tired of doing all the work. She was just tired. And tonight, all the girls in the kingdom would be at a huge party, with all their friends, with their families standing by to hear about the prince's actions. And Tara would still be in the empty house, with too few friends and too much family and too little love to get by. She was trapped, and even her refuge of being alone had become just as intolerable as being around people.
She curled up in the empty warmth from the fire and began to cry for everything she had lost and everything she had never had. She just wished...
Tara jumped, her sobs breaking off as a sudden voice startled her. When she raised her head, she saw that she wasn't alone in the room. There was a girl who appeared to be around her age, but smaller, with short brown hair and a bright green amulet around her neck. She was smirking down at Tara's desolate form.
"I'm Anyanka. You look like you could use a wish."