Emma was the first to wake up the next morning as the sun poked through the dark curtains in the guest chambers provided by the king of the realm they were currently in. She gently slipped out from behind Regina so as to not wake the sleeping Queen. She walked over the vanity in all her naked glory not even bothering to get changed into some form of clothing. Emma took her seat in front of the vanity mirror and waved her hand in front of it to spy on the others in the castle. She made it so that she could see everyone else but they couldn't see her.
She saw Henry was already awake, busily writing in the book once more. Emma wasn't sure she wanted her actions on the dance floor the previous evening to be mentioned in the book as it didn't paint her in a positive light. 'I don't regret killing that pathetic excuse for a knight, he deserved every last agonising bit of pain he received for daring to harm Regina. hmm, okay I will leave the kid be. Let's see what my parents are up to. Hopefully not doing the nasty together because yuck I am not up to being scared more than once in my life. Oh thank god they are just sleeping, fully clothed this time. Well that's boring, I was hoping they were awake and trying to figure out how to find Merlin.
Fine then next, ah Belle she is bound to have figured something out with all those books she reads. Still don't know what she sees in gold but it isn't my place to judge the woman's poor taste. She is reading something, I might get changed and go see what she has found out.' Thought Emma as she stared at the mirror. She waved her hand over her body, dressing herself in an outfit she believed to be appropriate for the place they were in. She then conjured a piece of paper and a pen so she could leave a note for Regina when she woke up.
Emma left a quick note letting Regina know what she was going to do, she then left it on the bedside table near the bed. Then she cloaked herself in her signature magic and teleported herself into Belle's room. Startling the librarian in the process as she stepped out of the cloud of smoke. "Emma? What are you doing here?" asked the confused brunette.
"I came to see how you were doing with finding Merlin. I figured you would be awake with you being a big book reader and all." Replied Emma as she strode over to where Belle was sitting on her bed. Emma sat down on the bed leaving a good amount of space between them so as to not breach any personal space boundaries.
"Yes, I haven't found anything so far that could help us within the books Arthur gave me access to last night during the ball he threw. He was a bit miffed about you killing one of his knights but we managed to convince him that you were only doing it to protect Regina. He has accepted it for now, but I don't think he is going to buy you using dark magic for any reason in his kingdom, so I think for now you try and refrain from using your magic in his presence. Don't worry Emma we will find a way to get the darkness out of you." Explained Belle, as she looked up from her books.
"It is alright Belle, I know you are doing your best. People don't always appreciate you the way they should. I am glad you decided to come along. I will help you with finding a way to cure Rumple if you wish. No strings attached." Replied Emma, doing her best to ignore every dark instinct that the powers of the dark one have been trying to force upon her. Emma then picked up one of the books herself, not too sure she would be able to understand the old language within. Having not grown up within the Enchanted Forest or any other magical realm.
But she was surprised to see that she could understand it, though she figured it must be a result of becoming the dark one. Emma only hoped that when they were able to take the dark one's magic out of her, that the knowledge that came with it lingered behind. Especially the new found control over her magic. So Emma and Belle sat quietly on Belle's bed fine combing through every book they had in front of them. When Emma was halfway through her stack she had a thought to summon a book from a large stack of them that apparently Arthur had kept from them.
It seemed to Emma that he was deliberately stalling them from finding Merlin. Even so the book she summoned proved to be the one they needed. "Uh Belle I think this is the book you will need to help with Rumple." Said Emma sheepishly, holding the book out to the librarian.
"Thankyou Emma, I truly appreciate you helping me with this. I also think this book I have here in front of me might be what we need. As this one says that Merlin was transformed into a tree in this castle's courtyard. I think I stumbled across Arthur's journal. Turns out Arthur can do magic and it was he that turned Merlin into a tree because Merlin had refused to help him repair his broken sword and restore Camelot to its former glory. He has been looking for the dark one's dagger as it is the missing piece to his sword Excalibur." Replied Belle excitedly.
"Seriously?! He can do magic himself and he has the gall to get angry over my use of magic? For someone who claims to be a good person he certainly has an odd way of proving it. I mean what good would turning Merlin into a tree do?" exclaimed a frustrated Emma.
"I get what you mean, him being a tree isn't helpful to anyone. But there has to be a way to change him back. The answer has to be in one of these books somewhere. How is Regina holding up after the ordeal?" asked Belle, who looked genuinely concerned about the former evil queen.
"She will be alright. Once the shock of it all has worn off. Once we find Merlin and figure out how to fix Rumple's white heart situation, what do you plan on doing? Are you going to get back together with him or go back to Will Scarlet?" answered Emma who had been wondering what Belle's future plans maybe. A part of her was worried about what Rumple will do if Belle decided she didn't want to be with him anymore. As he will no doubt want his powers as the dark one back.
"I like Will, but I am not sure he is the one you know?" replied a contemplative Belle.
"Yeah, I get what you mean. I wanted to like Hook for my parents' sake, but he was just so pushy about me being his 'woman.' It's like he clung so desperately to the Enchanted Forest ideals about relationships and his insistence that I was his true love. I honesty don't know where he got that idea from. It isn't like we ever shared true love's kiss. That time when I kissed him to save him from Zelena doesn't count as it took my powers away. It didn't break a curse or anything." Said Emma as she got comfortable in one of the lounge chairs in Belle's bedroom.
Emma was beginning to like this time spent with Belle. So much so Emma began to wonder if her and Belle could become good friends. 'Belle is such a nice person. She deserves better than Rumplestiltskin. That imp is far too cowardly and selfish for this brave and intelligent woman. Ruby might have been a good match if she was still around in Storybrooke. I wonder if she would be interested in Zelena? Hmm, I don't think Belle is ready to be an instant step-mother. Even if we get rid of the pine cone.
Guess we will have to wait and see what happens once we get back to Storybrooke. I have a feeling Arthur is going to try and steel my dagger. "Well dearie you know what you have to do in order to prevent him from taking it." chimed in the darkness.
"No, I trust Regina to keep it safe she won't let it out of her sight." Argued Emma to the current representation of the dark one in her mind' Emma shook her head in frustration. Ever since she used the dark magic the dark ones have gotten stronger. Their voices louder than before. At the mention of Arthur a new face made itself known. A female who resembled the king of Camelot took her place at the forefront of her mind.
"Emma are you okay?" asked Belle as she noticed Emma's mumbling and shaking head. She wondered if it was the same for Rumple when he first became the dark one. If the darkness that comes with it manifested itself the same way if you had taken the powers through killing the previous host. Compared to willingly taking on the darkness in order to save another from having the darkness of the dark one consume them. Belle wished she could do some research into the origins of the dark one but she doubted that there would be any books written about them.
As most people avoided the topic like the plague. As they often saw any forms of dark magic to be evil. The citizens of the Enchanted Forest despised all things considered evil, with an exception if the one wielding dark magic could benefit them. then once they had gotten what they want from them, they shunned the dark magic user like they never existed.
"I am not sure Belle, the voices are getting louder. There is this woman who is trying very hard to push her way to the forefront every time someone mentions either King Arthur or Merlin. I don't know what she wants it is very hard to discern her intentions with all these other previous darks clamouring inside my head. It feels like my mind might just explode." Gasped out Emma as she clasped her hands on both sides of her head. Trying in a futile attempt to shut the voices and images out of her mind.
Belle moved herself over to where Emma was sitting in order to try and comfort the new dark one. If one thing she did know, was how to deal with the turbulent emotions and moods of a dark one. Having had to learn the hard way with Rumple. It was something she felt that she would need to share with Regina if they failed at removing the dark one's powers from inside Emma.
Belle honestly didn't think that this elusive Merlin was going to be able to help them. Since the only way is if someone took Emma's dagger and stabbed her with it. Killing Emma with the dagger is the only tried and tested way to remove the dark magic. Unless maybe he can somehow focus solely on the dark magic within Emma and pull it out of her, but he would need someone else to transfer it into.
Belle couldn't see anyone willingly volunteering to become the dark one ever again. At least not here in Camelot. She supposed that there might be a few volunteers back home in Storybrooke, Rumple included. Not that she wanted him to become the dark one ever again. But he might just be the suitable host for the darkness. Although she hoped that one of the other ex-villains might also be a good choice.
Meanwhile back in Regina and Emma's shared room Regina had begun to slowly wake up. She reached over to the side of the bed where Emma was sleeping in, hoping to find the blonde still beside her. Though she found herself disappointed to find cold sheets. She was hoping that she could wake up with the blonde still holding her close in her strong arms. But it seemed that being in a realm where magic was all around them was undoubtedly weighing a heavy toll on the former saviour.
Regina wished she could ease Emma's pain and struggle. To quieten the voices within her mind threatening to overwhelm her. She feared that she won't be enough to save Emma from the darkness. That she wasn't good or worthy enough to help Emma when she really needs it. Regina honestly didn't know where even to begin. Would love be enough? It wasn't enough when it came to her past. It wasn't enough to save Daniel.
But then again, things with Emma have always been different. Even in their earlier days when they were at each other's throats, fighting over Henry. Always tilting on the edge of either wanting to hurt the other or fuck each other. It didn't matter, it was all the same to them. Regina was starting to realise that she has loved Emma since that very first 'hi.' The intense pull towards the idiotic saviour has more often than not gotten her to do the unthinkable. To want to change, to be a better person.
To be worthy of the love she has seen staring at her whenever Emma had looked into her eyes. Or in the little things Emma had done for her, like making sure she actually got to eat lunch when she was hard at work in the mayor's office. The way she never backed down from a challenge. Was her light in the darkness. Regina was now feeling more than determined to be all those things and more for Emma now that she was the dark one. If they couldn't somehow pull the dark one's magic out of Emma. Then Regina knew she would just have to help Emma know the difference between what is her light magic doing the talking or the dark one's wishes.
For Emma, Regina would risk further darkening her own heart if it meant that she could make Emma's life easier. Though as much as she would love to just laze around in bed all day. Regina knew she had to get up and go look around the castle, see if she couldn't find some clues about how to change Merlin back from being a tree.
Snow and David got up slowly out of bed and put on their clothes. They then went into the room that had the famous round table. Where King Arthur's knights joined him for council. Their plan was eavesdrop on Arthur and his knights, as Snow suspected that something was off about the King. Especially his reaction to the use of dark magic. He seemed way too familiar with it. David was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt but he did trust his wife. With whom he shared half a heart.
When they get there, they quickly duck behind a wall when the sounds of Arthur and Guinevere arguing could be heard throughout the entire chamber. "I AM SO DAMN SICK OFF YOUR OBSESSION WITH THAT DAMN SWORD AND THE DARK ONE'S DAGGER! SO WHAT IF THE SWORD IS BROKEN IT WON'T MEAN A THING WHEN YOU ARE DEAD BECAUSE YOU PISSED OFF THE WRONG WITCH OR FELL AT THE HANDS OF THE DARK ONE FOR DARING TO TRY AND STEAL THE DAGGER!" shouted a furious Guinevere, not caring in the slightest if she is overheard.
She stood there clutching her stomach as if she was in pain, then she bent over in a coughing fit as pink dust filled the air all around the chamber. Arthur walked over to the now collapsed Guinevere, he lifted her into his arms and took her through a concealed door at the end of the room. Once out of sight Snow and David looked at each other in bewilderment. Snow recovered quicker than her husband and was just about to take a look at just what all that pink dust was when Regina, who seemed to appear out of thin air. Quickly placed a magical barrier preventing Snow from walking into the room completely.
"Why did you stop me?" asked a confused Snow, as she turned to see who had cast the spell.
"To prevent you from walking into that pink poppy disaster. You get any of that substance on you or inhale it, you fall under the will of the person who threw it." explained Regina in a bored tone of voice. She was not in the mood to deal with their stupidity. It had seemed that her patience was on a fine edge ever since they arrived in this realm. She could feel the overwhelming dark magic all around and throughout the castle and kingdom grounds all around it.
It was a cloying type of magic that wanted to infiltrate your entire being, to bend you to its master's will. It gave the illusion that everything was perfect and that everyone was all happy and well. Regina's own magic was on overload working to push the outside magic away from herself. It didn't help that she had to then use her magic to create that barrier spell. It was exhausting beyond anything she had dealt with before.
"What do you mean?" asked David, who was trying his best to figure out what Regina was referring to.
"That pink poppy is a dangerous earth magic, used by the worst type of dark magic users. As it has the ability to not only force those who it is directed at to do whatever you want them to do, it also wipes away any memories of the person who threw the poppy dust into the air. You no longer have a mind of your own, the only thing you have in your mind is whatever the caster has told you." Replied Regina, as she leant against the pillar in front of them.
"So it is like mind control dust? How do you know so much about it?" concluded Snow, finally getting her head around what they were talking about. She was a little worried about how Regina knew about it, if she had ever used it on her in the past.
"Yes it is essentially mind control dust. I read about it in my mother's grimoire, she had a collection of nasty spells, potions and curses that honestly even I found to be utterly evil. And before you ask, no I never used pink poppy. I never had the need to use such force on my subjects or the people of the Enchanted Forest. My own magic was more than enough of a motivator." Returned Regina, mildly impressed with Snow's ability to comprehend just how bad the situation was.
"Okay so how do we defend ourselves against the pink poppy?" asked David, who had caught up with what was going on and now was in protector mode. Before Regina was about to try and answer him, Belle, Emma and Henry appeared before them in Emma's new signature magical smoke. Henry who had still not yet gotten used to magical teleportation leaned against one of the pillars bent over slightly, as he dry heaved.
Belle was far more composed having been used to being teleported via magic on numerous occasions by Rumple. Emma walked over to Regina and placed a light peck on her cheek in greeting. "You were just talking about pink poppy weren't you?" questioned Henry once he had recovered.
"Yes Henry we were, your grandpa just asked how do we defend against it." replied Snow who had moved to help soothe Henry in is recovery from teleportation.
"Right well we just might have the answer for that, Belle found something in her books that could help us with getting Merlin back into his human form." Replied Henry, as he gestured towards the librarian.
"It requires a magical user who has the ability to use both light and dark magic to use their combined magics in concurrence with a potion that consists of the tears from the loss of a first love, water from the spring of honour, crushed dandelion root, amethyst dust and honey to bind it. So Regina I suggest you be the one to make the potion as I know you are highly proficient in potion making. Then while Emma channels her light and dark magic into the centre of the tree trunk, pour the mixed potion onto the tree's roots to get the full effect." Explained an excited Belle.
"Sounds like a plan let's get to it!" said Snow in her most commanding voice. The group nods their heads in agreement and begin to follow David out into the courtyard where the Merlin tree was located.
Once there Regina seems sceptical of the plan working, as they hadn't gotten the required potion ingredients and had no idea where they could get them all in Camelot, if they were in her kingdom in the Enchanted Forest she would be able to summon them with a simple thought. Here though? Not a single clue. Emma however was inspecting the tree like she could hear its thoughts in a similar fashion to how she could see Rumple in his former dark one glory in her mind.
"Mum are you alright?" asked Henry as he noticed Regina's growing concern for Emma flit across her face.
"Yes Henry, I am just worried about finding the ingredients and I am not sure if either mine or Emma's tears of lost first love will be useable as I have healed from the loss of Daniel over the years of raising you and getting to know and falling in love with Emma. Your grandparents are each other's first love so their tears won't help. I don't know Belle's love life enough to be certain if her tears will be of use…it just seems hopeless…"sighed Regina in response to Henry's question.
"Hmm, well what if you combined all of our tears maybe that might be potent enough for it to work? As for the other ingredients, Belle, Grandma and Grandpa and I can go look for them while you and ma work on setting up for the creation of the potion and I don't know maybe work on your magic? Or you know make out like crazy teenagers for a bit?" replied Henry, as he gave his mother his trademark cheeky grin he inherited from Emma at his last suggestion.
Once the rest of the group had left, Emma conjured two medium sized dreamcatchers. She held one out for Regina, while keeping the other for herself. "Right, now with these dreamcatchers we can help each other relive our moments of loss of first love. Then we can capture our tears and add it to the small cauldron over the mini fire." Explained Emma, doing her best to reign in the darkness that threatened to overwhelm her with the desire to revel in the impending emotional hurt that Regina was going to no doubt experience as she recalled her memory of the day that Cora ripped out and crushed the heart of Daniel the stable boy.
All the while, that same darkness wanted to squash any chance her light magic could use with her own recounting of her first love loss. Though she was surprised to see the shock on Regina's face when she saw in the dreamcatcher that was to hold Emma's memories entailed. As Regina from what Emma could both sense and read from her was that she expected it to be Neal, but instead it was a teenage girl named Lily that broke Emma's heart. What intrigued Regina the most however was that the young teen looked a lot like Maleficent.
After they collected each other's tears, they held each other close. Each finding a sense of comfort from the warmth of the embrace. Meanwhile, Snow, Henry and Belle were slowly trudging through a really boggy swamp, that oozed a vomit inducing smell. That neither of them could identify. "Urgh, this place reeks…" complained Snow, who was getting fed up with the mud and bugs and everything else crawling all over her as her boots squelched in the muddy puddles that she somehow managed to step into every single one they came across.
Belle wasn't fairing all that well either, the swamp gave her the feeling that she often felt with Rumple whenever he was in full dark one mode. Especially when he would throw her in one of his dungeon cells when she did or said something that his dark one persona disliked. Which she was beginning to remember was quite often. The memories began to flood her mind, the moment she heard about the pink poppy dust.
In between the flashes of the times spent lying in not only her own filth but the leftover bodily fluids of the dungeons previous occupants. She saw glimpses of happy times she had during her time spent away from his castle. In one of those flashes she saw the werewolf Ruby, or as she was known then Red. Belle couldn't concentrate on those memories though, the onslaught of negative ones featuring Rumple would take them over before she could see or hear too much of what was going on in them. It was like the more time she spent away from him, the more her true memories returned to her.
"Come on Gran, we just need to go a bit further!" encouraged Henry, masking his own discomfort he felt about being in the swamp. David, masked his own by whispering a mumbled mantra to himself, that was accompanied by grunts and groans whenever he stepped into one of the deeper bog holes.
"I know Henry, I just wish finding potion ingredients weren't this hard to find. I mean you would think a spring of honour would be easier to locate?" replied a clearly fed up Snow.
"Well according to the legends of Camelot, every noble quest is always one that has many challenges the heroes have to endure in order for it all to be worthwhile. If it was easy, don't you think that someone would have gotten Merlin from out of that tree by now?" said Henry excitedly, as he was truly enjoying his chance at being a real hero for once in his young life.
"He does have a point." Uttered David who had stopped his muttering long enough to listen to his wife and grandson's conversation as a distraction from being able to feel the dark magic in the air all around them.
While they were trudging through the swamp, in a small cottage at the northern edge an old crone of a woman was cackling to herself. Her plan to lure in innocent victims was working. 'Now to weave my magic some more. I need their essence of purity, their sense of honour and nobility if my creation of more pink poppies is going to work.' Thought the Hag, she was once a lively wood sprite but years of exile and neglect slowly turned her into the creature she was today. Unfortunately for the Hag there was no known cure for her transformation. So, the only thing she had left was revenge. Especially since one of her latest victims just so happened to be the known lover of the one and only Rumplestilskin.
Her smile grew wider with the thought of the many ways she could get her revenge on the dark one. It was him who cursed her to be a hag and exiled to her here all because she dared to find a loophole in his contract he made with her late lover. She smiled even wider when she noticed the adults begin to bicker about how they were going to get out of the swamp to find the spring. Little did they know that they had already found it. they were walking through it right now.
Belle wanted to use her knowledge about various magical creatures but Snow and David were adamant that they can defeat the hag with a few shots of the bow and a few swings of the sword. Henry, felt that there was a better way but neither of the adults believed he knew what he was talking about. So instead of trying to argue with them some more he decided to walk over to the small cottage. He was certain in his bones that if he tried to communicate with the hag, they would find the spring of honour.
'Well here goes nothing.' Thought Henry as he lifted his fist to nock on the cottage door.