DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction produced for entertainment purposes only. Yu-Gi-Oh! and all related characters are the creations of Kazuki Takahashi.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a one-off companion story to my "Another Source of Magic" series. It provides a bit of background on something that happens in chapter 8. You don't need to read the series in order to follow this story though.
Once upon a time…
In a kingdom far away, there lived a powerful enchanter. He had a massive stone castle, rooms filled with all manner of enchanted objects and servants who scurried around like spiders to do his bidding. His dark magic was feared throughout the land and his name invoked terror in the hearts of all who heard it. Yet, he was not content.
He found himself wishing for someone who did not cower at the sight of him. Longing for someone who would speak to him in a voice other than a squeak or a stutter or a whimper. Yearning for someone who could aid him in his work, for as much as he could do alone, there were some spells that required the aid of another.
He needed an apprentice. No… an apprentice would expect to learn magic and he was unwilling to share his secrets. What he needed was an assistant. Someone who would obey him without question but would require no teaching. The enchanter knew he would need to find just the right person. He could not afford to make a mistake. So, instead of finding an assistant, he decided to create one.
Calling on his magic, the enchanter commanded the forces of darkness to do his bidding and provide him with what he needed. The room grew dark and cold and a column of writhing black fog began to rise out of the floor in front of him. It continued to rise until it reached the ceiling, then it began to pulse with an eerie dark purple light.
Confident that his spell was working, the enchanter stood before the column and intoned the final words of the spell. For a moment, the only sound in the tower room was the enchanter's breathing, then a low whooshing noise echoed through the room. The column of fog pulsed one last time and began to dissolve, leaving behind the one the enchanter had summoned into being.
The enchanter smiled a cold, cruel smile as he looked upon his new assistant for the first time. He was pleased. He had not known what to expect, so the beautiful young girl who knelt on the floor in front of him was a very pleasant surprise.
Her hands were clasped together in front of her and her head was lowered with her eyes closed, as though she was asleep. Her demure posture pleased him even more than her beautiful face, which was perfectly framed by a shimmering curtain of blue-black hair that fell to just past her shoulders. It was held in place by a greeny-blue circlet with a green gemstone set into it. Some of her hair fell over the top of the circlet in bangs on either side of her face.
She was wearing… well he didn't consider it to be a dress really. It was more like a piece of gold cloth that had been wrapped around her body and then sewn onto her so it left her shoulders and long legs completely bare. A blue sash wound around her tiny waist, the same colour as the wide band she wore around her neck like a collar. Her elbow-length gloves and ankle boots were so dark blue they were almost black. She also wore a long feathered cloak that went from light grey at the top to black at the bottom.
As the enchanter looked at her, the girl opened her eyes. She raised her head and blinked in confusion, her unusual purple-blue eyes wide in her pale face. "Where am I? Did you summon me? Who are you?" Her voice was soft and low with a slightly husky tone that the enchanter found very pleasing to hear. He smiled slightly as he looked down at her and decided to be merciful and answer her questions.
"You are in your new home. I have summoned you here to be my assistant. From now on, girl, you will call me 'Master'. That is all you need to know. I will tolerate no questions and I expect perfect obedience from you. Is that understood?" His smile was cold as he waited for her reply.
The girl blinked and then a frown darkened her eyes. She stood in a sudden smooth motion that surprised the enchanter into taking a step back. He was a tall man and she barely came up to his shoulder, but as she frowned at him a shiver of uneasiness ran up his back. There was something wrong here… Could he have made a mistake in the spell?
"You may have summoned me, but you did so using borrowed magic. I obey only those with the Shadow Magic, and you are not such a one. You have no power over me." Her eyes flashed with the same anger and scorn that filled her voice. "I am the Dark Witch. I call no one 'Master', save for those who call me into battle in the Shadow Games."
"Why you impudent girl! I see I will need to teach you some respect!" The enchanter snarled as he raised one hand. He made a throwing motion and a small fireball suddenly hurtled through the air towards the girl.
She sighed and raised her hand as well. Her eyes flashed and turned dark as a long red spear suddenly appeared in her hand. She twirled it expertly and pointed the tip at the approaching fireball. Her move had taken but a heartbeat, leaving her with plenty of time to send a blast of dark energy to meet the enchanter's attack. The fireball fizzled out as soon as it touched her magic.
As the enchanter watched in shock, the girl turned and raised her other hand. A dark portal appeared a few feet in front of her. She started to move towards it. "I warn you, do not try to summon me again. You have been fortunate this time. I have not been summoned for many centuries and the experience has made me merciful. Next time you may not be so lucky."
The enchanter snarled. He had been startled by her magic but there was no way he was going to let her escape! She might not make a good assistant, but she would at least make a good addition to his sources of power! He sent another fireball at her, hoping to catch her off-guard since her back was turned. She whirled around faster than he had thought possible and easily dissolved his attack.
Her eyes blazed with dark fire as she glared at him. "Are you a fool? You still try to harm me with your pathetic attacks? What do you think I am? A human? You have no idea what you are dealing with." As she spoke, her 'cloak' opened out into a pair of powerful wings and two long pointed ears rose up out of her hair where they had been concealed up until then.
"Fine. If you are that eager to die, allow me to assist you!" She raised her spear in both hands and sent a blast of dark energy towards the enchanter. Instinctively, he threw himself to one side to avoid the attack. The blast struck the mirror he had been standing in front of.
The girl's eyes widened as her own blast was reflected back at her, its power strengthened by the mirror. She cried out as it struck. For a moment, she remained standing, but then she crumpled silently to the floor. A faint shadowy aura surrounded her unconscious form.
The enchanter breathed a sigh of relief as he scrambled to his feet. It hadn't gone exactly as he'd planned, but he'd been lucky and he wouldn't have any trouble dealing with her now.
Raising his hand, he recited one of his favourite spells. For a moment, the girl's body glowed and then a mist surrounded it. When the mist faded, the girl was gone and in her place lay a small green jewel. It was the same gemstone that had been on her headband.
The enchanter smiled. "Now your power is mine, to use as I wish!" Striding forward, he bent to pick up the stone, then gasped in pain as it burned at his touch!
"What? Even now, she resists me?" Furious, he made a sharp gesture with his hand. A strong gust of wind picked up the jewel and started to hurl it against the wall. In mid-flight though, something happened that made the enchanter gape in stunned disbelief. The stone suddenly twisted, changing its path. Instead of crashing into the wall, it crashed through one of the tower room's windows and fell out of sight!
Although the enchanter looked, he never found it.
1 month later
"And for my beautiful Ella, a special gift. During my travels, I found it in a little village and it reminded me of you. I love you, my daughter." The Baron smiled lovingly at his young daughter as he placed the pendant around her neck. On the outside, it looked like a simple golden heart, but there was a secret catch that enabled it to be opened to reveal the emerald hidden inside it. He smiled at her and was about to reveal the secret when a disapproving sniff came from behind him.
"You don't think it's too… ostentatious for a child of her… tender years?" The Baron turned and looked at his wife in surprise.
"Ostentatious? But my dear, it is but a simple heart on a chain." He smiled at her, although the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Still, if you think it is too much… perhaps I should hold on to all of the girl's gifts until they are older…"
"Oh no! Mama!" Ella's oldest stepsister grasped her beautiful strand of pearls tightly, fearing that it would be taken from her. Her younger sister clutched her jeweled comb just as tightly, but merely glared at Ella as though blaming her for the trouble.
"Oh! No, I didn't mean… You are right, of course. I don't know what I was thinking. It… suits her." Ella's stepmother gave her a smile, but Ella knew she didn't really mean it. She just didn't want Papa to take away her daughter's presents as well. Still, Ella was determined not to let her stepmother's meanness interfere with her joy over her papa's lovely present.
"Thank you Papa! It's so pretty!" She smiled up at him happily.
The Baron tucked his beloved daughter into bed and smiled at her, although his eyes were sad. "Are you happy, Ella?"
"Oh yes, Papa! I'm very happy!" She smiled sweetly up at him.
"What if I were to tell you that I have to go away again?" He sighed softly as her smile faded. "You… don't like your stepmother and stepsisters, do you?"
Ella frowned slightly and slowly shook her head, unsure how to explain what she herself barely understood. "They don't like me…"
The Baron started to correct her, but reconsidered. He couldn't help but wonder if she was right about that. When he was home, which wasn't very often, they were polite to Ella but they never showed her any real affection. After his first wife's death, he had known that he would never love another as he had loved her. He had married again only because he believed his young daughter needed a mother. Had he done the wrong thing? "Are they… cruel to you?"
"Sometimes." It was the honest answer that only a child could have given and it almost broke his heart to hear it.
"Oh, my darling daughter! Forgive me!" He held her close and felt her small arms return the hug. "I have to go away again, but I promise that as soon as I return, there will be some changes around here." He kept his voice light, but his eyes held grim determination. Then he thought of something.
"Ella, I want you to do something for me."
"Of course, Papa!"
"I want you to hide your locket. Hide it somewhere safe that only you know about. Will you do that for me?" He pulled away slightly so he could see his daughter's face.
Ella was confused, but eager to please her beloved Papa. She nodded. "Yes Papa, I'll hide it tomorrow."
The Baron smiled and hugged her again. "That's my good girl."
A few days later, the Baron rode out in his carriage again. He looked back and smiled at the sight of his young daughter waving goodbye. He was worried about her, but he knew she would be safe. Her stepmother and stepsisters could do nothing to her as long as he was around.
Her locket would be safe as well, for he knew that she had done as he had asked and hidden it. He was not the fool his wife took him for. He had seen the look of greed in her eyes as she looked at the locket and knew that she wanted it for her own. It was a good thing that she didn't know of the jewel hidden inside it or she would want it all the more!
Smiling at the thought, the Baron waved goodbye to his daughter, not knowing that it would be the last time he ever saw her.
10 years later
"Ella! Where is that dratted girl? Ella! Come here at once!" The piercing shriek of her stepmother's voice rattled the windows as Ella hurried up the stairs from the kitchen.
She pushed open the door as best she could with her hands carrying the tray holding her stepmother's breakfast. "Here is your breakfast, Stepmother."
"Well it's about time girl! Hurry up now! There is much to do today." She peered at the toast, bacon and eggs critically but, for once, found no fault with them.
"Is there something special about today?" Ella asked softly, timidly. Her stepmother seemed to be in a good mood, so perhaps she wouldn't mind the question.
The woman blinked and stared at Ella as though she'd forgotten she was in the room. "Oh, that's right, you wouldn't know… I suppose there's no help for it. Yes. My daughters and I have been invited to attend the Royal Ball tonight. The invitation arrived earlier this morning. Dreadfully short notice." She screwed up her nose as though offended that the Palace hadn't given them more time to prepare.
"As well as your regular chores, I will expect you to help us with our gowns and hair. We will begin this morning at eleven, so you had better hurry and do your morning chores!" She glared at Ella as she spoke and sniffed as though offended by the mere sight of her. "And wash your face and hands before you come up! I don't want a single speck of soot on any of our dresses!"
"Yes, Stepmother." Ella nodded and quickly left the room.
As she hurried down the stairs, Ella had to force herself not to cry. She had been the one to answer the door to the Palace messenger that morning and he had told her that all three of the Baroness's daughters had been invited. Three. She had been invited as well! But even as her heart had soared with hope, she had known that her stepmother would never allow it. Still, it hurt to know that she had been right.
Throughout the day, Ella struggled to keep her tears from falling. She did not want to cry in front of her stepmother or stepsisters. She had done so once before. Never again. Their taunts had been too cruel for her to bear. She was actually relieved when they finally clambered into their coach and drove off to the ball.
Exhausted from the long day, Ella returned to her favourite place in the house. The kitchen was warm from the fire and as cheery as she could make it. The girl sighed heavily as she looked around the room. Although she could normally pretend that it had always been this way, that she had never known any other life and so could not possibly miss anything, on nights like this when she was especially tired, it was impossible. She could remember everything about the life she had once had, and how it had changed when her papa had died.
It had happened very suddenly. One day she'd been waving goodbye to him as he left on a journey, the next her stepmother had informed her that her papa was dead. Nothing more than that had been said, no matter how much Ella had pleaded to know what had happened. It had been four years before she had learned that her father's carriage had overturned on a dangerous stretch of road.
Since that night, Ella had been forced to serve her stepmother and stepsisters, or be turned out of the house to make her own way in the world. Unable to bear leaving the home she knew and loved, the place that held all her memories of her dear Papa, she had chosen servitude. She always worked diligently and silently, never complaining about the cruel jeers and taunts of her stepsisters or the cold criticism and disapproving glares of her stepmother. Nothing they could say or do could hurt her more than her papa's death had.
It was a hard life, but she did have a few small pleasures.
Looking around purely out of habit, Ella crossed the room to the fireplace and carefully pulled out the loose brick that only she knew about. The space behind the brick wasn't very large, but she didn't have much to keep there. In fact, there was only one item in her hidey-hole. The pendant her papa had given her ten long years earlier.
Sitting down on the warm stone in front of the fireplace, Ella held the golden heart in her hands and smiled down at it. Slipping one finger through the delicate gold chain it was suspended on, she held it up and watched it swing slightly. She leaned back on her other hand, entranced by the way in which the heart glinted in the firelight. It was as pretty now as it had been the day her papa had given it to her.
Her stepmother and stepsisters had tried to take it from her. They had been furious when they had realised it was missing. The house had been turned upside-down in their search for it, but they had never thought to look in the kitchen. To them, it wasn't part of the house; it was just a place that had to be tolerated since it was where their meals were prepared. Eventually, they had become convinced that one of the servants had stolen it. By then though, all of the servants had left so there was nothing they could do except forget about it. Since then, Ella had only looked at it in secret, when she knew that she was the only one home.
As she looked at her pendant, Ella sighed softly. "I know it's a silly, frivolous thing to wish for, but I wish I had been able to go to the ball. It would have been nice to be able to wear a pretty dress again, and maybe I could even have worn… you…" She lightly touched the heart and smiled sadly before gently placing the pendant and chain into the palm of her hand. "It's a nice dream, but that's all it could ever be. A dream. Things like that only ever happen in fairytales." A single tear fell down her cheek and onto the locket.
Yawning, Ella curled up in front of the fire. She knew she should put the locket back, in case her stepmother arrived home and found her with it, but she was so tired and the locket felt so warm in her hand. She'd hold it for just a little longer.
The thought was still in her mind as she drifted off into sleep. Her hand relaxed and the locket slipped unnoticed from her grasp. It landed on the hard stone and there was a soft click as the hidden catch was pressed for the first time in ten years. The front half of the locket opened to reveal the emerald held within it.
As the fire cast its flickering light over the gemstone, the emerald began to pulse faintly. A thin tendril of black fog began to rise slowly from the jewel's heart. The higher it rose, the faster it moved and the more fog emerged. The dark fog wafted across the room and then settled near the floor, growing with increasing speed until it had formed a vague shape. With a sound like a soft sigh, the fog shimmered and began to fade, leaving a girl with dark purple hair and a gold dress standing in the room.
In the locket, the emerald flashed once and then faded, only to reappear in the middle of the girl's headband, where it rightfully belonged.
Dark Witch stretched and blinked in the dim light, looking around her in surprise. She was free! For the past ten years she had been trapped in darkness, but darkness had always been a friend to those of the Shadow Realm and she had not been lonely. Darkness and Shadow had their own kind of life, their own voices, if one had the ability to hear them. She did.
The shadows had told her of the house and those who dwelled within it. She had heard of the cruelty of the old woman, the taunting superiority of her two daughters and the unfailing kindness and courage of the youngest girl, Ella. For ten years, the shadows had spoken of the girl's unwavering heart and how dreadfully she was treated. Dark Witch had listened.
As she looked at the girl sleeping peacefully amid the soot and the cinders, she hesitated. She had been gone from the Shadow Realm for a very long time, but she didn't need to hurry back there. The others already knew what had happened. Of that, she was certain. There were many in the Shadow Realm with the gift for knowing such things. They would not be worried. The question was, if she stayed for a short while longer, could she honestly make a difference to this precious child's life?
Yes. Her heart knew the answer before her mind thought of the question. There was no doubt within her that she had the power needed to help this girl. But how to do so? She had to be careful. Her Shadow Magic was strong, but she couldn't do everything. Her failure in breaking the enchanter's spell was proof of that.
As the thought echoed in her mind, Dark Witch frowned slightly as she realised something. She had been unable to break the spell, and yet… somehow, it had been broken. How had it happened?
As she stood wondering, the shadows whispered to her, telling her of the girl's wish, her tear and how the locket had opened. Then she understood. A heartfelt wish and a single tear… No mere enchanter's spell could ever hope to stand against such powerful magic. The opening of the locket had been the only other thing needed. Dark Witch smiled slightly. She had a feeling magic had played its part in that as well.
Silently thanking the magic for its good deed, Dark Witch returned her attention to the girl and thought for a moment. The girl's wish… It was within her power to grant it, but would it help the girl or only make things worse? There was only one way to find out. But the ball had already started and she was wasting time by hesitating.
Quickly crossing to the girl, Dark Witch reached out, intending to wake her. She paused for a moment in surprise as she saw her for the first time.
The stepmother and stepsisters called her 'Cinderella' because Ella was forced to sleep huddled in the soot, ash and cinders in front of the kitchen fireplace for warmth. Her stepmother had forbidden her to remain in her original room, saying that her menial work made her far too dirty to sleep upstairs. She was confined to the kitchen, except for when her chores took her into the main house. Dark Witch knew all of that, but there was one thing the shadows hadn't told her.
They had never mentioned how beautiful the girl was.
Dark Witch smiled as a plan began to form in her mind. She gently shook Ella's shoulder. "Time to wake up, child. You have a ball to go to."
Several weeks later
The Prince helped Ella, now his Princess, into their beautiful silver carriage. As they drove off along the road lined with cheering townsfolk, he smiled at her. Her radiant smile lit up her face.
"Are you happy, my love?" he said gently.
"Oh yes!" Her smile faded slightly, "Except…"
"Except?" Concerned, the prince put his arm around his new bride's shoulders. "What is it, my love? What troubles you?"
Ella smiled slightly. "I just wish my fairy godmother was here. I never got a chance to thank her."
The prince hugged her close. "I'm sure she knows how you feel. Besides, she's probably watching you right now, thinking what a good choice she made for your husband."
Ella giggled. "Oh you!"
Up on a nearby rooftop, hidden in the shadows of the building beside it, a figure stirred at the sound of the light tinkling laughter coming from within the carriage.
"Good. She's happy. Time for me to go." A portal of black shadow hung in the air for a moment before disappearing, leaving the rooftop empty.
Dark Witch stepped through the portal and looked around to see where she was. The Castle of Dark Illusions loomed over her and she smiled at the sight of it. "I'm home."
"About time too. We were beginning to think that the 'fairy godmother' would never return to us." The amused voice made her whirl around.
"What? Who's there?" She raised her spear menacingly, only to lower it again as the source of the voice stepped out of the shadows along the base of the castle wall. "Oh. It's you." She scowled at D Human.
"Don't even think about starting with that 'fairy godmother' business! Ella was the one who called me that. I just went along with it. After all, it was pretty close to the truth. As close as she would have been able to understand, anyway. But I do not want any comments about it. Understand?"
D Human blinked down at the tip of the spear waving in front of his nose. "Right. Sure. I'm sorry, it was just a little joke. I didn't mean anything by it. Really!" He still sounded amused. Dark Witch continued to scowl at him as she lowered her spear again.
"How many of the others know?" When D Human hesitated and was suddenly unable to meet her eyes, she sighed heavily. "I should have known. The one time I go and do something nice for someone, everyone finds out. I'll probably never hear the end of this."
D Human grinned. "Oh, come on, it's not that bad! Okay, so you might have to ignore everyone's comments for the next… year… maybe two… three at the most! I wouldn't go near Pumpking King of Ghosts or Bone Mouse for a while either. They're rather offended that you didn't call on them for help with that carriage and horses bit. Oh, and Illusionist Faceless Mage wants a word with you about your 'shoddy illusion work'. His words, not mine. I thought it was brilliant. But look on the bright side…"
Dark Witch blinked at him and frowned. "There's a bright side?"
"You know that spellbook the Dark Magician's writing? Well, he wants to include your Cinderella spell in it. He thinks it might come in handy some time. Like, if anyone needs to attend a party at short notice but doesn't want a spell that lasts for longer than a few hours."
Dark Witch groaned. "Great. I'm going to be immortalised in a spellbook under 'quick make-up tips' or something, knowing him." D Human laughed.
"Hey, you deserve it! It isn't every day that one of us gets trapped in a jewel for ten years. Why don't you just relax and enjoy the fame? This whole thing will blow over before you know it. We'll all find something else to talk about and how many humans do you think will be interested in the story of Cinderella and her fairy godmother? The tale will vanish into obscurity in no time. Just you wait and see."