Disclaimer: d n t wn T n M n. Can I buy a vowel?

Author's Note: Alrighty then, Quality Control wishes to inform you that this one is a bit darker than my usual fare. Not my fault, it's Azkadellia, she gets all gloomy when Gulch isn't around to cheer her up. Of course, this isn't the Gulch Verse, I thought it was her turn for a fairytale and this is what happens. In her defence, though, Hansel and Gretel is a tale about two kids who shove an old lady into an oven – yeah she had it coming, but that's not exactly model behaviour. You gotta wonder sometimes about the stories our parents tell us.

PS I'd've had this uploaded for you sooner but the internet decided to be non co-operative – surprise surprise. On a happier note, for a couple of you anyhow, while I was driving round and round in a field for fourteen hours yesterday, I figured out how to do the Little Mermaid. Nightdrive23, daughterofthe1king, I hate you both. ;p Demon reviewer, patience is a virtue – it got co-opted by another story that is a little way down in the writing queue so it will be a while before you see it, and it probably won't be in a form you expect. Nagging will only annoy me.


...

"It's here, I know it's here," the Royal Advisor asserted, "somewhere."

"You've already said that," the princess accompanying him replied, "twelve times."

"I'm telling you, doll, it's...ow," Glitch exclaimed, "See! See! That proves it!"

"That proves what? You just tripped over a log."

"Exactly."

"It also happens to be the fifth time you've tripped over that log, we're lost aren't we?"

"No, this proves we're nearly there. This is the same log I tripped over last time," the headcase assured her.

"That's what I just said," she pointed out.

"Not last time, last time. Last time last time, when I was here with DG. I never forget a log I've tripped over. I never forget a log I've tripped over. I never forget a log I've tripped over. I never forget a log..."

Princess Azkadellia pressed one hand to her forehead while she swatted the advisor on the back of the head with the other. She was beginning to think that this had been a bad idea. The problem was that she kept thinking of the Royal Advisor in terms of intelligent, dependable Ambrose she had known and had yet to accustom herself to the foibles and eccentricities of Glitch. Not that there was anything wrong with Glitch, he was a sweetheart, but at present she'd just settle for a personality that understood direction. She should have had Cain show her after all, but she hadn't wanted to ask it of him. He'd probably do it but the very thought of how the conversation would go made her wince.

Hi Cain, she thought, I want to get a true look at all the pain and misery I caused while I was the Sorceress, so do you mind taking me out to your old cabin for another watch of your family's torment on the TDESPHTL? Yeah, that would go over great. And maybe while they were at it she could have someone beat the Tin Man bloody and bury DG alive for old time's sake. That's why she had asked the Royal Advisor for help, unfortunately Ambrose had never been to Cain's cabin. Glitch had, though.

"So," she said at last, "if that is the log you tripped over last time," and she really doubted it was, "how did you find the cabin from here?"

"No idea, DG heard something," the headcase replied cheerfully.

Oh, even better. The last time Azkadellia followed the voices in DG's head she'd ended up with a voice in hers, complete with wicked witch possession and plans for world domination. "Do you happen to remember which direction she went?" Az asked unhappily. Glitch remembered DG a lot better than he remembered anything else.

"Sure thing, doll, she went that way," the Royal Advisor pointed helpfully then he took off in the complete opposite direction.

"Great, just great," the eldest princess muttered. They were so lost. Her only hope was that DG would notice their absence and send the Tin Man to find them.

A few hours later, Princess Azkadellia decided that it was an extremely ominous sign that she thought it was a bad sign that Glitch hadn't circled back to trip over his favourite log again. Now they were not only lost, but they'd lost where they were supposed to be lost at, or something. Hanging out with the headcase was turning out to be poetic justice; pretty soon she'd only be operating on half a brain, too.

"Do you see that? Do you see that? Do you see that? Do you...ow, thank you," the Royal Advisor told her as he rubbed the back of his head, "But do you see what I see?"

Azkadellia couldn't blame Glitch for asking, she didn't really believe what she was looking at, either. No matter how big, bright, and completely unmistakable it was. "It's a gingerbread house," she said in disbelief.

"A really big gingerbread house," Glitch informed her with childlike delight, "covered in frosting and candy. Think we should see if anyone is home?"

The princess frowned. She had a bad feeling about this, though to be fair, that could just be her ingrained dislike of strange forest dwellings. And this most certainly was a strange forest dwelling. "We are lost," she said doubtfully. At least it wasn't a cave, Az really didn't like caves.

"We can knock," the headcase agreed, "it can't hurt." And with that he strode forward to ply the knocker – apparently too firmly because it promptly snapped off in his hands. "Oops," he mumbled, hastily trying to put back together, "Accident, accident, accident, accident..."

"Here stop that," Az commanded, striding forward, "You're making it worse. Here, I'll knock gently, we'll explain what happened and offer to pay for the damages then ask them how to get back to the road."

"I know how to get to the road," Glitch argued mulishly.

"Men!" the princess cast her eyes to the heavens, DG was right, none of them could ever ask for directions. Distracted by her exasperation, Azkadellia knocked with a bit more force than intended and the candy cane trim cracked, fell to the ground and shattered.

"Now look what you did. Now look what you did. Now look what..." whack, "This," Ambrose continued, "is why one should only use approved building materials. Gingerbread does not have the necessary structural integrity to provide the required load bearing capacity for of a building of this size. If they would..." The advisor cut off abruptly, his eyes widening in fear of something situated somewhere behind the princess.

The spell hit before Azkadellia had time to turn and perceive the threat for herself. The world went black.

She awoke in extreme discomfort sometime later. Metal bars seemed to be pressing into, well, everywhere. Cracking open an eye, the princess discovered that she'd been crammed into a small cage suspended from the ceiling. Az eyed the bolt holding the chain with trepidation; it didn't seem to be bearing the weight too well.

"Psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst," a noise that Azkadellia eventually realized was the headcase trying to get her attention mid glitch filled her ears.

"Can you get him to stop that?" a voice rasped, "It's not the least bit subtle and it's starting to get on my nerves."

Attempting to crane around to find the speaker, Az discovered that the Royal Advisor had also been stuffed into a cage far too small for him. The bolt holding his up was in far worse shape as Glitch had started swinging the cage in attempts to get her attention, causing stresses the gingerbread just wasn't up to withstanding. It was only a matter of time before the headcase hit the floor.

"Psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst psst..."

Okay, now that was starting to get on her nerves, too. "Poke him or swat him or something," the princess instructed as she took further stock of their situation. She wondered if she should be especially alarmed that they seemed to be in a kitchen of some sort. Then their captor came into view to poke the unfortunate Glitch and Azkadellia forgot all about her surroundings.

The wizened old crone shouldn't have looked like a threat. She was stooped with age, her eyes filmy and squinting as if she couldn't see well. The ancient woman looked like a stiff breeze could knock her over, but the aura of magic that clung to her...the eldest princess started hyperventilating. No, no, no, no, no, Az whimpered internally, a witch, another witch. And suddenly she wasn't in a light filled house but back in that cave again. The witch, the witch was going to get her. Not again, not again, not again, the princess wept. She could hardly move in the cramped confines of the cage but the tormented princess managed to rock back and forth slightly as she moaned in despair.

"Quiet you," the witch hissed as she poked a bony finger through the bars at the Royal Advisor, "Hmmm, skinny yet, why are they always so skinny? Always have to feed them up first. Still, more meat on their bones than children have, even if they are skinny. Won't have to wait that long to eat these ones."

"Children?" Azkadellia asked in horror as the crone's words cut through her mental anguish, "You eat children?"

"Oh yes," the witch replied eagerly, "children are the best, the tenderest meat, but you'll do, you'll do," she crooned, stroking the bars to Glitch's cage, "such childlike innocence here. All that wonder and curiosity, so delightful, and you, my dear, so full of fear, fear of the bogeyman, you are almost as childlike as I could hope for. I haven't filled my larder so well in a long time."

"Children," the eldest princess said again, something in her voice making to old crone turn sharply in her direction. "You eat children," Azkadellia hissed in the timbres of the Sorceress and yet not. For it was not the Sorceress speaking now, but the child that had been stolen, whose path had been warped, tormented and twisted by one such as this vile crone. This witch that preyed on the young, the innocent, and the helpless, this foul being that was everything that Az hated most in the Realm. "I used to suck out souls but I never went after children directly," the former Sorceress informed the crone, fire and ice turning her words to knives, "and no more shall you." And the eldest princess began to glow.

"You," snarled the crone as she called darkness to her, "think to best me, child?"

The furious princess thought to do exactly that, her light meeting the darkness the witch threw at her and holding its ground. The crone was old in her magic, steeped in its evil and accustomed to its use, but Azkadellia had been fifteen years the unwilling apprentice to a witch that was much older by far. The witch threw all her efforts into containing the princess, and Az knew that on the crone's home grounds she could not break through the forces set up to keep her contained…which is why she threw her light at Glitch's cage instead.

"No!" the witch shrieked as the cage hit the ground and shattered, spilling the advisor out onto the floor.

"Whatwhatwhatwhatwhat..." the headcase stammered in panic as the crone turned on him.

"Glitch," Azkadellia screamed at him, "rhythm!"

The witch's spell scorched the ground where the advisor had been a split second before but Glitch was already in graceful motion too fast for her weak eyes to follow. His first kick should have felled the crone, but her appearance gave lie to her strength and she was only pushed back. The Royal Advisor ducked swiftly away as another spell was flung his way. Bouncing up in a roundhouse kick he managed to deflect her aim on the third spell but the fourth caught him full on the chest, flinging him back into the princess' cage. The ceiling bolt gave out and she crashed to the floor.

"Glitch! Ambrose! Glitch!" Az yelled frantically.

The Royal Advisor's eyes fluttered and he groaned, but before he could move a black band of magic pinned him to the floor. Ambrose's eyes flew open in alarm. "No, don't do this, no," he cried out in terror, as he had on the Alchemist's operating table so many years ago.

And that really was enough of that. The cage containing the eldest princess exploded as she rose to face her foe. Azkadellia really had had enough of witches. "You," she growled, facing down the old crone, "are finished."

The old crone cackled derisively, "Parlour tricks, child, that's all you have. What makes you think you can defeat me?"

"Other than the fact that the last witch I faced ended up melted?" Az inquired sweetly then she waved a hand. Her light slid right by the crone, but then she hadn't really been trying to hit the old bat. Across the room the giant oven blazed to life.

"You had help then, dear," the witch sneered back and threw darkness at the princess.

Azkadellia raised her glowing hands and erected the shield that had saved her last time. It wasn't as strong without DG but it only had to hold out just long enough. "Who says I don't have help this time?" she asked.

And Glitch, freed of his dark bonds, leapt up from the floor and threw himself at the witch once more. She howled with fury but her attention and defences had been too focused on the princess, she had nothing left to use against the advisor, who spun and kicked with all the force he could muster. The crone flew backwards into the oven. The door slammed shut and locked her in, then it began to rattle ominously.

"Run, run, run, run, run, run," Glitch chanted as he hurled himself back across the room, grabbed the princess' hand, and hauled her towards the door. Behind them the oven exploded and the room became a raging inferno.

The princess and the advisor burst through the doors at full speed as the entire house became ablaze. Collapsing on the grass, Azkadellia lay panting a few minutes revelling in their escape.

"You gonna tell me what happened or do I not want to know?" a voice inquired from somewhere above her. Az squinted up into the Tin Man's face as it appeared above her. "DG got worried and sent me to find you," Cain explained to the prone princess.

"You couldn't have arrived ten minutes sooner?" she asked.

"Why? Was I needed?" the Tin Man asked seriously as he ran an experienced eye over the scene.

Azkadellia considered that a moment. "Not really," she decided, "An old witch wanted to eat Glitch and me; I objected and attacked her with magic and rhythm. Many explosions followed, we had it covered."

Cain's brows shot up and he shifted his gaze back to the burning ruins. The air smelt like a bakery on fire. "You're a bit hard on witches, aren't you, Your Highness," he said mildly.

"Deeg helped melt the last one," the former Sorceress retorted defensively.

"And I did the actual burning," Glitch chimed in.

"I just lit the fire," Az concluded.

"Wasn't saying there was anything wrong with being hard on witches," the Tin Man pointed out, "Now did you have anything particular to do in the middle of the forest or can I escort you back before your sister gets herself into trouble?"

Allowing Cain and Glitch to help her to her feet, Azkadellia contemplated the Tin Man's question as she surveyed the burnt out wreckage she and the headcase had created. The witch had wanted to eat her, had wanted to take her life as the witch who'd devoured her childhood had, but the old crone had bitten off far more than she could chew. The eldest princess had come out to the forest to face the darkness in her past, and, in a way, she had. And she'd vanquished it, too. Az felt oddly light. "No," the princess told the Tin Man, "I'm done here," smiling, she continued, "best get back to Deeg before she wanders off to find the next one."

"Raw's keeping an eye on her. Besides, you seem to have taken care of the current witch population," Cain replied lightly, "after all, how many witches can one forest hold?"

Azkadellia looked at the Tin Man sceptically. Sure enough, Cain's eyebrows scrunched together after a mere moment's thought then the Tin Man was striding briskly off in the direction where he'd last left the youngest princess of the O.Z. Az couldn't fault the man his paranoia, if there was another witch or ill-intentioned sprite within a hundred leagues radius DG would find them, much to their misfortune. Tangling with princesses never seemed to work out well for witches.