Chapter 10: The Fire Swamp
"Well…" Eugene pulled his sword and walked forward ahead of Rapunzel. He swiped a few vines out of their way. "Better get going."
"You're serious?" Rapunzel asked, gawking at the dark and terrifying swamp.
"Well, we don't have much choice." He shrugged, chopping a few more vines out of the way.
"But… we'll never survive!" She ran after him, her eyes darting around for any hint of more ruffians and thugs, or something even worse.
"Oh, please! You're just sayin' that cause nobody ever has before!" He kicked a few fallen branches out of the path before him. "I think we're gonna be trendsetters."
"You're crazy." She grasped her frying pan close and ran after him. Pascal squeaked nervously as he hid inside Rapunzel's hair.
"Nah, I'm just…" He was cut off by a noise.
The noise seemed to be coming from a spot on the ground. Several leaves were blown off the ground by small bursts of air coming from beneath the ground.
"What the…" He was cut off as a huge burst of fire erupted from the ground. "All right then!"
"So, that's why it's called the Fire Swamp." Rapunzel gulped.
"Pretty much, yeah." Eugene cleared his throat.
"Oh no…" She gasped, looking around for the source of the popping.
"Rapunzel!" Eugene pointed to the ground near her feet. The popping was right next to her, less than an inch from her hair.
"NO!" She screamed pulling her massive locks out of the way just before the fire shot up.
"Geez!" He sighed, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Well, that was an adventure."
"It's not funny, Eugene! I almost got my hair burned off!" Rapunzel fretted as she gathered her hair in her arms.
"Well, at least you didn't get singed." He said, pulling a length of her hair to help her carry it over a fallen tree.
"Yeah I suppose… that's…" She trailed off as her eyes widened.
"What?" Eugene asked. He looked in the direction she was staring and saw it.
On the ground just ahead of them was a tiny blue flame floating just above the ground. Though that wasn't quite what it was. The flame was shaped like a tiny figure with a head and moving arms. It seemed as if it was calling out to them, and if they listened hard enough, they could almost hear it whisper. It moved as if it was motioning for them to follow it.
"What is that?" Eugene asked, shocked by the tiny apparition.
"It's a will-o'-the-wisp. I read about these in a fairytale book at the castle. They're spirits who try to lead people to their fate." Rapunzel seemed entranced by it. She took a step towards the wisp, and three more appeared behind the first. As Eugene cautiously moved to join her, an entire line of will-o'-the-wisps formed, marking the trail for them.
"I'm not so sure this is a good idea." Eugene said uncertainly. He turned to the left of where the wisp appeared. "Maybe we should go this way."
The would-be pirate jumped back as the fire burst out ten feet in front of him. He jumped back in shock. He caught his startled breath and looked at the beckoning fire spirits.
"Hmmm…" A thought occurred to him as he looked down at the tiny figure. He turned and walked to the left of the wisps, this time.
He jumped back at the first popping sound, watching from a safe distance as the flames erupted from the ground. He then turned to face Rapunzel and the wisps. He stared it down as he walked towards them. Nothing happened.
"They're causing the flame bursts." Eugene voiced his theory.
Rapunzel processed this idea and turned questioningly to the tiny flaming spirit. "They're warning us from going the wrong way."
"Well, then…" Eugene gulped, still leery of the mysterious little sprites. "I guess we better follow them."
The two of them followed the wisps through the creepy swamp for what seemed like hours. The only sign of life thus far was a pair of squirrels, one of which was strangely blue and had a mustache. They had no way of knowing since the giant trees blocked out the sky and any indication on what time of day it was. Eugene growled, chopping away a huge patch of hanging moss.
"Dah! This place is so dark, you can barely see." He grumbled, swatting away a few strands of moss and leaves.
"Yeah, its so…" Rapunzel's eyes widened in realization. She slapped her forehead in disbelief. "Ugh! Why didn't I think of that sooner?"
"Think of what?" He asked, turning to her.
"Flower gleam and glow…" Rapunzel sang, holding her hair high as the song illuminated the long blonde tresses. The glow lit up the darkened glen, letting them see a path ahead.
"And I'd still like an explanation for the whole glowing hair thing BlonDIEEEEEEEE!." Midway through his sentence, Eugene took a step on a patch of sand and he sank into it as if it were water.
"EUGENE!" Rapunzel screamed as he vanished into the ground. She looked around for any sign of help, but she was alone. She gritted her teeth and threw a loop of her hair around a sturdy tree branch. "Pascal, tie it off!"
The chameleon scampered up her hair and tied it to the branch. Pascal gave Rapunzel a thumbs up as she took a few steps back from the spot where Eugene vanished.
"Pascal, if I don't come back… Find a way out of here and stay safe." Rapunzel jumped into the sand and she disappeared into the ground. The only sign of her was the absurdly long glowing blonde hair tied to a branch.
Pascal gulped as the seconds became minutes that passed so slowly they may as well have been years. Finally, a small hand burst out of the sand and grabbed onto the blonde life line attached to the tree, which was quickly joined by a black gloved hand. The lovers pulled themselves out of the ground, gasping for sweet air.
The crawled away, covered in the sand and coughing violently.
"Well… that was less fun." Eugene groaned.
"Ugh! We're OK, though." Rapunzel coughed, wiping the sand from her face. Pascal scampered down her hair and nuzzled her cheek like there was no tomorrow.
"You… You are somethin' else, Blondie." Eugene said, trying to climb to his feet.
"Was… Was that the quicksand Mother always talked about?" Rapunzel asked as she attempted the arduous task of shaking sand out of all her hair.
"Yeah, 'fraid so." The former pirate sighed. "It's one of the big dangers of the Fire Swamp along with those bursts of fire."
"Oh no…" The princess moaned in frustration. "We'll never get out of here!"
"Nah! I think we got a good chance of findin' our way." Eugene shrugged. "We can avoid the fire blasts since we're following those little blue spark people, and since I heroically discovered what the quicksand looks like, we can avoid that too."
"Yeah? Well, what if we run into more ruffians and thugs?" Rapunzel asked, dipping her hands into a nearby pond to wash away the sand.
"Rapunzel, look around. Nobody's dumb enough to be in this place on purpose!"
"Well, what about horrible creatures! Lions, tigers, bears! Large bugs! Monsters!"
"Relax! None of those things would live here. Not enough hunting to stick around for. Lions, hyenas and leopards would be in Africa, tigers would be in India, and bears wouldn't live in a place like this. As for monsters, we're pretty safe. Goons only hang out near the Forbidden Mountain, gwythaints are mostly in Prydain, the Headless Horseman is in America and I don't think the P.O.U.H.'s even exist."
"What are P.O.U.H.'s?" She asked.
"Pachyderms of Unusual Hue." Eugene said offhandedly.
As if in answer to her question, the pond began to bubble. The two of them jumped back, expecting another flash of fire or even a geyser. What they got instead was much more unusual.
A large bubble, larger than the others, began to form in the center of the pond. It suddenly floated out of the water and into the air. Before their eyes, the bubble floated away from the pond and turned a bright pink. The bubble suddenly began to change. Its spherical shape shifted into an odd shape, almost like… the body of an elephant.
"What on Earth?" Rapunzel asked aloud, getting only a disbelieving shake of the head from Eugene and Pascal.
The pink elephant bubble looked at them with its black soulless eyes and grinned. They stepped back at the strange apparition before them. The elephant reared back and blew another bubble from its trunk, creating a second elephant.
"Rapunzel…?" Eugene asked, holding his sword higher. "You see what I see?"
"Yes… but I thought you said they weren't real!"
The four pink elephants grinned and began to blow through their trunks as if they were trumpets. They blew out a low blast and a flash of light swept over the glen.
When the two lovers and one chameleon uncovered their eyes, there were pink elephants everywhere! They came in all shapes and sizes. Some were as large as regular elephants and some were as small as Pascal. Some played musical instruments, others danced around on their hind legs, and others just marched around the glen as they sang.
"Look out! Look out!
"Pink elephants on parade.
"Here they come!
"They're here, and there!
"Pink elephants everywhere!" The bizarre creatures chanted to their whimsical music.
"OK, I think it's time to go." Rapunzel suggested.
"Yeah." Eugene nodded.
They turned to run, only to be blocked by two giant elephants' heads. "What'll I do? What'll I do? What an unusual view!"
"AH!" They jumped back as more elephants surrounded them and marched seemingly on air as they blew through their trunks like trumpets.
"I could stand the sight of worms.
"And look at microscopic germs.
"But technicolor pachyderms.
"Is really much for me!" The elephants sang as their bodies mutated into even more strange shapes. One large elephant smashed three smaller ones with a pair of symbols, creating dozens of smaller ones. Several elephants grew heads on the end of their trunks who winked at each other as they passed. One freakish apparition was an elephant made entirely of other elephant heads.
"Chase 'em away!
"Chase 'em away!
"I'm afraid! Need your aid!
"Pink elephants on parade!" The unnatural pachyderms sang.
"Well, Blondie, looks like we're gonna have to fight our way outta this!" Eugene raised his sword and swung at the nearest elephant.
The creature's head fell from its body and rolled away. …only to suddenly grow a whole new body as its old body sprouted a new head. They two elephants smiled playfully at him and touched their trunks, creating a bolt of lightning. One grabbed the lightning and twirled it like a rope before whipping its counterpart. It exploded into several dozen new dancing elephants.
The pink pachyderm tried to replicate the feat by whipping the lightning bolt at Eugene. The young man raised his hand to block it, but the resulting electrocuting blow threw him ten feet backwards. He hit a tree hard, leaving a dent in the trunk. The lightning blast had burned most of the glove off his hand, leaving a massive scar on his palm. He groaned in pain, letting Rapunzel know he was still alive.
"EUGENE!" Rapunzel cried.
She tried to run to him, but an elephant jumped in front of her and shifted into a snake and chased her in the other direction. It morphed into a series of belly dancing elephants who blocked her path to Eugene.
"ENOUGH!" The elephants stopped their other worldly frolicking and reared at the voice. A short, cloaked figure swung into the midst of the creatures. The figure spoke in a high-pitched voice, "You boys should pick on someone your own size!"
The figure waved his hand and a very unusual sword appeared in his hand with a flash of light. The creatures cringed at the figure's blade, which resembled a giant key.
The figure threw of his cloak, revealing a large mouse. He flipped into the air, swinging the sword-key into a pink elephant. It exploded into pink sparkles and vanished.
This caused the elephants to start what in their random logic might be called a stampede. They suddenly abandoned all pretenses of playful dance and frolicking and entered a state of absolute chaos. They zoomed around the glen, knocking the mouse into a tree. The sword-key flew to the ground near Eugene.
He saw what the weird key weapon did to these things, and hoped his skills at swordsmanship would help him in battle. He grabbed the sword-key and jumped into the fray. He sliced through the air as elephants zoomed past him. They exploded into nothingness as he sliced his way to Rapunzel.
"Blondie!" Eugene called over the chaos.
"Eugene!" She called, jumping out of the way of a zooming elephant.
They ran towards each other and held on to each other as the elephants blasted and raced across the glen in an increasingly frenzied pace. The otherworldly elephants raced all towards the pond they emerged from.
The explosion sent the pink elephants everywhere. They seemed to fall in slow motion, vanishing as they did. Finally only one remained. It fell towards the pond and reformed into the giant bubble that started the whole mess. Rapunzel glared at it and picked up Eugene's sword. With a huff, she poked the bubble with the blade, popping it.
"And stay gone." She growled.
"Wow! That was somethin' huh?" The two lovers turned towards the high voice of the giant mouse. Eugene raised the key-sword in defense.
"Are you friendly?" He asked.
"Well gosh! Of course!" The mouse giggled. "I tried to help you two after all."
"He's right Eugene. He did." Rapunzel reminded him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Well… OK then." He lowered the strange sword.
"Great! Now, can I have my Keyblade back, please?" The mouse asked, putting his hand out.
"Oh, uh, yeah." Eugene passed the so-called Keyblade to the mouse. "Weird look for a sword, but it sure worked on those crazy things."
"Actually, those elephants are part of why I'm here." The mouse explained, taking the Keyblade.
"What?" Rapunzel asked.
"This swamp is full of magic, and it's accidentally created cracks that lead to other worlds." The mouse explained, holding the blade up. "That's what brought the elephants here; they got through the cracks from whatever crazy world they were from."
"So, they'll come back?" Eugene asked.
"Nope. Once I do this, the Keyhole will be shut and nothing will be able to get in." The mouse raised the Keyblade and pointed it to the sky. A beam of light shot into the sky, as Rapunzel and Eugene watched in disbelief. The light created a large keyhole in the sky made of light and magic before vanishing.
"Wow…" The two lovers watched in awe.
"Yeah, you get used to it after a while. Ha ha!" The mouse chuckled.
"Well, thanks, Mr. Mouse…" Rapunzel said, reaching out to shake his hand.
"No problem, Miss…" The mouse waved his over-sized gloved hand.
"Oh, I'm Rapunzel. And this is Eug…"
"The Dread Pirate Flynn Rider." Eugene cut her off, not wanting his real name to become common knowledge. "And you are…"
"Oh, gosh! I'm King Mickey, but you can skip the 'king' part. Everyone does." The mouse proudly slung the Keyblade over his shoulder. "And I really gotta get goin'. Kingdom Hearts won't find itself!"
"Uh… sure it won't." Eugene ventured, hoping he sound like he knew what he was talking about.
"I'll see you folks!" The mouse king waved as he turned to leave.
"Wait!" Rapunzel called. "Do you know the way out of here?"
"Nope, but try following those little blue fire people." King Mickey pointed behind them. A will-o'-the-wisp floated there and called for them. They turned back and noticed another trail of wisps ahead of the mouse, leading back the way they came. "They lead me to you two; maybe they'll lead you two out of here. Well, see ya real soon!"
The mouse waved to them before turning and following the second trail of wisps into the swamp. They waved back and followed their own way.
"Well, I gotta say, I never expected to run into a herd of Pachyderms of Unusual Hue and a Rodent of Unusual Size wielding a giant key." Rapunzel chuckled.
"Wasn't on my list today either." Eugene shrugged as they walked through the woods.
After a while, they noticed that the trees were looking more and more ordinary compared to the gnarled twisted trees of the Fire Swamp. Before long, they could even see the sky. Twilight was falling and it would soon be too dark to travel, so they picked up their pace. By the time they reached the edge of the forest, night had fallen and the stars had just begun to appear. The trail of wisps led them to the top of a small hill overlooking a tiny beach and the ocean beyond. The last wisp disappeared as they looked out over the endless expanse of water. Rapunzel's eyes widened at the magnificent sight before her. She had never had time to admire such beauty before. Any opportunity she had to enjoy the scenery over the previous day was ruined by the constant running and attempts on their lives. Now, in the dark and peaceful stillness of the night, she basked in the simple natural beauty.
"Blondie, look." Eugene pointed down the shoreline and Rapunzel's breath caught in her throat.
Down the shore was an island. The thin bridge connected to the mainland led to the island and into a city. The buildings on the small, hilly isle surrounded a tall, magnificent castle. They had made it to Corona City!
"We made… WE MADE IT!" Rapunzel cheered grabbing Eugene's hand in excitement.
"AH!" Eugene yelped in pain. She had accidentally grabbed the hand the pink elephants had burned.
"Oh, Eugene!" She gasped, staring at his scared hand.
"It's OK." He said, trying not to wince in pain. "I'll get to a doctor or something in the morning. Let's just get a fire going."
They grabbed a few stray logs and branches and built a small fire on the edge of the shore. They sat on a large log and took a minute to catch their breaths. It had been the longest, most insane day in their lives, and they enjoyed their well-deserved rest.
"Hey!" Rapunzel suddenly turned to Eugene. "In all the excitement, I never asked, how exactly are you the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider, anyway? He's been plundering for decades and you've only been gone five years! And how are you even alive? The stories say the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider never leaves survivors."
"No survivors? Then where would the stories come from?" Eugene smirked cheekily at her confusion.
"The stories don't say he never leaves survivors, they say he never takes prisoners." He explained.
"What's the difference?" She asked.
"See, that's the thing! Most people wouldn't see any difference. See, here's what he did. Whenever he attacked ships, he'd rob the ship blind, but he never killed anyone and never held anyone prisoner. Once he finished robbing them blind, he'd say they caught him in a good mood and let them leave. But he would always say that if he ever heard even the slightest rumor that the stories of him never taking prisoners weren't true, he'd know who told and he'd hunt them down and burn their hometowns to the ground."
"So, he literally never takes prisoners." She said with dawning comprehension.
"But, then how did you end up… becoming him?" Rapunzel frowned.
"Actually, it's kind of a funny story." Eugene laughed ruefully. "See, I was on that ship your mom set me up with. Things had been good for a few weeks and then the pirates attacked. Remember what I said about saying 'Please'?"
"Well, that was true. He was intrigued and took me to his cabin. He said, 'All right, Eugene, I need a valet. You're it until I decide to kill you.' So, I became his valet and for two years, every day ended with him saying, Goodnight, Eugene. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.' In the meantime, he taught me everything he knew about piracy, and a few other skills. Sailing, fencing, fighting, how to think on my feet. And then, one day, it happened."
"Flynn had gotten so rich, he decided to retire. So, he pulled me into his cabin and told me, 'I'm not the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider, my name is Naveen.'"
"That's exactly what I said." He laughed, shaking his head at the surreal memory. "He told me the whole secret story. Flynnagin Rider was a great hero and made his fortune on his exploits. He became known as the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider when he became a privateer, a sort of pirate fighting for the cause in the Great War. After the war ended, he realized he enjoyed the pirating life so much that he kept it up. He targeted other pirates, corrupt merchants, slave ships, anyone on the sea who caused trouble. He got to keep pirating and still be a hero. Until one day, he got too old to keep it up.
"When he retired, he left his ship and even the name of the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider to his first mate, a guy named Phillip. The name was the important thing since he had such an infamous reputation. After all, nobody's gonna surrender to the Dread Pirate Eugene. So, the title was passed down from captain to captain, each becoming the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider when the last one hung up his cutlass."
"And the whole costume with the mask was to keep people from getting a good idea of what Flynn Rider looks like!" She finished.
"Bingo, Blondie. So, we went ashore, and got an entirely new crew. Only this time, I was in the pirate get up and Naveen stayed on for a while as my first mate, always calling me Flynn. Since then, I've been pirating the seas, seeking my fortune."
"But… if you were free to come back, why didn't you?"
"Well… for one, it was just so much fun." He shrugged nonchalantly. She glared at him, not having any of it. "And the other part… Well, you heard what your mother said. An orphaned stable boy without a penny to his name isn't exactly the first in line to court a future countess… or princess as the case may be. I figured I'd go with the old plan and come back once I'd pirated my fortune."
"…As a pirate?" She asked, skeptically.
"Well, I kept up the tradition of only attacking pirates and boats that deserved it! Does that give me any points?"
"Nope." She shook her head, smirking at him.
"Well, whatever. Doesn't matter anyway. Since we've found each other again, I'll retire and hand off the title to somebody else." Eugene shrugged. "Oh, you can't tell anyone about this, okay? It would ruin the Dread Pirate Flynn Rider's reputation."
"Ah, we wouldn't want that." She teased.
"Well, a fake reputation is all a man has." He clapped his injured hand on his knee without thinking. "OW!"
"Ooh, your hand." She said sympathetically as she really got a good look at it. His skin was red and raw, covered in fresh burns and blisters. It almost made her own hand sting just thinking of how much pain he must have been in.
"Yeah, don't worry. We'll swing by a doctor in town tomorrow." He tried to bravely wave it aside.
"Actually, I think I can help it right now." She smiled brightly.
"Uh, no offense, Blondie, but unless you can also make medicine appear with your magic glowing hair, I'm…"
"It doesn't just glow."
"…What?" He looked at her, confused and slightly curious of what she meant by that. Pascal crawled onto her shoulder and gave Eugene an enigmatic grin. "Why is he smiling at me?"
"Just… give me your hand." She ordered, holding out her own hand to him.
"Uh… OK." She took his burned hand and, to his confusion, began wrapping it in her hair. He watched her intently as she focused on her task of completely wrapping his hand up in her golden locks.
"So, you're being strangely cryptic as you wrap your magic hair around my injured hand. Ah!" He hissed in pain as she finished covering his last visible finger.
"Sorry!" She winced in apology. "Just… don't freak out…"
She closed her eyes and began singing.
"Flower gleam and glow,
Let your power shine,
"Make the clock reverse,
"Bring back what once was mine.
"Heal what has been hurt.
"Change the fate's design.
"Save what has been lost.
"Bring back what was once was mine.
"What once was mine."
As she sang the golden light flooded through her impossibly long hair. Eugene watched in apprehension as the ethereal glow wound round the campsite and towards the section wrapped around his hand. Pascal grinned at him and pointed to his left paw, as if the lizard knew something he didn't. He felt a strange tingle and warmth in his hand as the hair glowed. He turned to Pascal for an explanation, and the lizard just nodded sagely at him. When she finished singing and the glow died, he slowly removed the hair from his hand.
His eyes widened in shock. His hand had been healed! The scars and blisters were gone. There wasn't even any sign of irritation or redness. He looked at her in bewilderment at the miracle before him, trying in vain to hold off the scream building in his chest.
"Please don't freak out!" She blurted out, cringing at his terrified reaction.
His mouth was wide open, but no sound escaped his throat except a strangled wheeze. He tried to cover it and be as casual as possible. "Uh… I'm not freaking out, are you freaking out?! No, I'm just very interested in your hair and the magical qualities that it possesses, how long has it been able to do that exactly?"
He wasn't very convincing.
"Uh… forever, I guess?" Rapunzel shrugged sheepishly. "Mother says that when I was a baby, people tried to cut it. They wanted to take it for themselves."
Eugene watched as she brushed her hair towards the back of her neck. Hidden under the golden blonde was one short lock of brown hair. "But once it's cut, it turns brown and loses its power."
"Huh…:" He stared at the tiny chestnut lock of hair before it was once again buried under the forest of golden hair.
"A gift like that… has to be protected. That's why Mother never let me… that's is why I never left…"
"You never left your mother's manor grounds before the prince proposed." Eugene finished.
"Yeah…" She sighed, idly twisting a stand of her hair.
"You're… You're not thinking of… going back?"
"No! …Yes… Kind of… I don't know! I don't want to go back and marry Walter, but I don't want to just disappear and never see Mother again or not even give Walter an explanation. I mean… even if I don't want to live the life they have planned, they do care about me and how would they react if I suddenly vanished and they had no idea where I was for years and… It's complicated. "She groaned as she hid her face in her hands. "How about we get through tomorrow and then we can start thinking of what to do after that?"
"Sounds good to me, Blondie." Eugene shrugged.
"Great…" Rapunzel sighed and pulled her hair like she usually did when she was nervous.
They sat in awkward silence for a long time, not knowing what to say or do.
"So! Hey can I ask you something? Is there any chance that I'm going to get super strength in my hand?." He asked out of the blue. She looked up in confusion at his non sequitur question. "Because I'm not gonna lie, that would be stupendous. I mean, because here's the thing, "Superhuman good looks…I've always had them, born with it, but superhuman strength? Can you imagine the possibilities of this?"
She laughed at his silly question and the mood had lightened considerably. They chatted for a while, feeling before finally turning in for the night. Eugene curled up on a nearby rock and fell asleep almost immediately. Rapunzel lay down, wrapping herself up in a cocoon of her hair as a blanket. Pascal grabbed a stray lock or two to make his own as he curled up on the ground next to her.
Rapunzel smiled as she lay gazed off towards the kingdom. Tomorrow night, she would finally see the lanterns. All these years and it was so close she could almost taste it. She lazily looked back towards the extinguished fire as the last bit of smoke floated away on a light breeze. She gasped, startled as a flash of blue flame appeared above the charred logs. A will-o'-the-wisp floated there, motioning for her to follow. As before a trail of the tiny wisps appeared, leading towards the island city. Rapunzel gulped as the implication settled in: whatever her destiny was, she would find it in Corona.
AU: Glad you guys are sticking with me after all this time. Sorry this took so long. I couldn't decide what the monster for the Fire Swamp would be for the longest time. Then this idea hit me and I knew it would be interesting. Hopefully this makes up for taking so long. I'll try to be faster with the next chapter.
Oh and be sure to hit the shiny review button if you like what you see. ;)