A lone figure made his way down the winding forested road. The air was cool, and his breath hung visibly in the late January air. Winter was upon them, as evidenced by the browning leaves and chilled breezes that frequently swept across the state of Maine. He wasn't dressed warmly enough for this weather. He wore only a thin t-shirt, torn in more than a few places, and a pair of pants suitable only for summer. A simple backpack was slung over one shoulder, containing only the most basic necessities. A few strips of dry jerky, an extra set of clothing just as ragged as the ones he wore, a weapon-not his weapon, and a few books. Those he didn't carry often. He didn't want to damage them. But he wouldn't be returning after this outing, so he'd brought his favorites along for the ride.
One thing he lacked was money. Money wasn't worth much where he'd come from. Well, most of the time anyway. It would have been no trouble to get some on the way here, but that would've had to involve thieving and stealing, and those were things he wasn't willing to do. Not anymore. They were never worth it in the end. He also could've sold the heavy gold necklace that hung at his neck. That wouldn't have been worth it either. It had been a gift, that necklace. From someone very special.
The moon was particularly bright that night. A shining yellow crescent just visible above the trees tangled limbs; its ghostly light illuminated the figure's face. Two jagged scars curved up his right cheek; crescents shaped just like the moon, and red like a bed of glowing coals. Crystal blue eyes, clouded and misty, stared up at the sky before closing wearily. The last few weeks-years really-had been indescribably tiring. What he really needed was a good stiff drink, a big ol' steak, a bed to crash in for the rest of eternity. But he hadn't the time for any of that. For as one journey ends another begins. And this journey was leading him down this empty road to the place where it had all began.
He broke into a light jog. It felt good to stretch his muscles again. His patience was wearing thin, and the time would move faster if he picked up the pace.
The jog didn't last long. Because when the sign came into view the breath caught in his throat and he stumbled slightly on the pavement. There, draped in moonlight, was his destination.
Welcome to Storybrooke
It was carved of glossy cedar wood and tinted with green at the edges. Oh yes. Many years had passed since he last saw that sign. This sign marked the barriers of a prison. And beyond that barrier lay his destination, the prison itself. Storybrooke Maine. Magics of unimaginable power lay dormant there. Kept bound by a curse of dark origins, ensnared in malevolent tendrils let loose by a twisted monarch consumed by envious rage.
Tears stung in the figures eyes. No, he told himself at once, wiping them away with the back of his hand. There was no time for that. Now was no time to get nostalgic. He had work to do. Absently he fingered the folded piece of paper in his pocket. Everything was listed there. The terms of an ambitious agreement that, if executed poorly, would result in the end of the world, and perhaps all other worlds. No pressure.
The town itself was bright despite the evening hour. People were sitting down to dinner, socializing with friends at Granny's diner, which was absolutely bustling with activity. All the while blissfully unaware of their true selves. Well, mostly. There were two here who knew the truth, and one of them was just a child thought to have a wild imagination. The other was a woman, cynical and hardened, who didn't really believe at all. That was the tragic part. She would believe eventually though. They all would. Tempting as it was to enter the diner and sit down amongst the familiar faces, instead the young man continued down Main Street towards a dimly lit shop marked as 'Mr. Gold's Pawnbroker and Antiquities Dealer'. That was an evil place to be certain. Owned and operated by a cunning imp of a man who cared for nothing more than his deals and contracts. Deals and contracts tied him to people and power. And he'd made a great many deals in his day.
He pushed the door open, tinkling the little bell at the top. He stepped inside, glancing around at the various knick knacks and antiques that cluttered the room. A dank dustiness hung in the atmosphere. This was a place full of old things. Old possessions, old memories of times long passed.
"Can I help you?" the voice made the figure jump and spin around. He hated when that happened. Behind the counter stood a slender man with a gaunt face, well cut clothes and eyes sparkling with mischief. As he had a habit of doing, he'd appeared out of seemingly nowhere. Noticing the customers obvious disifugrement he gave the slightest of winces. That was incredibly difficult to do considering the things he'd done and seen done.
"Yes actually" said the young man. He reached into his pocket and withdrew the piece of paper. "You're Mr. Gold I assume?" It was an idle question. He knew perfectly well who the shop owner was.
"Indeed I am" replied Mr. Gold politely.
"Then this is for you" he handed him the paper, sealed at the fold by a drop of red wax branded with an elaborate seal. A flock of birds taking flight above a howling wolf, a sword driven into the ground at his feet. Breaking it open, Mr. Gold scanned its contents with deft eyes. Finished reading, those deft eyes shot back up. "You wrote this, did you?" the question was cautiously curious.
"It's not very often I'm offered something like this. Tell me, this is your signature?" he ran a bony finger along the bottom of the paper, across a pair of signatures written side by side.
"And the other?"
"Yours." Part of him wanted to try deception. But there was no lying to Mr. Gold. He never lied himself, but Mr. Gold was a master of spinning the truth, of withholding just the right amount of information. No. Now was the time for honesty. To win this game, the young man had to play by the devils rules.
"Interesting." He looked up at the young man's face, taking in every inch of his face. "If you are who your signature implies, you've changed quite a lot since last I saw you." An eyebrow quirked upward. "Yes, you do look familiar. How long has it been?"
"About nine years. Give or take a couple of months. Probably didn't recognize me with these" he ran a hand over his grizzly scarred cheek.
"No, I didn't. That must have been terrible." False sympathy was written all over his expression. Mr. Gold was a very good actor. He had to be with the type of business he ran. The young man shrugged.
"Happened when I was a kid. Kind of had it coming though. I was a bit of a brat." Understatement of the year. "You and I made a deal. I get to come back, I owe you one, and you get to try again. Another roll of the dice as I see it. I'll be needing the items listed as soon as possible." Mr. Gold was silent, looking over the listed items and the terms of their deal.
"I see." He looked mildly pleased. The deal was very one sided it seemed. The young man got to 'return', and in exchange, Mr. Gold was gifted with a vast wealth of information. There was no bartering now. He'd already signed, even if he had no memory of signing it. Deals could become very complicated when things such as magic were involved. However, the contract did nothing to restrict discussing the terms.
"What of the item I'm to be holding for you. Indefinitely, the contract says." Sighing, the young man lowered his backpack to the ground and unzipped the central pocket. From its depths he brought a long sword, scabbard glistening with precious jeweled stones.
"Quite a bag you have there," commented Mr. Gold. "Holds quite a lot doesn't it?"
"Bigger on the inside. Had it specially made. Can't go running around in public with a sword on my hip can I?" He let out another sigh. "Be careful with it. Took me four of those nine years to get this made. I'd hate to see it damaged."
"Of course," the pawnbroker hissed, taking the sword over the counter. It was a special sword, of course. Touching it sent tingles over his skin, painful, prickling sensations. Even without trying, he knew he would be unable to draw it from its sheath. It had been made for another. And for them only. This was perhaps the most fascinating deal he'd ever made. "The contract also speaks of Sheriff Swan and her debt to me." The young man nodded.
"It's to be transferred to me. I owe you two favors then. Use them wisely. I've spent quite a lot of time pondering this deal. Make sure you get the most of it Mr. Gold."
"I intend to. Give me a moment Mr-"
"Caleb Montori" the young man interrupted. "I don't go by my true name often these days."
"Mr. Montori then. Give me a moment and I'll gather the required items." Turning, Mr. Gold walked from the room with the sword in hand. Inscribed on the hilt in carefully molded letters was the name 'Dawnfang'. He opened the wall safe at the back of the store room, and placed the sword inside. He would keep a good eye on it. At least until the deal ran out, and by that he point, he hoped to be capable of using it himself. Gathering the items took only a few minutes. A digital watch, a billfold containing several hundred dollars, and a gallon of bright red paint. An odd assortment, but Mr. Gold didn't ask any questions.
Caleb fastened the watch to his wrist. He illuminated the screen and checked the time.
"Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Gold" he said pleasantly. "Be seeing you again soon, I think."
"Indeed you will." He grinned, showing all of his yellow stained teeth. "It's a rather elaborate game of chess you're playing here. Two different opponents, all their pieces directed at your heart. Quite a lot for one so young to handle with alone."
"I'm older than I look. Experience counts for a lot more than time Mr. Gold." They locked eyes. Blue and misty met pale gold. Now the games began, again. "And the way I see it, the key to chess is playing your queen wisely. You'll do well to remember that. I'm an opponent to be reckoned with. Last time the dice came to rest, I won. Yeah, it cost way too much, but I'm trying again. And I mean to win again." He turned and walked to the door. With it half open, first foot outside, he called over his shoulder. "One last warning. Leave the sheriff alone. Her kid too. Fuck with them, and you fuck with me. Good night, Mr. Gold."
Walking down the sidewalk Caleb felt relief wash over him. That had went a lot better than he'd expected. The games had started. All the pieces were on the board, the deal with Satan had been made, and it was time to make his first move. Moving across the street he walked in the direction of the school. He knew a place where he could get some sleep. Maybe later on, once he'd started the ball rolling, he'd move to Granny's Bed and Breakfast. But for now he needed to remain unseen. All part of the plan. First things first, he needed to meet with the sheriff. That could wait until morning however. For now, he needed a few good hours sleep. Sleep and dream of better times. Both past, and future.