AN: Hi! It's been a crazy-long time since I last updated this, I know. I have no good excuses for that, and I'm really sorry. I never wanted to be one of *those* authors that lets an unfinished work languish for years, and yet that's exactly what I've done here. Sadly for me, my previous beta is no longer available, but I still highly recommend her writing and will be eternally grateful for her assistance in the first chapters of this. From here on, any mistakes are entirely my own and all proofreading is my own, so please let me know if you see something egregious so I can fix it. I have no idea how long this is going to be honestly. I don't work well with outlines and the like. I know where it's going, I have some random future scenes written, but I have to keep getting from here to there. With that, I give you chapter 16.

Enter Cora

Cora, of course, was waiting for the signal from the Captain of the Guard. Had she been a less arrogant woman, it might have occurred to her that things were falling into place a little too easily. But self-doubt it for people willing to acknowledge that they have faults, so Cora simply assumed that things were going her way because she deserved as much simply for being Cora. She had indeed put out word recently that she would be seeking an apprentice. Cora loathed the idea of sharing power, but even for her it was becoming taxing to be both Queen and Queen's Advisor, and still keep up her forays among the populace. Reluctantly, she had decided to give the "Advisor" a helper - someone she could still control thoroughly and to whom she could pawn off some of the more mundane duties with which she was tasked.

To have stumbled upon such a strong, yet untamed, magician as young Emma so soon after making the announcement was, to use Jon's own words, most fortuitous indeed. When Emma had revealed that she was not native to this land, that information only bolstered Cora's confidence, because it meant a clean slate to work with. If she could snare Emma and train her as she saw fit, the girl would be loyal to her and her alone; unlike so many of the sniveling fools she had to contend with now, who remained loyal to their beloved Snow despite her increasingly violent actions. Cora had always known that she would one day rule under her own name, but her recent travels had convinced her that it must be a process. The people's ties to Queen Snow were not yet severed; frail and troubled, but still annoyingly intact. The real Queen Snow's optimism had spread like a poison through her land and, though Cora's actions in Snow's name were a powerful antidote, the toxin had not yet been completely eradicated.

Emma just might be the key to finally dethroning "Queen Snow" and taking rule for herself. The young blond, in addition to oozing raw power, had a certain , seemingly inherent, naiveté. No doubt she had seen her share of pain, trouble, and even death in her village and travels. Still, she was the kind of person that believes in goodness and kindness, no matter the evidence. Cora, despising both goodness and kindness, nevertheless realized that it is often a useful panacea when pacifying the peasants. If she could harness Emma's power, both magical and not, and tie it to herself, then perhaps she could transfer the people's affinity for sweetness to Emma and finally be rid of the illusion of Queen Snow.

She recognized potential trouble with this plan, of course. Namely, she absolutely would not play second to anyone else. After working so very hard to secure her daughter's future, only to have it come to naught, and subverting her own identity in acting as Snow for so long, Cora was more than ready to rule free and clear. This meant that she would have to transfer the people's affinity to Emma, but their loyalty to herself. It would not do at all to have them exalt the apprentice over the master. But that was a concern for another day. For now, she had only to interview her soon-to-be-apprentice. Wondering what the hell had prompted such meaningless internal monologue, Cora quickly shook off all semblance of self-reflection.

Not one to miss any chance to make an impression, Cora indulged herself in a flashy entrance befitting the Sorceress-Queen she knew herself to be. She was disappointed to discover her entrance was wasted only on the Captain. He quickly took a knee in supplication, which was somewhat gratifying but mostly reminded her how bored she'd become. There was no need to impress this man already suitably cowed by her power and position. No, her entrance had been for Emma's benefit, who was not here to witness it. Cora was not pleased. "Captain," she bagen coldly, "why have you summoned me? There had best be a very good reason. If you are merely bored and lonely there will be hell to pay."

"Apologies, M'Lady, I did not expect you so soon. I have a young woman here who might interest you as a candidate for the apprenticeship. She is waiting with one of my soldiers in the mess hall."

Cora realized her mistake; in her eagerness she had responded too quickly. "Yes, well," she covered, "I had a sudden opening in my schedule just before you called. Have the candidate brought in and I shall speak to her."

"You don't want to know about her first?" the Captain inquired.

"Captain, I trust that you understand not to interrupt me unless it is truly important. If you are certain that this woman merits me leaving my duties, then I see no reason to waste time having you tell me what she will no doubt tell me herself shortly. Have her sumoned, at once. I haven't much time left before my next engagement." Cora was adept at covering any missteps, making her eagerness appear to be nothing more thand impatience and preoccupation. Satisfied with her cover, and having managed to convince the Captain, Cora checked her appearance and posture as she sat in the ornate chair behind his desk. Naturally, only the seat of power would do.

The Captain himself went promptly to the mess hall to fetch Emma for her audience with Cora. Emma looked up as he entered the mess hall, and rose to meet him. From the look on his face, a sort of authoritative panic, she knew that Cora had summoned her and had likely already given the Captain a hard time. Not wanting him to suffer further for her own scheme, Emma rose promptly and addressed him as formally as she coul muster. "Captain, Sir, is everything okay?"

"Yes, of course. Her Majesty's Advisor has arrived and is awaiting you in my office. It would be wise not to keep her waiting."

"Yeah, sure. I mean, yes, Sir, of course. Thank you for your help, Sir." With that, Emma took her leave of the Captain to go and meet the real Cora for the first time.