Not sure if it's worth starting this new story, but doggone it, the plot bunnies are relentless! So here this is. Will feature some characters from Baum's book along with those from the movie. Enjoy and review!


A Witch of a Different Color

The coal black dome of the sky was alight with stars flickering like distant candles. Too small to banish the darkness, but bringing enough luminescence to cut through the overwhelming expanse of pitch that wanted to swallow the world. Below it sat a mountain range, capped with snow. Snuggled amid the peaks was a castle crowned with red flags on the tallest towers. Outwardly it did not appear a very menacing castle, nor any more spectacular than the other castles that dotted the land. But its high walls and the dreary pall that greyed the stones suggested that its occupant preferred isolation to company. The very location of the estate hinted the same thing.

All this did the Wicked Witch observe from her broom high above. She had expected something more gothic and grotesque—something more to her tastes. Taste in architecture was not what brought her here, though. What mattered was whether this was the castle she sought. And it was. She could feel dark, powerful magic curling around every turret and cloaking every entrance. She smirked. Powerful, but not impenetrable. Cackling softly, she dropped from the sky like a sooty snowflake and used her own brand of magic to find what she wanted. A familiar tingle, the tug of something lost waiting to be reclaimed, directed her to a window in the eastern tower. She flew down and, after a quick glimpse through the lattice glasswork, blew it away with a small fireball. The enchantment guarding the opening gave way a little too easily. But, then, her power was not to be trifled with. It exceeded that of her sister, once believed to be the most powerful witch in all of Oz. Now she held that title, regardless what the Munchkins and Tinkers and other simple folk said about that ice beauty whose name tasted like acid on her tongue.

The Witch stepped onto the sill, then hopped down. Shattered glass cracked under her boots. Half-consciously, she swept some of the shards away with her broom, more out of temper than attention to tidiness. Her golden eyes surveyed the chamber. It appeared to be a sorcerer's laboratory. One wall had a bookcase filled with tomes, and another a cabinet crowded with potion bottles, all labeled with engraved icons. They did not interest her. She switched her gaze to one of the tables. It was but a heap of books and threads of gold and beakers and clay dishes filled with various powders and liquids. A heap she might have dismissed except for the gleam on the reflective surface of some kind of globe. She drew closer. Not just a globe—a ball of crystal, partly hidden by a length of golden fleece. She'd found it! With a childish, wicked gasp, the Witch reached for the sphere with long clawed fingers.

A shrill ring hit her ears. Quicker than she could move or think, a blue haze grabbed her around the arms and legs and pulled her back. Dragged across the room until her back hit a bare stone wall. The Witch shrieked and growled. She tried to flail but her arms were pinned next to her head.

She would have missed the eerie giggle that bounced across the room had she not resisted howling her rage. The laugh sent a chill through her she'd not felt in a long time. The Witch did fear things—the Wizard, the Dark Forest, large bodies of water—but she'd learned how to curb her fear. This was new, however, and the mere fact that she could not tell where the giggle came from made her terror more difficult to quell.

Purple mist, or maybe smoke, appeared before her, and then disappeared as someone stepped out of it. A man. Well, a man of sorts. The Witch gasped through her teeth when she saw his greenish-gray skin and how it twinkled in the scant starlight. His fingers sported long blackish nails, like hers. He steepled them while taking an eyeful of his captured intruder.

"Well, well, dearie! I must say I'm impressed. Though I think it wasn't necessary to break my window." With a muted giggle, he waved his hand. The scattered glass reassembled and returned to its proper place. The Witch knew she'd broken into the home of an adept wizard; she hadn't expected him to be so blasé about it, or with a mind to fix his own window before tearing her to pieces. "It takes someone of special talent to breach my enchantments. Someone with quite a bit of power."

He came closer so they could each see the other even in the unlit chamber. The Witch, though shaking, looked him in his owlish eyes. "Spare me your compliments. I'm here to take back what you stole from me."

"Me?" The wizard rested his hand on his chest and gawked, still smiling. "My dear, you insult me! You must mistake me for someone else. I don't steal what I want. I trade. Make deals."

"Then tell me why you have my crystal ball!" The Witch shouted and let flecks of spit fly at the wizard.

He blinked at the assault of saliva and, flicking his hand to produce a red handkerchief, wiped his eyes. "As I explained, I made a deal for it. A colleague of mine brought it back from his travels."

So that was it. The Witch had already found the man who'd originally made off with her possession, but she'd assumed he'd been put up to it when he finally divulged, after some extreme persuasion, whom he gave it to.

"Give it to me," she said. Her voice grated in the back of her throat.

The wizard looked at her as though she'd told a joke. "Why should I? Not yours anymore, dearie."

"Yes it is!" she shrieked. "It is mine! No one else's!" With renewed ferocity she wriggled against the magic restraining her wrists and ankles. It started to give a little, but as soon as her strength faltered it slammed her back against the wall.

Another giggle, even louder this time. His fingers drummed against each other in delight. "So feisty! So determined!" The impish sorcerer hopped a step closer and tilted his head. "So futile. Even if you were right, what could you do? You're clearly not strong enough to overwhelm my stronger magic. I'm quite sure I could snap my fingers and turn you into dust. However . . ."

He spun around and sent the tails of his leathery coat flapping. His theatrics were quickly boring the Witch. But she was stuck, even after trying again with the help of her fireballs. The most that did was singe the brim of her pointed hat.

"Tell me, if you had managed to steal back your precious glowy ball, what would you have done then? Return to your land?"

Beginning to tire, the Witch sighed and flexed her tense fingers. "Yes, eventually. I didn't exactly think that part through—"

"How did you get here in the first place?"

Her green mouth turned up in a smirk. "Your colleague. The idiot with the hat. He came back to Oz looking for other things to steal. I made him bring me here."

"I see." A crease from something other than malevolent glee formed in his brow. He waited a few silent seconds before continuing. "Are you the one who had the ruby slippers?"

The Witch tensed again. Lava-hot anger filled her veins. "How do you know about those? Did that wretched girl give them to you? Did she?" It was hard to stop her voice from pitching upward and escalating toward a scream. Very little held her temper in check.

Narrowing his eyes, the wizard came back to her. His scrutiny only riled her up more. She snarled in his face.

"I'm afraid not," he finally answered. "I was interested in them, but the Hatter told me they'd been taken to another land. Not this one." He scratched his chin. "You have some nasty curse on you, don't you? But a curse that makes you powerful." Grinning, he allowed her a few more inches of space. "I can relate."

"I don't care! Give me back what is mine!"

"Answer my question first. How do you intend to return to . . . Oz, or whatever you call it?"

"I don't know." Weariness seeped into her bones once more. These spouts of fury had a fatiguing effect when she couldn't use them to wreak destruction, or any other useful task. To be figuratively chained like this and left to writhe in her fits and sag from exhaustion afterwards was a torture she did not foreseen.

"That's what I thought." The wizard slipped a grin that had an enticing softness as well as a dangerous edge. "Is there really anything in that other land you still want? Family? Loved ones?"

"How can I love anyone," whispered the Witch, "when my heart is as black as night? That is my curse."

"But you know, dearie, all curses can be broken."

She cackled. "I don't want it broken. My heartlessness is my strength."

"Indeed!" He opened his mouth into a carnivorous smile. "Wise words, oh Wicked Witch of the West."

The named Witch snort through her nose to hide her surprise. "So, you do know who I am."

"I have not heard much about your land, but you are one of its few points of interest. I also heard that your sister was killed, and you too met a dismal fate. Death by a bucket of water, I believe."

She balled her hands. Her yellow eyes gleamed a little brighter. "Not enough to kill me, as you can see. I let them believe I was dead." Although her appendages were restrained, the Witch could lean into the sorcerer's face. "There is only one thing I want: the Wizard's destruction. But he's left Oz. I thought my crystal ball could show me where he went."

"Even if it did—which I doubt—you still need a way to get there," said the imp. "And the Hatter won't help you a second time. I won't let you force him into it, either. He's a valuable asset to me. I'd prefer you didn't break him."

He flicked his hand again. The red kerchief he'd been clutching turned into the Witch's crystal ball. She gasped but resisted lunging for it.

"Let's make a deal." His voice went higher and grew bubblier. "I will return your ball and help you seek your revenge against the Wizard, but only if you help me in return."

The Witch scraped her nails against her palms. Her impatience thickened, yet she held her tongue and waited for her captor to explain. Appearing surprised at her quiet response, the wizard nonetheless continued.

"Not too far into the future, a queen will cast a curse that will take us all away from this world to one without magic. Our memories and loved ones will be torn from us, and we'll be trapped until a savior arrives and breaks the curse. If you want my help, you have to agree to stay here and be cursed as well. But never fear! If you are as heartless as you say, the only pain you'll suffer is not having any magic." He giggled again.

The Witch blinked and shook her head. "I don't understand. Why do you need this of me?"

"Because I want an ally while I'm under the curse! Oh, yes. I too will lose my memories and have no magic. But I'll make arrangements that will hold after the curse takes effect. That is, if you agree to help me whenever I ask you."

His words knocked the air out of her. A powerful sorcerer, indeed. Maybe even more powerful than the Wizard. But even with all his power, one glaring dilemma remained. "But how are we to find the Wizard?"

The imp seemed to give this thought. "How did he first come to your land?"

She remembered it well: he came down from the sky like she'd always imagined—a savior, to steal the sorcerer's words. How wonderful he looked then with his smiles and his charming tricks. The bright memory quickly blackened as she remembered that every word he'd uttered to her had been a lie. Deception after deception to make her like him. Love him. Dream of spending their lives together as the rulers of Oz. Dark fire filled her chest. Her lungs ached with the need to scream.

The sorcerer cleared his throat. "Dearie?"

The Witch hissed a sigh. "He called it a . . . a balloon. A hot air balloon. He came down from the sky from a land called Kansas."

He regarded her pensively while wiggling his fingers. A strange creature he was. He rivaled the flitting restlessness of the river fairies. Even his eyes reminded her of them. From some part of her buried deep, a place dry and shriveled and starved of light, there came an irrational urge to grin. River fairies were vicious little beasts, but cute, too, and she had enjoyed watching them from a safe distance back when she was . . .

Weaker. The Witch effortlessly squelched the impulse. But it was unexpectedly difficult to forget the dear little beasts with this imp staring at her.

"Hmm. The Hatter might have mentioned a land called Kansas in one of the worlds he's visited. A dull place. Very . . . colorless. And mostly void of magic. But it would make sense that if your wizard came from Kansas, he probably went back to it."

"How am I to get there?" the Witch demanded, lunging forward again.

"Ah ah ah! First, you must agree to the deal." He offered his hand to shake. At the same time the magic around her right wrist retracted. When it did, all inclination to agree to the deal vanished. Grinning, the Witch drew back her hand and ignited a fireball. She hurled it hard and fast. It crackled midflight toward the imp's head.

He raised a hand. The ball landed in his palm like it was made of cowhide. Flames still flared off the top, but his fingers cupped around it without sizzling. "Have to do better than that, dearie!" The wizard sniggered cruelly, closed his hand around the fireball and snuffed it. He shook off the smoke. "But thank you for the demonstration. Now I think I understand how your magic works."

A wiggle of his fingers. The Witch felt a sudden terrible nakedness on her right hand. She checked her middle finger. The ruby ring that usually adorned it was gone. She looked to the wizard and saw him holding it between two fingers. He examined the stone.

"How very interesting! Even in this land, the stone still works. It must draw on the magic of any land it encounters, and your own innate power." He rotated it and let the dim light glint across the blood-red facets.

The Witch growled. "Give that back to me, wizard, or I swear—"

"No need to be distressed." He tossed the ring back to her. Reflexively she caught it with her free hand, but spared a moment to look it over closely for any signs of tampering before she slipped it back onto her finger with inhuman dexterity. She expected him to restrain her hand again, or unleash some punishment for her murder attempt. But her hand stayed free.

Having bounced a few steps away when the fireball appeared, he came back and extended his hand again. The other still held the crystal ball. "How about this? You help me with whatever task I ask both in this world and the next. Clearly you have no qualms about causing damage and breaking limbs. In return, I will provide you with what you need to find and defeat the Wizard." His reaching fingers twitched. "Do we have a deal?"

The Witch had decided some time ago that it was better to distrust men in general. They did nothing but lie and seduce with their wiles, and dropped someone the very second they ceased to be useful. She worried that the same would occur. But thinking his terms over assured her a little more. He said he'd provide her with the needed tools to carry out her revenge. Once he did, their deal would be over. That suited her well. She had no idea of what to do with her life once the Wizard was dealt with. Maybe find a way to end her own sorry life. Maybe fly off to some remote corner of the world (whichever she ended up in come the Wizard's demise) and live a solemn, solitary life where the curse that sat in her chest could feast away until she was dust. It did not matter. It was fruitless to plan a life beyond her vengeance when anyone she ever cared about (few and far between) was dead.

Just one more partnership, and one where she knew she would get something she wanted. Slowly, her hand took his. Smooth lettuce-colored flesh met coarse scales. Claws grabbed each other. She had to admit it was nice not to be the only monstrous-looking one.

"Deal," said the Witch, smiling.

The wizard returned her grin and, after shaking their hands, pulled his away and waved it. The magical bond fell away. The Witch grunted gratefully and massaged her wrists.

"What is your name?" the imp asked.

She narrowed her eyes. "You first."

His shoulders jumped as he giggled. Arms opened to the side, and he bent low. "Rumplestiltskin!"

Something between a cackle and a giggle popped out of the Witch's mouth.

"Oh, don't start." The sorcerer straightened and threw her a sour look. "I've heard of a few of the names from your land. Couldn't stop laughing for days."

She smirked. If there was one thing she still liked about herself, it was her name. A shame she rarely heard it anymore. "I'm Theodora."

"Ah!" Rumplestiltskin pressed his hands together. "Now there's a lovely one."

He tossed her the crystal ball. The Witch emitted a small shriek and dove for it. It landed unscathed in her hands.

"I doubt it'll do you much good," he noted as she clutched the ball to her chest. "To your purposes, I mean. It still works otherwise. But I'll give you something of real value: my mentorship."

"What do you mean?"

He spanned his hands. "I mean, I'm going to teach you how to use your magic properly!"

The Witch reared up. "I know how to use it! I've had magic my entire life!"

"Uh, hello? Didn't you see how I stopped your fireball without blinking? I told you I'd give you what you'd need to defeat the Wizard. This is one of those things. You'd do well to take advantage."

He uttered the last sentence in a deeper register. The Witch swallowed quietly while huffing emphatically. "Very well. When do you want to start?"

Rumplestiltskin, giggling excitedly, flung his hand toward the window by which the Witch entered. The glass burst inward and flew across the floor. She flinched at the explosion.

"Right now," said the wizard. He pointed to the broken glass. "Clean that up."