This one is slightly shorter, but the action is starting to pick up with new characters coming into the fray. Enjoy.
The group came to a stop by the creek's edge. The sun was high above them, breaking a sweat across each of their brows. Regina stepped up to the steep cliff, the toes of her boots tapping against the rock that jutted out across the terrifying facade of Crocodile Creek as she leaned, ever so slightly, to take a peek.
It was oddly named, for what lay before them was a deep chasm at the base of a frothing waterfall. The creek ran down below, but even that was a tumult of wild rapids, foaming white as they hit the razor-sharp rocks.
"Crocodile Creek?" Snow questioned, taking a seat beside her daughter on a large rock underneath a low-hanging tree. The pirates lazed about; Cecco and Cookson lapping up the sun as Jukes passed around canteens. Rumple arrived slightly later than the rest, his cane one step before him as he dropped down to sit on a rock beside Prince Charming.
"The creek runs down below," Hook stated, knocking the sides of his coat back as he took a seat on a fallen log, his eyes drifting to the woman that stood on the high rock by the cliff's sharp edge, the sun illuminating her figure in a sharp silhouette. "named for the rock formation on which the Queen now stands."
Regina's lips quirked in a small smile as she met his eye and Hook's eyes glowed with mirth, the sun hitting those baby blues in just the right light that took Regina's breath; if only for a moment.
She looked away with a gentle blush to her cheeks, ignoring the look of her step-daughter as Snow watched the exchange with curious eyes.
"Does anyone have any food?" Emma questioned, flopping back on the rock in mock-exhaustion, running her fingers through her hair to pull it out of her eyes. She'd left her coat back on the ship, which left her in only a thin, tattered beige sweater that hung off one shoulder. The sunburn could already be seen, crawling across her neck.
"Here," Regina waved her hand; a small puff of purple smoke circled her palm before a bundle of dates and nuts appeared. She dropped them into the woman's hand, who looked up at her with wide, surprised eyes.
"Thanks." Emma muttered, unable to form more coherent words because it wasn't like Regina to so selflessly hand her anything without a cost. She watched, mouth agape, as the woman passed around the same to the others, dropping small handfuls into each of their hands. The pirates dived for her, scrambling over each other to be served first, but Hook grabbed each by the shoulder and shoved them back, forcing them to wait their turn.
Rumple stood up then, touching the ends of the almost empty canteens, eliciting a faint blue glow from them before all returned to normal.
"What did you do to that?" David questioned, more wary of the close-lipped Imp than of Regina's gesture.
"Can't have the family dying of dehydration, can we, Charming?" He smirked, taking his seat again as Snow picked up one of the canteens.
"It's full," She grinned.
"It's not poisoned, is it?" Regina smirked and Rumple narrowed his eyes at her, before crossing his hands over the head of his cane.
"Only yours, your Majesty."
As if out of spite, Regina lifted one of the canteens and bit the cork out with her teeth, spitting it toward her mentor's designer leather shoes with laughter in her eyes.
"Hey Captain," Cecco broke the stalemate, speaking with a date masticating noisily in his mouth. "So how's it work?"
"What, Cec?" Hook popped a few almonds into his mouth, smirking at the woman standing a few feet behind his shipmate, in the clear path between two large boulders.
"You know, with the ladies." He gestured toward Regina, who's eyes had widened to saucers. Slowly, she crossed her arms over her chest, her back going rigid as the pirates chuckled. "Cookson said he saw the lady this morning Capt'n," He studied her closely, unaware of his Captain's growing aggravation as he blundered on.
"She had nary a scratch on her Capt'n and trust me," Cookson looked Regina up and down, taking over from Cecco, an action that caused her posture to stiffen even more. She tightened her shoulders, turning her back to him slightly as her cheeks turned crimson. "There was a lot of her to see."
"Yeah," Cecco chimed back in, never having been known for his tact. "What do you do with that hook? You put a cork on it or something?"
Emma couldn't help but laugh, holding a hand over her mouth as her mother nudged her shoulder, having her own difficulty ignoring the humour of the situation, or Regina's clear discomfort. Magic formed in the palm of Regina's hand, the anger on her face evident and Emma quickly jumped to her feet.
"Hey, Regina, they're just joking." She attempted to placate her but the fireball that grew in the palm of the Queen's hand, heated the air between them, causing Emma to step back. Hook saw an opening and took it, grabbing Cecco by the shoulder and wrapping his knuckles across the pirate's already disfigured face. The pirate wasn't aware of it, but his Captain had saved his life.
"Ow! Capt'n!" He shrieked, holding his nose. "I think you broke my nose."
"Good." He snapped. "Perhaps then you'll remember to consider a lady's privacy before you crack jokes like that."
"Come on, Capt'n, you've always loved that one."
Regina met Hook's eye over Cecco's head, her irritation clear in her eyes as the Captain sheepishly averted his gaze. "That doesn't matter!" He boomed, shoving Cookson's shoulder with near as much force as he'd hit Cecco. The two of them huddled together, as pathetic as each other as Cecco held his bleeding nose and Cookson cradled his bruised shoulder.
"Look!" David called, stumbling up from his seat on the rock towards a small clearing in the undergrowth. "Henry's left another clue." Emma shoved past the pirates, each of them coddling their bruised egos, shrivelling away from the Queen that glared at them as she followed behind Emma. Hook tried to gently grasp her elbow but Regina reefed her arm away, instead moving to inspect Henry's clue as far from him as possible.
Hook punched Cookson in the stomach to expel his frustration and the pirate gasped for air, staggering back. He looked up at the captain with a bewildered expression, fighting to get his wind back. "What was that for?" He rasped and Hook pointed a finger accusingly in his face.
"That, was pre-emptive."
"What?" Cecco screwed up his nose, unsure of the word.
Hook pointed toward Regina, who stood apart from the group with her arms crossed over her chest and a worried crease to her brows as they inspected Henry's artwork. "If she stays mad, there'll be more where that came from."
"But Capt'n?" They each whined but Hook held up a hand to silence them.
"Where's it pointing, Hook?" David asked, looking up at the Pirate Captain who had to shove his way through the group to get a good look. Regina was already cradling Henry's jacket in her hands, hugging it to her chest as she pressed the collar to her nose. Hook noticed her eyes close for a brief moment, savoring the smell of her son before her eyelashes fluttered, fighting a tear.
"Well?" Emma pushed and he cleared his throat, looking down at the small sculpture built of mud and clay.
"It looks like Skull Rock," He tilted his head, attempting to look at it from a different angle. "Not as inspired as his last handful of works, but fairly self-explanatory."
"How long will it take to get there?" Snow questioned.
"A few hours." He nodded, standing up straight. "The one beauty of Neverland is you can circle the whole island in less than a day."
"Well, lets go then." Emma straightened up, ushering her parents ahead of her as the group filed into a single line. Regina glanced at Hook before following close on David's heels. The pirates ambled on behind her, blithely unaware of the tension they'd created, nor caring for the damage they may have done.
Rumple smirked at Hook when they were the only two left in the clearing, chuckling under his breath at the one-handed man whose anger bubbled well beneath the surface. "What a shame you've slighted our dear Queen," He grinned. "And here you were, the only one she was actually beginning to trust."
"It was just a joke, and it wasn't mine," Hook defended through gritted teeth. "She'll come around."
"Keep telling yourself that, Dearie." Rumple tilted his head. "As you convince yourself she's not prone to over reaction. With good reason."
"Shut up." Hook spat, shoving the imp aside as he stormed away, following the rest of the group.
Rumple toed Henry's small sculpture, touching the side of the skull with his shoe - once dark and polished italian leather was now tarnished from sea salt and grime - Hook was right, the sculpture was different and Rumple had a very strong inclination as to why. With the end of his cane he destroyed it, knocking the skull down in a single blow and banishing all trace of it with the sole of his shoe.
"The creek runs into the cave. It comes out the other side and spills into the ocean." Hook explained as they hopped across the rocks, one by one, leading straight into the mouth of the cavernous rock shaped like a skull.
"So the only way through is the creek?" Snow questioned, using David's hand for support.
"There's no other passage through the rock, but the river. The passage leads into the caverns, but it disappears into the cliffs."
"So, if they've brought Henry here, they've got to still be here." Emma surmised but all she got from Hook was a wary half-nod.
Hook waited patiently on the other side of the creek for Regina, holding his hand out to help her across. She stood with both feet planted on her rock for a moment, looking up at him before, reluctantly, she took the outstretched hand.
He used the moment as an excuse to pull her against him, wrapping his arm around her waist and pressing their bodies together. "I'm sorry, love." He whispered, pressing a tender kiss to her cheekbone and Regina's smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Can you forgive me?"
"Yes." She breathed, looking straight into his eyes. "I don't understand why, but I can."
"Lucky me." He winked, pressing a gentle kiss to her lips. A throat being cleared brought them back to the present and Regina let go, stepping away from the Captain even though he held onto her hand.
"Kind of you to let me pass." Gold jested, pushing past the couple with a huff as Hook's crew filed across behind him.
Snow watched the couple over her shoulder as David and Emma wandered up ahead, inching their way into the mouth of the cave. She could feel a warmth growing within her as she watched Regina's eyes and the way she gripped the Captain's arms with sure fingers. It reminded her so much of that night in the stables, the way Regina's arms had held onto Daniel so tightly, how her small hands had gripped his jacket as if she'd lose him if she ever let go.
A pang of guilt struck her, watching Hook follow closely behind the woman that had raised her; the woman who had given her, her first glimpse of real, true love.
She licked her lips, averting her gaze as the pair followed them up the creek bed toward her and the darkness of the cave beyond.
"There's open caverns inside," Hook met Regina's eye for a moment, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "We'll have to follow the passage down."
The group made their way deep into the dark passages below skull rock. The walls dripped with salt water and crystallised rock formations; stalactites gripping the colossal archways above as the winding, slippery tunnel narrowed and darkened, the deeper they got. Hook's torch started to dim with the lack of oxygen so low in the rocks where the air was musty and smelled of the sea and the water dripping from the rocks made it difficult to keep a flame.
They could hear the sound of the ocean echoing through the cliffs like thunder clapping against the rocks.
Regina tugged on his hook, pulling his arm against her chest as she stepped up to him, before holding her finger to the flame. He gasped, trying to shove her back, but Regina just smiled as suddenly, the flames of all the torches erupted with new fervor.
"What a marvellous little trick."
Regina startled, falling back against Hook's chest as he held her against him. The rest of the group stilled behind them as the added light of the torches filled the opening with a warm, orange glow, illuminating what stood before them.
Blackbeard, standing stock-still in the centre of the cavern held a heavy, dark steel sword in one hand, pulling it from it's sheath as pirates slowly surrounded them. Hook's men attempted to flee at the back of the group, but more of Blackbeard's men appeared from the shadows, encroaching on them like slowly melting molasses; their gait languid yet purposeful.
"What do you want?" Hook questioned, handing Regina the torch in order to reach for his cutlass.
"I think, my dear boy, you've already come to realise what it is we want."
"Enlighten me," Hook growled, edging his body in front of Regina's as his father glanced in her direction, those deep, black eyes bearing into her soul.
"Do you have Henry? Did you have him all along?" Emma piped up, shoving past David and stepping down to stand with Regina.
"Oh, no," Blackbeard laughed. "The boy isn't here. He never was."
"But the sculpture," Snow frowned. "He led us here."
"That boy is far from here by now." His eyes set on his son's. "I assure you."
"Why have you lead us here, then?" David questioned, stumbling a little as the pirates behind him tousled with Blackbeard's henchmen.
"We're here for the Queen."
"What?" Hook spluttered and Regina gasped, reaching for Hook's elbow, gripping the leather of his jacket tightly.
"I wish it hadn't come to this, my boy, I honestly do. But your girl here is valuable and you know I'm hard-pressed to pass up a decent trade off."
"What could you possibly want with Regina?" Snow cried, clinging to David's shirt as he pulled her in close.
"Not I," Blackbeard had the audacity to look put out by the question. "For the good of all who reside in Neverland, the Shadow needs her."
"I don't understand." David narrowed his eyes and Hook glanced up at him for a second, before looking back to his father.
"Of course you wouldn't," Blackbeard snarled. "You're not of this place. You're not tied to it's fate."
"You take Regina, the more bleak your fate will become." Hook growled, baring his teeth in anger as his cutlass left it's sheath entirely, stretching out before him, the tip pointed toward his father's nose.
"It's a simple bargain," Blackbeard shrugged, nonplussed by the weapon Hook hand drawn on him. "You hand me the Queen and this little family is free to continue the search for the boy. You refuse, and my men will kill you."
"You'd kill your own son?" Snow gasped and Hook's teeth ground together, his eyes never leaving his father's.
"He's tried before."
"Aye," Blackbeard smirked. "Alas, unsuccessful. Now, dear," He beckoned Regina with his free hand. "Come along."
"You're not taking her." Hook looped his hook through Regina's pants, tugging her back to him as she tried to step away. Sheathing his sword, he freed up his hand to take a tight hold of her's, refusing to let go.
"Killian," She wove her fingers through his, looking into his eyes with a watery smile. "We won't find Henry if we're all dead."
"Don't do this." He breathed and Regina touched his brow, following her fingers with her eyes as she ran them down the side of his face.
"I'll be alright," She kissed his lips softly; so light he barely felt the touch before she was leaning back again. "But I need you to find my son. Please, Killian."
"Listen to the lady, my boy, we outnumber you five to one." Blackbeard spoke sternly.
Hook's eyes flamed. "You shut up!" He yelled, pointing a furious finger at his father. "No, love," He gripped her hand again as she attempted to step away, his attention so quickly drawn back to Regina. "Don't do it."
"I'll be alright."
Regina managed to squirm out of his hold, stepping close enough for Blackbeard to grab her wrist and yank her towards him. Immediately he tossed her towards his men; Regina stumbled on loose rocks, the trickling water beneath her feet making it harder to find purchase as she fell against them.
Hook lunged, drawing his sword with a fury that reddened his face and burned his blood. "I'll kill you!" He growled, diving for his father who simply took a step back as David's broad arms closed around Hook's chest from behind.
"Don't." David spoke quietly but firmly. Hook tried to shove him off but David held firm. "You can't help her if you're dead."
Hook shook the prince off, rolling his shoulders as he took in a deep breath. David looked up at Snow, sharing a glance with her, then Emma before any of them noticed Hook take advantage of the silent moment.
He swung his sword at the nearest pirate, all but tearing the man in half with the heavy blade before he spun on his heel, knocking another out and ripping his hook across a portly man's stomach. David growled deep in his throat, rolling his eyes as he too pulled his sword, begrudgingly aiding the Captain.
Gold lit up the cavern with a fire-ball that flew from one side to the other, barely singeing the ends of Emma's hair as Snow shoved her out of the way. The ball managed to take down three of the men before hitting the opposite wall, shaking the cavern, taking out two more pirates as a shard of rock fell from the ceiling.
"No!" Hook screamed, dashing through knee deep water as his father dragged Regina toward the rushing water that dipped down into the underground river. He tried to chase after them, but had the wind knocked out of him as a heavy club hit him square in the chest.
The last thing he saw of her, as he struggled to stand, was her taking a deep breath as his father dragged her under the water.
As soon as they were out of the caves, Hook dashed for the cliff's edge, watching intently, with his heart pounding in his chest, as the Queen Anne's Revenge sat anchored in the small bay. He should have known, he berated himself; he should have sensed a trap.
"What's wrong with you?!" David boomed, shoving Hook's shoulders as the rest of the group stumbled out into the light; dripping wet and covered in blood, grime and clumps of wet sand.
Hook shoved him back. "Tell me you'd not do the same! Tell me!"
"That's not the point," David breathed heavily. "You could have gotten us all killed, not just yourself!"
"Were you even thinking?" Emma scorned him, dashing towards him, her face inches from his and her eyes, alight with fury. "You could have destroyed any chance we had of finding my son."
"Her son." Hook spoke menacingly, the words hissed in a near whisper, aimed to hurt.
She poised her fist to punch him square in the jaw, but her father held her back.
"But seeing as you all hold the Queen in such a high regard, I don't imagine any of you would be willing to help me go after her." The group was silent, Emma shuffled from foot to foot, biting her lip as her mother patted her shoulder in an attempt to soothe her. Gold stood back, his eyes turned down to the ground and his hands rested calmly on the handle of his cane. Even his own men were silent, huddled together on the creek's edge, shaking mud out of their boots.
"Fine," He spat, turning for the trees.
"Wait, where are you going?" David dashed forward, trying to stop him but Hook shook off his hand.
"I'm going after her."
Before David had a chance to stop him, Hook was running as fast as he could for the tree line. It had taken them a few hours to make the trek from Tortuga to Skull Rock, the better part of half a day and Hook was certain, if he could make it back to the docks and the Jolly Roger, he'd be able to catch the Queen Anne's Revenge before it took Regina from him forever.
"Bind her hands." Blackbeard ordered, making his way up the quarterdeck as they dragged Regina, dripping and sodden, up onto the ship. She glared at his back as the pirates overpowered her, twisting her arms behind her back to hold her in place as a man, covered in more hair than clothing, bound her hands with what looked like an old canvas oil rag.
She could immediately feel her power waning. Whatever spell the cloth was enchanted with, dimmed her magic to the point where she felt empty, deflated, devoid of life. Blackbeard turned, smirking down at her as she stopped squirming.
"Now you're more manageable," He smiled, a black, soulless smile that made Regina's skin crawl. The pirates patted her down, taking their time; she swore she felt at least five of them check her waist, hips and thighs for weapons before one finally declared a discovery in her boot.
Regina jostled to get free, pulling at her bonds and the arms of the men holding her in place as the filigree dagger Hook had given her, was handed to an enraptured Blackbeard. "Oh my." He swooned, running his fingers along the golden accents of the scabbard, touching his fingers to the tip and running them along the edge. "He really does care about you."
Regina didn't respond, staring down at her boots in an attempt to ignore him but Blackbeard stepped down from the quarterdeck stairs, each heavy boot making her flinch in the near silence as he stepped up to her.
"Do you have any idea what this is, girl?" Regina ground her teeth at the moniker. She knew he'd have to be a fair few centuries older than her, with his son pushing his three-hundredth year, but girl? She flinched as he touched the tip of the scabbard to her jaw, forcing her to meet his eye.
"He said it belonged to a woman, someone he loved."
Blackbeard grinned. "Aye, it did. And before that, it belonged to a woman that loved him."
Regina frowned, unsure of what it meant as she watched Blackbeard caress the scabbard reverently, touching it as one would a lost love.
"She was from your world, you now." Regina wasn't certain, but she thought she could see tears in his eyes. "Not the world where you were born, no." He breathed and Regina knew exactly what he meant. "The shadow brought her here."
"What happened to her?"
He looked her straight in the eye. "She died, protecting that wretched boy." He snapped, throwing his head back before he shouted. "Throw her in the brig!"
Whatever moment they'd shared, whatever humanity Blackbeard may have shown, was quashed with the sound of stomping feet and shouting pirates. She fought them, digging her heels in as they dragged her, kicking and screaming, toward the steps to the lower deck. Regina's knees knocked on the wooden stairs, bruising her shins and twisting her shoulders as she struggled. She screamed, throwing her head back with her hair flying in her face, the harder she strained against them.
She landed in a puddle, the decks sodden with sea water as they threw her into a moss-covered cell, surrounded by iron gates, half immersed in stale water. She had to shuffle to right herself, sitting up in the shallow pool with her hands still bound behind her back. She had to blow a tuft of hair from her eyes with a huff but it had little effect as she sat, hair stuck to her face and clothes reeking of salt and brine as she shivered in the dark.
Hook ran as fast as he could. His skin burned in the sunlight, searing as his heavy boots pounded like thunder on the ground. He leapt over fallen trees, his coat flying out behind him as ferns and thin branches swatted him in the face. He pushed through the clearing where they'd not long ago sat, where Regina handed out dried fruit and nuts and the Crocodile had reluctantly handed him a full water-skin.
He thrashed through a babbling stream, water kicking up around him as he tripped and struggled through a drop in the creek-bed. On all fours he struggled up the bank, dirt and rubble kicking up in the air as he launched himself over a boulder.
"So what do we do now?" Emma huffed, crossing her arms over her chest in annoyance as they mulled around the open sand-bank in the mouth of the cave.
David and Snow shared a look, each as perplexed as the other before, as a group, they turned to Gold.
"Don't look at me," Gold tilted his head. "You just let your two best chances of finding that boy, slip through your fingers."
"What are you talking about?" David grumbled, grabbing hold of Snow's hand as she stepped up beside him.
"You want to know where Henry is? Follow the magic." Emma stepped up toward her parents, closer to the imp as he spoke, her eyes furrowed in deep concentration as he spoke. "Regina is a powerful sorceress, but more than that, her power comes from the deepest, strongest form of magic."
"What?" Emma huffed.
"Love, dearie." He looked at her in annoyance. "Regina's craved it, yearned for it, she even had it for a time." He looked pointedly at Snow. "And more importantly, she lost it."
"What's that got to do with anything?" Snow shifted uncomfortably.
"Everything, dearie. Because wherever they've taken Regina, Henry is bound to be."
"But what could they possibly want with her? With Henry?"
Gold growled in annoyance. "Have you not been listening?" He hissed. "Whatever they're planning to do, they're going to use Regina's love for Henry to do it. Because if anyone's love could topple worlds, it's Regina's. She's done it before."
"The curse." Snow breathed and Gold nodded.
"Don't be afraid." A small voice startled Regina and she lifted her head from her knees. She could see her breath in a stream of light, blinded from the rest of the hold by solid darkness.
"Who's there?" She questioned, sitting up on her knees, listening for movement.
"You're his mother, aren't you?"
Regina's heart soared. "You know of Henry? You've seen him?" She squinted in the darkness. "Who are you?"
"I have seen him." The small voice, similar to that of a child, echoed through the hold. "He has been here."
"Where did they take him?"
"To the void between worlds, where magic is strongest."
Regina fell back on her heels, listening to her own breathing as she blinked, hoping to catch any movement in the shadows.
"What are they going to do to him?" Her voice hitched with unshed tears.
"Peter wants to live forever but Neverland's magic is failing. He needs the heart of a true believer." The small voice paused and Regina's heart stopped. "They're going to use your love for him, your magic and his, to restore balance to magic in Neverland and stop time again."
"How do you know all this?"
A small glow started to grow on the far side of the room, illuminating ropes and open crates, unlit candles drenched in old wax and a large lantern, resting on an overturned rum barrel. The lantern seemed to have lit from nothing, filling the room in a warm glow that touched Regina right down to her bones. As the light continued to grow, Regina could see a small face appear in the light, staring at her with small glowing hands gripping the bars of the lantern.
"I know because I loved him once."
"What is your name?" She questioned, shuffling toward the bars of her cell, attempting to get a closer look at the fairy.
To Be Continued.