Once Upon a Ring
Author's note: Hello, all my lovely readers! I bet when you read the summary of this story, you just went "Whoa, this sounds weird! Ha! I bet the author's been high on caffeine and chocolate lately, and their imagination is currently as runny as The Leaky Cauldron's namesake." Actually... You'd be partly right. My imagination does tend to run wild at the slightest excuse for it, and I usually am also quite... indulgent, shall we say, when it comes to chocolate and coffee.
But please bear with me. I despise fics which depict totally unlikely relations and surroundings, especially when writers are entirely incapable of either completing or making sense of their story. However, although this particular idea seems a bit (alright, a lot) far-fetched, I have given it a great deal of thought, and my brain just went "Why not? They're going to another world anyway, so why couldn't I just make it a different one?". I solemnly swear I will do my best to make everything as clear and as plausible as possible.
If you decide to read this, please keep in mind that I am basing this idea on the fact that no-one from Storybrooke or any other lands in OUAT have heard about The Lord of The Rings. They have no idea what it is, so everything that happens is completely unexpected to them.
Any faults with this theory will either be made clear in the story or could be pointed out to me in a PM, which I will try to fix as best as I can. Both my little sister and I are gathering ideas and dialogues for this fic, and we are both quite excited about it (though mostly me).
I have read many, many fics in which characters have been introduced into the journeys of LOTR, and it has been an all-time favourite of mine. I have read most excellent works, notably the Chance Encounter series by TelcontarRulz, and Pirates of The Ring by Aelaer. They are my absolute favourites, and I worship the people who wrote them (I even have the stories in text docs on my Kindle!). I highly recommend that you read them if you like that kind of story; I mostly got my inspiration from them.
Enough of me prattling, on with the story!
So, here goes, and I hope with all my heart that you enjoy it! REMEMBER: if you do like it, please review or send feedback! A fire needs fuel to burn!
Emma grabbed the boom behind Hook and held on tightly. She kept her eyes locked onto the blue-green maelstrom that was going to take them to her son. In front of her, Hook was furiously steering the ship, guiding it towards the mass of swirling waters.
"So who are we up against?" David yelled, "Who are Greg and Tamara?"
"They're merely pawns," answered Gold, gripping the rigging as tightly as he could manage. "Manipulated by forces far greater than they can conceive. They have no idea who they're truly working for!"
Emma looked at him incredulously; he knew who they were working for?
"And who's that?" she shouted.
"Someone we all should fear." Gold shouted in response - somewhat unhelpfully. Thanks for the detail, she thought, wondering why it was Gold always felt like he needed to sound mysterious and omniscient.
They rushed on, the Jolly Roger treading across the waves like a knife. The portal was growing closer and closer to them, and Emma welcomed it. She willed it to get closer faster, so she could get to her son as quickly as possible before those anti-magic bastards did anything to him.
Only one question was revolving in her mind, and it acted like a magnet to create all sorts of other questions along with it; why did they want Henry? Couldn't they have just destroyed magic here and been done with it? Why take her son as well? Wasn't murdering Neal enough?
Emma didn't have any answers, but she sure as hell would get some soon. And when she did, Henry's abductors would wish they had never been born.
Suddenly, the portal was right in front of them. The passengers aboard braced themselves and clung on for dear life. The Jolly Roger raced forward, climbing to the peak of a particularly high wave - the last ridge, the last obstacle between Emma and her son - and thundered into the vortex of magic and water.
Then, the ship, along with its passengers, disappeared in a flash.
Chapter 1 - Where in Middle-Earth...?
Emma stirred and groaned, keeping her eyes closed. 'Coming to' had to be, she decided, the most unpleasant experience on earth. She brought a hand up to her head, which was threatening to explode, to check for bumps and cuts. None. So far, so good. Now, how about sitting up?
She did so, and in the process spat out a foul-tasting leaf that had settled on her mouth. Wait, she thought, a leaf? On a ship? How even-?
This time, she opened her eyes - and saw green. Just green. There were leaves everywhere. Oak, by the look of them. She looked around, bewildered. The Jolly Roger seemed to be wreathed in leaves and branches. Some were broken and splintered, like something massive had charged through them. Oh, right - the ship.
Why the hell had they landed (tree-ed?) in a tree?
Tentatively, Emma got to her feet - not an easy feat, as it happened, since the deck was slanting at a thirty degree angle - and shakily took a couple of steps, gripping the boom above her. Her head collided with a particularly leafy branch, and she batted it away. She immediately regretted her action, because the sudden move made her head swim and her eyes lose focus - not to mention drastically increased the pounding throb that had developed between her eyes. She was having difficulty breathing too, as though the oxygen had been partly sucked out from the air around her. Maybe the air was too close and stuffy up in these branches.
She gently shook her head, trying to clear it and to gather her bearings. Her thoughts immediately went to Henry; where was he? Had they arrived in Neverland? Were Greg and Tamara close by?
Clutching her head, Emma looked around and tried to spot the others. She could see Hook's boots jutting out from behind the steering wheel, and Regina was sprawled on the quarter deck, her soaking hair plastered about her face. Emma realised she was still dripping wet as well. She tried to shrug her coat off as gently as possible, so as to avoid her head falling to pieces. The weather was warm here, and sunlight was filtering through the branches, casting a merry green-and-gold light around her.
Speaking of Gold, where was he? And her parents, come to that.
Emma stumbled her way over to the hatch, brushing aside branches and wiping dead leaves off her face, clothes, and hair. She breathed a sigh of relief: both David and Margaret were there, spread-eagled across each other, unconscious but looking otherwise unharmed. Emma also spotted Gold, who was stirring feebly. She reached him just as he opened his eyes.
"Gold? You all right?"
He looked at her, his shocked expression reflecting Emma's own bewilderment.
"I will be in a moment, I think." he sat up and reached for his cane, which had rolled a few feet away. "Miss Swan - I, ah... we appear to be in some sort of tree."
Emma cast one last perfunctory glance around them to check. "Um...Yeah. Is that normal? I'm guessing the portal system hasn't heard of the term 'safe-landing'."
"Indeed. It's quite strange; portals usually land travellers on the same medium they were standing on on the other side. It seems this was an exception to the rule."
He got up, and like Emma nearly slipped and fell over on the slanting deck. He grabbed the shrouds just in time to straighten himself.
Emma went over to her parents and tried to lift Mary-Margaret off David, without much success. Her head was still throbbing, and she felt so tired it was like she'd run ten miles. The salt caking her skin wasn't helping either. Finally, she managed to roll her friend (she still hadn't gotten used to calling her 'Mom') over on her back. Mary-Margaret was pale, but breathing evenly and soon her eyes were fluttering open. She blinked in confusion in response to all the unexpected greenery, but then focused on her daughter's worried face and her face split into a wide smile.
"Emma," she breathed, "you're all right!"
Emma smiled back faintly. " 'Course I am. What about you? Are you hurt?"
"No - I'm fine, I think. My head feels like it's going to burst, though. Where's David? Is he OK?"
"He's right here. Hasn't woken up, but he looks fine."
Mary-Margaret sat up, stretching a hand out to steady herself. "That portal was something of a rough ride, huh?" she muttered.
Emma nodded in agreement. She wouldn't forget the pain in her head in a hurry.
"Has everyone else woken up?" asked her mother.
Emma shook her head. "No. You, Gold and I are the only ones. Hook and Regina are still down; they're up on the quarter deck. We'd better see how they are."
Emma helped Mary-Margaret to her feet, and after having shifted David to a more comfortable position, they picked their way over to the others. Mary-Margaret went to see if Regina needed any help, and Emma approached Hook, who was lying exactly where she'd left him. With difficulty, she lifted a heavy branch off him, and cast it aside. Hook was breathing faintly, and he had no visible wounds about him, but his exceedingly pale face made Emma worry slightly. She watched him for a moment, waiting for the tell-tale signs that he was waking up, but then watched pots don't boil, and apparently watched pirates didn't wake up either.
Emma knelt and took his pulse under his jaw, and found it to be strong and pounding. She noticed his hand clutching his ribs, and felt slightly relieved. He probably didn't have any serious injury, but the rough journey through the portal had most likely taken its toll on his recently-damaged ribs, and the pain of it probably accounted for the pallor of his face.
She removed the other branches covering him, and tried to shift him into a position that didn't make him look as though he'd been run over by a car - again.
"Couldn't resist touching eh, lass?" said a raspy voice.
Emma started and looked up. He'd opened his eyes and was watching her, faintly amused, although his features were tight and his smirk strained with pain. She sighed and rolled her eyes. So much for standard greeting phrases.
"Stay still." she said firmly when he tried to sit up, wincing in pain. "Your ribs've probably woken up after that little underwater expedition, and moving around'll only make them worse."
"Aye, aye, m'lady." he said, with smirk fixed anew.
Emma didn't bother to respond, and instead shot him a dark look. She got to her feet again and turned to see how Mary-Margaret and Regina were getting on.
Regina was sitting up with her back against the railing, a hand cradling her head, and looking as though she'd been through the Gobi desert. Salt was crusting on her clothes, and her lips were cracked and dry. Mary-Margaret was beside her, a hand on her shoulder, murmuring things that had no effect on the former queen whatsoever. As Regina looked up, she spotted Emma.
"Hello, Miss Swan; I see you've survived. Any trace of our son and his captors?"
Emma shook her head, deliberately steering away from the torturous thoughts that had threatened to take over her mind since she'd woken up.
"We're all still on the ship, which seems to have landed in a tree - don't ask why, I don't know - and there hasn't been the slightest sign of life around here yet. Apart from the tree, that is. And... It looks like we're stuck here until further notice." she explained with a wince. "Or until you or Gold can conjure up something that could lower us all down to safety. The ship looks like it's about to keel over."
It seemed Regina had reached the same conclusion, because she stood up briskly, steadying herself using the ship's rigging as support. Mary-Margaret helped her up, and, much to Emma's surprise, Regina didn't reject her. Her mother went to assist her waking husband, while Emma and Regina followed, hanging on to ropes to prevent themselves from tumbling off the precariously-balanced ship.
When they finally arrived - Emma dizzy with her headache and Regina looking like her legs were made of cotton - David was fully awake, and busy protesting to Mary-Margaret, who was fussing over him like a mare over her new-born foal.
"I'm fine Snow. A little shaky round the edges, but I can get up by myself. What can a prince do if not walk un-aided?"
"Oh, I don't know," replied Gold smoothly, "perhaps stand un-aided?"
The prince shot him a filthy look and opened his mouth to retort, but Snow cut him off.
"Emma, where's Hook?"
"He's near the steering wheel - lying down, if he knows what's good for him. His ribs got damaged again after the shock of the portal. He won't be getting up anytime soon."
Snow nodded, and turned to Gold.
"Any ideas about our situation, Mr Gold?"
"Especially about the fact that we seem to be perched at the very top of a large tree." Regina inserted, flicking off a leaf from her shoulder. "I don't recall ever having heard of a portal landing people where they didn't take off from."
Emma looked around at that, only now realizing just how large this tree had to be to host the entireship. This had to be one hell of a tree. Probably the size of the sheriff station, without even including the trunk!
Gold just shrugged. "There are exceptions to every rule. Long has man tried to categorize everything that crosses his path, and yet never succeeded."
Emma looked up sharply. Her superpower, as Henry liked to call it, had picked up a scent. Gold wasn't telling them the truth - or at least not the whole of it, was her guess. She looked at him more closely, but his face revealed nothing, so she resolved to confront him about it later.
"Sorry to interrupt this cozy little chat, but now that we're all actually on our feet, perhaps we could proceed to figuring out how to get my ship down?"
Everyone turned to see Hook leaning against the mast, looking quite at ease, except he still had a hand to his ribs.
Emma frowned. "I thought I told you to stay lying down." she said.
"Ah, but love, lying down is so much more fun when in the company of, say...a beautiful woman. And unless I'm much mistaken you haven't volunteered, so we find ourselves at a disagreement."
Emma was about to retort, but Mary-Margaret cut across her. "Let's... avoid antagonising each other, shall we? The sooner we can get down, the sooner we can get to Henry." she said.
"Excellent idea, dearie," said Gold in a bored voice, "what do you suggest?"
Snow looked at him with the regal expression she and her husband wore sometimes without knowing it.
"Would it be too much to hope for a ladder? A levitation spell? Or even teleporting us to the ground?" she asked, her tone cool. "I do believe slithering out of impossible situations is your area expertise."
Gold chuckled softly. "Straight to the point, as usual. Seems to run in the bloodline, doesn't it?" The Charming family glared at him, and he went on. "But I'm afraid I can only disappoint. It is impossible for me - and, I dare say, our dearly beloved Queen," he nodded to Regina, who was looking uncomfortable, "to summon up even the flimsiest of rope ladders at the moment."
"Why?" asked Emma sharply. How could this happen? Did this mean they had lost the only advantage they had over Greg and Tamara - magic?
Gold glanced at Regina. "I take it you didn't tell them?"
Emma rounded on the woman beside her, worry and anger distorting her features and voice.
"Tell us what, Regina?!" she nearly yelled. "My son - oh, heck - our son is out there, with his captors, and every moment lost is another for them to get away!"
Regina had resumed her look of uncaring coldness. "Miss Swan, I assure you that my mind resides every second of every minute on the fate of my son; panicking will hardly do us any good in our quest to find him. As for what I didn't tell you, I barely had the chance to." She removed her scarf and coat (it really was quite warm up here) and sat down on the hatch. "When we woke up after the portal, I immediately sensed something was different, like a tightening in my body and in my mind. Like I was being deprived of breathing enough air. Miss Swan, I know you must have felt it too, and so has Rumplestiltskin. It's because of magic. It's different here, I'm not even sure if it's present."
Emma exchanged a look with her parents. This did not sound good. Emma recalled the compressed feeling in her chest and the difficulty she'd had to breathe earlier. Maybe it would account for her splitting headache as well.
"Not present... as in, it doesn't exist?"
Regina shook her head. "As I said. I'm not sure. It's like... I can't get hold of it, and I can't make it do what I want - Not that I tried." she added quickly when Emma looked suspicious. "I can feel it. Can't you?"
Emma, taken off-guard by the sudden question, didn't know how to react. Then, she remembered what Gold had said about magic; It's about emotion. You have to feel it. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her love for Henry, on how desperate she was to find him. Her mind reached out for those immaterial threads of power that had always been on the edges of her mind since the curse was broken. Her mind, however, only sensed emptiness, and something...wild, untamable. And old...so old. She opened her eyes, startled.
"Yeah," she breathed, "it's strange. Almost unfamiliar - like we've never used it before."
Both Gold and Regina nodded solemnly.
"I've never been to Neverland before, so I couldn't predict this sudden change of plans. It seems we will just have to improvise." Gold said. Emma once again detected a lie: Gold had come to Neverland before. She frowned at the dark wizard, determined to find out why he was keeping things from them, especially since Gold knew Emma could detect lies; why risk misleading them if discovery was certain?
David, who'd been watching the exchange between the trio of magicians with some concern, suddenly clapped his hands and rubbed them together, with the forced air of someone who wanted to change the subject and lighten the mood.
"We make it up as we go along, then? My favourite kind of plan." he said briskly, ducking under a few branches and the mast to reach the railing of the ship. "It's quite high up from the ground, but there are lots of branches to let us climb down."
At this, Hook visibly bristled.
"What are you saying, mate? We're going to leave my ship on top of this infernal tree?"
Charming sighed and turned to him. "Unless you can find a way of lowering it down, Hook, then yes. And I am not your 'mate'." He started to pick up stray ropes - they'd all been uncoiled and scattered about during the passage - and gathering them together. "But keep this in mind: this is a tree. Oak, actually. It's highly unlikely for it to be anywhere near the sea. So once you get it down, how are you going to set it afloat again?"
Hook narrowed his eyes at him, and made his way to the railing as well, still clutching his ribs. He looked over the edge, and groaned.
"The prince has a point." he declared. "It looks like she's well and truly stuck up here. And we're nowhere near the sea; Neverland doesn't have many tress as big as this one, and none are even close to water."
Emma looked at him disbelievingly. "You know the exact location of every oak tree in Neverland?"
"It's not a very big island, love. And when you spend more than three hundred years around it, you soon get to know it pretty well."
"So how are we going to get down?" asked Emma, in a voice that she hoped could pass as level and calm. Regina's comment on panic had made her admit to herself, albeit reluctantly, that the queen was right: it wasn't going to help them find Henry.
"With this." David said unexpectedly. He lifted up a tangle of ropes to show them. "We'll tie them to form a harness and lower ourselves one by one to the ground once we get to the lowest branch, which is still quite high off the ground."
He started knotting the ropes together, and soon Emma and Mary-Margaret were helping him complete the task.
"This is how I made the net; the one that captured you the second time we met, Snow. Remember?" he said, grinning at his wife.
Mary-Margaret smiled, fondly recalling the moment.
"You mean the time you threatened to leave me literally hanging ten feet up in the air unless I gave you a ring back?" she said breezily. "Yeah, I remember. No wonder I christened you 'Charming'. It's a good thing for me you don't hoist me up every time you want something now."
"Depends what for, princess." interjected Hook, winking at her.
Emma's jaw dropped open and Regina gave a long-suffering sigh, but Mary-Margaret ignored him, though she vented her feelings on the knot she was tying. David visibly tried to contain his fury at the pirate being overly suggestive to his wife, and did so by handling a rope so roughly that several threads ruptured and left the rope close to useless.
"You're awfully chipper for a guy who's with people he considered enemies two days ago, his archenemy close by, all of us aboard your ship - who's currently stuck in a tree - and is about to leave her behind." Emma remarked.
Hook shrugged, still smirking, though the mention of his stuck ship seemed to have sobered him a bit. "That's me, love. Always the optimist."
"That's not the word I'd have picked." Emma muttered.
"The point is that we're about to leave your boat up here," David said firmly, his hands still in the mass of rope in front of him, "so I suggest you start saying your goodbyes now."
"She's a ship, not a boat." Hook muttered, climbing up to the steering wheel.
Fifteen minutes later, the harness was ready and the six travelers were getting ready to leave the ship. David offered his hand to Mary-Margaret as she climbed over the railing. She took it with a smile, and they clambered over one after the other. Gold managed to get himself over the railing un-aided, though David halfheartedly asked him if he would need any help - which, to nobody's surprise, he refused. Regina climbed over the edge as regally as possible - by sitting on it and gracefully swinging both legs over, her coat and scarf neatly folded over one arm.
Emma was about to follow suite, but then turned around to see what Hook was getting up to. She opened her mouth to tell him to hurry the hell up, but closed it again when she saw what he was up to. He was passing his hand over the wood of the wheel, polished by years of steering, the boom, and the mast. His eyes roamed around, as though trying to memorize every inch of his ship. Though of course, he already had.
Emma's gaze softened slightly when she saw the sorrow on his features as he was forced to leave his long-time companion.
"Hey," she said quietly, "You'll see her again, Hook. It's not as though we're stuck here forever. We'll figure something out, you'll see."
He turned to her, then resumed his final look-over the ship. "We've been through a lot, this ship and I. She's the only lass that never left me."
Emma rose an eyebrow, a slight smile tugging at one corner of her mouth. "From what I've gathered, you were the one leaving them."
"Aye," Hook said with a small grin, "I suppose that's true. Doesn't make the Jolly any less mine, though." With that, he gave the ship a final sweeping look, and he walked to the railing, where he held out his hand to help Emmma over.
Emma rolled her eyes. "The gentleman thing again. Right?"
Hook shot her a devilish grin.
"That, love, is entirely for you to decide."
Emma shook her head, but took his hand nevertheless and climbed over. Hook followed her, and they climbed down a few branches to reach the others, who were already on the lowest branch of the tree. Emma suspected Gold had given in to David's offer to help, because some branches were quite difficult to get past even for her.
When they reached the small group on a very large branch that split into a 'V', David explained the harness system to them. They would lower someone down, preferably someone with plenty of strength and fully able ("Someone like you, then." said Hook, with a hint of sarcasm. He was ignored), who would then act as leverage for the next person by keeping a hold on the rope while they were being lowered down by the others. The rope would be passed over one branch for safety, and each person who reached the ground would help the others hold the rope for the next person being lowered down.
Gradually, the group managed to climb down without too many mishaps, not counting Hook slipping and falling to the ground the last few feet, or Mary-Margaret tumbling off and landing into David's arms, who let go of the rope in surprise.
When everybody had picked themselves off the ground and brushed grass and dust off their clothes, they were finally available to look at the landscape around them for the first time. They had been wrong after all: they weren't in a forest, but seemed to be just on the edge of a small wood. They could see not just trees, but wide, rolling hills too, with golden fields of swaying wheat and much greener patches that looked like fens. They were at the top of a small hill, with the tree hosting the Jolly Roger behind them. In the distance, they could make out further fields of wheat and corn, and even large pens enclosing some sheep and several sleepy cows.
Emma stared at all this, and felt like a rock had dropped through her stomach. Doubt gnawed at her mind, the clouds of uncertainty and desperation, maintained somewhat under control up till now, threatening to invade her again. Shock prevented her from saying anything just yet, so she went on staring instead.
A few tense and silent moments later she turned to face Hook, who was standing beside her.
"I thought - I thought Neverland was a small island." she managed, carefully keeping her tone as neutral as possible. "You know, with... sea around it. And Lost Boys, and mermaids and stuff."
Hook looked down at her, his face devoid of any expression.
"Oh, Neverland has much more than that, love. It has beasts as well. Fairies, pixies, normal animals... And pirates." he replied, in much the same tone. They could have been discussing the weather, his tone was so matter-of-fact.
Emma said nothing, but glanced at the others. They were also staring at Hook now, and looking like they wanted an explanation.
Hook turned back to staring at the hills in front of them.
"Aye. That's what Neverland is like." he said. "But this isn't it."
Emma felt the heavy drop of dread again. No... It couldn't be true... They had to be in Neverland. What had gone wrong? Where was Henry?
"How?" She asked sharply, no longer caring if her voice trembled. "How is this possible? Hook, you said we would get to Neverland through the portal. How can you be sure this isn't it?"
Hooked looked back at her, annoyed.
"How can I be sure?" he repeated. "I know the island, Swan. The most open space there is in Neverland is the sea - of saltwater, not this bloody green stuff."
Silence greeted his words.
"So... we're not in Neverland, then?" asked Mary-Margaret quietly, her tone suggesting she already knew the answer.
Hook squinted at the horizon, not looking any more bothered than if he'd discovered a cockroach on his pillow. "It wouldn't seem so." he replied.
Emma took a deep breath, and made her voice as steady and firm as she could.
"Then where. The hell. Are we?" she asked, gritting her teeth.
Hook smiled faintly.
"That, love, is an excellent question, and the answer to which is I'd like to say your hair looks particularly lovely today."
Emma glared at him. If looks could kill, Hook would be six feet underground by then and seriously regretting it.
"You mean to tell me," she said in a quiet but dangerous tone, "that not only are we not in Neverland, but we don't know where we actually are, my son's captors are getting away every second we tarry, and we have no idea where they could be?"
"Only three out of four, love. We do actually know where Henry's yeasty codpieces of kidnappers are: in Neverland." he pointed out. He hesitated."Theoretically." he added, like an afterthought.
Emma was visibly getting closer to shrieking her head off at the unhelpful pirate, and her parents noticed. Snow gently placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder and pulled her away, talking to her quickly and quietly. David, however, went up to Hook.
"How did this happen?" he asked him, worried.
"Honestly, mate - sorry, Your Majesteriority - I haven't the faintest whiff of a sardine's breath how we came here." he said nonchalantly. "But, before you punch me, I suggest that you explore all possible theories. I'm sure the Crocodile will have something under his skin that might serve as an explanation." he added, his tone suddenly darker at the mention of his archenemy, even if he'd brought him up himself.
Gold looked up at the mention of his name. Up till then, he had studiously been ignoring Hook - the latter likewise - and only spoken once or twice. The others had almost forgotten he was there.
"He's right - for once" he said. Hook glowered at him. "I do have a...hypothesis as to how we came here. But I doubt anyone here will like it."
Emma, whom Snow had managed to calm down a little, raised her eyebrows at Gold expectantly.
"It doesn't matter whether we like it or not, just tell us! I want to know how to find my son." Regina said, voicing everyone's thoughts, looking frustrated.
Rumplestiltskin smiled dryly. "Very well, dearie; I shall. You remember, I imagine, that blasted diamond that nearly killed us all?"
They all nodded. How could they forget?
"It seems that tampering with such a large and functional magical masterpiece that is Storybrooke had a grave impact on magic around it. You see, all worlds - with and without magic - are parallel; never quite touching, never interfering, but nevertheless present. Exceptions to the lack of interference and contact between them are portals, created by magic beans, among other methods. In between worlds, where time and space do not exist, resides magic. Pure, unadulterated magic. The only reason magical worlds have magic in them is because it somehow found a way to leak into them from this limbo. That's why magical realms can be reached from other magical worlds: there already is a path between them - the one that magic took to get there."
He paused, looking unusually solemn and sincere.
"But the diamond - being so powerful an artifact - used a lot of magic, and in doing so disturbed the layers of it between that world and all the others. I believe the diamond acted like a magnet: its purpose was to destroy magic, to make it vanish. To do so, it sucked out all of the magic around it, including from outside this world. Such a disturbance would have altered the paths set up between all the realms - both magical and non-magical. We, much to our surprise and displeasure, seem to have taken one of these usurped passages and landed in a world where quite possibly no-one has ever been magically transported to before."
He fell silent, and still his companions stared at him.
Emma was still suspicious of this entirely surrealy situation, but she sensed this was what Gold had been skirting around earlier.
"How long have you known about this?" she asked him quietly. She would know if he lied.
Gold looked at her, faintly amused.
"About an hour, Miss Swan. From the minute I gained consciousness, in fact. Like I said: it is only a theory. But I must say I don't see what else could have caused this."
Emma gave him a steady look, her instincts telling her he was telling the truth. She nodded, and suddenly found there was nothing she wanted to say.
Regina found something, though. She looked like salvation had come upon her, and her eyes were shining with hope again.
"Does this mean there's a chance Greg, Tamara and Henry came through too?"
Everyone turned to her, incredulous. Yet, Emma, realized slowly, that would make sense. Greg and that vicious murderess had actually left a bit earlier than they had, so there was every chance they had landed here. She saw the others' eyes widen as they came to the same conclusion.
"The worlds," Emma said urgently, looking at Gold. "Once they've been shifted because of that diamond, do they continue to move around?"
Gold looked surprised, then thoughtful as he understood what Emma was hoping for.
"Why, no, Miss Swan. I believe they don't. It takes an enormous amount of magic to just shift them, let alone keep them rotating continuously."
"Then they should be here, too." she breathed, a wide smile splitting her face. "They have to be!"
She looked up at her parents, who were grinning as well. Regina was smiling too, and even Hook didn't look as unbothered as usual.
Regina's smile was the first to fade.
"But we're still stuck in a world we've never heard of. And we don't know how we're going to get Henry back." she pointed out.
Emma straightened and faced her companions directly, her eyes hard and determined as steel.
"Oh, we will." she assured her quietly. "I promise you we will. I meant what I said earlier: I'll track them to hell if I have to. And I will."
With that, she turned her back on them and started striding down the hill. The others glanced at each other, shrugged, and followed; What else could they do but start searching?