Status: Updates every Sunday

Twisted Tales

Out of the Frying Pan

I finished the strange tale that led me to this dungeon, in this world that was not my own, and fell silent, waiting for a response from Erik.

For a long time, I heard nothing but the sound of his breathing. And then—

"You're right, I don't believe it."

"Seriously?" I demanded, my temper flaring. "We've been attacked by giants; your house was a gift from a fairy sorceress; we're only in this mess because I made a magical gnome tear himself in half; and we got into this damn castle via magic beans. What about getting sucked into a... a... parallel world is so fantastic that you can't believe it?"

"It's not that part I don't buy," he replied. "You being from some other realm clears a lot of things up for me. Mostly having to do with your general strangeness."


"No, what I can't accept is that, according to this story of yours, this world—my world—is just some... book of made up stories? Children's tales that mothers read to babes? I can't believe that. I won't accept that my life, the lives of everyone around me, are predetermined, written by some author who has never seen in this world with his own eyes."

"Well, I don't know how it's possible, but that's what happened," I huffed. "The Book I showed you? It doesn't tell the future or whatever it is I told you it did. It just has the stories in it, already written, the way they are supposed to go. Except I guess not anymore. I messed up the story when I killed Rumpelstiltskin, it didn't happen the way it was supposed to."

"Because our lives aren't just stories," Erik said, and though I couldn't see his expression, his voice was hard. "We aren't imaginary characters bound by words on a page." Erik shoved his hand through the bars of his cage. He reached over, groping blindly. I stretched out my own arm, and the angle was awkward, but I was able to touch his fingers. He grabbed my hand, squeezing tightly. "Does this feel imaginary? Do I feel like some character in a story to you?"

I sniffed, tears starting to run down my face again. "No," I said.

"Because book or no book, I'm real, and my life is my own. Words on a page won't define me or my fate."

"Well, you don't actually have a story," I told him as I wiped my eyes with the back of the my free hand.


"I mean, as far as I can tell, there isn't a story about you in the book. There's no fairytale that has someone like you as a character."

"So you're trying to tell me that my entire world is nothing but a collection of children's stories—and I'm not even in it?"

"Yeah, I don't know why I thought telling you that would make you feel better."

"Not a very good book, is it," he muttered under his breath, barely loud enough for me to hear.

I laughed, I couldn't help it. "Yeah, I'm a bit less fond of it now than I used to be myself."

"What about Jack? Is Jack in any of the stories?"

"Uh... nope. No. No story for Jack, uh-uh," I lied. No sense getting Erik all riled up at this point.

We both fell silent again, still holding hands through the bars in our cells.

"Erik?" I said.


"Do you think we're going to find a way out of this?"

"Sure. We'll think of something."



"I'm scared."

For a long moment, all I hear was the sound of his gentle breathing.

"Yeah. Me too."

I was woken a few hours later by the sound of the dungeon door creaking open
I was woken a few hours later by the sound of the dungeon door creaking open.

I sat up abruptly, bits of straw falling out of my hair, and listened hard for the sound of approaching footsteps.

"Erik?" I whispered.

"I'm awake," came his hushed reply.

Apprehension made my stomach clench. We hadn't been visited yet by the guards at the king had promised, and I had been dreading this moment. I didn't know what kind of techniques the guards would use to get us to confess all our secrets about the way we got into the castle, but I imagined they weren't going to be pleasant. The awful thing was, was that we'd pretty much already told the king everything. It wasn't like we'd had some great secret, we'd just used a ladder and a beanstalk. The guards were going to try to torture information that didn't exist out of me, and I was certain that when I didn't have anything more to tell them, they weren't going to believe me, and would turn to more drastic methods to get me to talk.

And then, of course, they were going to kill me. The icing on the cake that has been this really lousy week.

The sound of boots crossing the dungeon floor echoed in the room, and I waited with bated breath for the guard to approach.

Erik's cell was to the left of mine, nearer to the dungeon door, so he got the first look at whoever it was that had come for us.

"You?" I heard him gasp in shock.

I scrambled on my hands and knees to the front of my cell, pressing my face against the bars to get a look at who it was.

"Samuel?" I said, blinking dumbly up at him.

He smiled at me and pulled something long and thin from his pocket. He stuck one end into the lock on my cell door and began fiddling around with it. "Samantha, actually," he said.

"I... what?"

"My actual name is Samantha."

Samuel's—Samantha's voice was different than it had been before, higher pitched and more obviously feminine. I looked at him hard through the darkness that swathed the dungeon, and I suddenly saw the narrowness of the jaw, the roundness in the cheeks. My mouth dropped open.

"How did I miss that?" I said aloud.

Samantha laughed. "It's a good disguise."

"So... The others, they're also...?"

"Women? Yes. Twelve women, exactly alike in face and figure, dressed as men." The lock suddenly gave a loud click and popped open, allowing Samantha to swing the iron bars open.

"What—why—" I stammered, but then I remembered. "The Twelve Huntsmen!" I groaned. Damn, I should have known from the beginning! It was such a strange little story, it had been one of my favorites as a child. A princess and a prince fall in love, but the prince has to leave his beloved to attend to his dying father, the king. The king makes him promise to be married to another princess, and in his grief, the prince agrees. Once he has made the promise, he can't back out of it, and he marries the other woman.

Hearing about her lover's wedding, the original princess believes he has forgotten all about her. Heart broken, she asks her father to find eleven other maidens who look exactly like her, and to have hunter outfits made up for all of them. She then travels with her new cohort to her ex's kingdom, where she quickly befriends him as one of his new hunting buddies.

Believe it or not, that's the part where the story gets really weird—there's a talking lion, who is apparently better at recognizing women disguised as men than I am, and a series of challenges it has the prince set to discover the princess's true identity using a variety of stereotypically womanly things, like spindles and, strangely enough, peas. When the truth is finally revealed, the prince is oh so happy to see his true love again, he kicks out the lady he's already married to, and marries his original princess.

It's a weird one, both charming and confusing on so many different levels. The twelve huntsmen who all looked exactly the same should have tipped me off, but what with almost being eaten by a giant spider and all when I first met them, I hadn't exactly been thinking clearly at the time. I have no excuse as to why I didn't put the pieces together after that, except that I had a lot of other stuff on my mind, and it had been an awfully long time since I'd actually read that story.

Samantha moved on to picking Erik's lock and I hurried over to her side. Erik had pulled himself to his feet, but he was leaning heavily against the stone wall, unable to put much weight on his bad ankle.

"They took my bow, my arrows," he said, his expression twisted. I winced at the memory. The guards had had to wrestle the items from him, and Erik ended up taking a blow to the face. His left eye had a purple ring around it still.

"You mean this one?" Samantha grinned, pointing to a bow slung over she shoulder and a quiver of arrows on her back. She turned partially so Erik could get a good look at then, and his mouth dropped open.

"How did you—"

"One of the guards just left them laying on a table in the guard room just outside the dungeons. It was pretty obvious he was planning on keeping it for himself, but he had to leave it there when I told him the king needed all guards to report for an urgent matter." She was grinning even wider now, evidently incredibly pleased with herself.

"Why would the guards listen to you?" I asked, grateful for everything that she was doing, but still utterly lost as to how she was doing it.

"My men and I—or rather, my girls and I, have been here all day. I'm a princess myself, you see, and though I am no stranger to camping overnight in the woods, I have to admit I prefer the creature comforts of royal living. We stop at castles and manors whenever we can, befriend the local kings and princes, impress them with our hunting skills, and earn ourselves a comfortable place to sleep for a night or two before we head on."

"Head on to where?" Erik asked, just as the lock to his cell clicked open.

Samantha pulled the cell door open for Erik, the smiling sliding off her face to be replaced by an expression full of wounded pride. "To Alberny, a kingdom on the eastern coast. There is someone I need to... see there."

Erik looked as though he was about to ask another prying question, so I shook my head vigorously at him behind Samantha's back. Her faithless lover was, I was sure, a sensitive subject. Fortunately Erik seemed to take my hint, and said instead, "I'll need some help."

I slipped into his cell and ducked beneath his arm, allowing him to learn on me. Samantha came around the other side, and between us, we were able to support him enough that he could hop along one-footed at a decent pace, using the two of us as living crutches.

"Okay," I said to Samantha as we crossed the dungeon, heading for the only door that lead out of the dark, musty place. "So I get what you're doing here, and how you were able to come freely to the dungeons to break us out. But how the heck did you know that we were here?"

We reached the dungeon door, and Samantha pushed it open, guiding us into the guard room beyond.

"I had a little help with that," she replied, giving me another crooked smile over Erik.

"Rikki! Erik! Thank God!" Jack rushed forward, my backpack slung over his shoulder and looking immensely relieved.

"Jack!" I cried, reaching out my one free arm to give him a hug. "How did you—what are you—I told you to get out of here, you idiot!"

"And how was I supposed to do that?" he asked incredulously. "The palace was crawling with guards! The only thing I could do was book it, and try to stick to the shadows. I ended up by the kitchens, right as one of Samuel—Samantha, sorry, Samantha's men—women, whatever, arrived with some game they'd caught on their hunting trip with the prince, to give to the kitchen cooks. I told her what happened, and she told Samantha, and then they smuggled me into the castle by claiming I was a stable boy traveling with them to tend to the horses."

Jack didn't look entirely pleased to have been delegated to stable boy, rather than something a little more noble, but I certainly wasn't complaining.

"What did I tell you?" Erik said to me. "I knew we'd get out of this one way or another."

I snorted. "Yeah, sure."

"Jack," said Samantha, "come take my place. I'm the only one who knows my way around this castle, so I'll have to lead the way."

Jack and Samantha swapped places, though Jack had to stoop awkwardly as he was so much taller than Erik.

"We're going to have to be quick and quiet," she said to us. "The guards will figure out soon that the king didn't actually summon them, and they will probably suspect trickery is afoot. If they spot us, we're all done for."

"Got it," I said, Jack and Erik echoing me. I felt more than a little queasy at the prospect of having to sneak our way out of the castle and off the grounds without being seen. It just reminded me that we were out of the frying pan, but still had the fire to avoid.

Samantha headed for the door and opened it the slightest crack, peering through for a long moment before waving us over.

"All clear," she whispered. "Come on, quick."

We shuffled like some ungodly three headed beast as quickly as we could, Samantha practically shoving us out the door as we passed. She half jogged down the long deserted hallway while we trudged along behind her, until she nearly reached the corner, where upon she slowed her pace to a casual saunter. She stepped into the adjoining hall and looked around, then visibly relaxed.

"Still safe," she called in a loud whisper down the hall to us.

We hastened to join her, and found one of her men—no, women, I reminded myself—leaning against the wall around the corner, clearly acting as a lookout.

"No one's been this way," said the other huntsman.

"And no one has given the warning?" Samantha asked.

The huntsman shook her head.

"Okay, you keep watch here in case anyone comes from that way." Samantha jerked a thumb behind us, down the long hall behind us. The huntsman nodded, and we headed off, Samantha once again skipping off ahead to scope out the path ahead.

We passed three more of her huntsmen, waiting with mock casualness around every blind corner, clearly set there by Samantha to keep watch in case the guards returned.

Jack, Erik, and I got our awkwardly shuffle down to a pretty efficient rhythm after a while, though Jack had to shorten his naturally long strides drastically to match those of Erik and me.

Even so, we started making decent progress, and hadn't met another soul apart from Samantha's women so far. Samantha was taking us back towards the kitchen, from where we'd make a beeline for the castle gate. The ladder we'd used to climb over the wall had been discovered by the guards who had searched the courtyard after we were caught, of course, but since they believed all members of the guilty party to be currently locked away in the dungeons, they had left the ladder propped up against the wall of the servants' entrances. We'd be able to grab it, scale the wall, and be home free by dawn. I was starting to feel a rush of hope as we scurried along the empty, echoing castle halls. Maybe we would make it out of here in one piece after all.

But no sooner had I had the treacherous thought, than from somewhere up ahead came a piercing whistle.

"Blast!" Samantha hissed, stopping so suddenly that Erik, Jack, and I ran right into her and nearly bowled her over. "That's the signal—someone's coming, we have to get out of here before we're spotted."

Erik's arms immediately dropped from out my and Jack's necks. He staggered away from us, shuffling on one foot. "Go" he urged, his expression dark. "Run, now, you might still be able to make it out!"

"Hell no," I snarled, grabbing him by his shirt collar and yanking him back towards us. I turned to Jack. "He tried to do this last time too, don't let him." Then I looked back at Erik. "We're taking you with us even if we have to drag you kicking and screaming the whole way, so don't make us waste any more time by arguing, got it?"

Erik glared hard at me, but I glared just as hard right back. His gaze flicked over to Jack, who's expression was equally set. Erik's shoulders slumped. "Fine," he relented. "But I'm just going to slow you down."

"Oh, stop being so damn noble," I said. "This is my quest, so I'm the hero here, not you. I'm the only one allowed to sacrifice myself for the good of the group."

"Let's finish this conversation at a better time, shall we?" whispered Samantha, glancing anxiously down the hallway. "We've got to move now."

Jack and I slipped beneath Erik's arms to support him once again, and followed close on Samantha's heels as she backtracked the way we came. There was another hallway that split off from the main one which we had passed only a minute or two before, and we headed straight for it, whipping around the corner and half-jogging down its length. Yet another hall ran perpendicular to it on the opposite end, and after Samantha stuck her head around the corner to check if the coast was clear, she motioned for us to hide behind the wall with her.

If we stuck our heads around the corner, we could see straight down the hall into the one we had just come from.

"Why don't we try to get out this way," Jack asked in a whisper, jerking his head down the hall we were hiding in.

"I don't have anyone standing watch down this way, and I'm not even sure if we can get to the kitchens from here," Samantha replied. "It's too risky to try. I say we wait until whoever is coming passes, and then we continue down the route I planned for."

We fell silent, hearts pounding—at least, mine was—and waited with bated breath for whoever it was that triggered the warning to make an appearance.

We heard them before we saw them. Leather squeaked and armor clanked, and we knew it was two guards who were coming down the hall.

"Damn, that huntsman nearly deafened me!" one of them was complaining loudly. "What was he playing at?"

"That didn't sound like any bird call to me," said his companion doubtfully. "More likely to scare away birds than lure them in."

"Must not be very good huntsmen," the first grumbled.

"I don't know, I saw them and the prince return with fair catches last evening."

"Well, there's twelve of them, surely at least one of the lot would be bound to catch something."

"I'd like to see you do better!"

"I'm an archer," the first said defensively. "I could hit a buck through the trees from 400 yards!"

The second laughed outright. "No you can't! I've seen you shoot, you couldn't hit the castle wall from your own bed chamber! You're damn lucky you had the fortune to be born here in Rothwall, and not in Weissland. You would never have survived the civil war, no matter which side you were on!"

There was a dull slap, the sound of someone getting smacked upside the head. For a few brief seconds, we could hear the sounds of a small tussle just out of sight; some shuffling, a bit of grunting, and a couple more blows thrown. It musn't have been anything serious though, because it broke off quickly, and the two men resumed their walk down the hall. Samantha suddenly pulled her head back and leaned flush against the wall, and I knew they must be passing the mouth of the hallway.

I counted five long seconds, holding my breath the entire time, and then Samantha slowly peered back around the corner again. She didn't draw back right away, and I knew they must have passed out of sight again. We didn't move just yet however, for we could still hear them bickering close by. It would be another thirty seconds before they turned the corner and left the hall empty once more.

But then, my heart stopped in my chest as I heard the sound of more footsteps—not from the hall the two guards were in, but coming around the corner of the hall we were currently hiding in.

I only had to look over with an expression of horror at Jack and Erik to see that they had heard it too, and Samantha's head whipped around so fast I was amazed her neck didn't snap.

"Go, go!" she hissed, shoving us into the hallway that adjoined the one were were hiding in, and the one the two guards were still walking down.

And then we were trapped there in the middle, unable to flee in either direction lest we be discovered.

And then we were trapped there in the middle, unable to flee in either direction lest we be discovered.
♠ ♠ ♠
Hello again, dear readers!

Sorry this chapter is later than usual, I worked both Saturday and Sunday, and hadn't finished this chapter by Friday, and it's NaNo so I had to commit to hitting my word count goal for that story, etc etc.

Buuuut, it turns out a friend of mine is going to be visiting for Christmas, and I wanted to give her a self published paperback of this story as a gift since she's always been so supportive, which means I'm going to have to finish editing pretty much all of it in the next... five weeks. But I can do that! That's only...

45 more chapters to edit. Shit.

Okay, so it's not quite as dramatic as that, I've already edited up to chapter 41 of the original, and after chapter 59, pretty much everything but some details and typos can stay as-is. I can manage that, I'm sure.

The only problem will be staying on top of everything else.

If you haven't noticed, I've posted the first chapter of Breaking Magic, and I'm planning on updating it twice a week, because I'm a masochist I guess. It's more than halfway written, but I still need to finish it, and with twice a week updates, I'll have to write one to two chapters a week. Plus I'm doing NaNo, writing "The Library at the Edge of Dreams", and since I want to enter it in some writing challenges on Tapas, I have to, you know, actually finish it. So that's 1667 words daily I need to prioritize.
And then there is this one, Twisted Tales, which I need to edit one chapter a week for--and at this stage, "edit" still means "completely rewrite". Plus, I need to format each chapter for printing for my friend, which takes for-freaking-ever.

PLUS, I want to start posting this story as an audiobook on Readercoin, so I have to record myself narrating each chapter too, which also takes for-freaking-ever, not to mention editing it all together in post.

And I've got work and a toddler too, and I'm planning on going back to school in January for a degree in web development, so that all requires lots of time and attention.

Oh--oh, AAAAAAND I really need to put my main novel in manuscript format, just in case any agents actually want to see it, and also go over it for any last typos I missed. Forgot about that. So that's a huge time consuming thing I have to do too.

And what do I get for all this work? Nothing but a sense of accomplishment.


I kid, I kid. I don't mind it too much. I feel a little overwhelmed, but not necessarily in a bad way. Just know that if I drop the ball on this story, it's because I've got a heck of a lot of others up in the air right now.

So finally, after this long, long rant, I bid you adieu with the recommendation to check out my new story, "Breaking Magic". Until next week, dear readers.