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OUAT: Chapter 4 of "Back in time is a wish away"

Title: “Back in time is a wish away”
Author: Keenir.
Fandom: Once upon a time.
Rating: PG-13.
Characters: Archie Hopper, Ruby, Henry, Belle; Rumpelstiltskin, Milah, Baelfire, Hordor, the Dark One.
Categories: Time travel, changing history, what if, light character study. (action? Adventure?)

Story summary: Belle's fondest wish is granted, and everyones' problems will be over -- if she can stop Rumplestiltskin from ever becoming the Dark One. What's the worst that could happen?
Chapter 1: The wish. At LJ: Chapter 1.
Chapter 2: Introductions afresh. At LJ: Chapter 2.
…Chapter summary: The day after that encounter in the bar, Rumpelstiltskin and Milah meet our heroes. And the Dark One has plans.
Chapter 3: Perhaps a change of scenery. At LJ: Chapter 3.
…Chapter summary: The problem with leaving for new lands isn't the destination - entirely.
Sometimes, its in us
Chapter 4: I put the choice to you. At LJ: Chapter 4.
…Chapter summary: Why the Dark One hates the Time Traveler... And what the Duke does to friends.
Chapter 5:
Chapter 6:
Disclaimer: I own none of the canon characters, locations, or spells.

Feedback is always welcome.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Dark One roared in his mind, a silent wordless scream that would have toppled mountains - had he not been tethered, bound to obey the man who held his Dagger: the duke.

When he had exhausted himself, Zoso reflected that, There was only one Time Traveler. He toppled the Eloi Empire of my predecessor's era. He tried to use his Morlocks to destroy me - and I trapped him and his armada of Morlocks deep in the fires of the Netherworld for all time.

If there are more time travelers now, then more invasions are possible. And the Time Traveler may have an escape to his captivity.

"No," the Dark One said with great finality. "A message needs to be sent: time travel will not be permitted." But he could not kill the four travelers, however much he now saw a need to do so: binding of his Dagger prevented him. "They need to move against the Duke... that will free my hands."

It was a bonus that the four had found residence in the same village that housed one of the desperate souls Zoso had an eye on. He had always kept an alert eye on potential successors, all throughout his era... To lose friends, finding they were so dangerous - and when they had been around his child! - that will render the soul even more ideal.

"But first, I have been bidden to always inform the Duke of things I find, things I learn," Zoso said to nobody, and went up in a puff of smoke.

**

The Dark One reappeared in the bedchamber of the Duke, standing between the bed and a wall map of the kingdom, with the duchy prominent within it. He wants me to remove the dragon from the kingdom's border, to make his king indebted to him...I told him that, if the dragon vanishes, the ogres will be rush in and be able to box in the entire kingdom. Thereby making all his plans useless. "Duke. My Commander," using the form of address he had been commanded to call him.

Zoso did not know that one day, far in the future, the dragon would be slain by George, who would turn the fertile land into his kingdom.

The occupants of the room woke up swiftly. The Duke's wife and mistress each lowered their gaze to avoid meeting his eyes. The Duke had no such compunction, and looked right at him as he said, "What do you have for me, Dark One?"

"An enemy, my commander," the Dark One said. "One who has brought a pair of powerful figures, both cursed, into your realm."

"I see. And how did they slip past your vigilance?"

"They did not. I have been quietly ascertaining. I did not wish to disturb your slumber until I had learned how dangerous the curses were, and how they were being controlled."

"Excellent, then. Tell me, what sort of curses are these?"

"Transformational," the Dark One said. "At night, they become ravenous and powerful creatures. Their value to the war effort cannot be understated."

"Either war effort?" the Duke asked.

"Anything where the fighting is quick and definitive and over in less than a day, is rarely called a war, my commander."

The Duke smiled. Then the smile went away. "You said 'at night.' Are they presently under control?"

"That has been the case thus far. If it continues tonight, then perhaps tomorrow, you could invite them to join your army."

"And if they refuse, then the cursed ones are taken so they may be protected from that enemy, so they may join my army." The Duke frowned, "While if you are wrong, Dark One, and they have already begun an attack within my lands..." his voice threatening.

"Then they will have proven their untrustworthy nature, and have brought their destruction down upon themselves."

"Again, you said 'at night.' What threat do they pose by day?"

"No more than an ordinary peasant does," Zoso informed the Duke. "And they have friends in that strata."

Monster-controllers...befriending peasants. What strange times we live in, thought the Duke, forming an idea of how to handle this.

~~
In the woods:

She followed him. At a large head start on his part, an advantage Ruby could handle because of the distinctly...Archie smell wafting through her nostrils.

Into the woods. Over a small hill or two. Past a stream full of fish. Down the next hill...

That was when Ruby heard the sound of a cricket. And it was not a small cricket by the sound of it. Ruby turned around, and just saw a good-sized tree. Then she looked up the trunk...

There you are, she thought. His arms and legs had given way to the multiple joints of cricket limbs, and his eyes had something going on there... but otherwise he looked completely human.</p>

And clinging head-down to a tree, Ruby thought. Listening to the string instrument sounds produced when Archie opened his mouth, Ruby thought I bet he's saying 'go, run, I'm dangerous, I don't want to be seen like this.' I've felt like that too. That and it didn't really sound like a 'Yum, now I can have a midnight snack' song.

Archie tried scaring her into leaving. But it is rather hard to be intimidating when your roars sound like violins. So he stopped trying to roar. So he jumped.

Landed right behind her. He had turned around in mid-leap, so he was looking right into her eyes.

"You can hear me, right?" Ruby asked him, standing her ground.

He swiped one clawed paw - tarsus - through the space between their faces.

Unimpressed, "I'd have done that too, if my change wasn't too fast to give me time to do fun stuff like this."

Archie hopped back a few feet in a single move, two of his hands pointing to the ground between them.

Wait, you did all that intimidation stuff - while writing with your foot? The word GO was carved into the topsoil now. "Showoff," Ruby said.

He glared at her.

She stared back.

After a few minutes of that, Archie crouched down, his thorny knuckles resting on the ground, his eyes looking at them.

Before Ruby's eyes, spots and splotches of red began to take over where green had been, and where green hadn't been, like the increasingly armored look of I'd think back to high school biology classes for what it means when a cricket or grasshopper turns red...but those are all false memories, right?

"Doesn't matter what you turn or grow, Archie," Ruby said. "I don't leave my friends." Though her mind entertained a possibility: If you attack me, would I turn into a giant wolf during wolfstime and a giant cricket during eyestime, or would I turn into a half-cricket half-wolf during both eyestime and wolfstime? And she put the question to him.

All the color faded from Archie, like a face going pale.

Ruby sat down. I can wait.

~~~
In the village:
very early Morning:

As she helped him walk out of the woods, him leaning on her for support, "So, what was the deal with the red body paint?" Ruby asked.

"I was, uh, turning into a locust," Archie said, his legs sore and unaccustomed to being cricket again. "It happened a few times before. When I was little. I'd get a ravenous appetite, bright colors, quills, and never much of a conversationalist."

"Huh. Wait, quills? Like a porcupine?"

"I honestly don't know what else to call them - horns or antlers, maybe; but they're at points all over my body."

"Wicked."

"I believe that's the point."

And they both smiled at the unwitting play on words in that last sentance.

Not long after they got back within the village grounds, a herald arrived.

"By order of the Duke," the herald informed that part of the village, his voice loud enough to wake people up as he was relaying the message, "I am here to tell you this. A secret danger has arrived recently in the duchy, a cursemaster covertly seeking to harm and blight the villages. Any who brings the dangerous enemy to his duchal forces or his duchal forces to the dangerous enemy, will be called brother by the Duke and granted lands and titles commiserate with such an honor. The entire family of the newly-titled individual will be likewise blessed, and shall be presented before His Majesty the King, and introduced as Most Honored And Brave."

"Wow," Ruby said as the herald continued on for a few more minutes before moving to another part of the village to say it all over again. "I'm almost tempted to turn us in."

"Looks like we had an effect," Archie said. "Question is..." and he noticed that Milah, Baelfire, and Rumpelstiltskin were standing at the door to their home. Archie was a good enough student of human expressions to know what was on their faces: unlike most of the villagers, who just got on with their day and their lives...these three were thinking about what they had just heard.
Tags: archie, once upon a time, once upon a time fanfiction, ouat, ruby, series
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