Category Archives: Fairytale Hit Squad 2

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.11 – Something Fishy This Way Comes

IT’S ALMOST A pleasure to witness. Were it not for the fact that Tink’s lifeless body is lying inside my pocket, I would probably be laughing with glee.

The expressions on their pasty idiot faces were priceless. At first, the excitement and joy at seeing Pan again, one of the more dim-witted Lost Boys even rushing towards him with open arms, almost tripping over his slippers.

Then the change to surprise, followed by the delicious slide into fear and horror as they witnessed Pan twist his cap backwards then headbutt the trusting buffoon straight over the side and into the ocean. At first they were stunned into inaction, Pan pirouetting in mid-air and scissor-kicking three of them straight in their shocked faces. Then one of their number, a dark-eyed young whippersnapper in an feathered headdress, rallied his startled comrades into a counter-attack.

And that’s when I decided to wade in, adding my one good fist to the fight.

I grab one of them by the scruff of his neck and throw him forward into one of his hapless companions, watching with relish as their bodies cartwheel off the side of the ship. Another, face painted to resemble a tiger, snarls at me. I bellow back at him, which causes him to freeze, a small puddle forming beneath his feet. I push him and he topples back – another satisfying splash as he smacks into the steely sea below.

Pan clears up the last of them, hovering upside down with his legs spinning like a helicopter. One, then two, then the last of the Lost Boys fall beneath his whirling pixie-boots, until the entire company of snot-nosed assailants are either thrashing about in the seas below, or out cold on the polished deck before us.

‘We need to find her!’ Pan rights himself and lands beside me, breathless.

‘Perhaps we should have left one in a state to interrogate,’ I say, wishing I had my sharpened steel hook instead of this useless rubber appendage flopping at my wrist.

‘Too late for that,’ says Pan. ‘She’ll be here – and we know she’ll be in water.’

I peruse a handily-placed placard beside us: a map of the ship and its many decks. ‘There’s an indoor swimming pool here,’ I say, jabbing my rubbery point at the sign. ‘If I was going to keep a mermaid captive – and alive – that’s where I would plonk her.’

‘Let’s go.’ He kicks at one of the Lost Boys who’s still making a pitiful groaning. ‘The sooner we find her, the sooner we’ll be able to bring Tink back.’

Rather annoyingly, I find myself following the green-garmented nincompoop down into the bowels of the cruise ship, forcing myself to pass by the shops filled with jewels, trinkets and baubles and eventually finding myself outside the rather ironically-named Mermaid’s Lagoon Indoor Pool and Spa.

‘This is the place,’ says Pan, rattling the chains securing the doors in place. ‘Any ideas?’

He ducks just in time as I fling a fire extinguisher at the doors, shattering them into splinters. ‘One or two,’ I say, ‘but as most of them involve dangling you head-first above a pond full of piranhas, I’ll keep the precise details to myself.’

He sticks out his tongue and steps through the ragged gap in the door. Inside, I can tell what the interior designers were trying to achieve: a sparkling aquamarine oasis, ambient lights shimmering on the seashells studded around the tiled walls. To my less-refined eyes, however, it resembles the inside of a colour-blind sea-harpy’s boudoir.

‘Ariel! Darling!’

I smirk at the irony of Pan’s exclamation as he rushes to the poolside. There, in the middle of the water, combing her hair with a plastic fork whilst floating on a yellow inflatable dinghy, is the Little Mermaid herself.

‘Are you alright?’ he gushes. ‘Did they harm you? Hold on, I’m coming!’

I shield my eyes as he splashes into the pool, wading out to where Ariel awaits. She looks unharmed, certainly – indeed, she eyes Pan with some bemusement, hiding a smirk behind her fingers as he flops sodden onto the dinghy beside her.

‘I am fine, Peter,’ she says, her voice rippling like moonlit waves as she combs her crimson locks. I must admit, she is indeed quite comely – from the waist up, at least. Beneath that, she bears a rather uncomfortable resemblance to a mackerel. ‘I knew you and your gallant young friend would save me.’

Pan glares back at me. ‘You foresaw us coming to your rescue?’

‘Indeed.’ She picks up a shell-encrusted mirror, gazing into it. ‘I see many things.’ My gut feels like I’ve swallowed a pufferfish with a salt-water allergy as she turns her gaze in my direction. ‘Including the fate of your little winged companion.’

‘Tinkerbell?’ I take a step towards the side of the pool. ‘Will she live?’

She smiles sweetly at me. ‘I cannot see beyond the fairy veil,’ she says. ‘But I can see you will stop at nothing in your quest to save her.’

‘That is correct, my lady.’ I bow to her, ignoring Pan’s annoyed tutting. ‘I would drain the seven seas in search of a way to bring her back.’

‘Would that you could, Captain.’ Her voice changes, a tinny echo as though she’s talking from the inside of a tin of sardines. ‘For that which you seek is in the very deepest part of them.’

‘The Kraken?’

‘Yes.’ She turns the mirror round to face me. A shimmering image has formed on the glass: a hideous multi-tentacled monster which makes me think of that time Smee almost swallowed an octopus. ‘A most fearsome creature.’

‘You have seen it, I understand?’

She takes back the mirror, staring into its mysterious depths. ‘Many moons ago,’ she says. ‘It swam close to the surface, near where I was swimming. It wrapped one of its tentacles around my tail and dragged me to its lair.’

‘How did you escape?’

‘By singing, of course!’

‘She has a lovely voice,’ says Pan. ‘Quite intoxicating.’

‘You sang to the Kraken?’ I ask, ignoring Pan’s besotted mutterings.

‘Yes, I sang it to sleep,’ she says, tugging at a particularly knotty strand of hair. ‘No creature above or below the sea can resist my song.’

‘And do you think you could do so again? We have need of the Kraken’s ink to restore Tinkerbell to life.’

‘Perhaps,’ she says. ‘Though whilst I am singing I am in a trance. I would not be able to collect any of the beast’s ink for you.’

‘Then one of us must accompany you,’ I say. ‘How deep is the Kraken’s lair?’

‘Far too deep for a human to be able to survive,’ she says. ‘The pressure would crush you in an instant.’

‘Then how are we going to get there?’ Tink’s body suddenly feels very heavy in my pocket. ‘The ink is our only hope.’

A blinding flash. A deafening bang. And a smell so foul it makes the shipmates of The Fickle Muse’s usual cocktail of aromas seem like a floral bouquet.

‘Don’t worry about that, my dear,’ says a voice dripping with malevolence. ‘I’m sure I’ll be able to help you out with that.’

And there, the waters of the swimming pool lapping at her bulbous flanks, floats the unmistakably hideous form of the Sea Witch …

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.12 – An Eye For An Eye

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‘HELLO URSULA.’ I doff my non-existent tricorn to the rolling mass of aquatic flesh. ‘It’s been too long.’

‘Ah, James.’ Her voice cracks like the hull of a sunken ship. ‘Is it just me, or are you looking younger these days?’

‘A glamour, cast by –‘

‘The delightful SB. I know all about your little predicament. A rather talkative school of dolphins told me everything.’ She picks something small and blubbery from her yellowed teeth. ‘Eventually.’

‘We need your help.’ Pan strides forward, no doubt pushed by his guilt at what has befallen Tink.

She clasps a web-fingered hand to all six of her bosoms. ‘Who?’ she says. ‘Me? Again?’

Pan mumbles something unintelligible. In the pool behind Ursula, the Little Mermaid clutches her comb and mirror, her eyes white with fear.

‘Tell me, Peter,’ says Ursula. ‘How is the dark side treating you?’

Ariel’s eyes widen further. The nincompoop obviously hasn’t admitted his little transgression to her. It makes me wonder what else he’s conveniently forgotten to tell her – such as how Wendy is supposed to be his one and only love …

‘Fine,’ he says, his voice only marginally more intelligible than before.

‘And that … nasty little rash you managed to pick up in the South Sea Islands?’

He turns so green it’s impossible to tell where Pan ends and hat begins. ‘M—much better now. Thank you.’

‘Peter?’ Ariel gasps like a grounded guppy. ‘What have you done?’

‘Nothing, sweet princess of the seas.’ His smarm makes my skin crawl. ‘Nothing at all.’

She stares in her mirror, her lips pursing tight as a clamshell. ‘Oh, really?’

‘Come now,’ says Ursula, letting out a jet of bubbles from somewhere beneath the surface I prefer not to imagine. ‘My time here is precious. What would you desire from me this time?’

I take command, something which comes naturally to me. ‘We require a potion to allow one of us to breathe underwater,’ I say. ‘Something which would allow the imbiber to survive in the deepest trenches of the ocean.’

‘I see.’ Ursula bats her eyelashes at me, an effect like being whipped with two fistfuls of wet seaweed. ‘And which of you charming young heroes is willing to drink it?’

‘I shall do it,’ I say, noticing an approving glance from Ariel and a slump of relief from the shamed Pan. ‘I have no fear of what I may encounter.’

‘Perhaps you should,’ says Ursula. ‘The Kraken is a dangerous foe. Even I would think twice about facing it.’

‘I am unafraid of the beast,’ I say, ‘especially as I have the aid of our lovely regal companion here.’ I tip a wink to Ariel, who flashes a comely shade of crimson. Pan, I’m heartened to see, is still as green as a sea cucumber.

Ursula sniffs in Ariel’s direction. ‘Ah yes, the Little Mermaid. Tell me, darling, do you still miss your legs?’

Ariel stiffens, then her bottom lip begins to quaver. ‘I … ‘

‘She is perfect as she is,’ I say. ‘Unlike the rest of us.’

Ursula turns slowly to me, then nods, her jowls wobbling like a pair of rutting walruses. ‘True,’ she says. ‘Us Wickeds do appear to have drawn the short straws, sometimes.’ She almost looks piteous for a moment, then flashes a shark-toothed grin. ‘So, James. What will you offer me in return for this potion you require?’

The room is silent save for the lapping of the water around her distended shanks. I trawl the depths of my mind, trying to think of something suitable, something I would not miss. I feel the still body of Tink heavy in my pocket, then come to a decision.

‘My eye,’ I say. ‘You may take my left eye.’

‘No, James!’ Ariel shrieks, her hands over her mouth. Even Pan looks perturbed.

‘I have decided,’ I say, waving them to silence. ‘After all, what man can call himself a true pirate without an eyepatch?’

I step forward and kneel by the side of the pool, staring down at Urusla. ‘Do it,’ I say. ‘Now.’

She floats closer, her finger and thumb pincering together in anticipation, her long green tongue flipping at her cracked lips. I steel myself, preparing for the deed to be done.

And praying to all the dread pirates of the past that she doesn’t notice my left eye is already made of glass …

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.13 – A Fish Out Of Water

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‘PERFECT.’

Ursula pinches my glass eye between her forefinger and thumb like a pickled onion. She’s one of the more aged denizens of the deep, and I had banked on her own eyesight not being as sharp as once it was — and it looks like my gamble has paid off.

‘And now, for your end of the bargain,’ I say, keen to distract her from my ocular deception. ‘A potion, I believe?’

‘Ah yes.’ She plops my eye between two of her voluminous bosoms, where it sinks without trace, then clicks her fingers. There’s a bright green flash which clears to reveal a small bottle held in her outstretched palm, the luminous contents glittering like the seas lapping on the shores of a distant nuclear reactor. ‘Here you are.’

‘And this will allow me to survive in the depths inhabited by the Kraken?’ I hold the bottle to my good eye, peering inside. The liquid swirls, imbued with Ursula’s potent brew of Wicked magic.

‘Indeed it shall,’ she says, holding one hand aloft. ‘You have my solemn vow on its veracity.’

‘Good.’ I uncork the bottle and drain it in one gulp. It has a rancid taste, reminding me of the time my short-lived ship’s cook inadvertently boiled my albatross’ eggs in bilge water. I wince, then look at Ariel with my most charming grin, hoping she focuses on that and not the fact I’m a twelve year-old boy with a pudding bowl haircut, a rubber hook and one empty eye socket. ‘Let me test it.’

I plunge my head into the swimming pool. At first, my natural instinct is to hold my breath, to surface as quickly as possible. But I fight the urge, instead opening my mouth and breathing as though I was on dry land. To my amazement, I feel as though I’m inhaling fresh mountain air; coupled with that, I’m able to see better underwater than I am above the surface, to the extent where I can count the scales on Ariel’s rather shapely tail fin.

I resurface, smoothing my prepubescent fringe down over my acne-ridden forehead. ‘It works,’ I say. ‘The deal is struck.’

‘Of course it works,’ says Ursula, feigning offence. ‘There is however one thing you must know, James. The effects of the potion will not last forever.’ She points up to the fake stars painted on the ceiling. ‘By the time the Second Star On The Right is in alignment with the topmost crescent of the moon, your abilities to survive underwater will disappear. You must ensure you are back on terra firma by then, or surely perish.’

‘Our mission shall be complete long before that takes place,’ I say, maintaining my bravado for Ariel’s sake if nothing else. In truth, Ursula’s words have chilled me to the marrow. I am, amongst many other things befitting a nautical knave, something of a human sextant. If my astronomical calculations are correct, that gives me a little less than ten hours before that particular star shoots straight off past morning.

‘I would wish you luck,’ says Ursula, already beginning to sink beneath the surface of the pool. ‘But to be honest, I rather hope you fail. I would like few things better than the ghost of a drowned pirate captain to attend to my every whim.’

I shudder at the thought of what a four-tonne over-sexed sea hag’s whims might be before adopting as steadfast a stance I can muster. ‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I shall succeed,’ I say, patting my pocket gently. ‘The price of my failure would be too much to bear.’

But Ursula is already gone, leaving only a smearing of oily bubbles popping on the surface of the swimming pool and a faint whiff of rotten eggs.

‘Ariel,’ I say, beckoning the mermaid to the side of the pool. ‘How long can you survive out of water?’

She looks up at me, face trusting. ‘Only a few minutes, Captain. Why?’

‘Because,’ I say, hoisting her out and over my shoulder, ‘we need to get out into the open seas as soon as possible.’

Her tail flaps against my back as I sprint out of the spa and up towards the deck, Pan trotting close behind.

By the time we get out into the open air, I realise with dread that my quest to save Tink has hit its first hurdle. The Lost Boys who we left unconscious on the deck have obviously recovered, and decided to abandon ship post-haste. And they have taken the last of the lifeboats with them.

My plan was to board one, have Pan lower Ariel and I down to the seas thirteen decks below, then follow the mermaid’s farsight senses to where the Kraken has made its lair.
Now, with no way down other than a jump which would shatter every bone in my body, I am — much to my chagrin — something of a lost boy myself. I scratch my head with the soft rubbery point of my hook and rack my brains for a solution.

But my thoughts are shattered by the pained gasping coming from behind me. I lay Ariel down and realise the full horror of what I’ve done.

She’s clutching at her throat, her face blue and her eyes bulging, her tail beating a flailing tattoo on the wooden planks of the deck.

She’s dying.

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.14 – Water, Water Everywhere

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‘WE NEED TO get her back to the swimming pool!’ Pan tugs at my arm. ‘She’ll die without water.’

‘There’s not enough time,’ I say, gazing down at the expiring mermaid at our feet. ‘She’ll be gone before we get within five decks of it.’

‘Then what are we going to do?’ Pan leans over the side, staring down at the water far, far below. ‘We can’t throw her overboard, it’s too high!’

‘You can fly,’ I say. ‘Would you be able to carry her to the sea?’

He looks down at Ariel and shakes his head. ‘I’m not sure if I’d be able to stay aloft. Her tail is a touch on the heavy side, after all.’

‘You have to try!’ I’m angry — but mostly at myself. My plan was only half-cocked: I’d acted rashly and now have my own foolhardiness to blame if anything happens to her. And my chances of repatriation if I’m revealed as the blackguard responsible for the death of the Little Mermaid are slim to say the least.
Tink’s body weighs heavy over my heart: I used to think of myself as something of a ladykiller … but never intended the soubriquet to be taken so literally.

Pan drags Ariel to the side of the ship, heaving her now unconscious body onto his shoulders. He nearly buckles beneath her weight.

‘If you do this,’ I say, staring into his panicked eyes. ‘You must return for me. I am the one who drank the potion; I’m the only one who can hope to save Tinkerbell.’ My stomach feels like a sinking ship: I know I could barely trust Pan when I thought he was on the side of good. Now, after learning that he has turned to the Wickeds, there is no telling what course he might take.

‘The priority is making sure Ariel survives,’ he says, straining to get airborne. ‘Then we’ll see what happens next.’

He’s hovering a couple of feet above the deck, his face purple with effort. I assist, pushing him higher so that he and Ariel are able to clear the railing encircling the ship’s side. ‘Do it,’ I say, clenching my one remaining fist. ‘Save her.’

At first I think he’s failed, dropping from the skies with all the aerobatic grace of a dead walrus. Then with a wash of relief I watch as he slows to a controlled stop mere inches above the cresting tips of the waves. He lowers Ariel into the water then hovers above her.

The effect is near instant. I can hear Ariel’s joyous cries from my lofty position and watch heartened as she circles and frolics in the ocean, her tail fluke splashing down on the surface as she dives into the rejuvenating deep. I relax a little, but not for long.

Pan is glaring up at me, untempered hatred in his eyes.

‘You nearly killed her, Hook!’ For a moment, he looks older than his outward appearance would suggest. I see the true nature of the spirit behind his boyish features. And it’s blacker than a chargrilled sea lion. ‘Give me one good reason why I should lift a finger to help you.’

Beneath him, Ariel breaks the surface. Her face shines like the rising sun, the waters having returned her to glowing health. She looks from Pan to me, a sad expression staining her otherwise delicate features. ‘Peter,’ she says. ‘Forgive him. Show him your true heart.’

‘Forgive him?’ Pan buzzes like an angered wasp. ‘When he nearly caused your demise?’

‘But look at me now, Peter!’ She pirouettes in the water, creating a glittering cascade of shining drops which surround her like jewels. ‘And he did save me from the Lost Boys, remember?’

‘Only to have you flounder on the deck like a … like a … flounder!’ Pan’s wordplay has never been his strongest point. I blame a lack of education, personally.

‘Peter, I saw that this would happen.’ Ariel produces her mirror from somewhere inexplicable and gazes into it. ‘I knew things would work out.’

‘Your farsight?’ Pan hovers closer, trying to peer into the looking glass.

‘Indeed,’ she says. ‘I could tell I was going to survive this little episode. Hence I had no fear.’

‘So can you see what awaits us next?’ asks Pan ‘Will we survive our attempt to extract the Kraken’s ink?’

‘Sadly, I cannot tell.’ Ariel replaces the mirror somewhere beneath the water’s surface and starts to comb her hair. ‘My sight does not stretch that far ahead.’

Pan sniffs, clearly dissatisfied. I can’t help but grin: he is doing little to inveigle himself further into Ariel’s charms — charms I must admit I am getting more and more attracted to myself.

‘Then I see little point in continuing this fool’s errand,’ he says. ‘Perhaps I should just whisk you off to Neverland  and we can have a bit of a party.’

‘No, Peter.’ She remains calm, the very picture of a lady — or at least a half-lady half-fish sort of thing. ‘To save Tink and to help Hook, we must complete the quest.’

He crosses his arms and sticks his nose in the air like the spoilt little brat he is. Things are looking bleak indeed.

Until Ariel begins to sing.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard. Sweeter even than when I was lashed to the mast of The Fickle Muse, the sole member of my crew without his ears plugged with wax, in order that I could hear the sirens’ fabled bewitching song. In comparison, Ariel’s lilting voice makes the sirens sound like a rutting herd of lust-crazed manatees.

And it’s had an effect on Pan too. He soars into the sky, arcing gracefully up into the clouds then swooping down to the deck where I’m standing, a beatific smile spread across his face. He offers me his hand, which I tentatively take, then we’re up and away, drifting gently down to the water where Ariel’s alluring song continues.

As I near the surface, she stops. Pan gapes aghast at me and lets me go. I splash down close to Ariel, spluttering and coughing as the sea water rushes up my nostrils, flailing in a most ungainly fashion.

I would feel annoyed … were it not for the fact Ariel now has her arms around my neck and is gazing into my eyes like I’m the veritable catch of the day …

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.15 – Hairy Bell

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‘WHAT ARE YOU thinking?’ Ariel’s eyes shine like iridescent pearls.

I debate as to whether to admit I’m racking my brains for a decent rhyme with her name. All I’ve managed to come up with so far is ‘hairy bell’, which doesn’t — all things considered — feel particularly appropriate.

‘I am thinking how fortunate we are,’ I say instead, ‘to be accompanied on this quest by a princess of the seas.’

She flashes a satisfying shade of lobster at my compliment. ‘I look forward to our adventure being complete,’ she says, winking delightfully. ‘There are many treasures in the royal palace beneath the seas I would like to share with you.’

Pan’s snort interrupts my pleasing attempts to visualise such riches. No doubt the lad is still smarting from Ariel spurning his advances, aided not a little by Ursula revealing the true nature of his misdemeanours.

‘We should hurry,’ he says indignantly, ‘if we wish to save Tinkerbell. The stars are rising.’

I look to where he’s pointing. The second star on the right is indeed on the ascendant, twinkling like a malevolent timepiece marking the hours remaining until the effects of Ursula’s potion wear off and I will be unable to survive in anything deeper than a puddle.

‘The boy is right,’ I squeak, still mindful of my own rather embarrassing youthful state. ‘We must make haste. Ariel, sweet princess, are we near where you last sighted the Kraken?’

She rears up from the water, balancing most impressively on the tips of her tail fluke. I am treated therefore to a view of her sublime form: the shimmering blue seashells which cover her upper body, her waves of crimson hair, her slender white neck. And, perhaps a little disappointingly, her slick and shiny scales. Still, love conquers all as they say. And, if memory serves, Ursula has a tonic which purports to grant those of Ariel’s species legs, even if only for a little while. Another reason to keep on the hideous old sea hag’s good side, at least for the foreseeable future.

‘It is not far from here,’ she says, pointing nor’-by-nor’west. ‘Do you see that atoll in the distance? That is where I was sunning myself before the Kraken grabbed me and took me below.’

‘Then perhaps we could use the same method to attract it once again,’ I say, squinting with my good eye towards the island. It appears to be little more than a rock: no visible vegetation or other signs of inhabitation. ‘If you are willing, of course.’

‘Given the importance of our mission, I will oblige,’ says Ariel, ‘though I must admit, the thought of that beast’s tentacles wrapped around my tail gives me cause to shiver.’

‘I shall not let you out of my sight,’ I say. ‘And as soon as we are at its lair, you can sing it to sleep once more. Then I shall puncture the beast and extract some of its ink, before we both return to the surface triumphant.’

‘You make it sound so easy,’ scoffs Pan. ‘Are you aware how many souls the Kraken has devoured?’

‘Souls who have not had my determination to succeed — or the assistance of our gracious aquatic friend here.’

‘You are most kind,’ says Ariel, her blushes deepening. ‘There is however one more thing you must be careful of, Captain.’

‘And what might that be, sweet jewel of the sea?’ I ignore the sight of Pan sticking his fingers down his throat and pretending to retch.

‘That,’ says Ariel, pointing to the whirlpool swirling close to the rocky island. ‘We must take care not to swim too close to it.’

‘The Maelstrom.’ My heart sinks as I recognise the ferocious currents spiralling in the waters. ‘They say it drags the unwary through a portal to another land. A land much worse than this.’

‘They speak the truth,’ says Ariel. ‘I have seen a glimpse of this land in my mirror. It as a place of unspeakable despair, filled with horrors unimaginable, terrors which would whiten your hair in an instant.’

I swallow. It sounds worse even than The Fickle Muse‘s crew quarters after that virulent outbreak of dysentery, ‘Do you know what it is called, this land?’

‘I do,’ she says, pausing for dramatic effect for no reason I can discern.

‘It is known as Earth…’

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.16 – The Kraken Sleeps

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‘AND WHO INHABITS this place called Earth?’ I ask.

‘Creatures most piteous and forlorn.’ Ariel shakes her head. ‘Cursed to live forever without magic of any form.’

‘And what would happen to us if we were swallowed by the Maelstrom and ended up washed up on its shores?’

‘I do not know, captain. Though I suspect our own powers would be similarly extinguished.’

Normally, I would not give a drunk tar’s jig about such a predicament, given I am one of the few Wickeds without any magical powers whatsoever. Indeed, the thought of a naturally-aging Pan being permanently bound to terra firma fills me with a sense of satisfaction. Now, however, I dread to think what would happen to a mermaid in a land parched of magic, no matter how regal and comely she may be. And my timbers shiver further when I imagine the fate of Tink — revived from the dead or no — in a world without the very substance she needs to survive.

‘Then we must ensure at all costs we are not dragged into its depths,’ I say. ‘If we maintain its position on our starboard flank, the direction of the current should be counter to our heading, which gives us the best chance of not being drawn too close.’

Ariel nods approvingly, no doubt impressed by my nautical prowess. ‘We should head towards the island with haste then,’ she says, ‘and attempt to entice the Kraken.’

We swim on, Ariel and I, with Pan swooping above our heads like an emerald kite. Soon we make landfall, and clamber onto the shore of the rocky promontory. Ariel lounges on a jutting spur of rock, the water lapping at her tail as she combs her hair and pretends to gaze at herself in her magical mirror.

Pan and I are in position behind a jagged outcrop, doing our best to grudgingly tolerate each other. I have, after making it crystal clear to the green-garbed gibbon that I would turn him into finely-ground fish food if he tried to abandon us, handed over the piteous body of Tink to him. I could not keep her in my pocket, not when my plan is to descend to the treacherous depths where the Kraken makes its lair.

We do not need to wait long. I feel it in my bones, a rumbling from deep below, as if the sea itself is boiling. Ariel notices it too, glancing over her shoulder to where I’m hiding, signalling to me to get ready. I tense, preparing to leap after her when the monster drags her to the depths.

The first sign is an exploratory tentacle which breaks the water, its tip squirming and rotating as if sniffing the air. Then it is joined by another, and another — each one thicker than the last – until one massive trunk-like appendage breaks the waves, its surface pocked with sharp-teethed suckers and dripping with bright green slime. And it is this writhing mass of sinew which snakes towards Ariel, whose eyes are now wide as clam-shells.

I leap forward at the precise same moment the tentacle wraps itself around Ariel’s midriff and starts to drag her from her rocky perch to the deep waters. She reaches out to me as I dive towards her and our fingers intertwine moments before we are pulled below as fast as if we were chained to a galleon’s anchor.

After a momentary swirl of disorientating spume, I find myself in full possession of my faculties, thanks to Ursula’s potion. I can therefore breathe as easily as if I was sunning myself on a sandy beach; I can also see the full hideous horror of what is now dragging us at top speed into the murky depths of the ocean.

The Kraken is the stuff of an over-imaginative cabin boy’s nightmares. A mass of writhing tentacles of varying lengths and widths, it reminds me of Smee’s rather lacklustre attempt to make spaghetti bolognese out of three shredded turnips and half a tomato.

Ariel tightens her grip as we hurtle down. With my other hand, I prepare my splintered wooden sword, intending to use it at the earliest opportunity to puncture the Kraken’s ink sac and resurface as soon as we are able. The shimmering light playing on the surface above is already fading and — perfect vision or no — we will soon be so deep I will be unable to make out my rubber hook in front of my face.

Fortunately, Ariel chooses this moment to commence her song. Intended for the beast alone, her lilting melody has no effect on me other than a slight and not altogether unpleasant tingling in my left knee. The Kraken, on the other hand, is powerless to resist. Our descent slows until we are almost stationary, floating amidst the soup of plankton and debris clogging this part of the ocean. Ariel’s grip on my hand relaxes as the Kraken’s tentacle unwinds itself from around her waist; I let go of her fingers and propel myself towards the slumbering beast’s underbelly.

Her song continues, slowing in rhythm to a bewitching lilt. I jab forward with my weapon, then am momentarily blinded as a plume of jet black ink spews forth. Quickly, I collect some in an empty rum bottle I had drained specifically for the purpose. Our mission looks set to succeed, and I signal to Ariel that it is time for us to return to the surface. She acknowledges my gesture and kicks her tail fin — still singing her beautiful lullaby — and grabs once more for my hand.

It is then that it happens. Whether it be down to an unpredictable change in the currents or some more malevolent force at work, I find myself dragged suddenly backwards, spiralling out of control. Ariel kicks towards me, her face shell-white with fear as she realises what has befallen us.

I try to gesture at her to stay back, to save herself, but it is too late…

For the Maelstrom now has us in its inescapable grip.

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.17 – Where On Earth..?

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‘I’M SORRY SIR, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to move along.’

I feel as though I’ve been keelhauled fifteen times in a row. My head is pounding, my limbs are aching and my hands …

I stare down, flabbergasted. In place of where I am more used to seeing the comforting curve of my hook — rubber or no — there is a perfectly-formed and fully-working extremity. I flex my fingers, awestruck by the smooth operation of digits I thought I would never be reunited with ever again.

‘Did you hear me, sir?’ The black-uniformed man bends down closer. ‘You can’t stay here. Either you move on quietly, or I’m going to have to take you to the station.’

I look up at him, still grinning after discovering my long-lost appendage and further realising that SB’s glamour is no more — I am the fine figure of a fully-developed sea-faring gentleman once again, not an awkward and unsightly youth with a lopsided fringe and a gaping eye socket.

I blink. With both eyes. What fresh new magic is this? If this is indeed the land that Ariel spoke of, then it seems closer to heaven than to hell.

Ariel. I look around for the svelte princess of the seas, my initial elation dampened as I realise she is nowhere to be seen. In a panic, I pat my pocket. Though my garments have changed into garb I do not recognise, my pockets are worryingly empty. Tinkerbell too has gone. My heart plummets: it would appear that this is a cursed place after all.

‘Right. Up.’ The man drags me rather roughly to my feet and twists my right arm behind my back. ‘You’re coming with me.’

I wince and look around, taking in my surroundings properly for the first time since I regained consciousness in this otherworldly new land. I am standing on some strange grey surface, hard and cold like stone yet smooth and flat as the deck of a finely-crafted vessel. I am outside: I glance up at the cloud-pocked sky and gasp as I see what I think to be the silhouette of some distant beast fly through the air, its wings rigid as though frozen, yet its progress miraculously steady across the skies.

Around us, buildings loom up from the hard ground like sheer cliffs, their lines straight and true, unlike the ramshackle and lopsided hovels of home. And the streets, ordered and wide, are filled with large self-powered metal contraptions which roar past each other like angry beasts, smoke belching from their rear ends in flatulent clouds of noxious fumes.

I am, dear reader, not an imbecile. We of course have airplanes, trucks and cars back in my own land. It’s just here, in this rigid and cold place which Ariel called Earth, they are far more numerous. And do not — as far as I can tell — appear to be powered with magic.

My arm protests as the uniformed knave twists it further behind my back. I give a yelp of pain, then find my voice. ‘What, sir, am I supposed to have done?’

‘This is a respectable area,’ grunts the man. ‘No vagrancy allowed here.’

‘A vagrant? You call me, Captain James Hook, a vagrant? Why, I’ll —’

‘You’ll sleep things off in a cell, sir. Especially if you’re so far gone you think you’re Captain flaming Hook.’ He laughs mockingly. ‘I’ve heard it all now.’

He marches me forward, towards a black and white vehicle with another uniformed man sitting within it. Whilst I am no stranger to cooling off in the stockades, I do not particularly relish the thought of being a guest of these particular gentlemen — especially when Ariel and Tink are both missing.

‘Pray tell me, sir,’ I say, keeping my tone as polite as I can muster. ‘Did you notice any other … vagrants … here today?’

‘Funny you should mention that. Yes – you lot are like flaming buses.’

I have no idea to what he is referring, but encourage him to continue. ‘You have apprehended them also?’

‘That we have. Can’t have your like littering the streets now, can we?’

‘And these others, can you tell me anything about them? Was one of them a fragrant creature with crimson locks, perchance?’

He almost coughs out his coccyx. ‘Fragrant? If by that you mean she reeked like a fishwife, then yes, one of them did have red hair.’

One of them. My pulse quickens. ‘And another — a thin and delicate specimen with light yellow curls, so light you could almost believe she might fly away?’

‘None of them fit that bill, I’m afraid.’

‘Hang on sarge.’ The other man leans across from inside the vehicle. ‘What about that slip of a thing the other squad found near Peckham?’

‘She was in a bad way apparently, looked like death warmed up. She’s likely at the hospital.’

My heart skips. Tink. It must be. And that means our plan worked, and my faithful fairy friend is alive. Even if she is stranded like Ariel and I in a world without magic. And without any obvious way of getting back home.

‘But that’s none of this one’s business,’ says the policeman in charge. He turns to me, his face darker than a midsummer storm. ‘You’re coming with us.’

It’s now or never. I scan my surroundings, still getting used to being able to see with both eyes. There’s a lane behind the vehicle, a thin passageway leading into the shadows. If I’m quick …

‘Stop, you filthy wino!’

I bolt, weaving from side to side in case the erstwhile upholders of the law in this domain carry firearms. I’m an old hand at this: I dart into the alleyway, looking for a means of escape. There’s a mesh fence which proves to be little obstacle to a man of my means: I scramble up and over, the voices of the hapless gendarmes echoing in my ears as I make further my escape.

I sprint, taking turn after turn until I’m fairly certain I have lost my pursuers. I stop, chest heaving, and look around. The place is stark and grey, every corner identical to the next. If I’m to find the hospital where Tink has most likely been taken, I’ll need more than my rapier wit and dashing good looks.

At first, I think I’m still being pursued. However, the banshee-like wailing is not emanating from the police car I’ve just given the slip to. It is, Davy Jones be praised, an ambulance.

With nary a thought for my own safety, I grab a passing urchin and fling them in front of the speeding vehicle. The ambulance screeches as it swerves, slowing down enough for me to leap onto the back of it and grab the rear door handle, holding on for dear life as the vehicle accelerates and continues to its destination.

Before long, we are at the hospital, yet another featureless building albeit an extremely large and imposing one. I leap nimbly from the back of the ambulance and slip in through the nearest doorway, finding myself in a featureless corridor. A sign hanging from the ceiling points the way to the Accident & Emergency department, where I wager Tink will have been taken. I follow the arrows until I find myself in a large room filled with curtained cublicles, from which frantic-looking staff emerge clutching medical instruments which I can scarcely fathom the purpose of.

My imposing confidence works in my favour: no-one gives me a second glance, likely assuming I am here on some official business or visiting some poorly relation. I dash from cubicle to cubicle, recoiling at many of the sights I see within, some of which rival the worst things I have seen happen at sea.

Then, to my great delight and relief, I find her.

Tinkerbell.

Alive and awake, lying propped up in a hospital bed and looking almost the same as she does in our own land.

Apart, it has to be said, from the gigantic black tentacles protruding from her forehead …

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.18 – Accidents & Emergencies

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‘I’ve never seen anything like it in all my days.’

The doctor looks exhausted, but his tone betrays his concern. He’s speaking to a matronly nurse holding a pair of wicked-looking forceps and what appears to my untrained eye to be gleaming silver saw. I’m skulking close by, reluctant to grab Tink and make our escape before I too know more details about what terrible malady seems to have afflicted her.

‘What do you think it is?’ asks the nurse, clacking the ends of the forceps together like an oversized lobster. ‘Some kind of allergic reaction?’

Tinkerbell is awake, though appears to be in some kind of catatonic state, her eyes glassy and unblinking. I suspect the medical profession here are adept in concocting potions of their own and have likely given her something to render her immobile, hopefully for reasons of her welfare.

‘I’ve seen allergic reactions many times,’ says the doctor, rubbing the back of his neck, ‘but never like this. And you’re certain she wasn’t like this when she was admitted?’

‘Positive. The police dropped her off after telling us they’d found her unconscious by the docks. I myself looked after her. She was out for the count, yes, but she didn’t have those.’ She points to the twin tentacles with trembling hand. ‘They must have appeared when I was seeing to another patient.’

‘Whatever they are, they have to come off.’ The doctor takes a purposeful stride forward. My stomach pitches. The tentacles are obviously an after-effect of the Kraken’s ink. Temporary, I would wager, but very much attached to Tinkerbell. Removing them is unlikely to have a positive effect on the poor creature. It may even be so traumatic for her as to make all our recent efforts to revive her in vain, something I cannot let happen. I take a deep breath, flexing my still unfamiliar fingers, then step forward.

‘Tina!’ I exclaim, clapping my hands together partly because I enjoy the novelty of being able to. ‘There you are!’

The doctor and nurse turn, surprise charted on their weary faces. ‘You know this young lady, sir?’ asks the doctor.

‘Know her? Of course I know her!’ My mind fumbles for a plausible story. ‘She’s my wife!’

‘Your wife?’ The nurse looks me up and down. ‘Isn’t she a little … young for you, sir?’

I have not, of course, seen my reflection in this land since being spat from the Maelstrom’s chaotic swirl. I have studied my own hands and fingers, marvelling at their miraculous rejuvenation, and felt the welcome return of adulthood to my previously prepubescent frame.

My face, however, has remained unstudied. I catch a glimpse of it now in the reflection of the polished metal of the saw and gasp. I appear to be more aged than Old Salty Mick, The Fickle Muse’s octogenarian navigator. My face has more lines than a hundred treasure maps; my hair is thin and wispy as a dispersing fog. I bare my teeth: they are yellowed and blunt as a row of dried bananas. I am, it would appear, old enough to be Tink’s great-great-grandfather.

‘I am …’ I splutter, realising my voice is lurching like a lopsided middle-mast,   ‘…her betrothed. You see fit to judge me, woman?’

The doctor sighs, then speaks quietly to the nurse. ‘We should keep our opinions to ourselves, sister. If this man is indeed her husband, he might be able to explain what’s wrong with her.’

‘You are referring, I assume, to her affliction?’ I say, trying to maintain composure.

‘What do you know about it?’ The doctor eyes me warily. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. They look like tentacles to me.’

‘Then you have an astute eye, sir. It is something which has troubled her since childhood. Though nothing to be concerned about. We have consulted with the mightiest wiza… medical minds in the land, and they assure us the appendages are completely harmless. Unsightly, perhaps, but utterly benign.’

‘But they weren’t here when she arrived!’ The nurse looks unconvinced, as if I am some kind of tavern charlatan attempting to deceive them. 

‘They only appear when she is under duress,’ I say. ‘In the same way you or I would redden, dear Tina sprouts these tentacles.’

‘It’s not possible.’ The doctor rubs again at his neck. ‘I’ve seen records of mutations and growths, but nothing like this. We would need to carry out tests to be sure she’s not in any danger.’

‘I can assure you, sir, she is not in any peril whatsoever.’ I sense I am fighting a losing battle. ‘It would be best for her if you release her into my care.’

‘Even if she is in good health, I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible.’ The doctor shakes his head. ‘She is heavily sedated; she will need time to rest. I suggest you yourself do the same and come back to collect her in the morning.’

‘With paperwork which proves you are who you claim to be,’ says the nurse, pincing her forceps menacingly. ‘Then we will consider releasing her into your care.’

My throat tightens. I do not have time for this. I have no idea how long Tink and I are able to survive in this accursed land; we also have the small matters of locating Ariel to attend to, then finding a way to return to our own domain. The longer we are delayed, the slimmer the chance of us  getting home.

And living out the rest of my apparently dwindling days in this forsaken kingdom has little appeal. I am, and always shall be, a pirate – not some shambling old desiccated shell of a man, barely capable of relieving himself without assistance, let alone striking terror into all who sail the seven seas.

I am considering my next course of action when I sense a presence behind me. The nurse drops her forceps with a clatter, the doctor gasps. They look surprised at first, then shocked, then their expressions change to ones of wide-eyed deference.

‘Ma’am,’ stutters the nurse, affecting an ungainly curtsy.

‘Your majesty.’ The doctor stands to attention, his heels clicking together. ‘We … we are honoured to be paid a visit by the Queen herself.’

I turn slowly to see the face of who they are so bowed by. My heart is heavy: my last encounter with royalty could hardly be said to have gone particularly well. I would imagine the queen of a realm such as this to be equally aloof.

‘You may arise.’

It is all I can do not to burst into a gale of relieved laughter. Though dressed in exuberant finery and dripping with more jewels than a plundered treasure ship, this particular queen has a certain air of familiarity about her.

It’s Ariel.

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.19 – All Hail The Queen

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‘PRAISE NEPTUNE!’

I can’t help myself. I’m so relived to see Ariel I rush forward, flinging my arms around her neck. Behind me, I hear shocked gasps from the nurse and doctor.

Ariel staggers back, then pushes me away. ‘One must insist,’ she says, her voice as plummy as a cargo hold full of damsons, ‘that you desist this uncouth behaviour immediately.’ She clicks her fingers. Two hulking brutes of men appear, both wearing black suits and ties, their eyes obscured by pitch dark glasses. ‘Please, remove this dreadful oik from one’s presence.’

I’m momentarily flummoxed, wondering if Ariel’s pretence not to recognise me is part of some nefarious plan to ensure we make our escape at precisely the right moment. Then I’m gasping for air and doubled in pain, after one of the besuited thugs brings his right knee up sharply into contact with my most prized treasures of all.

‘Take him to the Tower,’ says Ariel. I envision some mile-high structure surrounded by a thicket of poisoned thorn bushes, where I shall be destined to live out the rest of my days in terrible isolation. I hope I at least get a view of the sea. ‘One shall deal with him at one’s leisure.’

My eyes are still watering from the indescribable pain of my attacker’s blow.  The world is spinning, as though I am being dragged yet again through the Maelstrom’s churning vortex. I must act fast if I am to have hope of rescuing Tink and finding out what in the seven hells has happened to my sweet princess of the ocean. 

As the brutes approach, I put on a pretence of my own. I fake unconsciousness, letting my body go limp as a topsail in a dead calm. At the last possible moment, when I sense both reaching down to drag me off to my fate, I snap into action. I sweep my left leg out from under me, catching one of the ruffians on the ankles. He loses his footing, toppling backwards and cracking his head on the side of Tink’s metal bed frame. I roll out of reach of the other, crying triumphantly as I see his sausage fingers grasping at the empty space I inhabited mere moments before. 

‘Have at you!’ I yell, leaping athletically to my feet, the ache in my prized jewels dulling to a mostly  tolerable level. ‘You have met your match, good sir, in Captain James Hook!’

The doctor and nurse are cowering behind the head of Tink’s bed. They glance at each other, obviously intimidated by the mere mention of my name. The varlet advancing on me appears less daunted however, his fists the size of cannonballs. I have, I would wager, but one chance.

I wait for his first swing, then deftly catch his meaty fist in my hand. A twist of my wrist and the ruffian yelps in pain, eyes bulging. He snarls, then lashes out with a desperate kick. I dodge the attack with ease, responding with a swift butt of my head. It is enough, the fellow stumbling backwards clutching his bloodied nose before dropping to floor like a sackful of puréed jellyfish. 

‘Ariel!’ I turn to the seemingly oblivious mermaid. ‘What is wrong with you?’

‘Wrong with me?’ Her voice cracks with disdain, her smile iceberg cold. ‘Why, James — should not the question be what is wrong with you?’ She looks down at her ring-encrusted fingers, admiring the jewels sparkling thereon. ‘But then, there are so many faults to choose from, are there not?’

‘Wh—what do you mean?’ I feel worse than I did when my nethers were almost pummelled into pancakes a moment before. ‘Ariel?’ 

She laughs, a sound so cruel it sends a shiver to my toes. ‘Ariel is gone,’ she says, adjusting the diamond-studded tiara balanced atop her crimson locks. ‘Though it has to be said, her body is a most satisfactory vehicle.’

It dawns on me now. Her willingness to help, her disappearing beneath the rippling waters of the swimming pool without even snapping a Lost Boy’s neck … I thought perhaps she was tired, or at the very least thought the whole thing to be beneath her. 

‘Ursula.’ 

Her smile sharpens and twists. My gut churns, as surely as a harpoon was lodged inside me. ‘You followed us through the Maelstrom?’

‘Of course. Who do you think controls it, Hook?’

‘But why? And why do whatever you have done to Ariel? Is she … is she dead?’

‘As I told you, she is no more; and thanks to her most noble of sacrifices, I almost feel like a freshly hatched sprat once more.’ She turns her arms, admiring the smooth and youthful limbs.

‘And, of course,’ she continues, ‘the world is now a much less irritatingly musical place as a result. It was a simple matter to inhabit her body, then cast a trifling glamour spell to make her — make me — resemble this land’s monarch.’ Her eyes narrow. ‘As to why I am here …? Well, just look around you, James.’

I turn, regarding the nurse and doctor behind Tink’s bed. They no longer cower: instead they stand rigid, their heads bowed in Ursula’s direction, shoulders straining beneath the yoke of their deference.

‘You can control the inhabitants of this realm?’ I imagine it: a whole world under the thrall of the sea witch, willing to do anything she commands. It is not a pleasant thought.

‘Like a shoal of brainless guppies,’ she says. ‘And in a land without magic, there is nothing — or no-one — to stop me!’

All thoughts of returning home a pardoned hero are washed away. ‘But SB,’ I say. ‘She commanded Pan and I to rescue Ariel. She will not be well pleased when she learns of this. And if there is one person able to travel between realms, it is surely she.’

‘I struggle to imagine how on earth that pompous hussy will find out what is happening here,’ says Ursula, the sneer ill-fitting on poor Ariel’s possessed face. ‘Besides, there is one important thing you do not yet know, my dear captain.’

I shake my head, not comprehending what she means. Then let out a gasp as understanding dawns.

Ursula changes form before my eyes. Gone are the lustrous crimson locks and innocent countenance of my poor sweet Ariel. In their place, the billowing blond bouffant and self-important expression of someone far less welcome but equally familiar.

‘Who do you think,’ says Ursula, contorting SB’s features into an unmistakably wicked smile, ‘sent you on this mission in the first place?’

Fairytale Hit Squad 2.20 – The Name’s Hook. James Hook.

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‘THIS WHOLE THING was part of your dastardly scheme?’ I grind my teeth, thinking of how willingly I signed my fealty to whom I thought was SB. And of how the pompous leader of the Heroes seemed to know my innermost thoughts and desires: my wish to put my pirate days behind me and turn to the side of Good; to spend the rest of my days cultivating my relationship with the hallowed muse of poetry.

SB’s promised pardon was the key which would have unlocked the chest containing that future. Now I know the truth of things, it is as if Ursula has taken that chest, wrapped it in thick rusted chains and thrown it into the deepest trench of the ocean. With me attached to it as it sinks.

‘Ariel’s powers were strong.’ Ursula dismisses her glamour. SB’s face melts away, replaced by the softer features of the Little Mermaid. My heart is torn asunder to witness her sweet countenance, knowing it is the malevolent intelligence of the sea witch that burns behind her eyes.

‘She had used her magics to conceal her location from me,’ she continues. ‘I needed someone noble of heart and pure of intent to find her.’ She licks her lips with a black forked tongue, proving irrevocably that beauty is indeed only skin deep. 

‘Me.’ I hang my head, cursing my own eagerness to clear my name. ‘And Pan.’

‘No.’ Her voice drops to a whisper, like a cold sea lapping against a distant shore. ‘What I told you about Peter back on the cruise ship was true: he has turned to the Wickeds. He now works for me. He was accompanying you to ensure things went to plan.’

‘And now you have succeeded.’ My hope gurgles down the plughole of my despair. ‘And this world shall fall to your evil ways.’

‘This world … and the one you are more familiar with.’ Ursula’s cackling laughter revolts me, issuing forth like a bilious cloud from Ariel’s sweet lips. ‘Once I have conquered this place and have its inhabitants under my thrall, I shall return to our homeland. With a vast and unstoppable army.’

I glance at the nurse and doctor, still standing obediently behind the metal frame of the bed. The last of my hope drains into the abyss. Try as I might, I cannot think of a way to thwart this nefarious scheme. This world and my own are surely doomed. And whilst I may be the finest pirate to ever sail the seven seas, I am but one man. My belief in my own abilities is strong, but not foolishly so. I stare down at my hands, preparing to surrender to Ursula and whatever dire fate she may have in store for me.

Then I feel the gentlest of taps upon my shoulder. I glance down to see the coiled black tip of a tentacle.

Tink.

‘Captain,’ she says, her voice weak. ‘You must have faith in yourself. You must be strong. Captain — I believe in you.’

It is her magic word. The power beneath Tink’s pure and delicate wings. As she utters it, I feel a strange sensation, like the Maelstrom itself is stirring deep within my core. I gasp, still looking at my hands. They are changing. Or, to be more precise, one of them is transforming.

Changing from flesh and blood and sinew and bone into a single substance. One I am much more familiar with. One which defines me.

And one which gives me the strength I need.

‘Avast!’ I leap forward, my hook glinting with a sharpness it has not possessed since the day it was forged. ‘You have overlooked one very important thing, Ursula.’

‘And what, pray tell, could that possibly be?’ The sneer is a travesty upon Ariel’s porcelain face. ‘Even if you are somehow changing back into the man you were, you can do nothing to stop me.’

‘I am changing into much more than a man,’ I say, swiping at Ursula and deliberately stopping the curved tip of my steel protuberance a hair’s breadth from the hag’s exposed throat. ‘I am changing into Captain James Hook!’

She cackles once more, swerving easily out of my reach. ‘You cannot hope to harm me, you insignificant little whelk. And further, you have now more than served your purpose.’ She extends a delicate arm, no doubt preparing to cast some nefarious magic upon me.

Which places her exactly where I wanted her to be.

I duck down, slicing forward with my trusty hook. It snags at her belt, cutting it cleanly in twain and releasing the object of my intent. Ursula stops, her face a frozen mask of shock.

‘Stay your evil schemes, hag!’ I thrust Ariel’s mirror into Ursula’s face. ‘Behold — look upon who you really are!’

She cannot avert her gaze. Her eyes widen as she regards whatever reflection she sees within the mirror, her hands clutching at her throat as if she’s chocking on a cockle. Then, it happens.

Ariel — for it is she, not her hideous puppetmistress — stumbles forwards, falling with a rather damp plop to the floor. Where she stood but a moment earlier is what was obviously inside.

Ursula.

Or rather, the true and quite spectacularly hideous spirit of Ursula. Black, boiling smoke, shaped into a vaguely human form, eyes shining like sickly green moons in a pitch black night. A bellow of rage issues forth from the tumultuous mass, which darkens like a fast-approaching storm.

Until I, with a series of flashing flourishes of my hook which impress even myself, disperse it as if it were nothing but dust.

I stop only when I am certain she is no more. When not even a wisp of her vile soul remains. I lean forwards on my legs, my breath bursting from my lungs as surely as if I’d just been keelhauled.

‘Captain!’ Tink is at my side, her arm around my neck. She is restored: the tentacles gone, her complexion pale and pure as moonlight. ‘You did it! You believed!’

I manage a smile. ‘Thank you, dear Tink. Thank you for having faith in me.’

‘And thank you,’ says another voice. A voice I feared I would never hear again.

My smile broadens as I turn, then reach down and help Ariel to manage to balance precariously on the tips of her tailfin. ‘My sweet princess of the seas,’ I say, bowing low and doffing my tricorn. ‘It was my utmost pl—‘

Her kiss silences me.

It is, it has be said, a smidgeon too salty for my tastes, but I put aside my prejudices and return it, feeling as though I am flying through the air as nimbly as the green-garbed nincompoop of Neverland himself.

Her smile is sweetness itself as our lips part, her arms wrapped around my neck.

‘Come, James,’ she sighs, gazing up at me with eyes I would gladly drown within. ‘Let’s go home.’