"And they lived happily ever after."
Willow closed the thin, brown book and smiled at the children seated on the floor in front of her. She and Tara had decided to volunteer at the Sunnydale Library after the school semester ended. They had a little more free time on their hands since the demon activity strangely seemed to be at a lull after Glory had been defeated. With Buffy’s death, Willow often needed a break from reality and Tara had suggested volunteering as a constructive use of their time.
With the typical musty smell that the library carried, Willow felt at ease. It reminded her of the Sunnydale High School Library, where she and the rest of the Scooby Gang gathered to do research whenever Buffy had to fight a new evil. Of course, that was before they blew up the entire school two years ago.
"Wow, that was a neat story," a cute blonde girl stated. The other children turned to look at the small ten-year old in a purple jumper. Her cheeks turned light pink as Tara nodded and sweetly replied, "Yes, it was."
A strong voice belonging to librarian Gertrude Arrowhead broke the moment. "Boys and girls, what do you say to our guest readers?" The children focused their attention back to the two witches and cheerfully said in unison, "Thank you, Tara and Willow!" As they stood up to leave, they smiled back at their audience and, matching the enthusiasm of the kids, added, "You’re welcome!"
Willow and Tara emerged from the library holding hands. Ever since Tara had regained her sanity after Glory mercilessly took it from her in her search to find The Key, the women seized every opportunity to make up for the time together that they lost. Willow never wanted to let Tara out of her sight again, so as they walked she and Tara clung to each other as if they were attached at the hip.
"We just read those kids ‘Snow White.’ Do you ever notice that in fairy tales, if there is a princess in danger, then there will be a prince who comes along to save her?" Willow asked out loud.
Tara smiled. "Yes, why does it have to be a prince who does the rescuing? The girl should be able to take care of herself..."
"And who needs a man anyway?" Willow interjected. They both began to giggle as they realized the irony in Willow’s question.
Willow immediately stopped giggling when she realized something. "Oh, we forgot to ask Ms. Arrowhead when our next reading time is going to be!" She quickly turned around and pulled Tara with her back into the library.
Gertrude Arrowhead was a tall, skinny woman in her late fifties. She took a job as a librarian when a certain orphan girl began to come to weekly readings at the local library. Of course, this blonde girl was no ordinary child. She was actually Annabelle, the princess of Litefaray, another dimension that was filled with fairy tale characters. It was Gertrude’s sole duty to lead Annabelle to the entrance of her homeland, which was conveniently located in the back room of the library. The entrance had revealed itself to Gertrude a few days before, when Annabelle had turned ten. Gertrude walked over to Annabelle and pulled her aside after Willow and Tara had left.
"So you liked the story?" Gertrude quietly asked the blonde.
With eyes full of innocence, Annabelle politely replied, "Yes ma’am, I did."
Gertrude smiled and asked if she wanted to see where the story came from. The young girl wondered if she meant that there were more books like the one she just heard a story from, to which Gertrude replied, "Yes, something like that, honey."
Gertrude then took Annabelle’s hand and led her to the storage room in the back of the library. Behind a large bookshelf, there was a small door emitting a bright light around its edges. When the pair came around the corner, Gertrude instructed Annabelle to open the door. She did as she was told, and was immediately greeted with a scene that was similar to one that would be described in a fairy tale. In a cloudless blue sky, there was a bright sun shining on a beautiful field of green grass. Surrounding the perimeter of the area were tall oak trees with vivid, multicolored flowers at their bases. The sounds of birds chirping filled the air as small gray bunnies hopped in the distance.
"Wow," Annabelle stated in amazement, "what is this place?"
"This, my dear, is Litefaray -- it’s your home," Gertrude replied. "Now that you are ten years old, you are expected to return to your loving parents."
Annabelle wondered, "You mean, I won’t be an orphan anymore?"
Gertrude smiled at her with an assuring smile. "No, you won’t. Now stand here in front of the door and we’ll wait for a white carriage to come pick you up to take you home."
As Annabelle walked and stood at the edge of the door, two black claws reached up from the bottom of the doorway towards her ankles.
On to Chapter 2