DISCLAIMER: The mouse owns everything. I own nothing. Please don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you Love Butterfly for beta-reading.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The Cinderella Conspiracy
By Hollywood Recycle Bin
Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time... Because all fairytales starts with "Once upon a time" right? Anyway, once upon a time, in a land far far away, where Sleeping Beauty is woken up by Prince Charming and the Beast turns into a handsome prince and marries Beauty, there lived a girl. Her name was Gabriella.
Gabriella was the daughter of the noble and wealthy Lord Montez. She was his first and only daughter and his wife, Gabriella's mother, passed away when the girl was five. Given the way this story has been told before, you would probably think Lady Montez was some sort of a saint and that she and Lord Montez loved each other very much and he was devastated when she died because she was the first wife, the right one, the one that gave birth to the heroine of a fairytale and the real parents of heroines of fairytales should be just as kind hearted, virtuous, loving and wonderful as she is right?
Well the truth was Lady Montez was forced into a loveless marriage with Lord Montez by her parents and her death, due to an illness she contracted from one of her many nights of wild sex with various men, had actually saved her from a life of alcohol abuse, scandals, a public beating and an eventual suicide.
Of course, nobody was going to tell you that, the same way nobody was going to tell you how much Prince Charming was going to wish Sleeping Beauty had stayed asleep after he married her, or how much Beauty wished she was being touched by those big claws and rubbing up against the furry skin of the beast that she fell in love with instead of the prince's delicate human hands and smooth hard muscles. No, they would rather have you thinking of the perfect images in these stories, the prince ends up with the princess and they live happily ever after, no complications, no deviations.
Well in this story, as you may have already guessed, Lord Montez met and fell in love with another woman after his first wife's death. The woman was a widow with two children of her own from her previous marriage and of course, she hated Gabriella. She envied the girl for having so much of her father's love and so much of her nymphomaniac mother's beauty.
The woman, Derby Evans, soon became Gabriella's evil step mother, Lady Derby Evans Montez. And she and her offspring, well one of them anyway, made the young girl's life living hell especially after the death of Lord Montez. They reduced the noble girl's status to almost that of a maid in the mansion, ordering her around and making her cook, clean, do chores and wear dirty clothes in the hopes of dampening the girl's beauty.
And of course, like many other passive heroines before her, Gabriella just sat there on the dirty floor and took it, waiting for her fairy god mother to step in and help her catch the prince's eye so he would come and take her away from this awful life. Well, that was how it was supposed to happen anyway...
"A dream is a wish your heart makes, when you're fast asleep, in dreams you will lose your heart ache, whatever you wish for comes true," Gabriella sung to herself as she got dressed that morning, the birds chirping with her as they braided her dark wavy locks.
She used to think it was weird how small furry animals seem to want to be around her all the time and help her out with minor tasks like getting dressed in the morning. She was used to it now though, even if she still can't explain it. And it was rather nice having someone, or rather, some animals, help her every once in a while. It made her feel like a princess rather than the servant girl she's been reduced to.
Still, she doesn't really complain. After all, even if she was treated like a servant, it wasn't all the way. Her quarters were much bigger and her workload in the field was really not as much as that of the rest of the household staff, who were always nice to her. They all call her Miss Gabriella and try to help her out with things. They saw her as the legitimate heir, the real daughter of Lord Montez, whom most of them owe their loyalty to. They always urge her to complain about being the legitimate heir and a lady and that she shouldn't be treated this way but Gabriella knew by now that if she did things would get worse for her.
Gabriella grabbed her apron, the white fabric had turned slightly yellow and the fabric was worn thin with holes in certain places. The birds took the ribbons from her hand and tied it at the back for her.
"Thank you." She said and gave them some bread crumbs she kept for them.
They chirped in reply. She'd gotten used to talking to them now too. Maybe she had gone out of her mind and didn't realize it, or maybe animals just like her better than most people for some reason so it's only her they communicate with. She let the issue drop once she got downstairs, starting her chores for the day.
"CINDERELLA!!!" The high pitched screech called out from the bottom of the marble staircase. Gabi didn't have to look to see who it was. Only one person in this mansion called her by that awful nick name.
The rapid clicking of heels warned Gabi and everyone else in the kitchen of who was coming. Nobody else in the world walked like that, with steps so swift yet always so perfectly even as if each one had been precisely measured. As if a mountain lion had been spotted, everyone ran, some looking for the quickest escape route while others grab the nearest tool as they attempt to hide in the work they were supposed to be doing when they were gossiping.
Gabi looked in the nearest reflective surface to make sure her hair wasn't too messy and her face wasn't dirty, though there was really nothing she could do about her clothes. It had been years since her step sister had caught her asleep on the dirty floor in front of the fire place, cinder covering her face when she was woken up with a bucket of cold water. The other girl had sneered at her in disgust then and called her Cinderella, she hasn't stopped calling her that since.
By the time the old wooden door opened with a loud bang, everyone who remained in the area was doing their work, all of them kept their head down, avoiding their tiny blonde mistress' gaze as if she could turn them all into stone with a single look. Gabriella wasn't the type to back down though; she looked right at the other girl.
Sharpay Emmanuelle Evans stood with her back straight and her hands on her hips as she looked down the straight slope of her nose at the room she was in. Her blonde hair was held from her face with a large ornate comb on the back of her head and the rest fell over her shoulders and down her back in perfect spirals that Gabi knew cost the girl an uncomfortable night with hot irons curlers in her hair. The dress Sharpay was wearing was one of the few she didn't throw away after using only once or twice, it was her favourite; fiery red, decorated with cursive gold patterns and lace in the front, the cut low enough to tease boys with the top of the slopes of her breasts without seeming too obscene. Obviously Lady Derby Montez was not home or she would have told her daughter to change, she always said that shade of red made women look like prostitutes.
"Cinderella, I called you. Why didn't you answer?" She demanded harshly.
"Because my name isn't Cinderella," Gabi replied with a sweet smile made to annoy. She and Sharpay had been living under the same roof for years now yet this game never gets old, even if it constantly gets her in trouble.
"Your name is whatever I chose to call you. If you haven't learnt that by now I'm sure I can think of a way to help you remember."
Sharpay was the same height as Gabriella but the added height of her hair and the high heels of her shoes always gave her the advantage to loom over the other girl, not that she ever needed it, the girl could be the height of a garden gnome and she'd still find a way to intimidate other people.
Sharpay's face was directly in front of Gabi as she made her threat, the invasion of personal space making Gabi a little breathless and speech became an ability Gabi seemed to be losing hold of. She usually had a comeback ready for threats like this.
She breathed out a sigh of relief when the other girl stepped away. Sharpay smiled a shark like smile.
"What is it that you need Sharpay?" Gabi cut to the chase, trying to cut Sharpay's victorious mood as short as possible.
"I had some new dresses made and I need to go try them on at the shop. You may or may not know this, but proper ladies never travel alone so you are coming with me." She said with an emphasis on 'proper'.
"Proper? In that dress?" She knew she should have held her tongue but she just couldn't resist.
The slap rang in her ear before the pain registered on her cheek. She didn't have to look in a mirror to know there was a red hand print on her face, yet again. Sharpay was the only one in this house who slaps her. Not even her mother did it, preferring instead to have her taken out and whipped by someone else, and that hardly ever happens anyway. Vast increases in chores were usually her preferred method of punishment.
Gabi looked back up at Sharpay giving her an even sweeter smile, as if Sharpay had just given her flowers. It was the only way to win the game. "I'm sorry but I have other duties to attend to."
"There are many servants in this household. I'm sure they can cover for you for just a few hours."
Gabi can feel the heat of Sharpay's anger radiating from her. She was winning already.
"I don't want to burden them. Can't you take your brother?" Gabi asked.
"No, he disappeared; probably off getting sodomized by that new stable boy again. I'm sorry Cinderella, but I'm afraid it's just going to be you and me." She didn't sound very sorry at all, a fact that made Gabi very nervous. Maybe she wasn't winning after all.
"Ryan doesn't like riding alone. And since everyone else who knew how to ride horses were busy, myself included, it's only logical that he would take Chad with him since he didn't have prior engagements. Only those with their minds in the gutter would so quickly jump to such conclusions." Gabi was almost certain she would get slapped again, if not worse.
She didn't though. In fact, her comment this time didn't seem to affect her step sister at all. The other girl simple smirked at her and told her to go find a less disgraceful dress to wear, for she refused to be seen next to anyone in that dirty old rag and that they will be leaving in an hour.
When Sharpay left there were sighs of relief throughout the crowded room and all the servants gathered around to congratulate Miss Gabriella on standing up to the vicious mountain lion. They were hugging her and running a cold wet towel over her heated red cheeks, reassuring their champion that all her chores will be completely taken care of.
"Have faith in your dreams and someday, your rainbow will come smiling through. No matter how your heart is weeping, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true."
Ryan smiled as he looked at the clear blue sky and stuck his bare foot into the stream. The water was warmer than natural here and the grass seemed to sing with the wind as it danced, nobody was sure why. There were rumours of fairies and witches, but no one really knew for sure and whatever it is, there never seemed to be any harm done. In fact, these lands were considered to bring people good luck on many occasions so Ryan never saw any harm in always coming here to rest and drink in the beautiful scene as his horses drank the water.
"Gabriella always sings this song." He said without looking at his companion. "She said she heard it when she was a child. Said that her mother had gone to heaven and that she came to her at night as an angel to sing her to sleep. Do you think that could be possible Chad?"
He turned to his servant and laughed at the look he saw there, one that's caught between amusement, bewildered shock at the naivety of the idea and blankness as he tried not to show either reaction. It was a look that said 'Are you serious!? ...Sir.'
"You don't believe that an angel could come down to visit us?" He asked, more curious than offended.
While the existence of magic and magical creatures within the Kingdom of Kahntarasia and all the surrounding lands had been proven and established for more than a millennium, the existence of angels is still somewhat questionable. Most people believe they exist of course, but hardly anyone has seen them and those who claimed they have are often proven to be insane of con men.
Chad was tempted to tell him that even if there are angels and they do find the time and incentive to come down from a perfect place like heaven to this shit hole called Earth, that there was no way in hell that an angry, bitter, adulterous woman like the first Lady Montez was going to be one of them.
Chad's spent enough time with the gossiping maids of the mansion to almost remember the horror stories by heart. He knew Gabriella knew nothing of her beloved mother's sexcapades and temper tantrums of course, nobody dared tell her. The poor Miss Gabriella has lost so much already after all. Apparently nobody told the Evans twins about the first Lady Montez either. Chad didn't like the idea of being the first one to break it to them, even if he was only telling it to the good twin.
His contemplative silent went on for too long though, so Ryan just dismissed the question. "If you're not comfortable answering then that's alright. I apologize for prying, you're opinion is your own business."
"No, that's not it. I was just thinking. If angels had the time to sing a child to sleep, why do they never have the time to protect the abused? Or feed the hungry? Help the poor or guide the lost? In all my time on this earth not once have I ever heard a claim of the existence of angels where the angel helped people in need; only claims of them showing up with bright lights and then disappearing. If those claims are true, then why only do that?"
Ryan thought about it for a while. He didn't notice that Chad had once again forgotten to address him as 'Sir' or 'Master Ryan'. Chad had gotten into trouble a few times for that when he had done it in front of other people but Ryan never took offence.
"Perhaps angels were not allowed to interfere in human affairs, perhaps everything has worked out the way it's supposed to work out. Perhaps singing a small child to sleep was a small enough act that it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things."
"So you think people who were forced to watch their children starve because their Masters have taken all of their food during a famine or people who gets beaten up and killed because they were trying to protect their family from people pillaging their little village should have gotten what they got?" Chad threw back angrily.
He'd always hated the blasé attitude of the rich towards the suffering of the people far less fortunate than they are. As if they're stray dogs, too dirty to pet and it's nice to feed them every once in a while but it doesn't matter if it died.
"No, of course not! I would never say that. Just, it might be that injustices happen as part of something else, something that we're not supposed to know yet and everything happens for a reason and we should have faith that there's a greater good out there and that it's all for the best."
"A sermon from you, Master Ryan? I never took you for a religious man." His voice was calmer this time.
There was something in the way Ryan said what he did, like he really believed in a greater good, believed in a way that extended beyond his current good fortune and luxurious lifestyle. Besides, he didn't want to get in trouble once Ryan remembers that he is the master and Chad is the servant, and servants shouldn't really be talking this way to their masters.
"A man who has faith isn't exactly the same as a man who is religious." He replied almost enigmatically. "Still, I have to confess. The idea of joining the clergy and living a celibate life is more appealing to me than taking a wife and bearing children."
The confession from Ryan left a strange light feeling in Chad's chest, he wasn't sure why it should or what it means, but then he's never sure of anything when it comes to the mystery that is Ryan Evans. It's strange that this innocent and over pampered rich boy could throw him so far off balance. He took a long look at the man that was supposed to be his master, with his too pale skin and bright blue eyes, hair the colour of wheat in the sunlight and his clothes, a shade of pink so bright that even his sister won't touch it.
"No offence Master, but I think you're a touch too colourful for the clergy" Chad smiled teasingly and Ryan returned it with interest.
It was always easy for Ryan to smile. Sometimes Chad found it annoying, but other times like now, he kind of liked it. It was nothing like the kind he usually sees aristocrats give each other as they plot the other's downfall. It was so bright and so real, framed by lips a more inviting shade of pink than any man should have.
Neither of the two young men realized how close they were to each other, how they were leaning into each other slowly, their breath on each other's face. It wasn't until their nose grazed each other that they realised what they were doing.
"I'm sorry!" Chad blurted out as the two jumped a way from each other. "I mean, I apologize, Master Ryan, I haven't slept well last night, I'm feeling a bit-"
"Yes of course" Ryan jumped in. "I have to admit I've become addicted to that new drink my sister had imported. Coffee, I think it's called. Anyway it's becoming difficult for me to keep myself awake and alert in the morning without it."
"It's nearly noon sir" Chad stated as he looked at the sun. "Perhaps we should get back. I'm sure the staff will have lunch prepared for you once you get back."
"Yes of course. And I have fencing lessons again this afternoon."
Chad could hear the grumbling in the blonde's voice. Everyone knew Ryan hated fencing and was disastrous at it to a level that no one thought was humanely possible despite the years of training. It was surprising considering how amazing Ryan was at dancing and both craft is one that requires grace. Some say Ryan was even more graceful than his sister. Of course, those who were caught saying that by Sharpay was never heard from again.
"I thought there were only had lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
"Yes well apparently I am not a gifted swordsman like my sister is so I need extra lessons. I know Master Stuart would much rather spend his time sharpening Sharpay's sword skills to perfection than waste his time with me but mother is paying for it, though I'm certain my sister is secretly paying for extra lessons with her allowance as well. She has real passion for the craft. Still, mother insists that fencing is a gentlemen's craft, a measure of true manhood, and so I must not only know it but excel in it." He sighed. "If that was really true then my sister must have one very big secret hiding under her big skirts."
Chad laughed as he helped Ryan onto the horse.
"It's ironic isn't it?" Ryan asked, suddenly sounding jaded.
"What is Master Ryan?"
"That my twin sister is the son mother always wanted. Ruthless, extremely ambitious, able to command both fear and adoration with a wit as sharp as her sword. If she was born a man my mother would no doubt have forgotten my name by now."
"Trust me Master Ryan, your sister has nothing you should envy." He said with as much conviction in his voice as he could muster, for spoiled as Ryan Evans was he was still a very nice person, and it's completely absurd to Chad that anyone should ever feel insecure because they're nice.
Ryan blushed in reply as he muttered a soft thank you under his breath. And idea occurred to Chad in that moment.
"Master Ryan, have you ever considered archery?" When Ryan shook his head he continued. "Archery is a fine skill for a gentleman to have also. It requires both precision and extreme patience, the latter of which is something I'm sure your sister cannot manage within this life time. I have some skills in the art, perhaps I could tutor in the basics of it sometime? You might have more of a talent for it than clashing swords."
"Thank you Chad. Archery sounds wonderful. Especially the part about my sister being unlikely to succeed in it." Ryan smiled again, a more devious smile this time, one that spoke of a small victory as the idea rolled around in his head. Something he could beat his sister at. Archery sounds heaven sent already.
Gabriella sighed inwardly once again for what felt like the millionth time and wondered why they didn't just invite the seamstress to do this at the mansion instead, so she doesn't need to chaperone Sharpay as she flounced around flaunting her new and expensive dresses. They'd been at the seamstress' shop for what felt like days as Sharpay tried on the dresses she had had made, all of which had complicated and delicate designs that took forever to put on and even longer to take off.
Thankfully they had already finished trying on all the dresses and noting down the adjustments that must be made, but then of course the seamstress needed to show Sharpay the new designs from all the great dress makers in the entire continent and beyond. Who cares what the latest trend is in the frozen city of Swaren? It only snows once every three years here!
Then suddenly it occurs to Gabi. Sharpay knew how long it takes her to get her dresses and that if she were to go into town that she would need a chaperone. She knew her brother was always off horse riding at this time so of course she would insist that she goes to see the seamstress at her shop, so she could drag Gabi with her and make her watch as Sharpay luxuriates in all the things Gabi was never allowed to have even though it should have been her right to as Lord Montez' only real heir.
Sharpay loves making other people jealous after all. It was her favourite pass time and if she had to go hours out of her way to do it, well, it was probably worth it for her. Still, it really wasn't envy that was killing Gabi right now, it was boredom. Pure, unadulterated boredom.
When Gabi turned around though she realised that she'd spoken, or thought, too soon, for there, standing in front of her on a stand was the most beautiful dress Gabi had ever seen. It was made of pale blue fabric that shimmered silver as rays of sunlight brushed against it and lined with pure white bows and lace and flowers. It was a dress made to bask in the glow of the warm afternoon sun. Gabi wished Sharpay would buy it though she knows the design was too simple for her step sister's extravagant taste.
Still, maybe she could somehow persuade Sharpay to buy it anyway and take it once the blonde discards it, as she always does with most of her outfits. But that was a ridiculous thought Gabi realised, a dress like this was probably ordered by someone so even Sharpay couldn't get it even if she wanted to.
"Who ordered that dress over there?" Sharpay asked suddenly and it took Gabi a moment to realise that the other girl was talking about the same dress she was currently ogling at.
The seamstress was positively grinning at the question and complimented Miss Evans on her wonderful taste. Apparently the dress had been made for the daughter of a Duke. Only the Duke was then accused of treason shortly after the dress was ordered so he took his family and disappeared. Now the seamstress was left with an expensive dress that was only half paid for and she was willing to sell it for even less than that. Even then it was still expensive.
Sharpay thought about it for a few minutes before saying the last thing Gabi ever expected to leave her mouth.
"Try that dress on, Cinderella."
"Excuse me?" Gabi didn't quite believe her ears. Neither did the seamstress apparently for the grey haired women looked like she was caught between fighting and fainting.
"Are you deaf? I said try it on!" She commanded again and Gabi quickly went for the dress.
She may enjoy deliberately disobeying Sharpay but the other girl could command the opposing army to walk themselves off a cliff in that tone of voice.
It took a lot of fumbling to get the dress on and she knew the seamstress was pulling especially hard at the lace as she helped her put it on. Still angry that Sharpay would let the servant girl try on the expensive dress no doubt. Gabi didn't mind though, this was more than she'd ever hoped for after all. She had no idea what Sharpay was planning but the dress made her feel like a princess.
Maybe that was the plan, she thought. Give her a glimpse of what she could have and then take it away again.
She walked out of the large dressing room in the back and into the shop again. Sharpay dropped the catalogue she was looking at when she saw her. Her dark eyes widen and glittered as her mouth parted in surprise before she closed them again and licked her lips, pressing them together and swallowed. Then she realised what she was doing and straightened herself, lifted up her face back to its normal position with her nose in the air.
"You look... decent, Cinderella."
Coming from Sharpay, she must be looking like a goddess.
"We'll take it" She said and that shocked Gabriella to complete stillness for a couple of minutes.
Nobody else noticed though as Sharpay paid for the dress and ordered someone to go get the accessories. The shop keeper was over the shock at the idea of her over indulgent, self absorbed frequent customer buying something so expensive for her 'servant girl' though. Instead she was giving Gabriella a mean look.
It was a look that said 'I know exactly what you are and what you're doing and I hope you burn in hell for it'.
Being a princess really isn't worth it.
That was the conclusion that Gabriella came to by the time Sharpay was done dressing up her new life sized doll, making her try on a hundred pairs of gloves and a million pairs of shoes and doing her hair and her nails and her make-up. It actually took a lot less time that Gabi thought it would but then Sharpay had made everyone attack on all fronts. That was really what it felt like, an attack. Gabi wondered if this was a new method of torture all on its own or if there was something else ahead that she needs to watch out for today.
Knowing Sharpay though, it was probably the later. In fact her step sister probably thought she was being very nice to Gabriella right now and alright, Gabi has to admit she sort of is, and she's lulling her into a sense of security before hitting her with something really nasty. Well, if Sharpay thought she was going to let her guard down just because of a new dress and some accessories then she was deeply mistaken.
"So, where are we heading?" Gabriella asked as she twirled her new umbrella.
It was blue, like the dress and Gabi briefly wondered if whatever plan Sharpay was cooking up would have the chance of allowing her to keep the umbrella. It probably didn't. Knowing Sharpay this beautiful umbrella would probably be in tatters by the time Sharpay was done with whatever she intended to do to her.
"Wait, you're not done yet." The blonde ordered in a strangely soft voice.
It did nothing to stop Gabriella's annoyed look as she sagged against a nearby wall and sighed, not the easiest thing to do while in a corset that kept her back straight and turned breathing into something that required effort. This time Sharpay didn't send anyone in to attack any part of Gabriella's body though, instead she walked right into her personal space with a velvet box in her hands, her breathing uneven, almost as If she was nervous to be standing so close to her step sister despite the fact that her face showed nothing but her usual cold contempt. She opened the velvet box and took out a heart shaped sapphire pendant dangling on a silver chain. It sparkled in the sunlight and Gabi had to look away when the light shone too brightly into her eyes.
"You don't like it?" Sharpay asked in a tone of voice that would have made Gabriella hug the person using it if the person wasn't her step sister. As it is, she really didn't know how to react.
"No, it's perfect." Was the answer she opted for though, and Sharpay seemed to come back to herself, her face moving back up to its usual position of looking down her nose at people, red lips shaped into her usual satisfied smirk.
Then just as Gabi thought she might know where she stood again, Sharpay's manicured fingers touched her bare shoulder and she shivered at the warm touch, her whole body tingling as Sharpay's fingers moved to rest on her neck. The coldness of the silver chain draped itself on her and she bared her neck for Sharpay to fasten the clasp. In that moment it was as if her whole world had been reduced to Sharpay's touch, the delicate fingers on her skin, the soft breath caressing her neck making her shiver again.
"Now you're done." Sharpay said as she gave her another long look.
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