A young woman blasted out onto the edge of the meadow at full speed, putting the Enchanted Forest behind her. She donned scratched (some of those scratches newly earned) leather armor and a leather cap that had a small hole on its top through which she pulled her yellow curls to make a golden crest. She held a long sword drawn from its plain scabbard at her waist, a bow and quiver of her straightest arrows slung around her shoulder. Blood trickled down her cheek, where Rumpelstiltskin had cut her. She had barely escaped worse.

She crouched, paused for a quick moment to catch her breath, but at the whisper of leaves rustling and twigs crackling underfoot, she sprang up and toward the cottage on the other side of the meadow. Smoke from the chimney meant someone had to be home.

She burst in without knocking and slammed the door, leaning back, closing her eyes, willing herself to stop panting.

When her breathing slowed, she opened her eyes. She was in what appeared to be the living room of a small family. Gold—she never went by her full name, Goldilocks (how absurd!)—sniffed the air and smelled something cooking over the fire in the grand hearth, before which were three expertly-carpentered rocking chairs. She put on the thick glove on the mantle and opened the pot, peering in.

“Ugh, mushy oats,” said Gold, not caring that she spoke to herself. She thought a moment, then said, scooping a healthy ladle-full into the largest of the three bowls, “Fuck it. I’m starving.” There was honey and cream on the serving tray, and Gold did not hesitate to put some on the mush. She did not want to taste the undefinable slop that was supposed to be oatmeal.

She shoved a spoonful of oats into her mouth, and the hot cereal scalded her tongue. “Shitfuck!” she screamed, spitting out the grayish lump. “Now I can’t fucking taste anything.” She sighed and leapt up without bothering to notice the chair’s delicately carved backrest shattering on the wood floor behind her. The color in her cheeks grew addled with red splotches as she angered.

Gold huffed and sat in the medium-sized chair. It had a feather cushion, and she sank down into it. Only, she didn’t stop sinking.

“Ugh!”

And with her buttocks hanging almost down to the floor, she pushed herself up so hard the arms of the chair snapped and tore away—and she plopped back down into the chair.

“Fucking hell,” said Gold under her breath.

Gold breathed in and out, in and out, slowly to calm herself. Then she pushed herself up smoothly. She walked to the stairs and climbed up. Maybe she could get a good look at the forest around the cottage.

There were two beds upstairs. One looked like it was for two adults; the other looked better suited for a child. She frowned at the latter. Maybe it was because she had been running for so long or the endless debacles from downstairs, but Gold yawned and stretched, distracted from the chase outside.

She removed her sword, bow and quiver and set them on the small bed. She pulled the dagger from its sheath on her buckler and climbed into the large bed, holding the short blade under the pillow. She closed her eyes and slept.

Gold awoke with a start at the sound of something crashing downstairs. Goddammit. Now what? she thought, lifting herself from the bed, her hair a tangled mane of curls. She heard the door smash inward and jumped up, suddenly alert, holding the dagger out, ready to strike.

Realizing the danger was not pressing, Gold shoved the dagger back into its concealed sheath on her arm. Then she slung the quiver across her shoulder and cinched her belt and sword back onto her waist. She crept along with silent steps, listening and peering downstairs. She glimpsed three black shapes, gigantic and furry. What were bears doing in this house?

The house didn’t seem like a home for bears. Then, Gold realized it wasn’t a home for bears. It was a home for people, and the bears downstairs were those unfortunate people that Rumpelstiltskin had transformed into animals and sent in after her!

Gold swallowed in a dry throat. She took each step as slowly and carefully as she could, trying to avoid the creak of loose wood rubbing from poor craftsmanship. She had nothing to worry about; the stairs were silent.

The largest of the bears was sniffing the fragments of the broken chair near the table. The medium sized bear was inspecting the rocker, where Gold had snapped off the arms. The smallest bear—Gold thought it could still be bigger than she was if it stood up on its hind legs—walked toward the stairs.

Toward Gold!

“Oh, shit!” She barely heard herself screaming.

Before she knew what she was doing, Gold was running outside, cool air filling her lungs. She heard the whiny call of the small bear as it cried out in what seemed to be surprise. The large bears roared, and Gold could hear the crunch of the door under huge bear paws. She just ran.

She had to find Rumpelstiltskin.

Gold could feel the ground shake as the bears galloped up to her. She could feel the hot breath of one on her neck, the acrid smell of rotting meat turning her empty stomach. Gold stopped. And turned.

But the bear didn’t attack. It stared at Gold with knowing, almost human, eyes. She could see its—his pleading through them.

“I understand,” she said, surprised her voice did not quaver. She put a steady hand on the bear’s head. Then she turned and ran into the forest to find the sorcerer, Rumpelstiltskin. Gold had a deal to call in.

And this time he would have to pay up.

(Challenge via here)