SynopsisWonderland--here travels the Alices, the Hares, and everything in-between. Where in the dank dark of the woods, deep into the swamps, Bandersnatches and their ilk wait to tear you into tiny little pieces. Where The Red Queen is fighting with her sister The White Queen, and the Mirrored World where the Alices were supposed to have come from is starting to look more appealing to more than a few of wonderland's citizens by the day. In all of this, the Red Queen has made a very simple request: Find for her the Black Alice who started the mess with her twin sister.
Xander wanders separated from his friends, his world, and all things that he held familiar. Wonderland had started out as a game--a simple children's online game. One month separated him from the real world and got him trapped in the Digital and the servers that host Wonderland. But In Red City, he finds something of a purpose, something to put him back on track to maybe getting home. In audience with The Red Queen, he is offered riches, fame, forgiveness and protection just as long as he brings back the Black Alice to the red queen-- dead or alive. A tall order, when no one really knows who she is and what she looks like, but Xander is sure that he knows who the queen wants--and that she's his ticket out of Wonderland and back to the familiarity of the real world and home. Desperation drives him to accept the suspicious offer--and madness will make him try to follow through on his vow.
But, like everything else in Wonderland, nothing is ever simple. After all, if that were the case, he wouldn't have to go hunting for The Black Alice in the first place.
ExcerptAs the fourteen year old boy stopped in front of the Hat Shop, the front door had just finished shutting. In a few moments, Xander passed judgment on it.
“This place is ugly.”
The house was no more than two stories tall in the middle of the deepest parts of the Fanghorn, in the ruins of a town that the people in Wonderland said had come from before the Formation. Xander kicked a stone, crossing his arms over his chest. The fourteen year old had been hunting for two years, and now he was ready to finally stop. Hunting was old and the creature within was more restless now than it had been for months.
He rolled his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “I bet that was her who just went in too, but they’re making me wait…”
He stalked up to the front door and pounded on it. The knocker there grimaced its bronze face, then rolled one eye, then the other, to glare at him.
“Oh for goodness sake! Can’t you children leave me alone. It’s an ungodly hour in the morning! I keep telling you all that tea starts at six sharp in the evening!”
“Whatever,” Xander replied. “I hate tea. Is the Hatter home?”
“Of course he’s home.”
Of course the Hatter was home, Xander would be surprised if he wasn’t.
“He’s also expressed a wish to be left alone. He has a very important guest.”
“Yeah? Who’s that?”
The knocker sighed, as if exasperated, and replied, “You’re not entitled to the answer, so go away.”
“Look here you sorry piece of—“
“Xander! I’m so sorry, I got turned around between here and the rabbit hole.”
Xander snorted, turning to look. “It’s about time, Alice.” He smirked at her. “Only you would get lost coming from a rabbit hole you created.”
She smiled apologetically. Silly Alice, still all limbs and dressed in a dress that belonged in a story book, not in the middle of the woods. She was blonde, had very warm and inviting brown eyes, and was a giant klutz. But whereever he was, she was sure to soon be. She was his shadow and only source of sanity.
“I’m sorry, Xander," she said. "I think that Raphael and Lucifer are coming now too. They were getting together a few last minute things."
“Yeah, I sure hope so.” Xander walked over to where Alice stood beside the ruins of the fountain. He studied her a few moments. “Door shut just as I got here. I think we just missed her.”
“Knowing what's being said about her lately, I’m not surprised,” Alice replied. “I think everyone’s just about in position in the Real too. They're going to try remotely getting into the systems instead of getting into the building. That way we can figure out at least part of what’s going on. If they can't do that, we'll have to help them get into the building later.”
“I just want to know why that Cybergear headquarters is tied to the Hatter’s house so closely.” Xander turned to look at the door and its knocker again, who still glared their way. “Also, I feel like I need to put Flandre through that piece of metal, just saying.”
“Xander, be nice,” Alice said, frowning. Nag nag nag, she was always telling him to be nice. He might have gotten nicer over the past two years, but that didn't mean he was going to be nice to everything.
“I’m not you, Alice.” Xander smirked again, shrugging. “Half the fun is seeing what Flandre will cut through.”
“You and that sword.” Alice was frowning but at the same time her arms were wrapped around her grimoire. "There are times I think I should just take it from you and give it back to the Jaberwocks.”
“You and that book. I got Flandre fair and square in a fight with Brother Walker.” Xander put his hand on Flandre though. Around the hilt was wrapped a rosary, bright red beads that glowed slightly in the gloom of the forest, as well as a scrap of black cloth. These beads he flicked, saying, “Oi, Brother Harris, we’re in position. Alice and I at least.”
“Add me to that,” Came from the other side of the ruined fountain that graced the equally ruined square. Xander leaned to one side and Raphael stepped around, pulling his hood back just enough so that Xander could see his face. “Sorry for being late, was finishing some crafting.”
“Yeah, same.” Lucifer stood up from behind Alice quite suddenly, grinning. “Hello Alice!”
Alice jumped and whirled about. She smacked him with the book and he jumped back, laughing a bit.
“Don’t do that!” she shrieked. “This isn’t the time or place to be scaring people like that!”
“Take it easy, Alice! You just have hilarious reactions when I come up behind you." Lucifer stopped laughing, but his face remained at least on the happier side. “And I know, I know. I just hate seeing my friends look so miserable.”
"Stop. Picking. On. Alice.” Xander gave Lucifer a look, raising his eyebrows. “I’m the only one who gets to pick on her."
"Tell that to the Hatter, monster boy," Lucifer replied with an easy shrug. "Let’s do this, it’s been too long in coming. When I last saw Blacky she didn't look good at all and it’s been six months.”
“It’s good to hear you’re all ready. Now if only you'd try to behave yourselves,” came from Xander’s beads, and he heard echoing from the others’ rosaries. While he knew that Alice and maybe the other two used theirs for devotional activities, Xander mostly kept his around for its utility.
“We haven’t gotten ourselves killed yet so we’re behaving,” Xander said. “What more do you want?”
Brother Harris sighed and sounded tired. “Grayson should be joining you shortly, he was waylaid by some Blacks, he said.”
“Better that we get in there now, then,” Lucifer said, jumping a few times, shaking out long arms and hands that had developed long fingers to match. “Who do you think’s gonna find them first?”
“I will,” Xander said, turning his way towards the door once again. He drew Flandre and rested the sword lightly on his shoulder as he walked. “I mean, you guys suck at tracking people.”
"So says the boy who had to use tracking spells to find someone under his nose," Raphael muttered. Xander reached back to take a light swipe at him, and Raphael dodged backwards, grinning at Xander. “You weren’t supposed to hear that, I’m the good brother, remember?”
Lucifer patted his brother on the back. “You’re really BAD at lying, Raphael. Just saying.”
"I swear, you two are like the annoying little brothers I never had," Xander said.
Alice had been right, that this wasn’t really the time for them to be fooling around. But at the same time, he didn’t want to think about the fact they were walking into the house of their enemy willingly. Raphael had always been good at knowing his moods and then responding as appropriate to try to make him feel better. Alice was good at it too, yeah, but sometimes you just had to duel with someone else.
"We aim to please, you jerk," Lucifer replied.
“…There are four of you now?” the door knocker demanded, making Xander's attention go back to the door. The knocker was making faces at them.
“For goodness sake, go run off and come back tonight. Don’t make me call the March Hare to send you back to your cities. How uncouth, the lot of you together. Don’t you know that you should stick to your own kinds?”
“Can you please let us in?” Alice asked. It was polite, at least, and usually people didn't want to say no to her.
“No, you ugly little brat. Go run back off to the City of Hearts. We ESPECIALLY don’t need your kind in here until tea.”
“Well. That didn’t last long,” Raphael muttered behind him.
"Means I won the bet, Raphael. Pay up."
Xander looked to Alice, who was frowning as she leaned away from the door. He glowered, leaning forward. “Hey.”
“What, what WHAT?!” The door knocker rolled its eyes upwards. “Goodness, first that masked Black Alice and now the lot of you.”
Xander leaned back and brought Flandre into a ready stance. “I’m the only one who gets to call Alice ugly, you piece of scrap.”
The Knocker’s eyes widened as Xander drew back his sword. “You wouldn’t dare!"
Xander merely raised his eyebrows at the knocker. It had just confirmed that she'd, yes, gotten there first and was inside. But Xander usually didn't forgive people who made Alice the least bit upset. He preferred it when she was smiling.
Before the piece of metal could do anything more Xander thrust forward and its cry for help was cut off by the sword slicing it in half. Xander took a breath and pulled Flandre out again easily. The door swung slightly ajar and he paused a few moments, wrapping his hand around his right arm. Finally, he stopped tensing, stopped thinking about whirling around and lashing out at the others. Xander leaned Flandre against his shoulder again and smirked at his friends over his shoulder.
“Okay, guys, the door’s open.”
“That wasn’t called for Xander,” Alice replied, moving to enter. He stopped her and went in first. He didn’t want her to be the first one in. Despite the fact he knew perfectly well that she could defend herself, he didn’t want her to get hurt. Besides, she was also their major healer.
"We do what we have to in order to protect those we care about," Xander replied. “Now, let’s find our wayward Black Alice.”