The crimson dissolves.
I would be rather hard-pressed to stay conscious, if not for this litany sensation within my head. I saunter forward still, struggling away from the distasteful substance littered at my feet. Funny, not a minute ago I would be delighted to see them splattered across the surface; and now I have to walk through this abortive effort. My footwear is, admittedly, quite unsuited for ambling in this manner. I would have broken them in half by now; if that was at all possible. A shrug and a sigh later, I find myself on the edge of this floating metallic island. Beyond the depth, I see nothingness. The sorrow howls deep beneath, capable of shuddering the most brazen minds. Fortunately, it is all a matter of perception. That said, I no longer have any reason to rush. My clothes are already drenched, guttered in the putrid black. This is going to take quite a while to remove, I think to myself. Though, if I had anything, it would be time. After all, time is still what I require if these wounds are expected to heal. They usually do. I possess no strength within me at the moment, however, and in turn unable to stand up.
I lay flat on my back. The luminous light is simply disorienting. I do not recall any such occurrence, thus it is simply most likely I am going temporarily blind. My body quakes at the air flowing across my skin. There exists no wind here, and I smile. I feel a sense of insurmountable joy rushing through me. Regardless of what is to come, my resolve is clear. I came here for a mission, and I have every intention to finish it. This joy would be all the more satisfying once I have claimed what I am destined to. For now, however, I am tired. I want to sleep.
“Your majesty?” My attention snaps back. The dreams, blissful and sublime, are gone in that single moment. I can feel my aggression building within, but it would be of no use. I am simply far too composed, too calm for the once trademark personality of mine to resurface. After all, it has cost me so much. My eyes heave open, taking in my surroundings. Nothing has changed, not that I expect it to. This room has been the same for as long as I can remember, after that faithful day.
“Yes?” I spoke. I resist the urge to retch at the illustration of the figure in front of me. Draped in black, leather garments and sporting a half-crushed hat; he is as much of a dashing gentleman as a candid madman. His presence would have been halfway tolerable if not for how he is afflicted with the most piteously simpering voice known to the language. Sadly, he simply is the best I can spare for the task.
“Would you fancy some more tea?” His eyes light up with those words. The pot is already in his hand, twitching to accomplish its duty. Life priorities are truly not his strong suit, if I may say so myself. I forward my cup, but he promptly nudges it back onto the dish. Considering that this is his only responsibility, I would recommend his efforts without a second thought; if only without his utter lack of competence. The teapot tips, ushering a stream of what smells like sweet ambrosia. I could completely lose myself within this scent, and it is the only reason he is even within fifty metres of me at any given time. It simply is perfection in a chalice; brewed by a nutter in a cracked pipkin notwithstanding. The man knows his place, still, as his boots squelch weightily away from the throne. Seated for hours, yet I hold no desire to even lift myself off of this compromising position. This elixir has bewitched me so thoroughly.
“Laying on the job, are we?”
I grunt at the vaguely sickening crackle. I would have made a strong enquiry, should my eyes not be shut and my throat dry. That low, mournful warble is no doubt the most detestable noise I have had the displeasure of listening to. Unlike my other problems, this one would not go away after a hack from front to back. While I am no paragon in decisiveness and dedication, I am far from decadence. It is in my best interest to heed those words, still, before it starts to bellow in agony against my apparent lack of responsiveness.
“What do you want, pest?” As if there is any doubt that I have no love for that thing. Childhood wanderings aside, I detest it with every fibre of my being. Just as my resilient wanes thin, it shows itself. That improbable smile, stretched across the darkness. Those teeth, white as polished sapphires, presumably similarly sharp as well. Then there are the ecliptic eyes, intangibly hovering above its other features, always fixated upon me at every turn. I have no doubt that they have been watching my every move erewhile. The rest of its featureless corse is nowhere in sight, and I am rather thankful.
“Now, no need to be so crass.” I swear those teeth are supposed to be moving. “I simply want to make sure you carry out the plan in a seasonal fashion. I trust that no additional coercing is required?”
“No.” I am simply uninterested. Perhaps sullenly backing up on my feet is not the most convincing retort, but nevertheless necessary. If I were to never see that smile again, it would be too soon. It is less the exuberant yet blank expression that irks me, instead the maddeningly crepuscular shroud engulfing it. Continuously looking at it is akin to slowly slitting my throat open, only less messy.
On my feet but far from adroit, a decent effort is required to fully proper myself. Still, I am nonetheless demure, and nothing can hope to please me more than emancipation from the bounds of this treacherous terrain. A platform slowly makes itself visible above what could only be endearingly called the horizon. It certainly is within reach, regardless of how I would evaporate should I make one small mistake. Brushing off the last shreds of the befallen foes off my garb, I swiftly take stance. Soaring above the still air never becomes dull.
Landing atop another round rostrum, I spot more within my immediate vision. Surely, crossing them would be of no challenge. Still, I am incessantly reminded of the existence of the shadows. Perhaps I am becoming obsessed; perhaps it truly is driving me to lunacy.
The ambrosia cascades against my tongue, as it evokes all of my senses to react. There can be no greater bliss. It truly is the only measurement to my desperation. I await an unavoidable fate, and nothing can be more excruciating. I cannot enjoy the silence, if the only thing I am used to is the excessive fanfares and celebratory praises from all those around me. I wish this crumbling kingdom, similar to my outward emotions, would chasten my longing for extravagance. Alas, it is nothing but a dream.
“Your majesty.” The gate thunders open. I see the guard captain rushing in. He is the same as I remember, perhaps with a bit more grey around his temples. Still his hair, severely cropped, remains a virtually uniform, spectacular black. His helm is tucked within grasp, icy and unyielding. Despite the hefty polish, its eventual ageing through battles and training is evident. His blade, burnished and acute, firmly strapped on to the side with as much pride as one man can display.
“Enemy at the gate, your majesty.” Utmost respect and haste is heard. I know what he speaks of, but perhaps it is not beneficial for me to react. I have already accepted my fate, but I have an obligation to those under. “I urge with great promptitude that you order the defence.”
“Captain…” I do not know how long I have ensconced upon this throne, but it is high time for me to remove myself from it. The steps down the aisle are truly aching, as I am walking down the path of the mistake I have made before, yet powerless to stop it. It is going to happen, no matter how hard anyone tries to steer from that fact. There will be deliverance, but that does not mean everyone has to partake in it. I have no words of encouragement. “I have made myself quite clear as to the futility of your efforts, have I not?”
“Yes, your majesty.” Hand to his chest, the sentinel shows no sign of retreat or distress. Is this what he wants, or is he simply being driven by the beliefs of a promised honour? I do not know; and asking would simply cheapen his sacrifice. Such a twisted fate we are all caught in, but he has a choice. I do not, and I have made peace with it long ago. However, that does not mean that I cannot hope to persuade.
“Captain.” I open my mouth to speak. I halt, as his eyes beam at me. There is virtue in those eyes, far more than I can hope to sway. How can I possibly perform such a disservice to those who have sworn their lives to me? “Do what you must.”
“As you wish, your majesty.”
There are still deeds to be done. As the gate liberates itself, my eyes set upon a brigade of infantry. All manners of weaponry, ranging from crossbows to pitchforks, are pointing at me. None of these measures would make a difference, but I fear the time is too far gone for talking. These men have but one objective: to watch me torn into pieces under their combined might. I can spy doubts in their eyes. Perhaps they are not convinced of the necessity of such an arsenal, or they simply fear for their lives. Perfectly understandable human emotions, of course, yet not a single one flinches. The battalion stands in a flawless formation, awaiting orders or what to come.
The sheath falls from the cloth wrapped around my waist, as I know fully well this shall be my last conflict. The blade spins within my palm, blood still dripping from the tip. The singular one I hold is of a truly rare breed. Its haft encrusted with gold, improbably durable and weighted, fits right between my slender, deceptively lethargic fingers. Its blade modelled similar to that of a butcher knife, sinewy built but still gracile. The markings twist and turn into that which resembles primal chaos. It is still dewy with black sludge, but I have no doubt that is about to change. I hear gulps, signalling at least a mildly successful intimidation attempt. That said; I expect none of them to stand down. There is, after all, no greater honour.
“For her majesty!”
The legion of soldiers swarms towards me, with scabbards and bows in hand. I sigh and take a step forward. This battle is unavoidable, and there is no choice involved. It is clear half of them are coaxed into losing their lives simply by virtue of faith, blind to the dead end before them. It is beauteous yet ruinous, jarring in its expression. Their marvellous reverberation echoes off the intense air, as if crying out to the intended outcome. Such is the way of the soldiers, loyal until the very last breath. It makes no difference to me, however. My intentions have been clear from the very start, and I certainly cannot be blamed for doing away with those standing before me, blocking my path.
The bodies drop before me like fireflies. Their pitiful armour has not a chance against divine punishment. My body, sinuous and rippling with a grace extraordinary, is alight. The tremor of exhilaration resonates across every strike, as my anlace cuts its way through target after target. The blade renders flesh like butter, cares not for the mere steel protection. The casualty number grows at an alarming rate, as the ground runs red with entrails. I take no special pleasure in ending these mortal lives, but I cannot neglect the thrill, as I shudder with delight every time the bodies are transfixed with sheer terror and death. That is not to say I am unharmed. Arrows have found their way to latch on, albeit only briefly as the motion of the frolic simply shakes them off. Swords wounds are more prevalent, but ultimately futile. The crimson splatters amongst the battlefield, as soldiers, whether men or women, young or old, face their intended doom. Such is the way it had to end, unfortunately. They thought they have a choice, to live is too choose and protect the empire. How naive, yet how envious. I wish I could design my own fate as such, but it is all too late. I wonder briefly why they have not learn at all from the past. Still, it perhaps is I who have not. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Such were the words of my psychiatrist, not long before I slit his throat open.
The massacre soon reaches a screeching halt. I have no guesses as to how long the fight took, but I am not concerned. Time is no longer running against me, and that is good enough. My job is not yet done, however, as I am faced with but one man.
“You shall go no further.” I remember him vaguely. He is one of the few within the army to escape the first slaughter. It took him quite a few years to get over it, it seems, but he is here nonetheless. It is certainly interesting, and I would like to hear what he has to say. After all, wisdoms usually come out of those men who are about to die. “You shan’t harm her majesty.”
“Why are you doing this?” I enquire him. It certainly is not the first time this has happened, yet ignoring all of the losses his kingdom just suffered; he is willing to risk what is left of it. Is he truly here to protect what is left of this decaying land, or has he vengeance in his heart? Such a thing drives men far more effectively, in my experience. “Surely you know your efforts have all been for naught.”
As if completely oblivious to the destruction of his countrymen, he presses on, blade in hand. I can see it now, in his lavender eyes, the essence of rage. It speaks many words, and gives a rest to my longing question. All of these people did not lose their lives for pride and a foolish sense of honour. They must have seen their loved ones’s corpses at the aftermath of the first visit, left to rot on the streets ran velvet, limbs and belongings shattered at the mercy of the killer. No doubt it is the same with this knight, regardless of how loudly he touts his devotion. At the end of the road, it does not matter.
I deliver him a quick end, before brushing his vitals off the blade and carry on
The doorway creaks open. She enters, blade in hand, and approaches me. Her indefinitely defiance posture, her darkly-rouged lips, her eyes, glistening with intensity, and her modest but vibrant contour are all the same as I recall. Has she aged at all, or does this world simply refuses to show her as anything but perfect? I am reminded of how devastatingly jealous I was back then, seeing her florescent beauty and unyielding youth, enough to unleash my rage upon the girl. If only I knew what calamity such an impulsive action would cause, I would have taken it all back. Regardless, her being here means only one thing – it is far too late.
“Alice!” Said the hatter, running towards her with haste. His jugged body shakes with every step, yet his tea hand does not let up a single inch, keeping the pot still the entire way. I am somewhat impressed, if I had any consideration left, of course. Everything from now is merely a matter of courtesy, as the guest is far too high class for me to handle. “Long time no see, would you care for some tea?”
“Leave us.” She says, uttering with that locomotive and vivacious voice. The hatter appears perplexed for a moment, before disappearing off into a corner. He was spared the last time, but even someone as daft as him should be able to understand the weight of the situation.
At last, we are alone.
“I have foreseen this day.” I speak with great leisure. If my time has come, I feel no need to rush it. After all, I have clung to my throne for so long, it might as well be my time to depart from it. “Your reality has become too nightmarish, and you come here to seek a cessation to those hauntings. You seek to end me, just like you did my husband so long ago, so that you can return to your life, latching onto what can only resembles blind hope.”
“No.” My eyes widen in disbelief. What else could she be pursuing in this forsaken palace, where she brought about nothing but senseless decimation? I can feel the unremitting, timpani howl within my chest, the urge to lash out at this callous monstrosity standing before me. My kingdom laid to waste, as were the lives of all its subjects, for what? “I have decided to stay.”
She twirls towards me, in that once blank dress of hers. She displays a light smile, yet her expression remains cold as ice. I can only shudder at the sight, as if Death itself has just ran its scythe through me.
“Reality is crass.” Her voice rises to a levitous coo. “I rather enjoy this fantasy.”
I am reminded that she is but a child. She wants her way, without any consideration for any other party involved. Yet I quiver at her every glance, fully grasping the meaning of those fuchsia orbs. As she approaches the throne left empty, I notice. Her once silvery gown is doused in exquisite velvet, a remembrance of obstacles she cut down in her path. She places herself firmly upon the cold granite, and only then do I discover what she has become. My knees become weak, before I collapsed at her feet, gasping for air.
“Alice!” A black mist materialised in front of us. This magic is alien to me, but Alice seems to not be fazed. However, her smile is no longer present, as she stares intensely at the dense cloud. Emerging from it, is a wide set of teeth and a pair of ecliptic eyes. I can only imagine this as a demonic beast from the depths of the land itself, for I have never witnessed such a phenomenon. It is both positively exquisite and horrifying, fangs surfacing at the end of what can only be described as a depraved, twisted smile. “This is not what we agreed on.”
“Sorry Chesire, but your services are but a means to and end.” She scoffs at the terror, clearly not impressed. “The only thing I needed from you was the way forward, and you have outstayed your own usefulness.”
“We had a deal!” The smile is inexplicable turning up side down, radiating a red aura. It is akin to divine wrath, if only not witnessed by mortal eyes. It appears frustrated, enraged at the outcome. Betrayal never feels good, I can attest. However, I cannot honestly say I have faced this kind of dread. “She must die.”
Is it referring to me? I turn to Alice, but the girl is not expressing any interests. The floating eyes narrow, as if poised to strike. Horror rushes over me, as I can see the claws growing out of the fog, crystalline and deadly. A minute ago, I had no plans of the future. I was ready to give up my own existence to mend this vicious circle. However, faced with true terror, I can only scramble for my life. Growling, the manic beast leaps at me, its shadow overwhelms my own. However, she has no plans to let it get its way. Her vorpal blade plunges into its core, ending the aggression so quickly. The mist evaporates, and Alice simply opts to return to her newly claimed throne. The smile has returned to her face, and I have but one plea to those of passing.
‘All shall remember this day. The day Wonderland’s rivers run red for the second, and final, time. The coronation of the Red Queen.’