Desperate hands reach for the lantern. His fingers unsteady. Fumbling with the tinder. The ever growing panic in his chest battling against his efforts to stay calm. Sparks flicker. Bright orange cackling in the darkness. Fleeting light failing to ignite, his jittering hands completely useless. The lantern slips. Sharp shards of glass spilling with slick oil all over stone. He jolts back on instinct. Lucky enough to avoid flying glass, but still left woeful in the dark.

His own heart beat drowns out any other sound. Is it a blessing, or a curse? There's no time to ponder. Daniel blinks, then squints. His eyes struggle in the dark, trying in vain to adjust. It's all just one long, deep, yawn into the unknown. His knees quake, mind filling in the blanks. He doesn't want to think of the path ahead, but he couldn't help it. Imagination reeling with each horrible possibility. Oh, how desperately he wishes to be somewhere else. His palm rests on the adjacent stone wall. If nothing else, he can try to keep his bearings.

Somehow, he summons the will to move, taking a step forward. Followed by another, and another. Soon he hits a slow, but steady pace. Heading further into the deep, finding the strength to carry on. He ventures forth into the encompassing blackness alone… but, why?

The question makes Daniel pause. A strange sense of deja vu washing over. This is all so familiar. The thought 'haven't I been here before?' is strong enough to override his fear, if only for a moment. Yes, he has, but when? Was it in another life, one only half remembered? That… doesn't make sense…

A sound—deep and vast, echoes from behind. He yelps, head spinning back, but seeing nothing. A cool chill races up his spine. Something's there, concealed in the darkness. He has no desire to find out what. He turns, his steps quicker than before. Not a sprint, but a brisk pace. The young man hasn't lost all sense of caution towards the road ahead, but he dare not stay still.

There's something just ahead. Blue and bright. Shining. A light. Light! His salvation. Hand still resting on grimy stone, he hurries his step. The other hand rests just above his heart. As if the mere pressure of his palm can calm its beating. The sound from behind still drones. Closer now. Teeth clench. Hurry.

Both things draw near at once. The light and the sound. Like both approach at the same pace. The hand clutching his chest rises. Reaching. Long fingers out stretch. It's so close now—the light. Warm and breaking across his skin. If he can just catch it. Claim it as his own.

Stone beneath his boots gives away. The illusion of safety shattering. Gravity pulling him downwards, his scream echoing down his fall, light gone from sight. The darkness swallowing him whole.

He smacks into water. Mouth still open mid yell, inhaling a mouthful of liquid. Daniel jolts up, breaking the surface, spitting. It's bitter, and metallic. Mouth tasting of copper as he rubs his eyes. Nothing is broken. Or at least, all parts critical to keeping him afloat are in working order. It takes several deep breaths to regain his composure. He looks from left to right. Searching for a safe harbor. Ultimately, there's only one option. A ledge a short distance away. With no other options, he swims.

The water is thick. More viscous than it ought to be. Still, it's not impossible. His hands grasp the stone ledge, still slick with water. Grip nearly slipping, but he finds the strength to pull himself up. Heaving the upper half of himself onto dry land, the rest of him quick to follow. The young man rolls onto his back. Chest rising and falling in quick succession. He was never the athletic sort. A scholar by nature. His lifestyle never demanding much physical strain, except back in then—

He outstretches his hand. Palm reaching into the dark. The shape of his hand seems to vanish. Consumed. The mere thought chilling him. Hadn't he experienced this once before? This fear. The isolation. Yes. It's all too familiar. But when? Years, months, or mere days?


A castle. Something otherworldly haunting—a nightmare incarnate. A man with a wicked smile, selling him false promises. The cold metal of a dagger in his hand, a little girl crying for mercy.

A droplet falls from his hand to his cheek. He blinks. It's then he sees the hue of the thing he's drenched in. A horrible, ghastly red. Bright as rubies. His eyes go wide. Blood. He's soaked in blood. At once his throat clenches. He rolls over, shoving himself up. Stomach churning. The urge to wretch overwhelming his fear. He heaves, bile splatters. It doesn't stop till his stomach is empty. Mouth stinging from the acidic bite. A sob is caught in the back of his throat. Why… why is this happening?!

A bellow makes him jump. The sound again. He stages to his feet, nearly slipping in the disgusting puddle of his own bile. Just across the pool of red it roars. Something raw and hungry. It's voice is neither man nor beast, but something other. There's a detail he can't recall. Something important. He quietly cursed his failure of memory. It roars again. He shrinks. Pure wrath leeks, encompassing everything.

"It's coming." The thought flickers in his mind. "It's coming for me!"

Daniel runs.

It's too dark to see the path ahead. He doesn't care. Just go, go, go! Run! The thing behind him seethes. Each echo is gaining. Coming closer. Panic sets in. Full on sprinting heedlessly into the dark, he goes. Is his flight fruitless? Will it catch him no matter how hard he tries?

He's coming to something. A ledge. Path literally broken. There's something on the other side. The rest of the path. It has to be there. If not.

Without breaking stride, he jumps. Arms reaching, desperate. Trying to catch something.

He slams into stone. Knocking air from his lungs. Rib cage groaning. It's agony, but he latches on. Fingers grasping the edge tight. The rapid drumming of his own heart is stifling. Throat raw and body aching. He's made it this far. Surely, he has enough strength left. He can make it.

The muscles in his arms nearly cave at the attempt. Instead he slumps against the ledge. Dangling. Helpless. Panic rises in his chest. It's close now. He can feel it. Death nearly breathing down his neck.

"My, don't you look afright."

A pair of sharp eyes pierce his own. The unrelenting stare set in a pale face, leaning in too close to his own, framed by walls of black set at each side. He shrieks, tenuous grip slipping. With nothing holding him back, he falls back. The deep, dark pit swallowing him whole.

With a crack, his eyes fly open. Hand flying up to the sore spot on his forehead. A small lump is already forming. A soft groan escapes him. The hardwood floor is hardly comforting. A mess of blankets lay snarled between his legs, the back of his night clothes clinging to skin. Daniel rolls back, the sight of the ceiling greeting him. His ceiling. He's home. Safe.

He sighs. Sitting up, he cradles his aching skull. With a hoarse voice, he murmurs. "Another nightmare." It takes several deep breaths to fully regain his composure. Still, his legs wobble when he stands. Like he'd just finished a mad sprint, but it's only a dream. A figment of his fractured mind. "Except when it's not." A shadow of doubt lurking in the back of his mind. Growing with the dark edges of his room. He quickly lights the gas lamp, illuminating everything in a warm, orange glow.

The room is a stranger. His, but too new to feel like home. He tosses the mess of sheets back on the bed, letting them fall in a wrinkled mess. He can, he knows, crawl back in and try to sleep. But it's a useless effort. Sleep won't come, even if he tries. The nightmare left him feeling so weak. So drained, but there's no comfort here. There will be no rest tonight, that much he's sure of. He shuts off the lamp, but not without lighting the lantern first, refusing to be without light, even for a moment. Daniel ventures forth, leaving his bedroom behind.

Light illuminates the fresh wallpaper. One hand rests on the handrail as he descends down the stairs. The other holds the lantern tight. There's little to block his path. Just the basics to furnish his abode. Kitchen amenities, a study with a writing desk, and a drawing room fitted with a fireplace. There are heavy curtains for the windows, but beyond that there's scarcely any decoration.

This home is still so new. London itself is a stranger in so many ways. Some things stayed the same. Smog from newly minted factories is still ever present. City streets cramped in a capital of progress. But therein lies his troubles, progress.

Daniel sets the lamp down on the desk in the study. It takes little effort to light the lamp. The two lights fill the room. Darkness eliminated. He sinks into the chair, flipping open his new journal, reaching for a pen. It's a habit he kept from his old self. Putting his thoughts on paper. It helps. Keeping his experiences in order to hold onto his sense of sanity. He dips the steel nib in the ink, and starts to write.

Everything he can recall etched onto the page. The feeling of isolation, the darkness, and a sudden set of eyes staring down at him. Sharp, almost acidic in hue. My, don't you look afright? Afright, indeed! Every night it's nearly the same thing. Him, alone, wandering through haunted, endless corridors. Chased by the lingering horrors that belong to the past.

From his vantage point, it'd only been a few months since his misadventures in Prussia. The horrible things he'd done—the crimes he committed in Brennenburg Castle, all for the sake of saving his own life. How horribly selfish he past self had been. It's all still so terribly fresh in his mind's eye. Even now, it's enough to stall his penmanship. The nib sits idle on the page, his hand nearly starts to tremble, ink stain growing. He finally lifts the pen, taking time to breath in deep before writing again. Those memories belong to someone else in a sense, don't they? They are his, yes, but that version of himself is destroyed. Forgotten. So why must he be haunted by the actions of his former self?

Perhaps returning to this world was a mistake. The other side of the portal, like the memories of his old self, are only half remembered. Fire flickering cyan instead of red, arches of stone bending in impossible curves, and a perpetually orange sky. All of it so alien. Too much so. He tried, god help him, he tried. Agrippa and his student, Johann, were already acclimated to their strange surroundings. As though they never truly belonged on Earth. Brilliant scholars, the both of them. The pair tried to take him under their wing, teaching them all they had learned. He admired them, truly, but it wasn't enough. Their companionship couldn't pull him away from the unrelenting feeling of being somewhere otherworldly. He couldn't stay. He tried to, but failed to adapt. With so much a haze, he can still remember Agrippa's sad smile.

"I know I can't change your mind, my boy, but I must warn you. Time passes differently on this side."

He wasn't prepared. How could he be? How could he have known only a few months in another world translated to decades? Thirty six years gone. Passing without him. Everyone who knew him before he left London aged beyond recognition. His sister is gone, having succumbed to her sickness long ago. Everything swept away by the passage of time.

Agrippa insisted on giving him a few parting gifts before he left. Gifts he tried to deny. How could he ask for anything else? The man and his pupil saved his life, a gift in itself, one he hardly deserved. But the old man was stubborn, giving him a small satchel of coins and jewels, worth more than enough to start anew. He's deeply grateful for it now. Without it, he'd have returned to London penniless.

He stops writing. All of the nightmare inscribed. Setting the pen aside, he flicks through previous pages. It's all much the same. Each night a new terror, but the same motifs persist. A damp, murky castle. Something howling for his blood in the distance. A horrible mingle of his own cursed memories and paranoia. Daniel shuts the journal. How long will this continue? Is he to be haunted for the rest of his days?

He rises. There's no point in trying to go back to sleep. He may as well make some tea. It's going to be a long night.

"What's taking you, girl? My ledger!"

Her head snaps to attention. Eyes blinking, daydream whisking away. The heavy book rests against her chest. "Yes, Mr. Gordon." Her thin arms extend, allowing thick fingers to snatch it away. The action was a bit too quick for her liking. At least she's free of the heavy thing. Books on accounting are hardly enjoyable.

Mr. Gordon flips through the pages. At this short distance the perspiration on his forehead is concerning. At this rate, she'll need an umbrella. My, would've thought she'd need protection from precipitation in an Opera. His ruddy expression furrows. In thought, perhaps? She's only known him for a few weeks. Mother and father spoke of him fondly. A sharp, respectable man, if a bit nervous. His mustache wriggles. She catches the word 'yes' hidden in mumbles. The tension in his stocky shoulders. "Yes, good. If we can reuse as many set pieces as possible, we'll stay within budget. Thank you, Alice."

Budgeting. The concern for money was one she'd grown to understand lately. Houndsditch Home For Wayward Youth is now a thing of the past, leaving her without a roof over her head or employment. Not a single peer of his willing to take up the mantle. Good riddance. The very foundation was built on corruption. If someone had stepped into his shoes, she may have torn their head clean off. The residents are now scattered to the wind. Children carted off to an unknown future, with no hand to guide them. Some of them said goodbye to her, but not all. Even now the empty eyes of Bumby's work remain at the forefront of her memory. Hollowed out of everything they were or could be. Broken.

Alice steps back, narrowly missing the Stagehand's hasty path. She catches sight of something. White and elegant. A statue of a swan. It's pretty at a glance, but it's shape reminds her too much of geese. She once made the mistake of trying to feed one as a child. The creature nearly pecked her fingers off.

The Stagehand—what was his name, again? George? Yes, that sounds right. George addresses Mr. Gordon. "Will this do?"

"Yes, yes, very good. Just make it look more… grand. Something a knight would use."

Vague instructions, she notes. George just nods his head, and scurries away, swan still in hand. A more graceful cousin of the viscous goose. Would a swan be embarrassed if the goose were to show up at a family reunion? Maybe he'll call another relative to drag their unruly family away, the goose squawking all the while—

"Move aside, girl!"

She breaks out of her brief musings. Alice again steps aside as a woman rushes by. In her arms she clutches her sketchbooks. The Seamstress, Alice recalls. Her curly hair slipping free of her bun. She murmurs something to their theater head. Something about altering costumes from an older production. Mr. Gordon just nods. The woman darts off, just as quick as she came.

It's then her boss takes notice of her. His mustache crinkles. "You're still here? You're free to go back to your duties, Alice."

Oh, yes. She was dismissed. "Yes, Mr Gordon." Though she didn't wish to leave, Alice turns away. The backstage a bustle behind. There's more shouting. More questions. All of it about repurposing old props for the new production. She knew precious little of opera. Apparently they are terribly expensive to put on. Hence the scramble. Even if she knew more about Lohengrin, there's little she could do to help. She's not a seamstress, an actress, or a stage hand. She's just the bookkeeper, nothing more, nothing less.

Alice catches sight of the performers on stage. Not in costume, of course. There is still much rehearsing to be had. She has no idea which scene is being performed, but she does know the key characters. Jonathan is cast in the role of the titular knight. A strong looking man with a square jaw, and bushy eyebrows. She's only had one conversation. A short, curt exchange about the weather. Hardly the impression of a grand knight. The villainous Telramund stands on the opposite side, welding a blade, ready to deal a terrible blow. Except it's not a sword in his hand, it's the handle from a broken mop. A stand in for an unfinished sword prop. Telramund's real name is Richard, and he spends his free time feeding birds. A far cry from a dangerous man.

And then there's the heroine. Elsa. The innocent noble woman accused of murder. With wide eyes she watches her brave champion. Her soprano voice is clear as a bell. The air of serene beauty only falters when their eyes meet. Alice stiffens. Emily, or Lady Luna, as she prefers to be called, is a well known star in the opera world. Her performance comes with a matching price, if Mr. Gordon's muttering is to be believed, but a necessary expense. A well known name will draw in a bigger audience. What's that look in the Lady's eyes? Annoyance? Pity? Just how much did she know about her situation? Alice turns, hurrying away from the stage, and into the archive.

To call this room a library is too generous. It's only a few shelves with a very limited selection. Alice closes the door behind her, resting her back against the wood, glad to be alone. It's not much, but it's something. Better than life on the street. Where would she be without this job? Her situation started becoming desperate. Each day ended with less coin in her pocket. Food nearing luxury status. She spent so many nights in a poor house, sometimes tied up straight with string, a pitiful excuse for a bed. All while men like Jack Splatter inched closer and closer. A smarmy grin painted on crooked faces. Their stinking breath making the same offer.

"Getting hungry, Missy? I know how to fix that. What, think you're too good for it?"

Every time she said no. Never. She'd rather starve. She'd get called a stuck up bitch, then they'd storm off in search of someone more willing. Then someone else will come nearly the next day with a similar proposal. Lather, rinse, repeat. Why do they keep asking? Do Pimps enjoy nearly making her retch? Surely, there are enough women working the streets of London. No need for a mad one. Or are they waiting for a lapse in sanity? Waiting for her desperation to pool, until it finally caved? She shutters. Never. Never.

She pries herself off the door. She wanders to the shelves, her finger tracing along the spine of the nearest book. She's reorganized them so many times, she simply lost count. At first it was done by author in a proper, alphabetical way. But she grew dreadfully bored one day, and redid the whole thing by title. Then by author again, but by first name instead of last. And finally, she arranged it by the colors of their bindings. Each hue of brown and black carefully placed. Nobody will question it. Mr. Gordon is too busy to duck in and see her handiwork, and the rest of his employees didn't care. She may as well be a ghost.

Ah, it's almost a comfortable idea. Ghosts can slip in and out whenever they wish, going completely undetected. How she wished that were the case some days.

Alice's eyes fall on the desk. It's hardly ever used. She's no accountant. It may as well be decoration. Still, there's a note resting on the surface. "Curious." She murmurs. Her eyes narrow on the note. It's a list. A request for her to drop by a nearby Tailor for some fabric. She hasn't learned everyone's handwriting, but it's not hard to imagine it belongs to the Seamstress. What was her name again? Imogen? Sounds right.

"I suppose not everything can be repurposed." She was more of a glorified errand girl than anything else. Last week it was paint. The week before that was wood. At least they didn't make her pay out of pocket for the materials. Alice snatches the small bag of coin, stuffing it into the pocket of her apron.

"To the Tailor's, then."

There's no need to tell her boss where she's going. Mr. Gordon hardly needed her help. If anything, she'd be more of a distraction. So, Alice quietly slips away through the back, taking care to lock the door behind her. Mr. Gordon is particular about doors. Staff only, the back door must always be locked. The last thing she needed was to be reprimanded for something so silly. Her shoes clack along the cobblestone unceremoniously, legs carrying her out the back alley, and onto the streets of London.

Gray skies mixed with smoke hang overhead. Damp air hitting her face, intermingling with an autumn chill. Alice involuntarily shivers. She hasn't earned enough money for a coat just yet. If she doesn't do anything to cost her current employment, she could afford one before November, but if not..

Faces pass her by without interest. Here, she's just another girl. She's grateful for the anonymity. She's long grown weary of looks she got in Cheapside. A mix of pity and contempt. People who thought they knew her, taking newspaper articles and rumors at face value. They didn't, of course. Nobody did. They only cared for the bits of her story to serve themselves. She's had enough of being poor little orphan Alice, thank you.

A shoulder brushes her own, and she catches a glimpse of a man dressed far better than herself. She murmurs a soft apology, but receives no reply. "My, you think you could afford better manners." Her words don't reach their intended target. Alice just turns, continuing her way, weaving through the crowds.

She nearly trips over a few skirts, but she does finally find her way to the Tailor's. The bell above the door chimes with her entrance. An old man lifts his head from his desk. He sets his pen down. "Is there anything I can help you with, miss?"

She must not look like his typical customer. Her shabby clothes are an indicator of her social standing. She's personally far too poor to afford finer fabrics, but she's not here for herself. "Yes." Alice takes a step forward, fishing both the note and coin from her apron. "I was sent to purchase the specific fabrics."

He accepts the note without protest. "Let's see…" He spends a mere moment glancing it over. "White satin, red velvet, and white lace..?" His brow quirks. "None of these come cheap, you know?"

It is a bit surprising that Imogen was granted permission to purchase something so expensive. Especially with the way their boss frets over every expense, but she's not here to argue. "I have money." Alice held out the little pouch of coins. "This is enough to cover it, isn't it?"

"Indeed…" he carefully counts each coin. Alice can't help crossing her arms. She can't imagine him being so guarded around someone better dressed. "There's an awful lot of money here."

She catches his suspicious tone instantly. Her shoulders tense. So he thinks she's a thief? He doesn't outright say it, but she can read between the lines. "I work at the Royal Opera house, I was sent to pick these up." He still eyes her. "You can contact the owner if you want, it's the truth."

He just sighs, and leans back in his chair. "Alright, fine. I'll put in the order. I can have it ready for you in the morning." Her shoulders relax. Good. "But, be sure to bring that boss of yours."

Her brow furrows. "Why?"

"To help you carry it, of course."

"I don't need assistance."

"It's quite the order for a… hard working lass, such as yourself. I insist."

"And if I don't?"

"Then I'll call on a constable to assist you."

Her lips purse. Cheeks tingling red. The threat is there, but there's precious little she can do. "Very well."

"Good girl." He gives her a pleased smile. The urge to smack it off his face near overwhelms her. "Can I get your name for the order, then?"

"Alice Liddell."

"Alright…and your 'boss'?"

"Ronald Gordon."

"Good, good." He scribbles something down on the paper along with the names. A note to report a thief, perhaps? "Well then, everything seems to be in order here. I'll be seeing you in the morning, Miss Liddell. You have a good afternoon."

Alice whirls around wordlessly. Storming out the door, she shoves it shut. He doesn't believe her. Of course not. Nobody does. "Stupid, miserable, old man." She already owes Mr. Gordon a great deal. If he hadn't come across her in Cheapside and recognized her family name… she didn't want to think where she'd be.

Alice slows her stride. She moves, stepping away from the busy, cramped streets, standing to the side. Where was she going, anyways? She was in no mood to return to the Opera house. What good would it do to rearrange the books again? She huffs, trying to shake off her frustrations. Murky clouds still hanging over her head. Heavy and thick, threatening rain. Alice stares up at the grey sky. Oh, how she wants to just whisk it away. If she could only brush away the clouds and smoke with a flick of her wrist. She closes her eyes, back resting against a nearby brick wall. Just wash it away, exchange it for something better.

Something tickles her nose. It's sweet. Lighter than anything. The scent of summer. Her eyes open. The dirty grey over her head is gone, a pleasant blue taking its place. Soft, candy sweet clouds drift above her reach. Bright green springs from cobblestone houses. Mushrooms tangle infrastructure. London itself is overtaken by nature. Sunlight beams down, warming her pale skin.

She doesn't need to look to know she too has changed. Gone is her dirty apron, smudged shoes, and fraying skirt. Clad in blue, she walks down the changed road. Her hair caught in a light breeze. Alice takes it all in.

"Seems I'm somewhere familiar this time." She clasps her hands behind her back. "A far more scenic stroll than last night's adventure."

"And no tumble, what a treat for you." She hears his voice before she sees him. The silhouette of a cat flickering into existence. She stops just in front of his paws.

Alice simply stares back at his grinning face. Cheshire betrays little. He's thinking about something. "Have you come to join me, then?"

"I'm afraid not. I have a rather important grooming appointment this afternoon."

A pitiful excuse, but she doesn't press. He's not here without cause. There's something gleaming in those yellow eyes. "If that's the case, then I won't keep you." Alice simply steps aside, walking around the cat, her challenge laid.

"Ahh, but before you go.." And here it is. "There is a particular thought itching my brain. Perhaps you can satisfy it."

Alice stops. "Out with it."

"Do you still think you were trouncing around the Queen's castle last night?"

It's a question that's been burning in her mind. She couldn't think of how she ended up in Queensland. She hardly had a reason to return. The Queen of Hearts is a withered husk of her old self. No longer a threat to Wonderland, Alice had no reason to return. But she was there last night, wasn't she? Cold stone walls, the sickly scent of death, and a horrible red hue. All things she associates with the Queen's garish taste in decor.

It was all quite familiar, but… off. In a way she can't put a finger on. Guards should've attacked her, no? She traveled unobstructed. And where were the statues? Or the Queen's throne room? All absent.

"What are you suggesting?" Alice asks, glancing over at Cheshire.

"I suggest nothing." His smile sits unphased. Baritone words rolling off his tongue. "I'm merely curious."

Alice falls silent. Thinking. There wasn't a heart in sight, come to think of it. And then there's the man she met at the tail end. Met isn't the right word. She only saw him for a few short seconds. He didn't speak a single word. Covered in blood, he stared at her with such wide, frightened eyes. Then he fell. It was a short encounter, but she already knows he's not a denizen of Wonderland. She has no proof, just her instinct.

So, if she opens up to the idea of the castle not belonging to the Queen, and there being an outsider within the dream, where does that leave her?

"No." She answers. "I don't think it was."

Cheshire stretches his paws outward, back arching into a stretch. "Purrrrfect. You haven't lost your sense of trepidation."

"Cheshire," She turns fully now, facing her old companion. "What's happening to me?"

First there was her dream in the Opera. Demons howling, Wagner's music pounding in her head with wings sprouting out her back. Then there was her ride with Mr. Verne. A more quiet, introspective journey. All of it outside of Wonderland. And now, she's come across a castle housing a bloody young man.

"Have I truly gone mad?" Sunlight still shines, warmth betraying her worry. Her sanity was hard won, but now…

"Oh, you weren't before?" She gives him a pointed look. "Your mind may be opening, new lands on the horizon. But what lies beyond your own field?"

Something cold hits her nose. A raindrop. Alice blinks. The vision of Wonderland painted over a city scape is gone. Cheshire, too, is gone, instead there's a street lamp before her feet. There's no more green, no blue sky. Just the unforgiving industrial machine known as London. Alice exhales.

"Be on your guard." Cheshire's voice echoes in her mind. A warning in place of a proper goodbye. Silly cat. She's always on guard.

A second raindrop pelts her. Then a third. More coming, too soon it's too many to count. The rainstorms onslaught comes without warning. She needs shelter, quick. Her arms wrap around herself tight as she runs. Where is she going? Her mind blanks, but only for a moment. There's a library nearby, just down this winding road, she needs to turn left, then head straight.

She nearly slips on the journey, uneven road now slick with water, but she makes it unharmed. Her drab clothing does little to shield her from the rain. She hurries the door shut behind her. Safe inside thick walls, but shivering. Damp hair clings to the side of her face. She turns, arms still tight around her. She's out of the storm, at least.

Water rolls down her face, and onto the floor. There are eyes on her. Two middle aged women—hair done uptight, the collars around their necks even tighter, narrow their gaze on her. Librarians, she imagines. None too happy to see a lower class girl soaked in rainwater. Alice just holds up her head, and ventures further inside. While she's here, she may as well look. She half expects one of them to say something. Try to stop her, or accuse her of something absurd. Thankfully, they say nothing, letting her pass in peace.

Rain pelts the windows. Air inside is thick with humidity. Alice passes by the towering shelves. By comparison she may as well be a mouse. Her eyes pier down the corridor of books. She always meant to stop by the local library, after she settled into her new life. She already read all the books of interest at the Opera house. She may as well take advantage of her time here.

She passes by a few others. Some, like her, sought shelter from the rain. Men brushing the rain away from their tailored suits, children complaining about the cold with mothers shushing them. There's another librarian along the way. A young man attending to a cart of books, presumably returning them to their proper shelves.

Alice turns, heading towards her chosen destination. It'd been a long time since she'd read anything by Jules Verne. Memories of her father sitting by her bedside gleam. Reading her Journey To The Center Of The Earth while she was feverish. Even now she can still hear his deep, comforting voice, speaking each word to her with care. The memory is too much to think of, her throat tightening. Don't think of that right now, she tells herself, just find his books. Perhaps she'll find an answer to her own dilemma in the pages.

Alice stops at a shelf. Eyes glancing over the names of authors. Thankfully, they haven't followed her style of book keeping. Her hand raises, index finger nearly tracing the names as she murmurs.

"Verne, Verne, Verne… Ah!"

There he was, sitting nearly at the top. Her expression falters. Now that's hardly fair. Shouldn't a name starting with a V be towards the bottom. She glances around her. No ladder for assistance, either. What a bother.

There's no one else nearby. Slowly, her gaze raises to her target. With all the books, there's hardly any ledge to spare, but since when did little things stop her? It'll be a short adventure. Nobody will know. Her hands reach out for the highest ledge she can reach. Her feet are quick to follow, the tips planting on the edge. It's very little to work with, but it'll be fine as long as she's quick.

Her leg rises, careful not to whack her knee on the books, foot finding a new platform. The other leg follows, then her hand reaches upwards. It's a slow, monotonous ascent. Was this what it was like to be Jack scaling the beanstalk? Climbing up so slowly. One wrong slip meaning death. Of course, falling from this height won't kill her, but it'll still hurt.

Ivy wouldn't be out of place on these wooden shelves. Deep and vivid green leaves gathering on the varnish. The stalk above rising into an unending sky. Verne's novels are just beyond a wispy cloud. She has to wonder—just how is Mr. Verne fairing? Had the conversation had an effect, if it were truly real. It'd been enlightening. It's not everyday someone speaks so openly with her. She's so tired of pitying glances.

Still, if somewhere in France Mr. Verne did wake up from a shared dream, just what does that mean for her?

She's nearing the top of her bean stalk. Books just a short arms length away. Not completely out of reach, but still a challenge. Her balance is precarious. One long move will lead her into an unpleasant tumble. Thin fingers grip the ledge tightly as the other hand eases. She takes in a breath, holding it tight as she reaches. The tips of her fingers find a spine. She'll only be able to take one back with her. Anymore will be too cumbersome. She tugs it loose, book half way free. Her eyes lock on the cover. Best be sure it's the right one—

"What on Earth are you doing?"

A voice from below shakes her. Visions of greenery and clouds vanish. Her tenuous grip on her prize lost.

"Get down from there!"

Her foot slips. She lets out an involuntary gasp. Her arms nearly give. A momentary thought flashes in her mind—seems now it's time to fall from the beanstalk.