Disclaimers: Same as always

I dedicate this chapter toooo......the people at the Dark Wonderland RP forum, for keeping me distracted with such a great roleplay ;)

Chapter 8: 1st Dismissal: Tea of two for one

Alice helped Lewis off the leaf onto dry land again. Some vague feeling that this was being done the wrong way round crossed Lewis' mind, but mostly he was just very very glad to be back on the ground.
Without waiting any longer Alice walked up to the rickety house they had arrived at, Lewis followed, glancing at the burning matchstick like wooden poles dotted around the place.

The house itself was a run-down looking old manor, wooden walls rotted, the wood seeming to almost form faces. There was a huge keyhole occupying the right wing of the house, for reasons unknown, and on an upper floor what seemed like a broken monocle hanging from a chain. The whole building seemed to be built in the remains of an old tree trunk, although very little of it was left.

The porch area was illuminated by what could only be a large firefly, nailed to the wall, dead, but it's light still shining.
The light of the crucified insect revealed a frog sitting at the front of the house, standing guard as it were. The strange footman was dressed in a blue suit and had a wooden sword by his side.

Alice walked up to the footman and casually toyed with the knife for a moment or two. No reaction.
"Hey! Frog guy! What use is a guard when he can't even notice someone with a weapon right in front of him?!" She slapped the frog across the face.
"...Ew, he's all slimy..."
It slumped over and fell off the chair, it had obviously been dead for some time.
"I wonder what killed it..." Lewis tapped the creature with his foot.

"Ahem." Said a quiet voice, "That would have been me."
They both span round, weapons ready.
It appeared to be another footman, but this one was a fish, and was more richly clothed than the first, a red waistcoat decorated with a thorn like pattern similar to that on the back of the card guards.
He also had a wooden sword by his side, and didn't hesitate to ready it.

Alice darted forwards before Lewis or the footman had time to blink, burying her knife in the footman's stomach, blood quickly staining his expensive looking waistcoat.
"I have no time for such nonsense." Alice said to the fast expiring creature, "I'm here to see the duchess."

"Impossible! The duchess only sees those who don't wish to see her!"
A lizard came into view, it's skin changing colour constantly.
"And who are you?" Alice demanded.
"Bill Mc Gill at your service Ma'am. Call me Larry, or not..."
"Bill?...ah, Bill!" Alice seemed to remember the strange lizard from somewhere.
Bill [Or perhaps, Larry.] seemed to be some sort of handyman, several tools hanging from a belt around his waist.
"I must apologise for that incident with the chimney." Alice was saying to Bill.
"All in the past now miss." He assured her, "Got any brandy?"
"Afraid not, just my wits."
"Wont get ya' far 'ere miss."
"Alice, the shell." Lewis reminded her.
"Oh, yes. We're here for the mock-turtle's shell." she said to Bill.
"She wont part with it willingly miss." Bill told her.
"Then she'll just have to do so UNwillingly."
"Right ho ma'am. Your devoted servant am I. I owe her back for having me build this monstrosity anyways."

Bill led them both to the door, or rather, a bunch of cards that seemed to act as a door. As they got closer he suddenly ran off screaming.
"Now, why did he?-" Lewis never finished his sentence as the cards opened up and a strong wind pulled them inside the house.
--- --- ---

They both picked themselves up, looking back behind them at the spot where the door had been, now a solid stone wall.
"Did he betray us?"
"Maybe he hadn't forgiven me for that incident after all....," Alice sighed, "Well, we DID want to get inside, so I guess it doesn't matter."

They made their way down some steps, more unfortunate fireflies illuminating the dreary tunnel.
They reached the end of the tunnel, Alice silently noting the portcullis at the doorway as they stepped into a small room.
"What...is this?" Lewis looked around in confusion.
"I'd say it was some kind of kitchen." Alice replied.

The room was mostly empty, occupied only by a table, fireplace and shelves holding various condiments, kitchen utensils and the like on them.
There was a portrait hanging on one wall of what seemed to be a pig smoking a cigar.
Alice dimly remembered the Duchess' baby turning into a pig after she'd taken it with her, apparently it had chosen to stay with the duchess, even though the woman had regularly beaten the child for sneezing, which could scarcely have been avoided with the excessive amounts of pepper she liked on her food.

She'd no sooner thought pepper when Lewis sneezed himself. She span round, the knife pointed at his face.

"...sorry. I'm just a bit jumpy, that's all."
She bent down to check the floor, which seemed to have deep cracks running along it.
"That rock...just...sprouted legs..."
Alice stared at the offending rock in question, which was crawling off on stubby little legs.
Alice merely raised one eyebrow, but ignored the rock.
"Ah, there it is"
Alice stood up and walked over to one of the shelves, the turtleshell resting on it.
"Eels, turtles, I hope no-one else decides they want us to reclaim stolen items for them."
Just as she reached out to grab the shell the room started shaking. She fell back as the walls started slowly moving apart, the room growing in size.
"Well," She thought, "That explains the cracks in the floor."
The grate of the fireplace suddenly flew across the room as, in a cloud of ash, pepper and embers, the duchess burst out of it.
Alice was back on her feet in an instant.
"Well now, my dear, it looks like you still need to put some meat on those bones." The duchess grunted.
Alice wrinkled her nose in disgust. The duchess had never been pretty, but now the woman had become truly grotesque, even her pig of a son looked better than that!
"And where might your disobedient son and cooking slave be duchess dear?" Alice shot back.
The duchess grunted again.
"We didn't have enough food, and hiding from the queen couldn't go out to get more. They both kindly offered to help feed me." The duchess smiled.
"And the moral of that my dear child," She added, "Is to keep a bigger larder, or employ a bigger staff."
"She...She ate them?!" Lewis seemed to get what the duchess was talking about.
"And now it seems a nice snack has arrived."
"I'm not edible."
"I find anything becomes edible with enough pepper my dear." The duchess gave a false smile, a large pepper shaker in her hand.
Lewis sneezed again.
"We'll have the turtle shell now you disgusting ogre!"
"Over my dead body!" The duchess sneered.
"I'll try to accomodate you."

Alice raised the knife to throw it but found a cloud of pepper heading her way, if hit her in the face, making her eyes water and making it hard to breathe. She threw the knife blindly, missing badly.
"No-where near dear." The duchess mocked.
Through her watering eyes Alice could just about see the duchess right in front of her, about to grab her.
Then she was gone.

Alice wiped her eyes and looked around.
Lewis was just lowering his spear, obviously he'd shot at the duchess when she'd just been about to get Alice. But where had she gone?
"There!" Alice saw a blurred figure, a faint blue glow and the distortion of the air around it the only sign of who it was, the duchess.
'She's fast for such a fat old-" Lewis didn't finish, the duchess stopping and appearing behind him, knocking him across the room with a swing of her pepper shaker.
"Old?!" She shrieked, "How dare you!"
"Don't forget fat!!" Alice yelled, firing a handful of cards at the Duchess.
She disappeared again, running across the room at high speed.
"How are we supposed to hit her?" Lewis choked, getting back to his feet.
"By trying not to..." Alice started, "If we time it right she should run into our attacks."
Lewis grabbed a meta-essence from the shelf he'd crashed into, and prepared to rejoin the battle.

Alice was busy dodging the clouds of pepper the duchess was firing from her shaker. He fired at her back but she disappeared again.
Alice followed the ghostly after-image of the duchess with her eyes.
Alice let at least 10 cards fly at the spot the duchess was running to.
The woman reappeared just as they reached, leaving a mass of cuts in her rough woven grey dress, but doing little damage.
"Alice...even if we hit her...it isn't doing enough."
The duchess turned to look at Lewis, then pulled out a pig baby and tossed it at him.
"Lewis!! Get out of the way!!!"
"Huh? Oh..."
The pig baby exploded, engulfing the spot Lewis had been standing in a fireball.
As the smoke cleared both Alice and the duchess had paused in their fighting to see the outcome.
Alice gave a cry of dismay upon seeing the crater the explosive baby had created.
"Lewis!! No!!"
A movement caught her eye. Again tossed across the room, lay Lewis. The force of the explosion must have thrown him aside, and he lay still on the floor, bleeding and burnt.
The duchess strode forward to finish him off, but Alice threw her knife at the duchess' dress, pinning it to the floor.
She turned and tried to pull it out but couldn't reach the handle, so started tugging on her dress.
With little time to spare Alice grabbed meta-essences from some shelves and passed them to Lewis.
He got back up, he still had a few burns, but it looked like he was going to be okay.
"You little pest!! How am I supposed to have this dress fixed?! I already ate the tailor!!"
The duchess had torn her dress getting herself free from the knife, which now simply returned to Alice's hand.
They split up as the duchess fired another blast of pepper at them, Alice had barely taken more than a few steps when she tripped on something.
"Ah!!? It's that walking rock!!" She swore under her breath and dived out of the way as another pig baby exploded behind her, setting the rock on fire but otherwise not harming the thing.
"Hey! Old woman! Over here!"
The duchess growled and turned to face Lewis.
"Stop calling me that!!" She threw a pig baby at him.
Lewis jumped over the table, grabbing a box sitting on it as he did so, then tipping the table on it's side as the pig exploded, using the table to shield the blast.
He poked his head over the top of the table and shouted to Alice.
"Hey Alice! Try his!"
He threw the box over the Duchess' head, Alice caught it in her hands and blinked.
The box popped open to reveal a jester like figure, with, and this was important, a fuse poking out of the top of it's head."
"Shite!" Alice fumbled the box and threw it to the Duchess.
"The jackbomb?!" The duchess began to run as the jackbomb exploded in mid-air, in her face.
The large woman was knocked backwards by the blast, and clutched at her burnt face.
"When I deal with you two it will be the sweetest meal I've had in a long time!"
"Why bother?! You could do with a diet!!" Alice retorted.
The Duchess screamed in anger and threw pig babies, the room full of explosions.
"It seems you need a little cooking first!!"
"Alice! Behind here!" Alice jumped over the upturned table with Lewis.
They could feel the heat of the explosions around them, and the table wasn't going to last much longer.
"That thing seemed effective..." Lewis sighed.

"Yes but we only had the one-" Alice looked at the blue light gathering at her hand, forming into the jackbomb.
"I could grow to like this weapon..." Alice smiled.

Alice leapt over the table, skidding the jackbomb along the floor so that it stopped close to the Duchess' feet, who, still in a rage, hadn't noticed.
The Duchess heard the music of the box playing though, and looked down as the jester head popped out and began spurting flames.
The Duchess sneezed, and again, harder this time. Then she sneezed one final time, her head exploding in a shower of blood and pepper.
"And the moral of that," Alice said triumphantly, "Is not to mess with me."

"Is it...over?"
Lewis felt sick, he'd never fought against a proper human before.
Alice stared down at the empty remains of the Duchess' head.
"If she can keep going after that I very much doubt we would be able to win."
Alice walked back to the turtle shell and tucked it under her arm, then waved an admonishing finger at the walking rock.
"If you trip me up again I'll grind you into dust. Understand?"
The little rock squeaked and ran off as fast as its stubby legs could carry it