AN: Hey there peoples. So yeah, sorry for the delay and all. Even though I only have, um, two readers, I think? Anyways, here's the next chapter. Ironically, in Word this is ten pages long. But here's a warning: major writer's block in this chapter, so some things may sound forced. But anyways, enough yapping from me. Oh, and the french part? It was originally written in a more advanced form, but then when I looked through the french-english dictionary to see what it directly translated to, it didn't quite have the same meaning, so yeah, I had to change it to basic french.
"So, the girls have gone into another world again, I see? Excellent," said the Red Queen happily. "You have done well. Does she trust you?"
"Not entirely, but she will soon. I believe my little spat with Pious will have helped, however," Alejandro replied.
"Good. Does she suspect anything?"
"She might," he admitted. "I saw a trace of recognition in her eyes, but I doubt that she's managed to place it yet."
The Queen of Hearts frowned. "Be sure not to alert her to the proper conclusion just yet. We will need to manipulate it to separate them, and it cannot be done prematurely."
He nodded. "I understand. I will be more careful."
"A good plan. But be sure not to reveal yourself around the dark one in this form, for she will recognise you instantly."
"I'm sure she will," Alejandro agreed.
"Have you found away to send her back yet?" the Red Queen asked.
"I have a theory," answered the Spaniard. "I think that if she lost he who was dearest to her, it might… drive her away."
She pondered this for a moment. "An interesting thought. How soon can he be eliminated?"
"He's a tricky fellow," Alejandro said. "It will require some time, but I'd say within the month."
"Excellent. You are dismissed."
Alejandro hesitated. "The dark one will be able to sense something wrong, unless she is… distracted."
The Red Queen raised her eyebrows. "You have a plan?"
He nodded. "Yes, I do. Though I'm going to require your permission to use the Ancients."
"I see." She pondered this for a moment. "You know the dangers of invoking their power, do you not?"
"Only too well," he replied bitterly.
The queen of hearts nodded. "I remember. Go now, but remember: They do not like their slumber to be disturbed."
"I am well aware of that," Alejandro said. "I take my leave. I am grateful for your aide." Concentrating, he morphed into a small, grey, gangly cat. The grin he wore reflected into his dark eyes, and he vanished in an instant.
Alice looked around the library curiously. "This is your grandfather's library? Small, isn't it?"
"Not quite…" Alex walked forward a bit, and then turned the corner towards the area where she found the secret study. "Things are missing. For one thing, there's supposed to be a fireplace here," she motioned to a large decorative stone mural that showed two twin female girls back to back, one gothic, the other cast in a holy light, blood flowing from each of them, "instead of this image. Do you have any idea what it is?"
"Haven't got a clue," her friend replied. She walked up to it, feeling the stone engravings of the mural with her right hand. Something somewhere near the bottom of it caught her eye. "Hey, look, there's an inscription here."
Alex knelt down, reading the words, a look of confusion on her face. "Avec la visage de tromperie et la masque de trahison, les jumelles du nuit vont s'éveiller. Chossisez-bien entre les deux ou tu dois rencontrer avec les Anciens. AAA"
"French," Alice observed. "I can't understand."
"Anciens… Like the Ancients?" Alex asked. "It sounds similar… Wish there was a way to-"
"With… er, the… the face of… deception… the face of deception…" Alice muttered, cutting Alex off while flipping through a small book, "and the… mask? Yeah, mask of… uh… treason… the twins of… the night… will awaken. Huh? Unemployment? Oh, no wait, that's choose. Choose well… er… between the two… or you will… you will… will what?" She turned a few more pages, squinting slightly at the small print. "Or you will meet with the… the Ancients."
"How do you know that?" Alex asked her, astonished. Alice held up the cover of the book, labelled Collins French-English Dictionary. "Oh, well, good thinking." She rubbed her forehead. "What does it mean, the twins of the night? And the Ancients? What else could they do apart from what they're already trying to do?"
Alice thought for a moment. "It's a prophecy."
Alex shook her head. "I don't think so. It said to choose between something. Kind of like a kinky instruction manual."
"No, it's a prophecy. It's forked, mind you, but it foretells something that has not yet come to pass…"
"How do you know that?" Alex asked.
"Simple," was her friend's reply. "If it had already happened, then it would say something of the result."
"'With the face of deception and the mask of treason, the twins of the night will awaken. Choose well between the two or you will face the Ancients.' " Alice repeated. "The face of deception and the mask of treason… A betrayal. The twins of the night… One dark, one light." She fingered the two girls on the mural. "Blood… Someone was wronged by blood. However, only one of the two is good. The other was wronged by the good one's doing. It seems like the person this prophecy was intended for needs to tell who's good, who can help them… or they face a creature that has the power to bring immense terror. The Ancients."
Alex shook her head in amazement. "How do you know all this?"
Alice smirked. "Try living with the Cheshire cat for most of your life. He talks in even more cryptic passages sometimes."
Alex laughed. "I don't doubt -" She cut herself off, frowning slightly, then turned around curiously. "What was that?"
"I don't know…" Alice had heard it too. From behind them, a sound like a combination of a hiss and a growl had uttered, followed by the shuffling of feet. A card guard was walking with a quickened pace in their direction, though something didn't seem right. The blonde's eyes widened as she realized what was odd about this scene.
"He doesn't have any weapons," she pointed out. "But… why not?"
"Whatever the reason," Alice said, taking out her sword, "it doesn't seem to be stopping him."
Indeed, the card guard was advancing on them as if with a strong desire to kill them. However, his first attack on Alex was feeble, giving her enough time to draw her sword and decapitate it before it could do much else. To both girls' surprise, the card guard did not fall. Instead, he stood as if nothing had happened, though he was shaking violently. There was a horrible ripping sound as something from inside him tore off his skin and burst out from the inside. The headless green creature gave an odd shout into the air before jumping right onto Alice's head.
"Get off me, you bloody beast!" she yelled, attempting to thrust the thing off her back. The creature, however, seemed not to want to let go. Alex swung at it with her sword while avoiding her friend. The force of the blow sent it flying off Alice's back, though it didn't appear to be wounded very badly, and decided to get revenge on Alex by jumping on her head instead. As the Roivas struggled with the being, a loud maniacal laughter rang in her ears. It was a painful sound, and it kept growing in volume. Alice seemed to be simultaneously affected by the laughter, for she had dropped her Gladius and was now covering her ears. A white light flashed around them and they found themselves at the beginning of the room.
"Bloody hell! What happened?" Alice wondered, rubbing her forehead.
Alex shook her head, but immediately regretted the action. "Not sure," she replied, trying to quell her headache but with no luck.
The dark-haired girl knelt down beside the corpse, which was significantly more mauled-looking than the original corpse had been. She gasped. "It's the Mayor!" she exclaimed.
"What?" Alex ran over to the body of the old man who had helped them earlier, fighting a wave of nausea that had come courtesy of the strong stench of blood emanating from the body. "Poor man," she commented. "I liked him."
"He was supposed to be doing something in here to help out," Alice said, frowning slightly. "Pity." She sighed. "I suppose he didn't get a chance to do it."
Alex tore her gaze off the mangled corpse to glance around the room thoughtfully. "No, actually, I think he did."
Alice looked up at the blonde. "What?"
Alex nodded. "Yes, I'm sure of it. This area over here -" she indicated the mural with the prophecy "- is still the same. But over here…" She ran to the other end of the room excitedly, motioning to a long but thin corridor. "This wasn't here before. Looks like the Mayor managed to point us in the right direction."
Alice stood up, her gaze now focused on the narrow doorway before them also. "You're… sure this is the way then?"
Alex nodded. "Positive."
The Liddell child frowned for a moment in deliberation, and then nodded. "All right then, what are we waiting for?" She eagerly grabbed her friend's hand and hurried down the corridor, dragging Alex in pursuit.
"Hang on, hang on," Alex protested, wrenching her arm free of Alice's grasp. "I can move by myself you know."
Alice gave her an apologetic look and replied, "Sorry, just in a bit of a hurry," before starting up the corridor again.
"Hey! Wait up!" Alex called after her friend, running to keep up. Books lined the walls in the small hallway, their titles those of witchcraft and magick. I wouldn't be surprised if we found the Tome in here, she found herself thinking. The pace they were travelling brought them to the end of the corridor rather quickly. More bookshelves met them at the end of it, giving them an option to turn either in either direction. Alice turned left, due to the fact that the other side held a dead end. From an open area on the right of the bookshelves, a card guard lunged at Alice, catching her off-guard.
"Bugger," she muttered as she felt the card guard's spade tear through her muscle, forcing her to drop her Gladius, which she had just unsheathed.
The card guard raised his spade again but this time faltered. A red bloodstain grew quickly on his chest, where Alex's vorpal blade was protruding. He dropped his spade and collapsed on the floor, dead. "I wonder why the Red Queen trusts these louts, they're pretty useless," Alex commented as she retrieved her knife from the fallen corpse.
"Thanks for that," Alice said. She put a hand over the bleeding gash in her arm. "Didn't see that one coming." A red glowing bottle of meta-essence formed from the card guard's body. The wounded girl picked it up and poured some of it over her arm, watching as the wound healed.
"'Please don't dawdle, Alice, we're very late indeed,'" Alex said amusedly, imitating the White Rabbit as she remembered him.
"Oh, ha ha," Alice said dryly. "Though you're right. We've wasted quite enough time here." She stored the rest of the red meta-essence in her pocket on her apron and continued forward. Alex rolled her eyes and followed.
They turned right soon ahead of that to see just how large the library happened to be. It was four stories high with bookcases lining each wall. The bookcases themselves were at least ten feet tall, holding thousands of books. "How are we supposed to find the book we need in this lot?" Alice wondered aloud.
Alex, meanwhile, was distracted by the arrival of two more card guards. "Kill now, think later," she told her friend. The red guards greeted them with a shower of deadly cards, which Alex returned in kind. One of the card guards dropped, his life transforming into a small bottle of red meta-essence. The other guard fell also, courtesy of Alice's Gladius. Alex took a bottle of meta-essence from the dead guards and used it to heal her wounds. "Odd sort of place, isn't it?" she commented. "I mean, who would need a library this big?"
"Or books that big," Alice added. "Look over there, at that large tome," she told her friend, pointing at a gigantic blue book, which seemed to be floating in a sort of blue mist. "I wonder what it's about. Seems as though it'd be rather hard to read."
The Roivas' attention turned to the book as well. "Strange," she said. "I don't see a title, do you?"
Alice ambled over to the book as well. "None whatsoever," she agreed. She tried to examine the book closer, but she had barely touched it when it opened up, its cover flat facing the ceiling, and flew up to float by the top floor. "Odd sort of book," she commented, looking back at Alice. "So, where to next?"
Alex's gaze traveled the room, finally fixing upon a set of three steps fixed on some sort of spiral mechanism, which led to the floor above. "There," she said, pointing. Alice nodded and followed Alex as she walked over there, both stepping on the platform.
The steps whirled their way onto the second floor of the place in no time. Alice fell off at the top due to Alex knocking into her by the force of the quick stop. They were greeted by two grey card guards, which the girls disposed of easily. Another giant blue book was floating in the same sort of mist, and when touched, it flew up, facedown, to the fourth level as the first one had. After looking around for a bit, however, they couldn't find any passage to the third floor.
"I give up," Alex sighed. "We're stuck here it seems."
"No, we must not stall. We will soon reach the top, and then -"
"And then what? Look, I'm sorry, but there must be thousands of books here. What are the chances of us finding it?"
"We will find it," Alice insisted. "We must find it. If you weren't so slow then maybe -"
"Do you ever listen to yourself when you talk?" She sighed again. "You're so impatient. Do you remember what the Cheshire cat said? Your rashness will get you killed one of these days."
Alice opened her mouth to retort, but someone else spoke before she could.
"She's right, you know," uttered a familiar voice.
Alice turned to face the Cheshire cat. "Oh, bloody hell. What do you want?"
"To impart some wisdom, as usual," answered the cat.
"Wisdom, ha!" the dark-haired girl muttered. "All right, on with it then."
The cat blinked once. "Trust is key, Alice. Know whom to trust and you won't have trouble. Unfortunately, some wish to disrupt such trusts. Your emotional attachment with them could change your perception of things." He turned to face Alex. "Your greatest strength is your ability to stay calm in all situations; use it. Remember though, reality is distorted here. Reason becomes suicide. Trust your instincts, not your head."
He began to fade, but Alice stopped him. "Say something that makes sense for once and help us get to the next floor."
The cat paused, and then grinned. "Steps to enlightenment brighten the way, but the steps are steep." He knocked over a bookshelf. "Take them one at a time."
Something about the cat's eyes as he vanished gave Alex a sense of déjà vu. She decided to push it to the back of her mind, however, as Alice seemed eager to move on. "Heh, the cat's not all bad then?"
"I suppose not." Alice was examining the makeshift staircase with some interest. "Is it strong enough, do you think?"
"Why don't you like him?" Alex asked suddenly. She had never understood her friend's dislike for the being, though she had never thought to ask.
"I don't like some of the things he says," she said simply. Testing the bookshelf, she found it sturdy but was still unsure of its stability. "Come on, we'd better-"
A shower of deadly cards interrupted their conversation. Alex returned them in kind, the sharp edges of the cards slicing open one of their attackers. Alice, in turn, had pulled out her Gladius and was fending off the card guards as well. Together they made quick work of them, sustaining little injuries that hardly required the meta-essence the card guards were providing.
The bookshelf under their feet started to shake, clearly not meant for support. It started to slide off, causing Alice to topple off and grab the edge of the third floor. The bookcase gave way completely and fell onto the ground floor. Alex fell also but couldn't manage to grab onto the edge. The only thing that prevented her from meeting a particularly painful death was Alice's hand grabbing onto her own. She threw Alex back onto the floor with some difficulty, and then pulled herself up.
"Seems as though we won't be going back down for some time," she commented, eyeing the fallen bookshelf. There were books everywhere, and the bookcase itself was ruined.
"Yeah," Alex agreed. "Thanks for that."
"Anytime." Her eyes flicked around the floor for a moment before spotting a telltale trail of blue mist behind one of the many bookshelves. "I found the next book," she told Alex, heading in the direction of the mist. Alex followed her.
"What do you suppose the books are for? They don't seem to be doing anything besides… float."
Alice reached the book first and touched it. "We shall see," she said quietly, watching the book fly up with the rest.
"Hm…" Alex walked over to a large platform that she hadn't noticed before due to the large tome. "Elevator, you think?"
"Seems about right," Alice agreed, joining her beside the platform.
"Only one way to find out," Alex muttered as she stepped onto the platform. It started to rise, slowly enough for Alice to hop on beside her. They both stepped off at the top, and then realized what the books had been for.
"We actually have to jump on these?" Alex checked nervously.
Alice nodded. "I'll go first."
The first book was easy to reach, as it was attached to the ledge of the floor. The second one, however, required a jump. Alice stepped onto the blue back of the first tome, finding it to be quite sturdy. With a deep breath, she leaped from it, landing clean on the next book. She jumped a second time; reaching the third and leaving the second book open to Alex. Alex watched her reach the fourth book safely before jumping herself.
She made the first jump without problems, but her second jump almost didn't make it. Having seen Alice nearly fall off while she'd make her last jump had done nothing to quell her nerves. Her third jump was a little different. She had overestimated the amount of space between the books and very nearly went flying off the other end. She managed to grab onto one of the pages before she could fall, which surprisingly didn't tear. Pulling herself up onto the book, she saw Alice staring intently at a book on a ledge. She took a deep breath and made her last leap with no trouble. She stood up, brushed herself off and turned to Alice, saying, "So what have we got here?"
"It's our book. Though it is rather puzzling. There's no lock, but it won't open. It's stuck."
Alex pondered on this for a moment. "Treat it like a Chinese box or a stubborn lid. A tap in the right spot might do the trick."
"You're beginning to sound like the Cheshire cat," Alice informed her with a grin as she examining the book, looking for a lock or lever. Alex smiled too. She wasn't surprised that it was hard to figure out, as it was just as big as the platform books. Alice stared at the book for a moment, and then pushed it straight off the edge. It hit the ground with a thump and opened up flat on the floor.
"You call that a tap!" Alex asked, exasperated. "Luckily I didn't suggest force, you might have pulverized it."
"It's open," Alex stated.
"True. But now we have another problem." She gestured to the book lying on the floor, only feet away from the wrecked bookshelf. "How are we supposed to read it like this?" At those words, the four books flew up and made two descending platforms on either side leading back to the third floor, a silent answer to her question.
They descended the right side, but then realized their other problem: they had no way of getting down to the second level. Alice peered over the edge of the floor, staring at the ruined bookshelf. "Bugger. I'd forgotten there's no way back down."
Alex wasn't looking at the bookshelf. Her attention was instead focused on where the bookshelf had originally stood. The floor below it was covered in books, which would be a good way to break a fall. "There's one way." Alice turned to her friend and, seeing where she was looking, shrugged and lowered herself down onto the pile of books. "Heh, you read my mind," Alex said, following suit.
It wasn't hard to make their way back onto the first floor, though they had to wait a bit for the spiral elevator to fetch them. The way to the fallen book, however, proved to be difficult, as the bookshelf blocked most of their path.
The book itself was intact and had thankfully fallen upright. Since they had no idea where in the book they needed to look, they had to lift half the book's worth of pages to reach the index.
"Hm, skin colour changer, jumbo grow, animal transformer…" Alex muttered, scanning the margin. "Hey, there's a concoction in here for making cards. Page four."
"Could be useful," said Alice, "but there's no time to read it. Could you rip it out?"
"I can try," Alex replied. Turning to the page, she found that the instructions were long and the list of ingredients longer, listed in some form of a poem. Wasting no time, she took out her knife and cut along the edge of the oversized page. It fell out, sliding down the page. "All right, you try and find the potion we're looking for, and I'll try and make this guy portable." She indicated the torn page. Alice nodded, flipping back to the index.
Alex stared at the paper for a moment before trying to fold it in half. All that accomplished was that the paper flipped over, as it was thick and very difficult to fold. The other side of the parchment revealed something entitled Changing the Uses of Meta-Essence. Reading it over, she realized it was a spell. It required three runes and something called a circle of power. "Circle of power?" she asked herself quietly. She shrugged. Deciding that the best course of action was to treat it like a poster, she pulled her hair elastic out of her hair, her blonde locks falling down to meet her ribcage. After rolling the page, pulled it on and brought it down to the middle.
"Found it," she heard Alice say.
"Do we need to take it with us?" Alex asked, regretting that she didn't wait before using her hair tie.
Alice shook her head. "It's only four lines long. 'Mushrooms, poppies, sugar and spice. All those things are very nice. When combined the proper mixture makes a getting-small elixir.'"
"Cute," Alex commented. "Are they all poems?"
"I think so." Gravity took control and a few of the pages flipped over to the right. Alice found herself looking down at a photograph of a chandelier, which stretched in and out of proportion. Then she felt the familiar sensation of a hook behind her navel as a vortex of colours surrounded her and Alex. The next thing she knew, she was standing inside the secret study of Alex's grandfather's mansion, staring at the very same chandelier picture on top of the words 'Chapter Complete'.