The air just above the surface of the water was a prize for their efforts. The two swam upwards, like birds freed from their cages. As every second past, Sora felt as if his lungs were getting closer and closer to the moment of bursting from a lack of air. He wasn't sure how fast they were swimming, but as soon as they reached the surface, it felt as if something had flung them straight out of the water. Both a mass of flailing limbs in the air, both fell and crashed onto the dry, rugged surface of solid ground, scattering dust particles into the air around them. Both rose to their feet, ringing the water out of their hair and clothes, before looking up to the Mock Turtle who impatiently awaited them. Raising a 'hand' to his face, he wiped off the access dirt and dust that had worked its way to his nose.
"Finish what you start, please. Remember, you're just a visitor. We have to live here!" He said with the usual upbeat tone. Alice, feeling a bit unvalued and put-down, spoke her part. Very loudly.
"I'm no bloody tourist!" She yelled, balling her fists and lunging forward to the turtle, only to be held back by Sora. She shook stray strands of hair out of her face, gritting her teeth and breaking free of Sora's grip. It unpleasantly reminded her of the restraints and sedatives back in the asylum.
"We've been through hell and back, Turtle. We're not on holiday." She said more calmly than before, but a hint of anger was still looming about in her tone. She rubbed her arms convulsively, the haunting thoughts of the asylum sinking back into thought. The turtle simply smiled. "And I'm not ungrateful. Alice, Sora." He paused, shaking his head above the two of them. Bright, luminescent pink lights rose from the ground and floated over their heads; still the most cheerful thing they've seen in Wonderland to date. Wrapped around their chests were their very own translucent turtle shells.
"You're honorary reptiles!" He finished with a smile. Sora swatted away the remainder of the sparkle-like lights as Alice looked not the least bit impressed. "Lucky us." She said sarcastically, putting her hands on her hips.
"You'll think so when you're underwater." Turtle replied. Bidding them goodbye (Alice couldn't be any more happy to see him leaving), he jumped back into the murky waters. Both turned around to the new environment before them. Well, it wasn't all that new. Less light was the major difference. Light was escaping fast as orange and red had began seeping into the sky. The two started the venture back up as they turned on their heels and followed the path that lie before them. Buzzing overhead indicated a certain threat, as the sickeningly familiar scent of ashes scattered into the air, bloody incisors greeting the two as they darted straight past.
"Is our situation not dismal? Wonderland is so discombobulated that lady bugs have turned belligerent and enlisted in the Queen's army. PUNISH THEIR CONVERSION." The haunting tone ordered, as not only the ladybugs greeted them into this horrid terrain, a renegade bullet proved to her that that was not their only worry. Pain shot up into Alice's upper thigh, as the bullet shot into a deep and open Snark Bite. She groaned and cradled the wound, carefully but quickly removing the thick metal from her bloodied flesh.
Sora took aim and fired Fira at the beast, triggering it to combust and burst into a cluttered mass of vivid-green blood and still-pumping organs. Sora released a disgusted "bletch!" as he stared down at the once-Army Ant, stomach starting to turn. Alice shook his shoulder, prying him out of his disgusted daze, and turning him to the Lady Bugs closing in. Keyblade and Vorpal Blade at the ready, each one was flung like a boomerang to the swarm. Alice's reach hit only one, but the insect went down in an instant. Sora's range took down the other two on the Keyblades return.
A pond was to their right, and the lack of water ripples proved the waters harboured no Snarks. Three lily pads rested on the glass-like surface of the water, which looked stable enough to support their weight. Alice lunged forward and jumped on, Sora keeping his eyes out for more of the mechanical Lady Bugs. One slowly began to soar out over the horizon.
"Alice, heads up!" He yelled, pointing to the insect. Alice's head snapped towards him, then to where he was pointing. All in short time, as the mechanical Lady Bug was already over her and dropped an acorn bomb onto the lily pad, the shockwave blasting a screaming Alice backwards and into the murky depths. An icy chill ran over his fingers as he could feel Blizzaras force pulsing through the Keyblade. Lifting the weapon and taking quick aim, the monster had frozen solid before he even realised it was forming into Meta Essence.
Alice had already resurfaced safely, and had climbed out of the waters and back onto another lily pad. Sora was relived to see she was neither burnt nor too badly injured. She took hold of a long vine hanging from an overhead branch, turning her head towards him.
"Sora, this way. Before more find us." She said sternly, starting to climb up the vine. Alice should've learned by now never to let the growing teenage boy crawl behind or climb under her, because she was left temporarily unaware that Sora was being given a lovely show of soft skin and black lace.
She then proceeded to grind the wedge of her heel into Sora's nasal cartilage.
The pain wasn't enough to send him crashing down to the waters below, but it was enough to teach him a lesson. (One that he would forget soon enough.) Sora whined and looked down, sharing an expression of a child who just got caught sneaking a hand in a cookie jar. Alice had a feeling that by the time they reached the end of their journey, Sora would have a permanently broken nose. Alice called down to serve an order.
"Start swinging back and forth." She said in a demanding tone. Sora started to look up to see what she meant, but stopped himself half way, nose aching painfully. He simply nodded, hoping he interpreted the command right. Both swung their legs back and then swung forward. They were repeating the process until they were close enough for Alice to jump onto the ledge above them, which would take them to another path. Sora, knowing it was without risk to look upwards, climbed up to the point Alice was just at, and started to swing the already in-motion vine back and forth, until he was ready to jump off safely. Leaping forward, he charged forth and dodged all jagged thorns from a threatening Blood Rose, which instantly withered before the metal of their blades.
Alice looked towards a glowing, psychedelic mushroom and then over to a ledge that could not be reached from basic climbing. What should be playthings and happy reminders of their childhood play-dates were now the only thing separating them from survival and death. A half-lit expression stretched across his face, grey gloom filling his thoughts. If the mushroom did what she thought it would, then it would prove useful. She decided not to take it upon herself to test the possibly dangerous mushroom. Also, she was sure the minute she was airborne, Sora would have seen up her dress three times in a single day. She merely grabbed Sora's shoulder, deeply looking at him in the eyes.
"While I am confident that this will prove successful…" She started, barely hopeful in her own guess. "I'd rather the lesser of us were to die instead." Sora threw her a perplexed stare, before being shoved helplessly forward, possibly to his own death.
It felt like the law of gravity had been temporarily banished as he was sprung into the air, before he slowly began to drop back down to earth.
Now Sora stood corrected. A dangling vine was the only thing standing between life and death. His reach was so close but so far from the vine, aching fingers barely in reach. He stretched his body as cat-like as he could, focusing no longer on his surroundings but only on his thin fingers wrapping around the thickly strand of foliage. Only a single digit successfully latched onto the strand, while his body began to rocket down. The previous jump had launched him too far, and his grip lost all contact. He was now flying without goal through the air. Gravity's bitter law crashed down hard on Sora as he painfully landed into the ground below.
"Sora!" Alice called out, anxieties taking over her. She fell on hands and knees next to the writing boy, expecting him to be faking his injuries as he would in the past. Cradling what felt like snapped and shattered ankles, Sora choked down what swears tried to make their way up. He tried to take deep breaths, waiting for the pain to subside. He groaned loudly, begging Alice to find Meta Essence.
Normally, Sora could jump from a higher elevation and land without so much as a tick of pain. But the laws of Wonderland were as bitter and unforgiving as their Queen. Gravity was no exception. Alice dashed back towards the mushrooms and began to climb up the ledges, a diamond Meta Essence resting on top of another ledge that Alice's fingers could barely reach. Standing on her toes and pressing her self against the smooth rock of the terrain, the tips of her fingers stressed to coax the glowing crystal closer and closer, until it was ready to fall over the ledge and into her awaiting arms.
All in vain, as her fingers only pushed it further back. She bit her lip to keep herself from swearing. She fumbled through her pockets and pulled out one of the many contents inside, being the Rigor Mortis Croquet Mallet. Hand wrapped securely around the handle, Alice stood back on her toes and pressed against the wall again. She used the long mallet to knock the Essence down, and she cradled it in her hands. Jumping down from the ledges, she began carrying the small shard to Sora. While the dry landing did not sacrifice much from his sanity, pain was still pain; no matter where he was. The Meta Essence slowly replenished his energy and sent soothing waves down to his ankles, where the pain began to quickly lift. Managing to stand himself up, he thanked her as they gave the vine another go.
Deep breathes were taken and held as Sora prepared to lunge forward. The Mushroom flung him high into the air, where he aimed himself properly and had a secure hold on the vine. Lost in pride, he flashed a smile down to Alice, whose hand gestures proved she wasn't in the mood for his joy. He climbed upwards, positioning himself, then swinging forward and back with all of his might. The long and treacherous effort was well worth its obstacles as Sora landed atop the cliff above… only to be staring dead set forward, uttering not a single breath.
"Do you see something?" She called up, hoping the boy didn't wet himself in sheer terror of anything he had caught sight of. No response struck agitation in Alice, as she groaned loudly and stomped her foot.
"If you want something done right…" She mumbled, jumping onto the glowing mushroom and taking hold of the precious vine before crashing down below. After reaching the ledge, Alice saw what he was so aghast about.
"He's so thin…" Sora stuttered listlessly. The White Rabbit he knew before; always racing against the clock before the queen had his head. Portly and always carrying that thrice-damned pocket watch. That visage was gone for good. Apparently there was no important conversing, as the Rabbit looked quite impatient with the boy and Alice, yet glad to speak to someone with a higher level of intelligence.
"You've taken your sweet time." He posted, looking at the horrifying and mangled foliage growing to his left. That was it? THAT was all he had to say? After everything the two went through!? Alice simply wouldn't have it. She approached the rabbit, her hands on her hips in a demanding manor.
"What do you mean? You're the one who didn't wait! I have reason…!" She stopped herself, plotting deep within her mind of which of her many dangerous toys she'd use to 'play' with Rabbit first. He turned his head back to her, bloodshot pink eyes looking to them both.
"Forget reasons, they're useless. Caterpillar is waiting." The instant he heard that name, Sora was reminded of what he was told… apparently years ago. They shared Wonderland. Sora then felt an intense weight of guilt fall onto his shoulders, realising the fact that he had aided in Wonderlands poisonous transformation. Every fight, every time he cried, his fondest and cruellest memories and all of the actions that he had taken to get here.... had a sharp and jagged effect on Wonderland. It was not only Alice to blame. He no longer felt like a lost guest, rather a family member suffering a great loss.
Alice folded her arms, putting but a single finger to her chin in thought. "I remember him well…thin skinned, ill tempered, smokes too much, disagreeable smell… She paused to shake her head in a dissatisfied manor, arms returning to a folded position.
"Why do I need him?" She asked, sure she'd get a blunt and quick answer she already knew.
"No one's wiser in Wonderland." And she was right. "Only he knows what you must do to save us. Now, follow closely. The way is treacherous. We have so far to go, and so little time to get there!" Alice nodded in agreement and watched as the rabbit turned on his matted heel and lunged forward, carrying on the path ahead. The two cautiously approached the ledge, predicting the dangers that lie afoot. More of the various vines and stable mushrooms jetting out of a central tree trunk, but below was something they both could fear. No grass, no mushrooms, but a fall that seemed to carry on to the other edge of Wonderland. Alice turned to Sora as he cringed and seethed in discontent, seeing the various obstacles on the path ahead. And he'd much rather land on a hard surface and snap his ankles than to fall for an eternity.
Alice was the first to jump, and while Sora expected the mushroom to lunge her back into the air, it seemed solid, lacking is psychedelic glowing. Sora followed after as she stepped down to another shroom, both looking on ahead to the dangling vine that hovered over a bottomless void. Sora feared the last one, but this left his knees shaking. He didn't want to fall, but it would be even worse if she fell. Sora feared for nothing, as her jump forward was successful; even with items in hand. She swung forward and landed with a thud, casually waiting for Sora to land at her side. He took a deep breath and lunged forward, a shorter jump but he still managed to grab hold of the vine. He kept his head held high, refusing to look down to the non-existent ground below.
After reaching the other side, Sora glowed with pride. A smile was rare in Wonderland. Running down a valley-like path, a Blood Rose greeted them into the new area. Jumping a mile from the unexpected scare, Sora struck the weed with Thundaga with a racing heart. Alice rolled her eyes, denying that she was scared. But both would be screaming in sheer terror soon. Tearing all focus away and feeding it to the Blood Rose was anything but wise. It was only then that Alice had paid heed to the swam-like buzzing overhead. The Ladybugs flew over in a line, each reading the bombs at their disposal. Alice only stared up in disbelief at how low she had let her guard down.
No time to run, Sora did what he was best at; acting without thinking. He pulled her arm and wrenched her close, snapping her out of the terrified state. Despite her being taller, he spun her around so that his back now faced the bugs. Hugging her body as closely to his as he could, he then grit his teeth and shut his eyes, willing to go through any amount of pain to save Alice from going through any. The bombs fell, explosions triggering and simulating the feel of his skin being set aflame. He chocked back as many screams as he could manage, the pain making it harder and harder to keep his grip on the struggling Alice. Bomb after bomb dropped, Sora absolutely refusing to let go of Alice, despite her screams. After the last of the bombs fell, he collapsed. Not in the embrace of death, but the fatigue of pain. Alice only looked down at him as he groaned at the various burns.
"Why did you do that?" She asked, turning her body to fend off the lady bugs from returning. His replies were in tattered grunts, undecipherable to Alice. She sighed and carried to Meta Essence to him, dropping it as it began melting into him. Area clear, Alice folded her arms and looked down at him.
"Sora. Why did you do that?" She repeated, eyes narrowing at him. He struggled to sit up, wiping blood away from his cheek. "I didn't want you getting hurt."
"Really, now? Well, you're doing a wonderful job. I've already been terribly wounded. You're an anchor to me, Sora." The remark tugged on his heart. "I wouldn't have protected you, anyways." Her expression and body language told him that she truly hated him, but her eyes screamed that she appreciated it. Instantly the weight of the guilt continued to pile on him, being reminded of Alice and the asylum. What happened to her!? He needed to know more. He had to get her away; even for a minute, just to read a single page.
"Alice, you go on ahead." He said, looking up at her with lament in his eyes. It was the worst thing he could possibly say to her. She was extremely surprised, jolting upright and eyes widening.
"After all of that?" She started to yell, pointing at what remained of the Ladybugs and their bombs. "And after your injuries!? Do you want them to lie in vain!?" Sora smiled faintly at her. He knew that deep down she wanted him alive, even just a little bit.
"Well, look on the bright side! Now I won't slow you down. I'll catch up. I promise." Alice gave him a wary stare, but sighed to herself, turning on her heel. "Perhaps now I will get some peace and quiet… very well. I expect to see you before I reach Caterpillar." She ran ahead, drawing her knife until she ran out of sight. Sora's heart and face dropped. Her was so worried for her wellbeing. She was strong, but she was mortal.
"No more than three pages…" He told himself, wrenching the tattered book from his pocket. Flipping through the pages that were rendered unreadable, he scanned for a page that he could make out.
23 March 1865
Nothing seems to aggravate the girl. I've tried restraint- handcuffs, leg-locks and straightjackets. I've tried solitary confinement. On the other hand, I allowed her to smell freedom, leaving her for hours at a time unattended in the garden. Yet nothing stirs her. I still have a number of methods, some of which I haven't engaged since the old days, but I'm beginning to doubt anything can bring a change in this one.
The next page made his eyes widen in shock.
7 September 1873
After years of slumber, she chooses to speak to us with a picture, a drawing of some sort of cat. Really, it's nothing like any cat I've ever seen.
Resting just underneath the text was a drawing of a feline lying in a tree; but not just any old cat. The Cheshire Cat. He held the same wicked grin he bore now. But he was not thickly or stripped as he once was, during the happier days. He was as skinny as a stick and tattooed all over. Leering eyes pierced his eyes the longer he stared. He couldn't believe she drew this; not exactly commemorating her artist talent but disbelief at her coursing madness. He hesitated to continue on, but he needed to know more…
9 September 1873
I admit to a certain ammount of excitement over Alice's semt awakening. I have to be careful, though. At this point, it's difficult to tell what this development- what I'm pleased to call her "progress"- signifies.
He struggled to read the next page, but the date and passage before him was unreadable. A single paragraph underneath the water torn words was left decipherable.
Alice woke from her nap and began to sob hysterically. "Tell me child, what's wrong?" Pleaded Nurse D. "What is it, dear?" In an instant of semt awareness, Alice spoke a sort of poetry.
Into the hole again, we hurried along our way
Into a once glorious garden now seeped in dark decay.
She continued to cry
All after that was left unreadable. Sora swore to himself and turned the page. He didn't read a single word as he eyes were focused on one thing. A picture. Looking deeply, it perfectly resembled the Vale of Tears and the Wonderland Woods they were now exploring. It was another picture she had drawn.
"You should go after her." The calm voice made him jump a mile, welcomed but unexpected. After landing and catching up with his heartbeat, a little giggle came from the voice. Sitting with legs to her side, little Alice was leaning against Sora with a childish affection that cried for longing questioning.
"Alice…?" He did three double takes, making sure she wouldn't vanish this time. Also making sure that the gunpowder wasn't affecting his senses. She only responded to his reaction with the tilt of her head and a smile.
"Well, if I had run off into those woods alone, wouldn't you go after me?" There she was again; talking about her older self. She seemed to hardly notice the constant dangers looming around her.
"Of course I would." He replied, worry in his tone. Almost weightless hands touched his own, feeling different than any other sensation that he had ever felt. It was almost a cool, airy feel, but subtle warmth held onto her touch. His grip was still on the book, her hands trying to push it away.
"She needs you. Save reading for another day." He looked down at the book; then back at Alice. In a flash she was gone, sending chills down his spine. He would listen to her words. Putting the book back into his side pocket, Sora took a deep breath and ran forward.
Stopping just before the edge of a cliff, He looked straight ahead to another side. He saw a blur of dark blur dash past a corner.
"ALICE!!!!" Sora called out. She didn't stop to turn back, she only ran ahead. No way across to the other side, Sora looked down and fell into thought, only to be pulled right back up into reality. Just below, there were glowing mushrooms, vines and platforms, growing from the rocks and handing above another endless fall.
A fatal mistake on Sora's behalf, as he went tumbling over the edge, no hard ground to break his fall. As he dropped down, he shut his eyes and prepared for the worst. Then he felt almost weightless, wind passing him in another way. Creaking a single eye open, he was soaring through the air, a mushroom breaking his fall and helping him towards another path. Shifting his weight forward, he started to drop back down, aiming for another mushroom. Shot right back into the air, he hardly moved an inch to land on another that flung him directly forward and to another, which helped him land safely on solid ground. His knees gave way and he collapsed, landing on his back. His heart was racing and adrenaline had skyrocketed. He was so terrified, so sure he was going to die.
He regained his breath and looked upwards, upside down perspective revealing to him that he had another path to take. No time to recover, he stood up and ran inside a hallowed tree, hands still shaking from fear. He would find this interesting if it didn't promise poison and death. A root provided as a ramp for him to walk up, resting on which was a single glowing sphere, unlike any he's seen in Wonderland before. It was a glowing red orb which seemed to be filled with a glowing liquid substance, the orb wrapped in gold. Curiosity and caution got the best of him, as hesitant fingers slowly reached out to the orb, only to pull right back in a flash.
"Looks like Meta Essence…" He told himself. But for all he knew, he could be wrong. It could be an explosive bomb, poison or a monster in disguise. Taking a deep breath, he kicked reason to the curb and wrapped his fingers around the luminescent orb with a racing heart. It vanished between his fingers in a flash of red light, a cooling sensation flashing over him, burns feeling as if they were doused with soothing water. It was a powerful version of the shards of Meta Essence.
"I'll have to remember this." He said, taking a mental note that would soon vanish. Climbing up the vine, his only concern was catching up with Alice. He feared not falling below, but if she still walked this land. Mushrooms were now a best friend of Sora, he trusted the psychedelic plants, as they flung him to sturdy ground on a thick piece of foliage. A shining glow catching his eye, his focus then turned to a ledge that would take him from the hallowed log to another route. Without so much as a plan, Sora lunged forward and successfully landed, but so closely to the side he could have fallen.
A Wonderland greeting into a new area was never warmly welcomed. There were blades to the flesh, acid in your eyes, and thorns in your legs. This time, Sora got a poison bomb to the face. Jumping back with a swear, he whirled around and pressed his back against the bark of the hallowed tree, the unpleasant hissings of the patrolling Army Any Commander, which suspiciously vanished from his senses. He remained still, just waiting for any sign of return.
After a long wait, Sora craned his neck to the side to scout the area for any sign of the lurking terror. Poking his head out of his hiding spot, the pointed tip of a sharp rapier was held but an inch in front of his face. He instantly countered the assault with a swing of his own blade, causing the Army Ant Commander to staged back, throwing an acid bomb in self defence, Sora wrenching back to avoid the poisonous explosion. The Ant took retreat, but if Alice had taught Sora anything, it was never to turn your back on an enemy. He charged after it and thrust the blade through its head, toxic blood spraying forth from the fatal wound. He attempted to pull his sword back, which was wedged in the skull and remains of the Army Ant's head. Jiggling it as he would a stubborn key stuck in a lock, he balanced on one leg and pressed his foot against the spine of the ant, before finally pulling the Keyblade free as if it were Excalibur.
Taking the Meta Essence it left behind, Sora ran ahead, up the path and down another. Vicious rumbling rang in his ears as he broke into a new terrain. The jagged formation of the ledges before him and across on the other side proved that a rock formation was previously there, acting as a bridge to any passer-byers. Nervously looking here and there, Sora caught sight of his new best friends; the psychedelic mushrooms. Placing his trust and his life into the mushrooms, he jumped forth. Once again being flung from each fungi to the next, he carefully leaned from side to side to avoid being thrown into the wrong direction.
Crash landing on the other side with a pounding heart, Sora didn't take into consideration the threats that could be resting on the path before him. His eyes darted as he saw thorns jetting his was, side-stepping almost over the edge and to his death. Slaying the foul plant that dared to attack him, Sora bolted across the horrendous plain and cut down all foliage in his path. Greeting his sight was a thrashing river, and he knew this trek was far from over.