"I demand that you set me down immediately! What rule permits you to treat me with such discrepancy on my part?"

Axel rolled his eyes. "Mine!" he replied, smirking. "Demyx, you still got a hold on him?"

"Yep!" Demyx grinned, making sure he kept a firm hold on the smaller man's wrists, Axel readjusting his grip on said man's ankles. "Jeez, Zex," the musician laughed, "you're pretty light!"

Beside the furious Schemer, Larxene giggled maliciously. Roxas, on Zexion's other side, cracked a smile and hoped the older man didn't see.

Axel grinned, saying, "Cheer up, Zex! It's not like we're going into anything life-threatening."

Zexion glared mutinously at the pyromancer, and at this point he simply let himself relax and be carried, figuring the most he can do right now is let them deal with his dead-weight if they were so keen on carrying him. He wrinkled his noise in distaste at all the hedge foliage and abundant greenery they were passing through. Briefly, he speculated whether or not these four even knew where they were headed, and he deduced they did not.

"Hey," Larxene quipped, frowning, "do you guys know where you're going?"

Zexion sighed. "Oh, so at least one of you can formulate an intelligent question..."

"It's a maze, Larxene," Demyx answered, rolling his eyes and grinning. "You're supposed to get lost."

"...What?" Larxene replied, blinking in disbelief.

Zexion groaned in exasperation.

"Wait, we're lost?" Roxas asked Axel.

Axel huffed in exasperation at Demyx. "Did you HAVE to make it sound like you had no idea what you were doing?"

"Well, who's idea was it to put me at the front?" Demyx returned defensively.

"Yours!" Axel retorted.

"And you let me?"

Axel cupped his face and dragged it down in disbelief. "Alright," he huffed, "Zex, this is where you become useful."

Zexion growled in irritation.

"Sniff out where the Queen would be," Axel continued.

"May I ask who died and made you a higher rank than myself?" the Schemer retorted.

"No one," Axel replied, quirking a red eyebrow. "But if you don't do as I suggest, terrible things are going to happen to your hair." With this, Axel dropped an ankle and snapped his fingers, tiny flickers of ember dancing about them. He smirked when Zexion's eyes widened; chuckling, Axel went on. "You wouldn't want to explain to everybody how you lost your hair, right? I mean, I suppose I could burn off some of that overhanging fringe of yours, but why stop there?"

Larxene poorly stifled a giggle, but Roxas's eyes grew wide. Before the young boy could protest at the heinous act, Number Six exclaimed sourly, "Alright, alright! Just... head forward a bit more and then make a left at the dead end, and from there you make a loop into the second right..."

"Huh?" The odd directions already had Demyx scratching his head; of course, he had to drop a wrist to do this, and since Zexion's ankle was already dropped, the man fell sideways onto his face. Quite predictably, Demyx dropped the other wrist in surprise; Axel, figuring that he wasn't going to holding onto Zexion's other ankle any longer, simply let it drop to the ground. Zexion now lay in a heap, making a hiss of frustration before standing up and dusting himself.

"As I was saying before I was so unceremoniously dropped," he continued, "after making the second right, you descend into the first left."

Axel blinked a few times, his brain trying to register what in the worlds the young man had just told him. "Can you, uh...?"

"What? 'Dumb it down'?" Zexion sneered. "Is your head so far up your ass that you can't understand simple directions in Wonderland, Number Eight?"

Not about to let Zexion get the best of him, Axel crossed his arms. "Now now," he began, "I was only thinking of Demyx here, so that he could understand it too."

"Hey!" With that indignant protest, Demyx shot a guilty glare at the pyro: okay, so he didn't quite understand the directions, but did Axel really have to put it out there?

"Oh, can we just get on with it already?" Larxene whined.

"Er, right!" Axel quickly took the lead, and was almost surprised to turn his head and see that Zexion was actually following of his own free will. Though, Roxas was also by the Schemer's side, and Axel deduced that it was to be ready to tell them if Zexion decided to make a run for it.

However, Roxas's main purpose was to question. Keeping his voice to a soft and curious murmur, the boy asked, "Are the directions really that complicated...?"

"No, not in the slightest," Zexion replied quietly, though the smirk his lips were playing spoke volumes. "I just figured that if they had the audacity to threaten me, I'd give them a hard time with what they wanted. That, and I wanted to see how a group of idiots function on their own."

Roxas laughed nervously.

After nearly an hour of traversing through the maze, Axel opted to simply burn the whole place down. Of course, Zexion reminded him about the whole concept of a presentable entrance: burning down her coveted gardens wasn't exactly the favored method to impress the Queen Of Hearts, especially when they were looking to set her up with a King Of Hearts.

"And may I ask why you are doing this?" Zexion asked when they passed a square of white roses; he could figure they were getting closer to her royal courts.

Axel shrugged, quite moody at this point.

"To fuel his ego," Larxene smirked. Axel shot her a glare. "Aaaaand maybe to bring some light into peoples' lives so that they might give us less trouble in the future."

Zexion lifted an eyebrow. "That sounds recited," he murmured.

"It is."

Demyx quickly flashed a pointed finger as far as his arm could allow. "Look!" he exclaimed. "The Queen!"

Roxas and Axel quickly covered the Nocturne's mouth; if she was indeed nearby, they weren't about to blow their cover just yet. "Quiet, Dem!" Axel hissed in the water mage's ear.

Larxene stepped forward and examined the court they were coming in front of. "Yep," she murmured. "That's her alright. She's playin' croquet with a couple of her card soldiers."

Zexion sniffed the air. Indeed, he could smell the Queen's sweet but overpowering scent, along with the six other simple and minor scents of her minions. And of course, he smelled the earthy scents of their 'croquet balls'; he couldn't understand how those furry creatures could put up with the treatment of constantly being knocked with the croquet mallets. He simply dismissed that they might be masochistic.

Axel smirked. "Aiight, let's get this show on the road." Removing his hand, the pyromancer crossed his arms thoughtfully. "Now, how to approach her..."

"May I suggest a suggestion?" Demyx offered with a smile.

Axel looked at him. "I'm a little apprehensive," he began slowly, "but I guess so. I certainly don't have anything better."

"And you certainly don't have any so-called 'King Of Hearts' candidate either," Zexion put in, looking at Axel. "I'm almost appalled at your lack of strategy."

Axel grunted as Demyx summoned his beloved sitar.

"Now watch this," Demyx whispered, plucking the strings to get up a note.

Soon a gentle melody drifted through the court, loud enough to halt the croquet game in progress. The large, black-haired woman in the extravagant dress of reds, white, and blacks, lifted her head in irritated curiosity. "Who's playing that music in MY court?" she demanded, her deep voice resonating around the court. "Cards!" she barked, and from their hiding spot, Zexion was impressed with how swift and orderly these soldiers lined up at attention. Now why couldn't the Organization be that fashionable, compared with these minions?

"Find me the source of that music," the Queen ordered loudly, "or it's off with ALL your heads!"

Oh. That's why.

He watched the cards scramble about in utter hectic chaos, lacking all the formality from before.

Despite hearing the warning the Queen Of Hearts issued, Demyx continued playing, until he eventually walked into the croquet field, a smooth smile on his carefree features. "Greetings, ma'am!" he called as the rest of his comrades followed him out.

The buzzing hubbub in the clearing came to a dead halt, and all eyes were trained on these newcomers. Zexion wondered how those soldiers could possibly see, when he himself couldn't see any eyes on them...

"Do not address me as that!" The Queen managed to order, getting over her initial shock that these people could just stroll into her court, like a cat into someone's gardens. "You shall address me as Your Majesty!"

"Got it!" Axel quipped, giving a dramatic salute. Roxas snickered quietly behind him.

"Yes, Your Majesty!" Demyx replied, ceasing his playing.

The Queen scrutinized them with little interest beyond when she would order their heads off. Crossing her arms, still holding her croquet mallet, she asked, "What are you doing here in MY court?"

"Well," Demyx began, "we came to present you with the King Of Hearts!"

Larxene leaned on Axel's shoulder to whisper, "We did?" Yet the pyro didn't satisfy her with an answer; he only shrugged helplessly, just as clueless as she was at this time. Yet Larxene could also detect a hint of frustration in his green eyes: clearly he wasn't impressed with how Demyx had taken over his mission.

"A King, you say?" For once, the Queen Of Hearts stopped to ponder what this man was telling her. "Are you looking for a joint ruling of my kingdom?"

"Oh, whatever pleases you, ma'a- Your Majesty!" Demyx beamed brightly.

The Queen Of Hearts narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. A King? One with whom she could have the option of bossing around and yet still hold him as a status symbol? Well, how bad could he be? "Hm," she rumbled. "Alright, musician, let's see him!"

Demyx quickly went back to his entourage; grabbing the man's arm, the Nocturne threw him unceremoniously to the ground in front of the Queen Of Hearts.

Sprawled on the grassy surface, Zexion quickly looked up at the large woman in utter dread and horror.

Right. I'm back. I hope.

Okay, that year hiatus... Well, I gotta admit, it was one hell of a year, and I didn't come out in once piece. Nor did I come out the same person, so to say.

BUUUUUT, hopefully I can get things kicked up around here again.