Thank you for the lovely feedback Aquaria Identity 07, Shakiru, and Redd!
It's come to my attention that, it seems, the Cat has feelings for Alyss… as in, romantic. Now I wasn't aiming for that, but if any of you would like to see that then perhaps I shall make it so (to tell you the truth, now that it's mentioned, I rather like the idea). But seeing as that wasn't my intention, I shall leave it up to you dear readers.
Disclaimer: Frank Beddor owns all (and Lewis Carroll, seeing as).
Chapter Five: The Found Get Lost
"Any minute now I shall wake from this bizarre dream and play my role in being Leopard's wife." Her voice quivered in anxiety as Bibwit Harte gave nervous glances to Hatter Madigan and a rather stoic Dodge Anders. "None of you are real. You're all part of my imagination, my treacherous dreams—"
Cat's ears flicked backward as she released a hiss, perched outside the medic tent and having finished cleaning his fur moments earlier since their arrival to the camp. Two chessmen stood on either side of him, alert and ready for if he chose to strike. It was under that distasteful Dodge Anders orders and the Cat hated every second of it.
After all the torture and disgrace I've put up with, I have to put up with this too. His mind hissed with dissatisfaction. Hadn't he proven himself he was (he held back from coughing up a hairball) on their side? He betrayed his mistress and for what?
The Cat didn't have a clue, yet.
He instantly jumped to his feet as a crashing sound came from within, the two chessmen trying to restrain him and obviously unsure of what to do. From inside they would hear Bibwit babbling incoherently and the doctor pleading for the being to sit back down. And then he heard Alyss screech ("Let go of me!") before she herself stumbled out into the opening, bewildered and disillusioned.
"Please, your majesty!" Bibwit cried as he and the others hurried out after her.
However she wasn't listening as she was scanning her surroundings, watching as each Wonderlander paused in their work to bow before her or simply stare at her. And then she spotted him and rushed towards him, which he found odd considering, snapping at the chessmen that blocked her way.
Behind her Bibwit gave a startled cry and started ordering Hatter Madigan to do something. In reply the Hatter removed his hat and seemed to be preparing if the Cat made a wrong move. All the while Dodge placed a hand on the hilt of his sword, stalking towards them in a hurry as if to quickly slay him and save the princess.
Cat rolled his eyes and his ears went back, tail twitching.
"Move, NOW!" Alyss commanded and the chessmen did as told, giving quick uneasy glances to Dodge and the Hatter.
He studied her as she gripped his arms, cheeks flushed and skin pale. Her hair fell away from the carefully done bun Mrs. Liddell had made for her big day and snarled from the outburst. Her once white dress was now caked with dirt and mud, along with her own sweat and blood. Next he turned his eyes to study the bandage around the wound.
The breath eased out from his lungs as his muscles relaxed.
And just like in the church she suddenly surrounded him, arms wrapped tightly around his waist and face buried in his chest. Her shoulders were shaking and he could feel the hot sting of tears sink into the ruined shirt he wore.
"… tell me this is all a dream…"
His ear twitched.
"Wasn't this what you wanted? To come back home…"
"This isn't home. Home is… home is… it just isn't here." Her voice broke and the tremor of her body became more intense.
Bibwit seemed to be having his own attack, unsure of this exchange as more Wonderlanders of the Resistance stopped in their tracks to watch this. Some even had murderous expressions etched on their face, directed at the feline warrior. The Hatter stood still, almost like a statue, as Dodge paused in his advancement and he, too, seemed to have frozen.
"Alyss… this is your home, our home." Cat tried. He didn't like how they seemed to be gaining everyone's attention and the annoyance started to bloom, tail proving the fact he wasn't enjoying this… thing… in the slightest.
Slowly she pulled away, but kept her gaze on the tattered dress shirt he still wore. From numerous experiences, he knew her eyes were blotchy from redness of the crying and that her bottom lip was swollen after sucking it between her teeth. Her fingers dug into his back before relaxing, as if she were a cat kneading the sofa (oh, how he hated that feline pest the Liddell's had gotten for her to try and cheer her up, Dinah, if he recalled correctly, seeing as she would be kneading his pillow and always trotting after him—which they all thought was quite cute) and slowly her body unwound from how tense she had become.
"I can't believe we're back."
His ears stood up.
"Ah, so now you finally acknowledge it."
"Princess Alyss, please, the doctor still needs to check for any other injuries!" Bibwit spoke up finally and hurriedly approached, passing a still frozen Dodge in the process. He halted a few spaces away, still unsure of being anyway near the Cat. "It is utterly important that we make certain you are fine."
A sigh floated from her lips and Alyss turned, nodding at him, before slowly trailing back to the flaps of the tent. Before she got far she paused and turned back, looking a little timid about something.
Bibwit blinked. Turned to the Cat and back to Alyss. He cleared his throat a few times and reluctantly nodded before hurrying back into the tent to have the nurse and doctor prepare to finish examining the young woman.
In the meantime a look of disgust crossed his face.
"Alyss, you can't be serious. Surely you don't want him," Dodge gestured to the Cat, "to come."
"He's protected me, Dodge. Has since the start of… you know." Her voice stayed strong, but the memory of the assault Redd had led was still recent in her mind. And seemed to have a bigger toll as Wonderland had grown… dimmer since Redd Heart's reign as leader, as Queen.
"Dodge, please. He's not as bad as you believe."
A sneer flashed on his face and just as quick as it came, he turned and shoved past the feline assassin before barking orders at a few chessmen lingering about, something about paroling the perimeter.
Cat followed after Alyss, after sending the boy a low hiss, and entered the tent. Ushering for Alyss to sit, she did as told, thus allowing the continuing examinations to proceed. Hatter Madigan stood tall while his stone eyes watching every movement in the room, sometimes to rest on the Cat before lingering elsewhere. As for Bibwit Harte, he stayed as far as he could from the Cat, but unable to keep what he told Alyss from reaching the feline's ears.
Her Imperial Viciousness sure has done a fine job succeeding as Queen. Cat thought as Bibwit told tales of how Redd was bringing down terror to Wonderland's people. Already she had ruined many lives, even beheading those caught going against her. But so far there was nothing about this new replacement of his.
"Hatter went after you too, your majesty—"
"Please, Bibwit, call me Alyss."
He seemed startled at this. "But, your majesty—"
He nodded. "Of course… Alyss… now, as I was saying Hatter Madigan went after you too. We had thought all hope was lost until the caterpillars had been fortunate enough to tell us of an oracle, a prophecy. Though Redd had heard of it as well and therefore sent out a squad to go and murder you. If not for Hatter's return, nor Dodge discovering this action of hers, you may be…" Bibwit swallowed, hard.
Alyss shook her head. "I wouldn't be dead. Even without you, Hatter, or Dodge, I would still be alive."
They gazed at her questioningly.
"Because I had Cat with me…"
At the mention of his title, Cat averted his eyes from the other end of the tent to her. She smiled warmly at him and it didn't go unnoticed.
Bibwit Harte wringed his hands, "Yes, of course. But it's still fortunate they were able to get to you, Alyss. Because now you have returned to take what is rightfully yours, the throne."
Her eyes seemed to dim at the mention of that. "Yes, of course…"
"You were saying her Imperial Viciousness," Cat began as all eyes turned to him, "sent out a squad to enter into the Pool of Tears to finish Alyss off once and for all."
"That is correct." Bibwit sniffed as he remained in his place, not delighted that the Cat had joined in on the conversation,
"Who exactly was in charge of this squad?" Pupils became slits as Bibwit visibly gulped.
Both the doctor and nurse stilled in their work, before mumbling their praise for Alyss's safe return and giving her OK, quickly shuffling out of the tent to do who knows what.
Even Alyss's interest was caught as she leaned close, brows furrowed and eyes sparkling with curiosity. All eyes were now on Bibwit Harte as he seemed to be hesitant of the information that he would soon unfold to them. After all, Hatter had yet to hear of this new favorite of Redd Heart and the Cat felt something stirring within him at the memory of the other humanoid.
Again he was wringing his hands and cast a quick glance towards the flap of the tent.
"Don't make me ask again." Cat snarled as his fur stood on end. "Who was leading the attack?"
"How dare you let this happen! Did I not give you precise orders?" Redd snapped as she fumed about the throne room, completely allowing the pent up anger to burst. Crackles of sparks and other non-delightful images sprung to life as she lost control.
The creature rubbed its cheek, a sour expression etched on its face. He didn't dare sound it, though, considering Redd would instantly sentence him to torture, or far worse: death. And he didn't feel like having himself be beheaded at the moment.
Especially not with this new competition; one that left unbearable marks on his face.
"I nearly had her in my grasp if it wasn't for that disgusting bred." He growled under his breath watching as Redd became still.
Just as quickly she spun around, maddening gaze locked on him. "The Traitor?"
"I thought I had given you strict orders on what to do with that insufferable pest." Her teeth bare, she scowled darkly at him. Her features became more harden, more frightening. "I hadn't made you for nothing."
"He was lurking in the shadows, it seemed. I hadn't even noticed him until it was too late."
"And yet you allowed not only my despicable niece get away, but the traitor too." Her jaw clenched and he watched as a muscle seemed to pop from how tight she was keeping it.
"Your Imperial Viciousness, I shall dispose of the pesky traitor myself." He kneeled before her, head bowed. His own muscles were tense, but not out of fearing for his life. No, he was angry of how that… lowlife… had gotten the upper hand back in that unholy world. His mind couldn't fathom the thought of what had happened.
Redd Heart had, as she told him, made him specifically for one thing: to be her true loyal servant and dispose of the traitor as well as the niece, if need be. She had made certain for him to always have the upper hand, prepared him to be the greatest warrior that not even he could stand up against.
Yet he was able to.
That lowly being had been able to land more pathetic scratches on him than he had on him.
Surely the time of being stuck in that horrid world would have made him slower, more out of tune. It had been years and seeing those pathetic beings react to him and the soldiers he was either positive the traitor had gone into hiding or had his pitiful life ended.
Again that hadn't been the case.
But how was he unable to sense him?
Redd had made positively sure to give him the highest senses, especially the sense of smell. He should have been able to smell that mangy fur ball fifty miles away and yet he hadn't. Countless of times Redd had made him practice, stay one with it as he'd be released to hunt a certain Wonderlander and had to track (whoever at the time) down simply on his own.
So why had he been unable to smell the hairball?
A tiresome groan escaped Redd's lips as she put a hand to her forehead. "Why do I bother with you insolent fools?"
He kept his mouth shut.
"I know better than to count on you fools to do an important job like this."
Still he kept his mouth shut.
"I always knew it would lead up to this." She sighed and the roses on her dress snapped at each other, vigorously. "I always knew I would have to be the one to end the little wench's life."
Ears flopped forth in anticipation.
"What of the traitor, Imperial Viciousness?"
Her dark eyes turned to his, staring down at him with a high head.
It was apparent that she was making her decision and he inhaled a sharp breath.
"I am entrusting you with the matter," Her voice broke the silence and he felt the air leave his lungs. He had hoped she would grant him this second chance of this. And by Imagination, she had. "However, I'm expecting you to complete and finish the job."
"Yes, my Imperial Viciousness."
Her lips curled in a smirk. "Good boy."
"Shouldn't you be sleeping?"
He didn't even need to crack an eye open to make the figure freeze on the spot.
"I can't sleep." Was the reply to his rhetorical question; whispers sang through the breeze and the trees seemed to sway from receiving the various messages. Barely hearable murmurs sounded from the camp. "What's your excuse?"
His tail swayed lightly.
"'My excuse'…?" He repeated and heard an affirmative 'hm' be given to him. "I am not the one who is in dire need of sleep. And most importantly, I am not the one everyone is fretting over about my welfare; you are."
"No," She leaned against the trunk of the tree, "instead you're the one everyone is talking about."
An eye cracked opened, gazing down at the person on the ground.
"And I should care…?"
A huff, "… aren't you…"
"'Aren't I' what?" He asked closing his eye again and resting the back of his head against the bark, ears keenly listening to the noises in the forest incase anything were about to go wrong.
"Are you… happy we're back?"
This time both eyes opened and he perched himself on the branch he had been lounging on moment before, staring at her with his mysterious green eyes. His tail stopped twitching and his ears flexed back and forth, nose crinkling at this sudden question she had asked.
Of all questions to ask, she had to ask one that was plain obvious?
And somehow it had startled him.
Was he content (he would not use the word 'happy'; it wasn't in his vocabulary) they, he specifically, were back in Wonderland? Of course, he despised that other world they had been in for far too long. At the same time… something didn't click, to him (and maybe her, even?) upon returning to their homeland.
Then again maybe the reason why it didn't feel right was because…
"Are you alright?"
The Cat blinked himself awake and noticed that she was gazing up at him with worry. He rolled his shoulders back to let his muscles relax.
"Why shouldn't I be?"
"You haven't answered my question. And you had this faraway spark in your eyes…" She let her voice die as she cast her eyes downward, feet shuffling in the lively grass and hair tossing gently in the light breeze. "I just… I'm sorry."
Silence passed between them.
"I am content."
"I said, 'I am content'." He repeated.
She mouthed an 'O' before returning her attention back to her feet.
"Could I what?" Dear Imagination, she was driving him insane like the first day in the warehouse. Hadn't he done enough? What more did she want of him? He had risked everything because of a foolish mistake he had made.
He should kill her now and bring her head back to Redd's feet.
"Could you, perhaps… turn back?"
What does she mean—'turn back'? Blast it, why does it become worse and worse instead of better? His mind snapped, hissing. Well this all wouldn't have happened if you hadn't lost your head. Another voice growled. Oh, shut up!
It hit him like a bucket of cold water.
He released a low hiss.
"Why would I turn into that… lesser form?"
Even in the darkness his keen eyes could see the flinch she made, watch as a shiver ran up her spine. She didn't look at him, didn't try to make eye contact, already knowing how angry he was at the suggestion.
"It's just…" Her voice wavered with fear and again her body started to shake. "In that form it… the time… when… back…"
Gracefully, he landed on the ground and quietly made his advancement towards her, eyes burning brightly from the inner fire. But it wasn't as powerful; it was no longer as strong, as it was those mere seconds ago. Because he knew what she meant, knew it brought the memories back of that fateful day that completely shattered her innocent childhood.
He closed his eyes and bit back the hiss rising in his throat at how frustrated he was feeling, his tail wildly lashing about in agitation. He had just returned back into his rightful form and she requested the lesser, more unworthy one?
In truth he had waited years for that potion (whatever it was her mother had given him) to wear off and finally it had.
Besides, how could he turn into another, different form when he didn't know how?
He perked his ears, eyes still shut.
"… Dodge, he's changed."
"He's grown up. Did you expect to see the little boy you once knew?"
She shook her head, hair rustling gently in the process. Her back was still to him as she gazed back to the way of the camp.
"Of course not, that would be silly." A soft laugh followed this, though forced. "It's just… I don't know how to explain it, but he's changed. And I'm not sure if it's for the better either. He used to be… full of life. Now though… he's completely different, he's not the same Dodge Anders I once knew."
"It's been years, princess." He found the title of her strange on his tongue. After all the years of service to her greatness, Redd Queen, he did not acknowledge any other royal titles of others (unless Redd gave the OK).
Alyss frowned and knew he meant it on purpose.
Ignoring his comment she continued, "Even so Dodge wouldn't be this… different. He would still hold some type of honor, as he did when we were children. But now… I don't know! He isn't Dodge! It's as if he's a shell of Dodge! I mean…"
"I think… I think there's darkness in him, in Dodge. Bibwit told me little of when the changes started… but the main cause seems to be with what happened to his father, Sir Justin Anders."
"But Bibwit didn't tell me anything more, not even the details of what become of his father."
"And this is important to discuss about because…?" Cat asked in a bored tone, going to lean against the tree and arms crossed.
"I think it has something to do with… it."
Slit pupils stared intently into her back, the stare so intense it would be leaving marks of the dress she wore—feathery blue with a white sash wrapped around her midsection, forming a perfect bow at the back (why have it look so fancy when it's only for sleeping in?) and white gloves encasing her small hands.
Back at the tent Bibwit had told little, if any, details about this recent creature that lurked inside the castle with Redd. Although he did act as if he were on her side, he had never been given the 'pleasure' of crossing paths with this new favorite of hers. Not even once having even a brief sight of said being.
All that was known was that Redd had created it with Black Imagination, along with powerful dark magic from old books she had kept.
But Cat didn't even know what spell she could have used to combine it with her imagination. And therefore they still didn't have a clue, a good idea, of what they could be possibly up against.
However what the Cat did know was that it wasn't like him.
It smelled… different.
Almost as if its body had decayed for centuries—and still was, is, decaying. The stench of its breath was the worst of it, but even though the body was still fine it… wasn't.
What could the Imperial Viciousness be up to? What is it that she has created? Thoughts sped through his mind as he tried to find the answer. For his entire life he knew Redd best, or had given the situation, but try as he might he couldn't place a claw on this new servant of hers.
He blinked, caught by this sudden statement. And then he noticed she was rubbing, lightly, her arm—the one with the ugly gash that the humanoid had impaled on her back in the church. Again that sudden anger started to bubble in his core and his tail started to twitch wildly.
"Maybe so… but she is mine."
Left ear twitched and he quickly scanned the area to pinpoint the person. Only to realize no one had said anything; his mind, the memory, had resurfaced and spoken loud in his ears.
And then he wondered: what had he meant by that?
"What?" His lip curled upward as if in a snarl, but really he was just annoyed with the situation he had landed himself in since that day. It all was worse as fewer answers were given to him and instead more questions were.
"I don't think I can do this." She whispered softly, afraid of any un-wanting ears to hear her silent confession.
"Do what?" He knew perfectly well what that 'what' was—is.
A sigh, "You know."
Indeed he did.
"What if I fail? What if it's all for not? Maybe… what if I wake up and proven that this," she waved her arms about, "is all a dream. That I never was in Wonderland to begin with and that I'll wake up beside Leopard—"
She stopped dead in her sentence as a hiss sounded behind her.
Even the whisper of the trees stilled, silence ringing so loudly she was sure the Cat could hear her heartbeat frantically from the nervousness—of the battle to come, of Redd, of finding out this is a dream—that was overwhelming her.
"… I can't seem to find my imagination…"
Quickly her hands closed her mouth, but it was too late. Already she had blurted out the one thing she tried to keep hidden from everyone—even from him. Besides everyone was in so much hope that now she was back. It was her duty to take down Redd and regain the throne, bringing with it peace to Wonderland and its people. She hadn't wanted to let any of them know the truth that she couldn't find her imagination.
That during her time on Earth it had shattered into pieces.
Alyss braced herself from oncoming assaults of hisses and yowls, mockery, and nasty remarks of being reminded that it was her fault that she let her imagination die after that hurtful event the Reverend had pulled on her since the last year of her childhood. She even expected for him to stalk off back into camp and inform Bibwit, Hatter, Dodge, General Doppelganger, anyone that they should all lose hope with her now. Tell them the truth she had been keeping to herself since their arrival.
"Just because you can't find it, Alyss, doesn't mean it's not there."
She blinked and started to turn to face him, finally, but couldn't—because he was suddenly behind her, both hands on her arms to keep her still from movement.
He snarled, warningly.
"How can you be sure?" She changed tactics, not wanting to fuel his anger and causing him to snap. Instead she closed her eyes, trying to relax herself from the anxiety that was rising within her chest.
In truth, he wasn't, but he wasn't going to let her know about it.
"That," He managed to hold back the hiss, "Reverend Dodgson, look at him. That fool had no imagination whatsoever and when you had told him about Wonderland… the imbecile was able to change all of it into that disgusting, unworthy, hideous, obnoxious children's book."
Alyss didn't know whether to crack a smile or release a sob at the memory of that horrid man.
"I suggest you get some rest." He pushed her, gently, forward back to the path of the camp. "You have a big day ahead of you tomorrow—for I shall start your training. And know this, Alyss; I am not an easy teacher."
She turned to face him, eyes wide with wonderment.
"What do you mean?"
He smirked, but to her it looked more like a grin.
I had this chapter done way back, but did change some stuff considering what I edited in the last chapter (like, the battle scene because you all deserved some action!) and therefore I simply had to add a few more items in this one. Unlike my other stories—I need to revamp a lot of chapters, it seems. And because of recent events (see profile page) I don't know when I'll be able to update again. Yes, I'm on vacation, but something ill has happened. However, it seems like everything will be OK, so we'll see what happens next.
Wonder what the Cat could be up to? Who is this new assassin of Redd's and what is it really? What's up with Dodge? Altogether, what will happen…?
Leave a review? Comments, suggestions, advice, likes/dislikes, etc. And reminder: remember to say whether you do or do not want romance to transpires between Alyss and the Cat or not.