Allen in Wonderland: All Hail the Queen
The path stretched, stretched, and then abruptly ended, ejecting Allen and Lavi into a huge open courtyard, walled off with hedges twelve feet high and patterned astutely throughout with eldritch rose bushes the size of cherry trees, all trimmed into the shape of hearts.
No one was there. The silence was eery enough in such an open, vulnerable place, but eerier still were the rose trees (for they simply had to be trees) with their oddly colored flowers. Once they had been white, but the discoloration proved they had been altered somehow, and now they were a pale reddish-brown. The shade was familiar: Allen reached up and rubbed a petal between his fingers, and the color flaked off into his palm. It was the same hue as the dried blood already stuck to his skin.
"Have to keep painting them," a voice croaked. Allen and Lavi leapt to the ready, but their opponent was only a small level one akuma, small like a child and infinitely old. It was holding a dirty paintbrush, and gestured with the tool to the trees feebly, tottering, nearly falling. "The color fades you see, so we have to keep painting them. The Queen likes them red she does, but it always dries brown an' then we have to paint them . . . again."
Allen swallowed hard, and decided not to ask where they got fresh paint. "The Queen—" he began, and the second he did the akuma raised a gnarled knuckle to its lips, as if to say Shhhh. Then it shambled to a marble bench where, out of sight, another two akuma had gathered. Huge playing cards were embroidered onto their shirts, and together they were Five, Seven, and Two of Spades. The old one who had spoken was the Two, and from the Five it took a plain tin paint can and shuffled listlessly to the nearest tree. The Seven brought a ladder from under the bench and together they began slathering something thick and iron smelling onto the already crusted roses.
Lavi bit his lip, and for the thousandth time glanced over his shoulder. His anxiety was plausible and infectious, and Allen strode to the akuma hastily.
"Would you tell me, please," said Allen warily, "why you must paint the roses?"
Five and Seven said nothing, but looked at Two. Two began, in his dusty voice, "The fact is, you see, Sir, that this here ought to have been a red rose-tree, and we put in a white one by mistake, and so the Queen forces us to re-paint it every day as punishment. The color never comes out right though, since we have to use our own blood." He tugged up his sleeve to reveal a long row of deep scabbed up lacerations. The others cards followed suit, each with their own share of scars. "Akuma blood ain't really the correct tone," he continued, "but we do our best, because if we don't the Queen— "
At this moment Lavi, who had been staring anxiously across the garden, whispered, "Oh my god," in a muffled voice, his words choked off by the hand covering his mouth. He might have said more, but any and all excess noise was suddenly cut-off by the sound of many footsteps, and Allen looked round, ready to face Road in whatever form she had chosen to take in this nonsense realm she'd made.
First came ten soldier akuma carrying clubs; they were all small like the gardeners but had to be level two or higher from the way Allen's eye stung: next the ten couriers; these were ornamented with diamonds, and walked two by two, like the soldiers. Next were the royal children, the most poisonously sweet akuma children Allen had ever seen, and they came skipping hand-in-hand, as couples: they were all ornamented with hearts. Next were guests, other Kings and Queens, and thankfully Allen didn't know any of them, but he saw Miranda, and thanked God she was still unharmed: she was talking in a hurried nervous manner, jumping at everything, and went by without noticing Allen.
Beside him Lavi started, grabbing Allen by the collar. "Over there!" he cried, and in the crowd there was a brief impression of black hair with a peculiar streak of white. It was Krory, and he was dressed as the Knave of Hearts, garbed in a ridiculous costume of gaudy hearts and tights, and he carried a crown on a velvet cushion in front of him.
"How . . .?" said Allen in a murmur, and Lavi reiterated what he predicted before about Krory coming to their location on his way back from his own mission. "So she caught him too," Allen sighed, and he clenched his fists tight enough to bite his nails into his palms. A burst of trumpets brought him back to attention, and at last came the person he had waited for, the black widow spider who had trapped them all in her web of malcontent fantasy.
Last of all in the grand procession came THE KING AND QUEEN OF HEARTS.
The Queen was undoubtably Road. Her costume was no longer that of a make-believe Alice, but instead a glorious Red Queen, wrapped neck to toe in royal crimson, black, and gold. A crown glittering and studded with rubies was situated on her head, and a scepter in the shape of a heart was in her hand. She swished it back and force constantly, swatting and ordering around everyone near her with it: including her King, and of all the people it could have been, Allen wasn't the least surprised.
Kanda. Dressed as sumptuously as Road he stood absurdly taller than she, and eyed all around him with his customary icy dislike. Allen might have thought him in his right mind, except that when Road struck him with her scepter across the cheek he made no move to avoid her and apologized for getting in her way—her excuse for striking him—and bowed his crown-less head, his long black hair contrasting darkly with the sheer white of the fur on his royal robe. It did not escape Allen's notice that his sword Mugen was belted at his side, the handle unmistakable protruding from his coat.
When the procession came opposite to Allen, they all stopped and looked at him (Lavi was quite overlooked) and Road said serenely, "Who . . . is . . . this?" She said it to Krory, who only cowered and ducked away from the sound of her voice. "Idiot!" said Road, smacking him on the face, tossing her head impatiently and, turning to Allen, she went on, "What is your name, boy?"
The use of Tyki's pet-name for him made Allen suspect she knew what had transpired at the disastrous tea-party. "You know my name, Road,"he said very politely but very cooly, meeting her loveless gold eyes with his grey, as if he might cancel her out that very second with only his will.
"And who are these?" she said to the three card akuma standing by the rose-tree, who appeared to be trying to blend into the foliage and failing miserably.
"How should I know?" said Allen, surprised by his own coldness. "It's no business of mine." Road turned red with fury, and, after glaring at him for a moment like a wild animal, began screaming, "Off with his hand! Off—"
"Nonsense!" said Allen, very loudly and decidedly, and Road observed him for a moment with curiously dissecting eyes, as if trying to discern where he'd gotten his fresh new courage from when he was staring death right in the face. Kanda approached her, and placed a hand upon her arm.
"Consider, my dear: he is only a child." His eyes found Allen's. "A beansprout, verily." Allen gaped—Kanda was in his right state of mind! But before he could begin to absorb this new bit of information, Road turned angrily away from them both, and said to the Knave, "Go and get those cards. Bring them over here, now!"
Krory leapt to obey, and the three akuma were rounded up in a blink, each held at the scruff of their tiny necks by Krory's claws. "Look at me!" said Road in a shrill voice when they tried shut their eyes for the sight of her, and the three gardeners immediately looked up. Turning to the rose-tree, she went on, "What progress have you made? These roses are every color but red. It's like you deliberately disobeyed me!"
"May it please your majesty," said Two, in a very humble tone, "but the blood dries so very fast, and we can't bleed quick enough to keep them—"
"I see," said Road, who had been examining the roses while he spoke. "Off with their heads!"
A stunning thing happened. Or, in retrospect, it might well have been miraculous. At the time it was only shocking. Kanda stepped from his place at Road's side, pausing to kiss her waiting hand she'd offered girlishly, and drew his sword. Krory, straight-faced but pale held the akuma away from himself at arms length, and at once they all began to scream and flail save Two, who seemed reasonably content to die without a fight.
"Don't miss," Krory begged Kanda.
"I never miss," he shot back, and with a single swing of his blade cleaved off the heads of the three sad akuma. Their bodies dangled in their clothes from the place where Krory held them, and by the time their skulls thudded on the grass he'd released their shirts to let their sagging bodies join them. Kanda wiped the metallic blood from his sword on the hem of Five's trousers, and when Mugen was once again in its sheathe they returned to the group, and the procession continued.
"Are their heads off?" Road demanded of Krory and Kanda when they returned to her side.
"Their heads are off, if it please your majesty," both replied in unison.
"That's right," purred Road, petting the top of their heads affectionately. "Can you play croquet?" Kanda and Krory were silent, and Allen realized the question was evidently meant for him.
"Yes," said Allen, "and so can he." He indicated Lavi, who was just then beginning to inch behind the younger boy.
"Why are you doing this Al?" Lavi muttered hotly in his ear. "Why are you bringing me into this?"
"Come on then!" roared Road, and the Exorcists joined the procession with an unsteady gait, wondering very much if they were going to die.
"It's—It's a very fine day," said a timid voice beside Allen. It was Miranda, still dressed as the White Rabbit. But she'd changed since he'd seen her; the hysteria was out of her eyes, replaced with freezing hot fear, and—recognition! Whatever control Road had exerted over Miranda was gone, and she peered down at Allen with the soft if troubled smile of a comrade hoping.
"Very," said Allen, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her hand, if only to comfort her:—"Where's Lenalee?"
"Hush! Hush!" said Miranda in a low hurried tone. She looked anxiously over her shoulder (it was then she noticed Lavi in similar rabbit-wear, and uttered a giggle) as she spoke, and then leaned down, put her mouth close to Allen's ear, and whispered: "She is under order of execution."
A lead weight dropped into the base of Allen's stomach, and it took all his strength not to fall to his knees. "What for?" he demanded, panic sweeping up on him like a tidal wave.
"She kicked the Qu—Road, I mean," Miranda began. Lavi, who was listening in closely, gave a little scream of laughter at the idea of Road being struck in the face with a high-heeled boot. "Oh, hush!" Miranda whispered in a frightened tone. "The Queen—Road—will hear you! You see, she threatened to have Komui killed, and so Road—"
"Get to your places!" shouted Road in a voice of thunder, and akuma began running about in all directions, bumping into one another and tumbling over everyone. The fear of Road's wrath got all parties settled, and in a moment the game began: though just what kind of game it would be was anyone's guess. Croquet was as normal a game as you could get, but surely Road had found some method to perverse it.
A/N: The line Lavi mutters "Why are you doing this Al? Why are you bringing me into this?" is actually a quote from Aladdin. It only seemed appropriate. I'd have had this chapter up sooner, but a series of unfortunate events (HA) kept me from doing so. I've only just had time to write again. This chapter was also supposed to extend the length of the actual croquet game, but people seem to really like this story, so I'm just posting what I have now. SO MANY THANK YOUS to the people who read this. 3