A/N: I apologize for taking forever to update...apparently school and work really does consume my life. I also apologize that this chapter is a tad shorter than usual. But I found it in my documents today and saw that it was all I had written and saved up, and decided to put it out there!
Chapter 8: The Wretched Potion
Alice tossed and turned all night. Mirana and the Hatter had encouraged her to come to them immediately if she had any more unusual cravings for the wicked tea, but she ignored these. She could not see herself going to the Queen, or her dear friend Tarrant, and telling them that she needed tea and that she was having withdrawals.
She was sweating when she woke up from a particularly vivid nightmare that included her fiancée, James, and what else, but tea that tasted of brown sugar and lemon and chocolate and melon. Untangling herself from the hot white sheets, she stepped across the floorboards and over to the door. She realized with alarm that even the floor felt like hot coals. She glanced towards the fireplace to make sure that everyone was sleeping and when she saw that they were, she slipped outside.
They had insisted that she take the only bed and she had protested, but yet, that was where she had ended up.
Alice sat herself down in the grass close to the house. As much as she wanted to be free to go anywhere, she could not ignore the fact that there was danger lurking somewhere. And as soon as she sat in the greenery, she felt sharp chills shake her entire body. It was as if she were sitting in a pile of ice and snow.
And that's when, in the distance, Alice saw her.
The wicked young woman from Mirana's castle, the one who had been feeding her the drug all along, stood in the grass, her white dress billowing around her in the wind, her skin pale and her eyes angry.
Alice scrambled to her feet and looked to the woman.
Never in her life had she felt the impulse to hurt a living thing, not even an insect. It was bad enough that she had had to slay a Jabberwocky. But when she saw this woman, an uncharacteristic rage ran through her very veins and her fingernails cut into her skin as she stared back at the enemy.
And that's when the woman began to laugh. She began to laugh hysterically as she pulled out a knife and began to stab something in the grass.
Alice hadn't even noticed it before, but there was a white creature lying in the grass. Had it been there all along? And all she could think of was McTwisp, the White Rabbit, the only white, furry thing that she had seen around. And realizing that this impossible woman was killing her friend, Alice began to run toward the woman, intent on saving McTwisp and hurting his attacker.
But someone caught her around the waist and held her tightly as she struggled to get free. It must have been the large man, the large man from her bedroom, who would not let her free her friend! She struggled more fiercely but she was not strong enough. And that's when Alice heard a clear voice call out, "Alice?" and whomever was holding her fell to the ground, bringing her down with them.
Mirana had appeared out of the house, her white gown giving her the appearance of a very beautiful ghost. She looked alarmed and Alice took that opportunity to look behind her, to see who was still holding her down.
It was the Hatter.
She frantically glanced back to where she had seen the woman murdering McTwisp, and saw that there was nothing there. She covered her hands with her mouth as she closed her eyes tightly, suspecting the worst. How utterly humiliating. She couldn't have possibly been…hallucinating, could she?
She opened her eyes as Mirana helped her up gently and put her arms around the trembling girl.
"Where's McTwisp?" Alice asked in a shaking, frightened voice that sounded much too loud in the quiet, clear night.
"He's in the cabin, sleeping," Mirana whispered to her, and Alice suddenly looked back at the Hatter, who was still sitting in the grass, looking beyond worried. Alice knew he was shocked. She knew he was probably thinking that her madness had surpassed his own.
Mirana looked over to where Alice had been about to run. Gently releasing Alice, she drifted away towards the spot.
Alice, suddenly lost, stared after her, until a sudden tearing noise shook her from her thoughts. She whirled around to see the Hatter standing behind her, still obviously afraid for her. He held out his hands and Alice, not sure what he was indicating, held out her right hand.
Only then did she notice that it was bleeding. What had she been doing?
The tearing noise had been the Hatter tearing part of his sleeve off, and he wrapped this around her cut hand. He held out his hand for her other hand, and wrapped that one up as well. Alice hadn't consciously realized that she had been digging her nails into her palms.
Mirana was heading back to them now, a warm mug in her hand. Alice smelled the delicious aroma immediately and felt weak, her eyes watering and her nose burning.
"Folytolythide," Mirana murmured. "Of course. But that's been banned for years."
Alice assumed that that was the name of the hideous concoction that she had been drinking. She followed Mirana back into the cabin, where she immediately went to the fireplace and threw the mug – cup, tea, and drug – into the fire.
For one terrifying moment, the fire seemed to take the shape of a demon, about to leap out of the fireplace, but then it faded and the fire disappeared, leaving nothing but ash and smoke in its wake.
Strangely, nobody had awoken.
Mirana looked sadly towards Alice, before coming and taking the girl's hands in her own.
"Alice, dear," she said gently. "Will you walk with me?"
Alice nodded numbly, allowing the Queen to take her arm and lead her back out into the night.
They walked along the grassy grounds for a moment, before Mirana spoke her case.
"Alice, dear," she said, her voice low. "I'm afraid that…we need to send you back."
Alice's eyes widened. She turned and stared at Mirana. "What?" she murmured.
"It's not safe for you here anymore," Mirana explained. Upon seeing that Alice still wore a surprised expression, she went into further detail.
"Jabberwockies and evil queens are one thing," she said quietly. "But mystical potions and dark magic are another. Those are harder to fight."
Alice stared at the White Queen. She knew perfectly well what Mirana was telling her, but she did not want to believe it. She wasn't ready to go back to London, because that would bring her back into the Ascott mansion, back to her dim reality, back to her marriage.
"Mirana," she whispered, not wanting to appear desperate, but knowing very well that she was. "Please, not yet."
"I am not, under any circumstances, going to force you to do something you do not want to do," Mirana said quietly, before looking skywards to gaze at the white moon that hung above them.
Alice folded her arms around herself, trying to warm her cold skin. "I want to stay and help. I can't go back up wondering what happened to all of you, wondering if you were safe or not."
"I just fear that certain precautions have to be taken," the Queen explained grimly, before turning to Alice's questioning gaze. "You're going to have to be supervised, and hidden, and protected."
Alice nodded, understanding.
"That tea has had enough time to get into your very veins and that is the enemy," Mirana said.
The enemy is in my veins, Alice thought as a chill ran down her spine.
"Alice," the Queen said suddenly. "How did you feel when you went outside tonight? What possessed you to do so?"
"I felt like I was in a trance," Alice whispered, knowing she was only confirming Mirana's concerns. "I felt like I was in a dream – or a nightmare, rather."
"Somebody put the tea in the grass," Mirana whispered, glancing around them at the dark woods. "The tea lured you out of the cabin and formed an apparition – a horrifying one that would cause you to react. And you did react."
"What would have happened if the Hatter hadn't stopped me?" Alice asked quietly, fearing the answer.
In the distance, a loud howl pierced the air. Calmly, Mirana tucked the girl's arm into her own, and began to walk her back to the cabin.
"I don't know," she said honestly. "I don't know what would have happened."
Mirana, ever the motherly figure, led Alice straight back to her bed.
Alice tried her best to fall back asleep, although her best hardly worked. She was watching Mirana and Tarrant as they talked quietly in the corner. She knew that they were trying to figure out what to do about this horrible situation. She hoped they would find a solution.
Alice had never felt so helpless in her entire life.