EarthRiddle: If only I liked Julius enough to make the children schmaltzy cute. You don't have to worry at all, I promise. They'll have their moments, but Julius will hate them for a while. And I'm so sorry, but at this point in time, Julius is in his late twenties and Kora is fourteen. It wouldn't work out, but I was toying with the same idea. Grr… I wish she was older…
Elliotxalicexlover & Pasty: Aww, thank you! I'm glad that you were as heartbroken as I was.
Rose: That is an EXCELLENT question! Kora's speech problems will be introduced WAY later. But as of right now she doesn't speak. And yes, she is Gray's little sister.
Blondie: Thank you! I'm sorry you were confused, I put some Kora vocab at the end of the chapter.
Fantasy: I know, right? Btw, you should get writing.
Blaze: Kora seemed flat? Hmm, she is supposed to be methodical, almost mechanically so. Any ideas on how I can fix that?
Seraph & Candy: Yay! I hope this next one doesn't disappoint your expectations!
I'm SO happy I managed to finish this chapter! It was haunting me, so I couldn't take long breaks away from it, but when I pulled up the word doc, I couldn't do anything but stare blankly!
…And an age change has just occurred: Chou is five and Tomoe is three.
If you review, the space whales will bless you with happiness! (And if I get more than eight reviews, I might be happy enough to put a chappie of Lost and Found. *has resorted to bribes*)
Lastly, I'm sorry this AN isn't as interesting, but that's 'cuz I used up all of my interesting in this chapter. I'm fairly confident about this one, so I hope you enjoy finishing it as much as I did.
It was her handwriting. Although it was a little changed with the years, it unmistakably hers.
If Kora has given you this letter, Gray and I are no longer able to take care of our children. They are still little and they need support, so I hope that you will take care of them as well as you have taken care of me.
Six months before the wedding, Gray's father contacted us in the country of Clover. He alerted us that the Vipers, a long-time rival of the Ringmarcs, had committed some petty crimes. Although Gray brushed it off, his father warned that the faction might grow to become a bigger threat than they were five years ago. This was unlikely, but we were told to keep our eyes open, nevertheless.
A year after that, the crimes escalated. Kora and her cousins were sent to put a stop to the Vipers, but they returned with serious wounds. Once again Gray told me not to worry, that gang fights were common, but he seemed uneasy. I began discussing things with Kora on my own.
Kora is somewhat of a prodigy among the Ringmarcs, but I'll leave it at that. I doubt she'll open up to you immediately, but she is an invaluable ally. I have confidence that she'll be able to answer the questions that I can't and that she will make you and the children her first priority. However, she's still a little girl, so please try to protect what's left of her heart. She's been through a lot.
Now that I'm not there, please watch over them. My children, Gray's sister, they need you. We need you. You're the only person we can trust, Julius.
Julius put his head in his hands, glancing at the fireplace and the charred piece of paper.
You're the only person we can trust, Julius.
How was he supposed to refuse that? He almost resented her. Eight years of no contact and her children appear on the doorstep looking for a place to stay, the only explanation coming from a letter. And still that letter was enough to sway him. She could always—
Julius sat up. The sound had come from the floor above.
"TOMOE DID IT!" the little girl's voice shouted.
Julius stood up slowly, a feeling of mild dread coming over him. For a moment, he had forgotten exactly who was in his house. Three children had just invaded his tower; of course they had to wreak havoc before they were happy. Now that something had indeed happened, two questions that needed answering presented themselves: First, did he want to go up the stairs? No. Not in the least. If he had to see what happened, he would have to deal with it. Second, was he going to go upstairs? His hand hesitated on the doorknob before giving a reluctant turn. The only other adult in the building was Nightmare, a difficult person who couldn't even hold a dustpan without complaining.
People were troublesome, no matter what their age was. Women were more troublesome than men, and children were more troublesome than women.
His belief was only confirmed when he found the children. The younger female was sobbing as the other, still young female looked at her disapprovingly. The youngest was sobbing for no apparent reason, possibly scared by the crash.
"I-I didn't do it," Chou hiccupped and wiped her nose on her arm.
Kora raised an eyebrow and Tomoe wailed. Julius stood with mixed emotions, among them confusion, fury, and a gripping migraine. Although the last didn't necessarily count, it still fought the children for his attention.
"We don't blame you," he finally growled at Chou.
Kora shot him a glare. Yes we do, it said.
"R-really?" the younger child peered through swollen eyes, sniffling helplessly.
Julius sighed. "No, we can just get another."
This response was rewarded with an instant recovery from Chou and another withering look from Kora. Julius's head throbbed as he ushered them out of the tower.
Even before Alice left, going to the market for spare parts was a weekly routine. He knew his way and the faceless took care not to bother him, but he still disliked leaving the tower. It became a constant reminder that time didn't wait. In fact, in the case of a loss, it seemed to hum around everyone but the victim as if to flaunt that it could move on. Here, the birds still sang, the sun still shined, and the people went on with their lives. People breathed. New life was created every day. And the new life forgot about Alice.
For Julius, however, time didn't move, it stopped to mock him.
"Hey, Julius!" Chou interrupted his thoughts again, running up to walk beside him. "Kora says you're unstable." She reached for his hand but he pulled it out of her reach. Although looking hurt, she continued. "What's unstable?"
"Why don't you go ask Kora?" he started to walk faster.
Chou ran again and successfully managed to grab his hand. "Kora doesn't like to talk much."
"I don't either."
He took a very deep breath. "Yes, really."
The little girl contemplated what he said quietly. "Okay," she nodded. "I can do all the talking."
Julius was then subject to a very long and detailed list of why Kora said it was bad to walk with your shoes off or eat objects that had been on the ground, quickly followed by a long explanation concerning the best way to crack a walnut. By the time they reached the nearest town, the clockmaker had a splitting headache and was far too ready to send the children back to Clover, "only one we can trust" or not.
"Oh. Look, Julius! We're at the town already! Kora says— "
"Why don't you three go to a café and order something to eat while I get a new lamp?" Julius cut in. He had more conversation today than the collective small talk he had had in more than five years and it was taking it's toll. He'd never been good with children to start with and this little girl wasn't making it any easier.
Thankfully, at the mention of food, the child's eyes widened and she held his hand tighter. "Really? Anything we want?"
A niggling something in the back of his head sang warnings, but Julius gave a small nod.
"Yay! Kora! Did you hear that? Julius said that we should go to a café and order! Anything that we want!" Clearly excited about the prospects of such an adventure, Chou abandoned his side to drag a disapproving Kora and an amiable Tomoe to the nearest frilly, bright-colored, candy-filled shop.
Once they disappeared behind the pastel pink door, the space around the clockmaker fell into the silence he was accustomed to. For a moment it seemed oppressive, but quickly adjusted to a comfortable, familiar quiet. After all, it was what he preferred. An hour or two of chittering brats wouldn't change his preferences.
Couldn't, he corrected himself and walked into Clock Territory's largest light shop. They couldn't change his preferences.
True to its specialty, the light shop was shining with kerosene lamps, shiny chandeliers, and a glass ceiling that the architect confidently called a skylight. Only a faceless could be so brash as to install something so radically stupid. The glass was sure to collapse the moment someone breathed on it wrong.
"Be careful," a voice smirked beside him, also observing the skylight. "If you jump, you would ruin this shop, and glass is so very expensive."
Julius wasn't as amused, now that someone else felt the burning desire to start a conversation. Perhaps if he ignored the stranger, he could be taken as deaf.
"You're the clockmaker, correct?"
Of course he wouldn't be so lucky.
"I've heard that you have recently been housing three children," the man continued.
He "heard" that in the space of a few hours? Even Julius's charges would be able to realize that something was wrong. Whoever this was, he was very likely an enemy with an extremely impressive information network. The clockmaker wasn't too surprised, though; there were a lot of people who hated him as much as he did them, and Alice's children were bound to come with more than a few strings attached.
"Who are you?" Julius didn't face him.
"A businessman." the voice smirked enigmatically. "One who would like to conduct a trade with you."
"Spare me," he sighed. "You have nothing I want."
"Quite the contrary," the man's volume and humor dropped with the next sentence, as if he was sharing something he shouldn't. "I have the only thing you want."
That made the clockmaker turn slightly. Now he could see the man, a comfortably lean person with auburn hair and thin oval glasses that he looked over with a sardonically sordid expression. He was dressed formally in a gray pinstripe suit and toted a briefcase of the same color. Upon closer inspection, the clockmaker noticed that the case had locks instead of clasps and the man's jacket had irregularly-shaped wrinkles, the kind that hid guns.
When the man saw that he had Julius's attention, his mouth curled into a long, thin-lipped smile. "We have Alice."
The clockmaker stopped breathing. They had her? She was alive? But if she was alive, why were her children sent to him when he was a whole country away? Why didn't her children know? Why did Kora look so abandoned when she crawled out from underneath his desk? If she was alive, was there a chance of—
He stopped himself. She's dead, he remembered. He could still hear the funeral bells. "She died in an explosion."
The man smiled wider, stretching pale lips against uniform teeth. "They couldn't find the body."
She is dead.
"In fact, they couldn't find anything."
"Not even pieces of flesh to pick off of the— "
"Stop," Julius interrupted. "Where's your proof?"
"Ah," the man's eyes gleamed, "I was waiting for you to ask that." With little flourish, the man's long hand slithered into his jacket to extract a small, familiar item.
"No," Julius breathed, softly taking the item.
In his fingers sat a vial adorned with a heart-shaped stopper. Although a crack spidered down one face of the prism, the thick glass still contained a sizable amount of a purple liquid. It was the Medicine of the Heart, and it was Alice's most precious possession. Once she decided to stay in Wonderland, she took it religiously to stay in the Game, as it refilled whenever she had contact with anyone in Wonderland. At the moment, it was half full. Fingering the vial, Julius wondered how long it had been since she had last taken it, and worse, what the side effects would be if she didn't take it soon.
He looked up. "What do you want?"
It took some time for the man's immediate response to process. When it did, Julius still didn't believe it. "The children?" he repeated.
"Yes, the three in your care." By this time, the smile had almost fallen from the man's face. He was dead serious.
"How do three children make up for the life of an outsider?"
The man's face set. Apparently, he thought the battle would be won by now. Impatience flickered across his features, but he smiled again and answered, "The company I come from demands that we have our rivals, the Ringmarcs. Miss Liddel is simply a Ringmarc by law, the children are related by blood."
Julius didn't bother to hide his skepticism.
"We're reasonable people, Mr. Monrey. We assumed you'd be too."
"And what about this deal makes me a reasonable person?"
"We'll take care of the children for you, and you get Miss Liddel."
Julius examined the vial silently.
"Mr. Monrey, you've just found out that Miss Liddel is alive and well. Could you really bear to lose her again?"
No, he realized, hand falling to his side, I couldn't.
"How much…" he forced himself, "how much time do I have?"
The man's eyes narrowed, and checked his watch impatiently. "You're wasting my time." When Julius didn't respond, the man sighed and continued. "Very well, I have obligations elsewhere. I'll be gone for exactly two weeks, and I'll expect your answer upon my return. Do not disappoint us a second time, Mr. Monrey."
Julius nodded, utterly defeated.
The man's lips peeled back again and a thin hand was presented in the space between the two men, waiting for a handshake. "Thank you for doing business with us, Mr. Monrey,"
"And you, Mr…" Julius didn't take his hand.
"Senka," the man reached forward and took his hand. "Kingsley Senka."
When they shook, Julius was keenly aware of a black snake tattooed around the man's wrist.
Aniki: Feminine way of addressing an older brother
-san: Respectful title, used to adress those older than you, strangers and important people. Kora uses it because she speaks very formally, but as far as I know, it isn't often used to refer to family members.
-sama: Very respectful title, used to refer to very important people. I.e., royalty, masters, and other very high-ups.