The crashing of the Vorpal against a blade, the ancient rhyme singing in the air as steel struck steel, married with the cry of Alice tempted the Hatter to turn his head, to glance over his shoulder to see how his wife was faring against the treacherous queen. But the tiniest moment of distraction Tarrant realized could lead to his demise.
The Black King was a formidable opponent, Tarrant's brow sweating as he fought each swift blow with a last minute parry, his footing upset several times. His hat had flown from his wild curly hair, standing serenely in the midst of the battle that waged savagely around it, a peaceful juxtaposition.
Tarrant had angered Istvan when he had toppled him to the ground, his attempt to encourage his wife was the Black King's only saving grace. He had grabbed the Hatter's booted ankle, twisting quickly. The Mad Hatter had given a cry, falling to the stone of the Tessellation Fields, his fingerless gloves ripped as he caught his balance. Istvan had grabbed his lost sword in hand, turning to the fallen man. Tarrant grabbed hold of his trusty claymore's hilt in time, thrusting the blade up to block the man's blow, sending him back with a kick to the abdomen, struggling to his feet as the man stumbled back. He had been gasping to regain his breath when Tarrant advanced on him, weapon raised, eyes burning orange. Steel singing against steel, the melody of the afternoon, erupted between the two as they met, near equals in prowess and swordplay.
Tarrant's muscles were screaming in pain as his arms were jarred by the meeting metal, the heaviness of the large longsword growing as he continued to hack and swing violently. The weapon was heavy, but Istvan was also incredibly strong. Much to Tarrant's dismay he was unable to upend Istvan as readily a second time, his sword searching desperately for the man to drop his stance, his feet looking for a wobbling stance to strike out and kick out the darker man's ankles. Just as Tarrant was not going to cave, Istvan wasn't going to fall easily either.
The men were beginning to wear each other down, blows landing less precisely, hits not swung as hard as in hacks past, breaths were ragged. Tarrant nodded to the king in a silent truce to step back for a moment, gather their stances, heaving for air as arms burned, legs quaked. Istvan allowed his sword to lazily loop around his thumb in a flashy spin, the sword arching in the hot sun flashing brilliantly. Tarrant readied his stance, taking the unspoken agreement of recollection to look over at his wife.
Alice was facing an uphill battle with Iracebeth, her own feet wavering as she flew forward. Her dress was marred with dirt, blood spattered down the front, but he wasn't close enough to see if it was hers or Iracebeth's. She winced with every swing she took, favoring her back slightly as she pushed her weight into her legs. Iracebeth's sword was up, blocking Alice's rage filled blows, but he watched in dismay as she raised her hand, her lips moving silently. Alice's body responded by flying backwards into the stone; she let out a cry of indignation and injury, scrambling to her feet. Adrenaline and the will to live was keeping her battered body moving. He felt rage renewing in his grip at the fact that Iracebeth had the upper hand of her magicks. Even with the unfair advantage, Alice was standing and returning the blows with menacing strikes. Tarrant smiled to himself, knowing that if Alice had the ability to cast spells like Iracebeth and Mirana that she would have beaten the Red Queen into the ground by now.
Tarrant reluctantly turned his view from his wife back to the raging king before him, knowing the truce for a breath was soon to end. As if reading his mind, Istvan drew his shining sword in both hands, holding it at an angle before him as he charged the Hatter a second time, his teeth gritting with effort. He was poised to strike, but Tarrant was ready with the parry, the blow hitting him hard enough to jar the milliner's arms, sending him flying back with an audible grunt. Istvan moved the weapon back toward his side, winding up once more to deliver a deadly blow in a backhanded swing, Tarrant blocking the forceful hit with barred teeth. His arms screamed in agony, the familiar ache of his ribs reawakening as his body twisted in the effort.
The swords scratched against each other, clacks and twings filling Tarrant's ears as both he and Tarrant descended upon each other with rage filled counters and attacks. His jaw was sore from clenching his teeth, his brows twisted in a prolonged grimace, his throat raw from grunts and gasps that followed the efforts of his advances and parries.
The sound of Alice crying out over the sound of the battle tempted him to look over his shoulder again, but he kept his face on the glowering pale eyes of Istvan, the Black King's twisted face no doubt a perfect mirror image of his own. He knew that the only way to make Alice proud, to ensure her survival, was to take down the king before him. So he fought earnestly, his limbs finding renewed strength at the thought of Alice, at the thought of victory, at the thought of having her, truly, all to himself.
With a resounding cry, Tarrant swung his sword with precision, Istvan's blade not rising quick enough to block the steel from licking his cheek, a large gash now marred the pale man's face. He paused as he watched Tarrant's rebound, the milliner bouncing backwards to regain his foot and switch his angle attack on the king. Istvan's black glove gingerly ghosted the weeping slash on his high chin, a worsening frown crossing his pink lips. Tarrant saw the flame of fury rekindled as the man's black eyebrows twisted in rage.
Tarrant took the man's assessment of his face to swing once again, his weight pressing into his lead foot as he moved his arms with all their strength and force. Istvan was prepared for this attack, stepping lithely back, the sword singing in its created wind as it narrowly missed the man's mail coat vest. Istvan raced forward, his scream ringing out as he moved his blade with incredibly speed and force. Tarrant ducked, the top of his curl mane brushed by the sharp steel. Several shorn pieces of his hair drifted to the stone below, reminding the man of how narrowly he came to the sharp metal meeting his head.
The miss only increased Tarrant's rage, his eyes burning as madness seeped through his bones, clouded his thinking. He knew the kind eyes his wife knew as emerald and soft were a burning bonfire of orange and red, flashing warning and revenge on the Black King as the man bore down on him. Allowing the consuming madness to overtake his limbs Tarrant flew forward, slashing to the left and then to the right, Istvan bending backwards to avoid the counter attack. The man stepped back once more, readying his stance and looking for Tarrant's own weakness, his pale eyes dancing around at the man's quivering body, meeting his amber eyes.
Tarrant flew forward, not allowing Istvan to complete the assessment he needed to gain an upper hand. The insanity swept the Hatter, numbing his aching bones, his burning muscles, renewing his failing strength. He began to slash with renewed vigor, Istvan barely raising his sword in time to block the deadly blows. His blocks growing sloppy as Tarrant continued with a strength Istvan no longer had, his power waning.
Finally, Tarrant sighted the blow he had been waiting for.
Knocking into the king's chest with brute force, their swords crossing as Tarrant struck and Istvan parried, Tarrant sent the king flying backwards searching desperately for footing. As he looked for flat ground to regain his stance Istvan turned his back toward the Hatter, the exposed muscle of his shoulders rippling as he windmilled his arms searching for balance.
Tarrant took the chance given him, raising his hands back and then swinging them forward in a fluid lightning fast blow, his blow missing the swell of the Black King's shoulder and sinking into the hard sinew of the back of his bicep.
Istvan cried out in a combined cry of rage and pain, swiveling around on regained footing, his pale eyes lighted with rage, his dark eyebrows stitching, distorting his face. Taking his sword in hand he advanced toward the milliner, swinging his sword and meeting the Hatter's parry with another bone vibrating blow which would have hit Tarrant squarely in the neck had he not responded in time. Tarrant shoved into the man, pressing his weight into the injured arm, sending the king scrambling for purchase and writhing in pain.
Reaching into his pocket, Tarrant fished out a one of his trusty hat pins, taking the needle between forefinger and thumb, facing the sharp point toward him. When Istvan had regained his footing, charging the Tarrant once again with crazed anger, Tarrant let the pin fly with a practiced fling and sure aim, the pin finding its mark in the joint of the man's shoulder where his armor chinked.
Instead of falling backwards, the Black King continued forwards toward the milliner with renewed rage, the anger seeming to fill him with impossible endurance. He raised his sword, blood flowing from his flexed bicep, dripping to the stone below. Swinging mightily, he aimed for Tarrant's neck again, the milliner ducking at the right time to avoid the blow.
Tarrant took several steps back, placing needed distance between he and the Black King, his eyes sweeping the man who should have been falling to his knees. Istvan's high cheek was weeping from the gash Tarrant had inflicted, the blood running into his mouth and chin, dripping onto his chest. The black fabric of his shirt was slick with blood from the blow to his bicep, the hat pin glinting as he rolled his tremendous shoulder. Tarrant would need to buy his Time; it was only a matter of it before the man would need to slow due to blood loss.
The Black King seemed impervious to this concept, however, as he let loose a primitive yell, charging Tarrant like an enraged bull. The movement caught Tarrant off guard, the Hatter quickly gathering stock of his appendages to respond to the rage filled advance. His sword flew up just in time to block a blow to his face. Steel sang against steel once again.
As Istvan's blade crushed down on Tarrant's, the milliner shaking as he pushed back against the Black King's force, he looked up into Istvan's face, the intimate space between the two kept them only a head nod apart. The man's opaque blue eyes were filled with bloodlust, Tarrant's bowels trembling at the sight of such malice.
His body caving under the pressure Istvan's body exerted on his blade, Tarrant twisted, his head turning as his teeth gritted, trying to remain upright. Opening his eyes, it was then that he saw his wife again her limp body was slumped over a boulder, her soft dress sliding down the rock, gently dropping her to the stone field below.
"Alice!" Tarrant cried, feeling Istvan crash down on him hard. The pressure of the Black King's weight caused his elbows to ache.
Succumbing to the pressure, Tarrant purposefully fell to the ground, upsetting Istvan as the sudden force against his shove disappeared. Tarrant used the opportunity to draw his knees to his chest before releasing them in a powerful blow to the man's gut, sending the king reeling backwards once again, nearly losing his balance as his hand shot to the ground before him to right himself. Tarrant scrambled to his feet, but not before the Black King took advantage of his vulnerability, taking the change to smash the hilt of his blade into the Hatter's cheek.
The blow sent Tarrant reeling again, but he managed to keep his balance, steadying himself on shaky feet. He had bit his lip and the metallic taste blood overtook his mouth. He wiped the back of his hand across his lips roughly, the liquid slick on his pale skin, a heated glare paid to Istvan as he did so.
Istvan returned the glower, panting heavily, his limbs shaking. He seemed to be succumbing to the damage dealt to him so far. Needing his own moment to catch his breath and asses his lip, Tarrant allowed Istvan's wounds to continue to bleed out. The two began to circle about, searching for a way to overcome his opponent, their aggression quelling as they searched for the last burst of strength.
Tarrant's madness provided him all the motivation he needed, the swelling of his bottom lip reminded him of the image of Alice entering his cell. All bruised and bloody and battered by the hands of the Black King. Istvan had succeeded in harming Alice the first time, there was little doubt she would be spared if Tarrant failed; desire to strike filled the grip on his sword, his rage returning. Tarrant advanced toward the king with a strength he did not know he possessed. He swung hard and hit the King with the broadside of his sword, sending him back, tripping over the bodies of fallen Red Pawns. Istvan took the fumble to his advantage, taking hold of the felled soldier's weapon, standing to face Tarrant with his sword in his right hand, the pawn's sword in his left.
Tarrant nodded his head. This is impossible, he mused, allowing a mad smile to cross his mouth as Istvan charged toward him.
With quick parries, Tarrant blocked the first and second blow of the King. The third blow, caused by the king's own sword rebounding bit Tarrant in the curve of his left arm, a painful hiss erupting between his gritted teeth. Tarrant danced back to assess the damage that was served to his arm; the blade had made its way through his thick coat and shirt. The wound was beginning to well with blood, his muscles screaming as they realized the damage done. Seeing the damage done, the madness took over again, Tarrant inclining his face to meet the Black King's hard gaze, his teeth barred.
He advanced forward, swinging his sword, watching in pride as it hit home right on the curve of the Black King's ribs.
"Thi' es fer teh tortu'e," Tarrant declared, watching as the king stumbled but miraculously regained his balance.
In the moment he had, Tarrant glanced over to Alice seeing to his relief that she was once more on her feet engaged in active swordplay with the Red Queen. Turning with a focused glare, Tarrant reminded himself as to why he was engaged in hand to hand combat with the man; for revenge. Revenge Alice, revenge for his family, and, finally, revenge for himself.
All the emotion, all the dangerous madness, all the rage he had bottled up since the Horuvendush Day was building, the cork threatening to blow like a bottle of bubbling champagne. Istvan was going to be caught in the explosion.
Supporting the Red Army, battering his wife's body, mocking a mad man's family's demise, promising further terror, all were actions which required consequences. Istvan was going to experience each and every one of them at the hands of a Mad Hatter.
A smile crossed as he swung his blade, Istvan's left hand shooting up to block the powerful blow that Tarrant had dealt, though the Black King grimaced at the vibration that shook his bleeding arm. His right blade answered Tarrant's attack with a swing, the milliner narrowly missed the sharp edge of the blade with a duck.
Tarrant continued on with his attack, impossibly hitting the swinging blades away again as they came at him with twisted grimaces. His body was aching, but the need to keep fighting spurred by the madness kept him pushing forward, kept his arms swinging.
Memories swirled around his mind, memories of his mother and father, his brother and his sisters, his wife. And new ideas. Ideas of a peaceful Underland, images of small children in the arms of Alice. Istvan was neither going to desecrate the past nor destroy the future. This Mad Hatter was going to destroy this man; he was going to finish what he had started.
Tarrant swung again and laughed when the broadside of his blade hit Istvan and sent him to the ground again.
Alice was re-engaged in a sword to sword combat with the Queen now. Her quick recoveries and lightning returns kept the Red Queen swinging her blade, entirely preoccupied. Alice's theory of keeping the Queen's painted little mouth shut by distracting her with constant blows kept her from summoning horrid spells upon the blonde woman. Alice was doing her best as it was to ignore the pain that shot through her body reminding her of just how hard the boulder Iracebeth had sent her flying into was.
The constant swordplay kept her mind distracted from the pain, as Alice discovered that the Red Queen was quite a formidable opponent even with a sword; though whether it was because Iracebeth was quite the skilled swordswoman or Alice wasn't too good herself she wasn't sure.
The two traded advances and parries, swords singing with strikes as they circled and danced, looking for the other's weak points. Alice felt her arms grow weary, her strength failing, and she dropped her stance ever so slightly. Iracebeth took advantage of the mistake, swinging her sword with precision. Alice hissed as she felt a burning sensation fly across her neck, her hand flying to the supple skin to access the damage.
The skin was moist with seeping blood, a burning sensation raced up her throat as her fingers explored the tender area. Drawing her fingers to her side, she looked down at her curled fingers to see the digits red with blood.
The blow was too close for comfort; her heart raced at the idea of her head rolling to the ground right then and there. She shook her head to try to expel the idea. If Iracebeth had cut her head from her neck it would have tumbled to the stones by now and she doubted it would hurt nearly as bad as it did. Besides, her head would have fallen to the stones below if it had been cut from her neck. The scratch was probably insignificant because it burned like the ones she got from flipping a page too fast in one of her story books. They were such dramatic injuries, bleeding and burning more than they ought.
Alice grabbed her sword's hilt, tightening her grip as she swung at the Red Queen, dealing her own damage to the queen as she struck Iracebeth in the side. The blow might have been more effective had she hit her the Vorpal's razor-sharp edge rather than its broadside, but the blow was enough to knock the little tyrant backwards.
Alice took advantage of the woman's vulnerable position, running at the woman with her sword raised. Iracebeth raised her hand toward Alice, her lips moving as she muttered more words.
Alice looked down to find that she was no longer running on the ground, but her feet were cutting uselessly through the air. The world began to tip upside-down as Iracebeth twisted her hand, flipping Alice's head toward the ground below. Alice held tightly to the Vorpal as she felt her head spinning, the blood rushing in her ears as the Red Queen tipped her the wrong way, disorienting the Champion. Alice did not want to be found weaponless when Iracebeth finally dropped her. Alice squirmed in the air as Iracebeth watched, her mouth twisting as she sneered at the woman thrashing in the air.
"PUT ME DOWN YOU COWARD!" Alice cried out and Iracebeth shook her head.
"Oh Alice, don't be jealous of my clever tricks." Iracebeth answered, lifting her hand, sending Alice higher into the sky.
"Clever tricks?" Alice scoffed, stilling her limbs. "You can't even face me in a hand to hand battle without hoodwinking me! You are a slakush scrum Iracebeth of Crims. And you are proving what a coward you truly are." Alice hoped that her words enraged the woman before her.
Iracebeth responded with a light laugh and the casual shake of her head. "Alice, I wouldn't be speaking since you are the one with your head pointed the wrong way!"
"Put me down, Iracebeth, and fight me like you wanted to fight Mirana!" What Alice wouldn't give to be set down so she could skewer the nasty big head with her Vorpal.
"But this is how I would fight Mirana!" The Red Queen answered.
"You know what I mean," Alice growled, her hands tightening on the hilt of the Vorpal blade as she tried to imagine the world upright again. And what she would do when her feet were back on the ground.
A taste of what the Jabberwocky got. A taste of her own medicine, Alice's thoughts were cruel, but her will was less so. Now that she was faced with the necessity to kill another being she found that she didn't really want to. Oh Alice, you have such a great way of talking yourself out of doing something you ought! She chided herself as she looked to the Red Queen.
Trying to steel her resolve, knowing that she needed to end this woman's life, Alice's mind swirled with the thoughts of all the people that had suffered under the Red Tyrant, all the people that had sacrificed for Alice, so she would be safe, so she could come to this moment.
From her position high in the air she easily saw her husband as he continued his combat with the Black King. She watched as Tarrant swung wildly at the Black King, his eyes wild with amber and his red hair uneven and unkempt. Her jaw fell as she noticed that the Black King had a sword in each hand, Tarrant fighting a man armed on all sides. She certainly needed to get the right way up and as quickly as possible!
The thoughts of the world right side up where not helping so Alice began to think heavy thoughts instead, hoping that maybe they would weigh her down. Elephants, broken hearts, shattered dreams, Bandersnatches, boulders, the words swirled through Alice's head as she shut her eyes to concentrate. The breeze was still blowing about her body and she was about to give up the practice when she felt her feet touch a solid surface. Opening her eyes, she looked down to see that the world was right side up, her feet standing where they were supposed to. Her head tilted upwards, her mouth curling with a smile as she met Iracebeth's wide eyed gaze, the woman shaking her head in disbelief.
"How can you possibly know what to do to make my spells useless?" Iracebeth raised her hand again, though Alice's body stayed static this time.
"I know you wish I was hiding a great secret, that I was a witch as great as you," Alice spoke as she approached the queen, "but I'm afraid to say it's simple, Iracebeth. I have been in Underland for half a year already. I have come to understand Underland's logic, or lack thereof. I know that words like impossible means that they are, indeed, quite probable. And I know that I should say what I mean and not just mean what I say," Alice stepped closer, her hands raising the Vorpal blade before her body. "I know your husband tried to insist that I wasn't from Underland and while it is true I was not born here, I am as much a part of this land now as you are, Iracebeth." Alice narrowed her green eyes. "The only difference between us is that I actually care about this world. I don't want to see it subjected, I don't want to see it ruled over. I want to see it wild and wondrous and free."
"You think you are a great warrior, an absolutely Alice," Iracebeth shook her head in pity. "You are just used, Alice."
Alice shrugged her shoulders. "Well, then I am used Alice. But Iracebeth, I have family here in Underland," she bore down on the woman. "And I do believe that you destroyed almost all of them." Alice swung at the queen.
Iracebeth stumbled backwards, her finger pointed accusingly at Alice. "Just because you wear the crown, Alice, doesn't ever mean you will be a Queen or even a part of this land!" Iracebeth said with a smile. "If my little twit of a sister is helping you, Alice, by telling you what to say, if she is teaching you tricks and spells or incanting them herself, then she is interfering. It shall be off with both of your heads!"
The Red Queen raised her hand toward Alice, her palm facing the girl. "Recedeial!" She commanded.
Alice thought of anchors and ropes and all sorts of things that would keep her grounded. Iracebeth's face fell, her hand waving desperately as Alice remained flat footed on the stone.
"Iracebeth even as a little girl I knew the rules of nonsense. Nothing will be what it is because everything will be what it isn't."
Iracebeth shook her head as Alice came toward her again, Vorpal blade ready to strike its mark this time.