Quick Note: I am SO sorry that it's been months since I updated! Time totally got away from me... but I want to thank everyone still reading this and especially crazzy2000 who kept on me to finally get this out...

Disclaimer: I do not own HNKNA or any of it's characters.

My entire body ached as the cold seeped from the weathered stone beneath me into my sore and tired limbs. I felt too drained of energy to even lift my head as I battled to open my eyes that had been sealed shut with crusted tears. Heavy as lead, I managed to inch my hand over to where my injured cheek pressed roughly to the ground and up to help rub my tired eyes.

Even as I managed to open them and look about, I was greeted by the chilling darkness around me, lessened only by the garish moon that hung idly in the cloud covered sky above. Forcing myself to muster the necessary strength, I pulled myself up to my feet... Leaning heavily on the tower wall behind me. The familiar curved wall brought back the unpleasant memories as my eyes swiftly began scouring the roof top for my assailant.

Finding no trace of Jack, I was flooded with relief... But at the same time struck by an odd tinge of regret. Despite Nightmare's admonishments, I found myself sympathizing with the man who had been betrayed and abandoned by those he loved. That type of pain struck an all too familiar chord in me as various heartbreaking memories flashed before my eyes. I shook my head slightly as I pulled myself away from that line of thinking... Surely I have little to nothing in common with a monster like him...

My breathing became labored and even a little panicked as the need to flee this place gradually augmented in my mind, and I began hurrying about the battlement desperately searching for any path of escape. More than once I found myself stumbling from a combination of my own fatigue and the tower's disrepair. Unwilling to admit defeat, I continued to push myself forward, ignoring the cuts on my knees and the many rips adorning my once lovely red dress.

My hope was once again revitalized as I came across a partially open wooden door leading into the tower. As I neared it, I could see the splintered wood hanging precariously from the rusted hinges... And upon closer inspection the deep claw marks set into not only the wood but the surrounding stone walls as well. The dull ache in my cheek offered the chilling explanation of how they got there.

I rushed past the badly damaged door needing to distance myself from such a hateful place... But as I descended the crumbling stone stairs of the tower, I only beheld more of the same claw marred walls and crimson stained stones. Forgetting my weariness entirely in my ever-growing dread, I began stumbling down the winding stair case as quickly as I could. By the time I had reached the bottom, my skin was slick with a cold sweat and my stomach so twisted in painful knots that I found myself leaning against the doorframe nearly overwhelmed by nausea.

With my eyes shut tight and a few deep breaths, I was able to calm myself down enough to keep moving. How I wish I had kept my eyes closed...

As I exited the stairwell into a grand hall of the ruined stone castle, I felt myself reeling from the sight before me. What at first appeared to be a mess of bodies strewn across the room positioned in increasingly unnatural ways, turned out to be ornately constructed life-sized dolls in varying degrees of disarray.

My breath hitched as I slowly neared the closest one and realized that they were positioned in scenes. Anything as simple as several dolls seated at a meal around a table to the more elaborate stills of couples mid dance. My fear soon transformed into a sort of morbid fascination as I travelled from stage to stage admiring the pain taken to create these life-like figures, but also observing the rage made manifest in the harsh claw marks gouged into the delicate wood or the shattered porcelain that once displayed a brilliant smile.

Each doll had been irreparably destroyed in every scene... That is in all but the last. It was still entirely pristine with an even more detailed background of what appeared to be a workshop. Numerous books and tools sat strewn about every available surface, and yet it seemed to give off a comfortable and warm aura. At the center of this display sat two small faceless children huddled together smiling under the workshop desk. The little boy with dark blue hair held out a golden pocket watch towards the one with purple tresses that held a small grey kitten asleep in his lap.

The wind began to pick up and I could hear it howl through the abandoned halls of this castle... only seeming to augment the painful air of loneliness that pervaded the room. But my attention was pulled from examining the display before me as a myriad of soft squeaking... Like the gentle grating of metal on metal... began to join the wind's unpleasant moans.

As I looked about, hoping to identify the source of this new sound, my heart leapt to my throat and I stumbled backwards, falling to the once polished white marble floor. All of the dolls around me had sprung to life, resuming their previous activities... But just as quickly as they had begun moving, they became inert once again as the wind began to die down.

My heart finally began to calm it's erratic beating as understanding flooded my tearing eyes... They were marionettes. Though I hadn't realized it before, the thin, clear cords holding many of the dolls in place reached up and met with a pulley system high overhead. My eyes grew wide as I began to examine the intricacy of the mechanisms used to articulate the life-like puppets.

The wind picked up again as couples began to dance, a family began to eat, a familiar band manipulated their instruments, several friends played a game of cricket, and two smalls boys embraced under a cluttered desk. My gaze was held riveted to this last one as the significance finally dawned on me and a single tear left a trail down my dirtied face.

Back at the Ballroom

To any outside observer unaccustomed to the inner workings and daily drama of wonderland, the situation in the ballroom might seem more than a bit amusing... The tallest and strongest looking man present was donning floppy rabbit ears while cowering in terror behind a man who was genuinely more concerned about being separated from his hat than sticking up for his second in command or comforting his distraught sister who sat in shock staring off into space... An amused pink cat whose tail swished playfully from side to side as he slouched lazily on the floor was watching the other rabbit-man giggle periodically in his sleep and murmur about how 'bold' his Alice could be... Two young boys who were now arguing over the best weapons to use to stop the Jabberwock and all the 'games' they wanted to play with him... And just in front of the bar was the normally pristine blunette disheveled and flanked by a pair of redheaded sadists who seemed bound and determined to tear down what shreds of composure he vainly clung to...

"Damn it! Are you going to help us save her or not!" Julius shouted into the bemused jester's face, only to be rewarded with the painful sting of the warden's whip across his side. His usually stoic facade had crumbled away long ago, not that it could have even begun to mask the whirlwind of desperation and rage that shone from his eyes like daggers at the offending Joker.

The dark warden met his glare with a fiery crimson eye that seemed to only promise more torment, "Tch! I'm starting to think they made the wrong damn brother into the Jabberwock... Poor stupid bastard!"

His verbal lash struck harder than his whip as the watchmaker sank to his knees, telltale signs of guilt and regret dominating his features as the anger drained away. The corner of each jokers mouth quirked into a vicious smirk as they locked eyes over the broken man between them.

"Please... Please help us save Alice..." The words were barely a whisper from Julius as his gaze fell to the floor and tears of frustration threatened to fall.

The evil smirk fell from Black Joker's face as a disgusted sneer replaced it... Hate and disdain welled in his blood red eye as he observed the pleading man before him. "Tch... Pathetic bastard! Not even good for an hour's worth of amusement..."

His gaze turned towards the others present, searching for more entertaining prey... Only to stop on the cowering figure of one of his "favorites". His malice soaked smile returned as he took a threatening step to greet the long absent escapee.

His purposeful stride was stopped short, however, when the embodiment of madness himself interposed... His eyes promising delightful punishment to those foolish enough to cross him. The dark Joker's teeth ground together as he began to raise his whip in preparation for this altercation... But his hand was stayed as his double restrained him from partaking in the inadvisable confrontation. "The Hell you doing! Get you damned hands off me!"

White Joker glared dangerously at his twin, the anger in his eyes a clear mismatch to the gentle smile adorning his lips, "Don't be a fool, Joker...remember the terms of the agreement..."

I don't know how long I stood there, focusing on the one unscathed exhibition in the room... Watching over and over again as the two young brothers repeated their endearingly clumsy hug. My eyes were torn away when a distant crash resounded from deeper in the castle. I felt my body tense as the now familiar terror surged through me, sending me running in the opposite direction, leaving the eerie dolls behind.

I found myself rushing down a moonlit hallway, lined on one side with large, and mostly shattered, diamond shaped windows letting in enough light to see the clawed white stone wall opposite them. Glancing in panic behind me, I didn't see the tattered tapestry littering the path until it was too late and I was sent sprawling several feet across the debris laden floor.

As the pain shot through my left leg, I was unable to stop the whimpered cry escaping through my gritted teeth as my eyes shut tight, attempting to ride out the sharp stab in my thigh. As the initial wave of pain subsided, leaving me shuttering with streams of tears and gasping breathes, I look down to find the offending shaft of splintered wood slicing through my dress and buried deep within my thigh.

The blood continued to pour forth, and I knew I couldn't leave it like that. I reached towards what I realized was once a beautifully carved picture frame, only to be overcome by searing pain when barely touching it. My already churning stomach seemed to cramp from the nausea and pain... I found myself taking several deep breathes just trying to settle it.

My eyes made their way back down to the ornately carved stake as I attempted to mentally prepare myself for what had to happen. Alice... you can do this... You must do this... I cannot give up!

Long forgotten was my fear of this place... Of the Jabberwock and the threat he posed... Long forgotten were my beloved friends who I had been so terribly worried about... Now, there was only blinding pain encompassing me, outshone only by the bloodcurdling scream ripping through my throat.

Fighting so hard to stay conscious, I moved my shaking hands down to the tattered rags of my dress and strugglingly ripped a strip from the bottom. Even with my hands fumbling, I managed to tie the crimson strip tightly around the gash just in time for the promising veil of darkness to overwhelm me.