Disclaimer: I own exactly zip of anything recognisable in this fic.
A/N: To new readers and old readers re-reading because they want to remember (Welcome and Welcome Back!), this is not the original chapter 1. I've done a bit of tweaking for readability. Main plot points however are all the same, just a few details have been shifted around for style. Hope you all enjoy :D
Chapter One: An Unsettling Encounter
When the woman appeared, there was something about her that immediately put the shinobi at the gate, Izumo and Kotetsu, immediately on their guard. It could have been the normal ninja paranoia, and the fact that neither of them recognised her as a Konoha native.
It could have been the fact that neither of them had seen her approaching from a kilometer away up the road. They had both been watching, but then suddenly there she had been, standing not ten metres from the gate. It shouldn't be possible for a civilian to sneak up on them like that, and few shinobi managed it either.
But really, long experience as a ninja had taught both of them to recognise exactly what those stains on her white pinafore were that distracted from the bizarre symbols upon it.
Blood. Somehow, none of it marred her perfectly pressed blue dress that flared out just below her knees above strange closed-toe black boots that had silver buckles all the way up to just below her knee. She didn't look older than 17, and held her hands demurely at her sides. Neither of the gate guards relaxed for an instant.
"State your name and business," Izumo said in a calm tone that belied his nerves. It didn't matter how young she looked- he'd seen what prodigies like Kakashi and Itachi could do.
The woman looked up at him with wide, green, fathomless eyes, and smiled politely. He felt a slight shiver run down his spine.
"My name is Alice Liddell. My business is not yours." She said in a faintly accented voice. He had no idea what that accent might be. Unusual.
"What village are you from?" Kotetsu demanded.
Alice cocked her head gently, and looked at him unblinkingly. "No village at all. You are both very rude. I told you my name, and yet you did not give me yours. And why should you care where I am from? Don't you know? This is Wonderland, is it not?"
Kotetsu and Izumo looked at each other in confusion. Wonderland?
"Uhhh, no, this is Konohagakure, the Village Hidden In the Leaves," Izumo informed her.
"Hidden Village?" Alice sounded mildly intrigued, in about the same fashion that one might be mildly intrigued about a specimen of sea urchin. "It seems rather obvious to me."
"Well once you've found a thing, I suppose it would be quite obvious where it is," came a laconic voice from the shadows.
"Chesire?" Alice blinked, looking as a tall ninja with scruffy silver hair that stood practically on end above his mask and the odd silver-plate that had been pulled over one eye. "No wait, I apologise, I have no idea why I thought you might be him."
The single visible eye crinkled in a way that Alice supposed meant the man was smiling.
"Why, am I better-looking than him?" Kakashi asked her in a tone that sounded suspiciously flirtacious.
Alice looked at him blankly. "He's a cat."
"A cat summon?" Kakashi was not sure he had ever heard of a contract with cats before.
Alice sneered at him derisively. "Cats don't come when you summon. They turn up when it suits them to make cryptic statements or not at all."
Kakashi looked over at Izumo and Kotetsu and saw that they looked as bewildered as he felt. Still, both of them relaxed just a little. Not only did they have back up from one of the strongest Jounin of the village, but this Alice seemed to be content to banter.
Kakashi shrugged. "Suppose I wouldn't know, I'm a dog person myself."
Alice looked him up and down, from the tips of his wild silver hair to his toes poking out of his shinobi sandals. "Is that why you wear the mask then, to hide your canine features? Do you have a tail?" she asked him in what appeared to be perfect seriousness.
Kakashi just stared at her.
Izumo and Kotetsu burst out laughing.
Alice rounded on them, he corners of her full lips pulled down in displeasure. "It is unkind to laugh at other people's misfortune. Small wonder he wears a mask with such small-minded attitudes surrounding him."
Izumo and Kotetsu were practically falling down now, their only support each other as they gasped out their amusement.
Alice folded her arms. "You have the manners of a pair of hyenas. Shame on you both."
With the air of a man wondering how in hell he has gotten into this conversation, Kakashi interjected.
"I'm not part-dog. I meant that I hold the contract to summon nindogs," he said.
Alice observed him closely. Kakashi wondered if this was what Aburame bugs underneath microscopes felt like.
"You do seem human enough," she conceded, sounding almost disappointed. "Does this mean I am back in the real world then? I was on my way to visit Caterpillar- although I suppose I should call him Butterfly now- and I slipped down a rabbit-hole. Or something. I'm not quite sure what happened. One minute I was fighting samurai wasps on the side of a mountain, and the next it was giant spiders in the middle of thick forest." She paused. "Actually, come to think of it, those spiders were far too big. And the way you are all dressed tells me I am nowhere near London." Unexpectedly, she smiled in fey delight.
A sudden suspicion seized Kakashi then.
"Where precisely were you fighting the spiders?" he asked her.
Alice turned and pointed. "A bit of a ways in that direction. Took me the better part of four days to reach this gate."
Kotetsu's jaw dropped. "You mean you were in the Forest of Death?"
Alice's brow crinkled slightly. "That's a rather morbid name, and considering the last two places I lived were the Asylum and a Home for Wayward Youth that was run by a corrupt psychologist who liked to hypnotise children into forgetting their pasts so he could sell them to pedophiles, I know morbid."
Izumo and Kotetsu stared at her speechless, but Kakashi had been in ANBU, and so had heard of such things before.
"Did you assassinate him?" Kakashi asked her bluntly.
Alice raised an eyebrow at him. "Kings, Queens and politicians are assassinated. Bumby might have had delusions of grandeur, but under his assumed Society plumage he was no more than a common rogue. I confronted Bumby over him murdering my family because my sister refused him. He killed her and then burned my house down with my family inside. I was the only one to escape, apart from my cat Dinah who showed me the way out. He admitted his crimes, and then told me no one would believe me, because they all know I'm mad." Her smile became sinister. "He didn't count on me pushing him in front of the train."
'Train?' Kakashi thought. So she must have been in the Land of Snow... or Spring, as it was now called. He had not heard of anywhere else that might have a railway. She didn't look particularly like a ninja, in fact, she looked rather fragile, and he couldn't see any weapons on her, but looks could be quite deceiving.
Look underneath the underneath.
After all, if it wasn't an empty boast, she had claimed to have been fighting samurai and giant spiders in the Forest of Death. That meant that she must have some sort of fighting skills.
"So you just came here by accident then?" Kakashi asked her, not sure he would believe her answer.
A light breeze ruffled Alice's dark hair as she looked up at him through stern child-like eyes. "There is no such thing as an accident," she said firmly, "although I must say that I did not intend to come here."
Kakashi decided that Ibiki would be able to get some semblance of truth from her. There was no way he was letting an unknown woman, let alone one this strange, anywhere near the inside of his village without her being checked over by professionals.
"I'll take her," he said to Izumo and Kotetsu, and then took Alice by the elbow and disappeared in a swirl of leaves.
Izumo and Kotetsu exchanged glances, and then shrugged. They both knew Kakashi was ex-ANBU. If anyone knew where T&I was located, it would be him.