Hidden 7 mos ago 27 days ago
Zeroth Post
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Zeroth





This is intended more to help us players keep track of how many days our characters have spent where.
A lot has happened, despite it only being a few days of in-game play.
Click hiders for a quick synopsis and the page span of each day.
That said, SPOILER warning for the rare lurker who actually cares.


The Journey Begins: Wonderland and Earth Collide



Return to Wonderland


Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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Siaya Dragalorn Insomniac Vampire

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Mist clung to the dark, barren branches of desolate trees of the Twisted Forest. The sun filtered down in a gloomy haze, casting an eerie twilight glow about the forest despite the early daylight hour. Shadows stretched longer than seemed natural from the base of trees and deadly-looking plants spattering the ground. Even the grass looked dismal, each drab blade bent as if suffering from a debilitating depression.
Elayra crouched inside a hollow in a tree trunk that looked burnt and split from a lightning strike. A cut that had only just begun to scab over created a line down the left side of her face above and below her eye. Only a couple strands of her platinum hair escaped the cowl pulled over her head, the brown and black fabric of her clothing allowing her to blend in with the forest around her. She ran a finger over the brilliant blue fletching of one of her arrows and closed her eyes, waiting. Listening. She had followed the deerdrin tracks here, its trail mingling with others in the well-traveled spot before her.
Her lips quirked up slightly as she heard the familiar sound of her prey ruffling through the woods. A gentle scratching, sniffling sound came from the tress off to her right. She opened her eyes and nocked one of her arrows, keeping its tip pointed down.
A creature resembling a muscular deer with thick legs, massive antlers that entwined together in an impossible knot, and paws with claws ambled out from between a couple bent trees about five yards in front of her. Its furless, wrinkled hide was black with perfectly circular brown patches dotted about it. It almost looked cute--at least, it would if not for the chillingly empty, glowing crimson eyes veined with black that plagued this generation of animals. Animals born into the Curse. Animals without souls and guided by only the instinct to hunt and kill. The Forgen.
Elayra silently drew back her bowstring, aiming at the beast’s heart as it sniffed at the ground with its long, slender nose like a dog hunting for a bone. She exhaled softly, one of the deerdrin’s ears twitching in her direction, then loosed the arrow.
The animal’s head snapped up, but it was too slow; the arrow sunk deep into its flesh near its heart. It let out a howl of pain that sounded more like a screeching child than an animal, then turned its snarling face to her. Thick green saliva coated the animal’s sharp teeth and strung between its jaws. The animal lunged, its claws extended.
Elayra hastily nocked another arrow and jumped backward out of the hallow tree as she let the second arrow fly. It embedded deep in the beast’s chest. With another pained snarl, it landed where the girl had just stood, and swiped at her, its head twisting madly as it tried to snag her with its antlers.
She bent back as she hopped away, just avoiding the beast’s razor-sharp claws and gnarly antlers. She reached to draw her sword sheathed opposite her quiver, but the animal gave out a bleak cry, and, with a final shudder and swing of its head, fell still.
“You’ve been gifted peace in this nightmarish world,” she muttered to the animal, the glow in its eyes fading away as life fully left it.
She gripped the beast’s antlers and, with no little effort, pulled its corpse from where it hung partially over the tree. She stopped and glared down at it, contemplating the best method of getting it back to camp. She had not planned on catching a kill this large, but she had been incapable of resisting the challenge it presented.
Her head cocked slightly, and every muscle in her body tensed at the gentle crunch of a footstep behind her. In a heartbeat, she drew her sword and spun around.
The clang of metal colliding with metal rang through the forest as saber blocked katana, making a few of the nearby trees shudder.
Her face twisted in an irritated scowl as she recognized the sword before the man.
“And I was worried you were letting your guard down.” The man smirked, his voice as smooth and cold as polish marble.
His skin, even his lips, was an alabaster white, the color made more prominent by his darker clothes. He looked in his late twenties or early thirties, and though his sharp features may have once been handsome, they were worn with stress, worry, and a tinge of insanity. His eyes bore evidence of being tainted by the Curse. His irises were a glazed dark red with spider webs of black, and onyx lines spread out from the corners of his eyes.
“I don’t need your help hunting, Drust.” She stepped back and pulled her sword from his with a shing. “I can handle myself.”
Drust let out a half-crazed laugh and swung his katana through the air. Elayra flinched back and raised her sword, ready if he decided here would make a good training arena.
The White Knight’s neck twitched with a crack as he looked to the dead deerdrin, a distant cocky smile on his lips. “You can drag this carcass back to camp by yourself, can you?”
“I’ll find a way,” Elayra snapped, following his gaze to the corpse and silently questioning her statement.
Drust snorted, and returned his katana to the sheath strapped to his back. “As entertaining as it’d be to watch that,” he gripped the beast’s antlers with gloved hands, “I’m not here for a show. We have work to do. Lift its hind feet.”
“I said I can get it my--”
Drust’s face twisted in a toothy, warning snarl, his teeth as white as the rest of him. “Grab. It’s. Legs, Elayra,” he hissed threateningly, shoving the deerdrin’s face into the ground in extra emphasis. “We’ve wasted enough time. And this,” he nodded at the animal, “isn’t going to help.”
Elayra gave a snort of her own as she sheathed her saber. “Fine.”
She went behind the dead animal and did as Drust ordered, gripping its thick legs. Together, the two began to drag the animal that would provide them meat for a few meals to come, their wary gaze constantly shifting about their surroundings, both searching for any sign of spies or other trouble as they made their way back to their camp.
Hidden 3 yrs ago 2 yrs ago Post by Polarize
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Unpack orders. Alphabetize the merchandise. Help customers.
It had been the routine for the past three weeks, and so far Ghent had proven himself capable of his latest job.
Working in a small, cluttered bookstore may have sounded mediocre for some, but Ghent considered himself lucky. He knew this part of town well enough. The area was less busy than the neighboring city, and it was neglected. The surrounding shops had seen better days, but he didn’t mind. Some of the best deals came from mom and pop stores, plus the labor wasn't all that difficult.
The day started out like many before. The work was repetitive, but it was familiar, and he'd gotten into a good routine. Ghent made sure to keep himself moving when his boss was present. Frank was a gruff sort of fellow, he was often mumbling, and he had plenty of tattoos in the need of touching up. Rather than man the shop, he was often watching the TV by the window, one that Ghent was certain survived through the 80's.
A mother with two children were the first customers of the day. The trio appeared well off, which was rare for the area. The woman looked around with one child in her arms, the other tagging close behind. This was nothing out of the ordinary, but Ghent slowed when he caught sight of the youngest toddler.
For Ghent, everything seemed to go quiet. He could only stare, his face void of any emotion. This was not the first time this had happened, there were moments in his life when he felt that something was familiar. It was a haunting kind of a feeling, one that he hated to experience, and yet he could not seem to avoid it.
The child looked about five or so – petite, almost doll-like. She had a head of platinum blonde hair, and a red dress better suited for a birthday party. The sight of her struck a long ago memory within his mind, and Ghent found himself wishing to remember why this child would be at all familiar.
“Hey! What’s the matter with you?” A customer had been trying to obtain Ghent's attention, his annoyance evident. “You deaf or something?” In order to test this theory for himself, the man snapped his fingers in Ghent’s face, and that was enough to earn a reaction out of him.
Angered, Ghent pushed his hand away. “What’s your problem?” The child was gone from his line of vision, and instead he was faced with a man who – in his opinion – could have passed for an escaped convict. Until that moment, he’d missed him completely, and he wasn’t all that pleased to have been so rudely approached.
Words were exchanged, and Ghent succeeded in angering the man so much that Frank had to be called out. Trouble brought on by his moments of delusion. Again.

* * *

“Sorry, Ghent. I like ya, I really do. If I had a kid of my own, I’d want ‘em to be just like you. Just less klutzy.” It had come time to close the shop, but Frank called Ghent back into the storage room.
Ghent grimaced, but he did not protest. Sure, he’d broken a few things during his days of employment, but he wasn’t a klutz. He merely underestimated his own strength.
“Frank, come on. I’m the only employee you have. Is this about earlier? Give me another chance – look, you won’t even have to pay me today, or tomorrow. I’ll make up for it.” Pleading was out of character for him, but he was desperate enough to try. Finding a job nearby had proven difficult, and his parents were in need of money.
“It’s not just that. Business has been slow. Can’t afford to keep you on, especially when you're riling customers.” Frank was apologetic, but he couldn’t help but pity the teenager before him. “If you need any references, I’ll vouch on your behalf, alright? No hard feelings, now. You be sure to tell your friends about this place.”
Ghent had seen this coming, but being fired came as a disappointment nonetheless. Working here had plenty of perks – free access to the latest comic books being one of them. “Yeah, I’ll do that,” he retrieved his coat from one of the shelving units, and then paused near the exit. “So…do I still get paid?”
Relieved that there’d been no hard feelings, Frank gave a toothy grin. “Sure y’do. I’ve got something better than money, though.” He knelt down near the shelf and pulled out a large cardboard box. From the looks of it, it had been forgotten until now. “Worth more than your wages, too.”
The weight of the box caught Ghent off guard. With his hands so full, he couldn’t look inside. “You’re paying me in books?"

* * *

The walk home was a long one. Once it started to rain, Ghent sought refuge under the nearest awning. This was where his curiosity got the better of him. The contents of the box remained unknown. Tearing off the yellowed tape, Ghent found that his 'wages' consisted of three comics with faulty covers, and six old, cringe-worthy romance novels from another era. No wonder this had been put into storage. "You're all heart, Frank."
Visibly disgusted, Ghent looked the loot over and settled for taking the comics. The books weren't worth reselling, so he left them to their demise.
At the very bottom of the box, there were several classic novels with spines so weak that the pages were spilling out. Tom Sawyer, Little Women, White Fang . . . Alice in Wonderland. The last came as a rude, unwelcome shock to him. Gasping underneath his breath, Ghent hastily tossed the box aside, his heart beating faster than it had been all morning.
Fifteen minutes passed without the rain showing signs of ceasing. Deciding to head home, Ghent tucked the comics underneath his jacket, disturbed by his own misfortune.
Hidden 3 yrs ago 3 yrs ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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“This is taking too long!” the White Knight growled, letting his end of the deerdrin drop.
Elayra, her bow strung over her back, hissed as the full weight of the beast fell to her, making her release her end of the carcass. The beast’s body fell with a thud, making a plume of dirt and long since decayed leaves puff up around it.
“Forget the animal.” His neck and head twitched in a violent tick. “We won’t have time to skin it, anyway.” Drust turned from Elayra, and stepped slowly away, not bothering to look back.
What?” Elayra stared at him. He stopped, his back still to her. “This thing’ll feed us for days, and you want to just leave it?”
Drust turned to face her, his nose and mouth lifted in an irritated sneer. “And I was worried you’d started losing your hearing. Come on.” He turned back around to face the twisting, dilapidated trees of the forest. “Fall behind, and I’ll add an extra two hours to your training tonight. Freestyle. No mercy.”
Fear crossed her gray gaze, but she hid it with a quick roll of her eyes. “We both know I’d win,” she said firmly.
Drust cast her a smirk over his shoulder, his head twitching again. Elayra’s brows furrowed in concern. Though a common occurrence, it had been ages since she recalled seeing that tick occur in so close of a succession.
“Make me wait; we’ll find out.” With that, he sprinted through the trees on agile feet.
Elayra groaned. She cast the carcass a quick glance, then, grumbling to herself about leaving it behind and Drust’s orders, jumped over the corpse, and ran after the White Knight.




The jagged entrance to a cave yawned in the wall of a natural, wide trench. A few dry roots dangled over it, concealing part of the top of the narrow opening. Elayra stood a couple paces behind Drust, watching him retrieve a torch hidden among a pile of branches with another twitch.
Holding the torch in one hand, he waved the other over its top. A spark flickered hesitantly. For a moment, Elayra thought it would go out, but the torch caught.
Without a word, Drust ducked into the cave, Elayra at his heels. The cave was a small, oblong shape made of a substance somewhere between dirt and stone. Near the rear, Drust placed the torch in a small hole carved into the dirt-stone, his head giving yet another twitch, then stepped closer to the wall, the torchlight casting eerie shadows over his face.
He inhaled, muttered something under his breath, and extended a flat palm toward the cave wall. Nothing happened.
“Blast it!” Drust shouted, his face distorting angrily. The black lines at the corners of his eyes pulsated and expanded fractionally over his skin. He balled his hand into a fist.
“Hey!” Elayra hurried to his side and gripped his wrist as he moved to punch the wall. She ducked nimbly out of the way as he spun and swung his other fist at her, twisting free of her grasp. “What’s wrong with you today?” She stepped back and quickly removed her bow from her, tossing it aside. She held her fists in front of her defensively as he came at her. She blocked and bobbed out of the path of a couple other well-formed punches, before she tried to tackle him to the ground.
Drust stumbled back, but did not fall. Instead, he used her momentum to toss her to the tight-packed ground.
She turned onto her back as he tried to jump on top of her. Before he landed, Elayra gripped one of his arms and kicked at his stomach, knocking him to the side. Without releasing her hold, she rolled atop him, gripping his other arm and sitting on his stomach, pinning his snarling form to the ground.
“Whatever’s going on,” Elayra began, her voice harsh and eyes searching his for any sign the Curse’s flair up would recede. The black-veined red now consumed even his pupils, leaving only the whites of his eyes. “We’ll deal with it together. Including the stupid wall. Like always.”
His chest heaving with infuriated breaths, Drust returned her stare with a wild gaze. Slowly, his breathing slowed, and his muscles relaxed slightly beneath her. He nodded.
“Good.” She returned his nod.
The moment her hold slackened, in the blink of an eye, he twisted his hands, one gripping her wrist to push her away and the other breaking free to pull at her elbow and force her weight off-balance, sending her once more to the cave floor beside him. Before she could retaliate, Drust sprung up. Trapping one of her wrists, he straddled her midsection, and firmly gripped her throat, preventing her from raising her head.
She stared up at him, her jaw squared and other hand moving to rest on the wrist of the hand around her neck. She suppressed a sigh of relief as his eyes reverted to their usual appearance.
“Together.” He released her, stood, and returned to the wall as Elayra hastily got to her feet.
She glanced sideways at him, making sure he was still of a semi-sound mind, and stood beside him. In unison, the two stretched out a palm toward the wall and muttered, “Clyesco.
The wall shimmered, and the two strode through. A second part of the cavern greeted them. A large tree stump sat near the center like a table. The only other items taking up space consisted of two rugged traveling packs, one larger than the other, and a large brass telescope with various odd arms, dials, charms, and knobs on a stand.
“You… packed?” Elayra asked, striding over to the packs as Drust went to his telescope and set to compacting it to an impossibly small form.
“It’s open, Elayra,” he answered in a monotone as he spun one of the dials on the telescope. The contraption made a whirring sound, then fell silent.
Elayra stared at him, her mouth agape. “It’s… what?” she breathed.
Open,” he hissed impatiently, scowling as he continued. “I knew it would happen soon. But the portal’s been open since yesterday, and I missed it until this morning!” He snatched the larger pack and shoved the telescope furiously inside. “How could I be such an imbecile?” His face distorted in a snarl.
“Take it easy,” Elayra watched him warily as he began to pace lividly. “That’s why we’re camping so close to Hollow Wood, isn’t it?” She collected her pack and slung it over a shoulder, her hand shaking slightly. She took a deep breath. “Then what’re we waiting for? We have a Madrail to find, and a self-proclaimed Queen to kill.” A smile befitting her guardian spread over her face at the thought of finally ridding the world of the Red Sorceress. The prospect of exacting revenge for what the woman had done to the world, to Drust, was a sweet one strong enough to temporarily push aside Elayra's insecurities of battling her.
Drust spun on his heels to face her, his pack held by a single strap and almost dragging against the ground. He stared at her, a twitch interrupting him as he raised his chin and looked down at her.
“You think you’re ready, do you?” he asked in his usual cool tone.
Elayra squared her shoulders, displaying more confidence than she felt and more courage and determination than seemed possible. “Let’s not keep Harrow Hollow Hill waiting.”
Hidden 3 yrs ago 12 mos ago Post by Polarize
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The apartment complex could have benefited from some improvements, but the rent was cheap, and a family of three didn't need all that much space. On a day like this one, Ghent couldn't help but miss their home in the country. Miles underneath the awning, a middle aged man who was never seen without a cigarette in his hand. "Hey Miles."
Through a puff of smoke, Miles acknowledged him with a nod as he often did, and Ghent allowed himself inside. The building was drafty, and Ghent headed up the long, creaky stairway in order to reach room number 08. Ghent could tell by the overwhelming aroma of perfume that Mrs. Saxon had graced their apartment with a visit.

Mrs. Saxon was in her early 50's or so, and she was never without an interesting tidbit of gossip to pass on. Ghent wouldn't have minded her, but she was critical of him as if he were her own son. "You wouldn't believe what she told me, Elise." Once again, she was busy telling tales, and before Ghent had a moment to listen in, Mrs. Saxon gave an unearthly shriek.
"You almost stepped on William!"

One may assume that William was a child, but this was far from the truth. William was an overweight Persian cat, one that shed without being pet and couldn't be left alone, hence her bringing him on her daily gossip run. Ghent could already feel his eyes watering; he could have sworn he was allergic to the beast. "Sorry," he mumbled under his breath, annoyed at both.
"Ghent! You're soaked!" Elise abandoned the coupons she'd been clipping in order to greet her son. There weren't many so kind nor hardworking, Ghent was certain of that. How fortunate he was to have been found by her and not Mrs. Saxon. The very idea was enough to make him shiver, which did not go unmissed by his mother. "Go on and get changed before you catch a cold; there's a surprise for you upstairs."

* * *

The hall was narrow and lined with photographs of various family members; some that he'd yet to meet. Ghent fixed one of the frames as he passed it; it seemed to fall crooked every morning, and it was part of his daily routine to adjust it. When Ghent came to his room, he was unprepared for what he was to find.
"Surprise!" There stood Elise's nephew, Henry. Henry must have been around fourteen (Ghent couldn't quite remember) and he jumped over the Legos he'd been busying himself with in order to greet the older of the two. "How goes it, cousin? Wow, look at you! All grown up and everything!"

If there was ever to be another live action Huckleberry Finn movie, Ghent was positive that Henry could have fit the role. "I saw you last year, Henry." A year hadn't changed either very much; his cousin looked just as he remembered him. Red mussed hair. Brown eyes. More freckles than he knew what to do with. Back home, they had lived only an hour apart. Now they lived half a day away. "So...how are you?"

"Oh, fine and dandy. I was just cleaning things up in here. You're not very organized, are you?" Henry clicked two Legos together, then nodded towards him. "You're drippin' water all over the carpet, cousin. You should probably change your clothes."
It was here that Ghent took notice that the spare cot had been set up, and he came to the assumption that 'cousin Henry' was here for a lengthily stay. "Yeah...right. I'll get right on that," he tried not to stare, but he was mildly alarmed. Henry was a decent kid -- he'd known him his entire life, and he was the only one who didn't believe Ghent ridiculous for his former belief in Wonderland. Despite the age gap, they'd always been fairly close, but Ghent could only take so much of his company. "Here, I got you something." The older of the two removed the comics from his jacket, and Henry lit up like a kid on Christmas morning.
"Whoa, really?! For me? Wow, thanks!" Henry admired the covers, then sat himself on the edge of his bed. Organizing the room could wait; he hadn't any comics of his own back home, and so this was quite the treat.

"Don't mention it. I'll be back later." Once he'd grabbed a t-shirt and jeans, Ghent left the room in hopes of obtaining some answers as to what was going on. After he'd changed into dry clothes, Ghent returned to the too-small kitchen. Mrs. Saxon and William had left by now, and for that he was grateful. Mrs. Preston was preparing dinner, and she smiled once more to see her son. "Were you surprised?"
Ghent rubbed the back of his neck wearily, he had planned an array of questions, but he hadn't the heart when he saw how pleased she was. Elise was very close to her sister, and she doted on her nephew. While nothing had been said to confirm it, Ghent had an inkling that Henry's family was going through a difficult time. "Yeah, I was," he cleared his throat, then used his shoulder to wipe at an eye. William was to blame for this.

"Ghent! Are you crying?" Elise was astonished; it was rare to see him cry, and the sight warmed her heart. "I know you've missed him; oh, you should have heard him talking about you! He really looks up to you -- do you think Frank will mind if you bring him to work? We're out of milk, sweetie." Though a beautiful soul, his mother had the tendency of covering several topics all at once. Understandably, it was a lot to take in.
"I'm not crying! I'm allergic to William," Ghent quickly denied such an accusation; he was so busy with coming to terms with Henry staying that he'd forgotten his former job. "No. Frank won't care." Now was not the time to break the news to her; she had enough on her mind. "Don't worry about the milk, alright? I'll run down to the gas station and pick up a gallon. The rain's stopped."

It took a while to talk Mrs. Preston into allowing him to leave, but after he promised to bring the family cellphone, Ghent left once more. The milk was only an excuse; he needed a chance to clear his head.

Miles was still outside, they exchanged 'hey's' for the second time that day, and once Ghent was out of the vicinity of cigarette smoke, he took a breath of the evening air. Even in the city, the aftermath of rain smelled good.

Life had been repetitive as of late. Aside from Henry, not much had changed, and Ghent did not believe his current circumstances would ever allow him the chance to amount to much. While the thought was somewhat depressing, he accepted it. Bettering the lives of his parents was his first priority; they had taken care of him, and he felt it his duty to return the favor.
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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There was no mistaking the moment they entered Hollow Forest. The dry, decaying bark of trees of the Twisted Forest ended in a defined line, each bent over as if frozen trying to flee what lay inches past its boarder. The trees beyond the dark line grew tall and thick, and vines wrapped over everything, threatening to strangle the vegetation. Crimson sap seeped from a few of the richly brown trunks like blood. Dense foliage a shade of green that looked impossibly deeper and more real than any reality spread above, casting the ground below in an unnerving patchwork of shadows and brilliant rays of sunlight. An unnatural silence saturated the forest, as if even the insects feared to disturb what lurked between the trunks. Dust motes glittered and floated lazily in the early afternoon light, the sight as inviting as a spider’s sweet call to a fly.
As soon as Elayra’s foot fell on the ground of Hollow Forest, a shiver ran down her spine. The cold feeling of emptiness and despair brushed lightly against her consciousness, begging for her to let it in. A gentle, phantom wind blew through the trees, caressing her and Drust in its icy arms as it passed by in sporadic spurts.
She quickened her pace, trying to keep closer to Drust. Her concentration turned from watching for any threats to keeping the emotions trapped between dirt and foliage at bay.
Though the journey into the outskirts of Hollow Forest had taken only near an hour, if that, Drust led the way at a near run for neigh six more, stopping only when Elayra forced him to take a break. Outside his irritated complaints about having to stop, Drust said little. His head twitched every few minutes, and the black lines at his eyes pulsated vulnerably with his mood and the persistence of amassed misery held captive in the forest. The further in they went, the more intoxicating the sensation of hollow desolation became.
“How much further?” Elayra asked in a quiet whisper. She winced at the sound of her voice shattering the sinister silence that clung between the trees in a dark reverence. She swallowed hard and took a couple leaping steps forward so she was only inches behind Drust. The hem of a pant leg caught and ripped on a thorny vine as it snaked its way across the ground of its own volition.
Drust stopped, and she bumped into him. He snarled and turned his head to glare down at her as she gave a mumbled apology, then looked forward again with an exceptionally violent twitch, one following the other. “We’re here,” he hissed, his voice strained.
Elayra looked up, confused, then stepped to his side. A wall of trees stood in front of them, each growing so close to the next that bark grew into one large mass. Vines lapped at the base of the trees, desperately trying in vain to climb them.
She gasped and took a slight step back as whispers tickled her ears. Mocking, pained, and desperate whispers, sickly sweet tones of a time long past all talking over each other to form a jumbled, disorientating mess of echoic voices and cackles:

“I’ll have his bones to grind my bread!”
“To die will be an awfully big adventure.”
“All the better to eat you with!”
“She shall prick her finger with a spindle, and she shall die!”
“Mirror, Mirror on the wall...”

Elayra, breathing heavily through her mouth and eyes locked on the wall of trees, lifted a hand to an ear as if it would silence the whispers.
Drust cast a sideways glance to her, his face tight and voice clipped. “You hear it.”
She swallowed, incapable of tearing her gaze from the trees that felt eerily familiar, as if they belonged in a dream of a dream. “What is that?” she breathed.
“Voices of other worlds.” Drust stepped toward the natural wall, offering no further explanation. “Ignore them. Come here.” He removed one of his gloves, revealing the stark white skin beneath, his opaque nails broken and uneven.
Elayra hesitated, glancing between him and the wall.
“I said,” Drust turned his infuriated gaze to her, the red in his eyes threatening to overpower his pupils. “Come. Here.
Not wanting to risk the Curse taking over in such an environment, Elayra scurried to the wall. The whispers grew louder, more frantic, making it impossible to tell one from the other.
“Would it kill you to say ‘please’ every once in a while?” Elayra muttered in a poor attempt at lightening the atmosphere. She hesitantly placed a palm to the trees. A tingle spread down her arm, making her hairs stand up and goosebumps form. Beneath her palm, the bark felt soft and warm. It felt alive.
Drust snorted, but otherwise ignored her. “I want you to repeat after me. Word for word. Deviate even slightly, and this place will become our tomb. Understood?” His eyes shifted toward her.
Holding her breath, she nodded.
Drust bent his head for a short moment, his eyes closed. He took a deep breath, and muttered something Elayra could not hear, making panic flood through her. But his head snapped up, stared at the wall of trees with an intensity new to her, and began to speak in a loud, clear voice. The power and strength in it reverberated through Elayra, and she felt the trees shudder. Drust paused after each line, giving her the time to repeat it before moving on:

“Wind and rain, lightning and thunder,
Hear the cries of a world asunder.
Seek we entrance to the worlds beyond
To heal the terror that has been spawned.”

As their voices faded, absorbed by the surrounding forest, a creaking moan erupted from the trees. The jumble of whispers intensified, making Elayra feel dizzy as they seemed to come from everywhere yet nowhere all at once. Laughs and sobs. Screams and groans. Words and phrases in every conceivable--and inconceivable--language.
She felt suddenly sick, and wobbled slightly on her feet. Drust’s firm hand gripped her shoulder, before the other gently wrapped her wrist and removed her palm from the tree. With one arm draped around her protectively, he guided her quickly back from the trees and their wooden groans.
Elayra took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, her jaw setting and back straightening in the effort. All the same, she was thankful for the White Knight’s presence.
The wall of trees morphed together, forming a giant wad of formless browns and greens. A final dark, screeching laugh blew by them. A laugh that sounded disturbingly familiar and threatened to bring her to her knees from a mix of fear and sheer volume. A triumphant laugh that had woven through her nightmares for as long as she could remember. The cruel laugh of the Red Queen.
The glob of color that had become of the trees melted into the earth with a bubbling squelch, then vanished in a gentle cloud of dirt. Behind where the wall had been, a zigzagging cobblestone path wove through the forest. Various types of trees, from pine to weeping willows, lined the path in multifarious shades of green that glimmered in the evening light. But the awe- and fear-inspiring beauty, and peaceful quiet that fell was not what caught Elayra’s attention.
She strode forward, trance-like. Her feet carried her slowly toward the end of the path, Drust close behind her.
Two stone pillars rose on either side of an ornate gate, flanked by two massive, plant-covered hills reaching high into the sky. An arch connected the two pillars. Embedded at the crest of the arch was a red stone in the shape of a heart, a gentle pink light pulsating at its center like the heartbeat of a man on his deathbed. Behind the gate, an inexplicable light glowed softly despite the sinking sun.
Though the stone looked weathered, and vines and moss hung from it and two heart-shaped statues flanking the path, a memory of an archway made of pristine, glittering white marble flashed through her mind.
Elayra closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to dispel the long-ago recollection. She needed her head in the present, in what was, not what once had been.
She looked up as Drust strode by her and onward to the gate. She took a deep breath, glad the whispers had at last fallen silent, and followed his lead.
The rusted gates slowly jerked open inward, their hinges squealing in protest.
Another memory flashed through her head, one of a strong, dark-haired boy beside her, her hand clutching his for dear life as they passed beneath the archway and beyond the once silvery gates. It was the hand of her best friend. A friend she lost before she could form more than snippets of foggy memories of.
Elayra growled, closed her eyes, and gripped her head with both hands, willing herself to focus on the present.
“Elayra.”
The gentleness in Drust’s tone made her eyes snap open. Not realizing she had stopped, she blinked at the cracked cobblestone of the path, then looked up to him. For a fleeting second, an opalescent shimmer glinted over his irises, and a kind understanding flashed over his features. It had been far too long since she had seen even a glimpse of that, of who he once was so long ago in a time she dared not dwell on. Alas, as quickly as it had come, it faded away, as all good things tended to do in her world.
“Get changed.” The demanding stoniness in his voice had returned.
Elayra groaned.
Drust’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “We know little of Earth. We must--”
“Try to fit in, as much as we can,” she interrupted. She ran a hand grumpily through her hair. “I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
He smirked, then turned his back and removed his own pack from his shoulders as Elayra did the same.
A few minutes later, the two continued down the path, Elayra now in a long, worn red dress adorned with a thick, brown leather corset belt, her sword, dagger, and quiver of arrows hanging from her own belt situated just beneath it. Drust sported a simple pair of knickerbockers, a vest over a white shirt, and a black hooded cape, his katana still slung over his back.
The two emerged into a large, bowl-like clearing surrounded by hills stretching to the sky. A gentle, golden-green glow radiated from an orb floating high above the center of the clearing. Massive oak trees lined the clearing in even intervals. Exposed roots at the base of each outlined a large circular hole leading into the ground. Darkness waited in the depths of each hole, save for one; a blueish-white light rose from the hole of a tree to their right.
“The... portals.” Elayra strode toward the center of the clearing, the grass beneath her feet lush and springy. The sensation of magic hung thickly in the air. Unlike what she had grown used to, here, it felt comforting, as if it was welcoming her and Drust with open arms. It seemed to speak of better times, of a period before the Era of Crimson Destruction. “Was this...” she started, but stopped herself from asking the question running through her head: was this what Wonderland had been like before the Red Sorceress? Carpeted with grass so soft you could sleep comfortably on it, and filled with an air of hope and wonder?
She snorted angrily at herself. “We’re wasting time,” she growled. She adjusted her pack and bow slung over her chest, then strode toward the open portal.
She paused in front of it, the buzzing feeling of magic intensifying. A circle with a plus sign inside it was carved into the tree trunk near her eye level, its form glowing faintly with the same light as the portal.
“Have you forgotten how to move?” Drust thumped her hard between her shoulder blades, making her turn a scowl to him. “Simply jump through.” He nodded toward the glowing root-lined hole. “Focus on whatever you can remember about Ghent. It’ll guide us, and, in theory, deposit us through the portal opening closest to him.”
“In theory?” Elayra groaned.
Drust snarled. “We haven’t tried it, have we? Now go. I’ll be right behind you.”
Elayra nodded, then looked to the hole at her feet.
This is it. She took a deep breath, bent her legs, then jumped into the glowing portal. We’re coming for you, Ghent Madrail. Wherever you are, we’re coming.
Hidden 3 yrs ago 12 mos ago Post by Polarize
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Ghent was appreciative that the neighborhood was quiet for once. The rain must have played a part in this, as most people would be inside their homes during the downpour. The silence was broken when a Black Sedan came to an abrupt stop.

"Ghent!" Mrs. Saxon rolled down the window of her vehicle, her eyelashes wet with tears. The woman's distress was clear, and she held a handkerchief close to her heart. "Have you seen William?"

Today may not have been so bad after all. Ghent shook his head, then moved himself closer to the car.
"No, I haven't. Is he missing?" A stupid question, but he wasn't sure what else to say. How was one supposed to react when their archenemy was out of the picture?

"Yes. He is." Mrs. Saxon sniffled miserably as she looked in the review mirror for the umpteenth time. "As I was getting into my car, a truck roared by. It scared him so badly that he ran off, and I have yet to find him!"

Had this been anyone else, Ghent would have helped, but he disliked the Saxon family. Mrs. Saxon's son was a loudmouth who needed to be put in his place, Mrs. Saxon never had anything nice to say, and William was William. "I wish I could help, but I really need to pick up some groceries for my mom."

When Ghent turned to leave, desperation kicked in, and Mrs. Saxon leaned out of her vehicle even further in hopes of stopping him. "Wait! I'll pay you for recovering him." This part of town was not one she wanted to wander through, not at this hour. "I will pay you $50!"

For once, Mrs. Saxon was at Ghent's mercy, but he wasn't feeling very charitable. He'd already given away his comics, after all. That had been his good deed of the day. "No offense, but I'm not traipsing through the ghetto for $50. I really have to go now."

If Mrs. Saxon leaned out of her window any further, she may have fallen onto the sidewalk. "Wait! I'll double it. $100! Please, just find him!"

Ghent didn't turn around, but he was enjoying every moment of this.

"You are a greedy, horrible young man." Mrs. Saxon would offer no more, but then she overheard a dog barking in the distance. A large one, from the sound of it.

Ghent sighed and shook his head as if the cat had died already. "Poor William." His sympathy was fake, but that was enough to up the reward.

"$200." Mrs. Saxon was envisioning a funeral for her precious furbaby, and the image alone was enough for her to cough up the extra cash.

With a light smirk, Ghent finally turned to face her. "Deal." He decided not to hold out for more; $200 could go a long way, and if Mrs. Saxon became any more worked up he feared that she may have a meltdown. "I know my way around." Ghent was confident about this, as he'd lived in the area for seven years. "If anyone can find him, I can."




Ghent knew for a fact that William had an attitude; the Persian only followed Mrs. Saxon when he wanted to, and even then she was usually lugging the cat around so he didn't have to walk. Ghent had already invested a half hour in hunting the missing animal down, and he wasn't feeling so confident anymore. The money was the motivation he needed to continue on this way.

Despite Ghent's former remark, Kingsview wasn't exactly a ghetto, though the neighborhood was sometimes described as "sketchy" by the folk living there. Ghent wasn't afraid, but he did wonder what his parents would say if they knew that he was on his own and so far from their apartment.

As he passed by a former photography studio, Ghent overheard a familiar meow. William did not sound like a cat should; his meow sounded thick and warbled. Ghent followed the sound without hesitation, and to his relief he found William sitting atop a stack of crates near a dumpster. "There you are!"

William looked right at home. Ghent had often felt that the cat was mangy in appearance, and he could have passed as a feral cat rather than a domesticated one. "Here William, come here." Ghent wasn't sure how to speak to him, but he didn't want to scare away his chance at $200. "Stay...good boy." Just a little closer.

The dumpster was overwhelmingly full, and the rain hadn't helped the smell any. Garbage bags littered the alley, and there was evidence of rats and dogs getting into the bags. Disgusted, Ghent held his breath, then used one of the crates to boost his height. As he made a grab for the animal, the crate caved in from his sudden weight. In desperation, Ghent grabbed for the nearest object to steady himself, but missed. A bag of trash broke his fall, and then William jumped down and started to trot away.

"No! Get back here!" Ghent pushed himself up, and that only encouraged William to run. The cat was faster than he looked, and he ran right across the street, Ghent close behind.

Running into the road without looking wasn't the wisest of ideas, and an oncoming driver slammed on the breaks and cursed Ghent out for being so foolhardy. "Stupid punk! What's the matter with you?!"

Ghent winced, but he made sure not to look back in fear of being identified later on. "Sorry!" After this, he didn't want to leave the apartment for a while. Being cooped up with Henry may not have been so bad after all this mess.

Right then, his cellphone started to ring, and Ghent answered it even while running. "Hello?"

"Hi, cousin! Aunt Elise wants to know when you'll be back." Henry's timing wasn't the best.

"Soon. Tell her the gas station was out of milk. I'm heading to the supermarket downtown." Ghent grimaced as he felt his sneaker stick to the pavement. He must have stepped onto a wad of gum. "It's okay, though. My friend is giving me a ride there, tell her not to worry, alright?"

"Sure thing! I'll tell her." Henry didn't suspect anything was amiss; Ghent's explanation made perfect sense to him, and he didn't believe his cousin capable of lying. "I've been thinking real deep. Wanna hear my latest theory?"

Ghent arrived at the park. William was slinking around near the playground. "This isn't a good time, Henry."

Either Henry didn't hear him, or he didn't care. "Well, I was just thinking. I think the best when I clean, it's therapeutic. I cleaned your whole room, you know." Henry started to go off topic, and Ghent found himself wondering if this was a trait in his mother's family.

"I think there's a reason Aunt Elise found you in the woods." Henry drew a breath as if he had to break some difficult news. "Have you ever considered the fact that you might've been stolen from your parents by a pack of wolves?"

Ghent would have rolled his eyes, but he wanted to keep William in his line of vision at all times. "Henry, come on!" The stress of the day was getting to him, and his cousin wasn't helping.

"It's possible!" Henry had a wild imagination, and he'd always found Ghent's story to be fascinating. For years, he'd attempted to uncover the mystery. Who were Ghent's parents and what had happened to them? Originally, Ghent had longed to uncover the truth, but he'd given up after too many failed leads. Henry hadn't, though. "At least consider it!"

Ghent wasn't sure what was more bothersome; the stitch in his side, or Henry's crazy theories. "I have to go. We'll talk later."

After he hung up, Ghent observed the playground. The playground was a large one and made almost entirely of wood. Time had warped its appearance, but that didn't seem to bother William. He was busy sharpening his claws against one of the posts, and when he took notice of Ghent, he started to climb up so that he would reach the first level.

Ghent was inwardly cursing him, but on the outside, he remained quiet and considered his options. There were two ways to reach the first level of the playground. The stairway on the back, or the slide. The slide was nearest, and so he decided to try this route first. As skillfully as he could, Ghent climbed the slide, his sneakers squeaking against the yellowed plastic. The sight was rather ridiculous, but he didn't care. As far as he knew, no one was around.

William did not move, he was busy scratching at his ear. Ghent scoffed at him. "It'll serve you right if you got fleas." The slide was still a little slick from the rain, and when Ghent extended a hand to reach the top, he slipped, fell backwards, and fell down until he met the end. With a frustrated growl, Ghent looked to the sky and slammed his fist to the pile of muddied water he'd met at the bottom. "Darn you, William!" Perhaps he should have pushed for $250 after all.
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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Elayra did her best to focus on the blurry memories that remained of Ghent Madrail. Light blue light surrounded her. A sensation between falling and floating made her stomach flip, her hair drifting lazily around her head as swirls of white spiraled about her. She reached out to touch one of the spirals, her long sleeve a shock of color in the pastel path between worlds, but it coiled away.
She gasped when whispers akin to those at the tree-wall began, and a pinprick of bright light slowly grew larger in front of her:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
“It is not the truth that matters, but victory!”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
“We are the change that we seek.”

The light burst from its small circle, and encompassed her in a blinding flash. She raised an arm to shield her eyes, only to shout as her body tumbled forward. She tried to catch herself, but she hit rough stone with a splash, her arms scraping against the concrete.
Swiftly, Elayra opened her eyes, jumped to her feet from the puddle she had landed in, and drew her sword and dagger, brandishing them in front of her as she took in her surroundings.
She stood in an alleyway, a couple of the windows on either side barred. Tall lamps evenly lining the left side illuminated the alley with an unfamiliar light and reflected off wet concrete and pockets of puddles. The fresh scent of a recent rain mingled with the foul, foreign smells of gasoline and exhaust. Seeing no immediate threats, Elayra lowered her weapons and quickly moved from where she stood, not wanting to be flattened by Drust when he came through.
She spun around to watch for her guardian, her tall boots sloshing in the puddle and the front of her dress soaked. A gentle glowing oval shimmered on the stones of a brick wall covered in graffiti.
Elayra waited. And waited.
“Come on, Drust,” Elayra breathed, watching the portal intensely. Please make it through, she added desperately, holding her breath.
Another moment passed, Elayra’s grip on her weapons tightening nervously.
The portal swirled, and, with another flash of brilliant light, Drust tumbled through. Unlike Elayra, he landed neatly on his feet and simultaneously drew his katana. His eyes frantically darted around the alleyway, even glancing toward the gray, cloudy sky.
Apparently satisfied they were safe, Drust slowly lowered his sword. His gaze fell to Elayra, and a wild grin spread over his face, the color of his eyes making the expression look sinister.
“It seems we’ve made it.” Drust placed the tip of his katana on the concrete and leaned on the white leather-wrapped hilt.
Elayra could not help but partially mimic the White Knight’s expression as their feat of world-jumping sunk in. She glanced behind him as the open portal closed into a thin, iridescent line just visible in the gloom.
Her triumphant smile faded. “We have no idea how big this place is. How are we going to find Ghent?” She looked back to Drust.
“Do you honestly think I’d drag us here without a plan?”
“But you do have a plan, then?”
“And to think I was worried you trusted me too much,” he said with a hint of sarcasm. The tip of his blade scraped unpleasantly against the concrete as he lifted it.
Elayra stumbled away and raised her saber as the tip of his katana came dangerously close to her.
“Your necklace.” He used the blade to point to the chain draped around her neck, its pendant hidden beneath her collar. “It’s more than a pointless heirloom. There is a magic even the Curse can’t impede; there’s a connection between that gem and the race that helped create it and the Seal.”
“The--”
“It’s not important right now!” Drust’s neck twitched.
Elayra glared at him, hating not knowing, but nodded.
“Think on the boy, and once we’re close, it,” he nodded jerkily toward the chain and twisted his sword in emphasis, “will let us know.”
She sheathed her weapons and pulled the pendant from beneath her shirt. She fingered the ruby-like heart-shaped stone and the bright blue rose at its center. Two metal swords crisscrossed through the heart, one with a gold blade and silver hilt, and the other its inverse. The chain connected at the pummels, one sporting a small sun and the other a crescent moon.
“Close your eyes,” Drust lowered his blade, “and focus on what you want it to do.”
Elayra glanced between him and his sword warily.
He smirked almost approvingly, then sheathed his katana with a flourish.
Satisfied she would hear in time to counter if he removed it in a lapse of reason, she took a deep breath, gripped the pendant tighter, and closed her eyes.
Ghent. I need to find Ghent Madrail. I need you to find him.
Her eyes snapped open when a gentle heat radiated from the pendant and seeped into her palm. She opened her hand, revealing the pendant. It glowed for a short moment, then the light faded, taking with it the warmth.
“We’re not close enough to him.” Drust reached up with both gloved hands and pulled the hood of his cape free from where his carefully placed pack trapped it against his back. He let it fall over his head, casting his alabaster face in shadow.
“Then what’re we waiting for?” Elayra strode toward the end of the alleyway, a hand resting on her sword’s handle.
She stood as close to one of the alley’s buildings as she could, Drust beside her. She glanced down the empty road, taking in the strange streets and sidewalks. It all looked so smooth, so even. Though in slight disrepair, compared to the crumbling structures and cracked, uneven walkways strewn through Wonderland, it was the picture of perfection.
Elayra glanced over her shoulder at Drust, then stepped out onto the sidewalk, her gaze as cautious as her movements. Not wanting to forget the placement of their way back home, she turned to get a look at the buildings around the alleyway.
A large window with books and a “Closed” sign on display took up one corner, another sign above the door reading, “Frank’s Book Barn.” On the other side of the alley, a light glowed from the storefront, a blinking purple sign telling any passerby to “Hava Java.”
Wondering what a “java” was, Elayra turned to head down the street.
A car roared by wetly. Elayra hissed, and she and Drust drew their weapons as the car passed, one of its taillights blinking a second before it recklessly turned down another street.
The two shared a glance.
Here, they would be fish on land, gasping for air and praying they could flop back into the water unscathed.
“Be prepared for anything,” Drust muttered with another exceptionally forceful spasm that made his neck crack.
“And always expect the worst,” Elayra finished for him, reluctantly sheathing her weapons.
Drust placed a hand on her shoulder, his expression steely, then took the lead down the sidewalk and into the depths of the unknown.



“This is impossible!” Elayra groaned. Defeated, hungry, and worn both mentally and physically from the trying day, she leaned one of the trees planted decoratively about the well-manicured lawn surrounding what looked like a large wooden training area. The sun had set, leaving only the electric lamps to light the world.
They had wandered aimlessly through the town for well over an hour. It was bizarre to her, seeing even just the handful of normal people out after a rain, none armed. None looking over their shoulders for fear something foul lurked nearby. Most of them had taken pause as the two passed, one man brave enough to ask if there was a convention in town.
She glanced up, hoping to at least see the familiar sight of stars, but the city lights had chased away all but the brightest and most daring.
“Doesn’t matter.” Drust’s head twitched crossly with his own fatigue and frustration.
Elayra snorted. “For all we know, he could’ve left town by now! We could be leagues away!”
Drust turned to her with a threatening glare. “It. Doesn’t. Matter.” He stepped closer to her with each word, the black lines in his eyes and on his face throbbing.
Forgetting the well-pruned tree behind her, her backpack pressed against it, making her scowl. She raised an arm across her chest to keep him at least a foot from her.
“We’ll search all night if we have to!” He pressed against her arm, his gaze boring into hers, teetering unnervingly close to a snapping point.
She snorted a laugh in disagreement. “I’d say you’re mad, but that pretty much goes without saying!” She realized her unthinking mistake the moment the baiting comment left her weary lips. Her face formed a wide-eyed expression that said, ‘Oh, crap.’ “Drust, I’m sorry! I didn’t--”
But it was too late.
The colors of the Curse consumed his pupils, and her apology cut off in a strangled choke as he gripped her throat faster than she could defend. With uncanny strength, he lifted her so her head was level with his, his fingers digging painfully into her neck.
Elayra desperately tried to inhale, one hand attempting to pry off his vice-like grip, silently rebuking herself for not holding her tongue with him in such an already distressed state.
“Disrespectful little brat, aren’t you?” Drust cocked his head, a gravely undertone in his now cruel voice.
Gritting her teeth, Elayra swiftly drew her dagger and swiped it at him, forcing him to release her and hop away. She fell to the ground, coughing and gasping for breath, but wasted no time in straightening and shedding her pack and bow with practiced speed, her stance defensive.
“We’re both tired, Drust,” she began cautiously, not daring to look from his vindictive snarl and hoping her tired body would hold up against his Curse-enforced strength. “It’s been a long day. We haven’t traveled that far that fast in, well, ever. We need to get rest. And some food.”
Drust's head twitched. “Disrespectful and demanding. Wonder what your mother would think.”
Elayra exhaled heavily, her mouth slightly agape, his comment taking its desired effect. “How dare you!” she hissed through her teeth. A burst of adrenaline running through her, she lunged for him.
He avoided her first attack, then gripped her arm firmly as she readied for a second.
She inhaled sharply through her nose as he twisted her arm, her body following the motion to keep it from snapping as he took her dagger from her.
He easily drew her back into him, tightly gripping her around the waist with one hand and draping the other across her chest so the sinuous blade of her dagger pressed between her neck and shoulder.
She held her breath, teeth clenched and gaze toward the sky as she waited to feel the familiar sting of the blade, but it didn’t come. She looked down as he dropped the dagger and instead fingered the pendant around her neck. The heart had begun to glow.
Drust hastily released her.
She spun to face him. His face was hard, but his eyes were as normal as they would get.
Movement near the structure caught both their attentions. They moved almost as one so a tree mostly hid them. Elayra leaned heavily against the trunk as they watched a dark-haired boy about her age chase a rather mangy-looking cat to the structure and try to climb the slide to get to it, his back to them.
“By the Queen!” Drust breathed, his head above hers. “He’s the spitting image of Hatter.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” she offered tonelessly, absently rubbing the sore spots on her neck.
He placed a gentle, unsure hand on her shoulder. “Elayra...”
“I know.” She glanced up to him, his expression conflicted. “Me too.” Her eyebrows rose in a mix of mockery and pity when the boy slipped and landed in a mud puddle. “You’re sure that’s Hatter’s son?”
“The evidence points to it.”
“I’ll be back, then.” With that, Elayra sprinted toward the wooden structure as the boy shouted at the cat.
Without a word, she leapt over the boy and onto the slide. Taking no time to wonder at the feel of the slide’s material, she bounded up it in a few nimble strides. Though one of her shoes slipped on the wet plastic near the top, she gripped the wooden bar suspended over it, and grabbed the hissing cat by the scruff of his neck with her free hand before he could flee. She quickly looked him over, instinctively checking for any sign it belonged to the Red Queen, but even the cats here showed no such symptoms.
“I hate cats,” she grumbled with a scowl, then carefully slid back down the slide, still standing. She jumped from the slide, avoiding the mud puddle, then offered the struggling animal to the boy.
“Is this beast yours, Ghent Madrail?” she asked, taking a chance at calling him by name.
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Polarize
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"Getting real sick of this crap, William."
Ghent was in no hurry to get up. He'd been on his feet for most of the day, and William wasn't going anywhere. The sky looked nice, at least. The view couldn't compare to the one back in the country, but it was enough to keep Ghent there for a few moments more.

Any attempt at stargazing was put on hold when a shadow of a person suddenly flew over Ghent's head. The person turned out to be a girl, and to Ghent's astonishment, she was climbing the slide with ease. "Whoa, hey!" Competition was definitely not something he'd expected at this hour. How had Mrs. Saxon spread the word of William's disappearance so quickly? Better yet, how had this girl found William here too? The odds were incredible, and as usual, not in Ghent's favor.

Now that Elayra had retrieved William, Ghent scrambled to his feet, his jeans muddied and wet. So much for $200. "Hold on! I saw him first," he started to protest, only to be silenced when William was handed over without argument.

The turn of events was enough to shut both up. Ghent looked to William, William looked to Ghent, and then both stared at Elayra in matching looks of disbelief. In this moment, they matched in expression and appearance; they were rather disheveled after the chase, and they couldn't seem to get over this girl.

"Of course he isn't mine." Finally, Ghent found his voice, and he raised an eyebrow as Elayra referred to him by name. Something about the last name felt familiar, and he couldn't help but feel uneasy. "What the heck is a Madrail?" Even though the park was lit by street lamps in certain areas, he squinted through the darkness in order to get a better view of her face. "Who are you?"

From what Ghent could tell, she was really quite beautiful. Platinum blonde hair, eyes in a color he could not then identify. . .and with a rather impressive looking scar running through the left one. The scar was so unique that Ghent nearly caught himself staring, and he was quick to advert his gaze by readjusting his hold on a squirming William. Pretty girls were always somewhat intimidating to Ghent, and he certainly wasn't the sort to pay compliments or flirt. Instead, he viewed Elayra with the utmost suspicion while taking notice of her curious looking attire. This was unusual wear; he'd only seen a few dresses similar to this, and that was when his mother had been commissioned to make costumes for a Renaissance Fair.

"Mrs. Saxon asked you to find him, didn't she?" Ghent wasn't giving Elayra a word in edgewise; he was coming to conclusions all on his own. "Tell you what. I'll split the reward with you." As he made the offer, Ghent unzipped his hoodie and worked to wrap the cat up with it. This wasn't to keep William warm, this was to keep his claws at bay. "You can have 20%."
Hidden 3 yrs ago Post by Siaya Dragalorn
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Elayra hated being in the open. Though the wooden structure provided some cover, the spacious expanse of the park around her and Ghent was unnerving. Anything could easily spot them, and she knew little of what dangers this world had to offer.
Once Ghent took the cat, Elayra stepped back a safe distance, looking him over, her head cocking slightly toward every sound.
Ghent stood a couple inches taller than her, and looked fairly well-off, if not baggily dressed. Even in the dimness of the night, his skin looked pale, the color intensified by his dark hair, and his eyes, though dulled in the darkness, still held a tint of blue. Like the others of this world, he showed no signs of being tainted by the Curse.
When he denied ownership of the creature, she gave a slight, content nod, but stopped at his question.
Her brows furrowed. “What? You... don’t know?” She eyed him closer, then glanced to the pendant still gently glowing around her neck. She cast a quick glance around, wondering if there was someone else nearby it could be trying to indicate, but the park was deserted save for the three Wonderlanders and the cat. The boy had to be Hatter’s son.
He wouldn’t know, would he? she realized with a frustrated, disheartened sigh.
“Who are you?”
She eyed him for another short moment, before instinctively answering, “I’m nobody.” She raised her chin slightly. “But if it’s a name you want, I’m Elayra.”
Before she could say more, he spoke again. She opened her mouth to ask, “Who?” but he did not leave her the time.
Elayra watched him with curiosity as he wrapped the cat up in his strange jacket, turning it into a sort of net. When he mentioned a ‘reward,’ she put two-and-two together; there must be a bounty out on the cat. The question was, why? What had the miniature beast done? It had been easy to capture, so an incompetent spy, perhaps, that had seen too much? But, more importantly, who else would be out looking for it?
Elayra raised a hand to signal him to be quiet. “Take a breath. I know nothing about neither a ‘Mrs. Saxon,’ nor a reward. I’m not here to get involved in the affairs of this world. Whatever crime that beast,” she nodded toward the jacket, “has committed, and its value to you, is yours alone.”
She glanced over Ghent’s shoulder to where Drust still waited by the tree, his arms crossed and unwavering gaze on the two teenagers. She needed to know how much, if anything, Ghent knew or remembered.
“Tell me, Ghent,” she began carefully, slowly, her attention back on the boy. “Do you know anything of a place called Wonderland?”
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Elayra. This struck a chord in Ghent's mind, and his heart sped up as he realized why. The name was familiar. Even though his memories were hopelessly fragmented, he wanted to put this name to a face from the past.
During his childhood, Ghent had insisted that there had been a girl with him, though her identity had eluded him.
Platinum hair...a doll-like face. Ghent starting to get an eerily familiar, yet haunting feeling that he knew the one standing before him. Had Elayra been around thirteen years younger, she could have been the child he remembered. To even consider the idea felt wrong, and Ghent shook his head slowly as if to push the thought away. There was no way. Was there?

There was something cryptic about Elayra. The way she spoke was perhaps the strangest thing about her. Had Ghent not been so disturbed, he may have laughed; she spoke as if she truly believed William was some sort of mythical beast.
Aside from that, Elayra's appearance was unusual, and the necklace she wore was unlike any Ghent had ever seen. While Ghent was no expert on jewelry, he was certain that pendants didn't usually glow in the dark. The glow caught William's attention, at least. The cat stopped his struggling and settled for staring at the pendant with wide, curious eyes.

Ghent was searching himself for a response when he took notice of Elayra's eyes shifting to someone else, and he followed suit. Realizing that they were not alone, Ghent frowned towards Drust, then looked to Elayra for her reaction to the stranger being there. Were these two together or were they being watched? Judging by Elayra's lack of response, Ghent concluded that she must have known the mystery man.
This didn't feel right, and Ghent didn't fancy the idea of being mugged of what little cash he possessed.
"Look, I'd stay and chat, but I have to go." Troubled, he turned to leave, but didn't get far.

“Do you know anything of a place called Wonderland?”

Ghent stopped in his tracks. He fell dangerously quiet, then turned to face her.
"Who put you up to this? Him?" Ghent was unnecessarily defensive, and he nodded towards Drust as he said so. The subject of Wonderland a touchy one; he'd faced years of ridicule and mockery from his peers.
Ghent hated the place, and he regretted how often his ridiculous imagination landed him in trouble. He was tired of theories, he was tired of trying to find the missing pieces, and he was tired of events triggering memories that he wasn't sure were real.
For reasons Ghent did not know, he'd been left in the woods, but he had learned to accept the fact. No more searching, no more Wonderland. "Joke's old, you know?"
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Elayra held her breath when her question made him stop, her gray eyes cautiously hopeful it had struck a good chord with him, that, despite the odds, he remembered. Alas, Lady Luck had yet again turned a blind eye to the Wonderlander as Ghent gave his vehement response.
She blinked at his reaction in surprise, and cast Drust another quick glance when Ghent gestured to him.
The man, his face still hidden beneath his hood, started slowly toward them, his neck giving a small twitch.
“Put me… What? No one ‘put me up to this!” She snorted, and her lips pulled down in a mix of anger and distaste at the audacity of the question.
She looked again to Drust, growing sluggishly closer, then shook her head at him in warning to stay back. Though his face may provide a better memory-jogger than her own, she had no desire to risk a confrontation involving him. Not yet, at least, with none of the boy’s trust laying with her. Her full attention returned to Ghent once the White Knight stopped, still a relatively unalarming distance away.
“If coming here was anything short of a dire need, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.” She glanced to the cat with suspicion and curiosity, wondering if it was safe to speak in its presence. The light of her pendant reflected in the cat’s eyes. “But, alas, it is, and we are.”
“Joke’s old, you know?”
Elayra’s expression hardened, and her gaze locked with his. Frustration flashed over her face.
“This is no joke, Ghent Madrail,” she began, her voice as solemn as her expression. She stepped toward him. “I don’t know what this world’s done to you. Nor do I much care. But unless you're just always this offended by conversations, clearly, you remember something of Wonderland. The question is, what do you remember?” She grasped at her own muddled memories, and everything Drust had told her about the world before the Curse. “Heart castle? Whispering Woods? Your father?”
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"I am not offended." Ghent was offended by being accused of being offended. Irony at its best. "I'm in...credulous." The books in Frank's store had been good for boosting his vocabulary, but his pronunciation of the word left something to be desired.
Ghent stayed in place when Elayra stepped forward, but he flinched back as if he expected her to pull a knife. "Whoa! Keep those hands where I can see them." Incredulous was putting it lightly; he was straight up paranoid.

"Is this a prank?" For the second time that evening, Ghent turned his head to get a quick look at Drust. As anticipated, the hooded figure was closer than before. Ghent would never admit it, but he was worried, and he wondered how quick of an escape he could make while lugging William. "My last name is Preston. I still don't know what a Madrail is -- how do you know my name, anyway?"

Unsurprisingly, Ghent remained tight lipped when Wonderland was brought into the picture, though the mention of his father startled him from his stubbornness. "Do you know him?" Elayra had hit a weak spot. If she had information regarding his family, Ghent was willing to risk the possibility that this may have been a hoax.
"If this is a joke..." Ghent didn't complete his threat, simply because he didn't have one. In the past, he would have gotten into a tussle with Mrs. Saxon's son and any others responsible, but this was a girl! He couldn't fight a girl. They were defenseless, after all. Ghent had no idea who he was dealing with.

With a shaky breath of defeat, Ghent caved. "No, I don't remember any of those places. I do remember being in the woods, and...I remember a little girl." Ghent started to open up, but he was also taking care not to let his guard down. "There was a guy was leading the way. It was dark...we were supposed to go somewhere safe." Discussing Wonderland was not something Ghent took pleasure in; he felt foolish to voice these memories out loud, but he was also hopeful that this stranger could help him recover the missing pieces.
"There was some weird sort of door. Maybe it was a portal...I don't know. It sounds stupid." Ghent watched her like a hawk for any indication that he was being lead on, and he attempted to keep an ear out for any sign that Drust was closing in on them. "I was the only one to make it. I never saw them again."
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With little distance between her and Ghent, Elayra watched him with wary eyes for any sign he would strike out. She could not help but smirk at his demand of keeping her hands in sight and the paranoia visible in his eyes.
“If I wanted to hurt you,” she crossed her arms loosely, “you’d already be dead.”
When her inquiry about his father gained her a reaction, a sense of accomplishment flashed momentarily in her eyes before she pushed it aside. She had merely gotten his attention, nothing more.
Elayra shook her head at the question about his father. “I have never met him. But I know of him.”
She gave an annoyed frown at his unfinished threat, marking the third time he questioned the situation as such.
This is no joke!” she growled. “Ask however many times you wish, but it won’t change the answer!” She exhaled through her nose. Taking in his expression and sensing a mild, indecisive hostility in it, her eyes narrowed in a warning against acting upon it. As interesting as it would have been to her to find out how well he could fight, if at all, she had another, far more important objective at the moment.
Elayra inhaled and held her breath when he finally answered her question of what he remembered. She glanced again to Drust with a spark of excitement and hope she feared to entertain for long; if he remembered being led by her guardian, perhaps the White Knight truly would be proof enough to dismantle the belief she was messing with him.
“You remember Hollow Hill,” she breathed. She looked back to him. “And us. Drust,” she nodded toward the man, who could have been little more than a statue in the lawn, “and me.” She took a deep breath, biding her time as she debated. Finally, she uncrossed her arms. “I’ve grown. My face isn’t the same as it was fourteen years ago. But he has changed little. Perhaps he will better help in jogging your memories.” She stepped slightly to the side so her companion was directly in sight.
Drust’s head turned slightly as he looked to her.
She held a hand up, indicating for him to keep his distance. She opened her mouth to address him, but he nodded--the action half nod and half twitch--and reached up to pull back his hood. He adjusted it quickly so the hilt of his katana was still easily accessible. The man’s Curse-tainted gaze shifted to the boy. Though Drust's expression retained its usual cold, hard appearance, Elayra had spent enough time with him to see the extra effort he was placing in keeping himself and the Curse under control glistening in his eyes.
With her guardian now involved, Elayra dared spare Ghent only quick glances, keeping what she deemed the lesser threat more in her peripherals. “We were the ones with you the night you remember,” she continued, not giving him the time to respond. “And that’s why I know your name. But it’s not safe to talk here, in the open. Especially with one of their,” she nodded to the cat with a glare, “kind listening in. I know it’s a lot to ask, but give us even an ounce of your trust for just tonight, and we’ll explain what we can.”
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Once again, Ghent assumed that Elayra was joking. Judging by appearance, she appeared petite and he didn't think her capable of handling herself, let alone capable of killing. "Just keep your hands where I can see them, alright? I'm serious!"
Although Elayra seemed sincere in her denial, Ghent remained skeptical. This wasn't something he could readily believe; he wasn't sure what to believe.

"This isn't a joke, huh? Prove it." Proof came sooner than intended. Ghent stared at Drust the way William stared at Elayra's pendant: he couldn't take his eyes off of him. To see a face from the past came as a shock, and he staggered back a step, only to trip over the slide. Smooth.
"I don't believe this. This is too weird." Ghent didn't bother getting back up, he held William to his chest like a stuffed animal while fearing for his own sanity. "I mean. I-it's been so long, and...you were so small...but it is you...I...I never thought..." The mess of words trailed off into nothingness, but Ghent was far from through. "Drust...you didn't age, man. They said you weren't real...Wonderland wasn't real...I got sent into detention three times because of you guys!"

While Ghent was rambling on like a lunatic, a vehicle pulled up and honked twice. The headlights were blinding, and Ghent recognized the sound of Mrs. Saxon's Sedan. "Oh, crap! Don't move, okay?! I'll be right back." Looking half crazed, Ghent got to his feet. The last thing he wanted was for Mrs. Saxon to discover them. The woman would have given Elayra and Drust the third degree; she was relentless.

Ghent dashed off, and William hissed in protest to be jostled in such a way. "Hey, uh...Mrs. Saxon?! I found him!"
The door opened so fast, Ghent was almost hit by it. Mrs. Saxon had her hair in curlers, a tell-tale sign that she'd returned home a while before this. Apparently, William wasn't worth risking a bad hair day.
"Oh, William! My baby! Come here," Mrs. Saxon thanked Ghent tearfully as she stroked William's fur, and then she put her 'child' to the passengers side. "Here." A nail polished hand passed Ghent an envelope, and he stared at it in confusion.
"Huh?" For once, money was the furthest thing from his mind; Ghent was in a daze.
"Your payment, young man." Mrs. Saxon viewed him as if he were mentally ill. "Get in the back, I will give you a ride home."
Of course William would get shotgun. "Uhh. N-no thanks, Ma'am...um...my mom is already on her way. I wouldn't want to worry her by not being here."
Mrs. Saxon didn't argue. Ghent was a mess, she didn't want him in her car.

Goodbyes were exchanged, and Ghent returned to the playground, his mind reeling. What was he supposed to do with this information? This changed everything -- he wasn't even from this world.
Face paler than it should have been, Ghent looked from Elayra to Drust. Where could he take them? Home? No. That would not do at all.
"Right...alright...I'll trust you." Elayra's former threat echoed in Ghent's mind as he looked to Drust's katana. If they'd wanted him dead, he'd be dead. If he wanted answers, he had no choice but to trust them. "I know a place where we can talk in private."
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Elayra’s brows rose as Ghent, turning into a bumbling idiot, tripped over the slide and fell. At least he missed the mud puddle this time. She glanced to Drust, questioning him with her gaze if he was sure this boy was related to Hatter, though she unfortunately knew the answer. Drust’s expression was even more unimpressed than hers.
“And I was beginning to worry you didn’t have a plan,” Drust said softly with a snort, sparing Elayra a quick look.
She shrugged, unwilling to admit that, really, she had not had one.
The two shared another look when they picked out being “sent to detention” amidst Ghent’s ramblings, the same questions passing over their faces: were they somehow better known here than the whispers Wonderland knew of the world? Could they be in more danger here than they initially feared?
“They detained you here for speaking of us?” Drust asked slowly as if addressing an ignorant child unaware of a ravenous wolf lurking behind it. “Why? To what purpose?”
Before Ghent had a chance at answering, two brilliant lights swept over the group for a second as a car neared.
With a surprised snarl as two successive honks shattered the night, Elayra nimbly leapt out of reach of the light, simultaneously drawing the saber hanging at her belt as Drust drew his own weapon. The metal of her sword glinted in the light as, realizing Ghent had not had as quick or startled of a reaction, she moved closer to him in the event he needed protecting.
Elayra looked to Ghent as he spoke, Drust lowering his weapon a few inches as the boy stood.
The two watched him hurry to the waiting car, the lights turning his form into a silhouette with a long shadow cast beside it.
Drust reluctantly returned his weapon to its sheath.
Elayra looked to him with only her eyes, her sword lowered but still in hand. “You know we’re doomed, right?”
Drust snorted. “We’ll make do,” he growled, his neck twitching. “If I recall correctly,” he turned back toward the tree where their things waited, and started toward them, “you weren’t the most skilled when I began training you.
“Because I was a toddler,” she muttered under her breath, not daring to say it so he would hear. At least they had scratched the stress of finding the Madrail boy off the list.
Only to add five more, she thought bitterly, scowling.
She glanced after Drust, hoping he would be okay and praying he would not snap again tonight. Ghent was an unknown variable, a wrench oblivious to what it could do if thrust carelessly into the unstable gears of Drust’s overloaded mental state. And since Ghent could scarcely best the slide, she was certain he would not be capable of holding his own against the White Knight even if the odds were in his favor.
She returned her attention to observing the exchange between Ghent and the woman in the car as well as she could, watching for any signs of trouble. She listened to Drust’s quiet footsteps when they approached just before Ghent turned from the car.
Drust glanced to Elayra’s necklace, its glow fainter with Ghent’s distance. “Let it know you no longer need it.”
“What?” She looked to him.
He nodded to the pendant.
“Oh.” She gripped it with her free hand, the light again intensifying as Ghent grew nearer. She tried concentrating on it without closing her eyes, not wanting to lose even temporary use of any of her senses.
The glow dimmed, then vanished altogether as Ghent rejoined them, now cat-free and the whitest envelope Elayra had ever seen in hand.
She nodded in relief when he offered them his trust. Now they just had to convince him to return with them to Wonderland without scaring him off.
Elayra took her pack and bow from Drust as he handed it to her, sheathed her sword, then put them in their proper place over chest and back.
Drust flipped her dagger in the air, caught it by the tip of the blade, and offered it to her as Ghent stated he knew a place to talk.
“Good.” She placed the dagger in its sheath near her quiver of arrows. “Lead the way, Ghent. We will follow.”
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"So...what's up with the weapons?" Ghent was already second guessing his willingness to trust them so early on. Meeting two strangers armed to the teeth was more than unnerving, especially now that he was loaded with cash.
"Are you ninjas or something?" As ridiculous as the question was, Ghent was serious. This would explain for their weaponry and the disappearing act.

The streetlights aided Ghent in leading them out of the park, though he wondered if sticking to the shadows would have been a better idea. What if the cops pulled up? Shuddering at the thought, Ghent lead them East, confident that this route was best. The rain left sizable puddles in various places, and they helped to highlight the overabundance of potholes on the street.

For the majority of the walk, Ghent stared at them shamelessly, silently marveling over the fact that they were real. Having only been three at the time, Ghent's memories of Drust were vague at best, but his face had brought a jolt of familiarity to him. Understandably, Elayra had changed the most, but her hair remained the same color, and her hair was something Ghent had never forgotten.
"You guys are really paranoid, aren't you?" If that wasn't the pot calling the kettle black. "Look around, not a soul in sight. We can talk on the way, if you want."

Ghent hadn't said so out loud, but he was leading them to his former place of employment. The bookstore had been closed for a few hours, and Ghent still had the spare key in the pocket of his jeans.
"I can't get over this." Ghent rubbed the back of his neck, then looked at Elayra to observe her for the hundredth time. "I mean. I used to dream of you," he felt himself die a little at his own awkwardness. "N-not of you -- just -- you were in my dreams, and I could never decide if you two were real or not. My parents took me to a shrink." Ghent glanced to Drust, as he was addressing his former question. "That's why I got sent to detention. Kids at school found out, we fought, and I got punished."
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Elayra trailed just beside and slightly behind Ghent as they headed toward the well-lit sidewalk, Drust just behind her towering over the teenagers. She glanced to the shadows cowering behind the streetlights, questioning Ghent’s choice of traveling in plain sight, but the boy knew this world far better than her; if he thought it best to travel beneath the light, then it was potentially wiser to trust his instincts on the matter. After all, even the lighting here was of a foreign creation.
When they reached the pools of artificial light, Drust pulled the hood back over his head as Ghent inquired about their weapons.
“Ninjas?” Elayra asked, unfamiliar with the term. She shook her head, and instead answered his first question, a hand resting on the hilt of her saber. “Have you a better way of hunting or defending yourself, if not with weapons?”
Though ever conscious of Ghent’s gaze on her and Drust, Elayra constantly scanned their surroundings. Her grip on the sword hilt tightened with every unusual sound, Drust flinching and twitching behind her as he, too, watched for trouble lurking in the darkness beyond the streetlights.
She snorted when Ghent pointed out their paranoia. “I’d call it more a method to survival.”
“Look around, not a soul in sight. We can talk on the way, if you want.”
“The things you see and the things that are, are not always one in the same,” Drust offered stiffly. “We can talk. But about what should be limited in the open. She would have had plenty of time to send any number of scouts here by now,” he finished, his tone dangerously dark.
Elayra quickly turned to look at him better, trying to see his eyes beneath his hood. “That’s not your fault, Drust. And even if she has sent any,” she followed Drust’s lead of not saying the Sorceress’ title. A malicious smile perked up a corner of the girl’s lips and glittered in her gray eyes as she continued, “they’ll be nothing but stains on the ground by the time we’re done with them.”
“And to think, I was worried you lacked confidence in your abilities.” Drust gave an exasperated sigh. “Don’t get cocky.”
Fairly confident Drust was okay for the time being, Elayra looked to Ghent when he spoke again.
“I mean. I used to dream of you.”
Elayra’s brows rose in mild amusement, the expression intensifying as he stuttered to explain himself.
“What’s a shrink?” she asked as Ghent glanced to Drust.
“You were detained for fighting, then,” Drust said, a mix of relief and disapproval in his voice. “Interesting. Were you proven the better combatant?”
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"Never mind." Ghent was starting to realize how different their lives were. What kind of world didn't have ninjas?
"First of all, I don't hunt. Second...weapons are usually against the law. If I needed to defend myself, I'd use my fists." Now that he'd gotten a look at Elayra's weaponry, Ghent couldn't help but wonder if her scar had come from a fight rather than an accident. Their Wonderland must have been very different from the film.

“The things you see and the things that are, are not always one in the same."
"Um. Okay." Ghent raised an eyebrow, but he didn't make a sarcastic reply as he may have normally. Did they come from Wonderland or a spaceship? Their conversation was undeniably strange, and he felt out of the loop. Nothing was making sense.
"She?" Ghent wasn't on the same page, he wasn't even in the same book. Their cryptic discussion and talk of stains on the ground was downright disturbing. Elayra was starting to sound less like a ninja and more like an assassin.

"Uh, yes. For fighting." Ghent didn't bother looking to Drust; the hood hid his features. Even without it, Ghent doubted he could have read him. "Well, I did win." There was a hint of pride in his response as he cut through the alley near the photography studio. "Fighting isn't allowed, though."

After the maze of alleyways had been conquered, Ghent stopped at a blue door covered with graffiti.
Aside from the moon, the alley had been denied of any light. This had often proved a nuisance when locking up after hours. "A shrink is a person your parents take you to if they think you're crazy." Ghent was halfway joking, but he felt the description to be an accurate one. "You lie in a chair and they ask you a lot of questions. After that, they decide what's wrong with you." Once the key granted them access, Ghent moved his hand along the inner wall until he hit the light switch.

The storage room was sizable, albeit untidy. Shelving units lined the walls, and on the opposite side there were cardboard boxes full of product yet to be sold. Thanks to the lack of windows, Ghent believed this the perfect place to have their meeting. Should someone pass the shop, they would have never known of the trio concealed behind the walls.
"Make yourselves at home." Ghent invited them inside, though he left the door unlocked. If things started to go south, he wanted a chance to escape.
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She is a topic to be discussed in detail within closed walls,” Drust answered unhelpfully, the malice in his voice making Elayra look to him uneasily. He gave a content nod at Ghent winning the fight. “Good… Fighting, not allowed?” he scoffed. “Have they no classes in the schools here to teach such subjects?”
The two seemed to tense further as they entered the alleyways, most sporting lights and others bathed in the night. Elayra found herself inching a bit closer to Drust when the darkness surrounded them. The dark was one of the few things she hated more than cats.
When they stopped at a door, its color just discernible in the shadows, the two Wonderlanders scanned the alleyway as Ghent brandished a key and explained what a shrink was. Drust reached up and gripped the hilt of his Katana, his gaze diligently scanning the alleyway.
Elayra and Drust waited a moment before light pooled through the open door into the alleyway.
Elayra sighed heavily, glad to have more light. The two turned and followed Ghent inside. They looked around at the shelves and boxes, ever cautious, but noticed nothing exceptionally odd or out of place as Ghent closed the door behind him.
“This will do.” Drust nodded, then removed his hood.
Glad for the chance to rest, Elayra went to the back wall, placed her pack and bow on the floor, then sunk beside her possessions, her sword and quiver clicking against the flooring as she adjusted them. Settled, she leaned her back against the boxes, her well-worn and dusty boots sticking out of the bottom of her dress.
Drust remained by the door, leaning against the wall beside it. Finally in good lighting, he looked Ghent over.
“I shall start at the beginning,” he began, his hard gaze still on Ghent. Should the boy speak, Drust would raise a hand to silence him. “I’m sure you have many questions. But it’s in your best interest to not interrupt.”
“Trust him on that one.” Elayra watched her guardian carefully, debating on if she should get up so there was less space she would have to cross if the Curse flared up.
What did I just say?” Drust hissed, glaring threateningly at her interruption, the black, webbed lines near his eyes pulsing slightly.
She raised her hands beside her in a mix of an apology and surrender.
With no little effort, he snorted, took a breath, then looked back to Ghent. “A little over fourteen years ago, Wonderland lived in a time of peace and prosperity. The White Queen ruled over most of the land, with your father, Hatter Madrail, at her side. But there was an evil not even the Oracles foresaw.” His voice and face darkened.
Elayra pulled her feet toward her, prepared to intercede, though her tired body begged her to stay where she was. But her precautions yet proved unnecessary.
Drust leaned against the wall and crossed his arms tightly over his chest, disgust and hatred in his voice as he continued. “A power known as the Red Sorceress rose from nowhere. How she escaped her prison remains a mystery, but escape she did. Her attack on Wonderland came swiftly. The White Queen and Madrail knew it was only a matter of time before she and her followers would come for the heart of Wonderland: the Queen and Heart Castle.
“They immediately began to make preparations to fend her off and secure Wonderland’s future. But she attacked before they were completed. Even with the White Queen, Madrail, and the Tweedles on our side, the Sorceress infiltrated the castle. Fearing they couldn’t defeat her, they tasked me with getting two young residents of the castle to safety: Elayra, and you.”
Drust looked to the corner of the room, and took another deep breath, his neck twitching. “I was to bring you both to Earth, to teach and train you until you were ready to return to Wonderland and reclaim it from the Sorceress. We made it to Harrow Hollow Hill, but as soon as you had jumped into the portal, we were ambushed.” His head twitched again, and Elayra got to her feet.
Drust spared her only a quick glance. “Some of the Sorceress’ higher-ranked scouts had managed to follow us,” he continued bitterly, his eyes narrowing a fraction and hands clenching. “They cut us off from the portal. There were too many of them, and I couldn’t risk them getting Elayra. At that time, the portals were strong enough to prevent the likes of them from entering, so with you presumably safe, we fled. I had planned on returning once the scouts were gone, but the Sorceress enacted the Curse before we could.” An angered snarl pulled at Drust’s nose and mouth, his head twitching yet again.
“The Curse turned Wonderland into a wasteland,” Elayra picked up the story, her voice slow and cautious, her eyes locking with Drust’s.
He looked ready to snap at her, but apparently thought better of it. He pushed forcefully from the wall, making Elayra reach for her sword, but he strode to the opposite side of the storeroom with heavy steps.
Glad her guardian had had sense enough to distance himself, she angled her body so both he and Ghent were in her sight.
“Among other things, it closed off the portals, and turned even docile creatures into bloodthirsty monsters. There was no way we could get to you. But at least we’re all alive,” she directed the last more toward Drust than Ghent. “So, that’s pretty much it,” she finished with a shrug, as if they had simply told him a bedtime story, not a vital snippet of the past. “Jumping to this morning, Drust found out the portal to Earth’s opened for a time, we came to find you, and now here we are.”
She looked fully to Ghent, watching and waiting for his reaction to it all.
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"My father's name is Hatter?" Ghent snorted lightly as if Drust had shared this information for the sole sake of earning a laugh. Riling the katana-wielding man probably wasn't the best idea, however, and so Ghent mumbled a hasty apology and shut himself up.
Throughout the rest of the story, Ghent stayed perfectly quiet, all while wondering if this man was ill. Drust was astonishingly pale, and the random twitching and markings near his eyes were very visible underneath the light. Was Drust mentally unhinged or sick? Maybe both. Silently, Ghent looked to Elayra, but she didn't seem phased by Drust's condition.

The Red Sorceress, the Curse...their escape. Slowly but surely, the puzzle was coming together.
Ghent stared at the floor and considered all that had been said. One might have thought him in a state of shock, but he merely trying to come to terms with the truth of his past. The fact that his mother had not been mentioned did not go unnoticed by him, and Ghent wondered why his father hadn't been the one to come. Did he not survive the attacks? Who were these two?

Having an evil sorceress wasn't bad enough: Elayra had to add bloodthirsty monsters to the list. Ghent was liking the sound of Wonderland less and less. At this point, being stolen by wolves sounded good.
"Wow. Okay...let me make sure I have this straight." How Elayra could be so blase was beyond Ghent; she seemed so calm and collected.
"Wonderland was attacked by a witch, I was dumped off here, but you and Blondie were trapped." So far, so good. Ghent believed himself on the same page now.
"You're...witch hunters or assassins...and you came here because you need my help." At times, Ghent felt his very existence to be a burden. Being needed should have been an honor, but he found it disconcerting. Wonderland's fate was up to two teenagers and a man with a illness undetermined.
"What is it that you need from me?" Ghent was almost afraid to ask; he could handle himself alright, but he had a feeling this version of Wonderland required a little more than fists and street smarts.
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