Lily was curious about MDP’s mention of Nykannis, and the bad experience that Ronin had having met the mad scientist. Something bugged her about it, until she remembered.
”But weren’t those cyborg girls that suddenly appeared and helped us at Bolorton Nykannis’ friends?” She pointed to Penmtius-04.
”She can’t be a bad person if she wants to help! At least, not like what you think, Ronin. It might have been a misunderstanding.”
The moment Connie opened the entrance to her Interdimensional Home, everyone in the meeting walked inside. However, Lily turned upon seeing Justine return.
”So how did it go? Where’s Alex?” She asked, and Justine responded by shrugging her shoulders with lifted arms and a shaking head.
”Alex wanted to stay and chat with the merchant. She’s harmless."
As she passed by, she nudged Lily’s shoulder, but she stayed still.
”What are you waiting for, Lily? The meeting’s going to continue."
Lily bit her lip, and noticed as Sonia had teleported back in; she followed the others at a brisk pace through the portal.
”B-But…Alex…” She looked on into the distance, slightly extending her hand forward, before she retreated. It was embarrassing, but she had become dependent on her reliable and cool boyfriend always being there with her. It had become second nature for her to turn and laugh whenever she felt happy, or hold his hand whenever she felt nervous or anxious without even thinking. She truly loved him in those silly ways.
But now it was Justine who took her hand.
”It’s fine, you two lovebirds can be separated for a minute," she said in an exasperated tone.
”Besides, maybe he wants to be alone right now…" She added with an understanding smile. Lily blinked back, looking confused.
”Uhh…Well, if you’re sure, Justy. If it’s just for a moment…”
She stopped resisting, and let Justine drag her through the portal to Connie’s place.
It’s not like anything bad will happen the moment we’re separated, right?
While Lily remembered having seen the apartment before during the Christmas Party, her eyes widened upon seeing all the cute plushies that filled the floors and walls of Connie’s magical apartment, having forgotten how many there were. It was like a girl’s dream come true. But then, Lily gasped as portals with hands appeared, and grabbed the plushies rapidly, until they ended up in one mountain of stuffed toys, with Mariette poking out the top of it. Lily squeed at the sight, and hugged the person next to her.
”Ahh, it’s so cute! Alex, I want plushies too-!" She realized too late that it was not Alex, but Pentius-04 that she was hugging. She giggled awkwardly, and let go.
”Oh, whoops! It’s just, I thought Alex was there…"
She turned red in the face, and instead turned to Connie, who offered catering for the meeting.
”I-If it's not too much trouble, maybe some pepperoni pizza? A-And some popcorn, hamburgers, and kebab, and ice cream, maybe some soft drinks. But only if you can!"
From out of nowhere, Lily’s desired edibles appeared in her hands, causing her to gasp in surprise.
”Thank you, Connie!" She spoke in the midst of biting on a burger.
“I would like some beer,” Nefer asked with a cheeky smile, and sat with a crossed leg on the nearest sofa as a glass appeared on her hand, with Akhenaten sitting next to her with such force that it nearly caused the other sitters to launch into the ceiling.
Satisfied with the food she received, Lily settled in and listened as Penny disclosed valuable information. When Penny looked into her eyes, Lily noticed that her phone activated, and gasped upon looking at the document that she received on it.
Her finger shook as she used it to scroll through the contents. She didn’t understand most of the technical details behind the information, but she stopped when she got to the personnel files.
Various names and titles were presented, alongside profile pictures:
Name: Marquis Harry Lagomar.
Title: Minister of External Affairs.
Code Name: March Hare.
Name: Doctor Mathias Hatwington.
Title: Minister of Research and Development.
Code Name: Mad Hatter.
Name: Viscountess Absolem Blue
Title: Minister of Mysteries
Code Name: Caterpillar
Name: Countess Gilda Lionheart
Title: Minister of Defence
Code Name: Gryphon
Name: Duchess Jam Tomorrow
Title: Minister of Internal Affairs
Code Name: White Queen
And finally, Lily’s eyes happened upon the root of the evil looming over them:
Name: Iracebeth of Crims.
Title: Most High, Mighty and Illustrious; Red Queen of Justice; Knightess of the Most Noble Order of the Heart; Knightess of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Storyslayer; Member of the Order of Accomplishment; Knightess Grand Circle of the Royal Wonderlandian Order upon whom had been conferred the Royal Wonderlandian Chain; Grand Mistress and Knightess Grand Circle of the Most Excellent Order of Wonderland; Honourable Head of Council; Lady High Admiral of the Wonderland Navy; Admiral of the Royal Fleet; Field Marshal in the Royal Army; Marshal of the Royal Air Force; Defender of the Faith-Freed; Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of Alice Seekers; Goddess Ever-Queen of Wonderland.
Code Name: Queen of Hearts.
Lily’s eyes began spinning upon reading the full title of the Queen. How could one be so pompous and full of themselves? It even made Justine look humble, and SHE was a big braggart back in the day. Lily continued listening as Mariette and the others proposed a pre-emptive strike against Wonderland in the form of sabotaging their Conjuration Eggs, and she raised a hand in agreement.
”Hear, hear! We’ve gone on journeys to other worlds before, we can do it again!”
Lily continued eating silently as Nykannis made an appearance again: this time she seemed more abrasive than before. Did something happen, Lily wondered. Nonetheless, she was happy to hear that the mad scientist was willing to help with the Penrose protection plan, though she did wonder what her unnamed price was. Well, she figured that since MDP trusts her, she should too.
She giggled when Ronin called her a tsundere, and pat Ronin’s head.
”You need to be patient with tsunderes, you know. They need to accept their feelings before they open up and accept friendship. But don’t you worry, Kannis! I’ll wait for you as long as it takes for us to be friends.” She said to Pentius-04, knowing that she will receive the message.
Justine was the next one to speak.
”Anyway, I’m also voting for a direct assault: it beats waiting around and hoping for the best. But do we have a way to protect ourselves from the mind-bending effects of Wonderland that Mariette mentioned?" She asked while sitting on a bookshelf away from the crowded floor of the apartment. She looked at the eyepatched girl covered in plushies with concern.
”Even if it’s slow-acting, there is a risk we may succumb to the Queen’s influence if we linger too long in that plane. I have experience in mind-controlling magic, so I could develop preventative measures, but that would take time. Also, if there’s multiple supposed locations for the eggs, should we try to split up for each location?"
“It’s got some nice range, so you wouldn’t have to be that close to use it,” the street vendor answered Alex. “It refills batteries it charges, and itself takes in sunlight to charge itself. It’s better than mundane-made external batteries, I assure you.”
Once the two of them were alone, she looked around nervously, and then took a step closer to Alex, before she whispered in her ear: “Is it really you, Alex?” She asked, and then managed a nervous smile. “It’s me, Brittany. Sorry for the disguise. Ever since a couple days ago, I’ve had this feeling like I’m being watched. Now, when you’re in this business long enough, you develop a nose for danger. So, I’ve taken to selling my wares in disguise.”
As Alex listened, he watched as snowflakes kept floating down from the sky. Some were quite pretty, and some were less so. But there was one snowflake which seemed odd, and it floated down from…Was it behind Brittany’s basket? And it looked odd for a snowflake…
“Uhh, Alex?” Brittany called out to Alex.
“You’re still going to buy the Lightning Stone, right? Or would you like something else? I got other stones too.” She reached her hand into the basket, and as it swung, another snowflake dropped. Now Alex saw that it didn’t come from behind the basket, but underneath it. As he watched the snowflake drop, he saw that there were legs and arms attached to it…
Brittany let out a pained voice just as she lit a match, and Alex’ eyes jumped up to see one of the snowflakes on her neck, stinging her with what looked like a tiny syringe. Now Alex realized what was so strange about the snowflakes: they were actually very tiny people wearing snowflake costumes!
However, that revelation came too late, as Alex now felt a sting in his own neck too: one of the tiny snowflake people had got to him too. Alex felt his whole body turn heavier as exhaustion suddenly overtook him: his mind felt like it was stuffed full of cotton, and his eyelids weighed like lead. Just as Brittany had fallen down, so did Alex, both of them lying face to face on the cold, snowy ground of the park.
Brittany only managed a faint smile as she held onto the match for as long as she could, before it fell out of her fingers, extinguishing itself in the snow. As she did, Alex’ eyes finally closed, and he fell into a deep sleep.
Alex didn’t know how much time had passed or where he ended up once he woke up.
However, what he did know was the feeling of lethargy, a side-effect of the sedative.
He saw that he was in a prison cell in what looked like a dungeon, gray rectangular stones making up the construction of his surroundings. There was a barred window: looking out from it, Alex saw that he was in a different world. It was daytime in a fairytale-like world of wonder, with a smiling sun, and singing clouds and trees, and merry people down below, dancing and singing as they went on with their lives. It was quite a contrast to the gloomy prison he was currently in. Based on his location, he seemed to be somewhere high like in a tower, or something similar.
The moment Alex attempted to use magic, he noticed something glowing near his hands, and looked down to see manacles made of white stone, with blue runic engravings running around them. They prevented him from transforming, or from using his magic.
“Alex? Are you there?” He heard Brittany’s voice from the prison cell right next to his, and saw her hand wave out past the bars: she also had the magic-nullifying manacle on her wrist.
“Looks like we got ourselves in quite a pickle, huh?” She attempted to joke, but in truth she was shivering from fear.
“Just my luck, huh…”
She then blinked.
“I hear footsteps…Someone’s coming here.”
Warren saw how Al gave her a toothy smile in response to both her enthusiasm and Chloe’s agreement to onboard the agent.
“That’s the kind of go-getter attitude we love to see. I can see a bright future for you two here, mark my words.” He threw a smartphone to Warren.
“Burner phone for calls: get in touch if you need help. But it’s enchanted to combust if compromised, so keep that in mind.”
Afterwards, Al was less happy as Chloe gave out a report on the conditions her proposed deal would have. Al occasionally grunted as he listened and typed out something on an old-fashioned typewriter, printing the words to a golden paper. He grimaced when Chloe showed the final conditions laid by Penny. “Of course she would ask that…”
As Al wrote, he shook his head at Chloe’s suggestion.
“Would make a selling headliner, but that ain’t the scoop, kid. You see, the little birds have told me that one of Wonderland’s officers disappeared on the day they muscled in on the farmers outside Penrose. Then came some rumors from Sanctuary, and that’s when the full picture formed: it turned out that Penny was at the scene, and carpet-rolled her. Probably squeezed her of all the talk she’s worth before sending her to sleep with the fishes.”
Finally, he stopped writing, and looked at the contract.
“I can make this work. Truth be told, the deal went better than I expected. We got to pick the location, after all, and I bought some land to set up a new entertainment center. Real nice, with all that gacha nonsense the kids are crazy about these days. All it takes for those dopes is some pretty faces, and they’ll sink coins like nothing. Plus, with that shipment having gotten out as scheduled...We could go with a live streaming idol unit too…push merch… ” He mumbled as he nodded to himself.
“Well done, Chloe.” Al added a signature to the paper before the typewriter shot it out, and floated down to Chloe’s hand.
“This is now ready. Once you get that signed, there’s a glass of brandy waiting for you,” he added with a chuckle.