Chapter 3: Return Of The Savior
September 7th, 1875
Whitechapel, London's East End, England
It was horrible and disgusting and somehow breathtaking up here.
Alice leaned on the railing of the rickety wooden bridge that stretched between the rooftops, staring out at the silhouetted maze of buildings and clouds that made up the London skyline. Laundry lines hung like lazy spider webs between windows, and gaping chimneys spewed thick black smoke into the air. You could taste the smog up here, flavoring every breath with a unique bitter tang. It wormed into your clothes too, and clung to your skin, leaving a film of grease and stink that never quite seemed to come off. It was enough to make even the most dedicated proponent of the Industrial Revolution long for the days before coal and steam.
And yet, it was impossible to deny that the various fumes really did bring out the colors in the late-afternoon sky. Radiant reds, blazing oranges, vivid greens. . . . Progress not only brought jobs and goods to London, it also produced some delightful sunsets. About the only beautiful thing you can find in this ugly city, Alice thought, drumming her fingers against the rotting timber. Her gaze shifted left, to where Nurse Witless was tossing some moldy old breadcrumbs to her pigeons. And speaking of ugly things. . . .
She couldn't say why she'd followed the old bint up here. Maybe it had been the impossible-to-squash hope that Witless might let slip, deliberately or accidentally, whose burrow her beloved toy rabbit was currently hiding in. Maybe it had been her need to be around someone whom she knew was real, as opposed to the legions of Jabberwock-headed men with groping hands and fiery eyes who'd stalked her steps on the streets. Maybe it was simply because she hadn't really felt like going to the chemist to fetch pills that barely did a lick of good. Whatever the reason, it was now lost, crushed under the heavy weight of frustration. Why did Witless constantly string her on like this – promising her information and then never delivering? Was it seriously just to bilk her out of a couple more pounds than the regular fee she paid for Witless to never tell another soul about her "confession" at the asylum (and why oh why hadn't her younger self learned to keep quiet earlier)? Or did the former nurse have a deeper, more sinister purpose in mind?
No, this is Witless, Alice reminded herself, straightening up and completing the few steps to Witless's roof. She can't plan for anything beyond procuring her next bottle of Blue Ruin. If she has a sinister purpose, it's a surprise even to her. She frowned at the old woman's hunched back. On the other hand, I wouldn't put it past her to mean me ill. She was released from her position about the same time I was released from my cell. I wonder. . . . "Nurse Witless, do you mean to harm me?" she asked, folding her arms. "To send me back to the asylum?" Blunt, yes, but she knew Witless wouldn't take offense. In fact, with any luck, the witch would be equally blunt and honest right back. Alice wasn't sure yet what she'd do if the answer was indeed yes, but she knew one thing for certain: she was not going back to Rutledge – and certainly not to give this wretched crone back a job she hadn't done particularly well in the first place. The awful thought Victor could probably pay her enough to leave me alone forever slipped into Alice's brain, and was immediately evicted. Victor got into enough trouble on his own in this horrible city. She wasn't inviting more onto his head. Witless was her problem to solve, and hers alone.
"I won't say no," Witless replied vaguely, scattering the last of her crumbs. The pigeons darted around her, snatching up as many as they could stuff into their gullets and bullying each other for more. Thieves and opportunists – no wonder Witless liked them. "I've a thirst you could photograph."
Alice was about to come back with, "Then why don't you bother someone with a camera for your pay?" – when out of nowhere the back of Witless's dress bulged, two curious lumps pushing at the ratty fabric. "Need a drink," the former nurse went on, but her voice was strange and distorted now, getting more masculine and terribly familiar with every growled word. . .Alice drew back in horror as the lumps tore through the old woman's shawl, revealing a pair of tiny dragon-like wings as her skin darkened to a sickly green. . . "More than my whistle needs wetting!"
And then she turned, but she wasn't Witless anymore. Instead, Alice found herself staring at the jaws that bite and the claws that catch and the eyes of flame, blazing with a hatred hotter and stronger than the furnace that had powered him the last time they had met. No, she thought in terror as the Jabberwock roared and advanced upon her. No, please, not again, not again. . . .
As she backed away, holding up her hands in useless defense, a flash of blue light caught her eye. She looked down at the aged and pitted concrete to find herself surrounded by a web of cracks, spreading with every step she took and emitting an eerie azure glow. She had exactly three seconds to wonder what fresh hell this was. Then, with a mighty crash, the roof gave way, and she was careening down into blackness, into unconsciousness. . .
"Go – to Wonderland!"
. . .into a hole of muted rainbow fog.
She tumbled head over heels for a moment, trying to get her bearings, before managing to straighten herself out. Chairs, clocks, cogs, cards, and other fiddly bits of household civilization floated past her as she fell, suspended in midair as if on invisible strings. Alice almost grinned when she saw them – well, that at least was a good sign. The last time she'd fallen down the rabbit hole, the tunnel had been distressingly empty – her first clue something was wrong with her beloved mental world. This crowd of random objects was much more like it. She reached out her hand as she passed a bulging shelf, wondering if she could snag a book from the sky like the empty jar of marmalade she'd snatched on her very first trip –
But then both books and colors faded away, replaced by a tunnel of rusted and corroded pipes, studded here and there with hideous white doll faces. Alice repressed a shudder as they stared at her with eyeless malice, remembering chill slippery fingers shredding her cheeks and digging into her brain. All right, perhaps things weren't as settled as she'd hoped. But what were these horrid things doing on her fall to Wonderland? She wasn't about to find herself plunging straight into a river of sludge, welcomed to death by Rabbit's headless corpse, was she?
Fortunately, that did not seem to be the case. A circle of blue sky opened up beneath her instead, signaling the end of her journey. Good – I won't be sad to leave this diseased, corrupted hole behind, she thought, giving the faces a quick glare. To nonsense and wonder we go –
Then the memory of how she'd greeted the realm the last time returned to her, making her wince. Oh no – I am not making my grand entrance by falling on my arse in a plot of mushrooms again! If we're going to do this, we're going to do it properly! Flipping herself over so that she was falling feet-first – landing on your bum was embarrassing, but there was no sense in giving yourself a broken neck either – she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing all her thoughts on how she should look upon her arrival.
A little ball of heat formed in the center of her guts, warming her body like a miniature star. Seconds later, it went supernova, throwing her head back and sending a shockwave through the sky. A brilliant corona of white light engulfed her, and then –
Her mussed and ragged hair grew long and silky.
Her sun-starved skin took on a healthy pink glow.
Her thin black shoes lengthened into a pair of tall sturdy boots.
Her bare neck was encircled by a silver chain bearing the mark of the omega.
And her dingy black-and-white dress shredded itself and fluttered away into nothingness, replaced by a vivid blue gown and a pure white apron splattered here and there with fresh, sticky red. Alice smiled as she spread her arms and steadied herself, drifting down to the earth below. Beware, all those who would threaten my mind.
Wonderland's savior has returned.
The Vale of Tears
And here I thought no trip to Wonderland could be stranger than the last.
Alice hiccuped as she shrank again, passing through the tiny gap in the domino-and-dice arch into what appeared to be a cave formed from the discarded shell of some monstrous snail. Purple crayon scribbled on the far wall caught her eye, alerting her to the presence of a miniature crystal house hidden behind a nearby rock. Aha – I'll get that in a moment, she thought, popping back to full size and brushing a few strands of hair from her face. I need some time to collect my wits – whatever I have of them, anyway.
It was funny – she'd thought she'd seen all Wonderland had to offer in terms of bafflement the last time she'd come, when she'd been thrown into a war for her sanity without even so much as a proper hello. But this particular jaunt into the inner workings of her mind was already full of mysteries even more peculiar. Hidden paths and pictorial guides that only appeared when she was the size of a mouse were just the least significant of the lot. The most significant was summed up by one simple question, one she'd asked herself often during her travels so far: Why am I here in the first place?
Granted, she'd be the first to admit her hallucinations had been more troublesome than ever during the past fortnight. Fleeing from Jabberwock-faced men in the street, avoiding the temptation to follow the White Rabbit as he darted around corners, having to be saved from her own Phantasmagorical wardrobe by Victor – oh yes, it had been quite the struggle to remain in the real world over the last two weeks. But given the way her subconscious always reacted when Bumby told her to visit Wonderland in trance, she hadn't expected it to call her back on its own. All the monsters and demons and black baby-dolled gunk had seemed to indicate quite clearly that the land didn't want her anymore – that it was doing just fine without her mucking about in it, thank you very much. Being abruptly yanked down into the Vale of Tears in the middle of a visit with Witless was the height of surprise.
Even stranger – there didn't seem to be anything that needed doing. The Vale of Tears had changed dramatically since the last time she'd seen it, yes, but strictly for the better. Gone were endless fog and dead brown earth, thorn-throwing Roses and vicious Army Ants. This Vale had gorgeous green grass right out of a storybook, and blue skies bursting with puffy white clouds. Moss-covered statues of herself sprang from shallow clear pools, weeping rivers of saltwater which flowed over the edges of the floating islands in sparkling waterfalls. Towering trees shaded her head with multicolored leaves, oversized dominoes and marbles entangled in their roots. The flowers, rather than trying to attack her, lit up like friendly lamps as she approached. Angry Ants, snapping Snarks, and buzzing Ladybugs had been traded for gentle cow-headed birds (Mock Sparrows, Alice had decided with a giggle), googly-eyed snails of every size imaginable – from slimy creepers barely bigger than her hand to lumbering behemoths with trees growing on their backs – and those adorable little "nutterflies" she'd seen in her session. There was even a lake of bright purple Drink Me potion hidden in a forested glade, a bath in which had ensured she'd never have to risk breaking every bone in her body looking up a recipe in the Skool library again. Everywhere you looked, there was something new and beautiful to admire. It was if Wonderland had suddenly decided to revert to the simple, joyful place she'd dreamed up the afternoon of her seventh birthday. Not that she minded. It was nice to have a chance to just explore again, without worrying if something was about to leap out and tear her to bits.
Still, even with everything so wonderful and calm, Alice wasn't about to let her guard down. The Cheshire Cat had greeted her with a warning when she'd first dropped from the sky, after all. It was his usual cryptic nonsense about "a new law" reigning and "very rough justice all around," to be sure, but she'd taken the words to heart nonetheless. For all the irritation the Cat caused her, he'd rarely steered her wrong. And she was too cynical now, too hurt, to accept this veneer of happiness at face value. It was quite possible she simply hadn't stumbled upon where the evil lurked yet. She shivered as she thought of what else she'd seen under hypnosis besides nutterflies and nature. Was that river of black sludge waiting for her deeper in the Vale's peaks and valleys? Would she have to fight some monstrous doll later in her journeys? She hoped not, but hope hadn't served her as well as a good sturdy weapon in the past. Besides, she thought as she headed for the rock where she'd seen the drawing, there has to be a reason why someone's scattered my memories all over the landscape.
Yet another mystery, though a relatively benign one (for now, anyway). She'd run across the first of them mere moments after Cheshire had vanished – a tiny crystal replica of her old house, floating idly on the slope by the river of tears. She'd spent at least five baffled minutes circling it, trying to puzzle out its purpose. Eventually, she'd given in to the urge to touch it – only to have it shatter beneath her fingertips. And then, just for a moment, she'd been back in Oxford, playing leapfrog with Edith Gardner while Lizzie chatted with her playmate's older sister Mary. Lizzie had laughed and applauded as Alice won another round. "You're part frog, Alice, I swear. You jump so well!" she'd declared –
Right before the Vale had reasserted itself on Alice's consciousness, leaving the young lady disoriented and just a tad frightened. Why and how had such a thing happened? She hadn't thought about that day in years. . . . When she'd found the second house, waiting for her on a ledge past the weeping statue (where she'd swear she'd seen an Insane Child – where had it disappeared to?), she'd almost passed it by. But curiosity was still her weakness, and she'd gone ahead and broken it. That one had made her five again, on a cold, rainy, and most of all boring March day. She'd been amusing herself by repeatedly climbing onto the dining room table and jumping off, pretending she was a bird in flight before her feet hit the wooden floor. Mama had discovered her after the third jump and tried to get her to stop. "If you leap from that table again, Alice, I'll expire!" she'd sworn, although it was hard to take her seriously when Alice could hear the laugh in her voice. "You're two times too reckless, my girl!" And with that, Alice had found herself once more on the ledge, with a set of appropriately table-like mushrooms to ascend popping from the earth below her. Memories, she'd realized then. The houses were memories she'd forgotten, slipping back into her consciousness with a tap of her finger.
At first, she'd been upset – furious, even. What the hell was Wonderland playing at? Why was it delivering memories to her, and in such an odd form? There was no point in remembering – for God's sake, she'd spent nearly a year in therapy trying to forget! The halcyon days of her childhood were long dead and buried – why try to bring them back? But then she'd caught herself thinking about Lizzie's smile, and her mother's warm touch, and her anger had drained away. Perhaps there was no point to remembering these little snippets – but there was no harm in it, either. It was nice to hear the voices of her parents and sister again. Comforting, in fact. And the recollections themselves were far from painful. She might have told Bumby time and time again how much she desired to forget, but standing in the middle of Wonderland's glory, she'd realized that what she truly wanted was to remember. Her sister's praise, her mother's laugh, her father's hugs – all the good things that seemed so far away whenever her thoughts strayed to the horrors of the fire. By the time she'd found the third one, revolving above another ledge right above the mushroom "staircase," she'd decided the little crystal houses were a pleasant addition to Wonderland's landscape.
The little crystal syringes were rather less welcome. Entering a scene from the asylum, even a relatively innocuous one involving nothing more than Dr. Wilson commenting on her tendency to hide away in herself, after emerging from the Drink Me pool wasn't exactly Alice's idea of fun. But she had to admit, it had piqued her curiosity even more. What other voices would she hear on her journey? What other shapes would she see? And what was the purpose of it all? Just to point out that there were memories of her life worth keeping? No, it couldn't be, why throw in memories of Rutledge if that were the case. . . .
"I'll never have more fun than when I rode the big slide in Hyde Park. Papa will take you soon, Alice."
Alice pressed her lips together against a twinge of grief as she came out of the memory, Lizzie's voice still echoing around the shell cavern. Oh yes, she knew that conversation. She'd been trying a piece of needlework, but had rapidly grown bored and instead interrogated her sister about all the adventures she'd had before their parents had surprised her with a sibling. It had been a day of much laughter and smiles – and it had happened less than a week before the fire. It was painful to think about how happy they'd been, blissful in their ignorance of the impending disaster. . . . I never did get to go down that slide, she thought, closing her eyes as her fingers bunched on her skirts. Oh, Mama, Papa, Lizzie. . . .
No – no time to linger here and depress herself with thoughts about the past. There was a reason for Wonderland starting her on this journey, and she was determined to discover it. Burying her grief in the back of her mind, she turned her attention back to the cave walls, eyes peeled for the exit.
Only to come up empty. The sides of the shell were smooth and unbroken, without even a crack she could shrink through. Alice frowned, pursing her lips. She'd followed her mysterious benefactor's scribbled clues religiously. . .had they led her to a dead end? That wasn't really Wonderland's way, though. . . .
She circled the area, examining the terrain minutely for clues. There wasn't much to see. A few more glowing flowers, with petals shaped like blue candles and red spades – some moss-covered rocks jutting up out of the grass – the thin purplish walls curving over her head – the archway she'd come in – a hole in the ceiling, providing a tantalizing glimpse of clouds and sun while still being just too high for her to reach – and right below that, one of those springy mushrooms that had started popping up all over the Vale. Well, almost – this one's spiraled cap was shaded blue instead of pink. Alice leaned over it, studying it further. It looked the same in every other respect – was it just a natural color variation? Or did this one do something different and possibly horrible?
Only one way to find out, she thought, and jumped onto it. The cap sagged under her weight, then burst upward, sending her sailing out through the hole into the sky –
And then, for a split second, the world around her became featureless white void. Alice looked around wildly as she floated in the nothingness. Goddamn it, what did I do? Was that some sort of trap? Where am I?! Then her feet hit solid ground again, and Wonderland rebuilt itself around her, revealing –
Alice covered her mouth, holding in a laugh. She was standing right at the top of the biggest slide she had ever seen, made of dominoes and green chalkboard. Peering forward, she could see it twisting and curving around itself, forming a corkscrew path to the ground. Well well, she thought with a grin, if I can't have Hyde Park. . . .
She was about to sit down and push off when a nearby glitter caught her eye. Turning, she saw a delicate crystalline butterfly revolving slowly on the opposite side of the landing. It looked to be made from the same stuff as the little houses and the syringe. A memory of some sort, then – but from who? They'd covered her family and doctors. . . . Preparing herself for the possibility of something unpleasant (although, really, nothing could be worse than seeing the white walls of Rutledge around her again, however briefly), Alice placed her hand on the butterfly.
Victor's bed was just as lumpy as hers, but with one's attention focused elsewhere, it made an acceptable enough seat. And Alice's attention was definitely focused elsewhere. She leaned forward a little, admiring the sketches her friend had pinned all over his walls. Despite being nothing more than a collection of black lines, the drawings of the butterflies seemed to have just as much color and life in them as the real thing. "You have quite the talent for this," she told him, nodding at a picture of what he'd said was a Common Brimstone (what a name for a butterfly). "How long have you been drawing these?"
"Since I could draw," Victor replied with a grin. "I've loved butterflies all my life. I don't see how anyone couldn't like such beautiful creatures."
Aha – apparently Victor was making his presence known in Wonderland as well. Alice smiled as she came back to herself on the landing. She'd agreed with him then, and she still agreed with him now. How could anyone not enjoy being around butterflies? They were like little living paintings, floating through the air and making the world a brighter, happier place. She'd adored them as a child, chasing them through the garden and catching them in jars to display on her windowsill for a day or two before letting them go. And she liked them even more now that Victor had shared everything he knew about them with her. It was funny – Victor was usually quite shy and reserved, but if one asked him something about butterflies, he could talk your ear off. It was very amusing to watch him ramble on about migration patterns and feeding habits and the metamorphosis of caterpillars. (And then he'd realize he was rambling and get all flustered, which was even funnier.) I wonder what he'd make of the nutterflies I keep seeing, she thought, watching jacks and dice drift around the top of the slide in a lazy circle. Poor Victor – butterflies are practically non-existent in the East End. I bet he would just love it here. . . .
She blinked and shook her head. Stop getting distracted, she scolded herself. You're not here to woolgather, you're here to find out why you've been called back. She smirked. And besides, this slide has been waiting so patiently for you to arrive – let's not disappoint it! With a giggle, she plopped herself onto the chalkboard surface and pushed off, wondering what other surprises Wonderland had waiting for her at the bottom.
"Get off me!"
Alice swatted furiously at the creatures clinging to her, doing everything she could to dislodge them. They responded with low hisses, digging their needle-fine legs deeper into her skin and sinking their – teeth? – right through her clothes and into her flesh. What are they even biting me with? Alice thought, running to and fro and shaking herself like a wet dog. The – Bolterflies, what else could she call something that was essentially the familiar metal fastener equipped with dragonfly wings – clung on all the tighter. They don't have mouths, they're bolts! Those X-shaped grooves on their front can't possibly count! And – oh, no, not one of them too!
She groaned as the sludge monster toddled its way down the nearby slope, its cold china face fixed on her tormented form. Alice had encountered only a handful of its brethren so far, but already she loathed them. The beasts were more mobile versions of the river that had tormented her so in her session, multi-limbed blobs made of burning ooze, smoking pipes, and bone-white porcelain. Insidious Ruin, she'd thought after battling the first three, and it described them very well. So well that she'd already decided to make it their official name. No point in wasting precious time looking for something better for such evil beasts, not when it could be spent on much more fruitful pursuits.
Such as avoiding the one now coming straight at her. Alice twisted and squirmed madly, trying and failing once again to free herself from the swarm of Bolterflies. "Wretched things!" she snarled, wincing as they drained her blood. "No wonder the Duchess preferred to give me her precious Pepper Grinder rather than deal with the likes of you!"
The Bolterflies ignored her, intent on their meals. They didn't even move when the Ruin swiped at her, oblivious to her scream of pain as the hot tar fingers scorched her back. She darted away from the Ruin as fast as her chewed legs could manage, almost in tears. Was there nothing that could get these horrid insects off her? Was she going to be drained dry by the Wonderland equivalent of the mosquito five feet from the Duchess's back door?
No! I am not going to die thanks to the efforts of a few bugs! she thought, blinking her eyes clear. With a flick of her wrist, her old friend the Vorpal Blade appeared in her hand. And I'm certainly not going to do it in a place where I might end up as the main ingredient of a stew! I'll chop these things off, even if I end up reducing myself to insect-sized pieces in the process!
Thinking that conjured up an image in her mind of Victor's corpse bride, crumbling into butterflies by the light of the moon. Now wouldn't that be useful, Alice grumbled to herself, slicing the wings off a Bolterfly on her leg. It fell away dead, only to be replaced by another. To be able to just dissolve my body away and have it reappear elsewhere. I don't think these things would bother going after a rabble of butterflies. Perhaps if I concentrate hard enough, Wonderland will think it's the Land of the Dead and allow me the option? Squeezing her eyes shut, she focused on a point behind a nearby tree.
There was a flutter of wings. A soft glow of blue. The sensation of being weightless and almost insubstantial. And then, suddenly, she was herself again, free of Bolterflies and behind the tree in question.
It took a scouting Bolterfly flying at her face to break her out of her stunned trance. Alice slashed and peppered her foes on automatic, her mind racing. How – she hadn't seriously thought that would work! She'd never managed such a feat on her previous visits! And yet, once she'd done it, it had felt as easy as breathing. Could she just burst into butterflies whenever she wanted now? Or was that a one-time escape granted because her mind had been filled with thoughts of Emily? Smashing the last of the evil insects' nests, she peppered down the dwindling swarm, then shut her eyes and tried the trick again, this time focusing on a spot about halfway up the slope where she'd first seen the Insidious Ruin.
Once more, she was nothing but whispering blue wings for a moment. Then her body obligingly reformed at the requested area, hale and whole. Laughing, Alice plunged her Blade deep into the belly of the squealing blob of gunk. "Thank you Victor!" she called up to the clouds as she disposed of her foe. "I wish I could bring you a Bolterfly or two to study!"
The last of said insects hissed and made a grab for her arm. She whirled away and felled it with the Blade. "Then again, I doubt even you would like these horrid things," she said, giving the broken corpse a little kick. "Ugh. Now, where is that pig snout the Duchess wanted?"
"The railway running through Wonderland sounds charming but inefficient. 'Noise and smoke' – like 'snips and snails,' perhaps. Best to forget that train. A mock turtle as conductor? Oh no, I don't think that will do at all."
"Bugger off, Doctor!" Alice snapped as Bumby's office slid away, back into memory. "Snips and snails and puppy dog tails are much better than steaming and slithering and destroying my Vale!"
Perhaps that was being a little unfair to the doctor, but Alice didn't care. Not when that river of Ruin she loathed, that he'd helped her dream up, had finally found its way into Wonderland. The once-gorgeous world was literally falling to pieces around her, fauna and flora alike supplanted by endless fountains of the wretched black goo. Why can't anything I love stay beautiful and innocent? Alice wondered, making her way back across the freshly-baked brown chunks of earth that had led her to this memory. It's bad enough everyone around me seems to die violently and unnaturally – must the same apply to the landscape?
The answer to that was apparently yes – as she reached the top of what had once been a quiet valley connecting two islands, more trees came crashing down, tumbling away into an endless red-tinted abyss. Alice pressed her hand against her eyes. "Was there ever a girl so unlucky?" she muttered. "My mind loathes me."
"Come on, slowpoke!"
Alice's head jerked up. Across the gap left by the falling foliage, she could see what looked like a relatively untouched oasis of green, sporting thick tall trees and warm welcoming flowers – and a tiny ginger figure in a white gown, waving to her. "I knew I saw a child! What are you doing here as the world goes to hell?" she yelled.
The child just giggled and motioned for her to cross, before disappearing behind a rocky corner. Alice sighed and leapt, spinning in midair to allow her skirt to catch the breeze and carry her along. "I can never get a simple straight answer. . . ."
Upon landing, she quickly discovered her apparent "oasis" contained two things of note – a nasty infestation of Insidious Ruins and Bolterflies (joy), and a twisted train platform, with a line of rusted, broken cars hanging off its far side. Alice sliced and peppered her way through the monsters with ease, then stared up at the crooked sign hanging above the Ruin-soaked stop. Vale of Tears: Looking Glass Railway – the very same train Dr. Bumby had mentioned. Alice had forgotten it, not thinking it worth fighting over with the doctor, but now the memories came rushing back – riding as a Pawn through the first two squares of Looking-Glass Land; giving the Mock Turtle the conductor's job so he'd have something to keep himself occupied besides crying over everything and nothing; catching the occasional ride to and fro as it expanded to encompass both main kingdoms of her world. . . . Her lips curved in a sad smile. She'd never been all that fond of trains – too loud and smoky for her liking – but she'd always had a soft spot for the Looking-Glass Line.
The wail of metal being dragged over stone grabbed her attention, and she turned her head just in time to see the last of the battered train cars slip over the island's edge, toppling engine over caboose into the endless storm that now filled the sky. Alice ran to watch them fall, her stomach twisting into a knot. What was going on here? Bumby had only told her to forget the train, not destroy it! Why would someone want to do away with the Looking-Glass Line? Who could be responsible for such destruction, such decay?
Who'd been responsible for maintaining the railroad?
The image of a tall man with an even taller top hat swam in front of her eyes. A man who'd gone from healthy pink skin to lurid green hide, from soft yielding flesh to firm unforgiving metal, from friendly madman to deranged lunatic. He'd tried to destroy this world before, attempting to turn everything organic into unfeeling, unthinking machines. But. . . "Hatter always hated mechanical malfunctions," she said to the world at large. "This disaster is either his doing – or his epitaph. But which?"
Well, there was only one way to find out. She knew the next stop on the Line had been Hatter's Domain (to facilitate with improvements and repairs) – and despite the Vale's continuing attempts at suicide, there were still a few pieces of track left to guide her along. Alice ran down one and launched herself into the sky, twirling and floating toward the next tiny island.
Time to follow this train of thought and see where it led.