Chapter 24: Confrontation At Moorgate Station
"You oozing sore of DEPRAVITY!"
Bumby spun around, surprise briefly showing on his face before he managed to smooth over the expression. "Alice? Well well. . .I thought you lost to me forever." He smiled in a fatherly way. "Come back to attempt therapy one last time?"
"After what you've done to the others?" Alice snarled, fists clenched tight at her sides.
"You mean aided them along the road to sanity? Helped them find a purpose in their lives?"
"Some purpose!" Oh, he could spew all the drivel he wanted – she had him. She finally had him. Every piece of the puzzle, snapped neatly into place. This – this devil in human skin, this gooey collection of Ruin with a silver tongue, would never fool her again! "Children wearing their 'names' around their necks – as if they're breeding livestock!"
For a moment, Bumby seemed ready to deny the charge. Then a smirk appeared on his face. "A declaration of their pedigree," he said, clearly deciding it wasn't worth proving his innocence to her. Good – she was in no mood for his lies! "You could use one. They're proud to display their provenance – huhahahaha!"
Hysteria nipped at the edges of her vision, a boiling red haze. Alice fought it back. Much as she was tempted to just leap on him and silence that horrid voice forever, she needed to keep him talking. After all, she still had no idea exactly where his wretched activities took place. Not even she would have been empty-headed enough not to notice him selling the poor children straight from the Home. And she needed all the information she could get before dragging him to Hightopp and Tarrant. "You brute!" she snapped. Her voice cracked slightly, but she didn't even care. It was a more-than-warranted crack. "They can't remember who they are or where they're from." She hit him with the most chilling glare she could muster, hands on her hips. "How many minds have you twisted into forgetfulness?"
Bumby shot icicles back at her from his mud-brown eyes. "Not enough! Yours would have been a triumph." His smirk returned. "Still, you're an insane wreck. My work is done."
Abruptly Alice's vision filled with blinding white, followed by a cloying, suffocating black. What – She tried to lift her arm to wipe at her eyes, but it wouldn't follow her commands. Instead, it just laid splayed at her side, cold and stiff. Her heart struggled to beat against a terrible pressure on her chest, and what shallow breaths she could drag in seemed to echo around her. The workshop! Alice realized. So this is what it feels like to be a doll. . .I'd almost feel sorry for them if so many hadn't tried to kill me. She tried to flex her feet, open her mouth, just twitch a finger, and found them all impossible. The Dollmaker had done his work well. But she could still think for herself, even if those thoughts were broken and shattered. She was still Alice, despite everything he'd tried. Your work isn't done, and you haven't won yet. I just need one opening – one fraction of a second –
Beyond the prison of porcelain, the world rumbled like an earthquake, and then her false body clattered against those of the Dollmaker's previous victims as they all toppled down, down down. Alice listened hard as she fell into what she guessed was open air, and heard a growl and screech from below, like a lion sharpening its claws on a slab of steel. The Infernal Train! But I can't let myself be shoveled into the furnace. . . . She squeezed her eyes tight and concentrated as hard as she could, picturing long dark hair and heavy buckled boots, sharp green eyes and thick striped stockings, and a dress as blue as the summer sky, white as the freshly-fallen snow, and red with hot, sticky blood. Just like when you tumbled down the rabbit hole into the Vale. You didn't want to start your adventure in the wrong clothes – do you want to end it in them?
Slowly, deadened limbs began to move again, pushing against the smoke and steam to move her upright. The china trembled and cracked as she spread out her arms and stretched her legs. The supernova in her belly caught light – swelled up –
BANG! Alice threw her head back, sucking in the air as porcelain showered down around her. Her skirts floofed outward, slowing her fall to a feather's crawl and giving her a chance to get her wits about her again. Around her, the bodies of the children tumbled and crashed onto the monstrous locomotive that fronted the Train, ready to be boiled down to sludge and emerge as mindless Ruins. They would be the last, Alice vowed. No other child would ever again be made into –
Oh crap, it's leaving!
Alice stared in horror as the smokestack, belching sparks and smog, started chugging away from her. The Infernal Train was a long one – in fact, she'd swear it had added to itself with every domain destroyed – but if she kept descending at her current rate, it would be gone long before she reached the ground. She slapped the sides of her skirts flat and went into freefall, holding her breath as she plummeted toward the rapidly-departing line of cars. Come on, come on–
Luck was just barely with her – she landed with a heavy bump on the caboose, falling to her hands and knees as the Train left its miserable station. "About my least graceful entrance ever. At least I haven't been shoved through any brick walls." She swept a bit of soot off her arm. "Yet."
There didn't seem to be any risk of a crash on the horizon, though. The world beyond the sharp Gothic steel arches and turrets that made up the body of the Infernal beast was nothing but a haze of smoke and ash, whirling by at a fantastic rate. Alice squinted at the sky, trying to discern if anything remained of Wonderland, then decided it didn't really matter. If she didn't stop this train now, there definitely wouldn't be anything left. She raced forward, dodging around towers set with stained glass and butterflying through spiky fences of heavy iron. Child's play – no wonder the Queen was upset he'd taken over her role, he can't even make a proper maze.
She navigated three wagons in this manner, weaving and ducking as necessary, always on the alert for some of Bumby's pets to show their ugly faces. Then, darting through a tall, narrow arch, she found herself in, not a Ruin-strewn battle arena, but a richly-appointed passenger car. Brass chandeliers dangled from the ceiling, casting playful shadows across the space, while deep red curtains held the outside world at bay from the plush purple seats. I wonder why March and Dormy bothered? she asked herself, hurrying along. Who did they expect to be – Hatter?!
Alice skidded to a stop on the checkered floor. Sure enough, it was her friend in the flesh – or what passed for it with him – clutching his teapot-headed cane and looking quite sour. But how can he be here? I saw him crushed! . . .But then again, how much does that really matter when he's mostly clockwork and gears and mechanical gizzards? Not the best conversationalist in the world, but he did take me to find the Train. Perhaps he could be persuaded to offer help again? "Hatter!" she cried, running up to him. "I must stop this Infernal Train and the evil force that drives it!"
To her surprise, Hatter's response was a glare. "Everything's a nail, is it, Miss Hammerhead?!" he snapped, smacking his cane against his palm. "First it was your search, freighted with fear and fragmented memories. Now it's the Train! Never time for tea." He jabbed the point at the window as an image of him, March, and Dormy seated at their spiral table, feasting and laughing as they had in happier days, appeared on the glass. "While your brain's on holiday–" the picture was wiped away in a splash of oozing black "–we're ruined!"
"I – but – this still – I didn't realize before–" Alice babbled. "I'm trying to fix it now–"
Hatter rolled his eyes to the ceiling, sighing. "Of course you didn't – you're mad. Now we're all mad here, and that's a good excuse for going to hell in a teapot–" He nailed her to the wall with a scowl as a new scene appeared on the pane: March and Dormy, disfigured by metal and mechanics, tormenting his disembodied head, before marching away under the shadow of the Dollmaker "–but not for forgetting what your senses saw." His expression turned sad. "Forgetting is just forgetting – except when it's not. Then they call it something else. I'd like to forget what you did. I've tried, but I can't."
Alice could practically feel Bumby sitting behind her, watching all of this with a self-satisfied smirk. She looked at her shoes, riddled with guilt. "I'm sorry, Hatter," she whispered. "I'm sorry for leaving you and your friends under those girders. I'm sorry for not taking the proper time to mourn you. I'm sorry for letting March and Dormy fall in the first place." The faintest hint of a smile tugged at her lips. "And I'm sorry I never stopped for a cup of tea."
"Sorry isn't the same as action – but it's a start," Hatter allowed, softening at her stricken face. "But don't forget to make it a finish!" Rising from his seat, he click-clacked his way to the opposite end of the car, sealed with a heavy oak door. One sharp strike with his cane, and the portal flew open. "Be on your way now – and make sure he gets his claws out of my tea table!"
"Gladly," Alice told him, offering a curtsy. Hatter bowed in return, even tipping his hat. Niceties out of the way, she darted around him, ready to resume her travels –
Only for the world to flash white again, and rebuild Moorgate Station around her. Alice blinked as she got her bearings. Oh dear – how long had she been out? Bumby was watching her with a rather contemplative look, but it didn't seem like much had changed beyond that. Good – couldn't have been more than a couple of minutes then. She could live with that. "You've used me, and abused me – but you will not destroy me!" she declared, resuming her tirade.
"No?" Bumby inquired, tilting his head slightly. "Look at yourself. The damage is done. The old Alice and her Wonderland retreat are demolished. You can't even recognize what's happened."
Alice shook her head. "I'm here talking to you, aren't I? I know what filth you propagate. You haven't destroyed everything!"
"I've destroyed enough," Bumby retorted, crossing his arms across his chest. "And you're powerless to change it or move against me." He dropped his hands and stepped forward, eyes narrowed and lip curled. "I've made certain of that."
"Have–" Alice started, only for the whiteness to claim her again, shoving her into another of the Train's passenger cars. Ah! Damn it, Wonderland – can't I get out more than two sentences against him before you call me back? she thought, irritated. The bastard thinks he's walking all over me!
Well, at least she was still making progress up the Train, it seemed. No sign of Hatter here – instead, there was another green-skinned resident of her fantasy world, sitting – or, rather, hovering – above one of the velvet seats. Caterpillar (or was he Butterfly now? No, she'd thought of him as Caterpillar for far too long to rename him) glowered accusingly as she approached. "Come to receive your punishment then?" he asked, his scowling wings flapping hard behind him.
Alice put up a hand to shield her face from the breeze. "I know I'm guilty of something – but punishment never suits the victims of the crime," she said as her stomach lurched. Oh yes, Wonderland could punish her all it liked – but would that really help the remaining children? "Especially a crime like this one."
The back of the car suddenly went dark, with a single spotlight from the chandelier focused on the door. A paper theater show popped up in the yellow circle, showing a host of children – old residents of Houndsditch, Alice knew immediately – standing dully on the sale block. Around them crowded men in tattered coats and beat-up old hats, muttering to themselves about the "goods" and their prices. "Abuse is a crime the strong visit on the weak," Caterpillar declared as one man dragged off a boy (Charlie's old friend Farley?) with a 9 round his neck. "And you're right – abusers are insufficiently punished for the damage they do." The scene changed to the front foyer of Houndsditch in all its decrepit glory – and there was Bumby, eyes glinting with greed as he pulled forward Charlie and Abigail, paper bibs in hand. "Those who witness abuse without seeking retribution for the harmed pay a penalty. Your own pain mitigates your failure to act earlier–" and then there she was, wide-eyed and blank, staring at nothing while endless lines of dolls ticked on by behind her "–but you may not yet have paid enough for witnessing the pain of others."
Alice swallowed as the impromptu show faded back into blackness. If there was one thing Wonderlanders were good at, it was punching her in the gut. "I'm well aware," she said, looking back at Caterpillar. "'Idle hands are the devil's playthings' and other such cliches. I let this happen, and that makes me practically as guilty as Bumby." Her fists tightened. "But I refuse to allow him to be insufficiently punished for what he did! I've torn off the blinders and uncorked my senses. The children will not have suffered in vain. I will seek their retribution or die trying!"
"Well, we'd rather you didn't do the latter, but your courage is – encouraging," Caterpillar replied, smiling. He reached down and took up his ever-present hookah pipe. "Never wallow in your own guilt," he continued, sucking in a deep breath. "Take action!" He blew out a thin gust of smoke, which took the form of a heavy fist and shot down the wagon. In a blast of fruit-scented tobacco, the far door was open. "Your course is clear – derail this train!"
"That's the plan!" Alice darted out of the car and across the next length of decorative iron, weaving around a turret set inconveniently in the middle of her path. The sky had turned a fiery orange now, and the smoke streaming out above her smelled of charred wood and singed flesh. Out of the corner of her eye, Alice saw a blackened chunk of the Vale of Doom whistle past. Wonderland was clinging to a mere whisper of life, it appeared. But all was not lost, and she was still on the move. Just a few more cars to go through, and –
And back to Moorgate, of course. Bumby grinned nastily as she wavered, forcing her brain to readjust to reality. "Oh, Alice. . .it's darling, really, that you think you can fight me when you're constantly drifting off into silly, pointless dreams."
Alice glared at him through slitted eyes. "And that, Doctor, proves your incompetence! I still have the Wonderland you attempted to erase! You corrupted my memories, but you failed to make me forget!"
Dr. Bumby frowned at that, clearly not pleased at having his "triumph" thrown back in his face. "True," he allowed grudgingly. "You never did do as you were told. I could have made you into a tasty bit. Clients out the door waiting for a piece from a raving delusional beauty, with no memory of the past and no sense of the future." He examined his nails. "I was quite looking forward to it myself."
Alice gritted her teeth so hard she swore she heard something pop in her jaw. Maybe it wasn't worth trying to conduct this interrogation, maybe she should just beat him senseless and drag him out of the station straight to the constabulary – "But you wouldn't forget," Bumby continued, face contorting with anger and disgust. "You insisted on holding on to your fantasies. You're mad! Like your sister."
How dare he?! "Don't speak of her!" Alice yelled, moving forward a step. She was going to ask the hangman if she could do the job herself! "You didn't know her!"
"Your sister was a tease!" Bumby shot back. "Pretended to despise me! But I knew the truth. She got what she wanted. . ." He pulled his watch from his pocket, and Alice's eyes locked onto the key dangling from the chain. ". . .in the end."
Whiteness again, and another chandeliered and carpeted car, with – of all people – the Queen of Hearts seated within. Alice barely noticed her at first though, her mind fixed on Bumby's last words. Got what she wanted? "My Lizzie. . . ." she breathed as she walked up the aisle. "What did he do to you?" Her gaze found the Queen, who was regarding her with characteristic impatience. "What is this Train's destination?"
The Queen huffed. "Madness and destruction," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world – and it was, but Alice had other things on her mind. "You shouldn't ask questions you know the answers to, it's not polite." She leaned forward, seizing Alice's arm in her meaty fingers. "And that noise wasn't Lizzie talking in her sleep."
Alice frowned at the monarch, baffled. What? What the hell did that have to do with –
Alice stirred slightly as the floor outside her bedroom creaked. "Be still, Dinah," she mumbled, turning onto her side.
Dinah mowed, then all went quiet again. Alice snuggled into the pillow, trying to recapture the lovely dream she'd been having before. There had been flamingos involved, and brightly colored hedgehogs – oh yes, the Queen of Hearts had been repainting them for a new game of croquet. Alice petted one of the nervous little creatures, smoothing down its spines. "It'll be all right. You'll just be blue for a while," she said, lowering it gently into the bath of dye. "Cheshire-Puss is blue, and he's never complained. You might find you like it!" The hedgehog twitched its nose disbelievingly. "And it's better than making the Queen mad, right?"
That the hedgehog could not deny. It rolled round and round the tub, turning itself a deep blue from snout to tail. "There!" Alice plucked it out of the water and wrapped it up in a fluffy towel. "That wasn't so bad now, was it?"
Alice blinked. That was a funny noise to come from a hedgehog. "What was that?"
Alice titled her head, sweeping some hair out of her eyes. "Do you have a cold?" Maybe the poor thing would have to be excused from the game. . . .
"You'll have to speak up – I can't make out a word you're saying," Alice said, folding her arms.
The hedgehog just stared up at her as a funny squeaking noise started up in the background. "Rghh! Nnnh! Bstrd!" it said – except the noises didn't seem to be coming from it at all, now that Alice was watching its snout. They sounded farther away, more like – like – "Lizzie?"
Alice opened her eyes, blinking the fog of sleep from them. The squeaking continued, along with the angry grunts and groans. That was definitely her sister's voice. . .but why was she making such a racket in the middle of the night? Was she having a nightmare? "But I slayed the Jabberwock," Alice mumbled, rubbing her face. Ugh, was she going to have to cut off his head yet again? Stupid Queen of Hearts being so protective of her roses – why didn't she just breed ones that could take care of themselves?
Still, it would not do to leave Lizzie in the grips of nighttime agony. Alice yawned, shook her head to clear it, then prepared to throw back the covers –
The noises stopped.
Alice froze as well. Had Lizzie managed to fight off the dream demons on her own? Her sister was the bravest, strongest person she knew, after all. . .but there was something sinister about this silence. Something that made her hair stand on end. She pressed herself back into the pillows and waited.
Another loud creak, and the door to Lizzie's room opened – but what came out was not Lizzie. Instead, it was man-shaped, at least at the front. The back extended into the shadows, making it look like he had four legs instead of two. A centaur? But the face – that looked like –
The centaur's head jerked toward her, and Alice bit back a shriek as she saw he had no eyes, just two shiny holes – No, glasses, those are glasses, Alice wanted to scream as the figure came up on her younger self. You have to get up, warn Mum and Dad, tell them he – he – "Oh, no. . .p-poor Lizzie. . . ."
But of course her younger self couldn't hear – all she knew was that a monster was at her door and she didn't have anywhere to run. Sobbing, she flung the covers over her head. "White Knight! Hatter! Cheshire-Puss!"
She couldn't see the centaur anymore, but a sudden extra depth to the darkness suggested he'd closed her door. But that was even worse, she couldn't be without her nightlight – "Oh dear me, what's the trouble?"
"Hatter!" Alice flung herself into the tall man's arms. Footsteps down the hall suggested the appearance of her friend had scared the centaur away – good! "S-something mean tried to get me! And I think it might have gotten Lizzie too!"
"There there, calm down," Hatter said, patting her head. "All you need is a nice cup of tea! Come along – Gryphon, Turtle, and Humpty-Dumpty have brought the White Rabbit around to celebrate his unbirthday! Cheshire will pop up too, I'm sure – he always does."
Alice sniffed and wiped her eyes. "All right." A spot of tea probably would calm her down a little. And it would be nice to wish the Rabbit a happy unbirthday. She took Hatter's hand and let him lead her back to March's house with its big spiral table in the yard –
And then the scene changed to something she could never have actually seen, but could easily guess at. A bony hand snatching up her nightlight as its owner hurried down the hall – a muttered declaration of "Damn that brat, have to get rid of her" – then the lamp flying into the library, smashing into the almost-but-just-not-quite dead log in the fire and bringing it back to roaring life – "And there are no centaurs in Oxford," the Queen snarled, as the flames filled the house, burning away both little Alice's family and innocence. "Make your survival mean something – or we are all doomed!"
And then reality grabbed her again, thrusting her blinking back into the present. Alice pressed a hand to her forehead, trying not to either collapse or vomit. Switching between worlds so rapidly was making her quite dizzy. . .but she could bear that. No, it was the knowledge of what Lizzie had truly suffered during her last moments of life that made her so weak in the knees. If only she'd woken a minute earlier, caught him in the act, run screaming to her Papa. . . .
But no. She'd been eight, and half-asleep, and terrified she was going to be next. No sense blaming her younger self for something she hadn't understood. She understood now – and she was going to rip Bumby limb from limb for it. "You killed my family. You destroyed my sister," she hissed, using her rage as balance. "You will pay."
"Oh, I don't think so," Bumby said with a mocking smile. "I already told you – you're powerless to move against me. Everyone knows of your inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Your imagination will destroy you."
"It will save me!" Alice yelled, fingernails biting into her palms. "And I will find proof of your wrongdoing, whatever it takes! You will not get away with this!"
"Won't I? I have someone here who disagrees." Bumby turned toward the shadows at the far end of the platform. "Thirteen?"
Alice followed his gaze, puzzled. Who or what was Thirteen? Had Bumby brought one of the children along with him? Damn it, Charlie, has he gotten you by now? Or Dennis? But why would he bring you to the station? Is he meeting one of his–
No. Oh please God no. . . .
Alice's blood ran cold as Victor Van Dort walked up beside Bumby. He looked superficially the same as when she'd last seen him, pale skin and dark hair and grey suit, but – his arms hung limp and heavy by his sides, and his steps were far too even and measured, almost like clockwork. And his eyes. . .they were as blank and dead as a Doll Girl's. Alice pressed her hands to her mouth, holding in the threatening scream. What had happened to the sweet, clumsy, twitchy boy she'd grown to love? What had Bumby done to him?
Bumby grinned at her horrified expression. "You should be proud of him, my girl," he said, placing a possessive hand on Victor's shoulder. "It's very rare that I have someone fight me like he did. He struggled until the very end." The psychiatrist snickered softly. "But he broke, just like they all do. There's nothing left of who he was before. Now he's merely who I want him to be. Isn't that right, Thirteen?" he added to Victor.
"Yes, sir," Victor replied, his voice a dull monotone.
Tears pricked at the corners of Alice's eyes. "Release him," she whispered, her anger faltering. Oh God, seeing Victor like this physically hurt. I'm sorry I wasn't there to protect you. Why am I never around to save those I love?
"I think not," Bumby said. "And if you're so insistent on being a problem. . . ." He turned to his new puppet. "Silence her. For good."
Victor nodded once, then started toward her. Alice stepped back, wondering what he was going to do, wondering if she had the strength to fight back if – when he attempted to hurt her. You have to, you haven't a choice – but damn it, it's Victor, how could I ever do him harm –
And then, abruptly, he jerked to a stop. The blank mask of his face slipped, revealing mild confusion. Alice leaned forward as he blinked. Was he perhaps fighting off Bumby's control? "Victor?" she asked softly.
No response. "Thirteen," Bumby said, sounding annoyed, "you don't want to be a bad boy, do you?"
Terror flashed across Victor's face, making Alice's hatred for Bumby leap another few notches. Then the blankness was back, and he moved forward again, hands twitching as if aching to lock around her throat. Alice briefly considered just making a run for it, then forced herself to stand her ground. It wouldn't do any good to flee – Victor had longer legs, and an empty-minded determination to obey. She had to face this like the warrior she was in Wonderland. She set her jaw and looked Victor – Thirteen – straight in the eyes.
To her surprise, he froze again, gaze locked with hers. Staring into those deep black pools, she thought she spied a flicker of consciousness – something probing her face, as if trying to remember. . . . "Victor," she said, feeling a rush of hope. "Victor, it's–"
"Thirteen," Bumby snapped, cutting her off.
Victor didn't move, eyes still fixed on hers. His brow furrowed, his mouth twitched, and then: "M-Mistress?"
. . .What?
Her confusion was echoed on Bumby's face. He glanced between the pair, fiddling with his glasses as if he expected that to make a difference. "Alice," he said, walking up to them, "have you been playing with my toys?"
In a whirl of white and black, Victor's fist met Bumby's face, sending the psychiatrist staggering backward clutching a bloodied lip. Her friend stood protectively in front of her, incandescent with rage. "NO! I WON'T HURT HER!" he screamed, and Alice's heart soared as she realized his voice was Victor's again. "YOU WON'T TOUCH HER!"
Alice let out a little cheer, clapping and bouncing with delight. Likely wildly inappropriate, but who cared? Hah! Your control isn't as complete as you believed, is it? she thought triumphantly. That's my boy!
Her joy, however, was short-lived. After a moment of dangerous wobbling, Bumby got his feet, eyes blazing. "Bad boy, Thirteen!" he roared, advancing like an enraged bull. "Very bad boy!"
Victor stumbled away from the doctor's assault, eyes wide with sudden terror. "No," he whispered, holding up his hands. "No, I-I'm sorry. . . ."
"Bad! Worthless! Weak!" Bumby grabbed Victor's jacket, yanking him close with a vicious glare. "You deserve to rot in the dark!"
"No! No, please, I'm s-sorry, don't send me back there, p-please!" Victor begged, beginning to cry.
"I'll send you wherever I wish, Thirteen! Back into the dark! Back into your worst nightmares! And you can stay there until you learn to behave!"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. . . ."
Alice watched the scene with horrified eyes. Victor's cries cut her to her very soul, urging her to help, urging her to do something, urging her –
Urging her forward on the Infernal Train.
She burst into motion, running as if all the legions of Hell were behind her. Or rather, as if they were ahead of her. One last car to go – Alice leapt over the stairs in her way, gritting her teeth in between bursting into butterflies to gain even more speed. No obstacle would slow her steps now. Victor would not suffer another minute under that monster's control. Not if she had anything to say about it.
She kicked open the iron doors on the other side and shot into the engine room at last. A hellish cage of dark, twisted metal pipes, choked with smell of burning porcelain and flesh, greeted her. Two steel pillars dominated the middle of the floor, reaching bulbous heads up to a dome of stained glass depicting Ruins from Slithering to Colossal worshiping their creator. Before her loomed the door to the furnace, a huge circle of pitted, smoldering iron suitable for one of Dante's poems. Beneath her feet, glass panes exposed fresh Ruin boiling away, ready to spill over and drown whatever remained of her stricken mind. Alice took it all in with barely a thought, searching frantically for the person she knew had to be here. Where is he? Where's Victor?
A whimper from above made her look up. Suspended between the two pillars, wrapped in a web of Ruin strands and puppet strings, dangled her beloved, like a fly in the clutches of a Nightmare Spider. He was paler than usual – the pale of porcelain rather than flesh, Alice realized. The Dollmaker had forced him into a false body as well. He hung there cold and helpless and naked as the day he was born, the Ruin obscenely wrapping over his chest and between his thighs. His head still looked organic, though – oh, yes, it was. No doll could cry the way he was, tears streaming down his cheeks to land with soft patters on the floor like rain. Alice's heart shattered at the sight. He suffered so. . .and in his suffering she could see the pain of all the others. Had Lizzie cried like that, she wondered, before Bumby –
A familiar red-nailed, doll-emblazoned hand suddenly smashed through the ceiling, scattering glass everywhere. Alice yanked out her umbrella for cover as its black-nailed twin joined it, seizing a chunk of the furnace door and ripping it away. A familiar cruel laughter echoed around her as the hands continued tearing the room apart, exposing the towering form of the Dollmaker. He didn't look quite as solid as he had in the Dollhouse – his body was now an almost naga-like stream of pure Ruin under his waistcoat, and he'd traded his arms for marionette strings. Perhaps confronting Bumby had weakened him somewhat. . .but Alice knew better than to hope. This was the master of all her misery, and he would not give up his crown without a fight.
The Dollmaker sent the last chunk of broken metal toppling into the abyss, then smirked at her over the wreck of his engine. He bowed mockingly, one "arm" extended. "Hide in your shell!"
Alice glared back at him, her fingers curling around the handle of the Vorpal Blade. No, she thought. Never again. You've taken my parents, my sister, my sanity, everything good and pure that I had. You're not getting Wonderland.Her eyes flicked to Victor's limp, pain-filled form. And you're not getting him.
It was time to take this bastard down.