March 16th, 18–
“Holy shit. . . .”
“I don’t think there’s anything religiously significant about this particular pile of feces, Marty,” Doc said, holding tight to his gun as he looked at Looking-Glass House. And at the mass of tentacles extending from the windows and roof. “Great Scott. . . .”
“I don’t think there’s any great Scotts around either,” Rabbit said, pulling at his ears nervously. “Though we could use a few, don’t you think?”
“Probably,” Doc said. His gaze turned to the growing crowd of people gathering around the outside of the house. “Then again, considering you and Cheshire seem to have brought the entire population of Secundus here, perhaps we do have a couple lurking about.”
“Alice said to gather everyone we could find,” Rabbit pointed out. “And quite a lot of people wanted to see for themselves what was happening.”
“Fair enough – we were headed in this direction anyway ourselves,” Doc said, watching one tentacle lazily swipe the air. His stomach turned. “And – and you say Victor’s in there?”
“That’s where Alice said the Executioner was taking him,” Rabbit nodded. “I see no reason to doubt her.”
“Where the hell is Alice, anyway?” Marty said, looking around. “It’s her boyfriend in trouble – you think she’d be the first one here!”
“She said she had to run an errand. If you’d seen the expression on her face, you would have let her go as well.”
The pair turned to see Sir Christopher and Richard jogging up to them. “Have you seen Victoria? Or Emily? Or Victor?” Christopher demanded, breathing hard. “Damn fool boy ran off before we could catch up, and then we got further delayed by the largest group of Card Guards yet!”
“Along with a few Red Chess Pieces,” Richard added. “We hadn’t realized she’d made them join up as well. I wonder if we’ll be seeing any Whites?”
“I think the only White Knight we’ll see is fortunately the one on our side,” Doc said, patting Sir Christopher’s shoulder. “I get this feeling the Queen prefers red troops. To answer your questions from before, no, we haven’t seen any of them.”
“Rabbit tells us Victor’s probably stuck in this hellhole, though,” Marty added, pointing at the house. “Got himself captured by some sort of monster Card Guard called the Executioner.”
“What?! How?” Sir Christopher demanded. “I was getting the impression that boy could outrun anything.”
“He made a grand exit, at any rate,” Rabbit said, a hint of pride in his voice. “He threw a Jackbomb right into the monster’s face for hurting Alice.”
“Really?” Sir Christopher shook his head, his expression half-exasperated, half-fond. “And he claims that he’s not brave. . . .”
“Brave or not, he’s in a lot of trouble,” Doc said. “We’ve got to figure out how to get him out of that house before the Executioner – or worse, the Queen – does anything to him.”
Richard eyed the edifice, twisting his teapot cane in his hands. “You don’t think Emily and Victoria could be in there?” he asked softly. “The Queen stealing away easy targets? People have said tentacles have tried to snatch them up and pull them away. . . .”
“Oh God, I hope not,” Sir Christopher said, looking ill. “What would the Queen want with them anyway?”
“Probably just to make examples of,” Doc said, then winced. “Sorry, that was thoughtless.”
“But unfortunately true,” Sir Christopher said with a grimace.
“What in God’s name is going on around here?”
An extremely tall woman with her hair done up in a bun that looked like it should snap and fall over angrily hurried past them, holding tightly to the tattered remains of her skirts. Beside her, an extremely short and fat man waddled along, trying to keep up. “I’ve never seen such a conglomeration of--”
“Lord and Lady Everglot!” Sir Christopher cried, looking almost relieved. “Oh, tell me you’ve seen your daughter!”
“Whoa, they’re Victoria’s parents?” Marty said, looking the woman up and down.
“She’s not adopted,” the man – Lord Everglot – immediately said, rolling his tiny eyes. “If you people must know, she looks like an aunt of mine.”
“We haven’t! What have you done with her?” Lady Everglot said, glaring at Sir Christopher.
“What have I done with her?! I’m trying to save her, you miserable woman!” Sir Christopher yelled, finally losing his temper. “I’m scared to death something awful’s happened to her!”
“Something has,” said a gravelly voice Doc instantly recognized as Bonejangles. The large-jawed skeleton made his way up to them, carrying a small, bright green maggot. “This guy was around when it happened. Apparently looking for a free meal from Emily,” he added, doing his best to give the creature a frown.
“She’s given me a bit off the wrist before,” the maggot protested. “And it wasn’t a free meal, it was a place to hide! Everyone rushing around, all those feet pounding the streets – it isn’t safe for a poor little maggot!”
“What did you see?” Richard demanded, leaning down to do his best to look the creature in the eye.
“I’d just found Emily with this other girl – grey-brown hair in a bun, big blue eyes? Wearing a tatty old red gown?”
“That gown cost us quite a few pounds,” Lord Everglot snapped. Doc thought he saw a trace of worry in his eyes – though whether it was for his daughter or her dress, he couldn’t say.
“That’s Victoria,” Sir Christopher confirmed. “What happened?”
“Emily got grabbed by some of those tentacles that are all over the place,” the maggot said, lowering his eyes. “And that Victoria girl got dragged in with her. I think she was trying to rescue Emily.”
“Foolish girl! Risking herself for a Reanimated!” Lady Everglot cried. “Finis, what shall we do?”
“What can we do?” Lord Everglot replied – and now he did look frightened, instead of his customary annoyed. “Even I know my musket isn’t any good against something like this!”
“All too true, Lord Everglot,” Sir Christopher said, face rather white. “Oh Victoria. . .she must be so scared. . . .”
“And Emily too!” Richard said. “We’ve got to find them, save them, do something!”
“If you want to get yourself killed – if that’s the word we use with things like you – going in after them, be my guest,” Lord Everglot snapped. “Doesn’t this horrible city have a police force?”
“Yes, but from what I’ve heard, a lot of them have been incapacitated or even killed,” Doc said. “And the rest generally do let the local Touched population deal with threats like these. Granted, I’ve never seen one on this scale, and neither has anyone else I’ve talked to. . . .”
Doc nearly jumped out of his skin as someone grabbed his elbow and wrenched him around. “Some cat who hasn’t had enough to eat told me I ought to come here because my son’s been taken away to die in some lunatic’s house filled with tentacles!” Nell Van Dort screamed at him. “This is all your fault! If you hadn’t kept him here, he’d be properly married in a proper town! Not food for tentacle monsters!”
Doc didn’t argue with her – she did have a point. “Mrs. Van Dort, believe me, I am so sorry your son is in danger,” he said. “And we’re going to do whatever we can to save him. And your daughter, and Emily,” he added to the Everglots.
“Me, I’m just glad you seem to give a crap,” was Marty’s response. “I was starting to think you only thought your son was good for marrying up.”
“Such language around women!” Lady Everglot gasped.
“Oh stuff it, the world’s going to hell! I think if there was ever a time to say ‘crap’ around women--”
“Marty, please, don’t antagonize them further,” Doc groaned.
“All right, who’s in charge here?”
Every head whipped around, eyes going wide and jaws dropping. Doc’s head was no different. “Lady Heterodyne!”
Lady Agatha Heterodyne stood in front of the crowd, holding one of her famous superweapons and frowning. Beside her was Baron Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, hair mussed and hand clutching his famous Lighting Cane. “What have one of you done this time?” Lady Heterodyne demanded, gesturing with her gun (a few people dropped to the ground, just to be on the safe side). “We come in to make a visit to the city, and we find tentacles all over the place?”
“It’s something about a Queen of Hearts, Lady,” a voice called. “She’s trying to take over!”
“And doing too good a job of it,” Baron Wulfenbach muttered, looking around. “I assume you’re all gathered here because this is the source of the ‘infection,’ as it were?”
“Certainly seems to be,” another voice said. This one Doc vaguely recognized as the Viking Fishlegs from Berk. “We did some aerial reconnaissance, and I’d say there’s a 98.9% chance this is where everything is coming from.”
“Aerial what now?” a third voice said, sounding badly confused.
“Flying over it before we tried attacking it, Snotlout.”
“We’re hoping to do something to stop her, Your Baronship,” Richard said, politely tipping his hat. “Any ideas?”
“Well, it wouldn’t take us long to get one of our airship fleet over here and proceed to take care of the problem permanently from the air--”
“No, wait!” Hiccup Haddock III rushed out of the crowd, followed closely by Toothless. “We already tried that, and more importantly, my girlfriend’s in there!”
“So’s my dog!” wailed the voice of Wallace Park. Doc turned to see a sight he never thought he’d see in his life – Wallace crying. The shock of it struck him to the core. “Oh, poor Gromit. . . .”
“Flint! Has anyone seen Flint?!”
Samantha Lockwood came running up, Steve the monkey perched on her head. “He got taken by the tentacles too!” she cried, tears streaming down her face behind her glasses. “And if no one’s seen him, then--”
“Oh Odin and Thor, Flint too?!” Hiccup said, running a frantic hand through his hair. “Oooh, this could only be worse if they’d gotten you, buddy.” Toothless rumbled and nosed him.
“My daughter is in there!” Lady Everglot yelled, pointing at the house with one long, sharp finger. “You cannot do whatever it is you’re planning while she is!”
“I think the technical term is ‘nuke it from orbit,’” Richard said. “But – to my everlasting surprise – I agree with her! My Emily’s in there too! You can’t condemn her to death again! We only just found the guy who killed her the first time! Here’s hoping one of those Snarks ate him,” he added quietly.
“We appreciate everyone’s concern, and of course we want to get all hostages out safely,” Lady Heterodyne started, holding up her hands.
“She took Victor.”
The crowd fell silent, all eyes turning to the figure marching slowly up to them. Alice Liddell looked angrier than anyone had ever seen her before, her eyes alight with cold, calculating rage. In her hands she held the biggest gun Doc had ever seen. “Whoa, what is that?” Marty whispered, staring.
“Looks like a blunderbuss,” Lord Everglot said, mouth hanging open. Doc could swear the lord was drooling just a little.
“Alice?” Richard said, arching an eyebrow. “What are you doing with that?”
Alice ignored him. “And I am not leaving him in there,” she continued, raising the gun toward the wall behind them all. “Out of my way.”
“Wait, wait, Alice!” Richard cried, waving his hands frantically and nearly upsetting his hat. “I only finished that about two months ago! We never even got a chance to test it properly!”
“We’re damn well testing it now! MOVE!”
The crowd burst apart, people running in every direction except the one she planned to shoot in. Alice took aim and squeezed the trigger.
The world seemed to explode for a moment, filling with brilliant red fire and choking white smoke as what appeared to be a cannonball tore through brick and wood. As the air slowly cleared, Doc could see a huge, gaping hole in the side of the house. Alice herself was sprawled out on her backside, having been knocked back by the force of the blast. She sprang back to her feet, dropped the spent gun, and pulled out her Vorpal Blade. Before anyone could say a word, she’d disappeared into the hole.
There was a silence that felt longer than it lasted as the crowd looked after her. Someone finally commented. “She’s very brave.”
“More suicidal,” Marty muttered. “I wouldn’t go in there without backup.” He looked up at Doc, his blue eyes questioning.
Doc looked down at him and nodded once. He’d decided on his course of action almost the second he’d seen Alice enter the opening. Victor was his friend, his responsibility – and if he was in there. . . . Marty nodded back, and together they rushed inside. “Hey! Alice! Wait up!”
“Don’t you dare think you’re going in there without us!” Richard yelled. “Sir Christopher?”
Sir Christopher looked at Lord and Lady Everglot. “I swear, I will get your daughter out safely, or die trying,” he told them. Then, before they could respond, he turned to Richard. “Let us be off! Calloo! Callay!” he cried, and raced into the house, his friend at his side.
“Well, as long as we’re going on rescue missions. . . .” Hiccup swung himself up onto Toothless. “Think they could use a little extra firepower, bud?”
Toothless nodded and growled, flicking his ears. “Exactly. Let’s go!”
“Be careful, Hiccup!” Sam called after him as they galloped inside.
“Steve!” Steve added, bouncing up and down anxiously.
“The rest of you, stay out here!” Lady Heterodyne promptly called. “That’s enough heroics for one day!”
The rest of the crowd nodded, not that any of them looked eager to move anyway. Agatha nodded, then turned to Gil. “How long should we give them?” she asked quietly.
“Two hours, two and a half at the outside,” he replied, stroking the top of his Lightning Cane. “That’s how long it’ll take to set up the Atmospheric Electrical Generators anyway.”
“Right. You’ve got to figure out a way to keep those from melting, incidentally.”
“I know, I know. . . .”
“You have him?” A growl. “Show me the prisoner.”
The tentacle unwound, and Victor flopped onto the floor, gasping like a fish out of water. He squeezed his eyes shut, not really interested in what was around him. Did it really matter anyway? He was sure he was about to die. He recognized that voice, after all – it was the same one that had screamed, in essence, “surrender or die.” And since, even now, he had no intentions of surrendering. . . . Hopefully it won’t be too painful.
“Oh. So this is Victor?”
“Yes, my Queen.”
Victor’s eyes snapped open. “Barkis?” he wheezed, getting up on his elbows and looking around. A moment later, he wished he’d kept his eyes closed – the entire room was made up of pink flesh, pulsing gently to some unseen heartbeat. Not what he wanted to see before he died.
“Lord Bittern, if you please, Master Van Dort,” Barkis’s oily voice said. Victor finally saw him, standing by the side of an enormous and terrifying throne. He kept his eyes focused on the figure of the disgraced lord, not wanting to look at what sat upon the chair. “Well, well, we meet again. And your little Alice is not here to protect you.”
“What are you doing?” Victor demanded. “You’re – you’re helping--”
“A mutually beneficial arrangement,” Barkis said with a smile. “She’s giving me a small fiefdom when all this is over. And the title of Grand Duke. And the pick of practically any women I want in this city. Not that I’m sure I’ll want any,” he added, making a face.
“I did find that Miss Everglot you mentioned,” the Queen said. A tentacle waved into Victor’s view – he did his best to ignore it. “And that Miss Cartwell, if you’d prefer her.”
“Frankly, I’d prefer to see them both dead, if it’s all the same to you,” Barkis replied, looking up at her with a servile smile. “By my own hand, if at all possible.”
“I certainly don’t mind. I think I’ll let them and the other prisoners wander a bit. Let them think they can make a difference before we crush them utterly. I think the screams sound better then.”
“You always have the best ideas,” Barkis said smarmily.
“Yes, I know. Now, for Victor here. . . .”
A tentacle suddenly wound itself around his waist. Victor cried out and tried to cling to the ground as he was lifted up. But the Queen’s grip was unrelenting, and he soon found himself face to face with the monarch. Or, well, face to mask, he quickly realized. Oh God, it’s hideous, he thought, shivering. But how much more horrible does she look like underneath?!
The Queen studied him with her piercing red eyes. “Well,” she said after the longest moment of Victor’s life, “I think I can see why Alice likes you. You are rather handsome.” A smaller tentacle reached out and caressed his cheek – Victor turned his head, making a face. “Too handsome for the likes of her.”
“My Queen?” Barkis said, sounding quite confused. “I thought – you’re not going to kill him?”
“No, I don’t think so,” the Queen said, turning Victor over to study him from different angles. Victor felt like a particularly interesting specimen under a microscope. I do hope none of my insects felt like this when I put them in the bell jar. “I’ve a much better idea.” She flipped him back upright. “One that involves some very painful mutations to put him into the proper shape. And frame of mind,” she added with a disturbingly girlish giggle.
“Oooooh,” Barkis said, and Victor could now see him smirking. “Interesting. . . .”
“And you may do the honors, Barkis, if there is any surgery needed,” she added, handing Victor back to the Executioner. “As it is, our guest may stay in comfort.” She waved a tentacle. “Take him to Lewis’s lab. He may appreciate the familiar surroundings – and it’ll make it easier when we start.”
“Lewis! What have you done to him?!” Victor demanded, as the Executioner growled his understanding.
“What he deserved,” the Queen replied, voice cold. “You should be grateful, Victor. I’m letting you live.”
“At what price?”
He somehow fancied that horrific painted-on smile grew. “Most men would kill to be a king.” She gestured idly with her hand. “Take him away.”
Astrid tackled the startled Snark and hacked at it with all her might. The fish died nearly instantly, but she kept up the attack, just needing to feel the familiar shock in her hands as blade met flesh with a “thunk.” Attacking and killing things gave her some much-needed grounding in this place. It was something she was good at – something she could depend on.
Which is a good thing, in this place, she thought, finally ceasing her assault. I can’t count how many times we’ve been attacked since we got sucked in there. Damn it, why didn’t I tell Yellowspike to stay higher, out of the way of those stupid tentacles?
She shook her head. What had happened, had happened. It didn’t do to waste time on regrets. She had to deal with the here and now. She looked behind her. “How you doing, Gromit?”
The brown dog gave her a thumbs up, though she could see a trace of frustration in his eyes. She figured she knew why too – the poor dog probably felt like a damsel in distress. From what she understood of the stories of Wallace and Gromit’s antics, Gromit was used to being on the “saving people” side of things. “I’m sorry, boy,” she said, patting his head as he padded closer. “It’s my fault you’re in this mess. I do appreciate you trying to get me out of there, though.”
Gromit nodded and patted her shoulder in return. Astrid grinned at him. “We’ll find something for you to whack these guys with soon enough. She can’t have changed everything into some sort of--” She looked at the walls. “Flesh,” she finished, with a grimace and shudder. “Ugh, and I thought that Queen Dragon was the most horrible thing I’d ever see. This Queen’s capable of making a Viking want to throw up.”
Gromit nodded again, looking quite sympathetic. Astrid shook her head again. “Well, whatever. We’ll get out of here.”
Gromit tilted his head, a question in his eyes. “No, not ‘or dying trying,’” Astrid said, hefting her axe. “Honorable death in battle is fine, but I can’t leave Toothless to be the only one to look after Hiccup. And what would your owner do without you?”
Gromit tilted his head in the other direction and nodded, slightly rolling his eyes. Astrid laughed. “Yeah – we gotta get ourselves out of here in one piece, if only for Wallace’s sake. Too bad he couldn’t--”
A shadow at the other end of the hall they were in suddenly caught her attention. She fell silent, immediately switching into “battle mode” as she studied the shape. It seemed less threatening than most of the things she’d seen in here – but looks could be deceiving. Anybody who’d met a Terrible Terror knew that intimately. Motioning to Gromit for silence (and then wondering why the hell she’d done that when Gromit gave her a significant eyebrow raise), she crept up to the corner, axe at the ready. The figure was definitely drawing closer now – did she run out on the offensive, or wait for it to come to her?
Offense, of course, she thought, grinning. I’m a Viking. She leapt out, axe raised high. “YAAAH!”
Astrid’s jaw dropped. “Flint?!”
“Astrid!” Flint dropped his hands, sagging in relief. “Oh, am I ever glad to see you! Well, sort of – how the hell did you get trapped in this place?”
“Unlucky tentacle,” Astrid said, trying to wrap her head around the fact that one of her boyfriend’s human best friends had suddenly appeared before her. “You?”
“About the same,” Flint admitted. “One of them tried to take Sam, but after I attacked it with nachos, they must have decided I was the greater threat.” He grimaced. “Oh man, I hope she’s all right. And Steve. And Manny. And everybody!”
“I hear you,” Astrid said, grimacing. “I’m hoping nobody else got knocked out of the sky. I mean, I can’t see the Queen laying a tentacle on Toothless, but Horrorcow’s always looking like she’s gonna tip Fishlegs off anyway. . .” She looked around. “So, you’re in the same boat as me? Wandering around, avoiding monsters, and wondering why the hell you weren’t just killed?”
“All except the last one,” Flint said. “I’m trying very hard not to wonder that. Because, between you and me, I don’t like what my imagination comes up with.”
Astrid shuddered. “Me either.” She smiled and patted his arm. “Well, you can stick with us now.”
Gromit padded around the corner cautiously, looking worried. “Oh, Gromit!” Flint reached down and scratched his ears, which got a happy nose wrinkle. “You too, huh?”
“Got pulled in trying to stop me from being pulled in,” Astrid admitted, feeling just a touch embarrassed. She hated it when she had to be saved. She hated it even more when she failed to be saved. “There’s safety in numbers.”
“Especially when number one is you,” Flint agreed, looking at her axe. “Tell me – when Hiccup inevitably comes in looking for you, will he be saving you from the monsters or the monsters from you?”
Astrid laughed. “Let’s try and make it the latter, shall we?” she said with a vicious smile. “Come on, we’ll try to find you guys some weapons. Incidentally, what was with that pose you threw up when I startled you?”
“Uh – karate?”
“Eastern martial art. I took some classes from an immigrant from China. Was – never very good.”
“Just tell me you’re good at hitting things with a heavy object.”
“Good point. Let’s go.”
Elsewhere in the house, a school of Snarks roamed the halls, snapping at each other on occasion. Their thought processes could have been summed up like this: Hungry. Hungry. Hungry. They hadn’t found anyone to eat, and, while they were fairly stupid creatures overall, they had taken the lesson of what had happened to some other Snarks who had tried nibbling on the walls to heart. None of them wanted to be smashed into paste, so it was off to find alternate sources of nourishment.
Suddenly, one spotted a human shape approaching them in the gloom. It screamed, attracting the attention of its fellows. They all let out happy cries as they saw the potential source of meat. Sure, the human was skinny, and was missing a leg, but he was food, and that was all that mattered. They ran at him, jaws snapping wildly.
They might have, before doing this, taken into account the fact that the human appeared to be seated on something nearly invisible. Or the pair of green eyes seemingly floating in the darkness, which narrowed into slits as they came near. Or the smell of a strange gas lingering in the air. But, as has been stated, they were fairly stupid creatures, and slaves to their bellies. None of that mattered when there was a human to rip to shreds.
Or, at least, it didn’t matter until they were hit by the blast of green fire.
The Snarks screamed, thrashing and running, trying to escape fiery death. A few managed to counteract the flames with their own ice breath, but that provided little protection from the rows of sharp teeth that the darkness in front of them sprouted. Within moments, every Snark in the school lay dead, either roasted to a crisp or chewed to pieces.
Hiccup, slightly singed by the fire’s back draft, patted his dragon’s neck. “Good work, Toothless.”
Toothless rumbled happily, then picked up a Snark and bit it in half, looking thoughtful. After a moment, he made a face and horked the fish back up. “Ew,” Hiccup said, looking at the remains of the once-vicious creature. “Guessing they don’t taste good?”
Toothless hissed and grumbled, shaking his head with his tongue sticking out. “Sheesh, worse than eel?” A nod. “Wow. Guess we’ll have to try elsewhere for a snack, bud.”
Toothless shrugged, an action that involved his entire spine, then looked up at Hiccup, worry in his green eye. Hiccup stroked his ear. “We’ll find ‘em, Toothless,” he said. “If I know Astrid, all we have to do is follow the blood trail.”
Toothless barked in laughter and nodded. Rider and dragon set off again, ready to take on the next challenge.
“Okay, she was out of sight for what, ten seconds?”
“Closer to a minute,” Doc said, looking around in disgust at the flesh creeping along the walls. “But that’s still a rather short amount of time for her to have disappeared like this.”
“She must be really worried about Victor,” Richard said, eying a fleshy pustle on the ground. “Not that I blame her, I’m worried about him too.”
“We all are,” Doc said, shivering. “Damn, he must be so scared right now. . .I don’t even want to know what it looks like farther inside.”
“Me either,” Marty nodded, making a face. “What’s with this Queen and all the meat?”
“Maybe she’s trying to make Looking Glass House into an extension of her body,” Sir Christopher postulated. “She’s already probably modified those tentacles of hers. Which wouldn’t be hard, given the potions and such Lewis had – has lying around.”
There was a moment of silence. “Do – do you think we’re going to find him?” Marty finally dared to ask, biting his lower lip.
“We’ll probably find at least part of him,” Richard said, lowering his eyes. “But I think she got rid of any part that objected to her plans.”
“I just hope we don’t have to fight him,” Doc said, feeling his stomach turn at the very thought. “Or Victor. Or anyone else she’s captured.”
“You really think she might try and – turn ‘em?” Marty whispered.
“It would fit with what we’ve seen of her. I’m quite sure those Card Guards and the Chess soldiers Richard and Christopher saw didn’t join her service willingly.”
Marty shuddered. “Damn it, Doc, there’s no way I could – he’s our friend. . . .”
“And he’d make a pretty lousy soldier,” Richard said. “Don’t give me those looks, he would! Can you really see Victor fighting?”
“No, but a version of him like the Card Guards would be dangerous,” Doc said, checking his rifle. “And, frankly, you could say the same thing about Victoria and Emily.”
Now it was Richard’s turn to shudder. “Don’t. Implying it is bad enough.” He looked down the hall. “Well, we’re not doing any rescuing by standing around. Shall we go show this Queen she kidnapped what one might term the wrong group of people?”
“I am all for that,” Marty said.
“And if we can find Alice on the way, so much the better,” Doc said, as they began their cautious trek deeper into the house.
“Oh, finding Alice will be easy,” Sir Christopher deadpanned. “I’m sure the monsters will be begging us to save them from her soon enough. I’m more worried about Victoria and Emily. Those poor girls must be scared out of their minds.”
“The barricade’s not going to hold much longer!”
Victoria paced the room she and Emily had taken shelter in frantically. It looked like a guest bedroom of sorts. For the most horrible of guests, she added, grimacing at the veiny look of the walls. She was getting quite queasy, looking at all this flesh growing where it shouldn’t. “There must be something else we can add to it!” she said, scanning the room frantically.
“We’ve used all the furniture!” Emily pointed out, pointing at their makeshift wall. Piled there were armchairs, end tables, the bed, and an occasional table Victoria had found folded in the closet. It had been hard and sweaty work to move it all, but defending your space against no less than three Boojums and some sort of horrible mermaid-figure squid-thing with chains for tentacles and a healthy scream of her own had given the girls strength. “Unless you want to try ripping out the fireplace. . .”
Victoria was honestly wondering if they could. What else could they do? She couldn’t see any hope of escape – the only other door out was locked, and a thorough examination of the room had not turned up any keys. She’d hoped the horrors outside would lose interest and leave them at peace in this little realm of – perhaps not safety, but quiet. But apparently they were very intent on having her live flesh and Emily’s Reanimated organs for tea. They had to get out or hide or something, but how?
And then her eye fell on the fireplace poker.
The rather sharp, very sturdy fireplace poker.
She snatched it up and darted for the locked door. “What are you up to?” Emily asked, jumping as the barricade shuddered under another assault of howling.
“Breaking the lock! Try and keep them from getting in until I do!” Victoria lifted the poker high, then brought it down sharply right above the heavy iron lock. The slash in the wood the poker caused lifted her spirits, and she repeated the action. Oh Mother, you would have a fit if you saw me now, she thought giddily. Hair coming undone, dress a mess, and assaulting a door with a poker. What sort of lady am I? Another scream from outside rattled the walls. A live one, I hope!
It took a couple of stabs, but eventually Victoria was able to wedge the tip of the poker under the lock. She grimaced, pulling with all her might. It was stuck tight! She jabbed viciously at the wood around the lock a few more times, hoping to weaken it, then tried again. She felt the lock move slightly, but not enough. “Emily! Help!”
Emily rushed over and added her weight to the endeavor. Both girls strained for a long moment, pulling as hard as they could – and then, there was a loud chunk sound, and the lock broke free. Another stab disabled the mechanism entirely. “We’re free! Come on!” Victoria said, wrenching open the door and darting into the hall, poker in hand.
And almost straight into a Card Guard who had somehow gotten his hands on a sword.
She shrieked and backpedaled, bringing the poker up into a defensive position. The Guard brought his weapon down hard on it – Victoria felt her whole arm vibrate as metal struck metal. She kept a tight grip on the poker, though – it was the only weapon she had. “Back!” she cried, jabbing the Guard in the side.
The Guard let out a terrible cry and swung its sword wildly. Victoria backed out of the way again – only this time, she unfortunately stepped on what remained of her skirt. She cried out as she fell over and hit the floor hard. The Guard made a noise which she assumed was a laugh and lurched forward. Victoria glared up at it, not sure whether she was going to live or die but deciding she was not going to give the creature the satisfaction of hearing her scream either way. It grinned at her (not that it could do much else without facial muscles), pulled back its sword to stab –
There was a rush of white and blue in front of her, and a horrible noise that seemed half-scrape, half-crunch. Victoria gasped as she realized Emily had taken the blow meant for her. For a moment, she was quite worried for her friend – then Emily calmly reached up and removed the sword from her ribcage, turning it to point at the surprised Guard. “Get out,” she hissed.
The Guard, smarter than most, quickly turned tail and fled. Emily turned to face Victoria, offering a hand up. “Are you all right?”
“I may have a bruise in an – unfortunate place, but otherwise I’m fine,” she told her friend, accepting the hand. “Thank you.”
Emily grinned. “You’re welcome. And look – now we’re both armed,” she said, holding aloft her stolen sword.
“That we are,” Victoria said, grinning back and raising her poker in much the same manner. “Perhaps it’s time to show these beasts we’re not as helpless as we look.”
As it was, the vast majority of the monsters in the house were getting an education in not underestimating women as fighters. Alice was slicing through everything that attacked her with an almost frightening ease. And there were a lot of things attacking her – everything from Card Guards to Snarks to little leech-like creatures that went down with one swipe of her knife (or stomp of her foot). Alice was starting to suspect the Queen had some sort of grudge against her. Probably because she knows I’m the best monster-killer in the city, she thought. Though, really, Mell from Narbonics Labs comes very close – why not harass her as well? Of course, Lewis doesn’t know her very well. . .
The thought of her friend made her eyes tear up a bit. Deep in her gut, Alice knew that Lewis was dead. He would have never allowed the Queen to make the mess she had made of the park, much less of his house. The knowledge pained her deeply – he’d been one of the few people who’d known her parents. Losing him felt like losing another link to them. Not to mention he’d made the one place in the world where she felt like she could be truly happy. . . .
Grief must come later, she reminded herself. We’re on a mission here to not lose someone else. If she thinks she can take my Victor. . . She kicked open a door and looked inside. No sign of him. She sighed in deep frustration and carried on, trying again to resist tears. Losing Lewis hurt like hell, but the idea of losing Victor. . . . He’s got to be all right. He’s got to be. But damn it, Victor, where are you?
Victor gripped his head again, praying desperately for the pain to go away. It was a futile wish – although after a moment it lessened, the ache remained, much as it had almost since the moment he’d entered the room. Why? he begged God, looking up at the ceiling. Why torture me like this? Isn’t it enough to know that I’m in the clutches of a monster? Isn’t it enough to worry about what’s going on with my friends – my family? Is the constant headache really necessary?
There was no response. Victor sighed deeply and collapsed into a chair, looking again around the ruined lab. It was beyond depressing to see Lewis’s precious tools and glassware all ruined, but it was better than focusing on the variety of other things swirling around in his aching brain. Such as what his friends were doing. Were they all right? Had any of them been hurt – or worse, k-killed? Did they know he was in here? Well, obviously, Alice knew, but had she been able to escape and tell the others? Were they now mounting a rescue? Victor didn’t know if he wanted them to or not. On the one hand, he didn’t want to be trapped in this lab, awaiting the moment when the Queen and Barkis would come and – oh God he did not want to think about that. On the other – coming into the house would be the worst thing they could possibly do. Victor had attempted escape, only to find his way blocked very firmly by the Executioner’s blade. He was certain anyone trying to break in would get a similar reception. And the idea of any of his friends d-dying to save him. . .the idea of Alice dying to save him. . . . No, it can’t happen it won’t happen I won’t let it – ARGH!
Victor winced. “Stop it!” he cried, unable to help himself. “Please, stop it! It hurts! It hurts and I can’t think!”
That was actually the worst part. This constant ache, these jolts of pain, they were doing something to him. Doing something to his brain. He was finding it harder and harder to concentrate, because every thought he had seemed to take a wrong turn straight into blinding agony. And he didn’t understand why! It was more than being frightened, he knew that much. It was – something was happening in his head, something big, and it was pulling at him and twisting his brain and God what if the Queen had started the process already he didn’t want to be her King nothing scared him more –
He felt – he felt unbalanced, was the best way to describe it. Like he was standing with one foot on solid ground and the other in quicksand. And the quicksand was slowly but surely pulling him down, no matter how hard he tried to stay steady, no matter what he did to –
He let out a cry as a fresh spike of pain went through his head. Oh God, this was too much. He could practically feel his nerves fraying. He was terrified beyond belief and worried to death about his friends and loved ones and trying not to think about what the monster who had him in her clutches was actually going to do to him and – and something about it all kept reminding him of his recurring dream! What in the name of all that was holy did glowing butterflies have to do with –
Glowing. . .butterflies. . .
Victor stared at the table beneath him, the pain vanishing in an instant as everything became clear. Of – of course. It was so simple, so easy! A mere chemical reaction he could figure out the formula and then it was just a matter of getting the butterfly’s own system to synthesize said chemicals and he could do that oh yes he could he knew butterflies inside and out and he could do whatever he wanted with them glowing was just the start and –
And – and what was he thinking?
Victor blinked a few times, trying to get a handle on his thoughts. For some reason he felt like they were running away from him, dashing off in a million different directions and giving birth to legions of other thoughts. Why was he suddenly so obsessed with –
And why stop with butterflies? He could do bees, he could do fireflies, he could do gnats, he could anything that crawled around on six legs. Or eight legs, why disregard the arachnids, spiders would be fascinating to tinker with as well – flying spiders! He was sure it could be done–
Who would want to do it? People probably would not appreciate flying spiders –
They never appreciated him anyway – well, Doc and Marty and Alice (sweet Alice) and the rest of his friends did, he had to admit that. But his parents and his peers and Burtonsville and the whole rest of the world hadn’t appreciated him, hadn’t cared about him. They’d completely ignored his genius his art his drive and –
Genius?! He wasn’t a genius! He was just an – an Igor, he –
He would show them, SHOW THEM ALL –
Victor rose slowly, bracing himself against the table, his legs shaking, his head pounding. The whole world seemed to be spinning around him, tilting and twisting crazily.
It’s like a whirlwind in your head. . . .
Somehow, he managed to direct his feet to the tiny washroom attached to the laboratory. He stumbled twice, but made it through the door.
The ideas come fast and furious, piling on top of each other. . . .
The washroom was dim, its lamp shattered into a million pieces, but there was just enough light coming in through its little window to see by. Victor, his entire body trembling now, jerkily turned on the sink taps and splashed his face with water in a desperate attempt to clear his head.
And it’s all you can do to keep up. . . .
It didn’t work. His mind was filled with visions of butterflies and moths, schematics and diagrams begging to be drawn, beakers and scalpels and Jacob’s ladders –
You get a little lost for a while. . . .
He looked at himself in the mirror above the sink. His face looked somehow paler than ever before. His black hair hung limp across his forehead, except where it was smashed down by his goggles, and the dark circles around his eyes were huge. And his eyes themselves – he’d swear they had an unnatural glow to them. He looked like he was going mad.
You must be, or else you wouldn’t have stayed here.
No. Not mad.
Victor snapped his eyes shut. “No!” he said, his voice not nearly as strong or firm as he would have liked it to be. “No, it can’t be.” He opened his eyes and stared at his reflection. “I am not To--”
No. No, to say it like that would be to make it real. He took a deep breath to try and steady himself. “I do not have Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder,” he said. That was safer. Keep saying that. Make yourself believe it. “I do not have Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder. I do not have Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder! I do NOT have Atypical Scientific –
“Neural. . .Disorder?” Actually, it sounded a bit funny when you kept saying it over and over again. “I do not have Atypical – Scientific – Neural – Disorder,” he repeated, starting to giggle. “I do not have Atypical – hehe – Scientific – hehehe – Neural – hahaha – Disorder.” Now he was beginning to laugh in earnest. “I do not have – have – hahaha – I do n-not – hahaha – h-have--”
A tiny voice somewhere deep inside of him realized that there was something wrong about this sudden mirth. Then it vanished, along with all other traces of rationality, as Victor threw his head back and dissolved into laughter.
Hysterical, mad laughter.