March 16th, 18–
The world glowed.
Victor’s hand could barely keep up with his thoughts as he scribbled down yet another idea. He felt like he was on top of the world. Everything was just so perfect! Well, all right, not perfect, he was still the captive of a tentacle monster, but he knew his friends would deal with that. And once they came looking for him, he could show them all the amazing things he’d done! He grinned manically at the thought of their reunion. He couldn’t wait to show off for Doc and Christopher and Richard – though that reminded him, where was Emily? She should have been back by now. . .perhaps it was taking her longer than she’d thought to find Victoria? That was all right. He just wanted to make sure everything had worked as it should. But how could it not have? He was a genius, he could do anything –
Victor’s hand froze as the scream sliced through his thoughts. That scream – that was – that was Alice.
Someone had hurt Alice.
And then, the cold, cruel voice of the Queen rolled through the building, sounding deeply amused. “Hah! One for me! You’ll never beat me, Alice! Not in a million years! Shall we cut to the end and dispose of your head? Or shall I do one of your friends first?”
She had his friends. The Queen had his friends. The Queen was threatening to kill his friends. The Queen was threatening to kill Alice. Rage like had never known filled his soul. How dare she – how dare she –
Slowly, his free hand went up and slid his goggles over his eyes. Then he went back to his writing, abandoning his previous idea in favor of another. The old one wasn’t important anymore – wouldn’t suit his new purpose. He needed something better – something nastier. The world no longer glowed.
The world burned.
Alice hissed in pain as she glared up at the Queen. That had been stupid of her, leaving her left open like that. Now she had to fight with a gash in her side. Well, I’ve had worse, she thought, stabbing the next tentacle that tried to come at her. And it’ll be worth it in the end. “I think I’ll have your head instead, if you don’t mind,” she snarled, launching another croquet ball at the Queen’s face.
The Queen dodged, but not quite enough – the ball clipped her headdress, knocking it askew. She growled and slammed a tentacle deep into the floor. Alice, having seen this move a couple of times, knew what was coming and sprinted out of the way, throwing a clockwork bomb behind her. The tentacle that burst from the earth was thus met with an explosion rather than soft flesh. The Queen screamed. “Wretch!”
“Your insults need work!” Alice slammed another questing tentacle with the hobby unicorn, slit it open with her knife, then smashed it again for good measure. “How the hell did you change weapons so fast?” she heard Marty ask.
“Practice,” she said shortly, whipping out her cards and zipping a few at the Queen. The monarch was forced to use another tentacle to block them slitting her throat. Alice threw some jacks at it for good measure, and grinned as the Queen screamed in pain again. “And another for me,” she mumbled proudly.
Still, it wouldn’t do to get too cocky just yet. That was how she’d gotten hurt. She’d managed to take a lot of the Queen’s tentacles out of commission, yes, but more just kept coming. And she hadn’t gotten a scratch on any of the ones holding her friends captive. Of course, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to – the Queen had jerked those up to the ceiling once they’d started their fight, and she was worried that if she did get somebody free, they wouldn’t survive the drop. Though, really, it’s more likely she’d try to crush them after dropping them, she thought, arming a Jackbomb while dancing around yet another tentacle. Also unacceptable. Damn it, if I could just get one good shot at her face –
A tentacle behind her suddenly lashed out, whipping her into the wall. Alice yelped as she came into contact with the flesh covering – it softened the blow, admittedly, but the wet pulsing made her want to throw up. She heard the Queen laugh – then yelp herself as Alice’s dropped Jackbomb went off, setting the offending appendage on fire. Alice allowed herself a little grin as she got her feet and flung more cards at the limb. “I love a good Pyrrhic victory.”
“No victory of mine will be anything less than total!” the Queen declared. “You can’t dodge my attacks forever! You will tire, and then you will be mine!”
“I’ll tire, granted,” Alice said, slipping around a pillar. “But I promise you that you will be dead before I do. You’ve tried to take everything I love away from me, and I will not stand for it.”
“No, you will lay down for it!” Another tentacle tried to crush Alice, but the young woman rolled out of the way and smacked it with the croquet mallet for its trouble. The Queen shrieked as electricity raced up the limb, shocking her. “I see now – I’m being too easy on you! I didn’t know if this would even work, but no time like the present to see!” She hit something on her throne with her scepter.
Bright beams of red light suddenly flashed out from the decoration on top of the seat. One hit Alice’s arm, and she pulled it back with a cry. That had stung! She could even see a little burn mark where it had hit. “Great Scott!” she heard Doc gasp.
“You stole that from those notes Lewis took on my report on the Jabberwock!” Sir Christopher accused, glaring. “I recognize that! That’s a variation on the damn thing’s eye beam!”
“Dear Lewis was hoping to use it against the Jabberspawn,” the Queen said, a darkly playful trill in her voice. “I think I’ve put it to a better AAARRRGGHH!”
The Queen’s body jerked as the croquet ball hit her right in the stomach, sending shocks of electricity through her. “Yes, please have a conversation in the middle of our battle!” Alice mocked, grabbing her teapot cannon and charging it. “I’ll take any distraction I can get to bring you down!” She launched a pocket watch full of tea straight at the monarch’s head.
The Queen tried to bat it away, but only injured another tentacle in the process. “Enough of this!” she screamed, gesturing wildly with her scepter. “You have defied me for too long, Liddell girl!” One tentacle snapped out and managed to grab Alice around the waist. Alice stabbed it a couple of times, but it didn’t let go. “Forget my beautiful tentacles – I’ll kill you with my own two hands!”
That was pretty much the stupidest thing Alice had ever heard – why use your hands when you had what appeared to be an infinite number of much stronger tentacles? – but she didn’t think the Queen was going to win any awards for intelligence. Besides, this gave her the chance she’d been waiting for. She let the appendage bring her right up to the Queen without resistance. “What – now you’re going to stop fighting?” the Queen asked, eyes narrowed.
“No,” Alice said, and hit the Queen as hard as she could in the face with her fist.
The Queen’s head snapped to the side from the force of the blow, her mask breaking along its seam and flying off. The monarch screamed and whipped her face back around. “HOW DARE YOU?!”
Alice didn’t reply. She couldn’t. Her jaw was too busy hanging open to form words. The Queen – her hair was too bright, and her eyes completely the wrong color, but the rest of the face –
It was her own.
The Queen had her face.
“Uh, Alice, did some of your old psychoses escape your head and take physical form?” she heard Richard ask from a long way away.
“IMBECILE!” Alice found herself flung back to the floor while the Queen glared up at her friend. She let herself lay there for a moment, both to get her breath back and to try and process what she’d just seen. “HOW DARE YOU IMPLY THAT I AM NOTHING MORE THAN A PART OF THIS WORTHLESS BEING?! THAT I AM JUST A COPY OF HER? I AM MORE THAN THAT! LEWIS FOUND THAT OUT THE HARD WAY!”
“Lewis. . . ?” Alice started, then stopped, not even sure what she wanted to ask.
The Queen turned her megawatt snarl back on her. “He loved you,” she hissed. “He thought you were beautiful and amazing and all those other stupid words. He wanted you to be his. But then you decided you preferred that Van Dort boy, so he decided that if he couldn’t have the original. . . .”
This – this was insane. Lewis had been in love with her?! How had she never noticed that? Then again, she’d always thought of him as more of a beloved crazy uncle rather than a potential suitor. . . . And he’d created the Queen with the intent of making another her? This – this bitch was supposed to be Alice: The Sequel? That doesn’t say a lot good about me, does it?
“How the hell did you end up with tentacles if you were supposed to be Alice?” Marty asked, voicing the question that was on her mind.
“BECAUSE I’M BETTER! I AM MORE THAN ANYONE’S COPY! CERTAINLY MORE THAN HERS! I AM THE QUEEN OF HEARTS, RIGHTFUL RULER OF THE WORLD!”
All right – trying to puzzle out all this new information has to wait until I’ve dealt with my megalomanic “twin.” Alice sprang back to her feet. “I don’t think so, sister,” she snarled, pulling out her pepper grinder.
“DON’T YOU DARE CALL ME THAT!” A tentacle slammed down, but Alice was already on the move, peppering the Queen’s body as she ran. “You and your friends will die this day! Your broken bodies will be preserved forevermore as a testament to what happens to those who oppose my power!”
“Including Victor?” Alice said, feeling a spike of terror as she thought about him. Oh God, where was he? How was he? Emily had said she wouldn’t like what had happened to him –
The Queen smiled. “Oh no, not Victor. You see – when I want someone, I just take the original.”
For a moment, Alice went numb. Then every nerve in her body went white-hot with fury. “Don’t. You. Touch. Him,” she growled, trembling with the force of her rage.
“Make me,” the Queen smirked, leaning down.
The laboratory door banged open, and Victor stepped out into the hallway. He looked right and left, his goggles catching what little light there was and temporarily turning his eyes into blank white discs. Odd – no Executioner. Victor had thought he would have to deal with the monster in some way. Oh well, it didn’t matter right now. He had bigger fish to fry. He touched the syringe carefully tucked away in his jacket pocket, then turned and started toward the Queen’s throne room.
A Boojum, floating in one of the connecting halls, eyed the young man, wondering what sort of meal he’d make. It was feeling very hungry, and this human, though thin, would help stave off the pangs for a while, at least. It was just making the decision to pop out and scream at him –
When it caught the expression on Victor’s face.
The Boojum promptly decided that what it really wanted was to be as far away from wherever that human was going as possible.
Alice felt like she’d moved into another dimension as she slashed open yet another tentacle. One where the only colors were black, white, and red. The world around her had faded into nothing more than a monochrome backdrop to her rage. The only thing that mattered was the monster sitting on the throne in front of her. Every particle of her body was on fire, burning with the heat of her anger. How dare the Queen try to take Victor away from her? How dare she try to destroy the man she loved? HOW DARE SHE?
She lunged again with her knife, spraying blood all around as the blade hit its mark. She’d lost most of her other weapons – a lucky strike by a tentacle had broken the harness, and the whole lot had been torn off shortly afterwards – but she didn’t care. She still had her Vorpal Blade. That was all she needed. She’d cut this Queen to pieces. She’d rip her apart with her bare hands if need be. No one, but no one, threatened her Victor. Especially not this pathetic attempt at cloning. You’re right – you’re not me, she thought, as she leaped over a tentacle trying to sweep her legs out from under her. You are a monster, and you don’t deserve to live.
A flash of red alerted her to the fact that the Queen was trying those focused light beams again. She hid from their attack behind a pillar, panting as she took the moment to rest. She was taking a beating, she knew that. After this fight was over, she’d probably be sore for days, at the very least. But it would be worth it. It would be worth it to save him. She returned to the fight, slashing and stabbing and cutting, buoyed by the endless energy desperate fear and love could bring.
Suddenly, two tentacles tried to smash her between them. Alice tried to dodge, tripped, then decided to go ahead and stay on the floor for a moment, since that seemed to be safer. The tentacles missed their chance to crush her, but one managed to whip down and pin her. Alice hacked at it as best she could with her knife as the Queen raised the other. “Any last words, sister?” the monarch said mockingly, grinning.
Alice glared up at her. This wasn’t going to kill her. Or hell, even if it did, she was going to Reanimate herself through sheer willpower and keep up the fight. She stabbed and kicked, all while keeping an eye on the tentacle ready to strike so she could move her head when –
BANG! “Let. Them. Go.”
The Queen froze and looked up. Alice tilted her head to try and see what had happened. The doors of the throne room had been flung open, and standing in the doorway was – Victor? Alice wasn’t sure if she was relieved he was all right, or scared half to death that he wouldn’t be all right once the Queen had gotten over her shock. What on earth are you doing here? Did you run without thinking again?
“Why are you here?” the Queen demanded. “You should be back in the lab!”
Victor advanced into the room, eyes fixed on the Queen. Well, Alice thought they were, anyway – he had his goggles pulled down over them, making it impossible to see for sure. Below the blank green discs, his mouth was set into a thin grey line, and his entire body was held stiff and tall. Every pore of his body seemed to radiate rage. It was – it was disconcerting, if Alice was honest with herself. She’d never seen Victor like this before. “Victor?” she said quietly.
Victor’s head tilted down toward her a moment. Then he looked back at the Queen. “I got out,” he said, his voice cold. “I got out, and now I’m going to end you.”
“Are you.” The Queen sounded almost bored. “She couldn’t manage it.” She poked at Alice. “Your precious Liddell girl.”
“Hilarious,” Victor replied, just as deadpan as the Queen. “Release her now. Release all of them. Safely,” he added, glancing up at the group dangling near the ceiling.
“And why should I do that?”
“Because I’m going to murder you, and I don’t want them getting hurt.” The eeriest part, Alice decided, was just how – calm he sounded. His was a sort of tranquil fury, zeroed in tightly on one and only one target. One that didn’t mess about with shouting or flailing or any of that. Victor had one goal in mind, and he was going to see it through. But what could he do to this Queen that she hadn’t already tried? Was this some strange, elaborate form of committing suicide? What did you do to him, what did you do to him–
The Queen laughed. “You really think you can kill me? When my Executioner first brought you here, you seemed on the verge of soiling yourself.”
“That was then, this is now. Release. Them.”
There was a long silence. Alice thought she could feel the world holding its breath, wondering what would happen. “All right,” the Queen suddenly said. “I suppose I can indulge my future king.” Alice felt the tentacle pinning her quickly wrap around her and pick her up. “And besides, I think everyone should get a very good view of what’s going to happen to you.” The tentacle placed her in one of the room’s back corners, next to her other friends. Couples and close friends immediately bunched together, making sure each other were all right. Doc and Sir Christopher each laid a hand on her shoulders, while Richard looked her over. Alice nodded vaguely at them, her attention fixed on the Queen and Victor. “Because I can always make my monarch out of your spare parts,” the Queen continued, readying a tentacle.
“That’s not going to happen,” Victor said, and – and there was something wrong with his voice, something that she couldn’t place right at the moment. . . . “You hurt my friends. You hurt the woman I love. There is only one punishment for that.”
“And there is only one punishment for those who defy me,” the Queen shot back, eyes narrowing. “Let’s see which of us is quicker.” She swept down with the tentacle, and Alice felt the scream filling her lungs even as she started to lunge forward –
But Victor spun out of the way, yanking something from his pocket as he did so. Alice saw a moment later it was a syringe. Quick as lightning, he slammed the needle into the tentacle and pressed the plunger. Then he darted backward, as if wanting to put as much space between it and him as possible. Alice couldn’t blame him. “Hah! That’s your grand plan? Inject me with something?” the Queen said, laughing loudly. “You fool! How could one of your little chemical concoctions make any difference to--”
And then she stopped. The expression on her face changed to one of puzzlement – and just a little pain. “What – what is--” A strange, slightly bulging line was forming on the tentacle, zipping its way up back to her main body. “What did you--”
Victor just looked at her. “What made you think it was chemicals?”
The Queen never got a chance to answer. She barely got a chance to scream. Out of nowhere, the line of skin erupted, and –
Once, when she’d been trapped in her head’s twisted version of Wonderland Park, Alice had had to fight long-limbed spiders with china doll faces on their backs, the porcelain trapped forever in screaming rage. She never thought she’d see anything more terrible in her life, real or imagined.
She’d been wrong. Nothing could be worse than these spiders, which looked almost normal but which tore and mangled flesh like little buzz saws. Nobody could do anything but stare as the Queen was, within minutes, practically eaten alive from the inside out. A sick, angry part of Alice snapped that it was all that the bitch deserved, but Alice shushed it. Monster or not, deserving or not (and the Queen was both), that was a horrible way to go.
A few of the spiders dropped off the now limp and mangled body. Some started chewing on the floor, but others started skittering toward the corner. Toothless immediately got in front of the humans and started inhaling, a green gas cloud forming in his mouth –
And then, out of nowhere, the spiders just – dropped dead. All of them. Right in the middle of their work. Toothless stopped, eyes wide with confusion. “The hell. . . ?” Marty whispered.
“They die after five minutes,” Victor said, his voice still terribly calm. He was standing with his back to them, surveying his work. “Their metabolisms are too unstable to keep them alive long. And they’re not actually getting any nourishment from what they do, which doesn’t help. Spiders survive on liquids, not solids. They were designed just to rip her to pieces, then die.”
“And give all of us n-nightmares,” Hiccup said, voicing the general opinion of the group.
“I’m sorry,” Victor replied, not turning around. “It was an unfortunate side effect. Better some nightmares than death.”
Flint shook his head, cautiously inching toward a few of the dead bodies. “Yikes, Victor,” he said, voice shaky. “Where the hell did you find those?”
There was a moment of ominous silence. “Find?” Victor whispered, his voice barely audible. And then, suddenly, he whipped around, and his face was ablaze with anger behind the goggles. “FIND?! I MADE THEM, YOU CRETINOUS EXCUSE FOR A SCIENTIST! I AM THEIR CREATOR! AND YOU WILL RECOGNIZE MY GENIUS!”
Alice’s jaw dropped. The wrongness was back in Victor’s voice, but this time she recognized it. And – and it was – it couldn’t be, Victor couldn’t be – She looked up to see the others gaping as well. Doc’s jaw in particular seemed ready to hit the ground. “He’s – he’s--” the scientist whispered weakly.
“THAT’S RIGHT! I AM THE EQUAL TO ANY OF YOU!” Victor roared. He was practically surrounded by an aura of fiery Creativity now, burning up with anger and madness. “I AM JUST AS SMART AS ANY OTHER SO-CALLED SCIENTIST IN THIS CITY! I AM CAPABLE OF WONDERS – OF MIRACLES! YOU JUST SAW THAT! I – I CAN DO ANYTHING! BUT YOU PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT, DO YOU? YOU WANT ME TO STAY FOREVER IN THE ROLE OF IGOR! THE ROLE OF THE PUT-UPON ASSISTANT! I WILL MAKE YOU SEE WHAT I AM CAPABLE OF! YOU WILL MARVEL AT MY INVENTIONS! YOU WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I AM A GENIUS, A GOD AMONG MEN!”
“Holy shit,” Marty said, for what had to be the fiftieth time that day. Alice couldn’t blame him, though. Seeing Victor like this – it defied all sense. He wasn’t the sort who was supposed to go ranting and screaming about those fools who had dismissed him. He was quiet and gentle and – and God, was there any of that left? Any of him left? Could his mind have actually survived going a bit Creative?
“I WILL SHOW YOU! I WILL SHOW EVERYONE! EVERYONE WHO’S EVER PUT ME DOWN, EVERYONE WHO’S EVER THROWN ME ASIDE, EVERYONE WHO’S EVER SAID I WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH! I WILL SHOW! THEM! ALL!” Victor flung his arms wide and laughed maniacally. Alice could swear she heard a roll of thunder accompany him. “YOU’LL SEE! YOU’LL ALL SEE WHO THE BEST SCIENTIST IN SECUNDUS IS!”
Alice couldn’t stand it anymore. She bolted forward and grabbed him. “Victor! Victor, snap out of it! Look at me!”
Victor looked, and the sight of him peering at her through his goggles was somehow even scarier than the spiders. He grinned at her, a grin that split his face in two and showed far, far too many teeth. “Don’t try and stop me!” he told her, terrifyingly cheerful. “I’m going to prove to everyone just how far my genius goes!”
“Victor, you’re scaring me,” Alice begged, feeling the unshed tears she’d been holding back for so long finally start spilling out. “Please, please stop. . . .”
“When I’m right on the threshold of getting the respect I deserve? On the brink of creating science the world has never seen before? On the edge of my greatest triumph?!”
“Victor, I love you!”
Victor froze. Alice could feel the world holding its breath again. “You – you didn’t stutter,” he said after a moment, his voice quieter.
She shook her head. Sheer desperation to get her Victor back had killed that annoying little stammer. She was glad to see it go. “I love you,” she repeated, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her head into his chest. God, she could feel how stiff he was. And she could hear his heart pounding in his ribcage, like some frightened creature trying to break free. “Please calm down.”
There was another too-long silence. Then, slowly, his hands came up to embrace her. “A-Alice?” he said, and it was his voice again, quiet and nervous and rather tired. She looked up to see the grin gone, replaced with a look of vague confusion. “I – I d-don’t feel so well. . . .”
Unable to take the blank gaze of the goggles any longer, Alice reached up and lifted them off his eyes. Behind them, his face looked exhausted – like he’d gone without sleep for days. She kissed his cheek. “It’s all right. I’m here.”
“I – what happened? The – the Q-Queen took me, and I was i-in Lewis’s lab, and – and I h-had this awful headache, and I w-wanted it to go away, then – then everything w-went strange. . .” He looked around, as if trying to orient himself. “I had all these i-ideas, and everything w-was moving so fast, and – and I heard you s-scream, and I got so angry, and--”
His gaze fell on the Queen. His eyes widened. “And I. . .I. . . .”
Oh shit, this was not a good time for him to have a panic attack. Alice quickly grabbed his chin and made him look back at her. “Victor, it’s all right. You’ve just had a bit of a – um – breakthrough--”
Victor stared through her, horror bubbling up in his brown eyes. “I killed someone. Oh my God, I just killed someone!” His hands fastened on her clothes in a death grip. “And I wanted to do it! I wanted to see her scream and flail and – I felt nothing, I just – oh God and I just threatened all of you, I could have hurt any of you--” His pale face somehow whitened all the more. “EMILY! Dear Lord, what did I do to Emily?!”
His legs collapsed beneath him as he started screaming and sobbing. Alice let herself be dragged down with him, beyond horrified. This was worse than him ranting. She hugged him tight, trying against hope to calm him down. “Victor! Victor, it’s all right, she’s here! She’s fine!”
“That’s right!” Emily said, rushing forward. “I’m just fine! Victor, it worked! You may even have saved my – my life, I suppose! You just saved us all!”
But Victor was beyond hearing, babbling on to himself about “monster” and “murderer.” Alice looked to her friends desperately. “What do we do?”
“I--” Doc looked completely lost. “I don’t – never in a million years would I have--” He looked to Sir Christopher, who seemed as stuck for answers as him. Victoria clung to the latter, eyes wide with shock.
Victor suddenly let out a little “ow.” Alice looked back to see Richard backing away, his gun finger open and a needle poking out of it. “Just a sedative!” he said, holding up his hands. “Just a sedative. I figured he could use one.”
“Should have poisoned me,” Victor whimpered, tears streaming from his eyes. “Should have done to me what I did to the Queen, should have – oooh.” He suddenly sagged forward, blinking. “I – that was quick--”
“Fastest-acting one,” Richard said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Come on now, off to dreamland. . . .”
Victor seemed only too happy to follow the instruction. He slumped against Alice, eyes closing and body going limp. After a few moments, his breathing had shifted to the pattern of sleep. Alice held him tight, stroking his hair. “What do we do now?” she whispered.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not going to be able to think of anything in this place,” Astrid said, her hand clenching Hiccup’s. Beside them, Gromit nodded, trembling a little.
“I concur,” Doc said, letting out a deep breath. “Let’s get out of here.”
“All right, folks, I’m sorry, but we’ve already let them go over the time we gave them--”
“No! Please Baron Wulfenbach, we don’t know for sure yet,” Susan Liddell begged. “If she’s still in there, if she’s still alive--”
“The tentacles have stopped waving about too,” Fishlegs agreed. “Do you really want Hiccup’s father coming to ‘talk’ to you because you killed his son?”
“The threat to Secundus, and possibly the entire world, is too great!” Baron Wulfenbach snapped. “We need to--”
“Look!” a voice called. “There’s something moving in there!”
All eyes turned back to the hole Alice had blasted into the wall. Sure enough, there was something jogging its way through the darkness – barely visible, but making plenty of noise. After a few moments, it was revealed as Toothless, carting on his back not only Hiccup and Astrid, but Flint and Gromit as well. “Hiccup!” Snotlout cried. “You scared the Hel out of us, cuz!”
“How many did you kill before the Queen said ‘Take her back,’ Astrid?” Ruff said with a grin that belied her deep relief at seeing her friend alive.
“Trust me, she made the walls run red in there,” Flint said, dismounting and giving Toothless a friendly pat.
“Flint!” Sam ran up in tears and embraced him. “Oh, Flint, I thought – you have got to stop doing that!”
“Hey, this time it wasn’t my idea!” Flint protested, hugging her back. “I am so glad to see you all right, Sam. I was worried that – that maybe--”
“I’m fine,” Sam said, and managed a laugh. “No peanut allergies to deal with, even.”
“Steve!” Steve cried happily, jumping on Flint’s head.
“I’m really glad to see you too,” Flint nodded, grinning up at the monkey. “Where’s Manny?”
“Right here,” Manny said, materializing from the crowd. “It is good to see you alive. We were starting to wonder. . . .”
“Takes a lot more than that to take us all down,” Hiccup said, accepting a hug from Fishlegs. “Oof, crushing me a bit there, Legs.”
“Gromit!” Wallace appeared and swept his dog up into a warm embrace, which Gromit gladly returned. “Oh, Gromit. . . .”
Gromit patted his back, sniffling a little. “That’s a great dog you have there,” Astrid said with a fond smile. “I wouldn’t have let anything happen to him.”
“Thank you so much,” Wallace said, putting Gromit down to shake her hand. “I don’t know what I would have done without him.” Gromit nodded his agreement.
The sound of debris shifting caught everyone’s attention again. A very tall figure appeared from the hole, leading a rather decayed one by the hand. “Watch your step – and your knee.”
“You know, if that had broken earlier, we might have been able to avoid some of this.”
The couple was set upon by the March Hare, the Dormouse, Bonejangles, Jack, and Sally. “We were so worried about you!” Sally said, hugging Emily, then looking her all over. “You’ve lost your shoes!”
“Better than losing the rest of me,” Emily said, returning the hug. “How are you all doing?”
“Just fine,” Bonejangles said, patting her back in a brotherly fashion. “Jack and his crew took care of some of those nasties – and you’ve got a certain creepy crawly to thank for us knowing where you were.”
“Where have you been?” March demanded, bouncing up and down while wringing his paws. “The tea has gone cold and there’s no more biscuits and damn it Richard, I thought you were dead!” He flung himself on his friend, crying. Dormy attached himself to one of Richard’s legs. “You are a foolish man and don’t deserve any sugar.”
“A fool for love, maybe,” Richard said, patting March’s back. “I had to go in. But I am quite happy to see you and Dormy safe.” He squeezed his pal. “Don’t you ever leave my tea table again, you hear?”
“Not even to go to the toilet?” Dormy asked.
“We’ll use chamberpots.”
“Richard!” Emily said with a laugh. Then her expression turned serious as she turned back to the house. “Victoria? Are you all right?”
“We’re fine!” Victoria said. She and Sir Christopher appeared in the hole’s mouth next, hand in hand. “It’s just a bit hard to get over some of this wreckage.”
“Indeed,” Sir Christopher said, frowning at the debris. Then he looked over at his love with a smile. “You know, you could put down the poker, my dear.”
“I earned this poker,” Victoria said firmly. “And it makes quite a good walking stick.”
“Victoria!” Maudeline hurried forward, Finis wobbling behind. “Where are your corsets?!”
Victoria smiled, experience telling her this was her mother’s way of making sure she was all right. “Right where they should be. Oh, I’m glad to see you and Father alive. . .where’s Hildegarde?”
“Here, dear!” Hildegarde hobbled up, arms wide for a hug. “Oh Miss Victoria, we were all so scared for you. . .”
“I was scared for you too,” Victoria said, embracing her warmly. “I’m so happy to see you well! How did you get away?”
“This quiet young lady with a talking ball saved me from some of those odd ghosties, then I fell in with a group of talking ponies. Quite nice creatures, really.” She indicated a small herd of multicolored ponies standing some ways away. A few of them waved their hooves. “How did you get out of there in one piece, though? They told us that was the most dangerous place in all of Secundus!”
“I managed,” Victoria said, hefting her poker proudly. “Though if Christopher hadn’t come along at one moment, I might not have made it out.”
Maudeline and Finis turned to Sir Christopher with wide eyes. “You – you saved her life,” Finis said, sounding like he wanted to disbelieve it but knew the facts were against that.
“I told you – I would get your daughter out safely, or die trying,” Sir Christopher said, folding his arms. “I keep my promises, Lord Everglot. Especially to the people I love more than life.”
The elder Everglots were silent for a moment, looking first between Sir Christopher and Victoria, then at the gathered crowd (with a particularly long stare at Lady Heterodyne and Baron Wulfenbach), then at each other. They seemed to have a silent conversation with their eyes, which ended with a long sigh. “How much did you say you got a year again?” Finis finally asked, looking defeated.
Victoria’s heart gave a leap. “You – you mean--”
“It would actually do more harm to our reputation now to reject his proposal,” Maudeline explained, rolling her eyes. “So under the circumstances. . . .”
“Oh Mother!” Victoria flung her arms around Maudeline. “Thank you!”
“I’m much obliged, Lord and Lady Everglot,” Sir Christopher said with a bright smile.
“You’re welcome,” Finis grumbled.
“Yes,” Maudeline nodded stiffly. “Victoria, please, public displays of affection are so vulgar.”
There was another shift in the debris, then Alice climbed out of the hole, looking rather pale and shell-shocked. “Alice!” Susan cried, racing to meet her with Charles at her heels. “Oh, darling, are you all right?”
“Aunt Susan, Uncle Charles. . . .” Alice pulled them into a hug. “You’re all right. . . .”
“We’re fine, dear,” Charles said, kissing the top of her head. “We’re just glad to see you in one piece.”
“I know! Oh Alice, you look like one big bruise. . . .” Susan pulled away, frowning. “But dear – where’s Victor?”
Alice turned back toward the hole in response. Everyone followed her lead as the final few figures came stumbling out. Marty was in front, with Doc following him over the rubble. And in Doc’s arms – was the limp figure of one Victor Van Dort, eyes closed and head lolling.
The entire company held its breath. “Is – is he--” Tuffnut asked.
“No, just sedated,” Richard said, looking at the ground. “He’s – not well.”
“You there! Where are you going with my son?”
Nell Van Dort came rushing up through the body of people, dragging her husband along behind her. Doc jumped, pulling Victor closer to him in his surprise. “Mrs. Van Dort--” he started, voice a little shaky.
“What happened to him?” Nell demanded, then shook her head. “You did something else to him while he was in there, didn’t you? Put him down right now! William, get the carriage ready, we’re taking him home! No more of this ‘Secundus is good for me’ nonsense!”
“Yes, dear,” William said, looking rather stunned. “M-Mayhew. . . .”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Van Dort, but it’s imperative that your son stays with us,” Doc said, backing away.
“Why? So you can continue to experiment on him?” Nell snarled, gesturing with her fan as Mayhew came to join his employers.
Something in Doc seemed to snap. “Because it’s inadvisable to start dragging him all over the countryside right now!” he yelled, causing both Nell and everyone around her to jump. “Mrs. Van Dort, your son has a very pronounced case of Atypical Scientific Neural Disorder!”
“What in God’s name does--” Nell started, glaring.
“In plain English, your son’s Touched!”
Nell’s face went white. All around the scene, people gaped in astonishment. “Victor?” Susan managed to say, mouth hanging open. “That – that shy little boy--”
Doc nodded, the anger draining out of his face. “He went Creative in there,” he said, voice low. “He – he just saved all our lives.”
“In the creepiest way possible,” Hiccup added, shuddering. “I’m not going to be able to look at spiders for ages.”
“Yes – judging by what he did to kill the Queen, he’s at least a Somewhat, and there’s a strong possibility he’s a Severely,” Sir Christopher added.
Lady Heterodyne and Baron Wulfenbach looked at each other, eyes wide. “A new Severely Touched? We should probably investigate,” Lady Heterodyne commented.
“Please,” Doc said, and suddenly he looked every inch his sixty-five years. “Please let me get him home. You can talk to him later, see how he is, but – I just want to bring him home.”
Lady Heterodyne looked at him a moment. Then she nodded, expression sympathetic. “All right. It looks like we’ve got a clean-up job to worry about here first anyway. You get him to bed. We’ll be by once he wakes up.”
Doc nodded, then started out of the park, Marty at his side. Everyone watched the three go. Then Lady Heterodyne sighed. “This is going to be a long night. All right, what was this about spiders?”