Broken Wonderland (An Alice In Wonderland Story)
Hello all! Just hoping that if you do happen to read through this, please comment and tell me what you think, if there's something I should change, or if you notice one of the many gramtical errors I have likely made. Also, better more creative title suggestions would rock! My title maker is all titled out.Thanks to all! Enjoy!
The sun peaked over a plateau, casting twisted shadows on the dusty little town. Only a handful of buildings, it was one of the only stops when crossing the Hourglass Desert – a nearly impossible feat. Posters dotted the walls of rundown buildings; some advertising events in another town, some informing of new taxes. Most of them, though, were bounties, sent out by the government hunting for escaped or wanted criminals. Faces covered the posters with rewards and warnings, but one stood out the most, as the very man on the poster stopped to look at it. Frowning a little, he passed on by. In no hurry, he strolled through the town.
Upon see this strange occurrence, a man grabbed the scrap of paper, and scrambled over to a set of tables outside the local saloon.
“Hey man, look at this! I think that’s him, the guy everyone’s been talking about.” A ruff-looking light-haired gentleman, maybe in his early thirties, slapped a wanted poster down on a creaky table and pointed across the road. An older man sitting across from him picked up the slip.
“Demon Cat of Alice the Witch, wanted for destruction of government property, breaking and entering, evading arrest, thievery, and the use of Magic,” the old man read aloud. He scratched his beard in thought, and he glanced across the road. The man in question, a neatly dressed stranger, stopped to speak to a woman. She stared at the sword hanging around his waist, clearly alarmed. “If you’re right, this guy could be trouble Jake…” grumbled the man to his partner.
“Yeah, but did you see that reward?” Jake whispered excitedly. “Over 100,000 gold pieces for him! That’s enough to keep a man fed for years, even split a couple of ways. Abe, this could be a big break.”
“You don’t think there’s a reason it’s so much money? I heard Kal down in the inn say five different bounty hunters went missing going after this guy!” Abe said gruffly, irritated. “I don’t like this…”
“He doesn’t look so tough, you know?” the younger man retorted. “And all he’s got on ‘em is that sword. I think-” he was cut short as the man suddenly glanced over towards them, eyes squinted, scrutinizing them. Both men, stunned, tilted their hats to hide their eyes. He turned away, and resumed speaking to the woman. Abe glanced over the description, heart pounding, and tried to make a match without staring. Obviously from the north, the man on the sheet and in the street had pale skin, and dark purple eyes. Unusually white hair, partially hidden with a short black hat, curled down to just below his chin. Though the hat hid the top of his head, and a long coat hid his back, it was clear by the black and blue spiraling tattoos on his right arm that he was one of the Agma – half human, half demon.
Blue and black lines twisted their way up the Demon Cat’s arm, forming sharp, coiling, spiraling patterns from his wrists all the way up his arm that Abe could see. He was tall and lean, though well built from the looks of it. As sand clouds drifted through the lonely little town, the two men resumed their conversation.
“You may be right, but even so, this wouldn’t be an ordinary bounty. Ha, you ever heard why call him the Demon Cat?” asked Abe, gruff voice lowered. The younger man shook his head, curious. “They say he has ears like a cat, black and blue - and a matching tail - along with sharp claws on his hands.”
“That’s absurd! Who ever heard of an Agma with cat traits? I thought they mostly resembled birds and reptiles.”
“All Agma are cursed with animal traits, as well as the demon marks. The animal depends on the demons blood that made them. The more concentrated the blood, the more the traits show through. It’s easily possible that he was summoned with the blood of a feline demon.” Jake stared at the man across the road in disgust. Agma were shunned by humans, and were banished throughout most of Wonderland. They were sometimes hunted, though few people had the strength to object when one was around. Dark clouds passed over the sun, cooling the town.
“That’s not all, you know,” a voice interjected. Both men jumped in surprise. A tall, dark-haired man stood behind them, leaning on a table; they hadn’t heard him arrive. A long, dark coat rippled in the wind, and a worn grey top hat dipped down over his face, casting sinister shadows; he raised it with a finger, bright green eyes flashing. “Hello Abe! Been a while since I came through here last, eh?”
“Hatter,” Abe grimaced. “What business have you here in Linor? Surely you haven’t given up your latest chase for this guy?”
“Bounty hunters always follow the high prices, like flies drawn to honey. And I am no exception.” Hatter grinned, glancing towards the Cat. “Thought I’d enlighten you as to a secret, though. Agma are more than different in appearance. They are stronger than any man, and faster too. I know he looks young, but that kid is fierce. Cats are tricky, you know; they slink around like thieves, and when you back them into a corner, the claws come out. I’d leave this cat to the big boys if I were you.” He stood up, showing off his full height. A silver gun glinted in its holder, and there was undoubtedly a stash of knives in his coat.
“You know, Hatter, you’ve got a messed up sense of priorities. You can’t be much older than my son,” said Abe, “and still the queen calls you in for the tougher jobs, and like a loyal dog you come running when your master calls to attack. You’re just a twisted kid with no home, so you hunt for the crown for profit. State Bounty Hunters make me sick.” Hatters face darkened at these words.
“I’m not a kid, you know; and I’ve no care of your opinion of my lifestyle, old man. And besides,” said Hatter, smirking,” you two ever want a good score, make sure to keep your eye on your target.” He grinned again and pointed across the road, where nothing stirred but dust motes. The two men stood up, shocked, their chairs falling in their haste, mouths gaping.
“What the hell? Where’d he go?!” yelled Jake, spinning to face Hatter. “W-what?! He’s gone too!” Jake stood, shoulders shaking in rage, eyes wide.
“Figures. It takes a sneak to know a sneak.” Abe picked up his chair and dusted off his jacked. “Good riddance to him,” he sneered.
“I don’t get it. What’s with that guy? He couldn’t have been older than seventeen or eighteen… but you said he was a State Bounty Hunter.” Jake moaned angrily, pulling up his chair, embarrassed by his lapse in attention. Abe pulled out a pipe and lit it, taking a deep breath.
“They call him the Mad Hatter,” explained Abe. He continued, “You never heard of him?” Jake shook his head and put it down on the table. “I’m surprised. He’s been famous since two years ago when he became the youngest bounty hunter employed by the crown in over two hundred years. And he’s good too. Never missed a target yet. Damn,” said Abe, laughing grimly and pointing at list of recently convicted men. “Even managed to get his last score and intercept the cat here, halfway across Wonderland.” He sat back in his chair and folded up the wanted poster. “I wouldn’t want to be him now though. Seems like that’s a pretty crafty cat; maybe Hatter’s finally gonna have one slip away. That’d be the day…”
“Demon Cat? No one’s ever called me that before. It sounds kind of… harsh…” Cheshire pouted as he read the wanted poster. He grinned, amused, when he saw the reward though. Loose posters rustled through the tiny town as the wind picked up, throwing waves of sand skittering across the packed earth road. The dusty little town of Linor was not what he’d expected when he was told it was a trade center in the Hourglass Desert. There were barely a few buildings standing, let alone any Freight Runner stations, shops, or telecom offices. No army outposts either, lucky for me, Cheshire thought to himself. He’d had no luck with the Wonderlandian forces these last two months; they’d sent a couple different bounty hunters after him, considerably slowing down his progress back to the capital city, Bazrius.
Seeing a woman in the street, he approached her. Catching her attention, he said, “Excuse me ma’am, could you tell me where the nearest Freight Station is?” She froze as he her, fear in her eyes. She looked at his sheathed sword resting on his hip, frightened. Cheshire sighed, and asked again.
“There ain’t one for more than fifty miles, no sir. Not nearer than Kien,” she responded quickly with a sort of toothless accent. Dismayed at this luck, he sighed again.
“And I suppose there’s an army outpost near there too?” She nodded, still wary of him. “Damn…” he mumbled quietly. The light colored coat he wore was beginning to get annoying, the hot arid weather persisting on through the day long into the afternoon. He had to roll up his sleeves, unfortunately revealing the black and blue Marks on his arm.
Suddenly, under his hat his keen ears picked up the conversation on the other side of the road; Cheshire had been absent mindedly listening in on them since he got into town, but now they were getting on his nerves. He turned to face them, startling the woman and silencing the two men. Smirking a little, he turned back to the woman, thanking her for her help. He listened again, standing in the shade, as another man joined the two’s conversation. The three of them appeared distracted, so Cheshire took the opportunity to slip away without notice.
Walking towards the end of town, he heard the alarmed men as they realized he was gone. He laughed softly to himself, amused by their lapse in attention; only, there was something different now. One of the men, the one who had joined in, was following him. The wind picked up again, and Cheshire caught his scent. He’s on the roofs? Cheshire noted, amused. Another Bounty Hunter then, trying to sneak up on me.
“This one may actually be a challenge. Up on the roof like that; how funny,” Cheshire mused aloud. I guess he thinks he’s clever up there… He took an abrupt turn down an alley, ducking between a few buildings. Slipping back behind the saloon, Cheshire found himself in a sort of corridor made by back to back buildings; only a couple of feet wide, it was impenetrable except for above and from where he had come in.
“You can come down now,” Cheshire said loud enough for the man to hear. He heard the sliding of boots on shingles, and a figure dropped down behind him, gun in hand. Cheshire turned around to take a look at his new opponent. Tall, lean, wearing a long coat that had to be more uncomfortable than his own, and a grey top hat with a red ribbon on it confirmed his identity. A Heart Suit emblem on his jacket stood out in the fading light.
“State Bounty Hunter Mad Hatter,” Cheshire declared. “Finally sending in the challenges? I heard you’re good at what you do.”
“So they say; never missed yet,” Hatter grinned and cocked the gun. “Shall this be easy, or am I going to have to waste bullets?” Overconfident. Of course… Cheshire thought.
“Waste all you like, you know who I am. What I am. Bullets don’t normally bother me so much; you know, lightning reflexes and all.” Hatter was not amused. He kept the gun pointed at Cheshire, while calculating his next move. He’s right, shooting at him won’t slow him down much, but he’s probably too strong to just take by force… Hatter had previously planted firmly in his mind that he would not need reinforcements, but that resolution was tested here.
“C’mon, just going to stand there then? Mind if I head off? Kind of in a hurry,” Cheshire teased, smiling. He knew that this, well, this kid was dangerous, but he knew he could win in a fight if it came down to it. Better not to waste time though.
Hatter gritted his teeth and stared at the Demon Cat, completely unsure of what his plan was. Cheshire turned, hands in pockets, and started walking down the corridor. Hatter swore under his breath and fired a shot aiming for the cats shoulder. Cheshire ducked it, faster than what seemed possible, and turned towards Hatter, eyes narrowed. He reached for his sword quickly, but was stopped by another shot. He dodged it, jumping up to the roof. Hatter ducked his head and ran forwards to get a better shot; turning around he pressed up against the wall, waiting for the Demon to show himself. Not a sounds was made; the cat had snuck out of sight somewhere up on the roofs.
Hatter could feel his heart pounding, adrenaline rushing through his veins like it always on a chase. He willed his breathing to slow down by taking a quick breath; he grabbed a board sticking out of the decrepit wall and clambered up to the roof, just in time to see Cheshire drop off the opposite edge. Hatter ran across the roof, sliding down in front of the table where he had talked with Abe just minutes earlier. The two men were still there, startled. Abe laughed as Hatter gracefully landed, gun in hand.
Ignoring them, he took off in the direction Cheshire had gone. He just caught a glimpse of his coat rounding a corner, and followed swiftly. Carelessly, Hatter barreled straight around the curve back into the alley. Just as he rounded a second turn, a strong arm caught him from behind, bringing a sharp blade up against his throat.
“Damn,” he swore under his breath. Cheshire turned him and shoved Hatter up against a wall, knocking the gun from his hand. It clattered to the ground next to his top hat as the blade found itself holding Hatter in place once more.
“I told you, you can waste all the shots you want, but they only count if they hit me.” Cheshire said, flashing a grin.
“Hatter. Hatter!” Black spots dancing in his fuzzy vision, Hatter could hear the gruff voice of Abe calling his name. A hand shook his shoulder, and he started to come back to his senses. He was lying on the ground in the alley, heartbeats sending waves of pain through his temple. Abe laughed as Hatter groaned and started to sit up.
“Boy, you’re lucky to be alive; hunting Agma is a dangerous job you know.” Abe laughed again. “Finally got bested, and by a cat at that!” Hatter reached up to touch his temple, fingers coming away bloody.
“Damn it,” he muttered, realizing what happened. The demon cat had gotten away. “I’m not done yet old man. Where did he go?” Hatter asked Abe. “And, wait; what the hell are you doing here?!” Abe looked down at Hatter, and said, “Well, I saw you chase the Demon Cat back there, and then nothing for a few minutes. Then the Cat came jumping off the roof and walking into the desert out of town. You didn’t show up after him so I came back to see what happened. Got to admit,” Abe said gruffly, “I thought for sure you’d be dead if the Demon got to walk away unharmed.”
“Yeah yeah, thanks, but where did he go exactly?” Hatter tried again to stand up, grabbing his gun of the ground and dusting off his hat.
“Whoa, whoa, you don’t plan on going after him right now, do you?” Abe said, standing too. Dizzy, Hatter clenched his fist and leaned on a wall for just a moment; he wiped a trickle of blood from his brow, then holstered his gun.
“Well of course I do, so just tell me where he went!” Hatter yelled aggravated. He started to leave the alley, stepping out into the soon fading sunlight.
“Well that’s a nice wound you got on your head there. You really shouldn’t move around a whole lot; but if you wanna get killed by a demon, be my guest.” Abe mumbled and walked away, calling over his shoulder, “West, towards the Western Kingdom. Probably looking for a Freight Runner station. Said something about the capital…” Abe went back to his table at the saloon grumbling and Hatter looked out towards the desert.
“Nearest Freight Runner station is in Kien. Sixty miles, two-day walk at best,” Hatter calculated out loud. “The cat will get there a little faster though…” An idea struck him. “Hey Abe!” Hatter called down the street. He turned and glanced at Hatter, questioning glance on his face. “There a Looking Glass in Rin?”
“Yeah, I suppose so.” Abe said, turning back to his companion.
Rin was another desert town, not as large as Kien, and without a Freight Runner station, but still big enough to have an industrial Looking Glass. Smaller Looking Glasses like the one in Linor and many other small towns were linked to only one or two others close by. This one happened to be linked with Rin, where the larger, government multi-use mirror was; it was one of only seven in the entire country that size.
Hatter grinned and headed back towards the other end of town, passing the saloon for the last time. An arch right on the edge of the desert lit up and hummed softly as he came near.
“Hey! The cat went the other way, towards Kien; besides, that’s gonna feel like hell on your gash there you know!” Abe called as Hatter walked past.
“Yeah yeah, just shut it…” Hatter muttered, nearing the portal door and stepping outside town. Looking Glasses had an unfortunate reputation for being pretty harsh to travel through, sometimes even breaking bones and opening wounds; but theoretically to a well-trained government bounty hunter that should rarely happen. Should. Bracing himself, Hatter activated the code on his wrist communicator; a light flashed, and the Looking Glass portal opened. Crystalline light flashed through, and colors streamed out like tentacles reaching towards the bounty hunter as he stepped closer. Through the growing lights and black spaces he could make out a fuzzy image of Rin. Dull buildings and desert sand occupied the edge of the city where the corresponding arch was located, only about a mile from where the mainstream Looking Glass was located. Hatter took off his hat, gripping firmly in one hand setting the other on his gun holster; he took a deep breath and stepped through the arch.
He was instantly sucked in a transported straight to Rin, though it felt like it took nearly a minute. Sharp, musical notes, almost like a violin, filled Hatter’s ears as he was reflected over thirty miles eastward. Lights danced in a mind-numbing pattern, crystalline features blinding him while black spaces seemed like endless tunnels going off in all directions. Closing his eyes and tensing his muscles, he prepared for the landing; hitting the ground at a dangerous speed, his breath was knocked out of him as he rolled backwards out of the portal onto the sandy pavement, almost managing to land on his feet. Crouching and tumbling backwards, he dropped his hat and inhaled deeply trying to return his lungs to normal. He dropped his head into his hands clearing his mind of the Spectrum Tunnels bizarre images.
After a few minutes, he picked up his worn hat, dusted the sand of its grey fraying rim, and headed into town, limping a little. Brick and concrete buildings lined both sides of the street, decrepit and out of place in the sandy surroundings. Dunes were visible behind him for miles and miles, and stretched further beyond what the eye could see. The city of Rin had about a thousand hardy desert-dwellers determined to stick to their homeland, even at the expense of almost total isolation from the rest of Wonderland. A paved road, buckling and heaving with the ever-changing sands went through the center of the city, while smaller packed roads led off to residential districts and government offices. Normally this outpost was a kind of informal punishment for soldiers who had ticked off their superiors in a way that wasn’t court-martial worthy. Hatter had only passed through here once before, using the Looking Glass to chase down the alleged sightings of the Demon Cat.
A dry wind picked up as Hatter walked the mile down to the Looking Glass station. The sun was starting to set in the east, casting long shadows all across the desolate town, making it seem shabbier than ever. The few people that Hatter encountered were walking quickly, faces and bodies covered against the harsh sun and sand, only sparse, terse words exchanged. Hurrying indoors before the cold desert night set in, they hardly took notice of the bloodied, dirty stranger wearing the emblem of the Queen.
After twenty minutes, he finally arrived at the governmental district of Rin. His limp was better after moving around more, but his stomach and ribs were bothering him more now. He pushed on the rusty-hinged door that gave in with a sharp creak, and a bell rang as the door opened wider alerting the clerk to Hatters arrival. Without looking up from his papers, the clerk grumbled automatically,
“Sorry, we’re closed.” Hatter frowned, having no patience for incompetents.
“Sorry, I don’t care.” He retorted harshly. That got the clerks attention. In a flurry he stood up, dropping papers and pens and knocking over an inkwell; he began bumbling an apology, now realizing that the man who had come in was none other than the infamous bounty hunter Mad Hatter.
“That’s what I thought,” Hatter smirked, crossing his arms. His ribs were feeling even worse from the portal journey, and he wasn’t in any condition to travel again that night. However, he needed this Looking Glass charged and prepared for his journey in the morning. “I need this portal set to take me to Kien, first thing in the morning,” Hatter stated.
“Yes sir! Any baggage or personnel transporting with you?” the clerk replied, startled by Hatter’s commanding presence. Hatter shook his head. The clerk began to write notes in a book. He’d never expected the infamous bounty hunter to be this young, or this beat up. But he knew much better than to question orders from someone like him though, clearly of a higher rank and very dangerous.
Without another word, Hatter headed out of the office, door creaking, bell ringing, clerk still a little out of focus after this odd encounter. Hatter marched down the road until he found the building designated for travelling government personnel. Opening the door, he checked his wrist communicators I.D. device with the computer set up downstairs, deposited his knives in the armory – keeping his gun – and headed upstairs.
A simple room painted all red with a bed, dresser, desk, and bathroom awaited him. He took off his coat and boots, letting them fall lazily to the floor; taking a look at his head in the bathroom mirror he took a mental not of the small wound and bruise that was already beginning to turn a purple color. Sighing, he pulled off his shirt, looking at his stomach. Sure enough, his lean muscles were spotted with dark purple bruising over his lower left ribs, and the bones themselves were tender to the touch – slightly fractured. Hatter fished washing up, put a bandage around his abdomen to keep the cracked bones compressed, and fell into bed, gun at his side, immediately falling into a deep and dreamless sleep.