Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 13

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The very worst moment in Tarrant Hightopp’s past is the instant he’d stood in the center of his clan’s modest village, right where the maypole should have been, right where the children should have been playing, right where his family should have been celebrating on that beautiful day. The very worst moment in his past had been standing there in the burnt brown landscape and seeing... nothing.

(He’d lost days after that. In fact, he suspects that’s when he’d so offended Time and his pocket watch had been at last cursed to show only six o’clock forevermore.)

The very worst moment in Tarrant Hightopp’s future had unrolled right in front of him. Chessur had been complaining about the scones – “Too dry. Again! Who makes these things? I thought you said Thackery hopped off last week. Has he reemployed himself here already?” – and Tarrant had been sorting through the stack of hatboxes that had just been delivered.

It had been excellent timing; he’d needed something to distract himself from the fact that Alice wouldn’t be coming to lunch today. He’d needed something to distract himself from the reason she wouldn’t be there. Every time he’d thought of the Trial of Threes, he’d felt a stab of despair incomparable to anything he’d ever experienced.

You were supposed to help her find a way around it!

“There must be another option. We’ll find it,” she’d said the day she’d told him of her decision to be the Queen’s Champion on a permanent basis.

Another option... True, there must be one. But Tarrant hadn’t found it for her despite the weeks of thought he’d put into it. He’d looked up at the clock – this clock belongs to the queen and Time would never deny her – and had known that at this moment, Alice was on her way to the battlefield to negotiate with that... creature that had destroyed his people.

Why are you here?! You should be with HER!

On this day, Alice – his Alice! – will be offering that vile creature amnesty in reward for killing and burning and DESTROYING! And there is nothing to be done about it. As Queen’s Champion, Alice cannot disobey the queen’s orders even if she wants to. Not without breaking her promise, and the breaking of a promise of that sort – the Royal Decree sort – would be very bad.

The knowing that things would have to be this way had been torturing him unrelentingly. First, in subtle silence during the final days leading up to the Trail of Threes. But then, on this day – the day of the confrontation – he’d been desperate to do anything to avoid those wild, despairing, infuriating thoughts. Sorting through the queen’s old hatboxes and ignoring Chessur hadn’t been his first choice, but then, he’d never really had much of one when it came to this particular cog in Fate’s machine.

Tarrant had just set aside a red sunhat and had moved on to the next box when, upon lifting the lid, he’d been surprised to discover a hat that had very closely resembled the Oraculum. Which had been quite odd, because Tarrant cannot recall making such a hat. Although he can’t be sure that he’s never made a hat like this one, he had thought it odd to find it in a hatbox he remembers delivering to the queen himself. And at the time, it had most definitely not contained an Oraculum Hat.

He’d lifted out the scroll – perhaps it’s not a hat after all? – and had turned around.

“Oh, I say. Is that the...?” Chessur had choked around a scone he’d just announced wasn’t worthy of being used as a bathing sponge.

“Does it look like the Oraculum to you as well?” Tarrant had asked, mildly in spite of his growing unease. And then he’d opened it and the worst, the very worst moment of his future had been laid out before him in vivid detail.

Given the fact that no one had deigned to inform him differently, it had been only natural for him to assume that the queen’s orders would be Alice’s downfall.

That bloody truce, he’d thought as he’d charged up to the Royal Office. It had been his last coherent thought until the queen had admitted defeat.

“I’ve destroyed us all...”

“I told her to protect the ones she loves!

Tarrant Hightopp understands now. He remembers Alice’s vow:

“I will not let you be hurt.”

He remembers her promise:

“I’ll win and then I’ll come back.”

He curls his fingers tighter around the scrap of leather he’d thrown around Chessur’s neck for a harness and knows exactly what he’d see if he looked down at his left hand. He’d see the darkening band of red across his finger with its first tendrils beginning to show. He’d see the weaving of her blood into his heart line. He’d see his future. Lost before he’d barely grasped it.

“A little—tight—Hatter!”

Tarrant growls at Chessur’s complaint but forces his grip to relax. The ungainly body of the Jabberwocky lurches through the air. Obviously, this is not something Chessur had taken the time to explore very thoroughly during his nighttime duels with Alice.

He bites back his complaints; after all, flying is faster than running or even racing on horseback. Tarrant grits his teeth as another awkward flap of the Jabberwocky’s wings makes his stomach lurch.

“Ye can a’least belch purple flame, cannae ye?” he hollers.

“Flame?” Chessur nearly meows in affront. It’s a strange sound to be sure, coming from a pitch-black, scaly nightmare of a flying lizard. “I learned this form from anatomy drawings! How exactly do you think I was supposed to pick up how to manufacture flame?

“So, ye’re goin’ teh be completely useless,” he yells over the wind.

“Lower your voice. I can see the battlefield just beyond those trees.”

As the checkered battlefield unfurls beneath them, Tarrant Hightopp finds himself in a quandary. Here, in this moment, he must make a choice. (A rather inconvenient time to be making choices, but there’s no avoiding it!) As he sees the long, knobby, undulating body of the true Jabberwocky rise up in the air, Tarrant finds himself torn between avenging the worst moment of his past and preventing the worst moment of his future. On this day, there is only room for one or the other.

A flash of silver gleams in the air then arcs far and wide, clattering against the stones. The Vorpal Sword now lies a hopelessly great distance from its bearer. The Jabberwocky opens its jaws and spews that hateful purple flame. The force of it pushes the Champion back and knocks the shield from her arm. As they draw closer, Tarrant watches her struggle to her feet and dive behind a nearby pillar. The Jabberwocky moves to pursue.

Too late! Too late!

Tarrant grits his teeth and makes his choice. The choice he’d already made. The only choice he could have made.

He chooses Alice.


Panting, Alice crouches behind the pillar and struggles to catch her breath. Had the Jabberwocky been that fast when she’d fought it three and a third years ago? Had the force of its blast of fire been so strong? Like throbbing, lavender lightning? She doesn’t think so.

She knows she’s delaying the inevitable. She will die here, on this battlefield, defeated in the rematch she had sought. She’d come here, she’d made a choice between the Jabberwocky and Tarrant, and somehow, it’s all gone horribly, terribly wrong.

“Hide all you like, pathetic bearer. It will not save you!”

Alice doesn’t disagree.

She can feel the ground tremble with every step the creature takes. Closer, closer, closer still...

I can’t survive this.

Alice closes her eyes with the sudden knowledge that she will break this promise – the most important one she’s made thus far. She will not fight as hard as she must. She cannot fight at all. Her hands clench into fists. She knows these hands will accomplish nothing against the Jabberwocky. This fight is finished. And Alice will lose.

I can’t keep my promise, she thinks. Regret clogs her throat, hardens within her chest.

There’s only one choice left to be made: to hide behind bits of rock or face the consequences of her actions.

She stands. Legs shaking, she moves away from the dubious shelter of the fallen pillar.

“Ah, there you are.”

Alice lifts her chin until she meets the Jabberwocky’s eyes.

Its tongue flicks out. Its stare is triumphant. “You shouldn’t have kept me waiting. It’s rude.”

The Jabberwocky pauses, drawing out the moment. Alice feels shame push tears out of her eyes and down her face. This is her death and yet she can think of nothing to say. No way to acknowledge it. There are no words that will help her part with her life. Besides, whatever she would say, she would not give to this creature. Her last words would be for Tarrant, if she’d had the power to speak them.

It’s at this moment, as Alice feels her eyes start to close, as the Jabberwocky takes a deep breath, readying itself for one last blast of flame, that a shadow passes over them, knocks her down and crashes into the Jabberwocky, all at the same time.

Alice once again finds herself gulping air. She hears a dreadful crash: a large body slamming into the ruins. And her name... she hears someone calling her name over and over again. There’s a hand in her hair. The overcast, glowing sky fills her line of sight and her eyes water again.


The shadow passes between her and the too-bright sky. Somewhere off to the side, a hideous screech rents the air and the mindless roar of flame erupts again. She’s too tired to even flinch.


She coughs, blinks, and focuses.

Tarrant’s face, tense and paler than ever, his irises nearly translucent with fear... Tarrant’s face is the shadow, she realizes. The force that had knocked her down. She raises her arms to his shoulders and loops them around his neck. In the next moment, she’s sitting upright and wrapped up in his arms. She can feel the pounding of his pulse where her fingertips rest against his throat.

You’re real, she thinks.

Another earth-shaking boom startles her. Her eyes widen and the haze of confusion vanishes.

“No!” she shouts, pulling back, pushing him away. “What are you doing here?!

His eyes narrow and their hue darkens. “I’m releasing ye from yer promise – d’nae fight the Jabberwocky. Don’kill it.”


Trust me!

Tarrant pulls her to her feet and Alice finally sees two Jabberwockies in a snarling knot, claws slashing, teeth gnashing. She stares.

And then she understands: “Chessur!”

The true Jabberwocky twists, pinning the shape-shifter to the ground, rears back, opens its jaws...

...and snaps at the air.

It roars in frustration, turning as Chessur reforms just over its shoulder and swipes at it with his claws. The Jabberwocky bellows its horrible flame, but Chessur has already disappeared again.

This time, the Jabberwocky takes nothing for granted. Twisting its neck, alert and coiled for the next attack, Alice knows this cannot go on indefinitely.

The sword!

She turns toward it. If she runs while the Jabberwocky is distracted, she might make it!


Alice is forced to look into Tarrant’s furious expression as he shakes her.

“Di’ye nae hear me? D’nae fight th’Jabberwocky!

“But Chessur...!”

Tarrant’s eyes narrow.

Behind them, the Jabberwocky howls again as his strike whistles through his foe; Chessur had evaporated yet again. “What is this mockery?!” it bellows.

Alice watches as Tarrant’s entire being changes, transforms, and suddenly, there’s a green-eyed mad hatter standing in his place. Turning, Tarrant announces, “A cat!” And then, with a stern glance, he orders, “Stand down, Chessur.”

Chessur reappears some distance from the Jabberwocky but between it and his friends, as if ready to defend them at a moment’s notice.

The Jabberwocky rattles its scales, flicks its forked tongue, and hisses, “What did you say, Outlander?”

“A cat,” Tarrant repeats, “with evaporating skills.”

“I also borrow shapes,” Chessur seems compelled to add. “But that’s neither here nor there.”

The Jabberwocky’s eyes narrow. “Indeed. For you – Cat – and you – Outlander – stand between me and my enemy. You will stand aside or you will perish. It makes no difference to me!”

The monster takes a step toward her. Tarrant leaps in the way, his arms wide. Alice stares at his broadsword, still slung across his back, sheathed. Chessur moves to intercept the Jabberwocky again and suddenly, Alice knows what she has to do.

After all, this is her fight!

STOP!” She ducks under Tarrant’s arm and takes four steps in the creature’s direction. “It ought to matter who you kill! You ought to care! You’ve killed this man’s entire clan!” Alice doesn’t take her eyes off of her foe as she gestures wildly in Tarrant’s direction. “For WHAT?! What did the Red Queen promise you on that Horvendush Day that would justify a massacre?!

“A massacre?” The Jabberwocky pauses, flicks its tongue, and shifts its volatile gaze to Tarrant. “A Hightopp, are you?” it rumbles.

Tarrant, now standing beside Alice, nods.

The Jabberwocky leans back slightly. “I see. That... was not my finest hour.”

The admission shocks Alice into silence. Even Tarrant and Chessur say nothing. When her voice finds her again, Alice asks, “But why?

Tongue flicking, the Jabberwocky coils its tail around its legs and tells her, “For the Vorpal Sword, of course.”

“Of course?” Alice parrots. “But what is so special about a sword? Why are you enemies?”

The Jabberwocky seems startled. It blinks and a look of... sadness comes over it. Its leathery wings rustle. Its snake-like whiskers droop. “You mean, you do not know?”

Alice shakes her head. “No.”

“In the hands of another, the Vorpal must be my enemy. But...” With reluctance, the Jabberwocky continues, “In my possession, it is my salvation.” The creature glances in the direction of the fallen weapon and Alice is surprised to see a wistful look about it. “The Vorpal is my heart and soul. Taken from me by one I trusted. Used against me to gift fame and glory to its wielder.” The Jabberwocky returns its gaze to Alice. “Of course I would kill for it. I am incomplete without it.”

Alice’s thoughts race. Could it be this simple? Could this be the answer to all the calamities and misery?

There’s only one way to find out...

Turning on her heel, she marches across the stones and tufts of weeds and picks up the sword. She carefully holds it in front of her, as she had the day she’d presented it to the White Queen. She walks past Tarrant and Chessur and, standing before the Jabberwocky, holds it out to him.

“Then take it,” she invites.

Alice cannot mistake the look of longing the Jabberwocky directs at the blade. “I cannot take it, bearer. It must be returned to me by a hand not my own. For that was the manner in which it was taken.”

She hesitates, for truly, here is a situation worth hesitating over. She wonders if the Jabberwocky is telling the truth. Yes, the first hour of its new life has not ended yet, and, as the texts and the queen herself had assured her, the Jabberwocky is more... vulnerable now than at any other time. But to trust it?! To trust this beast that had happily tried to kill her not once, but twice?!

This is the reason why the Jabberwocky and the sword remain enemies, why they cannot escape this unending cycle.

Alice sees the truth now: who, in their right mind, would be willing to trust such a nightmarish creature? Who would be willing to give away the one implement that has the power to control it? Who would be willing to risk their own life to right a wrong? A wrong that no record remains of... A wrong that may, very well, be pure fabrication and nothing more than a means to killing the sword’s bearer?

Who in their right mind would dare to trust the Jabberwocky?

Perhaps she’s not in her right mind, but Alice knows she has to try. The cycle cannot continue.

The battlefield is completely silent except for the sound of her footsteps. The Jabberwocky straightens as she approaches, its eyes wary, its body tense and twitching. Still Alice does not grasp the sword by the hilt.

When she is but two small steps away from the creature, when she can smell its odd, alien scent, she stops. She offers the sword and says simply, “Show me where to place it.”

The Jabberwocky’s tail curls and uncurls as it seems to deliberate. Finally, it leans back, exposing a long, slender break in the scales covering its chest. It watches her and she can feel disbelief radiating from it. It has no reason to trust her. She has no reason to trust it.

“The Vorpal Sword is yours again,” she whispers and gently lays it against the Jabberwocky’s torso, pressing it into the slender space.

In that moment, the tiny seed of hope that Alice is clutching with all her determination resonates with the same emotion in the Jabberwocky. The sword, nestled in its chest, glows, and in the next instant, a pulse of light – a shockwave – sends Alice flying backward through the air.

She curls her arms around her head and the breath is smashed out of her again when she lands on the stones. She hears nothing over the pounding of her heart and her frantic gasps for air, but there are hands on her face and the shadow covers up the sky again. For long moments, that’s all she can comprehend: the hands, the shadow, the pain in her chest and the bruises on her body.

When, at last, she manages a breath that is not cautiously shallow or too painful, she blinks her eyes and croaks, “Tarrant?”

“Aye, ye’re fine. Ye’re fine.”

Her hands reach for him, fluttering weakly. Again, he pulls her into his arms. Alice leans against him and turns toward the Jabberwocky. Her eyes widen at the sight of it now. No longer is a black, skeletal, hideous dragon twitching and glowering beside the ruins on the battlefield. The Jabberwocky’s body is still now. Calm. Its eyes are closed and its expression peaceful. Alice watches as its body fills out and its wings unfurl. And the colors! Deep blue, shimmering green, and radiant orange blossom across its scales. Its whiskers thicken and, on its skull, its crest rises like a plume atop the head of majestic bird. Finally, it opens its eyes and Alice stares again, for in each eye she sees the warm colors of dawn: yellow becomes peach and then rose.

The Jabberwocky regards her as well and then, in a soft voice, murmurs, “Thank you, former bearer.”

“Alice,” she manages. “Call me Alice... What’s your name?”

The Jabberwocky startles at her daring question.

My name? I...” It seems to have to think about its answer. “Krystoval,” it says finally. “Yes, I remember it clearly now. I am called Krystoval.”

Krystoval, the Jabberwocky, turns to Tarrant and, expression grave, intones, “I am sorry for the loss of your clan, Outlander. I regret many things I have done over the course of my existence, but that day most of all.”

Alice grasps Tarrant’s hand when he merely nods tersely in acknowledgment. She wouldn’t have been able to find words, either, if she’d received an apology for the eradication of everything she’d held dear by the very creature that had taken it all away. And the fault of it cannot wholly lie with the Jabberwocky. No, Stayne and the Red Queen had used Krystoval, had treated this creature very poorly, had twisted and starved it with shadowy promises of freedom until the barest hint of relief had driven it to kill and destroy.

No longer.

“What will you do now, Krystoval?” Alice asks.

Its mouth stretches in a toothy smile that seems oddly gentle. “Live, Alice. I shall live now.”

“The White Queen,” Alice feels compelled to say, “offers you her hospitality. You’re welcome at Mamoreal.” She hesitates, suddenly ashamed. “If you can overlook the rash actions of her Champion, that is.”

“There is no shame in fighting,” the Jabberwocky says forcefully. “Only in doing so for the wrong reason.” It gazes at her intently, evaluating the embrace she hasn’t disengaged from. “I believe your reason for fighting, Alice, must have been quite worthy.”

“Well, all’s well that ends well!” Chessur chirps, still a starved-looking Jabberwocky.

“Indeed,” Krystoval agrees. It studies Chessur with a keen eye and an embarrassed expression. “Tell me, Cat-With-Evaporating-Skills, did I truly look that horrid?”

Chessur evaporates and reappears, once again, as a smiling cat. “More so, I believe,” he comments blithely. “After all, I’ve not got your skills at frightening the wits out of others.”

“Remarkable,” the Jabberwocky murmurs. Then, turning back to them, it says, “Fairfarren, Alice. Fairfarren, Hightopp and Cat-With-Evaporating-Skills.”

“Fairfarren, Krystoval,” Alice whispers and watches as the Jabberwocky spreads its wings and takes off across the sky.

One Promise Kept: Book 1

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 8 of 13

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