Continuing Tales

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 17

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Alice meanders down the glimmering white castle drive, past the susurrus calls carried on the light breeze through the ever-blossoming cherry trees, and considers her heart line, her promise, and the consequences of both.

How could a heart line open one up to madness? She hadn’t asked. She should have. It just hadn’t seemed like the best time to go into the details. If she’d had to look into Tarrant’s utterly pale, hopeless eyes for one more moment, she would have... would have...

Alice shudders.

She turns her mind away from the chill – but the sun is shining! – and considers what she remembers from Mirana’s text on Underlandian rites. She supposes it’s only logical that if a heart line can help stabilize one partner’s madness, it would also have the power to evoke it in the other.

But a promise...? How could a promise meant to keep her alive and safe possibly turn her into a Champion? A murderer? A lying, deceiving, callous, cold-hearted, sadistic mercenary?

It’s only a promise!!

But, in Underland, promises are real in ways Alice had never before imagined they could be. And, here – in Underland – Alice has become things she’d never thought she could be: a fighter, a lover, a killer.

A killer.

Of course. How could Tarrant want her? He’d made her into a Champion and she’d used that gift – the power of that promise – and twisted it into something so repulsive, so revolting, that it’s no wonder he...

Midway down the drive, she has to stop, close her eyes, and take a deep breath before she can continue onward.

Tarrant had done her a tremendous favor, she realizes, in releasing her from that promise. True, she’s lost all that she’d gained – her purpose, her friends, her home, her Hatter – but that only means the last four months have been erased, doesn’t it? She’s just Alice again. Whoever that is. Whoever that will be now that she’s... free.

Free. She tries – and fails – to think of a more miserable word.

Alice reaches the main gate and stops, considering the world before her. It’s difficult to know where to go. Someplace where there are no Outlanders, no mercenaries, no laughing beasts. No one for her to attack or hurt or kill...

For a moment, her thoughts conjure up the image of a looking glass. But even as lost as she is, she can’t bring herself to seriously consider locating one and fleeing to her mother’s bedroom through it. She will not run away. She will make a choice.

Only, which one ought she make?

Alice sighs. “I feel like a little girl again.” And much less muchier. Muchless.

There’s a slight breeze against her nose an instant before a brilliantly blue butterfly flutters in front of her eyes. Alice flinches back and makes a face. Of course, with all of the things she has to deal with – and can’t deal with at the moment – naturally, Absolem would show up to remind her just how stupid she is. How not hardly Alice she is.

“You have no idea how glad I am you can’t talk anymore,” she informs him.

His antennae twitch irritably. He flutters to the right, along the outside of the castle wall, wandering at a languid pace. Alice watches him for a moment, but then he stops, alights on the white stone wall, turns toward her and waves her closer with an odd curling motion of his antennae.

With no other options at the moment, she does as he requests. “I hope you’re not going to get me into trouble. I’m dangerous now, you know. Mad. A mercenary. A murderer.”

All of which start with the letter M, she thinks idly.

Absolem doesn’t appear to care, however.

Twice, she stops, just to see if he really is trying to get her to follow him somewhere. And each time he lands on the wall and motions her to continue. When she rounds the corner, she blinks at the sight of Absolem just touching down on the Bandersnatch’s head, next to his ear which twitches. The beast turns his great head toward Alice and seems to be both listening to Absolem’s inaudible whisper and considering Alice.

“Grrrrb?” he asks her, waddling closer.

Alice just smiles and scratches his nose and the bony place between his eyes. He relishes the attention until Absolem flaps his wings impatiently, tickling the Bandersnatch’s floppy ear.

Huffing, he informs Alice, “Gr. Gr. Grrrrt!” And moves up next to her until it only requires a single, small leap to throw herself onto his back.

She hesitates and considers Absolem, watching her and somehow looking thoroughly put out from the top of one furry ear. “And just where do you think I need to be right now?” she asks him, knowing he can’t possibly answer. “Perhaps you’ve found another Jabberwocky for me to slay?” she half-jokes, half-accuses.

Absolem flutters into the air and hovers over the Bandersnatch’s head. If he’d had his hookah, he would have been tapping the mouthpiece against one of his many feet in irritation.

Alice sighs and considers the Bandersnatch.

Well, she thinks, why not? It hurts too much to stay in Mamoreal. Perhaps Absolem is right; perhaps what she needs is a different place. A place with no memories of the Queen’s Champion.

“Bandy,” she says, stroking his fur. “Don’t you let me hurt anyone. Sometimes I lose my temper and...” Her hand fists in his shaggy pelt.

“Grrb grrrr.”

Wondering if that solemn-sounding purr can be considered a promise, Alice climbs onto his back, settles herself between his shoulder blades and holds on. She doesn’t look back at Mamoreal this time, either. Not because she thinks she’ll see the Tarrant Hightopp standing – waiting for her – under the boughs of the cheery trees, but because she secretly fears that, were she to give in and look back, she would find the castle, its occupants, and all hope... gone. A dream, a figment of her imagination, she can live with, but one more nightmare will destroy her.


Sometimes, Chessur almost hates Tarrant Hightopp.

The foolish, self-absorbed, angsting twit!

Had he not distinctly heard the queen order him to not overwhelm Alice?

Chessur rolls his eyes. Perhaps he hadn’t. That hatter’s bloody madness. Nothing good comes of it anymore. True, it had been quite useful during the reign of the Red Queen. Chessur had even admired him – just the tiniest bit – for it. It had certainly served the Hatter, his political proclivities, and Alice well enough during Stayne’s merciless interrogation in the dungeons of Salazen Grum. More than once, Chessur had found himself averting his invisible eyes. But Tarrant Hightopp... Oh, that man had locked himself up in his madness and laughed through the pain.

He’s not laughing now, Chessur admits, remembering the look on Tarrant’s face as he’d sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the back of his left hand – his heart line.

Stupid, slurvish, idiotic, dense, irritating idiot!

For a man with a legitimate claim to utter, mad genius, he has a rather bad habit of making mistakes: overwhelming Alice with his guilt over that ridiculous promise, shoving the madness in her face, allowing her to injure him – Honestly, what had the man expected to happen after that? Even Chessur knows Alice well enough to imagine the remorse she’d feel from harming him, no matter the circumstances! – ignoring her own confessions of pain, and finally – worst of all! – letting her walk away!

Yes, Chessur is very glad he’s a cat and, as such, immune the ailment of love.

“You’re lucky I’m smarter than you, Tarrant,” Chessur drawls, hovering – invisible – above the outer wall of the castle. He watches Alice swing herself up onto the Bandersnatch, which lumbers forward two steps before galloping after Absolem.

Curious, Chessur follows. He floats through the woods, twisting and twirling through the treetops, keeping the massive speckled body of the Bandersnatch in his sights as he can’t see Absolem very clearly though the canopy and shadow-dappled realm below.

Hmm, yes... Absolem...

His presence had been a surprise. The butterfly hardly ever bothers with living creatures any more. Apparently, the loss of the Oraculum following the Battle of Frabjous Day had made him even more surly. Not that Chessur had cared one way or the other. Those who seek out Absolem’s counsel seek their own futures; they seek the knowledge that the keeper of the Oraculum possesses. Chessur is a cat and cats do not have any interest in changing the future. No, certainly not! Cats are smart enough to stay out of the way of Jabberwockies and prophecies and dungeons and everything else associated with politics!

Underlanders could stand to learn a thing or two from cats, Chessur thinks.

Too bad they’re too stupid to realize even that much.

Perhaps he’s being uncharitable. But, after all, he’s a cat.

I am what I am, he muses with a grin.

When the wilderness deepens and they pass into Tulgey Wood, Chessur feels a slight frown pull at his brow. Certainly, Absolem wouldn’t take Alice to the abandoned tea party at the March Hare’s rundown windmill... would he? An hour passes by, as does the small trail leading to that once-dreary clearing where he’d led a much smaller maybe-Alice over three years ago. Chessur lets out a sigh of relief, which turns into confusion when the Bandersnatch follows a path that hasn’t been used for years. Not since...

A trifle concerned now – and resenting it! – Chessur continues his silent pursuit through the gathering twilight, the tangled branches, and the rising mist. Why would Absolem lead anyone – let alone Alice! – to this cursed place?

As the living trees fall further and further behind them, and the mist deepens and swirls in the night breeze, Chessur thinks his perfect eyes must be playing tricks on him. After all, there is no way there could be a white-green-blue light up ahead. There’s no such phenomenon in all of Underland. And Chessur should know. He’s seen nearly every corner of it. And several he wishes he hadn’t. But the light does not fade and disappear when he wills it to. Inexplicably, it is real.

From the depths of the mist-engulfed clearing, Alice’s voice floats back to him on the breeze.

“I... I don’t believe this...!”

And, a moment later, when the mist thins enough for Chessur to take in the sight for himself, he finds himself agreeing with her. He barely listens as two voices converse – one pitched with shock and awe and the other weighted with countless years and sorrows. It’s not until the Bandersnatch turns in Chessur’s direction, sniffs the air, and scans the mist with his beady, yellowed eyes that the cat takes his leave. After all, Alice is safe with Absolem and the Bandersnatch. And Chessur is quite sure it has gotten late enough for Alice to be missed at Mamoreal.

And, of course, he’s right.

When he arrives, the entire castle is lit with torches and bustling with soldiers searching behind drapes, under armchairs, and in wardrobes. Chessur doesn’t bother to interrupt them. He takes his information directly to the queen. Well, the queen and whomever she happens to be speaking with at the moment, which just happens to be...

I di’nae care i’they’ve found NAUGHT! SEND TH’BLOODY GUARD OUT FURTHER!!

The queen doesn’t flinch away from the force of his temper. “I’m sure Leif wouldn’t mind tracking her if—”

Tarrant doesn’t let her finish that thought. In a deadly, dangerously, quiet voice, the Hatter informs her, “Ye’ll send tha’creature out after Alice o’er mae dead, lifeless body. Yer Majesty.

Chessur sighs. It looks like it’s time to intercede before the fool says something he’ll have to be Pardoned for later. Clearing his throat, Chessur dares to make himself visible without invitation and informs them, “Alice is fine. She’s with Absolem and the Bandersnatch.”

Tarrant’s eyes narrow. “Th’Bandersnatch!” He turns back to the queen. “Send out Bayard again an’ tell’im Alice’s scent is bein’ obscured by tha’ frumious beast.”

The queen narrows her eyes at him and ignores the order. Turning to Chessur, she asks, “Where is she?”

Chessur hesitates and does his damnedest not to glance at Tarrant and give away his reason for hesitating. “I’d rather not say. She seems to need time... away.”

An inarticulate growl vibrates out from between Tarrant’s clenched teeth. “Ye saw her leave, followed her and yet ye di’nae try teh stop her!

“Neither did you!” Chessur hisses. “Foolish, ridiculous, dimwitted man! Tell Alice she’s not really a Champion, tell her you made her into a murderer and a mercenary! Show her she’s utterly mad and then just let her leave! What were you THINKING?!

Out of the corner of his eye, Chessur notices a movement: the White Queen buries her face in her hands and sighs with frustration.

Tarrant’s fists clench, drawing Chessur’s full attention.

Ye... were listenin’ when Alice an’ I were...?

“When you were completely and utterly botching your explanation?” the cat supplies spitefully. “Yes, I’m afraid I was. A fine moment, Tarrant. Truly. I dare say, one of your very best. Only you would be capable of such utter shukm!

“Gentlemen,” the queen softly interjects. “If it is an argument you’d like to indulge in at this point, please do so outside. The croquet pitch is open all hours. Do your worst to each other and be done with this unpleasantness once and for all.”

Chessur blinks. “I... beg your pardon, Your Majesty?”

The queen looks up and he finally realizes how utterly exhausted she must be. “Chessur, I thank you for keeping an eye on Alice, but I must ask you and Tarrant to remove your disagreement from this office. As Alice is safe and well at the moment, and representatives from Shuchland and Galandonland will be arriving to discuss the situation with Jaspien and his hired army on the morrow and I’ve yet to prepare for that meeting,” she gives them both a stern look, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to mediate your dispute. Good night.”

Chessur takes the hint and evaporates into the hallway beyond. A moment later, there’s a muffled protest from Tarrant that filters through the door and then the portal opens and is slammed shut behind a furious Royal Hatter.

“A bit gentler on the handling, if you don’t mind!” the doorknob remarks. “I’m an original fixture!”

Neither Chessur nor the Hatter reply. They stare at each other. Chessur finds himself wishing he could still see the scrapes Alice had given him on his face. That remedy of the queen’s works a bit too well, he muses.

“Is that what you want, Tarrant? A fight?”

Something flashes in the man’s eyes. “Maybe I do. But ye’ll ne’er figh’fair, ye slurvish, cheatin’—”

Chessur draws himself up. “I’ll make you the same bargain I made Alice during her training. I’ll not evaporate.” He grins tightly. “I’ll even take your shape, Tarrant, so you can fight both me and yourself at the same time.”


Chessur takes in the man’s flashing eyes and taut muscles. “I live to accommodate you, yes, I know. You don’t have to thank me for it.”

With a snarl, Tarrant turns on his heel and marches down the hall and in the general direction of the hat workshop. Chessur watches him go and muses at the odd twinge of disappointment.

How very strange... if Chessur hadn’t known himself better – if he hadn’t known he were a cat through and true! – he would have to believe that he regrets the lost opportunity to fight Tarrant Hightopp.

But, of course, Chessur does know himself better – much better! – than that. Chin held high and tail straight, he marches off to find a bit of torchlight to bask in.


“I know this place,” Alice says, turning in a slow circle. In the darkening dusk, she studies the meadow and distant trees. “But it looks so different now... This is...?”

She looks over at her companion.

The creature lowers its great, crested head and nods. “Iplam,” it replies.

“Krystoval,” she continues, addressing the Jabberwocky. “Why did you come back here?”

“To heal, Alice,” it replies gravely.

Alice reaches out a places a hand on the Jabberwocky’s reptilian shoulder. It blinks at the gesture, glances at her hand but does not seem particularly bothered by it. “It’s lonely here,” she murmurs, her heart aching with the thought of this creature confronting its past and engaging in such a huge undertaking all alone.

“It will not always be so,” the creature rumbles quietly. “People and animals will return here someday and rebuild. Then the circle will be complete.”

“Have you thought about what you will do when you’re done here?”

“I have,” it replies solemnly. “But, for now, it is impossible.”

Alice pats the smooth scales under her hand. “When the time is right, you’ll find a way. I’m sure of it.”

Krystoval studies her face with its dawn-colored eyes. “I’m sure you are,” it agrees and Alice feels her lips curve into a smile. “May I ask what brought you here, Alice?” it asks after a moment.

Alice nods in the direction of the Bandersnatch – curled up by the line of trees and the trail head – and the blue butterfly resting on his nose.

“The Bandersnatch, with a wise butterfly leading the way.”

“And why did you follow?”

Alice returns her attention to the Jabberwocky. “I... well, it’s a long story. To put it bluntly, I’m not really a Champion after all. But I have killed someone. And I became a mercenary. And I also seem to be rather... mad.”

“Ah...” Krystoval sighs and sinks down into a comfortable crouch, curling its tail around its body and nodding for Alice to make herself comfortable on it. “Welcome to the Fields of Iplam, then, Alice.”

Settling herself in the juncture of the Jabberwocky’s thigh and stomach, with her legs draped over its tail, she muses, “You know what I’m referring to?”

It nods. “I do. Like any path, yours leads two ways, Alice. Here... or there.

She frowns. “What’s there?

“Madness. Guilt. Fear. Darkness,” it replies softly. And then, surprisingly, asks, “How fares the last of the Hightopps?”

Alice gasps as an epiphany slams into her in the wake of the Jabberwocky’s pointed inquiry.

She closes her eyes.


Oh, how stupid she is!

For a moment, there are too many thoughts collecting together inside her head for her to understand them all, but then they condense into two facts:

Tarrant is mad... he followed this path there... to the pain and guilt and madness.


He would have understood if I’d bothered to tell him... if I’d been strong enough to let go of the fear and the darkness and the memories of Causwick.

But it’s too late to go back to him now. And it’s not safe. Perhaps Tarrant can understand the darkness and pain within her. But Alice still has no control over it and she knows she can’t trust him to stop her from hurting him. Not when his own guilt and pain drives him to accept whatever punishment – intentional and not – that she might deal out upon him.

No, she cannot go back to him. Not until...

Alice takes a deep breath and opens her eyes. It’s nearly completely dark out. Above the bare branches of the burnt trees, the moon is rising.

“Tarrant is not well,” she replies.

Krystoval rumbles, acknowledging the information.

“Tell me about... here,” she asks.

“Here...” the Jabberwocky muses quietly. “This is the place in which one opens oneself to the past, faces the mistakes and memories, burns through the regret, and creates life.”

Alice closes her eyes against a hot rush of tears. “What’s the first step?” she asks.

“You’ve arrived. You’ve asked the question. You’ve found the willingness,” it replies, listing three. “Now you must remember.”

From Krystoval’s tone, Alice understands exactly what it is she must remember: everything that has driven her away from her life at Mamoreal. Throat suddenly tense and tight, Alice swallows. “Do you mind if I... talk for a bit?”

“Not at all, Alice. You may talk, and I may listen. If you talk too quietly, I may even snore.”

Alice releases a breathless laugh and feels quite a bit of her tension expel with it. “Not long ago, I accompanied the White Queen to Shuchland where we met the king and queen and a prince named Avendale and his Champion named Avenleif...”

She watches the moon rise as she speaks, narrating the entire tale, leaving nothing out, no matter how irrelevant to the painful times that follow. And follow they do:

“... an Outlander by the name of Davon was my handler. His voice and his Outlandish reminded me of Tarrant. There’s even a certain similarity in their height and build... Davon had a sense of humor, darker than Tarrant’s, but the smile was so alike somehow and yet he was the enemy...”

“...’Alice Lassling’ is what they called me. A joke. I suppose they thought it was funny that someone my size, my age, wouldn’t hesitate to rip them apart with only my teeth. I think I was... mad even then...”

“... so alone, and yet I could feel him so close. The emotions would invade my heart and I’d know it wasn’t me feeling them, so it must have been him but that would only remind me of what I’d done, what I was still doing, what I might yet have to do.”

Alice lets the memories pause there. The agony of reliving it is too powerful to be pushed aside or rushed. Behind her, Krystoval shifts a bit.

“May I see it? Your heart line?” it asks.

By the light of the moon, Alice pulls off her shirt and reveals the markings on her skin.

“I’ve never seen a darker, more beautiful Bonding Mark,” the Jabberwocky informs her. “And I’ve seen a fair share in my time.”

“I suppose you have.” She shrugs back into her garment.

“The Heart Mark has a meaning, you know,” it continues, musing. “Each is completely unique.”

“Tarrant’s is a four-pointed star.”

“No, you make it a four-pointed star. Just as he makes yours that charming ellipse.”

Alice frowns, puzzled. “What do the shapes mean?”

Krystoval chuckles. “You already know, Alice. The shape – and thus, the meaning – comes from within you.”

She considers that for a moment.

“Tell me more about the mercenaries,” Krystoval invites softly.

Alice takes a deep breath, realizes that – somehow – she’d shed a layer of pain and sorrow during that brief interlude, and begins to speak.

The moon wanders across the sky and Krystoval continues asking her about Causwick, about the things she’d done, the things she’d said, the things she’d forced herself to believe in order to do what had had to be done. She marvels at how... well, not easy – for recalling and talking of these things is anything but easy – but she marvels at how possible it is now. Perhaps she had simply needed the right audience.

“So, I never was a Champion,” she concludes. “I don’t really know what to do with myself now, to be honest.”

Krystoval sighs. “Alice, you are under a misapprehension.”

“Which is?”

It turns its rose-then-peach-and-gold eyes to her and says, “I know a Champion when I see one, Alice. And I see one now. No promise could make you into something you are not. It might give you a small measure of strength to help you achieve it, but that is all.”

Alice considers that. “If that’s true then... it didn’t make me kill Stayne. That was me.”

“It was. Can you think of no motivation for why you would have felt it necessary to kill him?”

Alice can think of several. “He’d tortured Tarrant. When I arrived three years ago,” she clarifies. “And I knew he’d never give up trying to get to the queen. To do that, he’d have to get through me. And to do that, he’d have to...” Alice swallows. “He’d have to get through Tarrant. I couldn’t let him be hurt by that... beast anymore.”

Krystoval waits, expectant.

Alice forces herself to say it: “I killed Stayne for Tarrant.”

She takes a deep breath and feels a lightening sensation somewhere deep within her chest.

“And now tell me why you forsook your beloved, scorned your heart line, became a mercenary.”

Alice smiles, “For Tarrant.”

“And why do you fight, Alice?”

“For Tarrant. For my home. For the goodness of the White Queen. For Underland and all the creatures in it who call it home and make it what it is.”

Krystoval leans its head against hers briefly. “Welcome back, Champion Alice.”

Alice smiles. The moon blurs as if the world has suddenly been flipped upside down and Alice is studying its reflection on the surface of calm, ocean waves. “Thank you, Krystoval.”

“None are needed,” it says, looking up at the sky. “Giver of the Vorpal Sword.”

They watch the moon shimmer across the sky until Alice asks the Jabberwocky to tell her its story and it does. And when dawn comes, a new purpose, a new hope arrives with it... for a Champion and a Jabberwocky lying in the Fields of Iplam.

One Promise Kept: Book 2

A Alice in Wonderland Story
by Manniness

Part 11 of 17

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