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Imagination is not Paradise

Chapter Text

Leaves fluttered threw the air and landed onto the crystal clear water almost perfectly, attracting the fish and the dragonflies to swoop down and explore the new addition to their habitat. The trees from above whispered a small goodbye as the small part of them falls away to join the world below. In the distance, the sun was beginning to rise, bringing the world to life again, as it always does after night. A small boat cut through the water with ease, smoothly sailing to whatever destination it had in store for it's two passengers.

One of the passengers was a young, seventeen year old boy named Tord. He had no clue where he was, who he was with or where he was going, but for some odd reason he still felt safe. The boy who was rowing the boat had a small, calm smile and shiny hazel eyes the filled the other with warmth. The wind flew through his messy, dark brown hair and the sun beat down at him at an angle that made Tord's heart flutter. Needless to say, the smaller male found him gorgeous.

Eventually, the boy stopped rowing and allowed the boat to drift on it's own. For a while, neither party decided to say anything and simply enjoyed the horizon. It truly looked like a scene from a painting. But Tord was more focused on the boy he was in the boat with. The same boy who was watching the sunrise and awkwardly playing with his green hoodie strings. That boy did something to Tord that he could not explain. Something that he wanted more of. That he craved.

It seemed that the taller of the two had the same idea. He slowly turned and faced the gremlin, his face being filled with an embarrassed flush. Not that Tord wasn't blushing either. The whole situation filled him with hot embarrassment. An embarrassment that he hoped that wouldn't leave anytime soon.

The two slowly moved in closer to each other until their lips were just barely touching. Tord didn't know if he should be the one to fill the gap, so he awkwardly sat there waiting for the other to make a move. Eventually, he did, his soft lips pushing against his rather dry ones. Strong arms rapped around him and pulled him in close, building up a really nice safe feeling. The green hooded male's lips tasted like faint cola and salt, making the Norwegian guess he enjoyed crackers and soda. He decided he'd ask once the kiss over and the two were snuggling.

After a couple more minutes, the pair broke apart and Tord was snuggled close into the other's arms. His extra weight made the other really soft and squishy, which the Norwegian loved very much. He pulled his hands around the other's stomach and gently squeezed, giggling when he saw him jump and blush. Soft purrs radiated from his lover, making him giggle. This boy was such a dork. Edd. The name was so beautiful, and he decided it fit the bigger bean perfectly.

Everything was warm and welcoming, and nothing could ruin it.

He nuzzled Edd happily and gently kissed his cheek. The cola lover returned the gesture with the addition of some purrs. Small waves rocked their little boat back and forth as the sun rose a little more in the horizon. A faint clicking noise soothed the Norwegian into a sleepy state, almost lulling him to sleep.

Only the clicking noise grew, becoming more than just a distant, relaxing sound and into an unnerving one. Tord opened his eyes and looked around to find the source of the noise. Nobody where he looked, the sound seemed to be just next to him, barely out of view. It wasn't until the clicking noise became so loud that it rung inside his head that he finally looked down.

A fish was butting into the side of the boat, blood oozing from the front of his face. The Norwegian cringed and picked it up in a very stupid attempt to help, only to be bit and drop it back into the black water after yelping.

The green hooded male examined his finger worriedly and opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a loud breaking sound. The two looked back down into the water, struggling to see through the dark haze. Tord shivered as he felt his shoe begin to fill with the black ooze surrounding them. The boat had sprung a leak, and wasn't taking it's time to sink.

Edd began to scoop it up with his hands and throw it back into the ocean in a weak attempt to save their boat. The Norwegian began to help, scooping the grossly sticky water out. But no matter how fast they scooped, the boat filled faster and the two of them were up to their wastes in water. A small wail escape the smaller male as a cold realization hit. He looked over at the other, who already seemed to know what the problem was. I can't swim!

The darker haired boy began to wade his way through the water to Tord, holding his hand out as if to say to trust him. The boy's hand was met with another, only it wasn't one that belonged to the Norwegian. It was a black, oozing hand that pulled Edd onto the ground of the boat, catching a mouth full of water. With the force of his fall, the boat fell down deeper into the water, swallowing up any vision Tord had left of his lover.

He reached into the water and tried to pull him back to the surface, only he was gone. His hands kept blindly searching through the ooze, only to find that the boy had disappeared. A soft sob escaped his throat as the boat sank even further down, leaving the Norwegian's eyes and forehead the only ones above the water. Any second the boat was going to leave his feet and swallow him up like it did to his friend. Any second he'd start to drown with no one to save him. Any second...

"Wake up, Tord."

Chapter Text

An overwhelming amount of brightness blinded Tord, making him hiss and shield his face. He laid there, not sure if he wanted to bring himself back into the suddenly bright world. Nearby, a pen was heard to be pulled across a board, scribbling down whatever the person holding it was writing about. Eventually it stopped, and the Norwegian was left in an uncomfortable silence. Slowly, he pulled his hands away from his face and allowed his eyes to adjust to the light.

The room was familiar, and he could remember being there before. Small, but it didn't seem to need room for very much as it only held the bed Tord was currently laying on, a chair where a man in a white coat sat, a single window, a desk and a couple cupboards. Nothing was cramped, but it certainly didn't feel roomy. While he was looking around the room, his eyes met the other man's before he quickly looked away. After a few minutes the other must've gotten tired of waiting and cleared his throat. "You quit talking to me for a bit..what happened?"

The smaller male blinked, not remembering ever have started talking to this man. "What're you talking about?"

"Ah, you must've had one of your episodes again. I'm your doctor, Tord. I come here once every three days to lay you down and put you into a half sleep state, where you describe to me what was going on."

"What exactly did I say?"

"Oh, the normal. A hot, young boy takes you on a magical boat ride. You two watch the sunrise together, kiss and then snuggle. You're very descriptive about it." He scribbled down more on his clipboard.

"Is that a good thing?" Asked the curious Norwegian, hoping to hear that his schizophrenia was getting better.

"No." The doctor didn't elaborate, probably because he didn't feel the need to. If Tord was being honest, it upset him greatly. He should know more about his condition, right? Even if he did want to ask, he decided it'd be better to keep his mouth shut. The doctor seemed very stressed and he didn't want to add to that.

"Did anything else happen in the dream?" The man asked, looking up from whatever he was writing. He had a suspicious glint in his eyes, almost saying, I know something did happen, something that you just won't tell me about and that I need to know. "I um..the water got all black, and it swallowed up the boat with me and the other boy. I-I think he drowned, but I woke up before I could-"

More scribbles and silence. It felt like almost an eternity before the doctor stood up and walked over to the cabinets. "I have good news."

Tord blinked, tilting his head. "What?"

"Your schizophrenia is getting better. That nightmare was your subconscious pulling you away from the silly daydream your mental illness was blinding you with." He patted the Norwegian's head and set the cupboard down. "You're making great progress."

Tord smiled proudly, watching as the doctor sorted things around the room and making it look untouched. Gently kicking his legs, he leaned back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, listening to the movements of the other man. It was maybe another half hour later when he began to leave, "I'll be back later today, okay?"

He nodded while he pondered about the weird "dream" he had while in therapy. "Who's Edd?" He asked right before the other walked out of the room. The question had been plaguing his mind since he first woke up, and now it was just simply bothering him too much for him to not ask. When he didn't receive a response, he looked over at the direction of the door. The doctor was standing still, staring off at the wall. Probably thinking. Tord decided, hoping he hadn't upset his caregiver in some way.

"Where did you hear that name?" He asked, slowly looking over at the tiny male. The Norwegian shrugged, uncomfortably fidgeting when he seemed upset by the answer. "J-just..remember deciding that the other boy in the b-boat's name was Edd.."

The doctor raised an eyebrow. "Decided?"

"Y-yeah! I thought it fit!"

"Then obviously there isn't an Edd you know that exists, you simply came up with the name yourself."

Tord frowned, feeling a little frustrated. "No! I heard that name somewhere!"

"Tord." The frustration in his voice made him shut up and flinch. After rubbing his face for a few moments, the doctor patted his head once more. "When was the last time you went outside?"

The red hooded boy thought for a moment. "I don't really remember.."

"Well, how about you go, then?"

"Don't I need someone with me?" He asked nervously, fiddling with his hoodie strings like Edd had in the boat.

"Nah, you're getting better. I think you can handle yourself." The doctor nodded and smiled. "I have too much work to take you, anyways."

The Norwegian frowned and nodded, slowly pulling himself off his bed. "So I'm allowed?"

"Yes."

"Yay!" Before his caregiver could say another word, Tord ran out of his room and down the wall. He wasn't used to exploring the hospital alone, so he was lost for a few minutes. But after another therapist pointed him in the right direction he began to run to the EXIT sign. Without thinking, he kicked the door open and it came right back to hit him in the face. "Ow..." He rubbed his nose and gently opened the door, revealing the outside world he'd been isolated from for so long. The air felt really fresh, and just a single deep breath was enough to make Tord feel like his lungs had been cleaned out.

There were steps leading down from the door to the ground. A sudden wave of anxiety passed through Tord as he realized he'd truly be on his own after that point. No nice doctors or desk ladies to redirect him to where he needed to go or hold his hand when he was nervous. No, just Tord. The next few moments consisted of him bracing for the moment of being independent. When the moment came, he stepped down the stairs and onto the ground. He did it!

The next few steps were scary, yet exciting. His heart pounding as he awkwardly walked through the small crowds of people, all paying no attention to him whatsoever. The buildings stood up over his head, throwing smoke out from the chimney's. Children smaller than him ran around and chased each other in some kind of game, one once and a while bumping into him or pushing him aside. It was so lively...yet so sad. There was a lot less color than he expected and it was chillier than the hospital, which he didn't think was possible. Eventually, he came upon a small marketplace, with four stands surrounding a small area of land. One of the stands sold vegetables and fruits, another sold jewelry, the third sold cheese and milk while the last sold some newly knit clothing. Tord was curious and wanted to get a better look, but also didn't want to get in the way of someone else who was actually shopping. After all, he really didn't have any money to spend. So, instead he headed over to the corner away from everyone and simply watched them go along their lives.

He didn't know how long he stayed there for, but it was long enough for people to stare giving him judging glances. After he got his eleventh one, he started to shuffle away from his spot and more into a small ally. Less people would notice him in there, and it was further away from everyone. Perfect.

A small, fluffy thing rubbed up against his leg, making him jump. Near his feet laid a small, tabby cat. A tiny smile made it's way onto Tord's face and he crouched down, gently petting the cat. "Hello, there! Did you want some pets?" The cat purred in response, flicking her tail. "Awww, you're so fluffy!" He giggled, scratching underneath her chin, making her purr more. Gosh, this cat was precious.

After a while, she got up and began to walk down deeper into the ally. She looked back at him, as if to signal him to follow. Tord awkwardly complied, following the cat until the ally began to open up to another part of the town. He looked down at her in confusion, expecting her to explain. She didn't, only blinking and meowing at him instead of actually giving him words. "Do you want me to go through there?" He asked. The cat nodded.

"Um..I don't know how to say this, but I don't think I'm supposed to stray too far from the hospital, ya know?" He gave her a small smile, only to flinch when she hissed at him. "Okay! Okay! I'll walk through!" Small, content purrs radiated from the fluffy creature as she watched him expectantly. He took a deep breath and walked through the the small opening between the two buildings.

What he didn't expect was for there for be a huge dip, and for him to fall deep into a dark nothingness.

Chapter Text

He was falling, down down into the pit of darkness. Up above, the light of the town quickly was left behind, making any attempt to look at his surroundings useless. Despite being seemingly no where, Tord wasn't afraid. Sure, he might hit the ground and die, but it'd be quick and painless. After a while, it didn't even feel like he was falling. He was simply floating in a peaceful, empty void.

Well, he thought it was empty.

A few sparkling lights floated upward and around, brightening up the space around the Norwegian with purple, green, blue and red shades. To his surprise, there didn't seem to be any walls to the hole he had fell in. The darkness kept flowing away from him at all sides, making him wonder if he really had fell into a void. It was...a bit unsettling. The lights did make him feel a tiny bit better, and a bit less alone in this new world. "Hello! I'm Tord! Do you know where we are?"

Rude, to not ask someone's name before demanding an answer to such a stupid question. The purple light snarled, floating a little further from Tord. The blue light followed a tiny bit, but still stayed relatively close to him. "I'm sorry! I didn't realize you had names!"

The distaste the light had for Tord seemed to grow, as it scoffed in distaste. The red light sparked up to respond once it was sure the other wouldn't. I'm Rose, the blue light is Aqua, green is Leaf and the one that's being rude is Violet! It stated cheerfully, earning a push from Violet. I am not being rude!

You are kinda being rude, Let Aqua giggled, rubbing up against the other. Tord smiled a little at all the little lights, his heart warming. They kind of reminded him of himself and...three other people. Three people he doesn't remember-

So, you really don't know where you're heading? Rose asked, flying around the Norwegian. "Yeah, I don't even know how I got here."

Well, you followed the cat. Violet stated as if it were obvious. Which it was. And that's how you got here.

"Ooohhh, I get it now!" He nodded in understanding, feeling like a total dumb ass. "I followed the cat!" All three of the lights nodded, glad that the misunderstanding was cleared up. Over in the corner, Leaf was faintly shining, it's green aurora much fainter than the other's. "Hey..are you okay?"

The Norwegian reached out to the tiny light, gasping in surprised when he was zapped on contact. "Ow!" He stuck his fingers in his mouth, gently sucking on where he was burnt. He looked back at Leaf to ask what happened, but to his surprise the light was slowly untangling into a mess of...well..leaves. They fluttered up and up, away from the light the others were creating and into the darkness, out of sight. "What happened to him?"

The others didn't reply, creating an unnerving silence. No longer did they bring the warmth and comfort they once did, and only brought a scary sense of loneliness. "Guys..?"

He didn't have time to wait for a response as something scooped him up suddenly and pushed him upwards a little. He shrieked, creating distressed screams from the lights around him.Silence, you don't want the Butler to hear.

He's angry at what you did.

He's angry at what he saw.

He's angry you left them.

He's angry the Prince chose you over his own blood.

Tord tried to talk, but it were as if someone were choking him, trapping all his words inside. It was cold, freezing even, to a point where it was painful. Tears collected in is eyes, blurring his vision and made him dizzier. His friends seemed to fly away, leaving him to practically die and fall deeper into the dark. Wait! I don't want to be alone again!

Then why did you go into the Mad House?

And suddenly, the voices around him silenced, and the feeling of being choked disappeared. His breathing was slowly returning back to normal and the tears had cleared up enough to allow him to take in his surroundings.

Despite all the lights leaving him, he could still see. There were walls now, that were a good distance away from him, but still far enough to make the hole feel large. Tables, books, chairs and mirrors floated around him as he passed down deeper. From above, he could hear an old grandfather clock's chime echo throughout the entire void, shaking the place as it did so. The new awareness of his surroundings also helped Tord figure out that the object he had fallen into before was simply a chair, and not a monster coming to suck up his soul. It fell down with him instead of floating like everything else, probably due to his weight. This is..confusing. He thought, watching a tea pot pour it's contents into a cup on it's own. A mirror passed by, floating upwards instead of staying in one spot like everything else. The Norwegian caught a glimpse of his reflection, frowning slightly at the disturbing sight. His eyes looked as if they were pulled out, and streams of blood poured down his face and onto his lap. He also had a dress, since when was he wearing a dress? There was more, but the mirror was gone before he could process it.

The walls were beginning to grow closer. As they did, Tord watched lesser and lesser objects appear around him, as they had less room to float. A sudden dread hit him, as he wondered what even would be at the bottom of his descent. A blinding light was shining up at him, and he closed his eyes tight as he fell through right through and into wherever he were heading.

His chair gently landed on the ground with a dull thud.

Minutes passed until his eyes adjusted to the light, as it took much patience (which Tord did not have) and eye rubbing. The room he landed in had a bunch of different pieces of furniture, which he assumed had all came from where he had just fallen from. He stood up and headed over to the door straight ahead of him. It opened, leading him to a hall with numerous other doors. "Hello..?" No response.

Tord shrugged to himsel and began to walk down, deciding that he'd chose the door at the very end. It was a long walk, probably about two hours when the idea that the hall went on forever hit him. "Well, fuck."

That means he had to try another random door, and that increased his chances of being lost. Not like I have much of a choice anyways. He took a deep breath and opened the door.

It was such a confusing mess.

He opened a left door, yet the entire place seemed to look and feel as if he chosen the right. Vice versa if he intentionally picked right. Sometimes, the door would lead him to somewhere entirely new and others it took him into the room he started in, mocking the fact that he had been doing this for over two hours now. The pent of frustration was really getting him frustrated, and he could feel a mental breakdown coming on. He was already sniffling and tearing up, making him feel pathetic, which in return worsened his chances of not having a panic attack, which in return made him feel more pathetic..an endless cycle.

"Have you really not figured it out, yet?" Tord jumped at the female voice, turning and being met with the same cat that had led him to the stupid hole. "What do you want?"

"Wow, what a way to greet a friend. Is this maze already getting to you?" She tilted her head, purring in amusement. It only made Tord's want to cry worse.

"I've been doing this forever! Of course it's bothering me!" She laughed a little.

"Then, you haven't been doing it at all!" He looked at her in confusion. The cat rolled her eyes and began walking down the hall. "Follow me."

Awkwardly, the gremlin complied and followed the tabby cat. "What's your name?"

"Ringo the Cheshire Cat."

"RIngo...? That name sounds familiar.." Tord clicked his tongue, thinking hard on why he thought he had heard that somewhere before. Ringo didn't answer, and focused on leading the gremlin through the twists and turns of the maze. He didn't expect for the final door to be the final door, and stumbled a bit as he was met with a dark, musky forest. "There! Simple!"

"Thank you!" Tord smiled at the cat, thankful for her help. She purred and nodded, flicking her ear. "Can you..explain where we even are?"

"We're in Wonderland, moron."

"Wonderland...?" The gremlin nervously looked around at the uninviting scenery. The doctor told him he shouldn't come here. He shouldn't be here. This place was dangerous, and toxic, and-

"You're not leaving are you?" There was fear in her voice. A type of fear that sounded familiar as well. Sort of like a mother begging her child to stay home. "I..I'm not supposed to be here."

"But you loved it here! You loved us."

"I'm sorry..I can't.."

A loud rumble shook the earth as it became foggier and darker. Ringo shrieked, hiding behind Tord and whimpering. The voices started again, all screaming incoherence nonsense that sounded like begging to stay. Begging not to go, not again. They loved him, they missed him and he loved and missed them too. He wanted to stay. "I'm going to stay."

And the world went silent again.

Chapter Text

"What was that?" Tord asked the cat, who already calmed from the sudden noise. She hopped up a nearby tree, resting herself on a branch. "Why, it was Wonderland!" She exclaimed, purring at the gremlin's idiocy. "I just told you that!"

"No, you didn't." He retorted back, glaring at the smug feline. "You simply stated that the place we are in is Wonderland. Never once did you say that it could make noise. Or explain how you seem to know me and I don't have the foggiest idea who you are."

"I told you my name."

"But that doesn't tell me anything about you!"

"Perhaps not, but it tells you what I go by, and what my status is. I go by Ringo, and I'm a Cheshire Cat."

"Yeah, but that can't be all you are!"

"Tell me your name."

"It's Tord."

"No, it's not."

"You just asked me what my name is, and now you're arguing with me on my answer. That makes no sense."

"And if there's no sense to begin with, wouldn't that mean that it makes all the sense? With all the sense being nothing in the first place." The Cheshire Cat's logic was so outrageous that it made his head spin. "Okay, fine. What's my name then?"

"I don't know."

"Then, it must be Tord. Since that is what I go by."

"Well, if one's name is Thomas, and they go by Tom, does that mean their name is Tom?"

"Yes, because that is what they're called."

"No, because that isn't what their name is. Tom is an alias." By now the Norwegian was gaining a headache, making him more irritable about the cat's responses. "Well, then my alias is Tord, and I'd like you to call me that."

"But I prefer to use proper names."

"Well, Tord is my proper name!" He snapped, grumbling quietly as the feline began to laugh. She sat up on her branch, casually licking her paw as the gremlin watched her, annoyance and confusion being all he could feel. "It's not but, if you really like it, I supposed that's what I'll call you."

"It's really not that hard to say my name. It's only one syllable, a simple a name."

"A simple name makes a simple person."

"That's not always true." Tord protested. "I'm sure someone out there has a lovely, short name despite them being a complicated person. And of course the vise versa, someone with a long and complex name could be very simple."

"What silly logic! If one has a complicated name, they need to grow into it as a complicated person. Just how my name is long, and sort of vague, I myself am long and sort of vague."

"You are not long." And right before his very eyes, Ringo the Cheshire Cat hopped to another branch, leaving the other half of her body behind. She had stretched out her body, making herself very long. The Norwegian couldn't decide if the sight of this cat stretching out her body and probably all her vital organs was fascinating or disturbing. "Point taken." The cat lifted her feet and let her body join back together to make her normal sized.

"Everyone here fits their names, as they have them to describe who they are. The Mad Hatter is a Mad man with a Hat, the Queen rules half the land with the King, a competitive man, as how a wise, queen should, the Messenger sends out messages throughout all the royal subjects, the Prince rules the hidden part of Wonderland recklessly, as a young royal boy who still hasn't experience the hardships of life should, the Storytellers tell stories and the Butler used to serve food to Hatter. Though, I guess 'the Butler' name doesn't really fit him anymore, as he no longer serves his boyfriend and is off...doing other things." Tord tilted his head slightly. "What other things?"

"I'll let the Storytellers explain. They enjoy gossip much more than I. You'll need to find them, however."

"Where can I find them?"

"Down this path and into the mushroom patch. There, they reside near the library. Don't worry, you won't need to ask to have a story read to you. Any poor fool they meet has to endure at least two of their tales before they can continue on with their lives. You just might not hear the story you want to hear." The Cheshire Cat stretched out her body, flicker her tail as she stood up. "Now, I have a 2:00 mice to eat, if you please."

Tord nodded and watched the small, fluffy cat vanish before him. Awkwardly, the small gremlin set off on his journey to find the Storytellers.

 

~~

 

Clouds covered the sun, making the sky look like a light grey. It was a gloomy day, not that Paul had anything against gloomy days. He actually preferred them, they weren't too hot nor too cold, just perfect enough to walk through town without getting too irritated. The only thing about this day was that the clouds were darker than usual, giving off the idea that rain shall start falling, and that was very inconvenient for the small man. Either way, he felt he would most likely get his shopping done before the rain, so he wasn't too worried about it.

He casually chat with Jon, who had much to report about him and his girlfriend. (Which nobody believed he had until Todd and Laurel saw them on a date.) Thankfully, Paul didn't need to buy much else, as the long conversations with him always tired him out. Nothing against Jon, he just wasn't very good at socializing with people outside his family.

On the way back, he took more notice in the townspeople around him. Lately, he felt more..like an outsider compared to them. Well, he always was an outsider, as most of the people who lived there were quiet, simple folk who looked down on differences in their society. And Paul himself was very different in nature. Being loud, vocal, and aggressive was just apart of who he is, and he didn't blame others for not liking his outgoing personality. Instead, he found others who were similar to him, or just more open-minded. His husband, for example, was very much like the other townsmen. He was quiet, polite and kind of a pushover. The differences between them were how Patryck was open to new ideas and concepts while the others were not.

Paul never really noticed how much of outcasts he and his friends and family were from everyone else until recently. Their lives was relatively normal, besides the drama he had created with the other moms. Pat would go to work, while Paul got their son ready for school, and then spend the rest of the day cleaning and cooking. But lately, the house was much more quiet. Their son stopped kicking the door open whenever he was home from school, and stopped rambling about silly things and asking what they were having for dinner. And Paul really missed it.

He missed his son.

Now, it was no secret he had mental issues. His original parents had been neglectful to a point where the boy had to eat scraps from other's garbage cans to survive. One day, Pat had found the boy inside their bin while taking out the trash and brought him inside for a proper meal. Once the two had learned about the situation, they were immediately calling the authorities and heading over to the orphanage to adopt. The couple gave him a proper family and home, where they did their best to raise the poor boy.

But he was still a bit fucked up in the head, it was kind of unavoidable with the trauma of his childhood.

But...he was never..fucked up. They all had already known that he had schizophrenia, he had medicine for his "loud" days. But..he had never hurt someone, or acted out, or anything like that. Quite the opposite, since he had bad anxiety. The poor boy feared even leaving the house alone, let alone being any sort of threat. So when the doctors from the nearby asylum came to their house and said, "Your son's recent behavior indicates that he needs professional help", it was really worrying. Without hesitation, he left them take him away in hopes he'll be better.

But now that his son was gone for over a few months, he was starting to think he'd been lied to. Not only was he "too unstable to even go outside, apparently he also couldn't handle seeing friends and family. The asylum had basically cut him off from the outside world, it gave Paul a bad feeling in his gut.

Not that it mattered, he wasn't a doctor. As far as he knew, they were doing the right thing for him.

The small man sighed, leaning against the side of a building and lighting a cigarette. All the thinking and remembering was giving him a headache, he needed a moment to clear his head. A few drops of rain splashed down onto the world around him, promising for more to come. "It's going to be a thunderstorm..." He mumbled, blowing out smoke.

A quiet meow caught his attention. Down by his feet laid Ringo, Edd's fluffy, fat cat. It was surprisingly that she had approached him, since the small feline was particular about who she liked. (Really she liked quiet people like Pat.) As he extended his hand down to pet her, she darted away. "Figures, you're really finicky."

The cat, unsurprisingly didn't reply. But, she did stop and stare at him, as if she expected him to follow. And he did, as it was law to follow and pet a cat when they so desire. The only problem was that Ringo kept running off, right before Paul could pet her. They continued the process of him following the needy cat until they came upon a narrow alley. Down into the dark space the cat went, meowing as she did to tell him to follow. Reluctantly he did, feelings nervous as to what he could find down here.

He certainly didn't expect-

"Tord?"

His son was laying face first into the ground, not replying to his parent. Paul wrapped his arms around him and lifted him to his feet, frowning at how blank Tord's expression was. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Mmhm."

Paul shook his head and scooped the small Norwegian up so he was being carried bridal style. Ringo had already seemed to run off, probably to Edd. Without a second thought of his groceries, the small man walked home with his partially sleeping sun in his arms.

~~

The path to the mushroom patch was long, and for a while Tord thought he had gotten lost again. Thankfully, the anxiety could fully set in, he was greeted with the sight of mushrooms as tall as skyscrapers. It made him feel very tiny, and while that very well could be the case, he preferred the idea the mushrooms were tall and that a giant person wouldn't come and step on him.

In the center of the patch laid a group of mushrooms that had grown up to form a circle. He had been told these were called "Fairy Rings" and the idea of meeting a fairy excited him. Would they be his size or smaller? Assuming that the mushrooms were meant to be homes for them, they'd probably be my size. He decided, walking towards the arranged fungi.

The inside certainly wasn't what he expected.

Instead of seeing a small little fairy town, he was greeted with large shelves of books. This must be the library! I actually found something without getting lost for once! The small gremlin took off, running through the rows of shelves, searching for the "Storytellers." The smell of parchment and ink was fresh. I wonder if they write the books and stories here!

Now, what the curious seventeen year old didn't realize was that the Fairy Ring was actually quite large. Over three miles long in diameter. So, foolishly running in without keeping track of how many left and right turns you've taken isn't the best idea. By the time he had realized he was lost, he had walked over a mile's length.

"Hello? Anyone there?" He called out, hoping a storyteller, or perhaps a librarian would hear him. Did this place even have librarians? Tord didn't know, but they scared him, so he would probably just run away if one found him.

"Can anyone here m-"

"Hello!"

"AHHHHHH-"

He turned around and grabbed a man with big eyebrows' shoulder before letting go and throwing his hands up in surrender. The other laughed at his panic. "What are you? Why are you here?"

After he caught his breath he replied, "I am a Tord and I'm here to meet the Storytellers. The Cheshire Cat told me I could find them here."

"Oh, I'm the Storyteller! Pleasure to meet you!" He grabbed the gremlin's hand and began to shake it very aggressively. "My husband is a Storyteller, too! You absolutely must meet him."

"Okay-" The Storyteller began to pull him through the paths of bookshelves. All the turns made Tord dizzy, and he had gotten a Charley Horse in his left foot after all the walking. Much to his relief, the Storyteller knew the library by heart, and found the center in a matter of hours. (Time didn't exactly exist in this world, so while it felt like minutes, it was indeed hours.)

There was a counter leaning against one of the shelves, covered in a few stacks of books. A rocking chair was set up nearby with other chairs across from it. In the rocking chair, sat a slightly taller man, reading a book. He didn't look up when he and the Storyteller approached. He was probably too invested in his book to hear them.

"Storyteller! A small gremlin wishes to meet us!" The one who found him said, alerting the other of their existence. The man who was also named "Storyteller" smiled and put his book down.

"Hello! I'm Storyteller! You already met my husband?" He asked, shaking Tord's hand.

"Yes! Did you write all these books?" Tord asked, staring at the shelves and shelves of written stories. The Storytellers laughed.

"Oh, no no! Wonderland wrote them!" The taller one said, as if it were obvious. The boy in the dress tilted his head, "What do you mean?"

Storyteller eyebrows jumped up onto a stool and pulled down a book from the shelf. "Wonderland keeps track of every event that happens in it! If you look hard enough, you an probably find a book floating around, listening and writing every word you speak, everything you do, and everything that's happening around you!"

"That's a bit scary.."

"Oh no, not at all! You should find it soothing, knowing that even if you simply exist it's written down and can be read later!" He let go of the book and instead of falling, it sprouted a small pair of wings and flew to it's respected spot on the shelf. "They're also ordered in when it happened, so the very first book in this library was the first thing to ever happen in Wonderland!"

The taller Storyteller reached behind some books and yanked out one that was hiding behind them. It's wings were out, fluttering frantically. From where he was standing, Tord could see words quickly appearing on the page, documenting each and every thing that was currently happening. The tall one began to read from it.

"His eyes skimmed across the page, reading his actions in a way that made Tord's head hurt. It was unnatural, having someone read what they were doing. It was like the book already knew what was going to happen, but only by mere seconds. The small gremlin had enough of the nonsense, crying out 'Stop!'"

"Stop!" He did, closing the book and letting it fumble away into a new hidden place to write safely.

The one with eyebrows giggled, gently patting the stressed gremlin. "How about we read you something else? Something not involving you?"

Tord nodded while taking a deep breath. "That's actually why I came to talk to you. I wanted to hear the story about the Bu-"

"Sit down! Sit down! We'll pick out the perfect story to tell you!" The first Storyteller he met pushed him into a chair, while the other ran off into the rows of shelves, searching for a book.

"Actually, I already know wha-"

"Oh, you'll love this one!" The tallest one came back with a big, thick book. The pages were a faded yellow color, and looked a bit torn up. He could only assume it was an older story. He sat down in the rocking chair while his husband sat next to Tord. This story is called..."

"Please, if you'd just listen.."

"How'd you know? It's called, 'Please, would you just listen'!"

The boy in the dress awkwardly shuffled, not liking how the book was named exactly what he had just said. It was just like how The tall one had read out what was going to happen a few seconds before it happened. Hopefully this story is over quickly.

"Once upon a time..."

Chapter Text

"Once upon a time, a young woman and her daughter lived atop a small hill. It overlooked a dark forest, full of threats and danger. Now, you might be wondering why a mother would choose to house her little girl near somewhere that could kill her. Well, the answer was simple. Her daughter was a young girl named Tori. A silly, simple minded child that only thought of now and nothing more. She didn't reflect on her past, and she didn't think of consequences in the future. This, of course, was not a good mentality to have, and her mother wanted help her little girl to grow up.

Tori's grandmother lived on the other side of the forest, away from most civilization. She was old, so once a month the young woman and her daughter would travel along the path and deliver some fresh cloth and food. The mother hoped that maybe the trip would teach her daughter to pay more attention, but silly Tori continued to try to run off and almost always got into some sort of trouble. The fact that these trips weren't teaching her anything upset the mother, and slowly she began to think of more ways to make her responsible.

'Tori, dear. Would you mind taking this basket of goods to your grandmother? I am feeling quite tired today, and do not have the energy to go with you.' The mother requested one day, already having the basket ready.

'But Mother, why can't we just let her come here to receive what she needs? Why must I have to go?' The little girl protested, clearly not understanding. Her mother sighed.

'She is too old to make the trip, my dear. Please, would you just listen, it shouldn't take more than three days.'

The little girl reluctantly agreed, dramatically sighing and taking the basket with her. 'Now, remember: Stay on the path!'

'I know, Mother.' She rolled her eyes, annoyed with the rule. She enjoyed exploring the forest.

'And do not eat the mushrooms that smell of bacon. They're a poison that will make your stomach upset. They're always in sprout in this time of year.'

'Yes, Mother.' She absentmindedly replied. The two finished their goodbyes, and the little girl in red began the journey.

She walked through the forest, ignoring her mother's advice about the path, straying from it from time to time. While she did, she caught a whiff of a familiar smell. 'Bacon? Why, how would someone make that in the middle of the forest? Without a stove or fireplace?' Tori wondered, forgetting what her mother had warned her about. Following the smell, she grew hungrier and hungrier the closer she became to the fungi. Once she found a small patch of them, she curiously crouched down and picked one up from out of the ground.

'Why, this mushroom smells of bacon! I wonder if it tastes of one too!' Ones with common sense would know that it is not smart to eat random plants you find in a forest, but Tori was not a smart girl. The fungi had smelled of her favorite food, and this was enough to convince her that if she ate it, she'd taste bacon too. The child shoved the mushroom into her mouth, her face slowly scrunching up into one of disgust as she chewed. Quickly, she spit it out. 'Gross!'

It wasn't long until just as her mother had promised, her stomach began to ache up. Forgetting the basket, she ran all the way home, crying to her mother as soon as she arrived. 'Oh, Mother! Oh, Mother! The world has been cruel to me!'

Immediately, her loving parent ran over to her daughter, checking her over. 'What happened, dear?'

So Tori had told her what happened, how the smell of the mushroom had enticed an tricked her into thinking she could have a simple treat, and had made her poor stomach hurt. Luckily, the girl's mother was smart and knew a type of berry that would undo the fungi's poison. 'You're lucky you came home, my dear. For if the poison had settled, it would've killed you, and made you throw up your insides.' This only made the little girl cry harder. Her mother hugged her, playing with her hair in a comforting manner. 'Shhh...you're okay, my dear, you're okay.'

 

It was the next month that Tori's mother was thinking about the grandmother once more. 'Why, she sure must be hungry! I'll have to give her our dinner! I shall have to make twice as much food if we want to eat, too!' The young woman called in her daughter, who had gotten over the mushroom incident.

'Tori, dear. Would you mind taking this basket of goods to your grandmother? I have to make extra food today, and do not have the time to go with you.' She requested, as she did the month before.

'But Mother, why can't we just give her the normal amount? Why must I have to go?' The little girl protested.

'You did not make it to her house, and therefore will need more food, my dear. Please, would you just listen, it shouldn't take more than three days.'

Tori nodded a bit hesitantly, grabbing the basket.

'Now, remember: Stay on the path!'

'I know, Mother.'

'And do not follow the butterflies with rainbow wings. They use their beauty to lure in unsuspecting prey, and their stingers are very lethal.'

'Yes, Mother.' She absentmindedly replied. The two finished their goodbyes, and the little girl in red began the journey.

Once more, the child had strayed from the path. She was sure not to eat any plants, so she assumed it'd be safe to explore a little. By the time she saw the butterfly with rainbow wings, she had forgotten about her mother's warning. 'Why, what a beautiful bug!' She exclaimed. 'I shall follow it, so I may come back to it's nest and trap it in a jar for Grandmother.'

The butterfly brought the little girl to it's nest, where over a million others lived and waited to find their next meal. Once she was a certain distance from the nest, the butterfly turned and flew right at her, stinging her arm. Tori yelped, dropping the basket and swatting at the bug that had stung her. The arm that had been stung went numb, scaring the poor little girl. All the others flew from the nest, all heading towards her to sting and paralyze her. She screamed and cried, running all the way home and closing the door behind so the bugs could not follow. 'Oh, Mother! Oh, Mother! The world has been cruel to me!'

Her mother who was in the middle of making stew came running over. 'What happened, dear?'

So Tori had told her what happened, how she saw the butterfly and thought it to be a nice present for Grandmother, how it had tricked her and led her to it's nest, and how it stung her. Luckily, the young woman was smart and brought over medicine to put on the wound. 'You're lucky you came home, my dear. For if the others had stung you, your whole body would have went numb, and the bugs would have eaten you alive.' This only made the little girl cry harder. Her mother hugged her, playing with her hair in a comforting manner. 'Shhh...you're okay, my dear, you're okay.'

~~

The next month, was the last of Summer. 'Gosh, Grandmother must be thirsty!' The young woman thought as she packed the basket. 'The heat has been getting to me, so I can only imagine she'll need more water, too.' She turned and called her daughter in. 'Tori, dear. Would you mind taking this basket of goods to your grandmother? The heat has made me sick, and if I go I shall die of a heat stroke, so I cannot go with you.' Her daughter was already grabbing the basket.

'But what if I die of Heat stroke? Why must I go?' She protested.

"You shall not, for you are younger, and much more healthy.'

'But...'

'Please, Tori dear, just listen for once...' Immediately, her daughter shut up.

'Now, remember: Stay on the path!'

'I know, Mother.'

'And do not talk to the Wolf, he stalks around this time. His flattery and friendliness is a trap.'

'Yes, Mother.' Tori mumbled, not really listening since she was so afraid of being yelled at again. The two finished their goodbyes, and the little girl in red began the journey.

This time, the child did not stray from the path. She had learned her lesson by now, and she felt bad for not making it to Grandmother's the last two months. Most of the trip was quiet and peaceful, though the scared little girl did not let her guard down. It was when she was almost to Grandmother's when she realized she did not remember what her mother had warned her about. 'Was it about a fox? Or perhaps another type of bug? Oh, I cannot remember!'

'Cannot remember what?' Came a quiet voice, making the girl in red turn. There stood a wolf, with big ears and a big snout, eyes as wide as an owl's. 'Oh, I cannot remember what my Mother warned me about! And now I fear if I keep walking this path alone, I shall die!'

'I would be afraid too, young girl! You're very brave to have ventured this far alone! Much too brave! How about I join you, so you know that you are safe?'

The naive child smiled and nodded, not questioning the toothy grin the wolf was giving her. 'What an excellent idea! My name is Tori!'

'What a lovely name! Your mother did a great job picking it!' He walked over and joined her, the two quietly following the path. She did not notice the wolf slowly leaning in with his jaw stretched wide, ready to rip her to pieces. If it were not for the little girl's instinct, she never would've made it to her grandmother's. 'Oh, Wolf! What are you doing?' She jumped back, tears collecting in her eyes. 'You were who Mother warned me about! And now the only safe place is to go is to Grandmother's! I shouldn't have trusted you!' The young girl ran off, quickly making her way to the house.

She dodged through the trees, hoping it'd slow the wolf down, as he began chasing his prey. Her plan worked, and she slid through the door of her Grandmother's. 'Oh, Grandmother! Oh, Grandmother! The world has been cruel to me!' Much to her surprise, no one came to check on her.

'Grandmother?' Tori set the basket down, searching through the small cottage. Eventually, she did find her grandmother, curled up in a tiny ball on her bed. The girl in red walked over and shook the elder, waiting for her to wake up.

But she didn't.

'C'mon Grandmother...wake up..' She cried, feeling so utterly helpless. Remembering what her mother taught her, she put two fingers onto the old woman's neck and checked for a pulse. To the twelve year old's distress, there was none 'Oh, Grandmother! You must've starved! I'm so sorry!' The small girl's sobs were so loud, that anyone near by could hear them. And her predator happened to be nearby.

A sudden crash in the kitchen caught Tori's attention, making her cry harder. The wolf was in the doorway in a matter of seconds.

'Please, I do not wish to die!' The child cried, holding herself near her diseased grandmother. The wolf laughed. 'And neither do I! I need to eat to survive, don't I? And what better meal than a stupid, little girl?'

Before Tori could reply, the wolf lunged, biting into her. She screamed as she felt herself being ripped apart, her last thought was to wish to see her Grandmother in Heaven."

~~

No, her last thought was a prayer. It was a beg for God to save her soul and welcome a nearby lumberjack to save her. She wasn't ready to die, Tord could feel her fear deep down inside. For a moment, he wasn't Tord, but the little girl who hadn't heeded her mother's warnings. He was Tori, and she watched helplessly as the monster that had ripped her arm off and cut open her stomach approach to eat. The story said she died right after she was ripped apart, but it was wrong again. She died while the wolf ate her organs from blood loss. It was slow, painful and alone. And by the time she was dead, the wolf had finished his meal.

He wasn't Tori though, he was Tord. And once the pain of dying as someone else passed, he was thankful to be himself. The Storyteller who had read the story closed the book, and looked up joyously, as if he just read a happy story of a couple being married. "What'd you think?" He asked.

The Norwegian was at a loss of words. It was terrible, he hated every minute of the story, but would the Storytellers be mad at him for saying that? "It was...a story."

The tall one frowned, sighing a little. "If you didn't enjoy it, then simply say so. We can read you another, and perhaps you'd like it more!"

"Actually, I did come to here the story of the Bu-"

"I have one I can read!" Jumped up the one with huge eyebrows, running into the maze of shelves to search for a specific book. The tall one lifted the one he just read into the air. It sprouted too brightly colored wings, and flew off to it's place on the shelf. Funny, how terrible and sad something is would have such beautiful wings. Tord thought as he watched it flutter off.

Soon, he came back with his story in hand, trading seats with his partner. The pages looked a bit whiter and neater than the last story, giving the gremlin the assumption that it had happened more recently. Hopefully, that meant it wouldn't be so morbid. "This story is called, 'The Hanging Man.'"

~~

"Once upon a time, on the other side of Wonderland where the Prince rules, there was a young boy named Mark lived with his friend Jon. Mark wasn't a very bright fellow, but wasn't stupid either. He was the pride of his poor town, as his looks had even once impressed the Queen. Throughout his entire life, the blonde received compliments and praised, bringing him up to be arrogant and selfish. He expected himself to have the best of the best, and nothing less. He always rambled on about how he knew he was meant for something more, and was being wasted on the sad excuse of a town.

Jon, however, was quite the opposite. Quiet, yet brave, proud but humble, the young male was content with his and his friend's small farm. (Which only had three chickens and one cow.) He believed life shouldn't be about how much you have, it should be about enjoying what's there and being happy. He always tried to explain this to the taller of the duo, but he simply couldn't understand. Constantly, he tried to flirt his way into having expensive items or privileges, and it usually ended with Jon having to bail him out of trouble. It was annoying, more so that even when Mark didn't get what he wanted, he still didn't understand what he was doing wrong. The humble farmer grew more and more fed up.

The two tended to argue, and the more disagreements they had the more tense things had gotten on their relationship. Mark was starting to consider moving away, (Which plenty of people were willing to marry their daughters to him) but something always held him back. It was frustrating, especially since Jon seemed to be what was holding him back from his true potential. (At least, in his eyes.) Jon was growing more stressed, and everyday he feared more and more that Mark's pride would be his doom. His worries weren't far off from what would happen, as after a particularly bad fight, Mark decided to stomp off into the woods to calm down.

The night was colder than usual, and if Mark's blood pressure wasn't already up from frustration he probably would've needed to go back for his shabby, old coat. Perhaps he would've noticed the blood on the ground, or the frightened bears cowering and ran off to alert a group of hunters. Perhaps he would've escaped making the worse mistake of his life, but in the end all that could've happened doesn't matter. Mark continued on with his angry stomping, leading him to the old tree in the center of the forest.

The old tree had many myths surrounding it. Townsfolk whispered tales of the dead from the nearby graveyard coming alive and luring children to the tree to feast on at night, but to Mark it was simply all paranoia. He came to the tree very often, and not once had he witnessed his dead family eating the small boy who played with sticks next door. The tree was simply a tree, and that was that.

Besides, despite the tree's infamous stories, the blonde found comfort in the secluded meadow. The tree's branches blocked out the sun enough to where he was warm, unlike how he was in shade, but it also wasn't in his eyes. No other place had this quality, and with people being too afraid to venture near it, it was a perfect place to take some time to calm down.

However, this time was not alone. This time, there was a rope tied to the highest branch, with a noose tied at the bottom. The noose held a man, one with glossy eyes and pale skin. His his was white, yet his features belonged to a young man. It was as if he had stopped aging, yet aged at the same time. He swung back and forth, the rope creating a sickening rip once and a while. Before Mark could even consider leaving to tell someone that a man had committed suicide, or process the dad scene, the hanging man began to speak.

'Didn't anyone tell you it was rude to stare?'

'If anything I have to tell others, as I usually attract attention.' said Mark, earning a raised eyebrow from the hanging man. 'How're you alive?'

'I cannot die, no matter how much deforming I do to my body. No matter how many times I refuse oxygen into my lungs or stab a knife directly into my heart.'

'You do not sound mentally healthy.'

'I am not. But you aren't either. Everyone here is mad.'

'That's a bit judgmental.'

'You haven't seen as many nights as I have. I've met the great grandfathers of the people you live with now, and perhaps even further back. I've been cursed to roam these lands until one can take on my position for me, and until then, all I can do is grant three wishes to anyone who is worthy.'

'Three wishes?' Mark perked up. 'What kind of wishes?'

'Well, they can be anything you want really..they come at a cost.'

'What kind of cost?'

'Depends on the wish.'

'That doesn't sound vague or foreboding.'

The hanging man shrugged. 'Take what you will kid, but if you ever need anything I'll be here. It's not like I have much else to do.'

~~

When Mark came home, he found Jon sitting in front of their cow and chickens. He looked upset as he sat and idly pet one of the small feathered birds. The proud young male slowly approached his friend, not sure if he'd talk about their argument from earlier, or if he had completely forgotten about it.

'What is troubling you?'

The other looked up, sighing deeply. 'Maribelle isn't making milk anymore. She's gotten too old. Without her, our farm is ruined!' Soft tears prickled in his eyes, making Mark's heart ache. Yes, he was a bit selfish, but he did care about Jon and he couldn't even imagine the stress he must be going through. Slowly, he wrapped his arms around his friend and pulled him into a hug. 'What about the chickens?'

'There's only three of them, and they don't lay everyday. We could never sell enough to live off of! Oh Mark, what're we going to do?' The small male started to cry, and the taller awkwardly patted his back in a weak attempt to comfort. '..What if I could fix it?'

'H-how would you d-do that?'

'I can fix anything, just you wait.'

Later that night, the blonde sneaked out of the house when his friend was sleeping. He followed the same path he had taken before, now noticing all the signs of evil and destruction. He chose to ignore it, focusing on how he could make up how he's been acting to Jon. The tree still stood as it had earlier that day, only now that it was night it was harder to make out all the branches. Nevertheless, the silhouette of the hanging man was easy to see. 'Hello?'

'So, you've come back.' The man's voice was scratchier than it was before, most likely from hanging from the tree all day.

'I would like to make a wish.'

The hanging man instantly looked up, intrigue filled his eyes. 'Really? That didn't take long.'

Mark huffed and rolled his eyes. 'Whatever. Can I make my wish now?'

'Of course.'

'I wish that my friend Jon and I had the best farm in all of Wonderland.' The hanging man thought for a few moments before nodding.

'I can do that. It'll require a huge payment however.'

'We don't have any money.'

'It doesn't involve money. I'm going to need you to something else.'

'And that is...?'

'Kill all your farm animals.'

The blonde stared in shock. 'What? No!'

'I can't grant the wish unless you do it, kid. So you decide; do you want to have that sad, pathetic farm, or something grand and profitable?'

~~

Mark thought about his words as he trotted along the path to his house. Next to it was the sad barn, where Maribelle and the chickens laid. Jon loved the thing, God knows why, but it wouldn't support them anymore. They were going to have to replace it whether they liked it or not.

But it's wrong. He argued with himself. But it's for a good cause! Next door, was the lumberjack's, where the little boy who played with sticks and his father lived. An ax laid beside a small stack of logs, laying innocently and conveniently. No, I shouldn't. Despite his internal protests, he felt himself walk over and pick up the soon to be murder weapon.

He made his way back to the barn, his livestock sleeping peacefully. A cold, painful feeling swept through him, making him shake. It was dread and guilt, for the poor animals who were about to die. They didn't respond when Mark lifted the ax above his head, and were dead as soon as the ax came crashing down onto them.

The chickens were dead fast, it was Maribelle that had troubled him. His first chop wasn't enough to kill her, and she began howling out with pain. He tried to end it as quick as possible, not wanting the poor creature to suffer. It took a total of twenty-six swings until the cow was completely dead. By then, blood had splattered everywhere in the barn and on Mark's clothes. Sluggishly, the blonde stumbled back to the tree, telling the man that the deed was done. 'Perfect, now head home and sleep. Your farm will be replaced before you wake up.' He did as he was told, cleaning up before hand so Jon didn't freak out and ask him what he had done.

The hanging man had kept his word.

Outside, stood a vibrantly red colored barn. It was much bigger than the previous one, and he could already see a collection of sheep, pigs, chickens and cows outside. Quickly, he ran outside to find Jon and see what his reaction was.

Jon was ecstatic, a bit confused, but ecstatic. 'God has answered our prayers!' He cried while hugged a chicken and jumping up and down. The poor hen fluttered frantically until she eventually freed herself from the small male's grasp. She very quickly ran over to her flock and away from the two friends.

'So, you really like it?' Mark asked, his heart fluttering when his friend happily nodded. 'I couldn't ask for more!'

~~

Life for the next few months had been nice. The farm was bringing in more than enough coin for the duo to have nice dinners each night, and the pair had gotten closer as well. Still, not anything is perfect, as the massively successful barn added to Mark's ego. Jon decided to leave it alone, even if it annoyed him. He was far too happy to worry about that.

Jon didn't take into account how much it had grown however, as he suspected it had just gone up a tiny amount, it really had became too much for Mark to handle. So much so that when the smaller of the two stated how their house had 'Looked dumb compared to our huge, extravagant barn', it sent the blonde right back up to the tree and to the hanging man, who hadn't moved from his noose.

'Hello, sir! I'm here for my second wish!' The tall young man smiled, forgetting momentarily that each wish came at a cost.

'And what might this wish be?' replied the Man, tilting his head and staring at him with his glossy eyes.

'I would like my house to be replaced with a beautiful mansion. That way, our house doesn't look small and silly compared to our farm.'

'I see. Are you willing to pay for this wish?'

Mark thought for a moment, shivering when he thought about Maribelle. 'As long as it doesn't involve killing any animal, than yes.'

'It doesn't involve killing anything.'

'Good.'

'It involves burning your house down.'

After a bit of bickering, Mark grumpily agreed to the terms. He had to burn everything that was currently inside the house, no matter the sentimental or actual value. It made Mark sad, knowing he was going to destroy so many memories, but it was worth it.

When he arrived back to his now not-good-enough house, he spotted a small gallon of gasoline and some matches sitting beside the chicken's coop. He was almost sure they weren't there before, as Jon was careful to not lay dangerous items around idly. Maybe he forgot to double check. Decided the towhead, trying to ignore the sudden chill in the wind. He took the gallon by the handle and unscrewed the cap. It was a bit scary, having this very burnable fluid in his hands. What if something suddenly caught it aflame, would he be burned alive? Mark shook the thought away, and focused on spreading the gas around his house. Once it had been evenly distributed, he grabbed a match and lit it before throwing it into his house. Before he knew it, the fire was eating through his home.

Jon had came running a few minutes later, as he must've seen the smoke on the other side of town. Other townspeople crowded around to see what was going on, their whispers joining the sound of crackling flames. The smaller male panted and stared in disbelief, tearing up as the house began to cave in on itself. 'What the fuck happened?!'

Mark did not reply, and simply stared at what he had done. Miraculously, the fire did not spread to any wildlife surrounding the house, or to the barn to the right. It stayed contained to the small cottage the two friends had stayed in for most of their lives. It'll be worth it He reminded himself. It will be.

Luckily, it had been. That night, Jon and Mark were stuck staying at the shitty barracks in town. The smaller male cried most of the night, fretting about all they had lost and how they'd ever get on. Mark attempted to be sympathetic, struggling when he knew good things were to come. Jon must've noticed, because eventually he just kind of stopped talking and sat there sniffling. He didn't ask however, and the towhead was thankful for it. The next morning while the humble farmer was out buying apples with the money he had on him before the fire, he had heard rumors of a tall, beautiful mansion standing in place of where their old cottage used to be. After alerting Mark of the rumor, he quickly ran to his property and gasped at the sight. There before them, stood an extravagant building with beautiful carvings into the sides. The door frame was golden. Gardens with many different types of flowers that Mark had never seen before helped light up the whole place. Jon was shaking, clearly taken away by what stood before them.

'It's beautiful..oh gosh Mark, how did this happen?' The way he had asked made the taller's spine tingle. So his friend truly has caught onto the fact that he had something to do with the fire. He didn't seem angry, maybe more scared. But he'd never be scared of me. The blonde thought with confidence. He has no reason to be. Everything I've done has bettered us.

What Mark wasn't aware of, was that the hanging man was laughing quietly at the dead tree, waiting for when he came back for his final wish.

~~

Rumors had spread about the two friends, frustrating and darkening Jon's mood altogether. Most of the town were convinced that they were witches, or at least that Mark was. Mark didn't mind. In fact, he loved the attention and how they had stared at him. Sure, maybe it wasn't good attention, but it was attention nonetheless. He found it annoying that the smaller male was complaining about the gifts the other had provided. Most of the time, Jon would complain about how he missed his old cottage and his old small farm with the Maribelle and the three chickens. What he usually seemed to forget was that the farm was doomed to fail and the house was pathetic looking. These different opinions turned into arguments, pushing the blonde to head to the dead tree. He used these wishes to try and stop their disagreements, not make more! He'd use his final wish to fix whatever was upsetting Jon, and get them their happy ending. The hanging man was still where he was half a year ago. He laid there lifeless until the tall male approached. When he did, the limp figure stiffened back up to a natural posture.

'Hello, sir.'

'You sound angry, son.' stated the mysterious man.

'I am. My friend is ungrateful for what I have provided us, and I want to fix that for my final wish.'

'That's a bit vague I'm afraid. How would you like that done?'

The towhead's shoulders slumped. 'To be honest,' he said, 'I have no idea.'

The two thought for a bit, wondering how in the world they'd grant his final wish. After about an hour, the hanging man came up with an idea (he already had for a while now.) 'You seem to have lots of troubles. Are you sure you want to spend your final wish on that?'

'I don't know. There's nothing else I can think of at the moment.' Hummed the blonde.

'Yes, but a year from now you may really need this wish.'

'But how will I ever know when I'll truly need the wish?'

The hanging man clicked his tongue. 'Well, you can wish anything you want. What if you wished for the ability to grant any wish any time?'

Mark blinked. 'Why, I hadn't thought of that! Yes, that shall be perfect-then I can fix any problem I have, or simply have none at all-what do I need to do?'

'Oh, it's really nothing much! Just simply bring the one you love the most here tonight when the moon is alone in the sky. I'll be able to take care of the rest.'

'Okay! I'll return tonight!' And the tricked male ran off home.

~~

Mark had kept a careful eye on the sky once dusk had arrived. For a long time stars and clouds shared the black blanket with the moon. Eventually however, at three in the morning, there wasn't a single star or cloud in sight. He ran down the long halls to Jon's room, where the humble farmer slept. He grumbled and groaned as Mark shook him awake. 'Whatdoyawant?' He slurred.

'Wake up, I want to show you something!' The blonde excitedly exclaimed. Slowly but surely, the smaller male pulled himself out of bed and pulled on proper attire. He led him out of the house and along the path he had traveled so many times before.

'Where are we going?' Asked Jon while he nervously glanced around. He noticed the peculiarities, unlike how Mark had when he first walked down the trail. The blonde told him it was a surprise.

The dead tree stood where it usually did, it's weak branches shaking in the wind. The noose remained, but the hanging man, for the first time since he arrived, was not wearing it. 'Hello? Are you here, sir?' He called out, but no one replied.

A surprised gasped and pained whimper made Mark turn around. Jon fell just as he caught the sight of what happened. There stood the no longer hanging man with a bloodied knife in one hand. His best friend was now lying on the ground in a puddle of his own blood. Before Mark could say or do anything, he took the knife and lodged it right into Jon's head, killing him.

Mark couldn't believe it and his head was spinning. 'What did you do?!' He cried, running at the man and tackling him to the ground. He felt a sharp object go directing into his chest where his heart was. He waited for the pain, to join his now best friend in Heaven or Hell, but it never came. Instead, he was pushed off the laughing man. 'You foolish, foolish boy..'

'What did you do...' The blonde repeated, a little more helplessly. The laughing man stood up, a twisted smile on his face. He seemed more distant now, more faded. As if he was only an illusion.

'I did what you asked! I granted your wish! Now, you're the one who grants the wishes! The one selfish and dumb enough to fall for the same trick I did. I'm free, and you're damned for all eternity! Unless of course, you find another child to trick into greed.' He was doing a strange dance, clapping and cheering as if he were at some sort of ball.

'You're a monster. You killed my best friend!'

'Yes, I may be. But so are you! You were so upset with your friend wanting different from you, that you were so far to go to change his ideals into yours! You wanted power, and now you have it! But all power comes at a cost.' The man clapped one more time before fully fading away. He spoke two more words, 'Have fun!' before all that was left of him was the echo of his cruel laughter.

Mark sat alone with his dead friend, crying and wondering how he had been so foolish to have trusted a man who could live while he hung, and told him to do awful tasks. 'I'm sorry.' He said to no one, hoping that maybe Jon could hear. 'I'm so, so sorry...'

~~

The trail had changed since the last time Mark had walked it. The blood of the...what was it...a bear? Whatever it was, it had washed away. Everything was much more peaceful without the presence of the hanging man, and it made his stomach twist in an awful way. How had he not seen the signs, all those years ago? How had he not seen the danger? He gripped his rope tightly, tearing up in regret of what he had caused.

Even the tree had changed. The boy who played with sticks had grown to be a fine, strong lumberjack and had braved the forest. When he found the tree, he had chopped it down and planted a new one. A new, healthy tree now stood in it's place, just about fully grown. It made Mark's heart ache. He had been able to watch this tree's growth from back when it was a seedling, and yet he still had not aged. Despite being in his now late forties, he looked barely a day over twenty. In his youth, he made have considered it a gift. Now it was a curse.

He threw the rope over one of the sturdy branches, catching it when it fell back down and tying a knot at the end. Now, he had made a noose, just like the man before him had. How funny. He thought. Now, I am the hanging man. Slowly, he climbed the tree and wrapped the noose around his own neck. There was no hesitate in his jump, he knew even though his neck would crack he wouldn't die or feel pain. He was incapable. So now he hung, blankly staring at the butterflies in the grass.

A small gasp caught his attention, making him look up. A young teenage girl stared at him with shocked eyes. 'Didn't anyone teach you it was rude to stare?' He asked glumly.

The girl quickly pulled herself together. 'Oh, no! I know it is rude, as others do it to me all the time! I always must tell them off about it..' Mark raised an eyebrow. 'Anyways, I must ask, how are you alive?'

The tired blonde sighed. 'I cannot die I'm afraid, this affects me in no way, despite me wanting it to.'

'Are you depressed?'

'Yes, but so are you. Everyone here is.'

'And how would you know?'

'I know more about this world than you can possibly fathom. I'm not terribly old, but now see the world as one with the mind of a 90-year-old.'

'How?

'Well you see, I was cursed. And now I must roam these earths to find any worthy of three wishes and grant them,..'

'Wishes?' The girl perked up with sudden interest. 'What kind of wishes?'

The girl was so similar to how Mark was when he was young, it made him a bit angry. However, he knew this was his chance, and that he couldn't throw it away. 'Well...they come with a cost..'"

~~

Tord was holding himself and shaking. The story once again had brought him into the eyes of the main character. He had dry tears streaming down his face from when Mark had cried in the story. The feeling of a noose was there, however it was now slowly fading away since the tale was now over. A cold wave of guilt hung however, as strongly as it did when the Jon person died. It hurt, he didn't like it hurting. He didn't like feeling guilty.

"Look what you did, hon. You made him cry." Storyteller said to the other. "Your story obviously made him feel worse."

"Well, it's not my fault he's so sensitive." The smaller one replied grumpily. "He just doesn't have good taste in books."

"I think I know a story that can cheer him up!" No, please no more stories. I just want to know about the Butler-But he had already ran off into the maze of bookshelves.

When he came back, he showed the one with big eyebrows the book, who had gasped loudly. "No! No! That will only make him feel worse!"

"C'mon! It's a short one!"

"No, we shall read this on instead."

"Guys, please-" Tord stood up, gently brushing off his dress as he did. The two storytellers bickered over what book to read, grabbing stories off the shelves and showing before the other denying it, and throwing it on the ground. The books would all sprout their wings and fly back to their place on the shelves, making everything stay nice and neat.

"How about 'The Lesbians?' It's a beautiful love story!" The taller suggested.

"Guys-"

No, no! That ends so tragically! We should read 'My heart in his hand' if we want a love story!"

"Ugh, but that one is so long-"

"Listen to me!" Tord yanked the books out of both the Storyteller's hands and threw them into the air, watching as they all quickly flew back to their homes. The two stopped talking, and simply stared at him in slight offense. Did he feel guilty about snapping? Yeah, but he was also guilty because of 'The Hanging Man' and he wasn't in the mood to deal with another story that would make him feel like shit. "Just tell me the story of the Butler. That's all I wanted to hear."

The two stayed silent for a few moments. Eventually, the small one spoke up. "Are you sure you want that one? It's super short and bland.."

"Yes, I want that one."

"Really?"

"Just get it off the stupid shelf."

He nodded and ran off into the maze. For what felt like a really long time, the other storyteller and Tord stood there together waiting for the one with eyebrows to come back. They made idle chat from time to time, but the air between them still felt tense. Both parties were relieved when he had returned. "Sorry, it was in the very beginning of the maze and took me a minute to find."

The book looked even older than 'Please, Would You Just Listen'. The whole front cover was covered in dust, and when he had opened it up some of the pages had been ripped put entirely. I guess when when everything is written down, history can still be lost. He thought glumly. Hopefully, the information I want isn't gone.

The taller storyteller took the book from the other after giving the smaller one a kiss on the cheek. He sat down in the reading chair, while the other two sat in the usual seats. "This tale is called, 'The Rising and Falling of the Royal Family...'

Chapter Text

"Once upon a time in a world where everything is what it isn't, there lived a large kingdom. This kingdom covered the entirety of the land in this world, creating a peaceful, united place where there was no such things as grief, boredom, and pain. A royal family ruled over this kingdom, looking after Her subjects and making sure the peace continue. The family consisted of four members, the Queen who basically was in charge, the King who was more focused on family matters, and the two Princes, Purple and Green. These two boys were both extremely similar and vastly different. This might've been why they had gotten along for so long, but eventually fell out.

One day, ...T.. had arrived into Wonderland, changing everything as we know it. He was...um..this page has been ripped out-...ah! Here's when it picks up! Despite his stupidity, Green loved him.

The Prince had fallen in the love the moment he laid eyes on ...T. T had also loved him back, and the two hurried into a relationship. It's said that the love of these two was so strong that it made Wonderland light up and glow, and citizens for miles could feel a sudden wave of joy and fulfillment. Since the gremlin belonged to...r...re...I can't read that-he had usually had to leave for long periods of time, yet even when everyone thought he was gone for good he returned. He became vital to Wonderland's happiness, and was quickly accepted as one of the royals, growing the family to five.

However, the boy slowly began to visit less and less. And when he did come, he usually was filled with forgetfulness and confusion. He was slowly forgetting everyone and everything in his second home, and no one knew why. It broke Green's heart, and no matter how hard he tried to remind him of all the adventures they had went on, the boy always forgot. It angered Prince Purple and when the gremlin wasn't there, the brothers were often bicker over whether he had meant it when he told the younger, 'I love you.' The visits continued to become less and less, until they eventually stopped.

No one knows how long it truly was until Green accepted his love was gone, but many try to forget it. The day the Prince broke Wonderland.

His pain was the first of anyone's ever. He cried, and he was the first to cry. They say his tears burned through anything they touched, and his wails caused anyone to hear to die. His pain was so unbearable, too much for anyone to handle. It forced itself out of the Prince and into everything around him, infesting Wonderland into a dark, cold and empty place.

It's spread scared the King and Queen. They had attempted to stop it by trying to brighten their son up, but the young boy's spirit had been crushed. So, they turned to the second solution. Wonderland was divided into two, a world where the peace could continue, and a world where pain resigned. The Prince would rule the darker side of Wonderland, and anything or anyone infected before the divide will live with him in the world of agony.

Prince Purple was angry at his parents for forcing Green into his own land of main and anguish, and tried to convince them into finding another solution. The King and Queen, afraid to lose Wonderland, refused to change their decision. Once Purple realized there was no way to make them break the spell, he ran away to free his brother himself. He left his title, cutting any connection his parents had to being able to find him." The Storyteller skipped past a few pages, which were mostly ripped out or had scribbled words that were unreadable.

"Purple left the world of misery with the saved refugee, trembling from what he had seen. His brother wasn't the same. The world he ruled was dangerous, and full of monsters and tormented souls who wanted liberty, who wanted to be happy, but couldn't. The other male who he had escaped with was a young man named Hatter, who was absolutely mad in every sense of the word. When the former prince had asked when his sanity had left, the smaller male had simply laughed.

'Now, what is the definition of sane? It's the opposite of insanity, or in having a stable mental state. But who decided what a good mental state is?' He had clapped his hands joyfully, alerting near by predators of the two's presence. 'One who is insane is one to say he is sane, so why couldn't the one to decide what is sane be insane? Perhaps the one's who are crazy are sane, and the rest of you are loony! Perhaps I am not crazy, but I am alive.' His answer had left the already traumatized teenager speechless and confused. At the time he didn't have enough time to ponder on it, as they were soon attacked by beasts not even the Hatter could imagine.

Now that they were back in the land of joy, he had come to realize just how twisted the other side had really been. The Mad Hatter seemed unphased by the sudden lost of pain, paranoia, and grief. Instead, he simply swept off his suit and calmly looked at the former prince. 'I shall now find a place for my tea party, if you care to join me.' Without waiting for a response, he headed of towards the woods.

The Tea Party was set up in less than a day, and Purple had completely changed his name to what he is now known as. The Butler. The Butler served the Hatter at his tea parties, and whoever was lucky or unlucky enough to be invited. However, only the Cheshire Cat, the Prince, and T had been invited. As far as it is known to the public, only the Cheshire Cat had arrived.

Theories and rumors have spread as of what has become of the Butler's sanity. Listening to the Mad puppet's tales, his anger at his parents,or the trauma he experienced from the Prince's land could've driven him mad. As it stands today, we have not heard a single word from him."

The book was closed. The taller Storyteller stifled a yawn and stood up to stretch. The one who was reading allowed the book to fly back to it's place on the shelf.

"So, that's it? We just don't know?" Tord asked. The one with big eyebrows nodded.

"That's it, kid. Any other information on the Butler had been destroyed. The only others who know more is the Prince, The Cheshire Cat, or the Mad Hatter himself. Two of which are impossible to talk to, and one who's an ignorant slut."

"Shhhh, babe, remember what happened last time when you called the Cheshire Cat a slut-"

"Yeah, she clawed my eye out." Tord blinked, shifting a little in his seat. He didn't want to stay with the Storytellers anymore, their rambling was starting to drive him mad. As the two bickered over whether calling the Cheshire Cat was a good idea, the small gremlin slipped away into the bookshelves. (Which was probably a bad idea, it took him hours to find the way out.)

Outside the library was the same mushroom patch as before. The tall fungi towards over him, casting large shadows down upon him. He sighed a little. Now, he had absolutely no clue where to go, and Wonderland seemed so big compared to him. It could take him years to figure why he was here, and why someone hadn't covered up that hole in the ground between the two alleys. I guess going somewhere is better than nowhere. He sighed, stuffing his hands in his pockets and heading off in a random direction.

Chapter Text

It's frustrating not being able to tell how long you've been walking.

His feet hurt. Never mind, his entire body ached and yet he had no clue if that was his laziness seeping through or if it was because he had been walking for a really long time. In the logic of his home, he'd have been walking for two days. However, it only took five minutes for the sun to rise after it had originally went to dusk. Tord assumed Wonderland had no sense of time, or sense of anything for that matter, but he couldn't say for certain. So instead of continuing to wander around aimlessly, he decided that when the sun would sleep again he too would sleep. It didn't take long for the sun to lower, probably only another half hour or so, and the little Norwegian nuzzled himself under one of the large mushrooms that overlooked him.

"Goodnight." He spoke to no one as he closed his eyes and let out a big yawn. In a matter of minutes, (seconds? moments? perhaps even hours..?) he had fallen asleep.

-----------------------------

"Honey, I'm home." Called out Paul, who set his sleeping child gently on the couch. He grabbed a nearby quilt his mother had given him at his and Pat's wedding and wrapped Tord up in it. The small boy smiled at the sudden warmth he was surrounded in.

Patryck stomped his way downstairs, not making any attempt to quiet his loud footsteps. "What took you so long, I was getting worried-" Paul glared and put finger to his mouth to tell his husband to quiet his booming voice. Pat covered his mouth with both his hands in response. Then, after them staring at each other for a few moments, he asked "Why do you want me to be quiet?" The smaller of the two pointed at their son, and immediately his husband's expression changed to one of understanding. As if he had that "ooooh" moment. Both in silent agreement to have the conversation in a different room went upstairs.

"So...why is he here?" Pat asked when they got to their bedroom. Paul shrugged a tiny bit.

"I don't know. I found him zoned out in an ally way."

"I thought the asylum wasn't letting him out or letting anyone see him."

"I thought so, too."

They sat in a small silence, both fidgeting from time to time, neither wanted to state what was needed to be said. Pat, being the more responsible of the two, eventually let himself bare that responsibility. "We should probably take him back."

"No." Paul's response was curt. Nothing more, nothing less. Pat didn't want an explanation on why Paul said no, he wanted Tord to stay too. It had been exactly seven months since they last saw their son. Nine when he had started going to the hospital in the first place. And by the looks of him, it didn't seem that this time period had helped. "So, what do we do?"

A few more moments of silence. The suspense between them caused a wave of anxiety to crash over Pat. It ate away at him like a piranha eating a small, wooden raft that was already sinking. There were so many punishments that could be handed to them if they had kept Tord. They could be arrested, sued, maybe even classified as insane too. But Tord was also their son, and the pain of not seeing him continued to bite and web it's way into the tall man's decision. It was so quiet that both could hear the quiet ticking from the clock in the kitchen. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-

Paul swallowed a lump in his throat. "Okay...how about we take him back to the asylum tomorrow? And the rest of the day we can talk to him." Pat didn't need to be persuaded. As long as he didn't have to listen to the teasing of the clock, he'd be happy with any choice. The two nodded, and headed back downstairs to the couch that held their sleeping child.

Only, the couch was empty. The front door laid wide open, letting in a bunch of the cold breeze. Tord was gone.

--------------------------------------------

A dizzying imagine of a shadow blocking light was what made Tord jerk back. He had just woken up to the sound of a voice and instead of being met with the familiar scene of the mushroom patch, he was met with this stranger looming over him. A hand was forced onto his mouth, muffling his attempt to scream. This was the last of the threatening gestures made at him, but the person still filled him with anxiety. Instead, the stranger pulled their hand away and grunted, "Paranoid bitch."

After a few seconds of processing, Tord saw that this person looked pretty familiar to him. The exceptions were that he had hair covering one of his eyes and wore a red turtle neck instead of a dress or his more normal red hoodie. He also had a satchel filled with papers and packages. As if he were some sort of mailman.

He asked, "You're Tord, right?"

The gremlin nodded, still shaking from the scary wake up.

"I have a note for you. Congratulations, you're invited to a tea party." He threw down the envelope onto Tord's lap. His tone of voice was extremely monotone, despite looking inconvenienced. He turned and began to walk away, and out of fear of being alone again he ran over and grabbed the the boy's shoulder.

He did not like this. He shrunk away from the touch of the gremlin and hissed. "Don't touch me."

"I-I'm sorry...um..who are you-"

"Isn't it obvious? I'm the Messenger."

"Oh. Who sent the letter..?"

"The only person around here who holds tea parties." The Messenger turned and began walking away. Tord followed, refusing to be alone again. "The Mad Hatter."

"Where does he even hold tea parties?"

"I don't know."

"Will he hurt me?"

"I don't know."

"Where is he?"

"I don't know."

"Will you walk with me there?"

"I don't-" The Messenger sighed. "Look, just read the fucking note. It'll tell you where to go and he'll talk to you about whatever. Don't ask me about the party itself, I've never been to one. And frankly, I never want to. So many ways to be touched at those-" He shivered.

"So...you won't walk with me."

"Nope."

"Gotcha." He turned again and began to walk away before stopping. Without looking back he said, "I don't recommend the tea by the way."

"What do you-" But he left, disappearing behind a mushroom tree.

Tord sighed. The envelope remained in his hands, unopened. Almost as if it were teasing him. The Storytellers had said that only three people had been invited to the parties before, so why was an invitation sent to him? He was a nobody, especially in this foreign world. What would this "Mad Hatter" want? Well, I guess there's only one way to find out. He tore open the letter in a sloppy fashion, ripping off small pieces and letting them fall onto the ground.

Inside was a small card, something that resembled a birthday or Christmas card you'd receive from your aunt that held a small amount of money. The front had a yellow, glittery boarder that waved back and fourth. Pink letters that had more glitter spelled out You're Invited! Underneath said letters was a tiny tea cup, filled with-you guessed it-brown glitter.

The inside luckily didn't have anymore glitter...that was glued to it. Apparently the note's creator wasn't too careful and a bunch of the decorative sparkles slid out. There wasn't any money, however a folded up map was folded and taped to the inside. Above it cursive handwriting read To find your way to the party. The other side of the note simply read Very Happy Unbirthday! which confused the hell out of the gremlin. He decided to ignore it, as he did with most things he didn't understand and pulled the map off of the card.

An arrow was pointing to a pink, glowing dot in the center of the page. The arrow said You are here. and onto the furthest right was a green glowing dot reading The party is here. Sparkling letters read Go left at the top. Deciding to obey, Tord went left. After a few moments of walking, the words changed to Go right.

And so, he followed the directions of the piece of paper in his hands. The mushroom patch was quickly left behind and Tord found himself surrounded with unfamiliar scenery. It wasn't until the sun had finally went down again and was starting to rise when he found a giant golden gate blocking his path. A small slot laid in front of him, and a sign that had the same cursive handwriting read Place your Invitations here! hung above it. Hesitantly, he dropped his invitation into the slot, and then jerked his hand back in fear of a knife coming through and stabbing it like he had seen in horror movies.

The gate stayed still. Tord began to think that he had found something completely different than the party he was invited to and had lost his only invite. Wouldn't that be a shame? Losing your invite to a party that only three other people had been invited to? He would've laughed at his stupidity if that were the case. Luckily, the gate finally did open, revealing a small dirt path with overgrown branches from the bushes and trees around it. He trudged through the foliage hoping not to trip as tripping in a dress would be embarrassing.

He pushed through a wall of branches and stumbled out into a bright meadow. In the meadow was a long table, with small plates and cups littered all over it. Each side had a dozen chairs, each of them empty. Still, the tea cups were full as if there was some sort of presence that Tord could not see sitting in them. Biscuits, cookies and sandwiches were also stacked up on their own respective plates, waiting to be served and eaten. A teapot laid in the very center of the table, with cups of sugar cubes and butter sitting beside it.

The table made Tord's stomach rumble, alerting him to how empty his stomach feels. He ran over and took a seat, happily grabbing a sandwich and taking a huge bite. The flavor of ham, turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato filled his mouth, creating a delicious blend of flavor. After he finished the sandwich, he grabbed the nearby butter knife and scooped up a bit of the yellow substance onto it. It was creamy and slightly melted, making it easy to spread onto his biscuit. He bit into the warm bread, the combination of the creamy butter and warm biscuit making him drool.

"Enjoying yourself?" A sudden voice made Tord jump up and nearly fall over. The biscuit was still in his mouth, and drool continued to fall of his chin. He was a mess, and the stranger seemed to find it amusing. Quickly, he pulled the unfinished food our of his mouth and wiped the disgusting saliva. "Y-yes! I am...um..I'm sorry-"

"No need to apologize, I knew you'd be hungry." The man hadn't any eyes, instead they were replaced with black buttons. His neck had stitches, as if he were some sort of doll. A blue patch had also covered half his face, looking a bit out of place as the rest of his "skin" was a tanner color. His hair stood up sort of like a pineapple's, but most of it was covered by the weird top hat. He was dressed in a formal suit, however the way it was worn was pretty floppy with the strings untied and the sleeves rolled up. "Though, I do feel it was a hit rude for you to start the party without me."

Tord struggled to find words to say. "I'm sorry." ended up being all that came out. It made the stranger laugh as he walked over to the thrown looking chair at the end of the table. He sat down in it and straightened out his bow tie. "So...who are you?"

"Why, i'm slightly offended. Wouldn't common sense tell you that I'm the one who invited you here? That the Mad Hatter was the one who had chosen you to join in his party."

"I'm sorry, i didn't thi-"

"Well, you're quite the broken record. Speaking of broken records, let's play some music!" He hopped up from out of his seat and headed over to a rusty gramophone. He pushed the sound box onto the disk. A vile, scratchy noise was produced instead of pleasant music like Tord had been expecting and he quickly covered his ears. The Mad Hatter hummed along to the noise as if he found it pleasant and sat back down.

For a while, the two sat there. Hatter drinking his tea and Tord doing everything in his power to block out the awful noise. His head began to pound and a strong urge to gut himself with the butter knife found itself into him. Thankfully, the machine's noises seemed to cease once it had turned off. The gremlin uncovered his ears and looked over at the other, who was still peacefully sipping his tea. Silence. The silence was almost worse than the screeching of the broken disk. It filled him with an unease, and when he couldn't take it anymore he built up all his courage to say something. "So-"

But the Hatter was quicker. "You want to know why I invited you, correct? This was what you were going to ask." Tord didn't have enough time to reply, Hatter kept on talking. "Why, it was a very careful thought process. I considered every variable, every possibility, I even created little figures of us so I could reenact everything." He gestured over at a small table in the corner, with a figure standing up holding a knife and another laid on the ground headless, surrounded by red paint.

"Why is my figure's head chopped off-"

"Nevertheless, it still wasn't enough to decide. Would inviting you be a good idea? Or would I come to hate myself for making such a stupid mistake? It was very conflicting, you see. And for several days I sat there finding all the ways we could both end up dying."

"Neither of us need to die."

"But finally, in the end I discovered there was a much, much bigger chance of you dying than me! So, inviting you hear wouldn't be a danger onto my life, no no. I don't need to have to sew another eye on...have you had any tea? The tea is quite good. Now, where was I? Ah, yes. So, now I wasn't just considering the danger of having you here, but the feeling I got from it in general. Did I actually want you here? Did I want to see your face again after the pain you had put my butler through? The answer was no at first, but the more I thought..the more I thought maybe I could have some answers. I did have a few questions, but my memory has gave up on me and is only reciting that time my butler fell in the lake and nearly drowned." He took a long sip of his tea.

Tord awkwardly grabbed some sugar cubes and dropped it into his own teacup. The liquid in it made a small sploosh sound. The small spoon next to his plate caught his attention, and he used it to stir the sugar evenly throughout his drink. After the tea had a lighter color, he took the cup up to his mouth and sipped. the flavor wasn't very pleasant, despite all the sugar. It had a strong taste of bitter almonds. "Let's walk." the Mad man suddenly said, getting up from his seat.

Not wanting to get on his bad side, Tord joined the taller male. The two walked through the meadow, leaves fell down and floated in front of them, creating some sort of path. Where the Hatter was taking him, Tord didn't know. But the scenery around them made it almost peaceful. The sun was starting to fall to dawn, filling the sky with a pretty orange and yellow color. It was all sort of familiar somehow, as if he had been there recently. Which could be possible, both the Cheshire Cat and Hatter had mentioned he had been to Wonderland before, but everything still seemed foreign and new. Why was this place different?

The gremlin had his answer when the two had reached their destination. In front of them was a lake. A beautiful, huge lake with crystal clear water. Each time one of the leaves floated down and landed onto the water, fish and dragonflies flew down to greet it. And here in this glorious spot, a small boat had once glided through the liquid mirror, and two boys had once shared a kiss while the sun was rising before them.

He had been here.

He had been here with that boy.

With that Edd.

This was the lake that had destroyed their boat and swallowed Edd whole. That had drowned him, and nearly drowned Tord too. This lake was the nightmare he had woken up from with his doctor. The one that wasn't real. This isn't real.

"You didn't answer me." Tord turned around to Hatter, who seemed to have a much more threatening vibe than he had before despite his appearance not changing. Everything felt more dangerous, more suffocating. had the doctor put him under again without telling him? His head hurt. It was pounding. He couldn't think.

"I want to go home."

The Hatter laughed. "But you don't have one! Home is where you feel safe, and you don't truly feel safe anywhere do you?"

"I do."

"And where have you ever felt safe?"

"The Hospital." That was always his home. He always lived there right? He didn't remember living anywhere else.

"A hospital? Why, what an awful home. Truly dreadful. If that is where you feel safe, then I reckon you've never once felt safe in your life. And to think, you used to call Wonderland your home, too. Were you lying to us, Tord? Did you want to hurt everyone? Did you really hate us that much?"

Tord could barely breath, and his head continued to spin. It was like his chest was closing up and refusing oxygen. He reached out to Hatter and leaned onto him, but the other pushed him down to the ground. A cruel smiled was placed upon his lips as he watched the gremlin struggle to breath. "It's time to go to sleep, Tord." He crouched down beside him, petting the dying gremlin. "Goodnight, it's time to go to sleep..."

And then he stopped breathing.

Chapter Text

He became aware of his surroundings. Too aware. Sickeningly aware. The grass he had felt before Hatter had left him to his demise was replaced by the feeling of a soft cushion. There was something on top of him, a blanket, with the feeling of slightly torn seams in its sewing. It was comforting, and unlike the sleep he had managed to get in the mushroom patch, he actually felt well rested while opening his eyes.

It wasn't the meadow, that was for sure. He was laying on a sofa, an old, beat-up one. There rips and tears here and there, and a ginormous red stain glared at Tord on the side his feet had possessed. All along the arms were long, thin claw marks like one made from a cat. Perhaps they belonged to the Cheshire Cat? If so, did this house belong to her? Or maybe even she has an owner who she runs home to each night for bed and love.

Wherever he was, Tord liked it much more than he liked the meadow Hatter had invited him to. Whatever that had happened there was a blur, but he did know he fell sick somehow and he didn't think it was a coincidence with Hatter being there either.

He stood up and stretched his body out, his bones all cracking as he did. His vision was still slightly black and blurry, making him a bit tipsy. It was as if he were drunk despite not remembering ever drinking. However, he shrugged it off and looked around.

There was a small television in front of the sofa, and a bunch of mirrors hung up above it. Most consisted of a ginger, some with a man who looked creepily similar to the Mad Hatter and only two with a younger looking boy wearing a green hoodie. The boy had a benevolent smile, and his eyes glowed in such a way that made Tord's heart skip a beat. Who was this boy?

The one in the middle that was being surrounded by these pictures had the three and himself, all smiling happily with bubbles surrounding them. In the corner of the photo small words read (July 4, 2016) Matt's 19th birthday!

Was Matt one of the people from the photo?

The name sounded familiar.

And why was he in one of these photos?

The questions continued to bug him. So much so that he didn't hear the man walking into the living room. "He's awake!"

Tord turned and found a familiar pair of black eyes staring back at him. His heart skipped a beat as he remembered how Hatter had crouched down beside him and whispered in his ear "Goodnight, it's time to go to sleep..." while he struggled to find air in his lungs. Hatter was back, and he was going to kill him. He was going to do it this time. Tord didn't want to die!

"Tom, are you okay?!"

"Holy fucking asshole on a frog, no I'm not okay!"

The-guy-who-looked-like-Hatter was on the ground now, covering half of his face with his hand and groaning. "He just fucking bitch slapped me!"

Tord stared at the two, looking back and forth between the photos on the wall and the real life counterparts. The ginger was crouching down next to the other, gently petting and mumbling to him. The smaller one seemed to calm down and glare up at the gremlin. "What the fuck, dude?"

"I-"

"He's probably still coming down from his episode, Tom. Give him some time to breathe."

Tord did take death breath, his vision cleared fully and he took the time to notice how this look alike was not Hatter, but someone named Tom. Instead of the weird suit and hat, he wore a hoodie similar to the ginger's and his own. The stitches and seams were gone, and instead of the weird fabric his skin was normal like a human's. The only characteristics the two shared were the eyes and hair.

"I'm sorry.." The gremlin said silently, gently pulling his arms up to hug himself.

Tom sighed and stood up. "It's fine..."

An awkward silence came between the three. A familiar sounding clock ticked in the background, causing the red hooded male's anxiety rise up even more. Tom and the ginger seemed to be waiting for him to say something. What was he supposed to say to these people? He didn't know them, didn't have anything to say. He was tremulous. Fearful. Could they go away??

"I'll call Edd..." Tom shuffled a little and disappeared into the room he had originally came from, leaving the ginger and Tord alone. He felt less pressured with only one in the room.

"I.."

"No, don't talk."

Tord gave a questioning stare at the taller. The ginger looked upset, almost mad but not quite. His entire vibe had changed from what it was when Tom was in the room, and the gremlin found himself wanting the black eyed man back. Neither parties spoke for a bit. It was so quiet you could faintly hear the third's voice from the kitchen speaking to "Edd."

"So, why are you out?" He asked, sounding mostly disinterested.

"I..was allowed." Tord's voice shook as he assumed the taller was talking about the hospital. Unless he had known about Wonderland too, but didn't make the correction when he received his answer.

"So, what? You're not allowed to speak to us for five months but suddenly you can come do whatever you want?"

"Um.."

"You don't even remember us, do you?"

"N-no...I don't." Tord pushed himself to the wall, trying to be as far away from the hostile ginger as possible. The ginger approached him and he squeezed his eyes shut, expecting to be struck down or punched or killed or something. Instead, a gentle hand was brought up to his cheek and gently rubbed.

"What are they doing to you?"

His gentle, soft touch brought a wave of comfort he desperately needed. It wasn't too much that made him feel suspicious or too little that made him more anxious. It was enough to calm him down without overthinking. Enough to feel safe in the presence of the ginger. Enough for him to open his eyes and try not to freak out at meeting the deep blue eyes in front of him. "I'm Matt." Eventually he said, pulling away. "Your boyfriend's brother."

"B-boyfriend?"

Matt gasped at Tord's oblivious question as if he had stepped on fourteen turtles. Suddenly, the gremlin was scooped up into his arms and violently squished. "You poor fucking pathetic waste of feet, they really messed with you haven't they? Oh, he was right-" Tears ran down Matt's face. Oh jeez, what do I do-

He was set down before he did anything, which was probably better than him trying to do anything in the first place.

"Edd said he couldn't come by until a few hours." Tom walked back into the room, a small phone in hand. "He's still with Eduardo and Laurel, and said it'd still be a few hours."

"God damn it, he misses this little fucker."

"I know." Tom sighs a little and pets Tord.
“Do you think we’ll be able to keep him? At least for the night? Edd would be so excited!”

“I don’t think the asylum would allow that.”

“Oh…”

The mention of the asylum brought a drift of awkwardness into the room. It was if a claw of dread and anger gripped the other two, and Tord was left in slight confusion of the aggressive feelings they shared. He wanted to ask. He wanted to know what he was missing, but he had a feeling he wouldn't be given an answer even if he had spoken up.

Matt sighed a little. ¨I´m going to go make dinner.¨ He disappeared into the kitchen, leaving Tom and Tord alone.

The black eyed male looked over and turned the television on. Some mindless show about a doctor and a telephone booth was playing, each conflict being resolved by some magic object. Tom didn´t seem to actually be watching it, and instead had it on for background noise as he collected his thoughts.

¨How much do you remember?¨ He met Tord´s eyes. Behind him, the picture of Mattś 19th birthday hung in glory, reminding him of his connection to the two and the missing green hooded boy that was somehow missing from his line of thinking. The familiarance of the apartment matched with all that he could pick up from his past friends fogged his mind.

¨Nothing.¨ He replied, giving himself a migraine from all of his scrambling thoughts. ¨I don´t know who you are, or why you know me. I don´t remember Matt either, I just don´t.¨

¨There has to be something.¨ Tom grumbled a little. “It can’t all just be gone. You couldn’t have forgotten all of that in a span of eight months. You couldn’t have forgotten your entire life that fast.”

“Didn’t you mention someone else earlier?”

“Huh?”

“You mentioned someone with an E.”

“Edd?”

“Yes! I remember him.”

“You do?”

“Sorta. He was in one of the dreams I have.”

“Dreams?”

“Once a day, my doctor lays me down and makes me go to sleep. He makes me describe the dreams when I wake up. The one I had today there was boy in it with me. It wasn’t a very nice dream, it was really scary actually, but in the beginning it was super nice! But today I thought the name Edd would be a nice name for him, and the doctor got all upset about it and then let me go outside!”

Tom slowly nodded. “But you don’t know who he is?”

“No, not really. Matt said something about me having a boyfriend? Maybe that’s who he was.”

“That is who he is. You two were dating before the asylum took you away.”

“Why am I stuck at the asylum? I don’t remember why.”

“Your schizophrenia was really bad.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a mental illness you have. You see and hear things that aren’t real. Kinda like you’re high or something.” Tom shrugs. “You were fine for a while. Once and a while you’d zone out into some daydream about some other world. You’d say you visited it everyday because if you didn’t your friends were worried. I dunno. You’d only be gone for a few minutes and then make up this big story like you’d been gone for days. But then…”

“Then?”

“You DID start going for days at a time. It was scary, you wouldn’t talk, or eat, or anything until you zoned back in. And you wouldn’t stay zoned in for very long. Everyone was scared, and eventually a doctor came by and offered to help with your condition.”

“Did he?”

“You tell me.” Tom’s black eyes grew cold and angry. “Do you think someone who has no memory of who they are is better?”

“No.”

“Me neither.”

It was back to silence. The blue hooded male was back to staring blankly at the tv, not actually watching the show but thinking. Tord was left to his own thoughts, and the new information he had been given. Before the asylum, everything in his memories were a blur. Hell, he didn’t even remember the day he had first been brought there. It felt like he’s been there his entire life. It was all he knew, and he had assumed he had been there his entire life. In the background, the sound of aggressive chopping came from the kitchen. A slight smell of whatever Matt was making was filling the living room, making Tord’s stomach rumble. Despite having just ate with Hatter, he was starving, and excited for whatever the ginger was making.

The channel was switched and now replaced with a screen for a dvd player. Tom opened up a movie and placed it inside, the screen loaded before the movie had begun to play. “Here, watch this. I’m going to go talk Matt.” He stood up and went into the kitchen. The sound of chopping stopped and was replaced with hushed voices.

At first, the gremlin had tried to pay attention to the movie. It was a zombie movie, one where the zombies were also pirates, and it was more entertaining for the stupid dialogue and shit graphics, however the voices in the kitchen proved to be too distracting. As the time went on, he grew more and more curious as to what the two were talking about. He knew he probably shouldn’t interrupt. But the chances of them telling him what they were talking about was low.

I could eavesdrop. He thought, feeling a little guilty about such a rude thought popping into his mind after the charity and kindness the two had shown him. But he had a right to know, right?

He cautiously sat up from the sofa. Leaving the tv on so Matt and Tom wouldn’t be able to hear his small footsteps or realize he wasn’t watching, he snuck up and leaned in the doorway. Just enough so he could peek in and see the bright walls of the kitchen, the corner of a table and a chair that was placed off that side, but not the kitchen appliances or two whos voices were more audible. It was still hard to hear them, however Tord could could just barely make out their conversation.

“Do you think Edd’ll be mad when he finds out he doesn’t remember us?”

“I wouldn’t say mad..I’d say furious. He’s been fighting this lawsuit for five months now, despite losing and no one believing him. If people still choose to be ignorant to what the hospitals doing even with proof that what they’re doing is wrong he’d probably lose it.” Matt’s voice was much more frustrated and aggressive compared to Tom’s timid and calm one.

“Matt, you know he said he’d keep a straight face. Have a little more confidence in him.”

“I know my brother, Tom. I know how he is. He builds up anger more than you do during December. He continues to build it up until he explodes-and ‘m not just saying figuratively either.”

“He hasn’t blown up yet.”

“He hasn’t seen Tord yet.”

“If anything, that might just fuel him to be more aggressive. He has been playing it safe for a while. Eduardo and Laurel will keep him from doing anything rash, too.”

“Eduardo has a temper of his own. I’d die before I trust him with teaching my little brother anything about anger management.”

“Matt…”

“What?”

“You might need to start talking to Eduardo, too.”

“I will not.”

“You will once this whole thing blows over.”

“You really do think everything will be fixed?”

“Everything has always fixed itself, why will it stop now?”

“I-”

A sudden knock at the door rendered the two men in the kitchen silent and Tord scrambling back over to the couch at fear of being caught. He pretended to be watching the movie, which seemed to have killed off most of its main characters except one, who remained oblivious it was his girlfriend who was killed and focused on scolding the zombie waiter for giving him a wrong order. Tom rushed out into the living room and over to the door, where he peeked through a little peek hole and motioned for Matt to come over. The tall ginger stopped his cooking and came over to peek too.

“He’s here.” Tom mumbled.

“Should we just not open?” The narcissist bit on his nails.

 

Another knock.

“No. That’s be holding him from his ‘care.’ I doubt he’s even supposed to be here and we cannot give the hospital any ways they can beat the lawsuit.”

“Okay..”

Tom opened the door, revealing Tord’s doctor standing outside. He gave a patient smile and a polite wave. “How are you two gentlemen today?”

“We’re doing just fine. You?’

“I’m doing alright.”

Without an invitation, the doctor walked inside the house. His eyes immediately fell on Tord, who had quit his fake interest in the movie, paying more attention to the scene playing out in front of him. “Ah, there you are. It’s almost your curfew, Tord. Did you lose track of time?”

The gremlin nodded.

“That’s alright. You haven’t been out in a while.”

Matt twitched as he made his way over to the small boy on the couch. Without being told, he stood up from the couch and was ready to follow his guardian to the hospital. A small nod from him, and he began to lead Tord towards the door. However, the ginger had blocked the doorway.

“Can he stay the night?” He asked.

The doctor shook his head. “I’m afraid not. He’s not ready for that.”

“When will he be ready?”

“I don’t know. Now, please step aside.”

Matt hesitated, but complied. Tom gave Tord a small hug before the doctor took his hand and escorted him out of the apartment. He signed both of their names out of the book in the lobby of the apartment building. Outside, the sun was beginning to set as the townspeople packed up their belongings in the familiar marketplace and went to their homes.

Neither spoke. Neither seemed to want to. Tord was afraid the doctor was upset, while the doctor seemed more agitated now that Tom and Matt weren’t watching his every move towards the gremlin. Even so, he didn’t snap or comment about it, and continued to lead him to the hospital.
“A young man told me he found you stumbling around mumbling nonsense to yourself. Something about a tea party?” The doctor mentioned once they reached the steps Tord had joyously ran down before.

“Oh.” Tord replied. “I don’t remember.”

“I assumed not. The young man was Todd. You remember him?”

“No.” Tord said after thinking, growing disappointed that the only person to come to mind was the Messenger from Wonderland.

“Well, he looks a lot like you. I thought maybe you’d at least remember that much.”

“...”

They stepped down the long white halls, eventually leading into a small lobby. Inside, a little girl was sitting in a chair holding a doll, kicking her legs and whistling. She had long brown hair that was held in a ponytail with a bow. She wore a tan skirt and a similar green hoodie the boy-Edd-had worn in the photo.

“You sit down next to that little girl while I talk to some of the doctors.” He instructed Tord, leaving him alone in the room with the girl, the lady at the desk and a tall ginger woman who was signing paperwork. He shuffled over and went to sit down before the girl stopped him.

“Tamara’s sitting there. Sit here.” She pointed to the seat on the other side of her. Tord listened, as it would be rude to steal someone’s seat.

And he waiting, with the little girl chatting with what seemed to be her doll. Ten minutes passed, and no Tamara came to reclaim her seat. “When’s your friend coming?” He eventually asked. The girl blinked at him.

“Who? Tamara? She’s here, silly!” She motioned once more at the empty seat.

An imaginary friend? He wondered, and then smiled. “You’re right! Silly me!”

The girl laughed. “It’s okay! People don’t usually notice her because she’s quiet. I’m Ell.” She extended a small hand forward.

“Nice to meet you, Ell. I’m Tord.”

“That’s a different name. I like it.”

“Thank you.” He gave a small smile. “What’re you doing here?”

“My sister brought me here. She’s the girl over there.” Ell pointed over at the ginger who was still filling out paperwork. “Said m’sick or something. I dunno.”

“Ah, I see.” He shrugged. “Flu?”

“Hmmm, no. Something with my head. Maybe a headache?”

“Gotcha.”

Ell nodded. She went back to whistling and kicking her legs.

“What’s your sisters name?”

“Matilda.”

“That’s a nice name.”

“My name is better!” She giggled and looked over at the empty seat. “Right Tamara?” She giggled more, as if someone responded.

Tord smiled a little, finding the little girl cute. Before he could say anything else, his doctor came back out, holding a clipboard in his hand. “Let’s go, Tord.”

He stood up, Ell waving to him as he walked away. “Goodbye, mister!”

“Goodbye!”

They left the lobby, and into the long white corridors. He hesitated, not wanting to make the doctor more irritated, but curiosity took over. “Why is Matilda signing her sister up?”

“You were talking to Ell?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmph.” The doctor grunted and wrote something down. “It’s complicated.”

“Isn’t everything complicated when it comes to this place?”

More writing. “She sees someone who isn’t real.” He said.

“Her imaginary friend is why she’s here? Most kids have those.”

“It’s not just an imaginary friend. She sees her sisters wife. Someone who died a few months ago. We’ve had her coming to talk to one of the nurses, and she needs extra attention.”

Tord was quiet after that. He could only imagine the pain Matilda must feel every time Ell talks to ‘Tamara’. The doctor wrote some more down until they got to the gremlin’s room. The door was opened, and the same room he had left revealed itself in the same perfect condition.

“You may go to bed now, Tord. We’ll have another session tomorrow.” He began to close the door. In a slight panic, the red hooded male pushed his foot in between the door and wall, stopping it right before it fully shut. The doctor raised an eyebrow.

“Am I going to be able go outside again?” I don’t want to be trapped inside anymore.

“Maybe.” He grunted. “Probably not. You’ve started having more delinquent behaviors, and I believe it’s been linked to you being exposed prematurely to the outside.”

“I’ll behave!” He pleaded. “Please, I’ll behave.”

 

“What you’re doing right now is only proving my point.” His glare hardened. “Depending on what you see tomorrow. If you keep acting like this, you may not ever leave. Goodnight.”

The door slammed shut. With a slight click of a door lock, Tord was left isolated in his room.

Chapter Text

He was in a forest. How he got there, he didn’t know. The forest wasn’t ordinary. Tord was smaller than patches of grass. The root of the trees were as high as skyscrapers, and their trunks were as about ten times thicker than a sequoia’s. The sun beams, though there were few, lasted what seemed to be miles for the ant-sized boy.

He tried to avoid them, the sun now seemingly ten times more intense. As he walked and explored, looking for a way home, he stumbled upon a flower garden.

The flowers at first seemed empty. They sat and danced in the wind, a wind the grass around Tord blocked. (Much to his relief, it’d blow him away.) He creeped among the leaves and vines, staring at the glorious scenery. Mindfully stepping, making sure he wouldn’t damage any around him. But a clumsy misstep fell upon one of the roots, awaking what he didn’t even know to be sleeping. The rose that laid above him quivered and shrieked, it’s roots trembling and pushing him away.

“I’m sorry!” He cried as he fell back. All the other flowers around opened their eyes, glaring and shrieking along with the rose. “I’m sorry!”

The rose rattled her petals rapidly, mumbling and growling. “What is this disgusting creature that stepped upon my roots?”

“I am afraid I do not know, Rosilla!” A daisy shook, poking Tord from behind with her leaf. “Why, it looks like a gremlin..”

“A gremlin? Don’t be ridiculous, Daisine! Those are much, much bigger.” A jasmine exclaimed, her voice much louder and bolder than all the others.

“Then what is it? A bug?” Asked a hyacinth.

“Disgusting! I will not allow a bug in my garden!” a camellia hissed, using her leaf to try and squish the tiny Norwegian. Tord shrieked and doe behind a nearby rock. The other flowers angrily murmured, and he feared soon all of them would be attacking him.

“I’m n-not a bug!” He helplessly defended, the flowers hissing and wailing when he spoke again.

The rose untangled vines that were hidden in the bushes behind, and all the other flowers began to follow. Tord ran, afraid of what they’d do to him, but the garden seemed to go on forever. More and more flowers sprouted up and untangled their vines, until they joined them together and cut off his path. Behind him were all the angry flowers, he was trapped.

A vine krept up around his throat, others grabbing at his legs and arms to retrain him. The vines tightened and squeezed, cutting off the air and his circulation. His head started to spin. I don’t want to die again! He tried to open his mouth to scream, but all that came out were strangled noises.

The flowers were giggling, it was all he could hear. Each one of them, even if each of them for a different reason, were happy to have him die. They watched him fight and cry and struggle, and laughed at the futile attempts. His vision darkened. It was over, he was dying, and no one would find him as he was the size of an ant. Matt, Tom! Help! With a final, failed attempt to breathe, the world spun away.

-----------------------

“Tord.”

The Norwegian sat up and gasped. He was back in his room with the same bland, white walls. He was laying on his bed, with the Doctor at his side in the same big, leather chair like he usually was when they did his therapy. He was writing on the clipboard again, grumbling once and a while when he erased. “You’re getting better at waking up.”

Tord swallowed. “I am?”

“Yes. Now, do you remember what happened in your dream? You mumbled most of the time, I couldn’t hear what you were saying.”

“No, I don’t.” Why did I lie?

The doctor squinted. “You usually have a fair amount you remember..”

“Well, this time I don’t.”

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, before the doctor scribbled more down onto his clipboard. “We’re done for today.” he said, standing up and picking up his belongings before heading to the door.

“Wait.” The doctor looked back over to the gremlin and raised an eyebrow. “Can I go outside?” Tord asked, the doctor’s initial lack of an answer causing a small amount of anxiety. “I promise I’ll be back on time, and I’ll try to do better on our next session-”

“Why do you want to go outside so bad?” He crossed his arms. “Is there something you’re not telling me? Someone you want to talk to? Hmm?”

Why doesn’t he want me talking to anyone? “N-no, it’s just been a few days since I was outside and it was r-really nice!”

The old man was quiet. “No.” He finally said. Tord slumped his shoulders. He didn’t want to be stuck in his room anymore. How had he stayed in there room before he went outside for so long?

“You can, however, go ahead and hang out with the children if you want.”

“The children..?” the gremlin blinked. “Why would I hang out with the children?”

“Would you rather talk to a bunch of crazy and slightly dangerous adults who have to be in straight jackets?”

“You’ve made your point.”

“Mmhm. Now c’mon, I’ll take you down to the play area.”

He opened the door and led Tord down the halls. After a while the walls gained color. Light pinks and greens spotted and had small designs, whisking away that cold and lonely feeling Tord usually had in a cheerful and playful one.

They eventually came to a small room filled with red carpeting, blue bean bags and toys scattered across the floor. Little children gleefully ran around and played, some being more outgoing and others being more timid. Some of the kids wore different items to stop or help them with needs or issues.

A small boy had a pair of brown gloves and bandages all down his arms. Tord remembered seeing him before, and reading some of the doctor’s progress reports on him. He didn’t remember his name, but he knew that he had an issue with cutting, which really made the red hooded boy sad. The kid was only around five or six, no child should ever harm themself ever, let alone that young.

Another, more slightly scary boy was there too. He had been told his name before, and it had been mentioned numerous times around him, but he chose to forget. The kid was a satanist, one that had killed his parents to please “our savior”. (It caused shivers down Tord’s spine just thinking about it. This kid was like eleven.) He knew that the kid grew up in an abusive household, but other than that he had never had a single conversation with him.

A little girl was playing with the boy who cut. Her name was Suzy, and that was about the extent he knew about her. His doctor wasn’t the same one she had, so he could never catch glimpses of a progress report of any sort. She seemed like a sweetheart however, as when Tord first came to the hospital she had offered to draw him.

Other than those three, him, the doctor, and two other girls in the corner there wasn’t anyone else in the room. The other children were mostly likely busy with their sessions, eating lunch or simply didn’t feel like playing.

He awkwardly walked over to the two in the corner. One wore a small little green bow and the other had long, curly, ginger hair. Tord hadn’t recognized them until the one with the bow turned around with a bright smile. “Tord!”

The ginger-Matilda was her name-looked up at him. “You know him, Ellie?”

“Yeah! He’s the nice boy who talked to me while you were doing paperwork!” She ran over and gave his legs a big hug. The Norwegian smiled a little.

“H-hey, Ell..”

She let go of him and giggled. Gently, she reached up and took ahold of his hand. “Come draw with me and Tamara!”

Tord awkwardly nodded and sat down next to the child. He couldn’t help but notice how Matilda’s eyes darkened when her sister mentioned Tamara’s name.

It’s not just an imaginary friend. She sees her sister’s wife. Someone who died a few months ago. We’ve had her coming to talk to one of the nurses, and she needs extra attention.

Ell was laying on her stomach, kicking her legs in the air joyfully while whistling the same tune she had been when Tord met her a few days ago. In her hand was a small purple crayon. She used it to draw a hoodie on a tall figure with long ginger hair that could be assumed to be Matilda. Next to Matilda was a drawn Ell, and another girl who bore a blue hoodie. The third sorta reminded him of Tom.

“Do you want to be in the drawing too, Tord?” The small girl looked over at him.

“U-um...yeah! Sure!” Tord awkwardly laughed as he grabbed a piece of paper of his own. He took a green crayon, (he would have taken red, but now Ell was using that) and began to draw some grass at the bottom .

It was a simple drawing. There was grass, a sun, a few grey clouds and a single tree with a swing. The tree was on a small hill, which reminded him of the story of Mark the storytellers had told him. He shook away the thought, not wanting the horrific story on his mind.

He drew in with a brown crayon a small boy sitting on a swing. It was him, no one else would know it, but he would. He gave himself a black jacket instead of his usual red one, so it wouldn’t be as obvious it was him.

“I’m done!” Ell’s cheerful voice broke into his thoughts. She proudly showed him her drawing, that now had a small boy in a red hoodie standing next to her.

“Hey...why am I shorter than you..?” Tord asked.

“Because in this picture, I’m older! And when I’m older, I’m ganna grow!”

“You won’t become taller than me though.”

“Almost everyone is taller than you!! Of course I’ll be taller.”

Tord let out a fake, offended gasp. “That is not true!”

“Is too!” She giggled, and stood up. “Matilda, do you like it??”

The ginger took the drawing from Ell’s hands and smiled. She let out little “ooh’s” as she examined it, making the younger giggle. “I love it, sweetie. You’re so talented.”

“Thank you, big sis!”

“How about you go play with the other kids now, okay? That Suzy girl seems to be motioning you over!”

“She is!! I’m ganna go play with her.” Ell kissed Matilda on the cheek. “I love you!”

“I love you too, sweetie.”

Ell ran off to the boy and the girl, leaving Tord alone with the older sister. He awkwardly set his drawing aside, deciding there wasn’t much point finishing it now that he didn’t need to help entertain the child, who seemed to have started playing tag with the other two. Neither spoke to the other for ten minutes.

A small sniffle broke the silence.

He looked over and watched helplessly as tears stroked down the beautiful girl’s face. She tried to wipe them away, but the more that disappeared the more that her eyes made. It wasn’t long until her makeup was smeared up and the sniffles were replaced with tiny sobs.

Tord didn’t know what to do.

So, he did the one thing his mind could think of.

He reached over and wrapped his arms around the distressed girl, shushing her and gently trying to calm her down. Much to his surprise, she didn’t push away. She actually seemed to relax and after a bit, she hugged back. They sat there for a while, and Tord kept his eye on the kids, making sure Ell didn’t see her sister crying.

Luckily, she never did.

“Are you okay?” Tord finally asked, pulling away from the hug and gently gripping Matilda’s shoulders. The girl nodded.

“I’m sorry...I don’t know what came over me.”

“You don’t need to apologize.”

Silence. The Norwegian got up and walked over to where a box of tissues laid on a table next to a bunch of magazines. He took the box over to her. “Here.”

“Thank you.” The ginger blew her nose.

While he took a seat next to her he asked, “Do you need to talk?”

“I’m fine. Thank you.” She gave him a weak smile. “Are you a patient here?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like it here?”

Tord nodded and stared at his hands. “Yes.”

The doctor was still standing in the hallway.

“That’s good. How long have you been here?”

“I think a few a months?”

“You don’t sound so sure.”

“I’m not.”

Matilda frowned. “May I ask...why you’re here?”

Tord hesitated. “I...have...scishofena?”

“Schizophrenia?”

“Yes, that. I can’t remember things too well because of it.” Tord shrugged. “I see things too. Well, I used to. I’m getting better now.”

Do you think someone who has no memory of who they are is better?

No

Me neither.

“I’m glad you are. You seem like a sweet kid.” Matilda smiled again at him, this time it was real. “I need to be going now. I have work that starts in an hour.”

“Where are you taking Ell?” Tord asked.

“I’m not.”

“What?”

“I’m not taking her anywhere. She stays here now.” The beautiful girl sighed. She stood up and walked over to the little girl, who was still running around playing tag. The two shared a hug, and Matilda walked past the doctor and down the hall.

The doctor walked over to him. “Ready to go, Tord?’

The gremlin looked up at his guardian. “Yes, sir.”

“Good, let’s go.”

The two left the children in the playroom, Tord frowning as they did. “Is it a good idea to leave them all alone?”

“They’ll be fine.”

He chose not to argue.

They didn’t go the way to Tord’s room, he knew that much. Normally, he’d be oblivious to the fact that there was a weird tenseness in the air. He’d ignore it, push it away, hum or try to chat to distract himself from it, but today he couldn’t. It was stronger than usual, it scared him. It was different. Was the doctor planning something? Obviously, they weren’t going back to his room.

So where were they going?

They turned the corner. In front of them was the door to the lobby. Am I going to be allowed outside again?

“A couple people came here to visit you today.” The doctor grunted. “Decided to finally allow them, you seem ready.”

There was slight mockery to his voice. Like a weak cackle of fire in a snowstorm. It was full of fake promises, ones that would lead to cold.

He opened the door and pushed Tord into the lobby. Inside was a tall man with his hair pulled back into a small ponytail. A shorter male with big eyebrows stood close to him.They both wore red sweaters.

He knew them. Where did he know them?

He knew them from-

“It’s the Tord!”

“Yes, I told you he was in trouble.”

“We didn’t believe that Hatter actually let him into his tea party.”

“Yeah, everyone thought Hatter was dead!”

“You buffoons, you knew he wasn’t dead! His stories were still coming into the library, were they not?” A small hiss rose up in the throat of the feminine voice.

“We have hundreds of books to keep track of!”

“Hundreds!”

“You must understand we cannot see every story. We can only read so many at a time.”

“Only so many!”

“Save your sorrows for someone else, and help me move him so the butler doesn’t find him.”

Tord opened his eyes. Everything was blurry, it was hard to make anything out. Tree branches thankfully blocked out the sun, making it so he could at least make out the three figures standing above him.

The storytellers? Cheshire Cat!

His eyes fluttered shut before he could do anything else. Gentle hands grabbed a hold of him and pulled him up, but he couldn’t stand. Most of his body refused to do as he wanted, making him feel that he was paralyzed. Using all of his effort, he opened his eyes again.

The storytellers were holding him, and carrying him somewhere. Where to, he didn’t know. Cheshire followed along in the trees, using her flexible body to move along gracefully. He closed his eyes again, and took a deep breath.

He opened his eyes one last time.

There was a new figure now. One behind the storytellers, one that was completely silent. It was completely black, and he felt cold as he stared at it. The storytellers walked faster, and it followed their pace.

And slowly, it morphed into a tall ginger who bore a sinister smile.

That was the last thing he saw before his eyes forced themselves closed again.

He head the Cheshire screech right before the storytellers screamed.

He felt his body be dropped onto the ground.

“I told you he wasn’t ready.”

Chapter Text

Tord groaned softly as he began to wake up. He squinted, trying to take in where he was, but it was too dark to tell. His body was held down, he could feel that. By what bondage, he wasn’t sure of, but the scene was enough to tell him he was back in Wonderland.

“Dear, he’s waking up.”

A set of footsteps approached him cautiously, and the shadow of a man made its way right in front of the boy in the dress. A small patch of light from a crack in the ceiling was enough to let Tord make out two piercing blue eyes, ones that a vampire from a Twilight movie would have.

The second voice was the familiar voice of Hatter. Though unseen, he could still hear the clinking of a teacup in the background. It brought the unwelcomed memory of being drugged back into his mind.

“Took you long enough to wake up, I was considering throwing you into a river.” The Norwegian faintly caught onto a resemblance of the voice to Matt’s, only it was much...quieter. Which somehow made it more terrifying.

“W-what do you want?” He asked as he tried to move his numb limbs.

He received only a chuckle. “This is not what I want. If I had everything the way I wanted, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

The footsteps sounded away from him, closer to the teacup and slurping sounds. His vision was starting to adjust to the darkness, making the tall figure and Hatter more disguisable. The crazy, button-eyed creep was sitting on a table, handing things to the other. It made Tord nervous. “Who even are you?”

The figure straightened it’s back and slowly turned to Tord. “What? You don’t remember?”

The gremlin shook his head, forgetting it was too dark to see.

“Reply to me!” It slammed it’s fist into the wall and Tord could hear it crack. The restrained boy teared up and whimpered as he failed to keep his voice steady. “I don’t remember, sir.”

“Well, let me give you the short version. You stole my brother’s heart, and then broke it. You left us here to rot in pain while you went off to whatever world you decided was better. You used us, and when you were bored you threw us all away, leaving us in unbearable pain. They had to throw away my baby brother-”

His voice cracked.

“-in a world full of only his own agony. You destroyed this world into madness, and you didn’t even care enough to remember.”

The story the Storytellers told me. A panic rose within Tord. This is the Butler.

The Butler pulled away from him and walked back over to Hatter. They were whispering to each other, too quietly for Tord to hear. Anticipation and paranoia held hand in hand in his thoughts of what they could be talking about.

“So, this is what’s going to happen.” The Butler turned to Tord, his blue eyes once again being the only feature fully visible. “We’re taking you to the edge of Wonderland, where the dark world you created starts. There, we’re going to drop you into it, and watch as the creatures and monsters tear you apart and eat you alive, while still being tied down to this piece of word.”

The gremlin swallowed. “O-or how about we just talk this through l-like civilized people?”

The Mad Hatter giggled a little, the noise of a cup being set down followed shortly. “Tord, I think you should know by now we’re not civilized people.”

Before the Norwegian could reply, a hard blow of a metal object was swung against his head, and he was knocked out cold.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When he began to awoke, it was due to the excess amount of sweat falling down his face. He was still tied down, making it impossible for him to move still, or pull the bag off of his face so he wouldn’t be so hot.

The sound of hooves clomping down on a road was loud. Unsteady bumps of the foundation underneath him gave away enough to tell him it was a sort of old timey carriage, however the location of where the carriage was going was still unknown. Judging by the heat under the sack, he guessed it was currently day.

He began to struggling, trying to free himself from his restrains. But the more he fought, the more they seemed to get tighter. Whether they were actually getting tighter or his boy just too exhausted and numb to keep trying, it didn’t matter. He still gave up.

Tears swelled up in his eyes. This is it, I’m really going to die this time. He thought helplessly.

For the next few moments, he listened to the clomping of the horse’s hooves, trying to make out any other sound that would give him a clue as to where they currently were-and how close his end was.

Something soft brushed up against his leg as he fell deeper in despair. He didn’t think much of it until he could feel the paws of a small animal seat itself on top of his stomach. “Don’t make a noise.” The familiar voice whispered to him. “I’m going to get you out of here.”

He waited silently as the fluffy animal moved and used its claws to undo the ropes. Once his hands were free, he pulled the sack off his head and gasped out in relief. The much cooler air felt amazing on his face.

The animal happened to be the Cheshire Cat, just as the Norwegian thought it would be. She pulled one of her paws to her mouth, motioning to him to not make any loud sound.

Around them were sacks full of potatoes and mushrooms, all looking similar to the one that was originally on his head. In the front sat Hatter and the Butler, who were still mumbling and unaware their prisoner was free.

Cheshire Cat moved over to the other end of the carriage. She leaped out as if she were a ballerina in the Nutcracker, her body stretched out while in the air so she’d be able to reach a tree branch and swing herself to safety. Once she was landed contently, she began to follow the carriage through the trees and waited for Tord to follow.

But even despite their efforts of being quiet, Hatter still heard the rustling about in the back. The mad man turned his head and gasped at the sight of the gremlin being free. “Tord’s escaping!”

The Butler turned his head quickly. His features were more defined in the light, making him all the more terrifying. His long, ginger lucks was slicked back with something similar to hair gel, his piercing blue eyes cut threw him, fury blazing within them that was hotter than fire.

The shape of his face was eerily like Matt’s with the exception of his skin being much paler. “Speed the horse up, baby doll.”

With the flick of Hatter’s wrist, the leash of the horse wacked it into running faster. A bump in the road caused Tord to fall back into the side of the carriage, earning a small squeak from him.

The carriage was bumping and the sacks had fallen over and lew every which a way. Potatoes laid scattered all over the floor, bouncing up along with the vehicle.

The Butler was in the back with him now, walking over towards the gremlin who couldn’t keep his balance while trying to push himself up. The tall man was looming over him now with the same menacing smile he bore when he had heard the Storytellers and Cheshire scream.

Only now, Tord could see the small outline of two razor-sharp fangs in his mouth. Fangs that could belonged to the jaw of a kangal. The suit he wore was similar to Hatter’s, only less fancy and messier.

The boy in the dress was pulled up from his ass to where his face was mere inches away from the other’s. Their eyes were locked, an the more he stared into the depths of the vampire’s eyes the more he could feel his body grow cold and numb. Tears fled his eyes, and he silently begged for help.

Luckily, Cheshire Cat hadn’t given up on him yet.

The Butler lowered Tord away from his face slightly when the two had heard a scream. Hatter had the fluffy feline on his face, scratching away at it as he tried to shoo her off. The hand that held the leash was yanked forward, and the horse took it as a sign to speed up.

The carriage rocked violently to the side, causing the vampire to drop Tord and fall down along with him. “Hatter, don’t crash!” The taller one yelped.

The driver let go of the leash, losing all control of the horse currently bolting at a full sprint. The carriage continued to merciless rock back and forth, throwing Tord and the Butler to each side. A sack of potatoes just barely missed the Norwegian and hit the taller man, pushing him out of the of the carriage.

Meanwhile, the Mad Hatter had thrown the Cheshire Cat off of himself and into the seat he rested on. Both of his buttons were gone, and he was screeching about how he couldn’t see. Tord quickly ran over and pushed the crazy man off the side. He grabbed a hold of the leash, straightening out the horse and yanking back so it’d slow down.

The two sat and panted together, the horse running but not sprinting as it was before. There were several moments of silence before both of them fell into a fit of laughter,

“That was awesome! I can’t believe we were able to actually fight them off!” Tord smiled at his furry friend. “Thank you for not leaving me to die.”

“Of course not, why would I do that? Only a fool would leave one’s friend to die.” She purred as she settled herself down into the seat.

“We’re really friends?”

“Why, of course. I didn’t fling myself at the face of a mad man for a mere acquaintance.”

A joyful feeling rose up into Tord’s body. “Thank you.”

“There is no need to be thanking me.”

He awkwardly nodded and stared back at his hands. “So, where exactly should we go..?”

The cat thought for a few moments. “My den should be safe for now, as far as I am aware they do not know the location it resides.” She looked over at the Norwegian. “But, I do not doubt they could find it quickly.”

Tord swallowed and nodded. “How do we get there?”

“Simply listen to my instructions on where to go, and we shall find it. Do not fret, it is not far from here and the moon should be just descending by the time we arrive.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You said you thought maybe he would be able to handle it since he handled seeing Matt and Tom!” Paul yelled at the Doctor. “You said it’d be fine!”

“Ah, ah, you’re bending my words, sir. I did say I thought he could handle it, but I also mentioned how I considered the possibility of it being a bad idea.” The man replied, scribbling down something on his clipboard while he watched a nurse talk to Paul’s son.

Tord had started a panic attack the moment his eyes landed on him and Pat. It was something they had been warned about months ago, that Tord may not process them well due to his active schizophrenia, but that was months ago and now it only seemed worse.

“What are you doing to him?” Tears pricked the edge of Paul’s eyes, frustration swelling up more than he could describe. “Why isn’t he better after almost an entire year of us being seperated?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You sound like you believe I’m making him worse.”

Paul didn’t reply.

He scoffed and wrote more down. The nurse had given Tord a small stuffed cat, one of which he was gripping onto tightly. His expression was dead, and straight ahead. No response was given to anything she said to him.

“We are trying everything we can to help him, sir. You should listen to your husband when he tries to calm you down, he tends to keep his logic.”

“Excuse me?”

“Do not be offended, it is natural for one to not think clearly while upset. I understand, it is your son. You’re worried, but you cannot irresponsibly jump to conclusions without proper evidence, simply because you are unhappy.”

Paul’s glare hardened. “If you’re referring to…”

“I am not referring to anything, but I suppose Mr. Gold’s lawsuit against the asylum could be a good example.” The Doctor looked Paul straight in the eyes. They were emotionless, careless, as if this entire conversation was an overdone pun with no punchline. “You believe it is a bit unnecessary and petty, do you not?”

Again, the man with the big eyebrows was at a loss for an answer. Maybe a year ago he would have agreed, but now-

A wail from the other side of the glass broke through the smoker’s thoughts. Tord was crying and grabbing a hold of the cat plushie.

“His episode is getting worse.” The Doctor turned over to Paul and began to push him out of the watching room. “I’ve got work to do. You need to leave.” He said.

“But-”

“No, you cannot say. It is a danger to you and your child.” And with that, he was locked out.

The smoker sighed and went to the front lobby where Pat sat, reading a magazine involving food. He jumped up when he noticed Paul, throwing the magazine sloppily to the side and gaining a glare from the lady at the desk.

“How is he? Okay? Can we see him now?” His hopeful smile fell when Paul shook his head.

“We have to go, again. Tord fell into an episode and it’s really bad.”

“Will he be okay?”

The eyebrowed man took Pat’s hand and lead him outside the hospital. “I don’t know.” He mumbled, and then looked at his husband. “How’s that lawsuit going with Edd?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“Because I think that’s our last chance at having our son back.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`
They were coming across a parting in the forest where the trees began to fill themselves with a dozen sparkling lights. In the distance was the sound of a waterfall, explaining the slight dewy feel the air had,

The Cheshire Cat and Tord had been mostly silent throughout most of the ride, the only one interrupting them being the smaller one when giving the gremlin directions. Now, they were approaching the feline’s small den, it looking much smaller than he had originally imagined.

She was a cat after all, it wouldn’t exactly be a human house. If those even existed in Wonderland.

“Can I ask a question?” Tord asked as he parked the carriage next to her home.

“Why, but of course.” She hopped down from her seat and stretched out her body as a cat would, only it becoming longer and her body literally stretching out across a small area.

“What happened to the Storytellers? Are they alright? What even actually happened?” He asked.

The fluffy girl sat and thought for a few moments. “Well, I had seen you heading towards Hatter’s tea party, and decided to follow you. I can go inside whenever I please, you see. For I can climb the gate.”

Tord nodded.

“And so I watch the two of you dine and speak, and I saw when he poisoned you. I quickly rushed to receive help from the Storytellers, however they needed persuaded as they are not allowed to interfere with stories they are not associate with.

But, you just so happen to be their favorite character out of everyone in it, so they agreed and we came to try and take you to safety. Sadly enough, Mad Hatter had already told the Butler that he had you unconscious and helpless, so he caught us trying to move you.

And so, the Storytellers attempted to escape along with me, but the Butler is much more powerful than them, you and I. They were hurt severely, but neither of them had died.”

Tord let out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding. “So, they’re mostly okay?”

“Oh, no. They’re not mostly okay at all! They’re barely okay, however.”

“That’s better than them being dead.”

“Agreed.”

“And you got away too?”

“He wasn’t focused on me, as I was able to get away unscathed.”

“Good, that’s good.”

“Anyways, welcome to my home.” The Cheshire Cat turned and walked inside her den, Tord close behind her. The ceiling was lower than usual with made him back ache a small bit from leaning forward, but overall it wasn’t so bad.

“Do you live here all alone?” The small boy asked.

“Alone, yes But not all. As there are visitors that decide to come by from time to time, but I am the only resident at this given time.” She hopped into a small kitty bed and made herself comfortable.

“Are you ever lonely?”

She didn’t reply. The Norwegian feared maybe he had upset her, but he never had the opportunity to ask her. Right as he was opening his mouth, a small knock appeared on the door.

“I’ve got it.” the fluffy kitty jumped up and padded over to the door, gently pushing it open. Standing on the other side was none other than the Messenger.

“Oh, hello there kind sir. What brings you here, today?” She asked.

The Messenger grumbled and pulled out a pink, fancy envelope from his bag. “I’ve got a letter from the King and Queen for Tord.” He said, handing it towards Tord.

Tord hesitated. “The last time I excepted mail from you, it lead me to my almost demise.” He growled a little. The Messenger shrugged.

“Hey, I didn’t write anything. I’m just the guy who delivers. Now, do you want it or not, because I’ve got other people needing their mail.”

The Norwegian sighed and took the letter. “Fine, but if I die by doing this it’s your fault.”

“Ah, but it’s not.”

Tord grumbled and opened the letter. Inside was an invitation similar to what Hatter’s had been, only more professional and less ominous.

“What does it say?” Cheshire asked.

“It says to come to the castle as soon as I can to speak. And that’s it, nothing else.” Tord sighed a little. At least Hatter’s told me where to go.

“Hey Messenger, you think you can take us to the castle?” The cat looked over at the bored man.

“Nope, sorry. My job is to deliver, not send you off to where you need to go.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be off.” And with that, he disappeared.

“What are we going to do now? How are we supposed to find the castle in this giant land?” Tord grumbled while shoving the letter into his pocket.

Cheshire Cat sighed. “Actually, that is not the problem. I used to live at the castle, I know where it resides.”

The boy in the dress blinked a few times. “Then, what is the issue?”

The cat was silent for a few moments, before looking back at him. “To get there, we’re going to need to cross the Butler’s lair.”

Chapter Text

“We’re going to have to do what?!” Tord cried out, the cat flinching slightly as he did.

“We’re going to have to travel through the Butler’s lair. Don’t worry, I travel through quite frequently and he never sees me.”

“You’re also smaller and can disappear at will, unlike me.” The distressed Norwegian pulled a hand through his hair. “He also doesn’t want to kill you.”

“Well, now that he knows that I’m helping too I’m sure I’m going to be on his hit list.” The feline licked her fur, grooming it out. “But I am quite familiar with the feeling of threat.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Why do you think I live out hidden in the woods? The only beings I have shared this location with is you and the Messenger.” Cheshire Cat hissed slightly. Her tail was shaking back and forth in a quick and uneven manner. “The Queen has wanted my fur on her wall since the Prince was forbidden.”

“Why? What part do you play in all of this? How do I know I can even trust you?” Tord glared. “Nobody is sane here, you could be leading me into his trap.”

“Sanity is not equivalent to morality, Tord.” Her fur bristled with her words. “That’s a common mistake many seem to make. After all, you’re not sane either, however you seem to know the difference between right and wrong.”

“You didn’t answer my question. What part do you play in all this? Why do you know so much about the Butler? The King and Queen? The Prince? Hatter?”

“I was here before Wonderland fell apart, you imbecile. I knew them before. I knew this world before you came along!” She sighed. “I didn’t mean that-”

“I don’t remember.” The distressed Norwegian closed his eyes. “I can’t remember anything. Not here nor in the other place I go. But I’m still not an idiot.”

He sat down on the ground on top of a fluffy pillow that was set in front of a food bowl. Cheshire cat jumped down next to him and sat on top of his lap. “I’m T aren’t I?”

“Pardon?”

“T, from the story the Storytellers told me. I’m the one who stopped showing up to Wonderland and broke the Prince’s heart.” He teared up a little. “I used to date the Prince didn’t I?”

The boy in the boat flashed through his mind. The same boy who he had kissed before he had been dragged down into the black ooze. Edd. The same dorky, green hooded male who made his heart flutter. The one he just barely remembered.

“We were all friends before..” The cat in his lap whispered quietly. She avoided looking Tord in the eye. “Butler, Prince, you and I. I guess you could’ve called me Prince’s pet. Obviously, though, I am better than such a demeaning status.”

Tord snorted at her high self-esteem. She purred slightly as he began to pet her.

“The Queen knows I’m trying to free the Prince. She doesn’t want me to. But it’s unfair for him to be trapped in such agony despite him never meaning to do wrong.”

She looked up at the Norwegian. “And that, Tord, is why I am helping you. Yes, we are friends and I do care, but I believe you could be the only one who can persuade her and her self entitled husband to let them go. Yes, the pain is terrible, but life is full of it. It is accepting and pushing through what defines us from the weak and the strong.”

“So, you want the barrier down.”

“Everyone is under the assumption it is pain driving everyone on the other side mad. But I’ve had chats with Hatter before he lost the last few loose screws he had left. They are starving over there, left to rot. Who wouldn’t go mad after that? Knowing fully well that you’re meeting your end with no one willing to help? No, there are good, genuine people over there who need help. Prince being one of them, and I won’t rest until the barrier is destroyed,”

“But what of the ones who really are bad? The murderers? The ones who’ve gone insane?”

“There is a leak in the barrier anyways. That is how Butler was able to free Hatter. Why do you think there is still pain over here? Some pieces of the world that is darker in contrast? A small piece of insanity slowly filling and killing each one of us that the Queen and King refuse to acknowledge.”

Tord sighed and gently scrapped under the small feline’s chin. “Do you really think they’d listen to me?”

“They’ve already invited you to their palace. I’d say there’s a good chance.” She hopped out of his lap and stretched. “And the longer we wait, the more impatient they will grow. Until we have guards to worry about on top of Butler.”

Tord nodded and stood up, accidentally hitting his head off the low ceiling. He groaned and gently rubbed it. “Well, I guess we should get going then.”

The two parted from the small cottage, carefully leaving the way they came through. Tord released the horse that was connected to the carriage since it was likely they wouldn’t come back. The two walked on, making sure not to be too exposed where Butler could find them and attack them easily.

Dusk had passed and already dawn started emerging again as the two arrived at the Butler’s Lair. It was different than what he was expecting. When he heard the word lair, he imaged an underground cave like Batman had or maybe some hidden secret base in the woods. However, what stood in front of him seemed to be a weird steampunk city.

Cheshire Cat stealthily approached the city, making sure she watched where she stopped. Tord did the same, crouching down and making sure to avoid any loose branches. The dress he wore proved itself to be a hassle, it finding itself stuck on every branch and rock it could.

“This won’t work if you continue to wear that thing.” She lowly hissed a warning to him. “You’re making too much noise.”

“I don’t have anything else to wear.”

“Why do you even have that on, anyway? You’re a boy.”

“That’s very gender-stereotypical. But I don’t know why my clothes are just kinda like this here.”

“It’s weird.”

“I like it.”

“Cross-dresser.”

“Shut up.”

“Anyways, if we want to make it through the lair without being caught, you’re going to need to take off the dress.”

“I have nothing to change into! I can’t just walk around in my boxers.” Tord sighed dramatically. The Cheshire Cat flicked her ear in amusement.

“Well, I think I may be able to fix that. Follow me.”

She led him over to the side of the city, making sure to go slower so Tord could make sure his dress wouldn’t get stuck. In between two buildings there was a small alleyway like the ones back in his town. All the other buildings had no space in between them like older cities in England that had been made earlier in time, so it seemed to be the only entrance beside from the main one.

They crept through the alleyway, stopping where the light of the town began to shine into it. The feline began to slowly approach the opening and look around for any sign of someone else. She walked out when she found nothing.

“C’mon, the coast is clear.”

Tord followed her out into the open, his anxiety flaring up as he did. “Are you sure it’s safe to be exposed like this?’

“Don’t worry, the city has been empty for a while. This used to be the capital of Wonderland, you see. But after the first wave of agony left the Prince, it was abandoned.”

“Because it was the first to be hit with pain?” Tord assumed. “And where the pain was the strongest?”

“Precisely. I think my intelligence is starting to rub off on you.” Tord snorted at her comment and continued to follow her, looking around for any sign of life.

The walls of the buildings had mostly rotted to their cores with vines starting to grow through the cracks. There was no grass or trees, however small patches of where the plantations used to reside were easy to make out. There was a certain overhang in the air, one of dread that the Norwegian couldn’t seem to shake. He could tell Cheshire Cat sensed it too, all of her furs was standing on edge.

“Why is everything so sad and dreadful here?” He eventually asked.

Cheshire Cat shrugged. “The pain is like the leftover radioactive residence of an atom bomb. The pain from all that time ago still lingers.”

“Can it harm us?”

“Oh heavens no. If it could harm us, our bodies would feel as if we’d be having our limbs pulled from us slowly. And Butler wouldn’t be staying here.”

He grumbled, “That’s reassuring.” before moving on.

Eventually, they came to a stop in front of a building. Through the window, Tord could see what was left of old overcoats and top hats that resembled what Hatter seemed to wear. The Cheshire Cat jumped up onto the ledge of the window and scaled up to a broken one on the second story. She disappeared into the building.
After a few short moments, Tord saw her fall down through a hole in the ceiling of the shop. She trodded over to the door and unlocked it, allowing the Norwegian inside. “Thanks.”

He looked around at all the old clothes, slightly grossed out by the mold growing onto them. “You expect me to wear this stuff?”

The feline laughed. “Yes, I expect you to wear disease ridden clothing. No, there’s clothes in the back that have been safe from exposure. They should be safe to wear.”

Tord nodded and went to the back room. He looked through all the boxes until he found a pair of jeans and a fancy button up t-shirt that didn’t seem too uncomfortable or troubling. He changed out of the dress and walked back to the cat.

“Those will definitely be a lot less noisy than the dress.” She purred and turned out of the shop. He followed her out into the city.

In the center of the city laid an old tall clock. It was taller than any of the other buildings. The clock itself had a ginormous hole in it with the one hand dangling down. The other hand was nowhere to be found.

“Hey, Tord?” Cheshire Cat looked up at the boy after a few minutes of them walking.

“Yeah?”

“Remember when you first came here again, and I told you that Tord wasn’t your name?”

“Yes?”

“Do you...know why I said that?”

He thought for a few moments. “No.”

She sighed a little, shaking her head. “I was hoping you’d have remembered moe by now. Your full name is Torden.”

Tord stopped for a few moments. “Excuse me?”

“Your full name is Torden.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I think I’d remember if my full name was Torden.”

“That’s why I brought it up. You forgot so much...not even about Wonderland, about yourself. I don’t know what you went through, but it couldn’t have been good if you couldn’t even remember your own name.”

Tord went quiet, and she didn’t pressure him further. They walked over to where the old, ruined palace stood. Most of it was collapsed. “What this where Prince blew up?”

The Cheshire Cat nodded. “Yeah...the exit is right over here..” She ran over to the side where a small, beat down gate was.

Relief flooded through Tord. “Hey! We made it through without being caught!” He smiled at the fluffy cat, who excitedly smiled back before stopping at a sudden halt.

“Actually…” A familiar, quiet voice said in a mocking tone. Out stepped the Butler, blocking the gate that marked their freedom. “I beg to differ.”

Chapter Text

It was thunder storming that night. Edd, who had neglected to listen to Matt’s advice on bringing an umbrella, was stuck over at Laurel’s. She walked over to him holding a small tray of tea and said, “Staring out the window won’t make the rain stop. Come join us for dinner.”

The boy in green looked over at his lawyer and shook his head. “I’m not hungry, thank you though.”

“C’mon Edd, we can talk more about the case if you want.”

“I don’t know if I want to, we’ve been talking about it all day.”

“Then we’ll talk about something else.”

“Eduardo and I can’t seem to agree when we talk about anything else.”

“He’s just teasing, you know that.” She sighed. “We don’t have to talk at all, please eat something.”

Slowly, Edd nodded and left his place in front of the window. At the dinner table sat Eduardo, Tord’s previous doctor before he was taken to the mental institution, and Todd, the local mailman who basically lived with the couple. He and Eduardo had dated back in high school but split up when they believed they were better off as friends.

Laurel pulled up a chair for Edd. She sat down next to her husband, who gave her a small smile. The green hooded male sat down in the seat she had pulled out for him and began to eat. Muffled raindrops pattered down on the roof above them.

“How are you, Edd?” Todd looked up from his meal and asked.

In response, the smaller male shrugged. “I’m okay, how about you?”

“I’m alright.”

“How was work today, Todd?” Eduardo piped up.

“It was alright.”

“You’re a Master at conversation, Todd.” Laurel rolled her eyes, making her husband snort. Todd ignored them both.

“How about you two? How was work?” He asked them in a bored tone.

“It was okay, that Matilda girl came over again. She’s still all upset about her wife’s death.” Eduardo sighed a little. “I do feel bad for her, but I can’t really put her on any medication for grieving. All I can do is offer her support.”

“Sometimes, that’s all people need,” Laurel mumbled. “My day was okay, we can finally go through with suing the damn asylum.”

“Ah, did Paul And Pat get back to you?” Eduardo looked over at Edd.

The green hooded boy nodded slowly. “Paul said Tord started crying when he saw them and then fainted. The doctors gave him and Pat some shit about how they were forcing him to speed up recovery and how he wasn’t ready to see them yet.”

“Did Paul say he trusted them still?”

“No, he said the opposite actually. He gives me his support and will be a witness.”

“Good!” Eduardo smiles. “It’s about time.”

“BUT Edd is considering not going through with it.” Laurel shook her head. “For some reason.”

“Seriously, Edd?” Todd raised an eyebrow.

“Well..”

“You said you wanted to wait until Paul and Pat were on board, and now they are.
What are you waiting for?”

“I don’t know! I’m scared! The asylum could hurt Tord, and anyone else in there because of this lawsuit. I’m nervous..” Edd looked over at his lawyer.

She looked back at him. “I can’t wait forever, there are other cases I could’ve helped with that I’ve turned down for you, but I can’t keep doing that. I’ll give you until the end of tomorrow to make up your mind, but if you don’t tell me by then you’ll have to find another lawyer.”

“Laurel, I can't afford a lawyer, you’re the only one who will do this for me for free.”

“Then make up your mind.” She sighed. “I want to help Edd, you’re my friend, but if you’re not even going to go through with it then why am I wasting my time helping you?”

“I just don’t want to be the result of them getting shut down and find out they actually were helping people, or have someone die because they were trying to have us shut up.”

“Edd,” Eduardo spoke up, shaking his head. “I used to work there, why do you think I quit and started my own business? They’re not doing anything to help anyone. If you give them the benefit of the doubt or hesitate, they’ll keep bringing in more desperate people and take advantage of them. The more people in the there, the more meds they prescribe, the more money they make. The longer they have a patient, the more funding the government gives them. You’re one of the few people aware of it, and the only one willing to try and shut them down. Don’t give up now.”

Edd looked away. “I know…”

“So, what’re you going to do?” Todd asked after everyone went silent. The only noise other than his words were the distant pounding of the rain above and the ticking of the grandfather clock down the hall.

“I don’t know.” Edd finally said. “Give me until morning to think it over.”

Laurel sighed. “Okay, but I have to have one by then.”

The rest of dinner was eaten in complete silence. Once dinner was over, Eduardo took their plates and began to wash them for his wife, who kissed him happily.

She led Edd upstairs to the spare bedroom next to Todd’s. It was a tiny room with a single bed and a few paintings that replicated classics such as the Mona Lisa. “How come you have so many spare bedrooms?” He asked her.

She shrugged a little. “Eduardo and I are planning on having children one day, so we bought a house with lots of bedrooms.”

“Oh, that’s cute.” Edd gave her a small smile.

She nodded. “Now make yourself at home, the storm should pass by morning. If not, I can drop you off before I drive to work.”

“Okay.”

The blue haired girl left him alone with his thoughts. Edd turned off the light in his room, making it almost completely black. The only light being the lights of the city outside that shined through the window. The asylum across the city being the main one to bring in the light. It was taunting him.

He shut his curtains.

He collapsed onto the rickety old bed. He could hear the shifting of Todd in the next room. Downstairs, the couple was talking in hushed voices. They were most likely talking about him. Or about the case.

Or both.

His mind wandered back to his boyfriend, the boy who was the one truly suffering from everything. The last time he had seen Tord was around five months ago. It was still summer, and not the gloomy autumn they were in now. The sun was high in the sky, and the two of them had been sitting on the hill they had had their first date on. The one with the old swing attached to the old tree standing alone at the top.

Tord was rambling about something Edd couldn’t remember what. It might’ve been Wonderland, it might’ve been something else, but it didn’t really matter.

The cola lover had turned to his boyfriend, who was midsentence when Edd cut him off. “Do you like the hospital?”

Tord’s expression changed. The bright smile he bore turned into a fearful frown, the light in his eyes had dimmed. It was the type of change you’d see in a young girl’s face when you asked her if she was being beaten by her older boyfriend.

“Yes.”

Tord refused to continue the conversation. Edd tried to ask him what it was like if he felt like he was getting better if he made any friends. But the smaller male had gone back to rambling about whatever he had been talking about before. Eventually, Edd stopped trying to talk about it, but it all still bothered him.

That it only took two months for Tord to be afraid to tell him about what was going on.

It was three months ago when Edd had come to Laurel about a lawsuit. And for three months they talked to people who had family members inside the asylum, people who had been in the asylum and struggled to recall what had happened to them inside. Some people had been inside for months, some only days, most for years.

Yet, despite a patient being inside for so long, they couldn’t remember anything. Somehow, the people inside found a way for them to forget, making it difficult to gather enough information on them.

But here they were, in spite of it all, ready to make a case against them. They only needed to have more people agree to be a witness, and depending on how afraid the people were it would be easy or difficult.

But he was going to try.

Chapter Text

Of course, it was never as easy as walking out. There was always one extra obstacle, one extra conflict, one more issue needing to be resolved. This was the law of Wonderland.

It was a law that every stressed citizen must remember. Did you ruin a pie for your mother? Best rebuy all the ingredients as you'll ruin them, lose them or you don't have any left. You just had a bad day? Expect another week of bad days before a whole month of good ones. It was tedious, however charming in some ways.

Right now, it was not charming.

The Butler stood high and proud in front of the exit, his eyes glowed with deep malice. Torden was shaking next to her, though his expression was blank. He seemed to be trying to keep himself composed, only to have his body fail him.

Ringo wondered if her's did the same.

"Ah, I see you ditched the dress?" The Butler was always much too prideful and arrogant for her liking. His voice dipped into a tone of dominance, where he believed he was above the two who had been caught. Something his voice did often that succeeding in scaring most of the mortals he crossed paths with, it did not scare Ringo though.

No, he didn't scare Ringo in the slightest. Most things didn't.

A joke could be said the reason was that she had nine lives, although that was mostly incorrect. She had lost her previous eight, so that couldn't be her reason for lack of fear.

Simply, it was her ability to disappear. To leave, to transport herself at any reasonable distance away. Her life was never threatened by him despite what he may believe. No, instead she feared for the gremlin next to her.

The Butler was a fool. He blamed everything on Torden. However, what he couldn't see was that Torden was only a small piece of the puzzle. The first issue, the main issue, though he wasn't at fault. She had been angry too and considered allowing the poor thing to be killed when the vampire captured him from Hatter's tea party.

But you couldn't let your emotions blind you, as she had done before. The Butler had never once been able to see, he was always blinded. Thinking back to all the memories she had with the man, she couldn't recall a single time he had waited and thought it through, removing his personal bias.

Most were impulsive like that. Ringo tried not to be, though there were defiantly times she could've thought up better solutions. Like the time she flung herself at Hatter's face and clawed out the buttons he used for eyes.

Yes, most were defiantly impulsive. All have been for at least once in their life.

Butler finally seemed to figure out he wasn't going to receive a reply from Torden and cut to the chase. "Entering my city probably wasn't the smartest move you could've made, but hey I'm not complaining. No, I'm actually thanking you!" He smiled his signature smile, one that caused Torden to shiver. From Ringo's height, you could see a perfect view of his fangs. "You've made my life so much easier!"

As if that were the cue she had been looking for, Ringo was suddenly released from the internal prison that had kept her still. "Tord, RUN!" She shrieked as loudly as she could, snapping him out of his paralysis and into flight mode.

The Butler allowed him to go and instead shifted his focus onto the feline who remained behind. "You." He said, venom striking every drawn-out second he said the word. "You are really starting to get on my nerves."

He reached his hand out to grab her, his long fingernails threatening to ruin her combed fur. Ringo waited until the very last second to move and become transparent simply to tease him. Once she had left the vampire's eyes, he let out an angry howl. It was deeply amusing.

"Mark my words, cat," He hissed. "One day, your luck will run out and your last life will end. I'll make sure of it."

"Until then, we shall continue to play the game of cat and mouse, won't we?"

"I am no mouse, a mouse is a terrorized creature with a heart of fear. When you're falling into the afterlife, you'll truly understand what it is like to be the mouse."

She transported away before she could hear any more.

-------------------------------------------

Finding Torden proved to be harder than she thought. Not that she really thought it could be easy, the boy was small enough to hide almost anywhere.

But this was frustrating. After all, wouldn't common sense tell the short twat that his only companion would be looking for him once she could? Or was he that much of an idiot?

He was defiantly that much of an idiot. The best she could hope for was that the Butler was having as much of an issue as she was.

The skyscrapers and air pollutions hung up in the sky of the dead city, darker than what they usually had themselves be, filling Ringo with the familiar sense of dread she became accustomed to. The whole city seemed to be based upon the Butler now as if it were the way the Storyteller's books aged themselves up with the age of the story or how Hatter's meadow could fit itself in any environment to suit its master. Everything about her homeland seemed purely based off emotions or preferences since Prince had cried, and being in the middle of the angriest and revengeful creature in all of the land was not a storm she wanted to stay in.

But with that being said-who controlled Wonderland? Ringo's theory before had been the King and Queen-they were the rulers after all-but now she wasn't so certain. They may be self-entitled, selfish, and idiotic but they weren't heartless, and with all that, they had lost she couldn't imagine Wonderland's lack of response to events could be their doing. Especially when it was so joyful before, so loud and so alive. Now, the last time the world had made a sound was when Torden mentioned leaving, and before that, it was damn silent for probably years if the place had an understandable time system.

The Prince had a different idea when it came to the question. He always had different ideas though, always something unique to say. It was what led her to him initially, and what made her stay. Anything Ringo might have pondered about, anything she had questioned he would listen to. The majority of which he had thought about himself, they just were similar in that way. Maybe his lack of new perspective was what made her draw away from her family and friends, she was very narrow-minded unless the right person had the right way of introducing new ideas. A flaw of hers she'd never admit.

Prince's ideas were too bizarre too even try and block out though, it wasn't a path you could grow trees on, because when you tried he'd cut them right down. Suddenly, he made your narrow path wide; and it had infuriated her and inspired her many times in her youth, just as the debate of who controlled Wonderland had done.

He had laughed at her initial thought-laughed. Ringo was offended, she remembered, as she normally was around the green-suited wearing moron. Her ego was around ten times bigger than the current one she bore.

"What's so funny?" A young cat who hadn't lost everything yet hadn't lost a single life, had asked.

Her name wasn't even Ringo at the time, no. This conversation happened at the beginning of their relationship. When they had randomly met up and spoken about whatever was on their mind. Before when he had insulted her by saying, "You're basically my pet now, I have a right to name you. And I happen to think Ringo fits." No, it was when she was simply Cheshire Cat and while at the time of receiving the new name she hated it with a burning passion, now she felt pride when hearing it come out of anyone's mouth. Much to her disappointment, most still called her by her official name out of respect than the one she felt more connected to.

The Prince had shaken his head while he finished his sudden burst of laughter. A laugh that many citizens said brought light to the miles surrounding him. It sounded like a church bell on a morning, elegant yet careless to what anyone might've had planned that particular day, interrupting all for the call of prayer. (With the days seemingly choosing their duration, there was an impossible way to calculate weeks, so instead of a scheduled Sunday morning meet, it would instead be called upon by the King and Queen whenever they felt their people needed blessing.) He turned to the Cheshire Cat with a curious twinkle in his eye, one indicating slight mischievousness.

"I believe I'd know if my parents were responsible for the noises of Wonderland, my dear." He spoke slowly as if rehearsing his words in his head. "And there have been numerous occasions where my only comfort from their complaints is the beautiful sounds Wonderland creates. So, unless they are bipolar, I doubt they have any involvement of its music."

"Who else could it be?" A forceful question, one with an accusing undertone had left the feline's lips before she could even process what the young boy was saying. His view had been different, so instantly it registered itself into her brain as wrong.

But all of their previous conversations went on in a similar fashion, and never once did he find her pride insufferable or annoying. No, instead he gave a small amused smile, one of great understanding and patience. And a small part of Ringo wondered if he enjoyed that she was so unwilling to listen to reason, as a way to challenge himself to help open her eyes.

His eyes fluttered shut and silence between ensued, the only interruption being the small breeze blowing the seeds of dandelions into the air. This was back when Wonderland truly was beautiful, and not slowly dying around them. When he revealed his hazel irises again, he had a facial expression of confidence.

"I do not believe it is one singular entity that causes the 'emotions' of Wonderland," he paused, waiting for her to protest. But for once, she was more curious than untrustful and kept her mouth shut. This seemed to satisfy him enough to continue talking. "This world is built upon the hopes and dreams of the people, of the citizens. It is our place of freedom, which gives us food and drink and shelter. It is what gives us life. We have exactly what we want and need, and the idea of lack of perfection is a tale of teaching children honesty in school." He looked up at the sky as if he had expected something to come down. "Wonderland sings for us because she knows she has us provided for. And she knows this through the feelings from you and me, from the plants and the trees, from the fish in the sea."

He looked back at Cheshire Cat, his eyes now sparkling with purity and excitement. "So don't you see? We all are Wonderland, and Wonderland is us. When she sings, we are singing too. It is the world once again giving us another reason to be happy, by providing us with the beautiful sound that inspired the flute. And isn't that just beautiful?"

At the time, Cheshire Cat couldn't wrap her head around the words. It was as if Prince had spoken a foreign language, in such a way that she could make out the words, but not piece together the sentence. Meaning of what he said was lost but left a heavy place in her chest despite the translation being unintelligible.

And now that Ringo was older, now that Wonderland had lost the peace it had before, she finally understood. Any songs Wonderland would sing before were gone forever, broken into silence. The scream Wonderland held before was a protest-because Torden had finally come back, and the pain might be able to end.

That is if she could find the little bitch again.

All the reminiscing had distracted her from her initial mission at hand (or paw-) and the fact that she traveled through most of the city already had frustrated her beyond belief. Was she overthinking where Torden would've gone? He didn't know much of the city, unlike her. She could draw out an entire layout of the damn place if she chose, and he had only been there for a very small amount of time. The only place she could think of to look was the clothes shop she had taken him to before to change out his dress, but she had at least a little faith that he wasn't that stupid to go back there. However, she still checked, and to her relief her suspicions were correct and he was not hiding there.

But where the fuck else would he be?

As she left the clothes shop, the sun had begun to lower in the sky. Which was not very good news for her. While Butler could still travel around during the day, his abilities such as to turn into a bat or mist were not at his disposal until dusk. Now, with the moon rising it meant he'd have the advantage when looking for the gremlin.

If he hadn't already found him.

Ringo walked back to the center of the city, looking up at the clock. Thinking back to it, there wasn't much use for it. It had gone off randomly throughout the day and night, never being the same as the day before. Now, it stood as a dark monument to the happy people who once lived there and now were most likely dead or starving. Nevertheless, of what it might represent in Ringo's head, it still would be a good vantage point to scout out possible hiding places of the Norwegian. So, she transported herself to the top.

Now she was inside the tower. Outside the glass, the old, rusted city was in perfect view. All the little ally ways had revealed their openings, however, where they led were blocked off from view. A surprisingly soft breeze whipped by, making Ringo feel surprisingly safe. The hands of the clock were both limply pointing down, and the bell inside behind the actual clock seemed to have its sound rusted out of it.

It was all the same as it usually was when she could visit the tower, all except for one thing-

"Cheshire Cat?"

The little fucker hid in the tower.

"I have been looking everywhere for you." She hissed, despite the feeling of relief filling her stomach like a warm dinner. A weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

"I-I'm sorry, but this was the only place I could think of to hide!"

Ringo scoffed. "As long as you're safe, I suppose it doesn't matter. It's a good hiding place, one that escapes the mind quickly."

Torden beamed at the compliment as if the poor boy had been deprived of attention so much that even if the compliment wasn't towards his appearance or abilities, he accepted it as it were. "It looked safe."

"Safe?" She snorted at the gremlin's logic. "How? The place is falling apart."

"You seemed relaxed up here."

The feline looked away. "I have good memories from here."

Torden didn't continue the conversation, as if he were afraid to trigger her. He walked over and took the space next to Ringo, staring out into the city. "How're we going to leave now?"

Ringo thought for a couple of moments. "The gate is most likely being watched over by Hatter while the Butler searches for you," Torden shivered at the thought of being hunted down. "but there's another exit. One that Butler doesn't even know about."

"How does he not know about it if this is his lair?"

She laughed. "Though this is his lair now, it was not built by him or for him, he doesn't know the exact layout. And the location of the other exit is," she scrunched up her nose. "'above his standards' so to speak.."

Torden tilted his head. His mouth began to open to most likely ask what she meant, however, Ringo shushed him before a sound could leave his vocal cords. The summer breeze had turned cold as if it went down several degrees. A purple fog had surrounded the entire tower. In most cases, you could write it off as more Wonderland madness, but when a vampire who's abilities happened to be active and have a purple hue, you should consider it a problem.

"Get down." She hissed, ducking out of view of the window. Tord did the same, hiding behind the bell. Deafening silence overcame the area, the prior sounds of the forest before and the cracking city now gone. It was only a few heartbeats later when the silhouette of a bat shadowed through the window.

Ringo wasn't sure if the Butler could see them. He stayed at the window, fluttering in the same spot for what felt like forever. Despite the odds, her prayers must've been answered because he did fly off, not finding them trapped inside the clock.

She didn't tell Torden the coast was clear until the purple fog dissipated and the temperature evened itself out. They couldn't be too careful, Torden escaping him during the night if they were to be found would be near impossible.

"He's gone." Torden pulled away from his hiding spot. Fear had taken over most of his features like a child who believed a monster lived inside their closet. To be fair, there was a monster a few minutes before that was right outside the thin sheet of glass that separated them.

"What if he's still out there waiting?" He asked in an unnatural voice.

"He's not. If he were still around there'd still be fog and it'd be super cold. He's far away enough for us to talk." She glared slightly when she saw Torden relax. "He's most likely still keeping an eye on the tower though, so don't relax too much."

He tensed up again. "So what're we going to do? How will we get to the other exit if he's keeping an eye on us?"

"Don't worry, he's not some evil mastermind-far from it actually. He's pretty dense. By daylight, he will have lost interest in the tower and have decided we weren't in here. His abilities will also be cut off by that time, so it'll be safer to make it to the exit."

"Where is the exit?"

Ringo gave him a sympathetic smile. "The sewer."

"The sewer?"

"The sewer. All the manholes throughout the city lead to the same place; a river that is a few miles off from the gate that the Butler stopped us from accessing. After the river, we can start traveling towards the castle."

Torden's nose scrunched up in disgust. "That sounds disgusting."

She nods. "It does, but don't worry, there's a hot spring we can stop at to wash off. I'm sure the King and Queen wouldn't appreciate it if we cam in covered in shit."

The Norwegian awkwardly nodded and sat down on the floor, staring off into space. "What do we do in the meantime?"

"Well, you could get some rest? I'm sure you're exhausted from all the 'excitement' of today."

"I am tired, but I'm scared-"

"You'll be standing still! He won't see you if he comes by! And I'll protect you."

Torden thought it over for a few moments before coming to a decision. He curled himself into a small ball and closes his eyes. Ringo made her way over and curled up beside him, glancing back and forth between the window and the trap door in the corner of the room.

It was going to be a long night.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

When Tord woke up again, the sun was rising. Ringo stood up and stretched, allowing the small gremlin to collect his bearings before they walked down the steps of the tower.

A manhole was only a few minutes away from the tower. He was able to open it with ease (thankfully, her paws would not be able to open the manhole) and they slid down into the sewers.

It was just as disgusting as she remembered.

The smell of the waste left by the citizens of Wonderland was overwhelming. It was if all her senses had been collected into a small ball and dipped into everything you wouldn't want it to be. Her fur was wet with sewage water, all she could hear was the dripping of water from all the areas of the sewer, her eyes were still adjusting to the pitch darkness, all the objects around her becoming visible and she rather wished she still couldn't see them.

What made everything worse was a bit of the water had gotten into her mouth.

"This is disgusting." Torden seemed to voice her thoughts.

"I know, but the sooner we get through this, the sooner we'll be safe and be passed all this."

She hopped on the sides of the sewer, getting as far as the water as she could. Tord did the same as they travelled through the sewer. "You know where the exit is right?" He asked.

She nodded. "I've come this way before, don't worry."

"Okay."

Torden was really bad at holding up a conversation. It seemed like every time they spoke there was at least one bit of awkward silence.

To her surprise, he was the one who broke it. "How do you know the Butler so well?"

Ringo asked, "What do you mean?"

"You seem to know him really well. You mentioned how he wasn't very smart, you know how he got his lair, you seem to know a decent amount about his relation to the Prince...how?"

She opened her mouth to snap at him but held it back. Thankfully, his human eyes were weaker compared to hers. Tord remained in the same stature he was in before, unaware that his companion was about to scold him for asking an honest question. Despite of herself, despite telling Tord that it wasn't his fault, telling herself that it wasn't his fault, she was still angry. Angry for not remembering mostly, for needing everything explained. For forcing her to relive the painful memories she tried to hold back.

But it wasn't his fault.

He deserved to know.

So, she ignored the aching feeling in her chest and looked over at the Norwegian. He had a small concerned look on his face, and he was glancing at her general direction. The silence must've been worrying him.

Now Ringo was the one who was terrible at keeping a conversation.

"We were friends before Wonderland fell apart." She mumbled. Her voice carried, thank the lord, it'd be easier to hide her shaking voice.

"O-oh." Tord looked back ahead of himself, squinting slightly as if trying to make out anything other than her in the surrounding abyss. "I'm guessing that's ended?"

"Yeah, but before everything happened we were really close. Our friend group was the Prince, him and I. We used to bullshit and stuff...it was fun."

The last time all three of them had hung out-just them-was a couple of sunrises before Tord had shown up. They were all sitting together at the rose garden in front of the old castle, having tea and biscuits. Butler still had the crown perched proudly on his head, and the vampire bite that now lays on his neck wasn't there. He was young, he was happy.

And there was the Prince, also young and happy. He was shoving his mouth full of biscuits without a care in the world. His hazel eyes were full of bright energy. She couldn't remember what they were talking about, but that wasn't what was important. What was important was that they were free, they weren't in the depression they were in now.

"I'm guessing things changed after Butler went crazy..?"

"Well, things originally changed when you showed up."

"D-did I mess things up?"

"O-oh no! You joined our friend group! It all changed in a good way! But, when you stopped showing up and the barrier was put up, Butler wanted to convince his parents to let Prince back over here. He thought he could fix things, and he went over-"

"Ringo, I'm going over." Butler looked at her helplessly. His once carefree eyes were now tired and full of age. Which was funny, considering they were still only carefree a few days ago.

"Butler, you know what people have said. What the escapers have said-"

"My baby brothers in there. I'm not going to let him suffer."

"Pu-"

"Ringo." He looked at her and shook his head. "Anything you say to me won't change my mind. I have to try."

"You'll wind up like Hatter."

"Hatter is nice. Try talking to him."

"Just because you have a crush on him it doesn't mean he's a good person-"

He glared at her and shook his head. "Just leave me alone, I'll be fine."

"No amount of arguing could convince him to stay, and every day he'd sneak through the hole in the barrier to try and find the Prince. One day he came back with a vampire bite, and that's when he really began to go loony." Ringo sighed, glancing over at Torden. He was slowly nodding.

"I'm really sorry that all happened.." He finally said.

"It's okay, nothing we can do about it now, except try to fix everything."

They continued through the sewer, the rest of the walk was in silence. Finally, they reached the end of the tunnel that led the waste of the old city into the river Ringo mentioned earlier. She gave a small smile to Torden, who was fearfully staring at the water.

"H-how deep is it?"

"Not very deep, don't worry." She gave him a small smile, and he returned it. "On the count of three?"

"Okay."

"One...two...three!" She leaped off the ledge and allowed herself to fall into the water. It felt just as disgusting as the water in the sewer. Thankfully, it was easy to swim back up to the surface. She looked around, searching for Torden who was supposed to be close behind. "Tord??"

He was nowhere to be found, he wasn't on the sewer exit, he had to have jumped.

So where was he? And that's when the creeping thought slowly fell over him...

He mentioned a long time ago that he couldn't swim, didn't he?

Chapter Text

When Cheshire Cat said the water would be shallow, Tord was expecting it to be "you'll be able to feel the bottom shallow."

Not "swimmable and if you can swim you won't die shallow." Maybe he should've mentioned his inability to swim to her.

It was much too late to be thinking about that now. The dark, contaminated water made it impossible to see and all Tord could do was helplessly flail in hopes he would somehow unlock the secret of swimming. With every passing second, he sunk closer and closer to the bottom. His lungs felt like they were going to explode if he didn't breathe in soon, however opening his mouth would be just as bad.

Despite his best efforts, he eventually surrendered to the extreme pain in his throat that forced his mouth open. Disgusting water made its way down his throat, filling his lungs. A fog of weariness drifted over his conscious, and suddenly the idea of trying to get to the surface or moving at all became exhausting. His entire body went limp, leaving him trapped in the feeling of choking.

Before he died, he had a few moments to think to himself. Why hadn't he ever learned how to swim? It would even be a useful skill to have, especially in Tord's situation. Did his parents never teach him?

His parents. Who were his parents? The first people to come to his mind were the Storytellers, but that defiantly wasn't right. He wasn't from Wonderland from what he'd gathered, no one in Wonderland could be his family. But the more he considered them, the more an aura of familiarity became associated with their memory. Until instead of their ink covered faces and clothes, it was them in an ordinary outfits-a red turtleneck and a yellow hoodie-smiling at him with the love a mother would have for her newborn baby. These were his parents. He couldn't remember any more about them. Still, the one memory he had filled him with great comfort.

But he also remembered a woman. A woman with dirty blonde hair and silver-blue eyes, just like his own. She didn't share the same affectionate stare the other two had. No, instead her face was filled with somber. Her aura was cold, unlike the men who had seemed to be surrounded by light and warmth. She didn't love him, and if she did the love was very distant.

He felt even more alone than he did before.

~~

Edd walked down the hallway, trying not to breathe in the smell of smoke that plagued the air. Apartment buildings, with lots of care, could be pleasant places to live. Most were cheap depending on where one lived, and they didn't take up much space. However, this apartment building was a good reminder of why most held the idea that living in one made you a scumbag.

A friendly young girl who looked to be no more than sixteen greeted them at the front desk. She signed them in and gave them the floor the apartment they were looking for was on. When the two began to make their way over to the elevator, she shyly called out, "I'm afraid you'll have to take the stairs! The elevator is out of service."

"That's alright. Do you know when the elevator will be fixed?"

She shook her head sadly. "It has been broken for over a year now."

That was a red flag. Cobwebs decorated the ceiling as if Halloween had decided to take the spare bedroom for a couple of centuries. Cigarette buds littered the floor as if the stuffy air hadn't already told him that chain smokers lived there. Yes, this apartment building was a dump. There were possibly hidden safety hazards in the place, but he wasn't a building inspector. No, instead he was here for a different reason.

"This is it." Laurel stopped in front of an apartment door on the third floor. A small little welcome sign hung from a jail that had been carefully hammered in. Underneath it was the apartments number 5C.

Edd knocked on the door before patiently waiting a few moments. He could faintly hear the sound of a person shuffling about behind it as well as the sound of footsteps that grew louder the closer they became. Then the door was opened, revealing a woman who only looked a couple of inches shorter than Matt. Her hair bore a similar ginger color that was held up in a purple ribbon. It was messier than it was when he had seen her in Eduardo's office.

"Come in." She spoke in a quiet voice that somehow still had an undertone of confidence. One would consider her put together if it weren't for the sad look her facial features wore. Laurel and Edd walked into her apartment.

Her apartment was clean and tidy which was a nice contrast to the rest of the building. The smell of a cinnamon candle canceled out the leftover smell of smoke that clung to Edd's nose. The tall woman gently closed the door behind them before heading over to her kitchen, that had no door dividing it from her living room. "Would either of you like some coffee? It's a fresh batch." She said.

"I would love some," Edd said, probably a bit too quickly. Laurel gave him an annoyed look, and he could only guess she would scold him for being rude later. At the moment, he couldn't care less. The mention of the drink had reminded his body of his caffeine addiction he had been neglecting for almost over a month.

She walked back over to the two a few moments later, handing them each a glass. Edd did his best not to slurp it down immediately like he wanted to, but he still finished it in under a minute. The ginger didn't mention of it and instead poured him another glass. Laurel gave him another dirty look. "Men." He could hear her mutter.

"So, you're Matilda Camden, correct?" Laurel finally offered after she was sick of watching Edd indulge himself.

"Yes."

"And you're a patient of Edu-Dr. Allsbrook, correct?"

"Yes."

"My name is Laurel Allsbrook, and this is Edmund Gavin. We're here because Dr. Allsbrook informed us that you have a sister in the asylum across town. An asylum that we believe is harming its patients."

"I'm aware." Matilda sat down and nodded. "Dr. Allsbrook-may I call him Eduardo? I do during our sessions-called me yesterday to alert me of your visit."

Laurel and Edd sat down next to her, allowing for a couple of heartbeats of silence to pass. Then the blue-haired woman continued. "We wish for you to be one of the witnesses in our case. Eduardo has told me a few of the details of what you shared with him, and they're eerily similar to what happened to Mr. Davis's boyfriend."

Matilda tilted her head at Edd. He stiffened up at the sudden attention to him. He cleared his throat. "I would wish to know what has happened with your sister if you are okay with talking about it."

The ginger sighed. Edd didn't expect her to tell them, from what Eduardo had said she was pretty quiet about the incident. Not many knew the details, just that they had gotten into a car accident and Tamara Camden passed away a few hours later in a hospital bed. Matilda hadn't even told Eduardo the entire story yet, but much to Edd's surprise the widow began to speak.

"My little sister was at my mother's that night, so my wife and I decided to go out to the bar for a couple of drinks. We were more intoxicated than we anticipated, so I called my mother to have her pick us up to avoid drunk driving. She brought Ell with her since she didn't want Ell home alone. I sat in the back with Ell while Tamara sat in the front with my mother.

I don't know why, but my mother was yelling at me and not paying attention to the road. And of course, at that same moment, some asshole was driving in the wrong lane and rams right into the front of us. My mother died instantly in the collision, and Tamara died a few hours later after her spine was snapped in half. My sister slammed her head, and ever since then she's been fucked up-" Matilda's voice cuts off into a sob, and Laurel is quick to pull her into a hug.

She continued to cry for a little over ten minutes. Edd tried to help comfort, but Laurel proved herself to be much better at it than him. Once she was done crying, she continued on with her story. Her voice was much more rushed as if she were trying to get through it faster.

"I tried to have Ell go to other doctors, including Eduardo. She refused to talk to them. And when she started talking to Tamara, I panicked. I signed her up for the asylum. I thought they were helping her! She forgot about Tamara pretty quickly. But she also forgot about other things, and now she doesn't remember me. And I'm not allowed to see her!"

Edd closed his eyes. It was almost exactly what happened to Tord, only it happened quicker to Ell. His and Laurel's theory was right, the asylum was doing it to other patients.

~~

When Tord first opened his eyes, all he could make out was a figure. It was a figure of a person who took up most of his vision and seemed to be looking down at him, however, they were too blurred to have any defining details. After a few moments of blinking and attempting to see them clearer, light pressure was applied to his chest in a patterned fashion. As it did, he could feel cold liquid pushing its way up his throat and out of his mouth.

His mind began to focus on a loud ringing that the other seemed unbothered by. Sound from the rest of the world began to return to his ears, but all he could really process out of it all was his own deep breathing. The other was completely silent, the sound of their breath not even audible leaving Tord unsure whether to believe they were breathing at all.

Finally, his vision began to fully clear up. The other person who was currently performing CPR on him was a woman. She bore deep black eyes-almost exactly like Tom's, only softer. She smiled at him, almost as to try and comfort him as she continued to help him. She gave one final push on his chest and the rest of the water was coughed up.

He tried to thank her, but all that came out was a pathetic whimper. The woman shushed him, and for the first time, Tord noticed a long, light blue tail connected to her torso instead of legs. He looked back up to her face as to expect her to talk. It was only a few seconds more he was given to study her expression until she turned away and dove back into the water, splashing Tord with droplets of water. The mermaid was gone.

The Norwegian stood up. A quick glance at his surroundings told him that he had either drifted or been carried farther downstream from his original point. The water was much cleaner and pleasant looking than the water back near Butler's Lair. It was terrifying being in an unfamiliar place, and he hoped that Cheshire Cat would be able to find him soon to help lead him to the capital. Or better yet, the hot spring that she had mentioned before. He was freezing and could bet a high amount that he didn't smell pleasant either.

That being said, Tord couldn't rely on Cheshire Cat for everything. She had already traveled all across Wonderland and saved his life twice, he couldn't expect more from her, especially now that they were separated. As far as she knew, he had drowned. And so, he decided his best choice of action would be to follow the river down until he either ran into someone or something or collapsed out of fatigue.

To his luck, the mermaid must've thought that Tord's condition would not be fixed just by her CPR and left her close to the gates of a city. The river he was following led directly into the moat around the walls. A wooden bridge connected itself to the pathway to the city and over the river. A guard, one that was an embodiment of a jack card, was stationed at the entrance and opened the gate for Tord, not questioning who he was.

"Welcome to the capital." He said before closing the gate behind Tord.

Stores, doctor offices, churches, and homes decorated the city, each building was made out of some sort of white, polished stone. The setting sun was barely noticeable with the many yellow lanterns lighting up the sky. Children ran around town, some began whining as their parents pushed them into their homes. At the very end of the capital was a giant palace that illuminated light into an eerie dark abyss that laid behind it. The palace's architecture was similar to the one at the Butler's Lair, with it having three giant pillars around a giant one.

Tord approached the palace steadily. Anxiety welled up into his stomach as he knocked on the door. A few moments later, the door was opened by another guard, this time a six red of hearts, who looked Tord over and gave a disgusted look. "What is it you need, peasant?"

The Norwegian shuffled, and he suddenly wished he had brought the invitation with him. "I was invited to the castle to speak to the queen and king."

His voice trembled slightly and his response sounded more like a question. The guard laughed at him. "Yeah, next the royal highness will invite a starving bird to speak. Move along."

Tord opened his mouth to retaliate but was luckily cut off by a feminine voice behind the guard. "Step aside, let me see who is at the door."

The guard obeyed her command. A short woman who was barely taller than Tord stared back at him. She had short, blue hair and a sparkling tiara place atop her head. Her dress was a darker shade of blue with many different fancy designs decorating the furls. Her face brightened up when she recognized him.

"Tord," said the Queen as she pulled him inside. "it's been far too long since we've last spoken, has it not?"

Chapter Text

She led him through the tall halls of the castle. They passed through many empty rooms, some with only a vase placed in the corner and others having paintings that seemed to stare at wherever you walked like in an old Scooby-Doo cartoon.

"Where are we going?" Tord asked.

"Why, to the cleaning room of course. You smell as if you've been playing in a sewer." Queen said.

Tord wondered if the Queen knew how spot on she really was.

She opened the door and revealed a small little bathroom. The tub didn't have a shower or a curtain, giving Tord anxiety about using it. (Using anyone else's shower was always weird.) The toilet, sink, and counters were made out of a clear white material, one that he could assume was super expensive.

"Take your time, deary. Once you're done, simply take two lefts and a right down the hall to find the parlor. That is unless the painting of my father is hanging up, then you have to take four rights and then left. Now, if the painting is up AND the bookshelf is empty, then.." She trailed off with a giggle. "Oh, this castle is built exactly like the last one, dear and I'm certain you remember the layout of that one. I won't waste your time with needless directions." Before Tord could say he didn't remember, she left the room.

He sighed. After washing himself until he felt spotless and putting on the new clothes she had laid out for him, he exited the bathroom and was faced with a very large painting of an old man. Underneath it was an empty bookshelf. Dread bubbled up in his stomach.

Well, even if they hadn't been out, I don't remember the instructions for the other two situations anyways. Tord sighed and walked straight down the hall hoping that his luck would find him in the right spot.

Luck for once did prove to be on his side. One of the Card Knights (Knight Cards?? Card Soldiers?) had found him and led him to the parlor. There, the Queen had sat on the bench of a beautiful grand piano and wasn't playing some sort of piece from Mozart.

"Tordie! You took a long time, did you get lost? I guess it has been a rather long time since you've been here...well, technically it's your first time! I'm glad you didn't find yourself in the torture chambers. Little Pipsy would've torn you to pieces." She lifted herself off the bench and thanked the guard before gently pushing the Norwegian to the dining table.

"Now, my husband is currently out working, but he shall join us momentarily. Please, enjoy the buffet I had the cooks prepare for us while I go and have some entertainment play for us."

She clapped her hands and out came a small flurry of penguins all wearing bowties into the room. The first bowed down to Tord with a napkin in hand, while the three following him stepped on top of each other to reach the top of the chair and pull it out for him. The main penguin ran back to the edge of the table and grabbed ahold of the end of it, pulling it out to extend it to reach the other side of the room. Ten more penguins ran out holding out trays full of food, placing it across the table. As Tord sat down, the main penguin hopped up to give him a plate full of silverware and a glass of wine. Then the Penguins ran out of the room just as fast as they had run in.

Tord reached out and picked up food onto his plate. His stomach growled, and he very happily dug into the meal. Everything tasted wonderful. It was terrible. Every flavor reminded him of Hatter's meal. Every bite, every swallow and every sip just kept bringing him back to the memory of the doll-like man looming over him while the gremlin suffered the poison.

Tord suddenly wasn't hungry anymore.

The Queen returned into the parlor with the Messenger following close behind. He looked exhausted as if he had stayed awake in fear that something would attack him if he were to close his eyes. She barely even looked at Messenger as he sat at the piano and began to play. The tune was one Tord swore he had heard played before in the asylum. The Queen hummed along to the tune.

"Ah, Dido's Lament. One of my favorite pieces." She said. "It is quite beautiful, is it not?"

"Yes." His heart pounded as he watched the Messenger hit every note without mistake. The sight made the small amount of food in his belly attempt to escape. "Very beautiful."

The Queen sat beside him with a plate full of food. She ate, not paying a single bit of attention to Tord's lack of interest in the meal.

"Lovely, I thought you were going to wait for me before you started to eat?" A rough voice sounded from the other side of the room. Messenger temporarily stopped playing to look at the new member, however his fingers quickly came back to work.

"I thought you were going to hurry up. We were both wrong." Queen scoffed at the man, presumably the King.

"Oh, I see." King walked over, grabbed a plate, and grabbed his food without looking at what he was choosing. His eyes were on Tord. As far as Tord could tell, they didn't read any direct emotion. There was no anger, no grief, no confusion. Just blank, empty eyes watching him.

"Now come on, love!" Queen sang, pulling him over to the seat next to him. The tension was ignored on her end, while King continued to eat in silence. Tord chose to hope the dinner would end soon.

"So, where did you return to Wonderland?" King asked.

"Where?" Tord said.

"Yes, where."

"Somewhere, I don't remember where."

The stare was back.

Queen, now sensing the tension, cheerfully decided to change the conversation. "Would you like to join me for a game of croquet after dinner?"

Tord shook his head. "I'm really tired, I would like to rest if you wouldn't mind." He awkwardly smiled, hoping not to have offended her. The King gave him a look of disgust, however, she didn't seem to mind.

"Oh, I don't mind! I'll lead you to your room!" She stood up and led Tord to his room, which was down the hall from the parlor.

"Take as much time as you need to rest, my dear. If you need me, just have one of my guards lead you to the garden." Queen cheerfully said as she opened the bedroom door for Tord. "Don't you mind my husband's attitude. He's been awfully grumpy lately."

"It doesn't bother me." Tord weakly said back.

"Good! Sweet dreams."

Now, Tord was finally alone. He opened the window, allowing a small draft to come in. Outside was a perfect few of the town that laid awake underneath the castle's feet. Beyond that was the forest that he had just come through. No sign of the mushroom forest or the past kingdom that he had traveled through. It was like they never existed.

Maybe that's why the Storytellers and the Butler stay in those areas. He shivered at the thought.

He turned his attention towards the bed. It had huge, heavy blankets that were as soft as the Cheshire Cat's fur. The pillows were all huge and fluffy too, to a point where Tord worried he wouldn't be able to sleep well. He preferred smaller, sterner pillows.

He laid down. It was as if he were laying on a cloud. Slowly, he closed his eyes. The last thing he remembered seeing was the particles floating in the air that was only visible due to the sun's light seeping through the window...

 

Tord woke up.

He sat up and yawned, looking around thoughtfully at the bland, white room. The bed was no longer covered in huge, puffy pillows and blankets. It had returned to the thin and cheap materials his usual bed had.

He wasn't in Wonderland anymore. He was in the hospital.

The door opened and in came his doctor. The man looked more exhausted than he had the last time Tord had seen him. His hair was messy, different from the usual slicked back hairstyle he bore. He lightened up when he saw that he was awake.

"Good morning," He said in a fake, cheery tune. "how'd you sleep?"

"Good."

"How do you feel? Do you remember what happened?"

Tord thought, his mind only going back to his encounter with the Butler. What else happened before he returned to Wonderland? Something, right? Something big, something the doctor felt was important enough to ask him about.

Nothing came to mind.

"No."

The doctor scribbled something down on the clipboard.

"What did happen?"

He looked up at the Norwegian. "You had an episode."

"An episode?"

"Yes. With your schizophrenia. The worst one in months. I knew it was too early, I tried to tell them.."

"Tell who?"

"Too many questions, Tord. What did we say about questions?"

Tord nodded and closed his mouth. The doctor went back to writing.

"You should go get something to eat. You haven't eaten solid food in weeks." The doctor laughed.

Tord didn't understand what was funny. He quickly left his room.

The halls that he had grown so familiar to seemed strange now. They used to call out home to him. He could run down each and everyone, memorizing how to get to which place and where. Now it felt as if they were closing in on him. They were so bare, so empty compared to everywhere in Wonderland. These walls seemed so confusing, despite his feet knowing exactly where to go. The dining hall, only a couple of turns away from his room, seemed a century away even when his hand was right on the door handle.

The smell of food hit his nose. His stomach growled at it, and Tord realized he truly hadn't eaten in a while other than the few bites he had with the King and Queen, however, that defiantly wasn't enough to satisfy his stomach. He grabbed a paper plate and filled it as full as he could without it spilling all over.

The food tasted so bland, so fake. It was easy to tell what was microwaved, some of the food's insides were even still cold. Basically, the food was shit, and Tord was grateful for it. Grand meals made him feel sick.

The chair beside him was pulled out. A young girl sat next to him with a small plate of her own. Tord looked over to find that it was Ell. She sat her doll on the table next to her food.

"Hey." He said.

Ell looked back at him and smiled. "I know you, right?"

"Yeah, I'm Tord, played with you that one time."

"That's what I thought. I don't know anyone else, it's okay that I sit here, right?"

"Of course."

They continued to eat.

Ell was humming like she always did. It was quieter than the first two times he had heard it, and she skipped a couple of beats here and there. "What song is that?" He asked.

"Hmm?"

"That song. The one you always hum or whistle."

"Oh!" Ell smiled and thought. "I don't remember."

"Oh," Tord felt a pressure to keep the conversation going. "How's Matilda?"

"Who?"

"Your sister?"

Ell gave him a blank stare.

"Nevermind."

She went back to eating, humming softly under her breath once again. Tord ate with her, wondering if he had remembered wrong and that this wasn't Ell. That wouldn't make sense though, he could've sworn that she was, she had the bow in her hair and everything.

He felt far away again. Far away from Ell, from the food, from Edd, from Wonderland.

"How's Tamara?"

Ell looked at him funny again. "Ms. Heggins says I'm not allowed to say that name."

"Ms. Heggins?"

"My doctor. Or maybe she was a nurse. I don't remember."

What was my doctor's name? He was further away.

"How's Tamara, Ell?"

"I don't know who you're talking about."

This is Ell. "Your sister's wife."

"I don't have a sister."

"Yes, you do. Her name is Matilda. Tamara is her wife. How is she?"

"I don't know."

"Ell, how is Matilda?"

"I don't know any Matilda's!"

Tord stabbed his fork into his food. "Do you remember your family?"

Ell was silent. Tord wouldn't look at her. He couldn't. He couldn't look at the shell of the little girl he once knew.

"I don't remember having any family. Ms. Heggins says that she'll take care of me. She says that she and the hospital will fix my head. She says to...to.."

"Forget." Tord finished. "Forgive and Forget the past. Don't remember anything that will cause your schizophrenia."

"Don't think about Tamara." Ell was crying, he could hear it in her voice. "Ms. Heggins is my mother."

No, she's not! Tord wanted to scream. This isn't your family! This isn't your home! You should be with Matilda.

"Do you have a family?" Tord faced the child. Her tears were streaming down her face, and she gripped her doll tightly. The food on her plate was barely touched.

"No," He lied to Ell and the cameras in the ceiling. "I don't."

Ell looked comforted by that answer and leaned on him. "We're friends, right?"

Tord closed his eyes. He was so far away, far away from the hospital, from Ell. He didn't want to be near her.

"Yes, we are."

He remembered what had happened before his episode.

~~

He walked past the lobby. He walked past his room. He walked past the playroom where he had drawn with Ell.

He didn't know where he was walking to, but it wasn't any of those places.

He was still far away. The walls were trying to pull him in again, they were whispering to him. All in different voices and tones, all saying different things that he couldn't understand. He'd cry if he could. He'd tell them all to shut up and leave them alone. He'd take a gun and shoot them if he could-

He used to like guns. Paul would take him to the shooting range as a kid. That and hunting. They'd disappear for days in the woods for hunting season. Pat always complained, he would miss them both. Pat didn't care about guns. Pat enjoyed robotics. So did Tord. Pat had bought boxes and boxes of legos for Tord when he was around seven, only to spend hours and hours building mini-robots out of them. They'd watch the Transformers movies together.

Tord liked comic books as well. Even now when he was almost eighteen. He collected over a hundred over the years, his favorite being Marvel. Edd enjoyed comic books as well. Comic books and old Nintendo games that you could find in a vintage arcade. Edd wasn't as obsessive as Tord was, though. Tord collected a different type of comic book. A type Paul would always sneak to him for his birthday and Pat would flip out about.

It made Tord blush to think about.

What else did he remember?

Matt used to not like him.

"A bad influence on Edd!" He'd say. Really, Edd was a bad influence on Tord. Tord remembered all the times Edd showed him naughty videos when they were fourteen. As Tord grew up, Matt was much more friendly with him. He still teased him, he was still a bit aggressive with him, but Matt was that way in general about a lot of things. He was especially aggressive about his looks.

Maybe aggressive isn't the right word.

Passionate seemed to fit better. Aggression fit the Butler, not Matt.

Tom was his best friend from his memory.

They were bro's, rides or dies, whatever you call it. They were always there for each other. But all friendships had their up's and downs. Tord liked to find as many ways as possible to annoy Tom, which would start many arguments.

Tord remembered.

Tord was finally grounded.

Tord felt like himself.

I have to get out of here.

He was in front of his doctor's office. That's where his feet had taken him. Only now, his feet weren't in control, he wasn't on autopilot. He wasn't far away. He was grounded, thinking, he was nervous. Not anxious, nervous.

He knocked on the door.

"Come in."

The door closed behind him with a small click. The doctor looked up from his computer. His expression changed to surprise when he saw Tord, who was taking a seat in front of his desk.

"Did you eat?" The doctor asked.

Tord glared a little. "Yes."

"Good. How're you feeling?"

"Good. Really good. Great, even."

The doctor's surprise grew. "Oh...well, good," He thought for a couple of moments. "what do you need, Tord? Why did you come down here?"

Tord thought about his response.

"Are you having another episode?"

"No, I want to go home."

The Doctor shuffled. "I can walk you back to your room, then-"

"No, home. Not go to my room." Tord wasn't afraid of the doctor, not like how he was before. He wasn't asking to go home. If he did, then the answer would be no.

He was demanding.

He pulled a hand through his hair. "You're not ready yet, Tord. Your schizophrenia-"

"I had it my entire life. I dealt with it before. In fact, I don't remember it ever being bad enough to cause many issues except for when I've been in here."

"The key words there is that you don't remember. You don't remember a lot of things. I bet you don't remember where your 'home' is. Or who your parents are."

"I can't remember because of you," Tord said, watching every movement in the man in front of him.

Check.

"That's an absurd accusation. How can I make you forget?"

"I don't know. But whatever you did to me, you're doing on everyone else here, too. You did it to Ell, she can't remember Matilda."

The doctor said, "I have no involvement in Elliana's treatment."

"If that were true, you wouldn't know who I was talking about. This hospital is too big for you to know every patient."

Checkmate.

The doctor rose to his feet, his eyes blazing with frustration and fury. "Who have you been talking to?" He cried.

Tord ran out of the office.

The alarms were blaring for security. The walls were flashing red in a way that made Tord feel sick. His goal was the lobby. He needed to get out or they'd make him forget again. "Forgive and Forget, Tord..." God, he was sick of that man's voice.

He turned the corner and passed his room. He was so close to the exit, he was so close to being free. Once he was out, he'd run straight to Tom and Matt. The doctor had been right about one thing, he didn't remember where his house was, but thankfully he had stumbled upon them the day he was allowed outside of the hospital.

He reached the doors to the lobby and pushed on them. But they didn't move. He continued to push them open and then attempted to pull. They didn't budge. The doors were locked.

He thought, No! There has to be another way out.

The window in his room? That was defiantly locked. He could hear footsteps from down the hall in the direction of his room anyways. Going back that way would be suicide. He couldn't stay at the lobby doors either.

So he took off running towards the dining hall. Unluckily for him, security was waiting in that direction too. Desperate, he attempted to run in between the two guards, figuring he was short enough to squeeze past them. As he tried to run through, a tough hand grabbed him and yanked him forward.

He was caught. Stalemate.

The security guards pushed him down the hall, however, they didn't head down back to the doctor's office as he expected. Instead, they turned down a hall he had never remembered being down, patients weren't allowed in this section of the building. All the signs on the doors read, Operation room before being followed by a number. His blood ran cold.

He bit down on the guard's hand as hard as he could. The guard cursed and yanked his hand away, allowing Tord to be able to run again. The second guard tripped him, and Tord felt something hard be hit against his head. Most likely the back of his gun.

His vision blurred, and all he could focus on was the throbbing pain his head was in. He could feel himself being picked up and dragged onward through the hallway. The alarms were finally turned off, and he was thrown onto some sort of table.

Talking. He couldn't understand what they were saying, but he knew they were talking.

The tough hands were back on him, holding him down, and someone else began to strap him down to the table. Slowly, his vision began to straighten out, however, it was too dark to make out who was there. The only light in the room was the light coming from the hallway.

"There." That was the voice of his doctor. "He shouldn't be able to move now. Thank you."

The other men grunted in reply. They made their way towards the door and slammed it behind them. It was now completely pitch black. The only noise the doctor made was the sound of clinking glasses and ruffling cloth.

He turned on a lamp, shining it down on the equipment on the cart. He picked up a tray and placed it on the cabinet behind Tord. Then, the doctor adjusted the light so he could see the patient strapped to the table.

The painfully bright light shined down onto Tord, making it difficult for him to see without squinting, and making the rest of the room seem much darker. "P-please.." He whimpered, almost no sound escaping his dry and aching throat.

He gave a few twist and wiggles to weakly try fight to escape the tight straps holding him down to the bed. The doctor watched in slight amusement as he laughed at his futile attempts. Tord could just make out his hand moving and grabbing something from the tray that laid near his head.

"Don't worry...this won't hurt a bit.." A sound of a drill being flickered on told Tord otherwise, and he struggled more as the sound grew closer to his head.

"No..no.." A dull feeling hit his forehead, and suddenly everything began to fade away, leaving him in the dark.

Chapter Text

When Tord woke up again, he was met with the sight of the spare guest room the Queen had led him to. Outside, the moon rose over the city, the sky being darker than any of the prior nights he had spent in Wonderland. His bed no longer was big and fluffy, but now was small and cold, like a hospital bed.

It was the type of bed he was sick of.

The entire castle had changed in a slightly more uncomfortable way just as his room did. The paintings that had covered the walls were all gone, replaced with severed deer heads or some other decoration found in a hunter’s cabin. The top of the walls became so dark that Tord couldn’t even see the ceilings. It made the walls look as if they had grown.

A guard walked past him, not batting an eye at the changes. It was a joker’s card, except the joker’s head had been decapitated and the hearts seemed to be bleeding right off of its body.

“...If you need me, just have one of my guards lead you to the garden."

Tord hesitantly approaches the guard. “Excuse me, could you take me to the garden?”

The guard nodded and lead him through the long hallways, each one becoming darker than the next. It pushed open a large, eloquent door. The garden was much brighter than the inside of the castle, as if the moonlight was specifically illuminating the area. Tall bushes full of white roses enclosed the entire area except for a small path in the back, leading down somewhere he couldn’t see. Some of the roses near the path had been painted red, though most looked unfinished.

“Tord! Glad you could join us. Grab a stick!” The Queen, now wearing a dress made out of raw meat, motioned to the croquet sticks set inside a bag put off to the side of the court. The Norwegian hesitantly took one.

“Have you played much before?” She asked.

He shook his head.

“Not a problem, my boy. We are playing a very loose version of Croquet, aren’t we dear?”

The King looked over to his wife and nodded, making sure not to make eye contact with Tord.

“All you have to do is hit these balls through the wickets over there.”

Instead of the traditional wickets, a large amount of guards were set along the yard, each positioned like an arch. It seemed as the Queen and King hadn’t started the game yet.

“Whoever hits their balls through the most hoops becomes the winner.”

“I thought croquet was a race type of game.”
“Like I said before, this is a loose version of croquet. You see, once a player hits a ball through a wicket, then the wicket will be pulled out of the game. The game ends once all the wickets have had a ball go through them.”

“It’ll make more sense once we begin.” The King added. “I’ll show you.”

“Whatever happened to ladies first?”

Ignoring his wife, the King set his ball down onto the grass. With a mighty swing, the ball was hit across the yard to the first guard. It rolled out underneath him, and a second guard came running over to have it roll under it as well.

“Two points!” Queen snuck a kiss on her husband’s cheek. “Well done, dear.”

Tord watched as the wicket guards were grabbed and dragged out of the garden. “Where are they going?”

“To the dungeon.”

“What? Why?”

“They’re done with!” She placed her ball down in the same spot the King had. “Their duty is to entertain us, so once we are done with this, they’ll be brought in for the next game.”

She knocked her ball out into the yard, and once again the guards scattered to be the one to have the ball rolled underneath them. The ball managed to roll out underneath three of them.

The eyes of everyone in the garden fell on Tord. Silently, he placed the ball down onto the same starting spot. Giving a good look at the field, he hit the ball in the way of the most guards.

All of the guards scattered away from his ball.

He didn’t get any points.

“What a shame,” stated the Queen, giving him a pitying look. “You really are a rookie in this game.”

Frustration swelled up in the pit of Tord’s stomach. He bit his tongue to hold back from snapping at the taller woman. That wasn’t my fault, but whatever. I’ll score points next round.

The next round went along in a similar fashion. As if to prove a point, the King hit his ball into the opposite side of the yard where none of the guards had been positioned, All at once, they came running to have the ball roll through them, granting the King four more points. Then the Queen came up, bumping her ball in a graceful fashion that contained little power. It must’ve only rolled about five feet away from her, yet she still gained two more points.

And then it was Tord’s turn.

He angled himself to where his ball could roll under the most guards, and hit his ball with a considerable amount of power. The guards did their best to avoid his hit, and once again he was stuck with no points.

“Maybe you should sit out this round, Tord,” The King said in a demeaning tone.

“No.” Tord bit down on his tongue. “I’ve got this.”

“Okay, if you say so…”

As the game dragged on, the royal couple began building up more and more points as Tord remained at zero. Soon enough, there was only one guard left on the field, who desperately avoided his ball when it was his turn. The Queen hit her ball off towards it, and it stayed completely still.

“That’s game!” She cried out cheerfully, looking over to the Messenger. He held a small book in his hair and wore what seemed to be a referee outfit. “And what are our scores?”

Messenger looked over his book, scribbling down a final few things. “Tord was in third place with zero points, the King was in second with twenty-three, and the Queen has won with sixty-two.”

“Then it’s official. I have won again.” She giggled, winking over at the small audience of guards. “Could you have expected anything more?”

Tord didn’t know why he was so upset. It was a stupid game, one he hadn’t even wanted to play in the first place. One that wasn’t true to the true sport, one that the royal couple must’ve likely made up so that only they could win to begin with. Yet, the loss was still so infuriating. The game was so unfair.

Memories of playing mario kart with Matt, Tom and Edd flooded his mind. That thrill he got when he sped through the finish line, the excitement he got when he won. Specifically, in games he knew he had a chance to win to begin with.

“Ha!” Tord laughed in the ginger’s face as he reached the finish line first. “I win again!”

Matt glared at him as he reached the finish line a couple moments later. The end race song began playing, and the champion cup cut scene began to play with Tord’s Princess Peach avatar receiving the cup.

“Rematch!”

Tord laughed. “You never win rematches!”

“Well, I can try!”

“That game wasn’t fair.”

Her expression changed to bewilderment. “What do you mean? It was unarguably fair. It was super fair! More fair than any other game you have played!”

“No, it wasn’t! The guards avoided my ball!”

“They weren’t doing any of the sort.”

“Yes, they were. Whenever you hit your ball-no matter what direction it went to-you still managed to get it under the guards because they made sure you did get points. In fact, it seemed like you were purposely hitting your ball away from them so you could see them stumbled around and try to get you points. They did the same for the King’s. But when it came to my ball-”

“You’re delusional.” The Queen scoffed, twirling her stick in her hand. “Schizophrenic, a sore loser, crazy, you’re wrong.”

“Fine.” He said, punctuating the word with the toss of his croquet stick.

”Rematch!”

”You never win rematches!”

“Then I want a rematch.”

There are times in Tord’s life where he knew he’d fucked up. Take the time he’d told all his classmates about his ‘friends’ for instance, granting him the title of ‘crazy kid’. Or when he lied to his dad about drinking his coffee. Or the time he had accused his doctor of ruining his memory. None of which had good outcomes.

Now, he could add this situation to that ever growing list.

“A rematch?” She mused, twirling a bit of her blue hair between her fingers. “You must really be serious about that accusation then, aren’t you? That I rigged the game?”

“Not that you rigged it. That you cheated.” Tord watched her hands tighten on the strand of hair as her smile, for the first time since he’d been there, faltering. In the corner of his eye, he saw the Messenger running to the door out of the garden. King was standing nearby with a blank expression.

“That’s an awfully dirty word.” She hissed, her voice changing from the sickly sweet to as cold as a snake’s. ”Cheating.”

“I want a fair game.” He said, doing his best not to lose his nerve. “A game I can win.”

“And what will you gain out of a fair game? Satisfaction?” She giggled. “Such a petty prize you want to win.”

”You’re such a sore loser, Tord.” Edd said as he gently shoved him, giggling as he did. Tord huffed and threw down the rest of his Uno Cards.

”You cheated!”

”Did not!”

“If I lose and the games fair, I’ll accept defeat.” He chose his words carefully, hoping not to anger her more than he already has.

“That would be an awfully boring game if the wickets stayed in place.” She hummed. “If you truly want this to be ‘fair’ then fine, I accept your challenge to a rematch. However..” Her smile reappeared on her face, being far too friendly for how much rage burned in her brown eyes. “...to keep me entertained as well, I say we turn this into a small...bet of sorts.”

“A bet?”

“Yes. Where both of us will put something valuable on the line. There is a prize for both of us if we win...and a punishment for if we lose.”

“What would the punishment and prize be exactly..?”

Her eyes gleamed. “Hmmm...You've been talking to that bothersome feline, no?”

Tord’s heart pounded in his chest. “How did you know about that?”

“Have you forgotten that this is my kingdom? Spies are everywhere, listening and watching. There’s a certain area I like to send spies out especially. A certain vampire lives there, and I need to make sure to keep a watch on him. Or else he might just slide across the barrier when I’m not paying attention.

Anyways, I was told of a rather...interesting conversation between a certain someone and a certain cat. Something about...destroying the barrier? Insane, is it not?”

“If you knew that was my plan..” Tord breathed out. “Then why haven’t you killed me?”

She laughed. She laughed and the King laughed. They laughed and so did the guards, so did the roses, so did the moon. They laughed at him like he was a stand up comedian in a nightclub, doing a hilarious improv bit. “Where would be the fun in that?” She cried.

“Besides...you aren’t able to pull off a stunt like that without your little companion, are you? In fact, you shouldn’t even be the one asking why I haven’t killed you yet. It should be me asking, Why haven’t you tried destroying me yet?

But that’s besides the point. My point with bringing all this up is that if you do somehow happen to defeat me, in a game where the wickets do not move, the points are counted fairly, there is no factors weighing in my favor. In a game that is fair, then I will destroy the barrier myself.”

“And if I lose?” Tord was trembling as he watched her gracefully wave her hands to a couple of her guards. They walked off to where the wickets had been dragged off to.

“Then it’s off with your head.”

The guards she had waved to walked back into the field. They were rolling a large guillotine in, placing it in the back of the yard, straight ahead from where Tord was standing. It’s blade was covered in fresh blood that dripped onto the place where the victim’s head was held in place.

“Would you like to see a demonstration?” She asked him, already signaling to her husband to grab someone. He nodded and wandered back into the palace.

“No.” Tord quickly said. “No, I don’t want to see-”

But the Queen ignored him, instead focusing on her husband who returned tugging the Messenger along to the guillotine. The poor guy’s face was white, and he desperately looked to Tord with a pleading face.

“Stop.” He looked to the Queen. “Please.”

The King forced the Messenger to his knees and bent his face down. After locking the chain around his throat, the King went back down to stand beside his wife. Messenger struggled and tried to pull out, but it was no use.

“P-please...I don’t want to die..” He whispered. Tord looked back to the royal couple to see if there was any sorrow, regret, empathy, anything for the innocent worker they were about to murder.

All he found was the same emotionless, cold stare the King always wore. And the Queen..

She looked as if she were watching a theater performance.

The last thing to ever leave the Messenger’s mouth was a small wail. He tried to turn away, but the Queen immediately grabbed his face and held it still, forcing him to watch. One of the guards that had rolled the murderous device in pulled down on it’s lever, releasing the blade. It came down faster than Tord could comprehend and before he knew it, it was over.

He understood why some of the roses were painted red now.

Messenger’s head fell onto the ground, bloodying up the surrounding grass. Quickly, the guards began to pull the body and head away out of view, almost as if it were a routine. The lever was pulled up, and the blade made a slow rise back to the top.

“So..” She smiled, her expression being as friendly and as sweet as ever, not giving away any hint that she had just watched the Messenger die. “Are you still interested in that rematch..?”

He was stuck staring at the guillotine, even though her hands had left his face by then. The image of Messenger’s fearful expression and death burned into his mind. His death is my fault.

“Well?”

“No.”

“That’s too bad! Because now I’m very interested in how this plays out.” She reached down and picked up Tord’s croquet stick, handing it to him. “Darling, why don’t you go gather up the citizens? I think this’ll be a wonderful show for them to watch!”

As the King hurried off to spread the news, a guard came up from behind the Norwegian and picked him up.

“H-hey-”

“And you’ll be going into the dungeon until we have our little rematch.”

And without another word, he was taken down into what would be his room for the next several days.