Now I’m worried one of the kids will get hurt. I ask them to duck, but for how long?
Farther I drive, my hands gripping the wheel, my brain still foggy.
Alice save us. Had the boy’s mother predicted my arrival, like Constance believed in me?
What do you do when everyone believes in you, and deep down inside you know you’re insane?
I take a left onto an even muddier road. The Jeep slows down. But I am not stopping. I grip the wheel harder, grit my teeth as I push the pedal against its capacity.
But it’s not the chasing that stops me. It’s the flaring white light someone directs in my face.
I end up seeing nothing, only feeling the weight of the Jeep rolling on its side. My head bumps into something, and all I end up with is the aching sound of the wheels circling the air.
Are the children hurt?
It’s only a minute before I see the Executioner looking down on me. “I should have killed you once I saw you.” He pulls his gun out again.
Next to him, the Pillar’s face comes into focus. His face is inanimate. And for the first time, I can see his real intentions. His eyes are so dead I don’t think he ever cared for me one bit.
He tucks his cigar back in his mouth and says, “Love that look on someone’s face, just before they die.”
Westminster Palace, Margaret Kent’s Office
Margaret stood in front of her favorite mirror in her office, checking out her face. She wanted to see if her surgeons, who’d cost her a fortune, had messed up anything in her operation.
But on the contrary, everything was just fine.
The face she’d asked for to cover up her ugliness, and put her Duchess days behind, was like nothing she’d ever seen. In fact, she loved how she looked. It suited her prestige and made people trust her—which was most crucial to her title in the Parliament.
Then why did the Queen of Hearts keep calling her ugly?
Margaret looked away from the mirror and out at the River Thames. She knew why the Queen treated her this way. Because she couldn’t forget how ugly she was in Wonderland. Because the Queen envied her for being able to pull such a trick in the real world.
The Queen herself had asked the same doctors to make her taller—the Queen’s biggest setback. But science in this world only knew how to make extreme makeovers with faces. Making someone taller wasn’t an option yet.
How Margaret wished to kill this obnoxious Queen. How she wished to rip her to pieces.
But none of that was feasible before they collected the Six Impossible Keys.
It just had to be done. And now she had to find someone to send after that madman, the Pillar who seemed to be looking for a cure in Columbia.
Never mind that Columbia was the best place to look for those who created this plague, but it was also where Margaret had made most of her fortune.
Margaret had been one of the first to arrive from Wonderland. With her political position, she was able to make millions of pounds by endorsing drug trafficking and child slavery in Columbia.
A very profitable business, indeed.
She worried the Pillar would mess up things there. His travel to Columbia seemed to have a deeper reason behind it. True, he was there to find a cure of sorts, but why go back to that place he hated so much?
Why go back to that dark pit of his past?
Margaret sighed, deciding her priority was to find a cure and keep her assets in Columbia safe. She had to call someone to do it.
She walked back to her desk, and dialed a number. It belonged to the last Wonderlander she’d ever work with, but it seemed that every Wonderlander needed to make a stand now.
Either you were part of Black Chess, or you were an Inklings. There was no other way around it now.
With the gun’s barrel in my mouth, I can only speak in nonsensical vowels.
And even though no one understands me, the Executioner ends up curious to know what I have to say before I die.
“I was only coughing.” I wipe the gun’s staining powder from my lips. From the corner of my eye, I can see the kids aren’t hurt.
The Pillar raises an eyebrow at me, probably impressed with my comeback.
The Executioner loads his gun again, ready to finish me.
“Wait,” I say. “Since you’re a Wonderlander, you must be looking for the keys like everyone else.” My look is sharp and challenging. “The Six Impossible Keys.”
The Executioner pulls his gun to a halt. I believe I caught his interest. Behind him, the Pillar scratches his temples.
“Continue...” The Executioner waves the gun at me.
“I know where one of them is,” I say, reminding myself I’ll never tell about the one key I have hidden in my back pocket. The one Lewis Carroll gave me. “Last week, the Mad Hatter took it from me.”
“From you?” The Executioner seems skeptical. “Why would you have a key to Wonderland?”
“Well.” I rub the back of my neck. “Like I said before, I am Alice from Wonderland. I just don’t remember a lot of it. I had the key hidden in a bucket in the basement of my family’s house.”
The Executioner scans me from top to bottom.
“You don’t want to kill me, in case I know of the whereabouts of the other keys,” I follow up, not sure if the Pillar will back me up if I mention him to the Executioner, so I don’t. He wanted me dead a minute ago.
The Executioner gazes back at the Pillar and then back at me. His eyes are sharp, as if he’s trying to read through my soul.
It’s a long moment. I take advantage of it and smile at the children behind me, assuring them they will be all right.
The moment stretches even more, and I begin to worry the Executioner won’t believe me.
But he breaks the long silence with a spitting laugh. His men laugh with him. He lowers his head toward me and says, “You’re the maddest girl I have ever seen.” He raises his eyebrows. “I love mad people. That’s why I will not kill you until I’m thoroughly entertained by your hallucinations.”
The Pillar, me, and the Executioner are sitting around a table in the middle of his garden. I can hear the sounds of war in the distance, still not sure what his men are fighting over.
But the war is the least of my worries now. It’s the Executioner and his sadistic games. He literally wants us to play a game now.
“It’s a very easy game,” he says. “But most entertaining to me.”
The Pillar says nothing, and neither do I. The Executioner had each of us hold a gun and place it atop the table, both hands placed palm down.
“Here is how it’s going to be played,” the Executioner says. “I will ask you a question.” He is talking to me. I’ve become his priority now. He thinks I am mad, and it amuses him. “If you give the right answer, you will pass for this round. If it’s wrong, I will shoot you.”
“Suspenseful.” The Pillar puffs his cigar. “I love suspense.”
“Then it’ll be your turn to ask me a question.” The Executioner is still talking to me. “If I answer it the wrong way, you can shoot me.”
“Justice,” the Pillar says nonchalantly. “Not a fan.”
“Then Senor Pillardo will join in,” the Executioner follows. “Easy game. Say the truth and you will live.”
“How can you tell I am telling the truth when you ask me?” I say.
“The same way you can tell I am telling the truth when I ask you.” The Executioner grins.
“Nonsense,” the Pillar comments. “My favorite.”
“I’m not following,” I tell the Executioner.
“Here is the thing, young lady,” the Executioner says. “This is a game of nonsense—which, if you think you’re Alice, you should know a lot about.”
“Trust me. Nonsense has been my middle name since I met the Pillar—I mean, Senor Pillardo,” I say. “But I still don’t have a grip on this game.”