“That’s impossible,” the Pillar mumbles.
“Even if he didn’t die in the explosion, why send us here?” I tell them.
“And why hide behind the cloak? It’s not like him.” The Pillar desperately wants to step closer, but is held back by the Reds.
“Maybe he’s disfigured from the bomb. Besides, wasn’t he depicted as a card with clubs for a head in Lewis Carroll’s book?” I comment.
But no one answers me, not even the Pillar. A wicked silence fills the room for a while, and then one of the Reds nudges the Executioner, as if to permit him to talk.
Something isn’t right, but I can’t put my hands on it. I remind myself that we’re wasting time here. We only have twenty-four hours left before the plague reaches irreversible measures like Carolus said on TV.
“It doesn’t matter how I survived,” the Executioner says from behind the darkness of his cloak. “I ordered the Reds to bring you to me for a reason.”
“It’s the key, right?” I say. “You want the Wonderland Key. I’ll give it to you if you give me a cure.” I’m lying, of course. I’ll never give him the key, but I have to try my best. I realize it’s funny that I’m lying to get to the truth.
“I don’t want the key,” the Executioner says. “At least not now.”
“Then what do you want?” I am surprised the Pillar isn’t talking. He keeps staring at the Executioner, wanting to pull off the hood.
“I want you to kill Carolus,” the Executioner says.
“Why?” I ask.
“Because I lied to you. The plague is connected to Carolus’s existence. Kill Carolus, and the world is cured.”
Alice’s House, Oxford
The Cheshire watched Edith and Lorina Wonder locking themselves with their mother inside the house. The three of them seemed to have been some of the few people who’d never tried the Hookah of Hearts. And only those were the uninfected.
It had taken the Cheshire a long time to reach the Wonders’ house. Not only was it the distance between London and Oxford, but he had to possess an infinite number of souls to get here. The driver, the old woman at the ticket booth, the police officer, and at some he’d had to possess a toddler when his mom turned out to be infected while the Cheshire was possessing her.
“Possessing you is a dirty job but somebody has to do it,” he’d mumbled when he’d had to enter a rat’s soul at the end of his ride.
But he stood outside the Wonders’ house in a police officer’s soul, peeking inside to take a better look at Lorina and Edith Wonder.
The two sisters were definitely on the dark side of evil. But were they who the Cheshire was looking for?
The problem with finding Tweedledum and Tweedledee was that, like Alice, none of them could remember their faces. Why? He had no idea.
All he remembered was how scary the twins were. Two lunatics walking through Wonderland. He also knew they were siblings. Brother and sister? Two brothers or two sisters? He couldn’t remember.
Earlier, he had contacted someone who believed he knew who they were in this world, but that man turned out to be a liar. Now, the Cheshire roamed England, searching for the Tweedles.
Why the Tweedles?
Because only they and the Pillar were said to be able to enter Mushroomland and deal with the Executioner.
The Executioner who had once managed to chop off the Cheshire’s head in Wonderland. If it wasn’t for the Cheshire’s knife right now, he’d be dead and gone.
He stuck his face to the window to take another look at Lorina and Edith. Could they be Tweedledum and Tweedledee?
They sure looked like it. But they weren’t twins.
There was one way to find out. To possess one of them. Because the Cheshire, with all his powers, could never possess a Wonderlander.
Since neither of the sisters was going to open the door for anyone in this kill-fest outside, he had no choice but to possess another rat to get inside.
“Then why didn’t you say so when we met in Mushroomland?” the Pillar demands, still held back by the Reds.
“What does it matter?” the Executioner says. “You want to stop the plague. I told you how to stop it.”
“I’ll call Inspector Dormouse.” I pull out my phone. “I know he couldn’t do it, but I’m sure there are excellent police officers who could if he contacted them.”
“That won’t work. Not just anyone can kill Carolus.”
“I didn’t know Carolus could be killed,” the Pillar says. “He is a figment of Carroll’s imagination.”
“True. And only Lewis can kill him.”
“So we’re back to square one again,” I say.
“He wouldn’t have sent for us if that was all of it.” The Pillar points his cane at the Executioner.
“Smart, Senor Pillardo.” The Executioner laughs.
“Is he suggesting I go meet Lewis Carroll through the Tom Tower in London and ask him?” I turn to the Pillar. “We know the Tom Tower doesn’t always work.”
“No, Alice. I don’t think it’s that. He is suggesting that Lewis told you how to kill Carolus.”
Hearing this, I close my eyes, trying to remember if he ever told me. But I am sure he didn’t. “I hate to disappoint the world.” I open my eyes. “But he didn’t tell me how to kill Carolus.”
“Of course he did,” the Executioner says. “Carolus assured me Lewis told you how to kill him.”
“He could have lied to you, just to let you think there was a cure,” the Pillar suggests.
“I know a scared man when I see one, Senor Pillardo.” The Executioner grunts at the Pillar, implying something about their past, which I suspect I will never know. “And Carolus shivered when I mentioned Alice to him.”
In spite of the Executioner having denied my existence and trying to kill me in Mushroomland, I try to think of this as a confirmation that I am the Real Alice. Ironic how killing Lewis Carroll’s split personality is the only way to find out now.
“So.” The Pillar sighs. “I guess that’s it. We know how to stop the plague. Come on, Alice. We have work to do.”
“Is that it?” I wonder. “Don’t you want to know how the Executioner survived?”
“Why would I? Clearly the man is invincible.” The Pillar waves his hand. “Let’s go.”
Reluctantly, I follow his steps to the door, watching the Reds make room for us.
Then the Pillar pulls out his hookah, whips it at Reds, chokes a few of them, and heads straight toward the Executioner.
“Time for some None Fu,” I say and begin the show.
Queen’s private prison, Buckingham Palace, London
Carolus banged his head against the wall.
Part of it was the pain. But another part was his disappointment with the plan. He felt weakened needing to collaborate with the Queen of Hearts to get his medicine to relieve himself of the migraines.
This wasn’t his plan at all.
Tomorrow was going to be the third day the plague had taken hold of the world. It was supposed to be the peak moment to execute his real plan. The real reason he had infected the world with his hookahs.
But now he’d become the Queen’s slave, and she was going to use his weakness in her favor after their secret conversation in her chamber. She had an even more insane plan of her own now.
Not that he cared for her. All he needed was to play along until she gave him the Lullaby drug, and then, once the headaches were gone, he would proceed with his plan and force the Pillar to show himself.
For now, he has no choice but to wait, but no longer until tomorrow, or everything he’d planned would be gone with the wind.
The Reds aren’t an easy fight, but my None Fu skills have progressed a lot.
I hit the first two Reds with straight kicks to their faces, which sends them both with their back against the wall. Then with two simultaneous fists, I punch their hollow faces underneath the cloaks. The first one drops into nothingness, leaving a red cloak lying on the floor behind him. The other, much stronger, strangles me with the fabric of his cloak, almost choking me.