“Two years ago, Carolus visited me in the Hole,” the March begins. “I had no idea how he got in, let alone how he escaped Wonderland. I even thought he was Lewis in the beginning.”

I turn to look at the Pillar.

“It happened a lot in Wonderland. People mistook Carolus for being Carroll,” he says. “We didn’t even know about Carroll’s split persona for some time.”

“Okay. Tell me more, Jittery.”

“Carolus promised me he’d get me out of the Hole in exchange for cooking the plague, which he knew about from meeting Nobody in Peru,” the March says. “I said no.”

“I know you’re a scientist, among other things,” I say. “But why would Carolus think you could cook this unusual plague?”

“Because of a plant I accidentally came across in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.”

“A plant that makes one tell the truth?” I ask.

“In the strangest ways,” the March says. “I think it’s not from this world, but from Wonderland. It must have crossed over somehow when one of those portals opened.”

“Cut the chit-chat, and get to the meat of the matter,” the Pillar says.

“I refused Carolus’s offer, although he was too tense that day, suffering from his migraines as usual. He offered to bring me back to Wonderland, but I still refused because I knew he was lying to me.”

“How can you be sure?” I say.

“Think of it. Lewis Carroll was never trapped in Wonderland, and neither was his split persona. Lewis was the one who locked most of the monsters in,” the March says. “Lastly, Carolus made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

“What was it?”

Just as the March is about to tell me, we hear the sound of another engine in the air.

“Who’s following us?” the Pillar asks his chauffeur.

“The Reds!”

And they are starting to shoot at us, midair.

Chapter 76

“What was the offer you couldn’t refuse?” The Pillar aggressively pulls the March by his ears.

“He offered to help me get rid of the one thing that made the Reds follow us up here in the air.” the March cries.

“You mean some kind of a detector?” the Pillar says.

“No.” The March’s eyes dart upwards. “The light bulb in my head. The one Black Chess installed to know what I’m thinking about.”

The Pillar sighs, his neck stretching as he stares up at the ceiling. His stare is so intense that I feel the need to protect the March. The sound of showering bullets outside makes things worse.

“Guess what, kiddo,” the Pillar tells the March. “If Black Chess had access to that light bulb in your head, they’d have known how to stop the plague, because they have no use for a disease that will end the world for good like that.”

The March’s ears tense in the Pillar’s hands, and at the same time I hug the kids, worried they’ll get hit with the bullets. “Have you ever had a light bulb in your head?” the March grunts back.

The Pillar says nothing.

“Then you have no idea what you’re talking about.” The March pulls away from the Pillar’s grip, not like a strong man would do, but like an angry child. “What you’re not paying attention to is what is really going on, Pillar!”

The March spits all over the Pillar’s face.

“Tell us, March.” I squeeze the Pillar’s hand. “Tell us the whole story. Why did you pretend you’re with the Reds? I noticed they nudged you to tell us the things you told us in that room in Brazil.”

“I’d better help my chauffeur with firing at the Reds.” The Pillar disappears into the cockpit, although I know he can hear us from there.

“After I cooked him his plague, Carolus betrayed me,” the March says. “That was two years ago. I didn’t see the point in telling you when you visited me, because the plague wasn’t known to the public then.”

“I understand.”

“Three days ago, he kidnapped me from the Hole and hired the Reds to imprison me in Brazil.”

“So the Pillar was right. Everything you told us down there was influenced by the Reds.”

“They drugged me with a different plant that forced me to say whatever they told me to say, and they were secretly threatening me with a knife, but none of you noticed.”

“And the Executioner part?”

“That was the Pillar’s suggestion because he always feared the Executioner, so we went with the flow, letting you believe whatever you wanted to believe.”

“What was the point of all of this?”

“I don’t know,” the March says. “I don’t think even the Reds know. But it was all Carolus’s plan.”

“Which means he knew we’d end up in Brazil. How about the part about only me being capable of killing him? I’m not sure that’s even true.” I face the March Hare again. “Or?”

“Actually, that’s the one thing that is true,” the March explains. “If you remember, I only told you this part later in the conversation when the effect of their drug was wearing off. It still hasn’t completely.”

“And that’s all you remember?”

“For now. I’m sure I’ll remember more when it wears off completely,” the March says. “But the part of killing him, I heard it when one of the Reds was talking to him on the phone yesterday.”

“But you didn’t hear how I can kill him?”

“Sorry, no. They didn’t discuss it.”

“Let’s say this is true. How is killing Carolus going to stop the plague?”

“There is only one explanation,” the March says. “That I cooked it that way.”

“Is that possible?”

“It is, but I can’t remember if I did. Why would I cook a plague that can only be stopped when Carolus dies?”

Chapter 77

“Look.” The Pillar returns, rubbing off powder from his suit. “This whole story doesn’t make sense. I know this kiddo isn’t lying.” He points at the March Hare. “Because I know he’s one of the Inklings. But whatever Carolus staged for us, there is something that doesn’t make sense.”

“And?” I say.

“Your only hope is that you get back to London and kill Carolus.”

“Even if I do, I don’t know how.”

“I’m sure you do, Alice.”

“I don’t. Stop counting on me that much. There are things that I don’t know.”

“You know more than you think.” The Pillar steps up. “Like the key Carroll gave you and you didn’t tell me about. Try to remember. He must have given you a clue how to kill his split persona.

“He didn’t even mention it.”

“Well, then let’s have a tea party here on the plane with this loon and his light bulb and watch the world end from above.” The Pillar steps away and starts rummaging through some stuff. “I hope we have enough fuel to last after the end of the world.”

“All right,” I snap. “I will try my best to kill Carolus.”

“Good girl.” He pulls out two machine guns.

“But first, I need to send the kids to Fabiola to take care of.”

The Pillar stops, stares back at the kids, that serene smile flashing again. I think those kids are the only ones he smiles at that way. I wish I could know more about his connection to them. “Of course,” he says. “Although the Vatican is already a mess. I’m hoping Fabiola can accommodate you safely in her church.”

“So to the Vatican first?” asks the chauffeur.

I nod at him.

“Oh, God. I miss Fabiola so much.” The March Hare claps his hands.

The Pillar looks back into his guns and straps on a backpack.

“And where are you going?” I grimace.

“Get closer to the Reds’ plane and open the back of the plane,” the Pillar shouts at the chauffeur. He stares at me with admiration as the back door slides open. “It was nice meeting you, Alice.”

The air swirls like angry ghosts into the plane, as the Pillar puts on his goggles.

“I have a war of my own,” he says, turns around, and jumps midair onto the Reds’ plane, which is a little lower than ours.

The door slides back to a close. All of us are totally astonished.

“Where is he going?” I ask the chauffeur.

“To hell, my dear Alice.” The chauffeur nods. “To hell and back.”