Monday, November 15, 2010

Hunting the Duchess

Wakeboarding is much easier when you’re small enough to have nearly no mass to speak of. On the other hand, it made the Ladybugs, who were all eager to grab at any chance to bomb me off my ride, very irritating indeed.
“ARGH! Stupid Ladybugs! I’m killing every last one of you if that’s what it takes!” I screamed and tottered on the rather unstable leaf, as yet another Acorn Bomb nearly struck me off balance. “Tell yourself: I’ve seen worse at Rutledge’s. Prevarication in this instance may help,” “On the contrary, your equivocation really isn’t aiding my nerves.”
Somewhere between shooting down bugs and exchanging barbs with Chessur, I noticed the mock Turtle waving from the nearby bank before loping off again. Giving up the battle to stay standing upon the leaf amid a renewed assault of the bugs, I swam to the shore, which was dotted with a couple of vibrant mushrooms, large roses and…Ant Soldiers. “O…K. Slowly does it…” I cautioned myself, edging behind the mushrooms, which shimmered beautifully under the bright noonday sun.
“No, Alice, not a good idea,” warned Chessur. Then, when I passed by the first Mushroom, everything seemed to happen at once: Two beady eyes opened up in the mushroom cap, and with an unpleasant sucking sound, started to draw me in. The other `shroom, seeing that I was too far away from it to suck, threw back its cap as if to sneeze, and expelled a cloud of dirty green spores in my face, burning my eyes and searing my throat. The Pink Roses, unwilling to miss out on the fun, unfurled to reveal mouths of gleaming sharp teeth, sitting half a dozen thorns my way. At the same time, Chessur unsheathed his claws to deal with the Soldiers before I was faced with a three-pronged assault.
Their acid bursts useless at such short range, the Ants tried to swing the bayonets mounted on their rifles to fend off the dangerous feline, but he was too fast for them. Thrusting his hips backwards to avoid the blades’ deadly arc, his outstretched arms gripped the heads of the Soldiers and twisted sharply, separating head from thorax in one swift movement. Yet though the cruel Soldiers had been taken care of, I was still receiving a heavy beating. Driving my Staff into the ground, I inched my way forward painfully, spores and thorns stinging my back all the while. Finally escaping the Mushroom’s forceful pull, I released volley upon volley of shards at the Mushrooms and Roses till they shrieked, shriveled and died.
“I enjoy the taste of mushrooms, nut not the ones that bite back!” I gasped. “When the remarkable turns bizarre, reason turns rancid. But that, I would say, is the least of your troubles. Behold that large mansion yonder, upon the torch-lined hill.” I…beheld. It was evidently large and evidently beautiful…once, for it had also evidently fallen into a state of severe disrepair. All these, however, weren’t of paramount importance compared to the last observation: The hill itself was overgrown with carnivorous Roses and Mushrooms. “And how do you propose I pick my way past that minefield?” “Hey, you’re the one looking for the Duchess, not me,” replied my companion, shrugging noncommittally. “Psst! Oiver heyuh’!” Startled by the hiss, I turned around to see a scaly, stocky lizard, peeking out of a clump of bushes.
Hmm. Things were getting interesting.
“Don’t I know you?” I said, walking over to him, grasping the knife behind my back in case the turned out to be a nasty trap. “Bill McGill, at yer service. Call me Larry…er not. Got any branday?” “No. I’ve only my wits.” “Then yah have nuffin’. Wits a’ useless ‘ere. Oivrytoing is downsoide up!” “I must see the Duchess.” “She only sees those who don’ wish ta see ‘er.” Frowning in partial confusion, both at the comment and interpreting his mashed-up pronunciation, I remarked, “That’s not right.” “S’ perfect. She’s s’posed ta be hidin’ from the Red Quoin who wants her dead.” “…her head?” “That, too. Roins moi home, and lets her own become this monstrosity. She’s as mad as monkey mash! And just as tas’less. Well, never moind, we’ll all perish soon enuff’. Sure yer got no branday?” “I’m here to retrieve the Turtle’s shell. I won’t leave without it.” “Won’t, eh? What’cha gonna do, stick yer thumb in her oi or something? Oi’m yer devoted servant. Owe her a bad turn meself. Follow moi,” proclaimed Bill, starting to ascend the hill.
I looked at him, astonished. “Not to dampen your enthusiasm or anything, but how are you get us those plants? Unless you have wings concealed in that rough back of yours.” “Hmm? Oh yea. Neyurlay forgot. Not too long ago there was this roibbit who passed by—“ “Dammit! To think I just missed the feller…Sorry, didn’t quite catch you.” “As Oi was sayin’, he came along, took one look at the Duchess’s garden and desoided he doin’ loike the look of oit. So he hands me this, saying it should help clear the weeds,” drawled Bill, clutching a…Jack-in-the-Box.
“This is a Jack-in-a-Box, not a lawnmower. That won’t help us clear out the plants,” I commented dryly. “That’s what Oi said. And he tells me some rubbish about oit being a foinal product of fusin’ a phoenix’s—can you believe that?—essence with a toi. So Oi tells’im ter stuff oit, but he says ‘the girl who’ll be coimin’ by later will know how ter use oit’…Oi believe that means yah,” Bill explained, licking his eyeballs. “Let me see,” I said, grabbing the toy. Not seeing how else to work it, I wound up the toy—and it immediately began to tremble. Violently. “Darn! That thing’s dangerous!” I yelled, throwing the Box towards the hill. It continued to shake for some time, before the Jack popped out of the cover, and with a roar, began spewing a continuous jet of intense flames, deciminating every Rose and Mushroom upon the hill as it turned in a slow circle. Completing one revolution, it then exploded, sending out a thunderous shockwave that scattered the ashes of the charred herbs to the winds, clearing a path for us. Then the flames seemed to collapse into themselves, incongruously coalescing back into the innocuous Jack-in-the-Box.
“That’s one powerful toi.” “I’ll say.” “Jack’s a friend, but his temperament is explosive; perhaps best to let him play by himself,” advised Chessur, smirking at our impressed looks. “And now it’s high time you met our dear Duchess,” croaked Bill, prodding me up the hill. “And I’ll have that,” I said, picking up the Jackbomb as we neared the door of the fine establishment, or what was left of it, for giant cards had been taped in place to cover the gaping holes in the woodwork. As I walked right up to the ruined door, it abruptly split into two, and sucked me in, while the yellow-bellied coward Bill ran away screaming at the top of his lungs for no apparent reason.
Sometimes, life sucks, and then you die. But I’m usually not that lucky.
Propelled along the dark, forbidding corridors of the manor, the unknown force finally let up before a locked door. Ramming my staff into the rotting wood once, twice and thrice, I finally broke down the stubborn barrier and emerged into an enormous living room—well, enormous because I was so tiny. Then the floor rocked, and the…fireplace expanded, revealing an equally large, fiendish-looking woman. The Duchess, presumably. Wearing a blotted, filthy cook’s smock, holding a pepper spray in one hand, she sniffed the air greedily with her misshapen nose, nostrils opening and closing repulsively. And when she…caught my scent, her lips stretched wide, revealing a row of dirty yellow, jagged teeth in a nasty leer.
I wasn’t going to enjoy this.
Later in his room, while his right paw wrapped half his face in a homemade bandage, he was setting up the chess pieces with his equally dexterous left. It is by her Imperial Viciousness’s decree that all citizens are to engage in the sacred game that is Chess at least thrice a day, to hone their strategic skills and ensure the sharpness of mind. Failure to do so will result in especially undesirable circumstances. Such as being sent to the Crystal Mines to slog out the rest of your life excavating crystals from stubborn bedrock, under pitiless wardens who dished out daily whippings and other harsh punishments at whim until oppressed prisoners either took their own life to escape their bleak existence, or had them taken by the Pawns who patrolled the mining camps. These, though, were the lucky ones. More brazen rule-breakers could have their body torn apart by galloping Knights, or turned into a flat mash of flesh and bones by the heavy Rooks who would jump up and down gleefully upon the condemned man’s body.
He shuddered at the new torture methods the Queen thought up. Daily, whenever she was not calling a meeting of the Ruling Houses for her amusement, or engaging the Hatter (who had truly gone deliciously mad, judging from the rumours about the “great and honourable” man he was once) to present to her new inventions, contraptions, or improvements to the Aces, her replacement army for the Heart Decks, massacred in a mini-Holocaust when they refused to pledge allegiance to Her Imperial Viciousness after she herself had blasted the King and Queen of Hearts’ head into oblivion in a bloody coup. He remembered that night well. He remembered that night well. He remembered the fear in the pupils of the Hearts’ eyes when they realized that the increasingly desperate swings and stabs of their electro-halberds had no effect whatsoever on this satanic being who had been spawned into this world with the skills of Chessur, the most deadly assassin-for-hire in Wonderland? Momentarily forgetting the searing ache in his cheek, he reveled in every single killing he made in the happiest night of his life, savouring every slash, delighting in every smashed skull.
Then his wounds throbbed, jerking him back to reality painfully. Fortunately, the soothing herbs that made up the paste in the bandages alleviated the sore somewhat. He dreaded for his face, and life, if the Queen ever found out about his source of healing plants. Fortunately his prowess in battle never led the Queen to be inclined to look too deeply into his swift recoveries after every slap. Shunting these gloomy thoughts from his mind, he turned to the board, and tried to remember Her Imperial Viciousness’s teachings on the hallowed game. “In chess, the pawns go first,” he murmured, moving the relevant piece.

Making a Splash

“Ah! The Diabolical Dice, Throwing them on the ground may open up a portal to the Demonic Dimensions and release the horrors within upon your adversaries…if you’re lucky. One word of caution though—don’t ever throw it when alone. The fiends lack loyalty, and their notion of nourishment is quite disturbing.” “I guess I won’t need it now, obviously.” Dropping the dice into a pocket, I took in the fresh new surroundings. A placid pool bubbled through damp, grey-black rocks in calm streams amid freshly moistened mud. Behind me, an imposing waterfall crashed down many feet into the main pool, lightly dousing me with spray.
“What is this place? The…Pool of Tears?” “Indeed…your memory seems quite well on this account.” “But…it’s grown since the last time I was here. By a lot.” “The water in the Pool comprises of the…tears of Wonderlanders, which have, ever since the tyranny of the Red Queen, been produced in rather copious amounts, as you can quite clearly see. In fact, it is now known as the vale, rather than the Pool, of Tears,” explained Chessur patiently. Turning to look at the waterfall, I suddenly spotted the no longer minuscule Rabbit (to me at least) peeking out from one rocky outcrop before proceeding to leap up the waterfall using the jutting rocks. At the same time, and alert…Red ant, in what seemed like full soldier uniform, with his rifle and golden insignias which glinted in the bright sunlight. Having spotted the Rabbit skulking about, the Ant Soldier heaved one heavy-looking boulder and shoved it off his outpost at the top of the falls. However, the rabbit was just too nimble for surprise attacks to work effectively, and continued hopping his way up. “Quick!” hissed Chessur, already on the move, “You must not let Rabbit evade you!” “Right. Yea,” I mumbled, following in his footsteps.
Leaping up the rocks was definitely harder than the Rabbit made it look. And coupled with having to duck frantically behind or below nearby ledges from the occasional boulder sent rolling our way. With only Chessur’s sharp eyes for any warning, I had came up with some choice swear words to yell in the Soldiers’ faces if I ever saw them. Not that they would understand me, I thought belatedly, but on the bright side, I’ll be able to play netball better in the future, what with all this jumping. “Now, be careful. The Ant Soldiers’ outpost is just past the waterfall,” cautioned Chessur as he…vanished. “Great,” I muttered, trying to see past the rushing water to spot the best place to land. I was going to be sopping, and…salty. Not a good combination.
“Come here where I can beat you up, Ants!” I challenged, whipping out my splinter staff in one hand and Blade in another. Turning about on four legs, two Ants, seeming completely unruffled by the threat posed by either weapon, took aim at me with their rifles and fired. Strafing left, I just managed to avoid one projectile, but felt searing pain as the second bolt grazed my right arm. More concerned on getting these irritations out of the way as soon as possible rather than the wound, which throbbed in pain from the salty spray thrown up by the rushing falls), I thought fast, pulling out two small metal plates from thin air to deflect the next two shots, then flung both Blade and Staff at their heads. The Blade stabbed through the tough exoskeleton into the soft flesh, but the Staff simply knocked the soldier senseless, long enough for me to retrieve the blade and cut off his head. Now that the coast was temporarily clear, I inspected the rock face on which the first two projectiles had hit, and realized with mixed outrage and intrigue that the “bolts” were a mixture of strong acids, already burning my skin from the light graze, and now eating rapidly through the rock. Nothing a bandage wouldn’t solve, though, and I resolved to inspect ant bites more carefully in the future. On a related side note, ants are now my least favourite insect.
“Alice! Over there!” “Huh?” Snapping out of my pain-induced reverie, I turned to see one last ant soldier skittering away, before searching his backpack for something. “Take him down before he sounds the alarm!” hissed Chessur. BREEEE!!! “Well, too late.” I dropped down on one knee and fired three shards in a row, but the distress signal had done its deed. As the Soldier twitched in its dying throes, the air was suddenly thick with loud humming noises. Looking up from the insect corpse, I spied three Ladybugs beating their wings rapidly and heading toward us, clutching a peculiarly-shaped object each. “Is our situation not dismal? Wonderland is so discombobulated that ladybugs gave turned belligerent and enlisted in the Queen’s Army. Punish their conversion.” “For what? I’d saw off their heads before their pincers can catch me. They can’t do anything to me…” I said smugly.
Before I even finished speaking, though, one Lady Bug flew ahead of the rest, directly overhead, and released what seemed like an acorn. “Look out!” Chessur broadsided me to hit the rocky wall, and I watched, as if in slow motion, the acorn land heavily on the ground and…explode, peppering the area with hard shell-bits. Wafting away the burnt smell in the air, I got up, Staff at the ready. “ I get your point,” I growled, gritting my teeth. The Lady Bugs thankfully didn’t prove much of a challenge. One glass shard was quite enough to send them tumbling down lifelessly into the rushing stream below. “And now, onward! Insects or not,” Chessur proclaimed smoothly. “Easy for you to say. I can’t just shake my dress to get rid of excess water.” On top of all that, my shoes were going to be ruined. This is not turning out to be a good day.
“And what’s all this? Did someone die? Or have you lost your family?” as luck would have had it, I’d lost the Rabbit during the tussle with the bugs, but chanced upon, if I remembered right, the greatest contributor to the tears in the Vale: the Mock Turtle. “No, my shell! The Duchess stole it and tried to eat me for lunch. Nobility must be served, I suppose…” he sobbed. “Oh, do stop all that wailing, won’t you?” I admonished. Flicking away tears, he turned to glare at me. “You’re very cold-blooded for a mammal. I was almost soup!” “Most tragic, I’m sure, but I’m a bit pressed for time. Have you seen a rabbit, by any chance?” “Hmm...Twitchy nose, shifty eyes, constantly consults his pocket watch? Most peculiar beast.”
Speaking of peculiar beasts, he himself was a creature with a rather ridiculous appearance. I’d cry all day myself if I caught my reflection in the mirror looking like that. Having a dry, scaly body and four clawed flippers, as was befitting a reptile (though when I saw him his skin was glistening—whether from his substantial tearing or some well-spent time in the water I wasn’t sure) his head was, quite ludicrously, that of a bull. A rather healthy, large bull head with similarly long curved horns to go with it. In fact, the only reason I could call him a “Turtle” with a straight face was the fact that he usually had a thick shell on his back. And today it was missing.
“Well, he’s very dear to me. Do you have any idea how I might find him?” Not really. But the Caterpillar would know, I’m sure. He knows everything there is to know.” Turning up my nose in disgust, I snorted. “And where does that smushy lay-about hang his hookah these days?” “Ever since the troubles began he’s gone into hiding. I might know of his secret hidey-hole, but the Red Queen has eyes and ears everywhere. I really couldn’t risk telling you without…something in return.” “Risk nothing, gain nothing.” “His whereabouts then, for my shell. The Duchess won’t part with it willingly.” “Then I’ll teach her to part with it unwillingly.” “You are most brave. But I must warn you, she treats everything as food!” He glanced up. From an overhead branch, two leaves had detached themselves and were spiraling their way down into the river. Stepping lightly on one leaf, he instructed me, “Hop on and follow me. I’ll show you the way to the Duchess’ house. Ride the currents, but do be careful not to fall in. I’d hate to think of voracious fishes snapping at your limbs.” With that, he rode off along one meandering current, leaving me waiting. “Sigh. Thanks for the patience,” I grumbled at his receding figure.
He paused before the door and paced for a while, before stepping onto the weight marker and tapping in the entry code. Then, after he had lowered his paw into the clear green gel, allowing numerous nano-biometric sensors to identify him, the crimson metal doors slid open smoothly to allow his entry to the palace. Striding proudly upon the checkerboard floor constructed of alternating squares of ruby and obsidian, the dim red light shed by the sparse light-crystals did not slow him—if anything, the near infrared surroundings boosted his vision as he made for the dais at the end of the nearly-empty Royal Chamber. Upon it, a mighty throne reared up high, towering over the other six, where, clad in their finest, the Lords and Ladies of the remaining ruling Suits: Spades, Diamonds and Clubs, were seated. The bubble of intense (but as he knew, mostly useless) discussion had been cut off and all six pairs of eyes now gazed at him, haughtily but curiously as he continued to stride towards the current Queen of Wonderland and Looking Glass Land, who was looking out a rose-tinted window pensively rather than actively taking part in the discussion.
“Your Imperial Viciousness, I have news of urgent nature to inform you of…” he whispered, glancing at the Lords and Ladies,”…alone.” Without turning to face him, or anyone else, she flicked her hand dismissively at the Royals, while side doors emblazoned with their respective suit symbols opened in the granite walls. As one, the Lords and Ladies rose from their thrones and swept into their respective chambers without comment, leaving behind a frigid silence.
Still displeased at being ranked lower than an animal, I see, thought the feline assassin. Inconsequential. Anyway, I am an animal important enough for that especial honour. “Another Earthling has made her way to Wonderland…with that fool Niven’s help of course.” “And this happens to be urgent because…” He hesitated at Her Imperial Viciousness’s icy tone, sensing the famous command at the tip of her tongue. “Your Imperial Viciousness, if the Card Guards’ reports are to be believed, this one could prove to be a real threat to the Queendom. Judging by the sheer number of Card Guards she has slain, she would strike them motionless with fear by her mere presence…if they had feelings in the first place. She has shown extreme cunning, bravery and brutality that could almost mat—“CRACK!! The sharp slap echoed throughout the vacant chamber, and the Red Queen’s talon-like nails left deep grooves in The Cat’s skin where she had slapped.
He tensed, knowing what would follow, yet was unable to stop himself from dropping to the cool floor, both paws clutching his face as he yowled new levels of agony. “I created you to be my personal bodyguard, assassin, spy, and the counter to the ever-present threat of the elusive Chessur, not to prove a demoralising presence to my troops. If you do not have the will, if you do not have the lust for battle, you have nothing. I will not hear such pessimism coming from you again. The Cards may lack the necessary skill not unlike their masters, but they have the numbers, as well as my master tactics to fall back upon.” Brimming with cold fury, she glided back to her blood-red throne. “Now leave. And if you’re interested, I was using Jujub Bird poison today.” Feeling his face swelling like an overripe pumpkin beneath his hard clasp, he managed no more than a nod before slinking out, wanting to face her rage no more.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Walrus and the Carpenter

“Ah! My pride and joy…quite a pity when the Hatter began his rampage. I do miss the Oysters’ laughter…”mumbled the Gnome Elder. “Now, hurry along and get my poppy blooms for me! Since Nature has ordained that certain seeds require assistance to fulfill their destiny, I think you will need this…” he barked, handing me a flask labeled, “Jumbo Grow”. “Now don’t look so surprised. Gardeners store rat poison and fertilizer in sheds. Skools have laboratories for that purpose.” “Oh, fine. I hate doing grunt work,” I complained. “It is, indeed, a small price to pay.”
Later on, I sampled the weirdness of Wonderland once again as right before me, under the effects of “Jumbo Grow”, the greenhouse poppy seed grew into a large pink…lollipop. As there wasn’t anyone to enquire about this oddity, I plucked the lollipop and ran back to the Laboratory. Unfortunately, when the threw open the door, I was greeted by a scene of destruction: apparently, two Club Guards had infiltrated the lab and, throwing about various test tubes and scientific apparatus, were in hot pursuit of the wily Elder around the room. Jumping into the fray, I clothes lined one Four Clubs with my Staff before stabbing him in the head, while Chessur scratched and sliced the other Three Clubs to pieces.
“You’re lucky I was passing by,” “What? You’re lucky I was still where you’d left me! Also, I’ve cooked up the final ingredient: Sugared spice drops. I hope you got that Poppy Seed,” he retorted, holding one hand out while setting up various fragile-looking and fortunately unbroken equipment in a complicated arrangement with the other. “This primitive condenser should help us brew the potion…doesn’t seem like I can build anything more intricate with what those despicable guards have left me with.” Tossing the mushrooms, lollipop and sugared spice drops into a cauldron at one end, he then scattered handfuls of dull-red quartz around it. Watching the mixture bubble as the quartz glowed red hot, it flowed through the condenser’s various tubes and finally collected in a small test tube. “Here’s the potion,” he said, handing me the test tube of purple liquid. “And now you can leave, unless you’d like to meet the Carpenter…?” “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.”
Moments later, after ascending what seemed like an endlessly high Observatory Tower, we stepped off the lift and came to a room with…four empty walls. “Ok and this would mean…” “Well, here we are,” remarked the Gnome Elder, and as I turned back to look and emerald door had appeared out of nowhere right across the room. “That clearly wasn’t there before!” “Of course not. We weren’t really here yet,” deadpanned the Elder as he rapped the door once, twice and thrice. “Who’s there?” an authoritative voice issued from a speaker mounted upon the door. “It’s me, Mr. Architect.” “You will let me confirm that,” “Certainly, sir.” Whirring noiselessly, an eyelike device projected from the door and swept the Elder with luminous green rays. Finally, with a series of clicking and ramming of bolts, the door creaked open to reveal an immaculately-suited man wearing a crisp white lab coat, matching pants and…wielding two tiny yet dangerous-looking firearms. “I’m sorry for the paranoia, but with a tyrant having as much power as the Red Queen it isn’t exactly unfounded. Now,” he said, pointing one gun muzzle between my eyes. “Who is this?”
I gulped, audibly.
“Now, let’s not be hasty, Mr. Architect. This here is the Champion Rabbit said would return Wonderland to its former glory.” Still glaring at me suspiciously, “Mr. Architect” holstered one weapon while keeping the other perfectly trained on me. I was getting cross-eyed from staring at its business end. “But the resemblance to Her Imperial Viciousness is just too—good Heart!” “Yes. That is the point,” intoned the Elder sagely, nodding at the surprised Architect. I was going to complain about them talking about me in front of me as if I didn’t exist, but the gun was being a good distracter. At that moment, “Mr. Architect” quickly recovered from his initial shock and waved us in hastily with the weapon, glancing around the outside nervously before locking the dozen locks that kept his door secure. I stood with the Gnome Elder, looking at the sparse but, like the Skool, beautifully furnished room. Having nothing except for what seemed like a Victorian-esque table, a quaint oil reading lamp, and two large chairs on either side of it, the most striking thing in the room was an enormous cabinet made of frosted glass behind the chair facing us.
“Please sit,” “Mr. Architect” said, motioning me tone of the chairs. “And will you be staying, Elder?” “No, I must return to give encouragement to my kinsmen.” “Very well.” With that, he strode over to the remaining chair and sat down, his electric-blue eyes seeming to peer into the very depths of my soul from across the table. “I suspect the Elder must have told you who I am, but for politeness’ sake I will just introduce myself. “I am the Carpenter, or as people like to call me, Mr. Architect—you may refer to me as that. Together with Mr. Walrus we started the Oyster Skool of Wonderland—I did most of the building while he did most of the teaching. Greatest learning institute around here—of course, until the Hatter went mad.” His thick eyebrows bunched and his crow’s feet crinkled at the mere thought of that. “But this isn’t why you’re here. Long story short, The Red Queen took over not long after you left the last time and Wonderland itself descended into madness. Elder probably hopes I can teach you Imagination to counter her powers. And I am Wonderland’s best Imagination trainer after the Caterpillar, if I do say so myself.” “And can you teach me?” “I’m afraid I can just touch on the basics, with what little time we have. Constructs, or simple inanimate objects will be what you will be learning—nothing too fancy. You can, of course, attempt more complicated tasks, but it will take its toll physically and mentally…which is something not to be scoffed—but enough talk! We must begin before it’s too late.”
I wasn’t sure how long I spent in that room learning the art of “Imagination”, or as I saw it, conjuring. It was one thing to focus hard on an object, but to focus so hard, atom by atom, until it became reality was a whole different ball game. Night and day made no difference in that lamp-lit room, as I continually tried to visualize various objects: a ball, a book, jacks, my knife and so on. Though it seemed that I had plenty of precocious talent in this field, with the Carpenter praising me from time to time as I managed to think the objects to reality (which he assured me he never did except for exceptionally good students) after each exercise the brain drain I felt was scarcely describable, I felt various neurons firing in ways they never had before. “Rest well after each exercise,” the Carpenter always said, “You will need plenty of the energy.”
After what seemed like many torturous weeks, the blessed words fell from his lips: “Our lessons conclude here. You cannot delay your quest any further. Do you have any questions?” “Just the one,” I said feebly, “When I slay the Boojums, they leave behind a sparkling dust…which the Elder used to Imagine a chemical bomb out of mid-air. What is that, exactly?” “Once again, his eyes X-rayed me carefully. “Boojums and Phantasmagoria in general, are the lost, tortured souls of wrongfully dead people, their afterlife minds twisted to crazed vengeance by the tainted presence of the queen. But as they had Imagination in their past lives, they leave that part behind when they are truly slain…I guess, as a friendly teacher-student parting, I should give you something that I hope will aid you on your journey.” Opening the enormous cabinet for the first time I was here, he took out three ornately carved dice from the multitude of items and passed them to me. “Chessur will know what they are for. Now drink your potion, and leave by way of this,” he whispered, handing me a small Looking Glass. “Now go! Our future lies with you, Your Highness.”


“Countless generations of termites would only digest a mere fraction of the volumes here. And they wouldn’t be one wit wiser,”
Well, count me surprised. Twice in one day…though I’m not really sure what day and night around here anyway. A cavernous Reading Room was one thing, but the cost of filling a room the same size as this Library was definitely astronomical. Even more mind-boggling, some of the books were taller than I was. As I prepared to search for the cowardly elder, an Oyster ran past, saw me skulking in the corner, and threw a crumpled piece of parchment at my face before dancing a merry jig, clapping his hands and somersaulting on the spot. Chuckling slightly at his antics, I opened the scrap: ‘Had to rush. Left the Book of Bizarre Things at a high hiding place for your reference. See you in the Gymnasium.’ “‘Seek and ye shall find, they say. But they don’t say what you’ll find,” remarked Chessur, reading from beside my arms. “Then I’d just keep seeking till I find what I’m looking for,” I replied, setting off to scour the voluminous stacks.
It wasn’t until I was fending off Card Guards attacks from both flanks (why were there Guards here?! Are the books that valuable?) that I spotted the enormous, gold-leafed tome resting in an alcove, two storeys up. Swinging the Staff around to knock out the Guards who were rapidly closing in, I then slammed one end into the ground, clearing one imposing shelf in a single leap. “Steps to enlightenment brighten the way; but the steps are steep. Take them one at a time,” advised Chessur from beside the Book. “Eh? Whoa!” Evidently, the Card Guards had recovered from my assault, and seemed to have enough intelligence left in them to decide that the best way to get me down was to push me off the shelf, which might explain why it was toppling all of a sudden. I jumped for the nearest shelf, which was struck off balance by the one I just leapt off, and ad infinitum…
You know, I never liked playing dominoes.
Then I felt two strong paws grip my shoulders and haul me off the collapsing shelves, and I found myself panting between the humongous Book and a very complacent Chessur. Tottering over to look past the alcove ledge, I saw the Card Guards gesturing angrily at us, pointing their weapons uselessly, then beginning to squabble loudly among themselves. “I’d say you’d better get around to reading that Book before they argue up sufficient wits to call in Diamond reinforcements.” “There is no lock but it won’t open. It’s stuck.” “Think of it as a Chinese Box or a stubborn lid—a tap in the right spot might do the trick.” I considered the Book and the quibbling Guards thoughtfully, then kicked it off the ledge, hard, down several floors, a mischievous grin playing across my face. The Book crashed to the ground and grudgingly opened. “You call that a ‘tap’? Fortunate I didn’t suggest force. You might have pulverized it!” snickered Chessur as we descended gingerly down the haphazardly fallen bookshelves. Someone was going to have to pick up many pieces. “Hey, I killed those Guards didn’t !?” “That, I admit, was innovative indeed.” In their heated discussions, the Clubs didn’t exactly rate the large, rectangular shadow above their heads as “highly dangerous”. That their skulls weren’t stronger than the hardback volume certainly made my job easier.
I read the giant print on the open page: “‘Mushrooms, poppies, sugar and spice, all those things are very nice. When combined, the proper mixture makes a getting small elixir.’ Hmm. I don’t really like sweets.” “It’s not really a matter of liking something that’s good for you—or not. But I’m quite sure getting small was your main objective.” “Indeed. To the Gymnasium I go then,” I answered, finding my way to the Elder in the various cavernous rooms.
I’ll say one thing: we’re all mad here, but fortunately they get their signs right. Though they might consider looking into suitable repair works. Making my way across the Gymnasium to the Elder, who for some mysterious reason was perching high up on the rafters, was a damn sight harder than it should have been. As I traversed the rotting wooden beams, I couldn’t help but glance nervously at the equally bottomless pit beneath my feet, filled with endlessly high piles of books.
“I see you got my message. The Gymnasium should be safe. Cards Guards never exercise—can’t afford to lose the weight,” rumbled the Gnome Elder as he watched me approach. “I never cared much for sports at school…although during my ten years at the asylum it was usually either that or beating myself up. Both physically strenuous activities as I’m sure you’ll agree. But I don’t have to wear a pinny do I?” “No, it really wouldn’t suit you. In any case, I just wanted to inform you that I’ve found one of the ingredients for the shrinking potion: Mushrooms, freshly picked from the third grade greenhouse. Lovely texture…what’s that?” “It’ s a sucky prediction, meister!” I spat at him before springing towards what was left of the gym floor to tackle the three Boojums who had somehow floated out of the biblically inclined abyss.
As I prepared to fire shards at one Boojum, the Gnome Elder, surprisingly given his previous attitude, followed me down and, scrimmaging in his pocket, pulled out a satchel of shining dust not too different from the one I had collected, which he promptly flung into the air. He screwed up his eyes in concentration and the glittering dust reshaped into a test tube full of a glowing green fluid before my astonished stare. “Duck!” he yelled, hurling the tube towards the Boojums. The liquid in it turning red as it flew, the test tube abruptly exploded in a mini supernova of flames, catching all three spirits in its fury. Literally feeling the heat from the after effects of the chemical bomb, I questioned the Gnome Elder, who was gathering the dust from the expired Boojums: “How in wonderland did you do that?” “With quite some Imagination, but to explain more I’ll have to take you to the carpenter before you leave for the Vale of Tears.” “Carpenter? Vale of Tears?” “Oh, no time for that now! I have to mix up your potion in the Laboratory, and you need to get me a poppy seed.” “The Skool has a laboratory?” “Of course! This Skool serves more than nasty lunches. The laboratories are especially fascinating…if you can stand the vile stench. Hurry along, now,” muttered the Elder, trotting out of the Gym with me close behind.

Skool Daze

If I had to envision my ideal school, I’d say my imagination wouldn’t have been able to conjure an institute of such proportions. Well, now it does.
I landed with a thud upon the floor, covered in an opulent, thick carpet that. As I stood up shakily, it seemed that the carpet filled every corner of the enormous Common Room, all of what seemed to be the Room’s hundred acres. Looking around and upwards, crimson spotted pillars extended skywards into a ridiculously high marble ceiling that appeared to be…embroidered with elaborate patterns of silver reminiscent of twisting, spiky vines. Walking over to one of the imposing pillars, I noticed that the crimson patterns seemed disruptive and odd. Much too freshly painted. Peering closely, I made out deep gouges in the expensive metal. I reached out and touched the paint, which came off stickily in my fingers.
“Heeheeheehee erhurhurhurhurhur!” Somewhere along the extensive wall, double rosewood doors opened out into the room and a gaggle of…really odd…children scampered out, some on two legs and others on all fours. All equally demented. Staring curiously, I realized that the children had somehow been transmogrified into grotesque cyborg-like creatures. Some had cogs embedded in elbows, other had double-ended screws through the skull, while some already had entire limbs replaced by machines, pistons and steel arms pumping in eerie mechanical motion apart from the twitchy movements of the organic ones.
“Psst! In here!” Wrenching my gaze from the mutilated kids, I saw the Gnome Elder beckoning from behind the doors. Turning back to look at the scuttling crowd one more time, I backed into the comparatively small Auditorium and clicked the doors locked. “What the hell happened here?” I questioned the Gnome Elder. “Arr… this recording will explain things better than I.” Fiddling with a crystalline projector, he twisted a dial sharply. The millions of tiny crystals giving light to the room abruptly flashed once, and I found myself in the Reading Room once again. “Err…” I glanced around, feeling slightly dumbfounded. Suddenly, the main door burst open, and an army of Skool Children marched in, each pointing some slicing or firing weapon straight at us.
“Ahem. Holo-recording—completely realistic to the sight, but they’re not gonna hurt you,” the Gnome Elder rumbled, joining me by my side before I began throwing knives in a panic. Trying not to appear foolish, I hissed, “I knew that!” Turning my back on him, I watched as a Ten of Diamonds marched in and barked some commands, sending the Children charging up the stairs and swinging up floors using grapple hooks, then emerging mere minutes later harrying groups of sobbing, pleading children. Walking forward to one of the mute Children Soldiers (yes, I don’t really have a better name for them), I realized that though they seemed identical to the children they were herding, two glassy, blank crystals stared out of where eyeballs should have been. Also, some seemed to have had minor, refined alterations, unlike the deranged kids I had encountered: Swiss army knives for fingers, or grapple hook launchers on the shoulders.
“Halt! I will not let you continue to abuse my poor Oysters! Stop in the name of the Princess of Wonderland!” All heads turned to look at a burly sword-wielding bespectacled man sprinting towards the exiting Children Troops. “It is amusing, Mr. Walrus, that so many are willing to believe that myth. Now stop.” The methodical, cold whisper that cut across the babble of trapped "Oysters" chilled my blood and magically stopped the desperate man in his tracks. Fearing what I would see, I twisted my neck and body, slowly, hesitantly, as if I had forgotten the proper muscle movements.
Finally I managed to summon the courage to look, and in strode Tarrant Hightopp in his cruel triumph. Pushing up his signature top hat, the Hatter simply stared past his troops into the horrified teacher’s eyes with his own mismatched, emerald green ones. Then he began to giggle. And the teacher began giggling right along with him. As they continued chortling, the teacher started to drool from the mouth, and his eyeballs seemed to bulge out. Even after Tarrant stopped and smiled serenely, the teacher’s jowls turned red from the effort, and he collapsed, rolling about on the ground, cackling madly, with all the children pausing in their futile struggles to watch this astonishing display. He had been driven mad by a single stare.
Plucking non-existent lint from his coat shoulder, Hightopp sighed as if in pity, then murmured to the Ten Diamond, “Take them away and leave behind the failures. Also…” as he turned to leave, he glanced at the helpless teacher and snickered. “Bring along the fat one too. A new pet would be nice. As I always say, one mad man deserves another.” As suddenly as it began, the recording dimmed and bright light illuminated the room once again. I couldn’t believe my eyes…or my ears, for that matter. How deep a pit had Wonderland fallen, to turn the one who was once my closest friend when I wandered, young and confused and lost, in this dizzying world, and who provided comforting advice and harmless fun through his lively tea parties, into this demented, ruthless version? “This was…one of the better days. There was once where a group of brave Oysters rebelled, when there were much fewer Glass Eyes. The Hatter appeared upon the scene immediately, pulled a rapier out of his hat, and…” the Gnome Elder choked and blinked rapidly, trying to stave off tears. “Their innocent blood will stain the Skool forever. And, of course, you saw what he did to that poor trader. Oh yes, the Mad Hatter has gone mad indeed…” “How can I bring the Tarrant I knew back?” “eh, nothing for the moment. But we need to concentrate on you getting small.”
Suddenly the rosewood doors shuddered as a loud crack sounded from right behind it. “Darn, this can’t be good. Here, take this,” he muttered, passing a long glass rod standing nearby to me. “Splinter Staff. Click this and it will fire a glass shard at your enemies…or you could just swing it about to beat them up. Meet me at the library.” “Eh? Hey, wait up!” The doors crashed open as the Elder vanished, and two Four Diamonds charged in. Firing the remaining cards at one of them, I tossed the now-empty Dealer to a side and launched two shards into the other’s head and chest. Hearing a clicking sound from its side, I noticed a number marked “98”
What? 100 uses only?

It's a deal

“So, we bustin’ the front or sneakin’ in by the side?” “You ask that like I’m stupid,” I sighed exasperatedly, taking one look at the legions of AD-52 armed Diamonds striding up and down before the front portcullis and slipping instead through a dark nook in the wall.
“Intruder! Club Guards, unshuffle and move out!”
Right. That could prove problematic. “Err, Chessur? Any suggestions?” I called out semi-nervously as Club Guards seemed to march out in droves from the guardhouse. “I thought I’d never hear you ask.” Grinning widely, he pulled out a syringe full of bubbling crimson liquid, stabbed it into my forearm and emptied the load into my veins in one fluid stroke. Immediately, searing pain razed through every nerve in my body, bringing me to my knees. “What…have you done?!” “Time to raise some havoc! The dogs of war are loose!” proclaimed Chessur, cackling in glee as he leapt forth to face the first line of Clubs.
“Arrgh!” my moan of pain slowly morphed into a growl of rage as the transformation took hold. From my skull and shoulder blades, curved, jet-black horns punched through skin, extending a meter past my head and midriff. Beginning from the new-grown horns, my skin inflamed a deep, angry red. Tendons and muscles stood out, taut, on my arms and legs. Finger bones elongated and burst out of my fingertips, ending in malicious claws. In my sight, the warm bodies of the Club Guards glowed red, and an unquenchable bloodlust bubbled wildly to the surface of my thoughts.
Bounding forward, I swung my knife in a wide arc as I descended, felling half a dozen Clubs before they could move their axes skyward. Another squad stepped forward to take their comrades’ place, and in a quick succession of alternate blade strokes I slew the five enraged Threes. On my left flank, Chessur batted away helpless Twos ad Fours, then pinned an armoured Six by his neck to a pillar while crushing the skull of a Seven underfoot.
Man, those were some, pardon the pun, bloody good fighting skills.
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, girl, but you’re slicing thin air,” smirked Chessur. My blood lust took a back seat for a slight moment as I looked around the Fortress courtyard. Twenty-odd Club Guards lay in various positions of death, and the austere brick floor was now covered in a fresh, fine red mist. Striding over assorted body parts, I didn’t even feel out of breath. One Seven twitched towards his weapon, and I flung my knife, impaling him at its quivering tip. My skin just had to choose this fine moment to lose its healthy colour.
“Don’t look at me, I ain’t got any more of that stuff,” hissed Chessur from across the room. Just then,, a Four of Diamonds, obviously alerted by the dying screams of the pathetic Clubs, stepped through a hidden door behind Chessur. Taking one look at the carnage,, shock flitted across his face, and he hefted his AD-52, ready to fire at my feline ally’s back, who simply turned around and ripped his throat out. While I fully appreciated the meaning of “senses of a cat”, Chessur picked up the machine-dealer and shoved it in my direction. “I’d suppose this might come in handy against the Diamond, though you’ll need to find cartridges yourself. Good luck getting small…” As his outline dissolved, a door rumbled out of view, revealing a spiraling staircase leading up the barbican. As if to make my decision easier, a trio of Diamond Guards emerged and began firing across the courtyard with me in their sights as I sprinted for the stairs, up the tower and onto the battlements.
However, even as I fired a deck into two Diamonds and sawed off the head of the last, an unearthly shrieking reverberated off the stone, seeming to shake the Fortress itself. Two spectre-like creatures with literally jaw-dropping maws floated up on either side of me. “That savage shriek is just the tip of the iceberg that is the Boojums’ repulsive personality. They’ll eat anything. Dispose of them or become a meal. ” “You know, I really am more interested in their vulnerability.” I threw my knife at one, but it simply darted off to avoid the blade, leaving an opening for the other Boojum to howl her head off at my back, making me tumble head over heels along the long battlements. And though I was twisting and turning to nail them down, whether with razor cards or knife, the annoying ghostly screamers were simply flitting about too fast for the eye to follow. Soon I was feeling pummeled and pissed by their high-pitched keening.
Chessur scowling, by the way, is an interesting sight. “Hit them while they prepare to scream, fool!” His bony tail twitching erratically, claws flashed out at one Boojum that had paused before me, and with a flurry of swipes, it screamed in agony, misty fingers attempting to staunch the rush of vaporous essence out of various gashes , then abruptly burst into flames, reducing it to a pile of sparkling dust glinting against the dull brickwork. Following his lead, I rolled to avoid the bone-rattling howl of the second while reloading my dealer, then pumped two dozen cards straight into its demented face, noting grimly its pyrolytic demise. Maybe that wasn’t so hard after all.
“Collect that dust. Tell you more about it later,” said Chessur while looking at something past the battlement walls. “All well and good, but this won’t get me inside Skool.” “Indeed. Entering Skool requires a real leap of logic,” he stated with a glint in his eyes, pointing in the distance. Following his gaze, I realized that the so-called “Skool” was a Victorian style mansion-like building…teetering back and forth upon a seemingly wooden pole. The twenty-metre drop from the battlements wasn’t helping. Trying to gauge my jump, I called out to thin air, “I can hear your sarcastic little laugh, Chessur!”
Well. Here goes nothing then.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lots of Water

After a week of highness, I think I should finally pick off where Who wants to be a Dollaraire started. Except that I’m remembering so little :O.
You know, I have this niggling suspicion that we did a 50-50 for the question about IQ too. I’ll leave you to guess which two he cancelled out :D
Anyway. Hurm. 50,000 words in a month. CAN I DO IT?
This is going to be tough. Let’s see now…
DH: OK, let’s have the subject I’m proficient in: Art. Now, who created the sculture, Self, out of his own blood? Is it A, van Gogh, B, Marc Quinn, C, Picasso, or D, ME. Here’s a hint: Obviously I’m the only guy who has the skill to create such a masterpiece among all these people.
Simin: :| I think it’s…B
DH: Well, as Art is my area of proficiency, I can confidently tell you that the answer is…I don’t know. *asks around* OK, the answer is B. Which is obviously false, but we’ll go along with it for now. You have won…TEN cents!
Simin: Yay.
DH: OK, now you have to option to either…leave with the twenty cents you already have (you can buy a nice roll of tissue paper) or, you can continue playing, for ANOTHER twenty cents.
Simin: I’ll continue playing :D
DH: O…K! Let’s now ask a random audience member for a topic! Peng Seng, will you give us a topic?
APS: Don’t want.
DH: Right! He has kindly given us the topic of “don’t want!” So, the question is: What is the meaning of don’t want? Is it A, saying you don’t want but actually wanting or B, you really want it, C, you don’t want it, or D, Charlie is a flying unicorn :D
Simin: O.o C.
DH: Hey! Are you sure? Charlie is OBVIOUSLY a flying unicorn!
Simin: Er…but that obviously isn’t what don’t want means…
DH: Hmmm, I’m not sure about that so we’ll ask the English expert, Cyrus. What is the correct answer?
Cyrus: Well, Simin’s answer is…correct!
DH: Oh! Ok, you have won another twenty cents!
*Ms. Fong starts to leave*
DH: OK, the organiser’s started to leave, so we can add all the obscenities and less-than-desirable references back to the show!
*Ms. Fong turns back*
Class: LMAO
DH: On second thoughts, I changed my mind, because there were NEVER any dirty references in the game show in the first place! :D
Ooh smart u-turn.
*Inserts a random blank space here indicating the state of my memory, a space where Simin won another 20 cents*
DH: Right. Last question, because we’re going broke, will be chosen from a choice of topics. You have the choice of Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy, and Philosophy. Which will it be? Obviously Philosophy. SO the question is: Confucius say, when you pour water into water, what do you get? A: Twice the amount of water, B: Even more water, C: Same amount of water, D: No more water
Simin: Even more Water :D
DH: Well, there is a hole in the bottom of the container, so when you pour, there is No More Water. SO you have lost all the One dollar and twenty cents you have won. :D