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Apr 19, 2019 11:20 AM
Audrey in Wonderland
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"Well, I'm afraid I don't know all the details, and I might even be entirely wrong about which missing Wonderlander you are," he cautions. "Still, there's no harm in telling you the story as I know it.

"Once upon a time, Wonderland was ruled by a brother and a sister, the Red King and the Red Queen. Their names were Lionel and Sophia, and they ruled together as equals for many years." There's a hint of some emotion in his eyes when he names Lionel, although he mostly manages to keep it out of his voice.

"Then, Queen Marcella - although she wasn't queen then, of course - launched a surprise coup. Somehow, she acquired the ability to steal people's hearts, and it's thought that she used this to get an opportunity to poison the king and queen's food."

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"... but one of their loyal courtiers managed to send the baby princess through a mirror, far away to another land where she would be safer?"

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"Close!" the Hatter concedes, grinning.

"You see, the poison wasn't the type that kills you. Well, I say poison - actually, it was peach juice." 

He explains, "Peaches make you younger, in Wonderland. So when the King and Queen ate food with peach juice in, they were turned into little children. Queen Sophia became a toddler, perhaps two or three, and King Lionel was a five-year-old."

Hatter smiles briefly at the memory of two cute toddlers with too-big crowns falling down over their heads, then the expression flickers and dies.

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"Marcella got them alone, ripped out Lionel's heart - " his voice does crack, this time " - and was about to do the same to Sophia, when she was interrupted.

He pauses to wipe his eyes with the edge of one frilly sleeve.

"The Red Bishop, the monarchs' greatest adviser, found Marcella and managed to distract her long enough for Sophia to be rescued, and spirited away through a mirror - far away, to another land where she would be safer," he echoes.

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Audrey frowns. 

"... That's odd, usually it's a princess. So I might be... the Red Queen?" 

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"Usually?" the Hatter exclaims, spluttering.

"This has happened before?"

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"Yes and no. In the Earth I came from, there are many stories of fantastic places, fairy tales the humans call them. In a world with magic that I arrived at through a mirror, the stories would expect me to be a princess - but if I'm a queen instead?" 

She frowns more deeply. "That says this doesn't quite fit the form. Something is... wrong or different, which usually means the tale is twistier, more complex. And queens have more responsibilities than princesses." 

She runs her hands through her hair. "... is there a prophecy? I hope it's a nice prophecy."

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"There's...sort of a prophecy?" he hedges.

"I mentioned the Red Bishop... well, the price he paid for Sophia's safety was that Marcella managed to remove his own heart. He'd always had the power to see into the future and the past, but now he can't distinguish the present from all the other times in his head. So he'll sometimes speak to people thinking they're Lionel or Sophia, or their father the first Red King," Hatter explains sadly.

"Some of the time, he's looking into the future, and we can't tell when, but we think someday Lionel and Sophia might be restored to the throne."

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"Well. Assuming I'm the missing Red Queen, then that implies..." 

She taps her fingers against her chin. 

"One, hearts can be returned to their rightful owners. Two, we're going to need to find Lionel's and return it to him. Three, there is some way to depose Marcella. If this was a simpler tale, I'd expect it to be something about the hearts she's stolen that'll be her downfall... but it's probably best not to assume."

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"An admirable sentiment," croaks a voice from the doorway. 

A large black raven hops through the door and flaps her way up to perch on the back of a chair.

"I am Everless," she introduces herself. "And you?"

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"I'm an Audrey! Audrey Ingram. It's nice to meet you, Everless. I've always liked ravens." She curtsies.

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Everless responds with a little bob up and down which might be interpreted as a bow.

"It is nice to meet you as well, Audrey. Hatter says you came through a mirror; is that true?"

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"Yes, that's true. We've been going over the implications at some length."

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"She had the best answer to the writing-desk question," Hatter says, bouncing in his seat.

"Go on, Audrey, say it again?" 

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"Should I include the bit about why the traditional three answers are wrong?"

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Everless looks intrigued.

"Certainly." 

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Audrey smiles. "Let me see if I can get this right again from memory... There are three traditional answers, all of which are wrong. In ascending order, we have: 'It isn't', which is technically correct but betrays a serious lack of creativity; 'Because it's nevar put with the back end in front', which is wrong of writing desks, horrible to the language, and rude to ravens; and last and best of the wrong answers, 'Poe wrote on both', which is an acceptable pun but falls completely flat if your adience hasn't heard of Poe." 

She nods to Everless. "As for my real answer... It's that if you need to share a secret, you can tell it to a raven or a writing-desk, and it will go to those who should know."

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Everless laughs delightedly.

"I agree," she says to Hatter when she is calm enough to speak. "That one wins."

She shakes herself, and is back to business. "Now, did I hear something about deposing Marcella?"

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"Well, if it turns out that I'm the Red Queen then I expect it'll rather be me or her. And I would rather it be me, not least because it seems your Queen of Hearts is a rather vicious, scheming sort." 

She blinks. "Queen of Hearts. Red queen and king and bishop. Was there ever a White Queen, or a Queen of Spades, Diamonds or Clubs? I'm noticing a theme here. Significant knights, rooks, pawns, jacks? Maybe even pages?"

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"Well, aren't you a smart one," Everless croaks.

"The Red King - Lionel and Sophia's father, that is - conquered Wonderland, which was previously divided between himself and the White King and Queen. The White monarchy died with them, unfortunately, or that would be a potential source of challenge to Marcella," she muses.

"There is not a Queen of Spades or Clubs, but the leaders of the Resistance are known as the King and Queen of Diamonds. Marcella has a King, Rodion, and a son called Jack." 

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"Mmm. It does indeed bode poorly that Red conquered White, but then again White would have made the first move... and it's red and white, not black and white. So not all is lost, not yet... no Pages, hmm? Any cups, wands, staves, swords, coins, or pentacles?"

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"Cups...do exist in Wonderland, yes, but I suspect not in the sense that you mean. Swords and coins likewise. I believe there were pages at the Red Court, and Marcella still keeps a few, but they are of no importance politically or magically," Everless evaluates.

"Are you skilled in the interpretation of portents, then? I should show you my notes on the Seer's ramblings, and see if you can make anything of those."

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"Actually," Hatter cuts in, "I was hoping to ask you about that."

He explains his theory that Audrey is Sophia, and fills Everless in on what he has discovered of Audrey's past.

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She nods.

"It is possible, yes. However, I require more information before I will accept the hypothesis. She is the right age, and a mirror-walker, but those could be coincidences."

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"To me, this world is..." 

She frowns a little. "Rightly-turning? Things have reasons for existing and fall into patterns I can extrapolate from. It's a giant game between White and Red that White lost, but then Marcella came and quite literally changed the game. We're playing poker now, not chess. And that suggests to me that trying to take the name of the Red Queen would be... double-edged, at best. Marcella won by changing the rules. I'd like to change the rules out from under her."

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