This is a Weirdverse story.
‘It really is time we paid another visit to Larford.’
The Mad Hatter looked up at the cloudless blue sky of his Wonderland, leaning back on his chair, letting the last few drops of his tea fall into his face. As he stood up, he narrowed his gigantic eyes, his only facial feature, looking over his cohorts who usually joined him in his afternoon tea parties. The March Hare, an anthropomorphic furless hare whose face was a giant mouth and whose flesh was constantly eaten by worms. The Duchess, a corpse-like woman with a smile that stretched her face.
‘It is such a fascinating place to visit,’ said the Hatter, placing his tea-cup back on the table, ‘it should be as surreal and wondrous as our own little world, and yet it is far too ordinary. A kangaroo taught himself to talk and read and code; that should be more than a novelty.’
The Hare shrunk in his seat. ‘We’re not going after him again, are we?’
‘The only reason we have not focussed on him more often,’ said the Hatter, arching an invisible eyebrow at the Hare, ‘is because I thought those three friends of the shark would irritate him so much, he would be begging to join us without us having to lift a finger.’ Mentioning the Lemon Possum, the Ringmonster and Emily made the Hatter lean back on his chair again, rubbing what could be called a chin. Even he didn’t know where the Ringmonster and the Lemon Possum came from, but he knew that Emily was a human who received the power of Queen Galb. ‘Is it not a shame about the new Queen of Bilgarar? Galb was an admirable sort, but now she’s gone and replaced by a child.’
The Hatter remembered when he found out that someone had claimed the power of Galb and he made his way to Bilgarar immediately, strolling into the inky castle to talk to the new Queen. The first time he had visited this location, he saw Galb on her throne of bones sitting proudly but this new Queen, Emily, slouched, resting her chin on her knuckles while occasionally glancing at a comic book. When the Hatter entered, she didn’t even seem to notice.
Gelb’s advisor, Yorb, was still around, so he introduced the Hatter. ‘He has been a great aid to Gelb in the past.’
‘Has he now?’ Emily said, lifting herself off her throne, ‘Looks a bit of a pretentious…oh wait, I think I’ve heard about you.’
‘Ah,’ said the Hatter, ‘my reputation precedes me.’
‘These demons were talking about you,’ said Emily, smiling, ‘these demons that were trying to spoil my fun. Maybe I can trust you if they don’t.’
‘That is a fine mindset to have,’ said the Hatter, clasping his hands, ‘demons have been such a nuisance to me over the decades, but I do suppose they did help make me what I am. We are alike, you know…’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘You’re going to make one of those big cliché villain speeches, aren’t you?’ Emily replied, gesturing towards the comic she had discarded. ‘I didn’t think people like that actually existed.’
‘What I meant to say,’ continued the Hatter, straightening his cravat, ‘is that we have undergone similar transformations. We use not just one type of magic but we mix different magics from different worlds. Of course, I spent years of study to obtain the magics I have while it seems you just had your magic fall into your lap.’ After shaking his head, he continued, ‘Nonetheless, I do believe we can work well together.’
‘Are you sure you’re not a villain?’ Emily asked with a grimace that revealed all her grey fangs, ‘I mean, I’m one myself, I guess…’
‘I am not a ridiculous comic book antagonist!’ bellowed the Hatter, raising an arm in the air, ‘I am trying to help people, trying to help them find paradise…’
‘You seem like a villain to me,’ sighed Emily, ‘Look, just admit you are, you’ll sleep easier at night. A few maniacal laughs will make you feel better, I mean, there was a guy at my uni who liked to cackle evilly and the worst thing he ever did was put some whoopee cushions on student’s chairs…’
The present Mad Hatter placed his hand over his eyeballs, recalling when he next heard about Emily; apparently the shark, that Dark Side, had visited her in her dreams to offer her an alliance, and she took it.
‘That little brat,’ snarled the Mad Hatter, ‘doesn’t she know…’
‘Calm down.’ The March Hare leapt from his seat and ran towards the Hatter. ‘I’ll pour you another cup of tea.’
‘Thank you,’ replied the Hatter before taking a deep breath, ‘now, I was saying about Larford…’
‘Yes, you were talking about the kangaroo,’ said the Duchess, ‘I think he’d be happier as a pig.’
‘No, Duchess,’ said the Hatter, waving his hand, ‘he can be useful to us the way he is. What I am proposing,’ continued the Hatter, standing up straight, ‘is to bring out the Grinners and launch an all-out attack. Then people will see the power I have and the power I can offer them. If they refuse me, they die.’
‘Of course, that demon will see it and maybe she and her father will learn not to underestimate me. Would it not be enjoyable to see the look on her face as the Grinners devour that doe friend of hers?’
‘But didn’t you want…’
‘I know what I wanted,’ snapped the Mad Hatter, ‘and Gina, as they say, couldn’t cut the mustard. Is it not just typical? You give someone one task…’ The Hatter clasped his hands and his eyes widened in anticipation. ‘Anyway, let’s gather the Grinners!’
The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Duchess all made their way towards one of the many mansions in Wonderland, the living place of the Grinners. All of them had taken up the Hatter’s offers and all of them had paid the price for the Hatter’s paradise. What were once human beings now looked like fat worms with appendages, claws and fangs, each of them bearing a wide grin.
When the Hatter entered the house, every single Grinner burst out of their rooms, darted down the stairs, run towards the main hall, looking at their master the way a dog would look at its master while the latter held a slab of meat.
The Mad Hatter didn’t have to say anything. All he had to do was twirl his finger, reveal a vision of Larford, and the Grinners’ already-massive grins grew wider. The Hatter could tell as they stared at the people walking down the street that the Grinners were ready to tear those people apart.
With another twirl of his finger, the Hatter and his army appeared on the streets of Larford, with all the passers-by freezing in place at the arrival.
‘People of Larford,’ cried the Hatter, raising his arms, ‘you have been granted the privilege of witnessing the power of my army, and I am always welcoming new recruits.’ His voice echoed throughout the town, with every Larford citizen hearing what he had to say. ‘You might, however, prefer to come with me to my Wonderland and live in a paradise of my creation, where my companions and I will tend to your every need. If you refuse me and my offer, you will…’
One of the Grinners fell to the ground.
‘What?’ cried the Hatter as he saw a passer-by, who seconds ago was frozen in fear, now wielding what looked like a laser gun that would have looked like something from a cartoon were it not completely colourless.
‘Hey!’ came a familiar voice, ‘It’s time to play “Get the Grinners!”’ From the sky there descended a young woman wearing black, whose skin had no colour aside from the glowing blue tattoos on her arms and who had no hair, ears or nose yet had bulging grey eyes and a mouth full of grey fangs.
‘So,’ said Emily, turning to the Mad Hatter, ‘we meet again.’
‘You irritating little…Grinners! Attack!’ More laser guns appeared in the bystander’s hands, and as soon as the Grinners leapt to attack, a laser blast would knock them over backwards. Laughter filled the streets as the people used their weapons.
‘Glad to see everyone’s having fun,’ chortled Emily, ‘Now, perhaps you might consider enlisting in the Bilgararian army…’
The Mad Hatter raised a hand and made his Grinners return to Wonderland. As Emily descended onto the road, the Hatter approached her. ‘You have quite some nerve interrupting my recruitment drive like this…’
‘Recruitment drive? You threatened to kill people if they didn’t join you. I wasn’t going to do that and I admit I’m a v…’ Emily looked at the people on the pavement watching their conversation before teleporting the Hatter and herself to a certain castle with inky walls and a cold air haunting the halls. ‘There. Now maybe we can talk in peace.’
‘How dare you interfere!’ snarled the Mad Hatter.
‘There you go.’
‘You are a killjoy,’ sighed Emily, folding her arms, ‘I mean, Lemon Possum and Ringmonster actually have some fun with their work. For a guy who cosplays as an Alice in Wonderland character, you sure do take yourself way too seriously.’
‘I utilise imagery of a beloved whimsical classic to make my world and myself more inviting,’ the Mad Hatter said, gesturing at his face, ‘You had to pay this price too.’
Emily looked at one of her hands, touching one of her glowing blue tattoos before turning back to the Hatter. ‘Patty told me you do what you do just for your own sake.’
‘As in the demon in the supermarket?’ The Hatter asked, widening one eye. Emily nodded and the Hatter continued, ‘Patricia is not to be trusted. She’s a demon, and not even a good one at that.’
‘She was talking about how if you’re going to do evil, you might as well do some good with it, and that’s what I felt I was doing with what I was doing.’
‘You actually listened to her?’
‘I was just trying to get her off my back. I’m sure you know what it’s like to have people annoy you.’
‘Indeed I do.’
‘Ah, there you go,’ replied Emily, grinning widely, pointing at the Mad Hatter, ‘I did a “we’re not so alike” thing too. I read comic books too, you know.’
‘I do not waste my time with those infantile…’ The Hatter buried his head in his hand. ‘I do know what it’s like to have people annoy me, Emily, and you and your little friends are those annoying people.’
‘You should learn not to make personal remarks,’ laughed Emily, ‘it’s very rude.’
‘You. You and the ringmaster and the possum and the shark…’
The Hatter heard laughter in his head.
‘Oh, I see you decided to join us,’ said the Mad Hatter, closing his eyes. There before him was Dark Side, floating in a black void illuminated by his burning yellow eyes. ‘Had to come into my mind for a visit, eh? You’re an imaginary creature, you have no power in Bilgarar! Yet Emily is doing your bidding…’
She’s not my servant, said Dark Side, she is a Queen after all. She’s only helping me because she wants to, which is more than can be said for your helpers…
‘They joined me willingly! I’m…’
Then why do you have to rely on fear? Dark Side cackled.
‘What do you care anyway?’
Oh, I’m very interested in your little experiment. Your Grinners have such bloodlust and it’s so succulent. In fact, you helped feed me today by bringing them to Larford. You’re right, it is such a fascinating place.
You want to kill me now, don’t you? That’ll make me stronger. In fact, let’s try to make you want to kill me more.
The Mad Hatter was brought back to reality by a cheesecake pressed against his face. When he wiped away the cream from his eyes, he saw Emily, along with the Lemon Possum, both laughing.
At that, he returned to Wonderland.
Before he fully disappeared, Emily cried, ‘That was fun! Let’s talk again sometime!’
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