I stood up and turned around just as slowly, feeling like a caught criminal. Hell, for all I knew, that’s exactly what was happening.
I was expecting a police officer with handcuffs at the ready, about to question me about the body right in front of me hidden between all the flowers.
What I saw instead was nothing like it.
In front of me stood a girl with bobbed white hair and round glasses, dressed quite elegantly—like a Victorian detective from a movie—in all black with some golden accents. She was wearing a matching black hat, but more importantly, from under the hat, and longer than her hair, a pair of white rabbit ears cascaded downwards past her shoulders.
I spoke before I knew it. Part of me wanted to call her out on her cosplay, but another part of me knew better than to question the one human (?) I’ve met in this strange place since I woke up.
She brought a hand to her chest and let out a small gasp the moment she glanced at my face. She looked surprised and a little scared.
She tilted her head incredulously, trying to make sense of what was in front of her.
“...Alice…? Is that…you?”
My first thought was that this girl knew my sister, of course, so she was having a hard time coping with our resemblance. The thing is, I don’t recall my sister having a friend that looked like her at all.
I shook my head.
“No. I’m Allen. Allen Carroll.”
“Carroll…” the girl repeated in a quiet voice. “That’s Alice’s last name…Are you—?”
“I’m her twin,” I interrupted her. “How do you know my sister? Where are we?”
She brought a hand to her mouth, and I could see she was trembling a little when she spoke in that soft voice of hers.
“Her twin? But…How did you even get here? Only Alice can walk in here through the Looking Glass…”
She seemed just as lost as me, though for very different reasons.
And then it hit me.
This girl definitely knows my sister, or at least what she looks like. If her eyes even so much as glance down to our feet she’ll see that, right there, hidden between the tall flowers, lies her bloodied corpse. I couldn’t have that.
I raised my arm suddenly, as high as it could go, and just as I planned, the girl’s eyes followed my gesture upwards.
“IT’S MY TURN TO ASK QUESTIONS NOW!”
My loud voice startled her.
“Y-Yes, Allen Carroll?”
“JUST ALLEN IS FINE!”
I carried on with my arm raised high and my voice at an unnecessarily high volume. It seemed to intimidate the girl, and I couldn’t ask for anything more at this point.
“CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE WE ARE!?”
The girl took a step back and blinked at me.
“W-We… We’re in Wonderland. A-And I can hear you just fine. Please lower your hand…”
Ugh. I was called out on it, so I did as told. I brought my hand down and slipped it into my pockets instead.
“Wonderland? Is this a dream? ...Am I dead?”
She shook her head.
“No, you’re not dead. Um… I’ve never had to explain this twice before, but…” She started fidgeting and playing with the tip of one of her long ears, averting her eyes from me as she found the right words.
“This place… is a different reality than the one you know. Every ten years we summon a hero from your world to help us survive another decade, and it’s my duty as the White Rabbit to escort that person into our world a year before the Downpour.”
I frowned at her expecting a ‘just kidding’ follow up, but it never came. She carried on in that same nervous tone after swallowing.
“A long time ago, someone put a curse on Wonderland, and now every time the giant crystals rise from the earth, they send out a beam and create a dome all around us, trapping everyone inside and raining down a corrosive substance that destroys everything—houses, plants, anything alive…”
She frowned at me. Guess she didn’t like my lukewarm reaction.
But what did she expect? This all sounded pretty bonkers to me. Maybe I wasn’t dead, but this could still be a dream, for all I know.
She took one bold step forward, probably upset, but her voice was still very sweet and quiet so it was hard to take her seriously.
“This rain can be stopped, however. All that needs to be done is to destroy the crystals surrounding Wonderland, and once they’re all gone, everything goes back to normal.”
“Um. Okay? So why don’t you just stay outside Wonderland and destroy the crystals from the other side of the barrier? Are you stupid?”
Now she was definitely pissed.
“It’s not so easy, Allen.”
The way she said my name was kind of scary, so I stayed quiet.
“Not just anyone can destroy them. It takes a certain kind of individual with certain magical abilities that only work within Wonderland to do so. We call them Spades.”
“As I said, it’s my duty to escort the Alice Spade into this world. A year ago I ventured into your world and searched for the perfect one to—”
“Wait, a year ago? What?”
“You’re not saying you met my sister a year ago, did you?”
She looked startled at my question, then she looked back down. Her tone wasn’t passive-aggressive anymore. It simply felt…sad.
My heart skipped a beat. I was deadly afraid of her looking behind me once more.
“The truth is,” she continued, “I have been meeting with her in secret for awhile now, back in your world, telling her all about our mission.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. My dumbass sister was in on all this crap from the start!?
Although I was giving this girl the most incredulous look I could muster, she seemed to have gone somewhere far away in her mind. A slight pink blush colored her face as she spoke.
“Oh, Alice. She’s the kindest person I know. She meets all the requirements, and her magical powers are the strongest I’ve ever seen on a Spade before. I was on my way to get her, but…”
“...But instead you found me.”
She looked at me, and I could see her eyes swelling with emotion, even though she was doing her best to hide it.
“...I told Alice to let me know when she was ready to leave her world behind and come to Wonderland. I got a vision of an outsider arriving so I assumed it was her as no one else but the Alice Spade should be able to use the Looking Glass…”
Ah. Well, I don’t know what the Looking Glass is or any of this nonsense, but I have an idea of what happened there.
All this time I thought her corpse was collateral, but it turns out I was the deadweight all along.
I scratched the back of my neck and sighed.
“Listen, White Rabbit. Is that your real name?”
“Um, that’s my Spade title...”
“...Huh. So you’re a Spade, too.”
“Yes. My real name is—”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” I waved a hand at her because I simply didn’t care. This was either a dream or a new sugar-colored reality with no cops (I assumed), so I felt like I could get away with telling her my secret. I wasn’t planning to stay, anyway.
Besides, she knew Alice. I figured she deserved to know the truth. Maybe once she cries it all out she could send me on my way back as soon as possible.
“I’m going to tell you something, Rabbit, but you have to promise you won’t freak out…”
No sooner had I said that, I saw her eyes go wide with fear.
She raised her trembling hand and pointed to my left, where I knew Alice’s head was resting behind me.
“W-What… is that?”