There it was. Another name I’ve never heard before.
It didn’t feel special to me, but the terrified look on Zuria’s face told me there was some sort of deep meaning to it that I would soon come to understand.
“I-I haven’t told him about that yet…”
“Told me what?” I stepped forward.
These two have been talking to each other as if I weren’t standing right there. Ambrosia looked at me with a gentle smile.
“Oh, my. Were you perhaps under the impression that Alice is our one and only true hero?”
“Uh…yeah? You go through all the trouble of poaching one from my world and you said you need her to save the world from the rain thing, so, yes? Are you saying that’s not it?”
Ambrosia chuckled lightly at my bewilderment. It wasn’t amusing at all.
Zuria sighed very audibly.
“Don’t listen to her, Allen. That’s not something you should worry about right now.”
“That ‘right now’ sounds like it’s something I gotta worry about eventually, though!”
Zuria took a step forward, and clasped my hand between her own. It took me a bit by surprise, and all I could do was stare at her and blink.
Her bright eyes looked at me through her glasses as she spoke in her calm tone again.
“The most important thing at this moment is to hurry up and make the amulet accept you as our Alice so we can go out and search for the other Spades and your sister as soon as possible.”
I listened to her, then pulled my hand back, frowning.
“Fine, fine. Screw this! Your Caterpillar friend told me she'll only help if I do this other thing, though. She brought it up, not me. I don’t even know who Dorothy is.”
Zuria adjusted her glasses and turned to Ambrosia.
“...He’ll do it. I’ll make sure of it.”
Ambrosia’s eyes opened wide.
“Oh? …….You sound so confident about it.”
“I’ll accompany him and I’ll make sure nothing gets in his way.”
I was a little touched by her words. This weird bunny girl who probably hates me was going to help me get back home, huh…
Actually, she was probably only doing this to find my sister, and me getting back home had nothing to do with this at all. That pissed me off. But she had the home field advantage, so what was I supposed to say?
After another long drag of her pipe, Ambrosia turned delicately to face me.
“Allen, dear, step closer.”
“...Are you gonna grab my face again? Your nails are kinda long.”
Okay, the nails thing was an excuse. Her grip on my jaw earlier was so strong it still stung, and I really didn’t want to go through that again at all.
That wasn’t an answer.
I stepped closer anyway to show I wasn’t afraid of her, and she slowly leaned down until we were eye to eye.
...Then she blew all the fragrant smoke from her pipe right into my face.
“Cough, cough! Hack! Gegh!!”
It took me by surprise, and I started coughing, shutting my eyes closed. They were watering and it stung, and whenever I tried to open them I couldn’t see anything but a thick pink smoke enveloping me.
I swatted at it with my hands and took a quick step back.
“What the hell!? What was that for!?”
I couldn’t stop coughing.
I heard her laugh faintly, and somewhere around I also heard Zuria gasp.
When the smoke finally cleared and I could open my eyes again, something felt… different.
“Goodness, it really does suit you, doesn’t it?”
Ambrosia’s tone was cheerful as she stared right at me. Beside her stood Zuria, covering her mouth with her hands, looking like she was about to cry.
She said my sister’s name suddenly.
I turned around to look behind my back, thinking maybe my sister was behind me, but of course there was nothing there. Instead, as I turned, I felt something heavy move along with me—on my head, and a breeze on the back of my knees.
Alice wasn’t behind me, but what was there was a full body mirror I hadn’t noticed before.
Inside that mirror I saw my sister, looking at me with a surprised look on her face. Instead of her dyed blond hair, she had her natural dark-brown color on, and she was wearing a light-blue dress with white sleeves and a red ribbon on her waist. She had red kneehigh socks on, and a yellow armband with a strange symbol I’ve never seen before.
It felt like we stared at each other forever, but it couldn’t have been more than one second. Because the moment I reached out to her and took a step forward, she did the same, and that’s when I realized I had been staring at my reflection this entire time.
I quickly looked down at myself.
Sure enough, the person in the mirror was me!
I was wearing the dress, and my hair was as long as my sister’s but with my own hair color. I touched my head all over in a panic to see if it was a wig, but it was definitely attached to my skull.
“WHAT THE HELL!? WHAT’S GOING ON!? WHAT DID YOU DO TO MEEEE!?”
I checked under my skirt immediately to check if it was still there.
Ambrosia gently hit my frenzied hands with her pipe. It didn’t hurt, but I said ‘ow’ in reflex anyway. It made me stop feeling myself at least, but I still didn’t know what in the world was going on.
My heart was going ten million miles a minute.
“No need to panic, dear. My magic can’t transform you from one thing to another. You’re still Allen. All I did…….. was change your clothes, into the official Alice Spade uniform, and grew out your hair….. to the same length as your sister’s….. in the poster that darling Zuria shared in the middle of town.”
“...I see. Well, now I feel much more relaxed after hearing that…….NOT!!”
Did she think just giving me that explanation would make everything better suddenly!? I was still wearing a dress, and I still didn’t know how much I’ve changed, so I felt my chest and the rest of my body again, quickly and as much as possible.
Everything seemed to be in order, exactly as she said.
Zuria had finally calmed down from the shock of seeing “Alice” in front of her, and after adjusting her glasses she composed herself and stepped closer to me from behind as I observed myself in the mirror.
“You… You really are twins…”
“Why are you so surprised, dear?” Ambrosia said to Zuria in an endeared tone. She then looked at me after taking another drag of her pipe. “You were aware I was brought here to do exactly this, yes?”
“I knew you were gonna do something, I just didn’t know what!”
Ambrosia laughed under her breath.
“Well, now you know. As the Caterpillar Spade, it’s my duty to provide the chosen Alice all the tools necessary to become a hero, starting with this outfit. It has no advantage during combat, but it’s been used by every single Alice Spade throughout history, so not wearing it would certainly draw attention to you.”
Okay, I couldn’t exactly argue with that. I sighed, exasperated as I looked at my new appearance in the mirror.
Then, something Ambrosia said finally hit me, and I quickly turned to look at them both.
“...Wait, did you just say combat?”