I woke up the next morning to the smell of sweet syrup and pancakes.
I completely forgot I was sleeping on a hammock, and as I turned towards the smell, I rolled down and hit the wooden floor with a big thud.
“Good morning, Allen.”
Zuria was sitting down on the little table in the room, where two plates of pancakes were set. One for herself, almost completely gone, and another untouched, opposite of where she was sitting.
I rubbed my head, and I felt that my hair was still long. Ugh.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said, stuffing her face with another piece of pancake.
“What? Please, you’re the quietest person I’ve ever met.”
I got on my feet and walked to the table, pulling the empty chair and plopping myself down on it.
“You made this? …Is it for me?”
“Please, help yourself.”
I was a little skeptical about consuming anything here, but I knew what pancakes were. And, she was eating a stack, too. I didn’t really think there was anything wrong with them, but as I cut into one of them and picked up a piece with my fork, I examined it closely.
“Is it poisoned?”
Of course I had to ask.
Zuria shook her head.
“It is not.”
I sneered, and ate the piece. As I did, her eyes stayed on me the entire time, then I saw a small smile forming on her face.
“If I wanted to kill you, why would I wait until you were awake?”
Okay, that gave me chills.
“...You’re so creepy.”
I kept on eating. She was wiping her face with her napkin, and I could swear she looked somewhat pleased with herself for scaring me. I wanted to ask so many things, but I also didn’t know where to start.
Well, first things first, I guess.
“What happened to the caterpillar lady?”
“She left already. But don’t worry, she left preparations for you, for when we go out today.”
“Today…? Ah, that’s right! She didn’t finish explaining anything to me yesterday!”
“What do you mean, ‘about’!? The combat thing!”
She calmly took a sip of her tea before continuing.
“It’s a crucial part of your role as the Alice Spade, you see. So we couldn’t explain that to you as you were yesterday. You were aggravated and yelling, so we had to force you to calm down.”
“By drugging me!?”
“Ambrosia’s pipe smoke serves many purposes. She simply wanted you to rest. Are you feeling calm today?”
I scowled at her as I shoved another piece of pancake in my mouth.
“Fuck no. But there’s nothing I can do about it now, right? Man… how did the other Alice Spades even take this bullshit?”
Zuria’s face was as calm as ever, but her tone was a little curt.
“The other Alice Spades all had proper, lengthy training prior to being brought here. They knew what they were in for. That’s why we're especially understanding of your particular circumstances.”
“That’s your way of being understanding? That tall woman punched me!”
Zuria completely ignored me. Instead, she reached inside her pocket and handed me a yellow armband with a symbol I only recognized from the pendant I took from my sister.
“This is the symbol of the chosen Spades. Anyone who wears one like this is an ally, and one of the heroes that will help us stop the rain this year. Yours is particularly special and modified by Ambrosia. Put it on.”
I wiped my mouth with my sleeve, turning the armband in my other hand.
“Right now? …Sure.”
I put my fork down and slid the armband as far up. What was the point in hesitating now, right? Nothing made sense here, and this was the least crazy request I’ve heard in awhile, if I’m honest.
As the armband went up my arm, a warm array of sparkles were shining along with it. When I brought it up as far as it would go, I realized my clothes had changed back into the light blue dress I had been wearing before.
“What!? Not this again!!”
Zuria adjusted her glasses.
“Ambrosia said it is important that you keep a sense of your own identity, so instead of permanently giving you the outfit, you have the choice to return to your own self when we’re away from the public eye.”
Man, I was pissed.
But honestly, this was better than what I was expecting. All in all, it did sorta feel like Zuria was trying her best to not completely hate me, even though I know every breath I took in front of her made her wish I was my sister instead.
Her long ears seemed to twitch at my reply.
“I said fine, I’ll do it. I’ll wear the dress and go fight crime or whatever.”
Zuria smiled warmly at me.
“Thank you, Allen.”
I scoffed, and stuffed a large piece of pancake in my mouth.
“We don’t fight crime, however.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured,” I said with my mouth full. “But you won’t tell me what we’re fighting so I just said the first thing that came to my head.”
She averted her eyes with embarrassment for a moment, as if feeling bad she’s kept me in the dark for so long, on purpose or not.
She took in a deep breath.
“Unfortunately, not everyone in Wonderland wants to stop the rain. There are those who would rather have it wipe us all out, for their own reasons, so they work to protect the rain pillars, and want to get rid of all Alice Spades before they’re gathered.”
Her words were few, but that felt like a lot of information at once.
“...Huh. Guess even this world has its wackos.”
“Indeed,” she nodded, “wackos.”
I pushed my empty plate in front of me.
“So what, we go and protect these guys or gather them all up before they’re killed or something?”
“Well, that’s… not exactly possible.”
“Being a Spade isn’t something you gain by fate or some higher power.”
I blinked, shocked by this revelation more than any other.
“It’s not? Then how does anyone become a Spade, then?”
She pointed at me with her finger.
“You choose them.”
Before I could finish my sentence, a great explosion shook the entire room.