Do you wonder why we dream? Why we imagine such wondrous worlds and figures that make no sense or even have a practical and logical place in the world we deem as reality? Oh reader, why would you ever question what you see with your eyes and perceive with your other senses? Why? Because it is what we are taught, what we are raised to believe, and what happens when the world of the adult begins to supersede that of the child. There the wonder begins to fade, to dissipate into the smoke and ether of the unreal as we are all given over to the cruel and capricious grind of life that we are told is all there is, all there will be, and all that remains.
We are told that reality is the only real part of life, and we believe it.
He’d believed it too during his short time in the human world, the world of his birth, but not his birthright. To be honest he’d believed what he’d been told, not what his heart told him was true. It had been some time since those days, but he still firmly believed in both worlds, that of the humans who knew that their world had a definite end and beginning, and the world of fantasy, of the fairy tale, where the story was everything, including the meaning of existence. Many of those within this world knew that their very lives depended upon the belief of those who had supposedly created them, but more didn’t even begin to realize the importance of the balance that existed between this world and that.
He’d come to learn about it, and he had fought to protect it for many a year now.
“She’s come back with a vengeance this time,” purred a familiar voice to his left. He saw nothing at first as he turned his gaze that way, but had expected nothing. As the distinctive pair of large, rainbow-hued eyes began to appear however Nolan only nodded his head, looking off into the distance at the dark, foreboding clouds that marked the Wastelands, the territory that was the furthermost border of Underland throughout the entire kingdom. For years now he and his loyal soldiers had fought hard to preserve Underland from its many detractors, doing whatever it took to keep the kingdoms of fairy tale at peace with one another while still maintaining the order that stood between them. Long ago, far longer than he had existed in fact, an unwritten law had been accepted stating that the fairy tale realms that existed would be best if they were to remain separate, to keep to their own borders and not allow any mingling of realms. This had been kept as the norm until this day, and would continue to be so if he had a say in it.
People of each realm were still allowed to come and go as they would, but Underland, unlike many lands, remained largely unreachable unless one had the means. The reason for this was simple, the magic that had linked this realm to so many others had been almost lost several times, and as a result had been locked away long ago. An added conundrum was where it had been locked away, and how one might retrieve it. Other methods were available of course, but they were far more dangerous and required far more effort. This meant that Underland was, for the most part, on its own when it came to defending its own borders and could rely upon only a minor bit of aid now and then against any invading force, of which there were many.
“I should have killed her back then,” Nolan said calmly, “It might have spared us what is sure to come.”
A hissing chuckle came from his advisor and confidante, the fabled Cheshire, “It would have only paved the way for another maddened despot who decided they had a problem with your rule.”
“They might still have been better than her,” he countered.
He frowned. The Cheshire always seemed to get the final word, but that was why he was so valued. He often had his own agenda when doing anything, but had thus far worked for the good of Underland since Nolan had assumed control. The overlying consensus had been that he was the only one that could possibly hope to keep Underland on an even keel, and so far he had done his best. As the fabled blood of Alice, the young woman who in her own day had changed the fate of these lands, he had come to this world quite by accident, lured here by the White Rabbit, who had only a few years ago passed of old age, leaving his clock and his duties to one of his many sons, Rembrandt. The young bunny was still in the prime of his youth, and often displayed as much by acting like an insufferable know-it-all while still attempting to liven up any given situation with an ill-timed quip or joke. He was not his father by any means, but he was learning, and overall he was a fine enough addition to Nolan’s court.
“Why now though?” Nolan asked, “Why would she bother coming back after so long?”
“Any good insurrection takes time,” the Cheshire purred, “and Mab has always been known for a good plot twist, something that is sure to take us by surprise. I can only begin to wonder what it might be this time.”
“You sound far too excited at the prospect,” Nolan chided.
“On the contrary my commander,” the Cheshire said, his multi-colored pelt shimmering as he looked up at Nolan, “I am worried indeed that she might come back, as I did not relish her presence the last time. You will recall I am the one who aided in defeating her last time.”
“I do, and I am still thankful,” he replied, “Though I still believe I should have taken Mab’s head and not her hand. That at least would have eliminated one threat.”
“Perhaps,” the Cheshire mused, “Or perhaps there were and still are others willing to take up her mantle. One can never know until the threat is near enough if mercy is the correct response or not.”
Nolan could only reply with a frown. The damned cat had a point he supposed, but he still wished he would have cut her down. At the very least it would have put his own mind at ease.
“Are we certain that it’s Mab this time?” he asked quietly, “You do happen to remember that the last time someone threatened Underland it was no more than a hoax, the workings of a brutish ogre trying to scare us off.”
“Oh I recall very well,” the Cheshire purred, “But unless the ogre has learned dark magic in that short time since his coming, I highly doubt it. This is more akin to Mab’s fury, though it does not seem to be moving towards us, which is again, curious.”
“Maybe she’s just throwing a massive hissy fit,” Nolan offered, which made him grin slightly.
“And if you believe that I’ve a few magic beans to sell you,” the Cheshire countered, “Be it feasible or not, I recognize the power inherent within the storm, though do not understand why she has not attacked as of yet. The forces of Underland stand ready, yet given that she can summon the very demons of these hells and those of the mortal world, I do not care for their chances against such hordes.”
“Is it time to try and enlist other lands again? That didn’t go so well last time.”
“Would that it were, I would be away already.” The Cheshire began to flicker in and out of existence as was his wont, his smile and eyes remaining steady. “But this is something else, and thus calls for something entirely different, something you swore never to call upon.”
“No,” Nolan said, his flat refusal causing the Cheshire to shrug as he floated silently upon the air just above the balustrade. “I told you, she’s no longer a part of it.”
“Oh she is, you simply don’t want her to be,” the large cat said calmly, still smiling as Nolan looked to him.
“She is not a direct part of this, and doesn’t need to be. I made that vow long enough ago and have kept it since.”
“Indeed,” the cat said, “But then, does she know that? Does she not pine for the brother she had? Would it be satisfying to watch Underland quake yet again beneath the heels and claws of a horde that was never meant for these lands? And all it would take is the sto-“
“Don’t say it, don’t you dare right now,” Nolan said in a hushed voice, “She got to go home, she got to have a life.”
“And you did not?”
“I chose this.”
“But why?” the Cheshire smiled at him, “Because you are one of us? Yes?”
“Because I am the blood of Alice,” he said, “But now I’m not enough.”
“Not if my suspicions are correct, and they usually are,” the cat said calmly, “If she has taken one of our neighbors by force then she is in possession of some truly wicked gadgetry, and will likely turn it against us sooner rather than later.”
“So is any realm safe if she does?”
It was an honest answer at least, but not one that Nolan had wanted. He knew the Cheshire spoke the truth, he knew from the stories that he’d read as a boy and the movies he’d watched while still a part of the human world, but he’d never believed such a thing would come to pass. Somehow, some way, the mad queen Mab had invaded one of the last realms that anyone would wish to see fall under her rule, and she had done so far too easily. If she unleashed the vast power and energy that the realm was known to possess there would be no chance in hell that Underland, or any other land connected by the fairy tales of mankind, could hope to survive. While it would not eradicate every story ever written, it would surely eliminate the fairy tale for good in the hands of Mab, and would seek to erase every last story just as she had attempted more than a decade ago. If Oz had fallen, Underland was surely next, and from there it might be nigh impossible to stop Mab from finally getting her wish, to stamp out the fairy tale. At this point he could only hope that the one he needed to reach would still remember him