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Victory and Defeat - Ch.5

Losenis Feb 10th, 2018 (edited) 293 Never
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  1. Tags: Wonderland, Paladin, Lilim, Chaos/Nyarlathotep, No Smut, Multichapter
  2.  
  3. ---
  4.  
  5. Cold̀ da̖ỷs had ̤ār͆rͯiv̛ed̦, and winter settled in. Outside the window the cold scenery alone could send a little chill over her skin, of slowly falling snowflakes in a breezeless bright dawn. Without a lit fireplace, without any preparations done for the day's warmth within her home, the walls served little to stave off the temperature anymore. Once the brick and mortar had turned cold, little could be done to warm up the home without great effort, effort she felt unnecessary. What preparations lacked for firewood and rest instead were done in the shape of a bag and clothing, along with a peculiar crossbow resting by the bed. Sitting on the made up bed, she finished putting on a heavy pair of boots fitting for extended periods of time outside, and upon standing up, took her bag and put it on her back. Finally she took the crossbow and gave it a long, melancholic look before slinging it over her shoulder. From there, she stood still, staring aimlessly as the melancholy remained.
  6.  
  7. A long march awaited her. Arduous, cold, not knowing whether she'd find what she sought or not, yet the task had been born not of a sense of adventure. Not for glory, not for gold. Desperation, it was. With one last look at the interior of her house, aware that it may be her last, she took a deep breath and departed to the door.
  8.  
  9. ---
  10.  
  11. With a quick gasp, he snapped awake. A makeshift bed made with whatever he could've found, sleeping by a corner of the town hall which had endured what horrid memories of a ruined sky he remembered. Now, as he looked out the window he found it so bright, of overcast skies the exact same as before. Calm. Peaceful. Yet, his mind still raced on for what dream he had experienced. A woman, and not just any, but of his wife back home.
  12.  
  13. A strange dream. Too vivid, and even now he couldn't pick up many signs of illogical occurences like normal dreams had. It felt almost too real. However, his worries were cast aside upon feeling something strange upon him, a pressure. His peripheral view caught it instantly as he turned his head: The cheshire, clinging onto him as she slept beside him, bouts of slight purring occurring with each breathing. His eyes narrowed in annoyance over the unwanted surprise, having forgotten about her only to be reminded in such blunt way, and so ever so gently he took her arm and placed it away, keeping cautious of not waking her up. The same he did with her leg, until he was freed.
  14.  
  15. "Rise and shine."
  16.  
  17. Derrota's words gave away her presence, as if her approaching steps had not been enough. Towering over him as she stood, it came to him that this had been the very first time he saw her through so steep an angle as he still lied down, her feet just a palm away from his head. He then sat up before bringing himself to his feet, looking around to see the same relative peace he had woken up to, desolate save for him and the other two.
  18.  
  19. "Where are they?" He asked.
  20.  
  21. "Who?"
  22.  
  23. "The affl--... The ones that looked afflicted but weren't. Do they even have a name?"
  24.  
  25. "Not that I know of. Chances are they don't even care."
  26.  
  27. "What do I refer to them as, then?"
  28.  
  29. She brought her palm to her chin, to then stare aside.
  30.  
  31. "I have no idea, actually." She answered. "It's not like I needed to talk to anyone about them, so I never felt the need to give them a name. I suppose... 'unafflicted' will do for the time being."
  32.  
  33. "Unafflicted?"
  34.  
  35. "Yes." She lowered her hand. "I don't imagine the word getting used in many contexts anyways, one would just say that a person isn't afflicted rather than using the actual word. Not like it matters, it's just a name. As to where they are, probably chasing around the Black Hearts. We had the same goals yesterday now, so we teamed up out of convenience."
  36.  
  37. An answer it was, though answering little. Left blank-minded over what little else he had to do, he sat back down once more.
  38.  
  39. "So, what now?" He asked.
  40.  
  41. "We wait."
  42.  
  43. "The way to the center is free. Are the spades that essential?"
  44.  
  45. "Would you really want to go where Nyarlathotep and the Black Hearts are, without as much support as you can get?"
  46.  
  47. "Point taken. How long will we have to wait, then?"
  48.  
  49. "With how long it'd take for news to get out, and the spades tiptoeing forward fearing it might be a trap... A good while."
  50.  
  51. He allowed a sigh to escape him, bringing his hand to rub what remained of sleep in his eyes. Frustration at the prospect of inactivity for Lord knos how long. The idea of utter boredom turned into a clear threat.
  52.  
  53. "Patience is a virtue. Rebecca certainly had a lot, though maybe not enough."
  54.  
  55. His eyes shot wide open, heart skipping a beat. 'Rebecca'. A name many should not know, let alone Derrota. The name of his wife.
  56.  
  57. "How..." He muttered, slowly turning his head to find Derrota smiling smugly at him.
  58.  
  59. "You'd be surprised."
  60.  
  61. "Is it finaly time for you to explain things?"
  62.  
  63. "It might."
  64.  
  65. "Alright. Who are you?"
  66.  
  67. "I am Derrota."
  68.  
  69. No further words. Still with her smugness, Maverick's eye twitched as frustration turned to anger.
  70.  
  71. "Why are you here?"
  72.  
  73. "For the same reason as you are."
  74.  
  75. Silence. Anger elevated, enough for him to narrow his eyes and raise his lips, bordering on gritting his teeth.
  76.  
  77. "You know very god damn fucking well what answers I want, lilim."
  78.  
  79. "I knew well."
  80.  
  81. "Then why are you toying with me?"
  82.  
  83. "I fear that the answers I'll give you will not get past the walls in your mind."
  84.  
  85. "...Huh?"
  86.  
  87. Derrota moved up to his side and sat down cross-legged, to then look at Maverick with narrowed eyes yet still with a grin.
  88.  
  89. "There is a demon inside everyone's head." She said. "A demon which guards the mind from certain ideas the mind doesn't want to think about, and I see the same signs as I look at you. Tell me, is there anything that you'd refuse to consider?"
  90.  
  91. "With Nyarlathotep running around, no."
  92.  
  93. "I thought as much. The demon stands at the very outer walls of the mind, refusing ideas before the mind can even bring itself to imagine them. Now, what's the worst thing that you can think of? The things you'd dread to be left alone with your thoughts to ponder. The things that make sleepless nights so much worse."
  94.  
  95. "...Nostrum perishing. I've grown used to it the moment the war with Variland started."
  96.  
  97. "Anything else?"
  98.  
  99. A pause.
  100.  
  101. "I'm sure Nostrum perishing includes most other things I can think of."
  102.  
  103. "Like your wife being included in said fall."
  104.  
  105. "Yes."
  106.  
  107. "Do you fear her turning afflicted? Or turning into a monster?"
  108.  
  109. "...What are you getting at?" He asked, growing annoyed.
  110.  
  111. "I'll give you a thought experiment." She said, to then point past him. Following her finger, he saw it pointing at the sleeping cheshire. "What if that cat was your monsterized wife?"
  112.  
  113. Though he looked for a moment, he returned his gaze to Derrota, now sporting a grimace of utter frustration and annoyance.
  114.  
  115. "Bullshit. She was home when I left, and that cat was here before I even arrived."
  116.  
  117. "Do you believe it to be impossible?"
  118.  
  119. He refused to answer, almost in spite. Chuckling lightly, Derrota turned to the cheshire to find her slowly waking up, rubbing the sleep off her eyes with a yawn sounding more like a 'nyaa'.
  120.  
  121. "Ah, you're awake." Said Derrota. "How are you doing, Rebecca?"
  122.  
  123. A moan escaped the cheshire as she stretched herself. "Ahh, I'm... doing well, I guess? It's all so humid..."
  124.  
  125. Derrota's eyes returned to Maverick, grin remaining as if asking the silent question.
  126.  
  127. "There's no reason why two people can't have the same name." He said. "Wouldn't even make sense. I barely got here not even a week ago, so why would she come here this soon? Let alone at all."
  128.  
  129. "Seconds must've turned to minutes for her. Or the reverse, for you." She answered, grin turning devious before returning her sight to the cheshire. With a flick of her hand, Maverick saw the cheshire growing sleepy again before gently laying down once more. "The monsterization must have also taken a good while on top of that. You're correct, the time required for this to happen just isn't there. It couldn't have possibly happened. You departed first, and yet this cheshire was here in Wonderland to greet you in that forest."
  130.  
  131. Frustration turned to skepticism in his grimace. Though he wished to ask if she had watched the exchange, he knew he'd receive no answer.
  132.  
  133. "Then again, that diamond knew you were married. All monsters do. The spade even called this cheshire your wife..."
  134.  
  135. "I'm not in the mood for jokes." He muttered as he stood up, to then march off in the 'anywhere but here' directiooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooͣooo̅ō̱oo͔̙o̷̫̅̽ͦo̗̟ơ̵͌͞o̬̞̩͙͗̽ͮ̚o̢̜̯ͧ́ͫ͞o̴̢ͮ͞ͅo͚̲͚̝͔̺͋ͧͫ̂o̲̮̗͉ͪͧ̂͝o̵̶͎ͪ̉͆̓ͅ҉̲oó̯̠͙́̃̔̍͊̕͡
  136.  
  137. Cold. Too cold. Too much for anything she had ever imagined, let alone prepared for. Each step led to the snow giving in, her boots digging into the thick layer which had built up and still increased as snow fell on and on. The overcast skies, the colorless scenery, the dead forest without a single leaf to be seen and the path already invisible past the snow left it all in so eerie an atmosphere, one she wanted out of. Her legs shivered partly by the cold, yet also partly by the surroundings striking fear into her heart. Unsure where she was, unsure where she was going, unsure if it'd get worse, unsure if her crossbow would even help against what she could possibly face, and yet despite turning back, her desperation for the one she sought to find kept her from withdrawing, pressing onward.
  138.  
  139. It turned painful. Breathing in allowed the unforgiving cold to hit her lungs, forcing her to cover her mouth. What little scarf she had, she pulled up and tied tighter, enough for it to cover her mouth without needing to hold it up. Her breath still turned visible past the scarf, steam escaping high into the air, but for now it would suffice. Though each step felt like dragging weights, she p̙r̽essḛd̾ o̞n͟.
  140.  
  141. "UUuuuurrrgh..." Grunted Maverick, consciousness returning.
  142.  
  143. He found himself on the floor, headache settling in. Furrowing his brows, he slowly opened his eyes, only for confusion to set in. He was exactly where he was, last he remembered. Glancing about, he confirmed it further, and with the sudden headache he came to realize: The vision knocked him unconscious, leaving him to fall to the ground. That they were visions only made things stranger, knowing now that the first one had not been a dream in his sleep. Perhaps all the contrary, it had awakened him from his sleep.
  144.  
  145. "Augh..." He attempted to say, disoriented and surprised enough to leave him wordless.
  146.  
  147. "Did you believe the affliction would not adapt to resistance?" Said Derrota, arriving in slow steps to then look down to him.
  148.  
  149. "What..."
  150.  
  151. "It didn't work in Makillae when it attempted to break you, back when it attempted to overwhelm your mind all at once in Makillae. The only thing that came out of it is that you were made to join the paladins. Now, though, it's taking it slow and steady."
  152.  
  153. "This... This is the lightning from the tower, isn't it?"
  154.  
  155. "Yes."
  156.  
  157. Past a second of silence, he grunted anew to bring himself sitting up, holding his aching head.
  158.  
  159. "How long is this going to last for?"
  160.  
  161. "Till your breaking point. It's the affliction, by design it will siege your mind till the situation comes where any sane person would give up. Consider yourself lucky that you have breaks inbetween, but make no mistake: Being a paladin does not immunize you."
  162.  
  163. ---
  164.  
  165. He̓avy s͛t̚e̱ps through the swallowing snow led her out of the forest in due time. As the white plains revealed themselves to her, ahead she saw what stood out from the cold colorless canvas covering the earth. A town of sorts, though she saw not any movement from where she was. Heavy steps continued on through the invisible path leading to the town, and even as she arrived to the buildings, still she saw it as dead and desolate as the forest. White and gray conquered the scenery, be it snow, the buildings, the cloud-covered, as if all color had been syphoned out by entities unknown.
  166.  
  167. Nothing. Though she marched through the buildings, still she saw nothing. Not just no life, not even a mere bird to be seen up high, but neither anything that'd catch her attention. Open doors led to empty rooms, as cold as outside over abandonment, holding nothing of value nor anything to even distract the eye, be it portraits, decorations, nor luxuries of any kind. Gone, as if. Even the most otherwise boring objects, be it miscellaneous books speaking of Lord knew what, no longer existed on their bookcases. Empty. Her hopes of finding even mere piece of clothing she could use to warm herself up had withered.
  168.  
  169. She widened her eyes as her ears caught a near silent sound, picking it up by how dead silent her surroundings were with not even a breeze to blow. Then, another, and another. Footsteps. In panic she rushed into a building, light steps leading the way as to not alert whoever drew nearer, and by the window she remained. The footsteps turned louder and louder in proximity, her heartbeat rising along with her breathing upon so stressful waiting. With her erratic breathing worsening, she found no more options than to cover her scarf-covered mouth with both hands, hoping that it'd hide the steam from revealing her to others.
  170.  
  171. As it passed by the window, she saw it. A monster with a spear, white and red in motif like a card with hearts running along her clothing. She marched on past, but in that instant she halted, leaving it all dead silent once more. Upon seeing her turn her head towards her, she hid past the window with her heartbeat and breathing skyrocketing, fearing the threat of getting spotted. However, the card soon turned to look elsewhere, allowing the hidden one to peek out the window once more.
  172.  
  173. She saw it, as the card scanned the scenery. Her eyes sported dark circles underneath, similar to those of eternal sleepless night yet so wildly different at the same time. Abnormal to the eye, leaving the hidden one to start feeling hollow over having stared at what her instincts dictated was something that just screamed, 'it's not supposed to be like that'. A similar sensation as that of a goldfish in its small little tank allowed to catch glimpse of just a fraction of the oppressive darkness and crushing pressures in the deepest oceans, all from the safety of its own container.
  174.  
  175. ---
  176.  
  177. Squinting his closed eyes, he found himself awakened. The first emotions he felt upon regaining consciousness turned to be frustration and anger, a vision awakening once more and robbing him of what additional sleep he could've gotten. Slowly opening his eyes, out the window he found it to be afternoon already; though his nap had been interrupted, at least he had managed to get some sleep at all. Enough sleep to see it unnecessary to attempt another nap immediately thereafter, as much as he'd have wanted otherwise.
  178.  
  179. Again the cheshire slept next to him, and again she had he arm and leg over him clinging. It was as if he had gotten used to it the second time, feeling nothing now other than the mere annoyance by the chore of placing her arm and leg away before standing up. However, upon glancing about, he could not see Derrota anywhere. The idea that she left circled in his mind, though more reasons he had to believe she still was somewhere nearby; at least, from what she said earlier of waiting for the spades.
  180.  
  181. Checking this floor, he could not find her. He headed to the staircase and walked up to the next floor, checking the rooms to see no signs of her still. To the staircase once more he went, walking up and checking the third floor, and upon not seeing her there either, he headed higher still.
  182.  
  183. As he walked out the door connecting the staircase to the roof, he found her on the other side sitting by the edge, past the debris of what once was the tower. Silent and focused, Derrota did not make a sound other than the distinct flicking of pages. Curiosity cemented itself within him, and a lack of things to do only made up his mind, prompting him to take slow steps towards her. However, as he stared high up to the sky, he found the clouds worsening still; no sun existed to give a faint red hue, though still he saw the density increasing compared to the time he arrived, even after the destruction of the afflictor. All those clouds, converging north to the center.
  184.  
  185. "Another vision?" She asked.
  186.  
  187. "You can tell?"
  188.  
  189. "I'm putting two and two together. A person lacking sleep will break easier than one well-rested."
  190.  
  191. "Tsk... Yes, another vision. Although... Wonderland seemed different in those."
  192.  
  193. Though wordless, Derrota interrupting her reading and turning her head to look at him from the corner of her eyes served as enough invitation for him to continue.
  194.  
  195. "It was all snow. The forest I arrived to Wonderland through was dead. The town I saw the spades in was abandoned. The only card there was a heart, and it had dark circles under her eyes."
  196.  
  197. "The hearts are within the center of Wonderland. They have no reasons to go that far south."
  198.  
  199. "Are they all afflicted?"
  200.  
  201. "Most likely. Perhaps their traits as hearts left them weakest against the affliction. It even says in the name that the Hearts are the most closely aligned with the Queen of Hearts, so their current state has already caused rumors among the Spades, Clubs, and Diamonds on her well-being."
  202.  
  203. Without additional words to say, Derrota returned to her book. Maverick gave out a quiet sigh as he closed his eyes, before taking another step forward and sitting down next to Derrota to stare ahead, towards the center of Wonderland. However, another flick of the page caught his attention, and thus he couldn't help himself from sneaking a peek at the book's contents.
  204.  
  205. Wince. Flinch. Eyes narrowed as a splitting headache appeared from nowhere, upon witnessing what mind-boggling language and sigils were written on the paper. At the same time, Derrota immediately shut the book with both hands.
  206.  
  207. "Careful." She said as Maverick rubbed his eyes.
  208.  
  209. "What kind of book is that?"
  210.  
  211. "A boring one you won't find much interest in."
  212.  
  213. Headache subsiding, he looked at the closed book in her hands again. A strange sense of familiarity befell him, believing he had seen it before, only to remember what book Indrick had somehow gotten in the capital of Variland, during the final days of the war.
  214.  
  215. "Where did you get it, if I may ask?"
  216.  
  217. Her answer did not come immediately, but rather she raised her eyes partly to stare aimlessly ahead in thought.
  218.  
  219. "...It was a gift from my parents."
  220.  
  221. "The parents of a lilim? You mean, the Demon Lord and her husband?"
  222.  
  223. "Sure." She answered, to then open it once more and continue her reading.
  224.  
  225. Maverick no longer pressed the issue, and instead stared off forward once more. The center of Wonderland, where they'd depart to in due time.
  226.  
  227. "Nyarlathotep and the Queen of Hearts have to be there." She remarked, almost as if reading his mind. His surprised subsided quickly enough, realizing that staring ahead so intently would give away his thoughts to her in any case.
  228.  
  229. "Have you gotten close enough?"
  230.  
  231. "No. Although, an afflicted Queen of Hearts would've caused a mess over a hundred orders of magnitude greater than anything you can think of. Maybe she isn't afflicted. Maybe she is and there's something stopping her. Or maybe she is and, much like Nyarlathotep, sees us as hardly worth the effort of even noticing. Still, something must've happened for the affliction to spread throughout Wonderland and its creatures, and we'll find out in due time."
  232.  
  233. ---
  234.  
  235. T̚error̳. Panic. Dread. All emotions worsening as a hundred afflicted hearts surrounded the town hall, all attempting to get in like starved, rabid wolves. Her breathing had turned violent enough that her mouth and throat dried, heartbeat reaching such tempo that it bordered on painful. She knew they'd soon break in, as despite having thrown a desk to block the entrance, they'd break through the windows anyways. Too many to barricade, dozens upon dozens all around the building and only one they needed in order to enter.
  236.  
  237. Couldn't stay in one place. She had to run, or face a fate she dared not think of. After a quick glance about, she made a run for the staircase and rushed up the steps, to then hear the door torn asunder. Adrenaline intoxicated her fight-or-flight instinct took over thousandfold, so desperately searching for a safe haven in what little time she had left. Once more up the staircase she ran, reaching the last floor to then run into a side hallway. Reaching the end, and knowing it to be too late to head to the roof as the hearts approached, cornering her, she ran into a room. Immediately she closed the door, to then throw everything not bolted to the ground against it; furniture, decorations, all save for the dust covering the walls, to then finally sit down against the barricade with feet nearly slipping over the effort applied in pushing herself against it.
  238.  
  239. The steps drew near till the door suffered a blow, hard enough to shake the entire barricade. Though once her eyes had been wide open in terror, they narrowed as she sniffed, tears beginning to sneak out. Wavering, jaw shaking, breathing as erratic as it would get, heart feeling like it'd burst out of her chest at any second, she closed her eyes gritting her teeth. As tears began to flow and the barricade shook with further hits, she curled up and hugged her knees. Prayers began to come out of her mouth, lips moving yet words barely getting out as near-silent whispers.
  240.  
  241. But as she slowly opened her eyes once more, vision blurred by the tears sneaking out, she saw in front of her a pair of boots, though so too a tail's end. Panic surged upon the unknown presence, opening her eyes wide past rapid blinking to spot further traits of the one in front of her. It was no human. Added to the tail were a pair of wings and horns, along with demonic red eyes and hair of a ghostly white. Her silent surprise turned into horrified screaming, attempting to crawl back to find her back already against the pounding barricade, but as much as she wailed, the one in front of her did not move a muscle, only to calmly stare.
  242.  
  243. Wailing turned quiet upon the other's inactivity, still with terrified tears and teeth in grit, screams replaced by the loud gasping of heavy breathing. To the terror, so too was confusion added. She remembered the traits, at least of what she heard; not too long ago had her nation been at war with another, all centered around a creature of white hair and red eyes, of horns, wings, and tail of a pale color; a lilim. This one, so too seemed like one.
  244.  
  245. "Who..." Asked the woman. "Who are you?"
  246.  
  247. But for a few seconds, no answer was given, letting the cacophony of blows against the door flood the room. With a slow blink, the lilim shifted her gaze to the ever weakening barricade before returning her eyes to the woman.
  248.  
  249. "There exists a way you can escape the hearts." She said, slow and calm tone striking contrast against her hopeless situation, a demeanor paralyzing the woman not unlike a subtle way of spelling the situation as unremarkable, rather than deadly. "Although... It involves turning into a monster."
  250.  
  251. Though silent, still as wide eyed as the first second she saw the lilim, soon enough the woman began shaking her head. Desperation reflected in her erratic denial, as if forcing herself to do so with words refusing to escape her mouth. The lilim, however, remained as calm as she was, to then turn her eyes to the barricade again.
  252.  
  253. "They do not discriminate." Continued the lilim. "I have seen many fall to them. Human, monster, they will hunt you down regardless. I can give you the power to escape. I can give you the power... to find the one you're looking for."
  254.  
  255. Part of the barricade gave in, falling from the top of the pile to the floor with a loud thud, yet it did not serve to even draw away the woman's attention from what the lilim had said. But still silence reigned, other than the barricade's slow but steady weakening, and the door's pounding now turning into violent cracking.
  256.  
  257. "You can... help me find him?" Asked the woman.
  258.  
  259. "Perhaps."
  260.  
  261. Thought after thought flooded her mind, furrowing her brows as she gazed downward with a grimace of stress and agony upon pondering the idea. To turn into a monster, when the alternative of something that hunted even Man and Monster alike knocked at the door. To have her husband see her as a monster, compared to seeing her nevermore; perhaps so toocompared to her never seeing her husband ever again, or having him see her with those dark circles under her eyes. The same fears that had plagued her in sleepless nights upon remembering Old Variland, surfacing thousandfold.
  262.  
  263. "...Do it."
  264.  
  265. "As you wish."
  266.  
  267. Upon the lilim raising her open palm towards her, she closed her eyes in i̖nf̃in̯i͍t͊e̯ f́ea͆r.
  268.  
  269. ---
  270.  
  271. Immediately his eyes shot wide open as he sat up, gasping upon waking up in cold sweat by the visions imprinted into his eyes. Immediate pain followed over his sleepy eyes being opened, prompting him to rub the sleep off them. Out and about he saw it all as darkness, for night had arrived, at least save for a vague hint of light coming from the staircase, flickering. Strangely enough, he stood up well without obstruction, coming to realize that the cheshire was nowhere to be seen. Too many questions he had, and he knew only one person had the answers, regardless of whether he'd get them out of her or not, and so he departed to the staircase.
  272.  
  273. Upon reaching the next floor, he saw derrota sitting by the wall with her book in hand and flickering white flame in the other illuminating her immediate surroundings. Though his steps echoed about in the dead silence of the town hall, Derrota paid no mind to his visit.
  274.  
  275. "Derrota."
  276.  
  277. "Hm?" She asked, refusing to unglue her eyes from her book.
  278.  
  279. "I had another vision. It involved you."
  280.  
  281. "Really? What did I do, over there?"
  282.  
  283. "I saw Rebecca entrenched in a room while the hearts tried to get to her. The vision showed me how you appeared, and it ended just as you were about to monsterize her."
  284.  
  285. "Fascinating."
  286.  
  287. "Derrota... Are those visions fake, or do they have some semblance of truth in them?"
  288.  
  289. "They're true. I monsterized Rebecca, and she is now the cheshire you've been seeing."
  290.  
  291. No reaction from him upon the blunt answer. Rather he narrowed his eyes as he fiddled his fingers, seeing Derrota not even look at him in the eyes while giving him an answer in such bored tone.
  292.  
  293. "I am not in the mood for jokes."
  294.  
  295. "Speak your mind. What makes it a joke?"
  296.  
  297. "The dead trees. The snow. The spades gone. How it all must've taken far more time than passed from my departure home to now. You even said yourself that the hearts have no reason to be that far south. It doesn't help that you refused to answer a great many questions I've asked so far since I met you. You even refused to tell me who you are."
  298.  
  299. "You've been in Wonderland for a long while already."
  300.  
  301. "Not enough."
  302.  
  303. "For you, perhaps. Don't you remember? Seconds turning to minutes... or perhaps the reverse for you."
  304.  
  305. "It hasn't been a week."
  306.  
  307. "In Afflicted Wonderland, it hasn't."
  308.  
  309. Exasperation settling in over puzzling answers, he clicked his tongue. "How much time passed?"
  310.  
  311. "Enough for Rebecca to break."
  312.  
  313. "She's a strong girl. She wouldn't break that quickly."
  314.  
  315. "No. She would not."
  316.  
  317. "Are you going to tell me the truth or are you going to keep spewing nonsense at me?"
  318.  
  319. "Do you remember when I talked about that little demon inside everyone's head, Maverick...? How many signs did you have already that you refused to consider? How many hints that you disregarded? The cheshire immediately finding you and greeting you so nicely, the diamond stopping her advance over you being married, the spade assuming the cheshire to be your wife, the cheshire herself acting so attached as if sleeping together was so mundane an act, her name being the same, and even the affliction itself granting you visions of her last day as a human. Little things on their own that the demon would guard against, and yet, would it be able to guard against it all at once?"
  320.  
  321. His eye twitched, feeling hollow yet at the same time indignation coursing through his body. Taunting, it felt. Of Derrota having grabbed what she could that could not be disproven to taunt him, she who he had never seen before, who knew more than she should, who refused him all answers.
  322.  
  323. "...I have no reasons to trust you." He muttered. "Not when even the affliction itself was trying to get me to believe that. I barely know who you are, and I have no way to tell if the affliction can take over someone and simply not show those dark circles under someone's eyes. You're just some random lilim I've never in my life seen before who I've not even known for a week, and you're trying to convince me that Rebecca is that damned cheshire?"
  324.  
  325. "I feared I'd not get to you." She answered, closing her book and letting it hang from the strap connecting it to her belt as she stood up. Without a word she departed into a hallway, an act he followed suit till she led him into a room. There, the cheshire slept curled up so peacefully, not waking up even as Derrota and Maverick arrived to her. "There is one piece of evidence that the demon in your head will not be able to guard against."
  326.  
  327. "That being...?"
  328.  
  329. "Her fingers have gotten thicker with that fur on them. It would be extremely uncomfortable for her to still have it there." She said, to then crouch and gently move her palm to the neck of her clothes. With her index and middle, she searched underneath her clothing before pulling, revealing a small chain with a pendant still hidden. As she pulled further, the pendant came out, turning out to be a ring.
  330.  
  331. A ring which made Maverick widen his eyes in horror and disbelief.
  332.  
  333. With care as to not wake her up, Derrota took the necklace out without her waking up despite her long hair and resting head making it a difficult endeavor. Standing back up, she looked at it momentarily before extending her open palm to him, ring on top. From the chain he grabbed it and looked closer, expression petrified into what aghast face he had sported upon seeing it.
  334.  
  335. It was what he feared.
  336.  
  337. The wedding ring he had given Rebecca.
  338.  
  339. "...You goddamn...!" He snapped, muttering in grit teeth right as he grabbed Derrota by the front of her clothes and rammed her against the wall, feet left floating in the air and her hands grabbing his arms. Yet, though little light existed with her flame extinguished, still it could barely be seen that Derrota still had no expression. Unfazed, as if refusing to consider his grip as threatening or frightening. "You turned her into a monster..." He said, barely containing himself to an indignant whisper, breathing heavily as he stared at her dead in the eyes with fury and abhorrence. "I joined the infantry to keep her safe... I fought a damn war to keep her safe... I got dragged into an even more hopeless war afterwards for her, faced an apocalypse for her... I even had to stand up against what a God threw at me and the others for her, and while I'm out here suffering for her sake, you show up and do precisely that..."
  340.  
  341. "There was no other way for her to escape." She answered, calm demeanor reflecting in her voice. Yet, immediately he bashed her against the wall once more.
  342.  
  343. "You could have teleported her out of there! You can do it for yourself, you're a damn lilim, why not do it for someone else too?!"
  344.  
  345. "You know as well as I that after getting her out of there, she'd still be stuck in Wonderland as you are now. That she was turned into a cheshire was no coincidence. Her abilities allowed her to use her memory of you as a conduit, to teleport out of the Wonderland of then to arrive to the forest she met you again in. Remind yourself that had that not happened, she'd have remained afflicted in the Wonderland you saw in the visions, never to return till your time here coincided with that of the visions."
  346.  
  347. With a moment of silence, Maverick then let Derrota go.
  348.  
  349. "That was Wonderland in the future, then?" He asked.
  350.  
  351. "Yes."
  352.  
  353. "Is the Derrota I saw your future self, or past self?"
  354.  
  355. "Past self."
  356.  
  357. "Then in order to go from there to here, you had to go back in time. You have the ability."
  358.  
  359. "Yes."
  360.  
  361. "Can you take me back and forth in time?"
  362.  
  363. "I can, though it will require time and focus. Time and focus which, inevitably, were not available with Rebecca."
  364.  
  365. "Then you'll help me save Rebecca. You owe me this much. Once that's done, we'll return and finish what's left to do here."
  366.  
  367. With a snap of her fingers, a white flame began anew in her palm illuminating her and Maverick, revealing her narrowed eyes.
  368.  
  369. "Very well." She answered, to then depart with him following closely behind. Out the room, then into the main room, and finally out the great doors to step into the cobblestone road outside. "It will be quicker if we find a space anomaly to work with."
  370.  
  371. "A what?"
  372.  
  373. "The same thing that teleported you to the northern end of Wonderland."
  374.  
  375. With a silent acknowledgment, both continued on, Derrota intensifying her flame to illuminate further around. With quick glances about she inspected the scenery, yet soon enough Maverick raised an eyebrow at her attention to these surroundings in specific.
  376.  
  377. "I don't recall space anomalies being here."
  378.  
  379. "They like to move around whenever there's an emission. Sometimes, someone's unlucky enough to end up with waking up elsewhere because one appeared where she slep--"
  380.  
  381. Her abrupt halt led him to do the same, seeing her staring in one direction in particular. Upon following her gaze, he found what she had spotted: A giant mushroom, though with part of its truck sliced out in the shape of a sphere. Part of the grass beside it had been removed, the earth dug out partly in the shape of the same sphere, coinciding with where its base would be.
  382.  
  383. "That didn't take long." She said, to then walk up to the anomaly. "Where do you need to go?"
  384.  
  385. "Take me to the dead forest Rebecca arrived to."
  386.  
  387. As she arrived she sat down, taking her book and opening it with her free palm to then leave it on her legs. Then, she raised her palm and pointed it at the sphere, almost touching its outline, and with a glance at the book and slow movements of her hand, she began.
  388.  
  389. Her incantations left him uneasy. He heard her words, though not in any language he ever heard of, let alone knew. It had to be something else, as a sense of uneasyness grew within him that a mere foreign language never caused, of unnatural wrongness, of hearing things meant not for human or monster tongue. Unnatural words, syllables, pronunciations, sounds he never would've imagined a tongue could produce.
  390.  
  391. Taking too long. Although, was it really taking too long, or was the alien language distressing him enough that seconds turned to minutes? Had to distract himself somehow. The distraction came soon enough, finding within the anomaly a few visual changes; within, it seemed as if a few sparks the size of a head occurred, looking like a mixture of electricity and spider webs in aesthetic and emanating so little light that Derrota's flame drowned it out. At first, only one at a time occurred, appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye with seconds inbetween, but as time passed more and more appeared, soon to cover great part of the sphere itself.
  392.  
  393. With a gust of wind emanating out, it signalled a change of state from the anomaly, now with the little detached blades of grass and dirt beginning to float around it ever so slowly.
  394.  
  395. "Done." She said, to then stand up.
  396.  
  397. "What exactly did you--...Doesn't matter. Is it safe to step in?"
  398.  
  399. "On your mark."
  400.  
  401. "Then let's go."
  402.  
  403. Maverick stepped first, disappearing in a flurry of those same sparks, glinting with a blinding light and the same high-pitched deafening sound as before.
  404.  
  405. Then, followed Derrota.
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