99 Hatters down the wall,
The 100th is the one of all.
The 1st, 15th, than 30th day;
Meet, then Mad, then Murder away,
until Wonder's grounds are all blood-stained.
She stood there on the balcony overlooking her kingdom.
Its name was Wonder, and its name suited it, for regardless of the season, its beauty of lofty mountains and green abundant fields was always present.
Indeed, it was supposed to be yet another beautiful day. The sky was blue. The birds were singing. The waves of the ocean below lapped against the cliff. All was peaceful.
But supposed was the key word.
If it wasn’t for that ever-moving wall of black smoke on the horizon …
“Your majesty …”
The Queen of Hearts, proud and pale and wearing her traditional red, need not look around to know who it was. Only one person was known to move so quietly. That person had wide, yellow-orange eyes that shined hard like diamonds under trimmed bang of white. Her features were delicate and lady-like, but the hardness in those eyes made her look older than she was.
The snowy-haired White Rabbit stepped forward until she was standing next to her mistress. Together they looked out at the smoke.
“It’s coming,” said White Rabbit. “The hundredth month since the arrival.”
The Queen said nothing.
“We are the last dimension before Reality,” said White
Rabbit. “All the dimensions before us have fallen to her existence. If we fall,
Reality will be …” She could not finish the sentence.
The Queen said nothing.
The White Rabbit sighed, wrinkling her button nose. “What do you want done?”
The Queen spoke.
“Go and fetch him. It’s time for him to fulfill his destiny.”
He first saw her when he was ten.
The royal court, including him, his mother, and his sister, the Duchess, had stood on the highest tower of the Heart Castle and watched as someone with yellow-gold hair descended from the sky like a bird. At the time he had smiled at the sight as he held his sister’s hand.
Other than her, no one else did.
But as the Knave of Hearts stared over the marble railing at the descending beauty, he thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
As if hearing his thought, she turned and looked in his direction.
His heart froze.
They stared at each other.
He only stopped when his mother, once the most beautiful person in the world to him, with her black hair and chocolate eyes, told him to look away. He had learned the hard way her word was law, and he obeyed without question.
So the Knave looked away and did not watch as the sky girl went down to where some of the Playing Card Guards were waiting.
He never saw her after that.
He rarely saw the Duchess after that.
And his mother never called him ‘son’ after that, either.
Eight years later, he now stood in front of the Queen in her throne.
Much had changed. Like the appearing wrinkles on his mother’s face.
Like her disappearing smile whenever he came into her presence.
Like the love she never showed him once his fate was sealed.
After all, who could love a killer?
Nevertheless he bowed before her. “Queen of Hearts.”
She sniffed with disdain. “Hatter.”
He stood and waited as the Cheshire Cat — old, limping, but still so powerful — stepped forward out of the crowd of surrounding nobles, bearing a blackened sword.
“Hatter,” said the Cheshire Cat. He handed him the sword, shuffling his bright purple robes as he did so. “You are truly the royal assassin now. You bear its sword and its hat, having been handpicked by the queen.”
The court said nothing. The Duchess, his sister, so much bigger now, sat among them, straining to meet her older brother’s eyes, but he forced himself not to look at her as his majesty had commanded him to.
“You are the youngest to be chosen. At the same time you have the greatest burden on your shoulder. For you are the hundredth Hatter.”
If his mother’s word was law, the Cheshire Cat’s words were truth. No one could ever claim him a liar.
He stepped back from the throne, and the Queen rose from her seat.
“I am proud of you,” his mother said, but she didn’t sound very proud. “You deserve the title after all the training you went through. You will be our hero. The hero that will save this world and the next.”
She raised her hand and signaled a dismissal.
“You know what needs to be done.”
He bowed and left the room, still refusing to look at the Duchess. As he reached the door, he heard his mother tell her to settle down, then mutter one last order.
“Do not fail me, Hatter.”
She lived in a tower called the House of Cards in the middle of the kingdom.
She had lived there ever since her arrival.
The tower was a huge patchwork of design. The walls outside and in were black, red, and white on a pattern of red and white squares. The door was nearly impossible to find. But it was a tower fit for a princess.
Up the spiraling staircase was the single round room where she lived alone. She was not lonely, though. She stopped being alone a long time ago.
She had her soft bed, her shelf of books, her window seat, and most importantly, her grand piano.
That was alright.
The different monthly visitors were nice as well.
“I am not lonely,” she told herself whenever her mind told her differently. “I have been loved; past and present.”
Many had loved her, but since she had lived for a long time, she could not remember their faces, their names, even the worlds they came from that she had ‘visited’. But she knew for sure they loved her. They all had loved her …
“And here in this world, I was loved ninety-nine times by ninety-nine men. What a wonder it is … to be loved,” she sighed as she sat at the piano.
She talked to break the silence.
And the sky would cry for her, the imprisoned angel.
Right after his crowning, he traveled over to see her.
He entered the tower, climbed the stairs, and entered her room. He first saw her hair. She had the longest hair, the color of gold and fields of wheat. She was playing her piano; the piece she was playing was something classical, perhaps taken from Reality.
He made it halfway across the room before she knew he was there. She stopped playing, rose from her bench, and turned to look at him.
He remembered her face. It had grown lovelier, despite her agelessness; she looked the same age as he with her smooth white skin and dimples.
From the blank look in her blue eyes, she did not remember him.
“Hello,” she said with a smile. Her voice was soft and welcoming. The Hatter instantly liked it.
It was better this way, for her not to remember, he thought.
“You must be him.”
“Yes.” He straightened up to his full height and approached her. Taking her hand, he kissed it.
She had large eyes like the sky, and they filled with light at the gesture. So much lovelier …
“I am the hundredth Hatter.”
She simply nodded.
“I have known of the prediction since my arrival,” she said politely. “The Cheshire Cat predicted the hundredth would be the last … and the closest to the Queen.”
She turned and stroked her piano’s smooth black surface.
“Do not disappoint the Queen of Hearts, O Knave of Hearts.”
“My name is not the Knave of Hearts.”
She tensed up. He could tell. He felt a momentary flicker of guilt for his brusque retort.
“I have no name.” He was gentler this time.
In slow motion she glanced at him over her shoulder. A lock of hair fell over her shoulder as he approached her again.
“It’s simply Hatter.”
They talked for the rest of the day.
They learned of each other. And then he left.
He came again the next day, and the same thing happened again.
On the third day, he learned something intriguing: she had never learned the other’s names.
“Your name is the first name I’ve ever learned,” she said. “Nobody told me their names, even if they had one. It’s sad, really. It makes me feel like I need to name my piano, my bed, and my bookshelf. I love my piano the most, so it needs a good name. I’m trying to think of a good one.”
She abruptly stopped from pressing keys.
“I shall call my piano … the Lory!” She resumed playing a made-up melody.
Watching her play, Hatter wondered what it would be like to live in a world without names, with only faceless companions at her side. Had she ever been called her own name?
She was surprised. He could tell. So she never had been called a name.
On the inside, she felt like flying. A princess. She felt special and happy. At last she had a name. It was close to her real name, at least.
“What’s your name?”
Her fingers stopped abruptly. Like no one had ever given her a name, no one ever asked her for her true name.
She felt honored.
She rose from the bench and went to Hatter’s side. Leaning over she whispered a word in his ear.
His lips curled into a smile.
Days passed much too quickly.
He visited her every day, and every day they talked. Sometimes she would play the Lory and he would sit and listen.
Strange feelings began to bloom.
On the fifteenth day, she kissed him. Her lips were as delicate as snow.
“Oh, Hatter. You are truly special,” she whispered as they sat on the window seat and he held her. “You are different.”
He ran a hand over her golden hair. It was softer than he had imagined.
“Do you know why you are special?” she murmured.
He didn’t reply. He already knew the answer anyway.
She pulled back from his hold, stood up from her seat, and took his hands.
“I was loved many times before in each world I have visited. Here in Wonder ninety-nine men loved me. Every Hatter before you … every one of them loved me. They loved me because they had to.” She stroked his hands with her thumbs. “They loved me because it was said they would. They had no choice. I did have a choice. And I never felt anything for them.”
She let go of his hands and walked backwards until she was ten steps away from him. She was wearing the dress she always wore; white and blue with short, puffed sleeves, a round neckline, a tight bodice, and a flowing floor-length skirt. She looked like an innocent child, except for her curves and those tired, old, but smiling blue eyes.
“Because of their feelings for me – all of their feelings for me – I continue to live. I continue to travel from world to world. I continue to play my piano. I continue to lie on my bed. And here I continue to live and sing inside this tower. I continue to haunt Wonder.” She dropped her gaze and lifted a lock of hair between her fingers. “I don’t know why I exist. I don’t know who made me, or why and how I do what I do. But somehow, my existence in this place and all the other worlds is nothing but a contradiction. And soon, just because I’m alive, just because I live …”
She lifted her gaze to lock with his.
“I will destroy your world. Just like I destroyed the others and just like I will destroy Reality if I ever reach it.”
She dropped her hair. Her facial expression did not change.
“The Queen of Hearts places her hopes on you, Hatter. In fact, everyone in Wonder has placed their on you. For you are special. Because you,” she smiled without a hint of any negative emotion, “you, the hundredth Hatter, are not going to fall in love with me.”
His face didn’t change. He already knew that.
“Right?” she asked.
She began to walk towards him. Again she sat on the window seat and cradled his face between her hands.
“Say it. Please …”
“… I don’t love you.”
She smiled calmly.
“And on the thirtieth day …” the Hatter said, “I’m going to kill
She did not look disturbed by his words.
She knew it was coming.
“I know,” she murmured against his lips. She kissed him softly, and slowly he returned it. She gently broke away. “Promise me something, Hatter.”
He held her tightly as if she’d break any minute.
“Please promise me.”
Her voice was changing, becoming more desperate.
“Promise me … you won’t love me. Promise you will kill me.”
“Princess …” he whispered her nickname.
“I’ll let you be the one to touch me. I’ll show you my affection. But promise me.”
He put a hand to her hair and curled his fingers through it. Their bodies could hear each other’s heartbeat; they clung that close together.
“Promise me you’ll kill me.”
He sealed his promise with a kiss and a whisper.
She was playing the piano, and he couldn’t identify what it was as he waited outside her door.
Was it something of her own creation? He didn’t know.
It was two weeks after the Hatter’s promise.
The song she played now was simple; he swore he’d heard it many years ago. She suddenly laughed softly, and began humming with the music. He wished she’d giggle again; the piano paled in comparison to the music that was her laugh.
When did everything become so complicated?
The door opened and closed.
The music stopped. She rose from her stool and glanced behind her.
She squinted, trying to find him. But she couldn’t see him at first, due to the long shadows created from the sunset.
Her smile widened at the name and she ran to him. She threw her arms around his neck. Strong arms caught her and clung to her tightly.
“I missed you …” she whispered.
“How was your meeting?” she murmured against his neck.
Effortlessly he picked her off the floor, bridal style, and sat on the window seat with her in his lap.
“Did the Queen of Hearts ask for me? How was you sister, the Duchess? And March Hare? White Rabbit?”
His hands buried themselves into her thick hair. Gently he tilted her head up and their lips met.
He slanted her head and his mouth moved vehemently; his thumb rubbed the base of her head as he forced her mouth open. A moan escaped as his tongue explored her mouth thoroughly and her eyes closed.
He broke the kiss and lifted her up. Before she knew what was happening his mouth claimed her lips again and her eyes closed. He walked backwards until her back met the piano.
“Hatter,” she whispered against his lips.
“What?” he growled into the kiss.
“Not here …”
“You love that piano too much.”
Black locks surrounded her fingers. Slowly the Hatter’s mouth moved down her neck, leaving behind the most velvety of kisses. She gasped as his lips found the spot between her neck and shoulder.
“This piano … is my prized possession,” she mumbled, slipping a hand inside his shirt collar and feeling his skin. Her other hand grabbed a chunk of his hair and pulled him lightly away from her neck. He was panting, and his lips damp.
“Just like you,” she murmured.
She felt him stiffen in her arms, and imagined how hard his eyes had become. Without warning, he gave her a hard and deep kiss, sticking his tongue between her teeth. He pulled at her white dress; slowly it started to tear.
She pulled away, noting how his brown eyes seemed to flash red. She smiled at him again, caressing his cheek.
“I don’t want to break both my precious possessions.”
His eyes narrowed, but there was a hint of some soft emotion he had never known. It felt like he was … breaking …
“Fine,” he muttered.
His hands went to work ripping her dress, starting with the shoulders and arms. Parts of fabric drifted to the floor.
“Let’s go to bed.”
After bed, he watched her.
When he spent the night, he always sheltered her in his arms; there was something comforting about having her near. She always cuddled back. But he didn’t mention to her the fear of her pulling away. So he always made sure she fell asleep first; it let him hold her closer without her telling him to let go.
The pleasure — real or pretend, he had trouble differentiating the simplest aspects now — he took comfort in.
While watching her sleep, he toyed with her strands of thick yellow hair and listened to the small noises she made. Then he heard a sound that hadn’t been made by her. A sound he had heard before …
His face hardened as he pulled away and got out of bed. Making sure she was still asleep, he covered her with the crimson duvet before heading for the balcony in nothing but his trousers.
In seconds he was standing outside on the balcony. The skinny crescent moon hung in the sky like a scythe ready to swing. No stars found reason to show themselves tonight.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, his voice as cold as the freezing breeze blowing about. “This complex is off limits to everyone but me. You’re trespassing, whoever you are.”
“I am a noble,” a voice sneered, feminine and firm. “I think that entails I have the freedom to go wherever I wish.”
His frown blackened as he gazed into the balcony’s shadows.
“I’m a noble too, but that doesn’t give me the right to go wherever I want without orders.”
“You’re defensive tonight, Knave of Hearts.”
His eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Don’t.” He found the spot in the shadows where the voice came from. “Don’t call me that name,” he hissed with quiet anger. No one should ever call him by his old title …
“Why?” the voice jeered. “Does it hurt, Hatter? Remembering that you were once a prince? Someone your mother loved? Someone your sister adored?”
He chose to ignore the questions and asked another. “Why are you here?”
The voice’s owner finally stepped out into the open. It was the White Rabbit.
“To remind you of your mission.”
He grunted and looked out over the kingdom, his vision roaming over the emerald grass of the farmland that still existed, to the Victorian buildings of the towns and cities, to the Heart Castle on its cliff. The smoke was so much closer now than twenty-nine days ago ...
“I don’t need a reminder, White Rabbit. I know what I’m doing.”
The woman scoffed. “Of course you do. That’s why you haven’t done it yet.”
He didn’t like her tone; he never had. “If you’re not going to say anything useful, I suggest you leave,” he said in an even tone he found painful to use with the annoyance he felt. “You’re wasting my time —”
“What time? The time left to do your duty? Or the time you have left to be her bed warmer?”
She was riding on his last nerve. “Dormouse, I’m warning you …”
He rarely called her by that old title.
“Dash it all, Hatter!” she snapped. “It’s the twenty-ninth! Do it now!”
“Hatter, it’s your duty,” she reminded him with a growl. “This is for the sake of our home, of our future. Of Reality’s future. Don’t go wasting this chance! We can’t afford to lose. And you can’t afford to fail. We’ve received word from the boundaries. Everything’s starting to blacken and vanish!”
“I told you to be quiet.” He gave a quick glance back at the tower and the doors leading inside. “She’s sleeping.”
But the White Rabbit wouldn’t stop. Not with everything on the line.
“You’re just like the Hatters before you, so desperate for love,” she said, hoping to goad him.
“Don’t compare me to those fools.”
“Then don’t be a fool. We have our objectives, and —”
“And I know mine.”
“No you don’t!”
He snorted. “Says you. Leave already or be quiet. You’re noisy.”
The White Rabbit scowled as she swelled in anger. “Hatter, your sister —”
He had had it. The White Rabbit abruptly quieted as a familiar black sword put its razor-sharp tip to her neck. She didn’t know what was more frightening as she nervously took in the scene before her; the sword, or the look on the Hatter’s face.
“I said be quiet,” he snarled under his breath.
She subtly swallowed as her gaze hardened all over again and met his. “I’m not afraid of you. You have the power to kill her and only her. You can’t harm me, no matter how Mad you have become.”
He didn’t say anything, nor did he lower his sword.
“You’re committing the exact mistake as your predecessors, Hatter. They all loved her, adored her, gave up everything for her ... they all experienced taking her.”
“You’re wrong,” he spat. “She was pure when I took her.”
White Rabbit smirked. “Is that supposed to make you feel special, Hatter? That out of all the assassins sent to kill her, she chose just you to touch her?”
“Don’t patronize me,” he said, impassive. “To her I’m only a prized possession.” He clenched his jaw as he words squeezed out, wishing they weren’t true. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
He dropped the blade from her throat, slipped it back in its sheath, and turned away.
The White Rabbit opened her mouth, but he cut her off.
“You’re an outsider to all of this,” he growled, leaning on the balcony’s banister. “This tale, this … destiny, only revolves around me and her.” He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Only me and her.”
“Leave. Now. And this time I mean it.”
There was silence, and then the sound of pattering feet as the White Rabbit disappeared.
After speaking to the White Rabbit, he went back to the room, locking the doors behind him.
Despite all the noise, she was still asleep, her hair spread out like fine silk. For a moment he leaned against the wall and watched how she breathed, the peace on her face ...
Approaching the bed, the Hatter ran a hand over her cheek. She shivered and moved slightly, her eyes fluttering. He waited for them to open.
He moved his hand lower; over her shoulder, down her arm. She grinned gently and slowly as she rolled on her back. His hand found hers, and their fingers intertwined as they held each other. Her quiet smile grew. She lifted her free hand to his naked chest.
“Again?” she whispered.
He stared deeply into her eyes; there was a deep need in his own, she noted. His free hand stroked her hair as the corners of his lips drew up.
When he returned home, the Queen called him into the throne room for a meeting.
It was empty except for him, her, and the White Rabbit. He glared at the queen’s messenger. She glared back.
Looking away, he bowed his head. “Queen of Hearts.”
“Tomorrow is the last day. Your last day. Your purpose must be fulfilled.”
She spoke softly, maybe even kindly, but her face was hard as ever.
“I am waiting. What’s left of Wonder is waiting. Reality is at stake. We are the last world protecting it. We need her head on a silver platter. We can’t wait anymore.”
He kept his gaze on the floor, face neutral, wishing she would excuse him.
“Are you going Mad, Hatter? Like you are supposed to?”
He wished she hadn’t asked that question. He lifted his brown eyes, knowing well what the answer was.
“Then do it.” The Queen stood up, finality in her tone. “Off with her head.”
Without another word, the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit left the room, leaving the Hatter in his thoughts.
He wasn’t lying when he said he was going Mad.
She was the first person to make him smile after all these years …
He knew he was lying to himself if he said he was going crazy.
She was the first person to show him such affection other than his sister in such a long time, even if she felt nothing for him …
He was indeed going Mad.
Madly in love with her.
The Hatter looked over his shoulder to see the Duchess peeking in, her face curious, her black hair perfectly coiffed. As when he saw the Princess, his heart lurched. Having been forbidden to even be near the Duchess had been torture. And looking at his sister now, though he knew that she loved him even after all this time, and he did too — somewhere inside him, despite all his training — he couldn’t help but think his mother and her advisers were right to cut off contact.
Very soon he’d be too filthy for her to touch.
“Brother?” his sister fully entered the room and approached him, open and concerned. She must have heard everything. “Are you —”
She never finished. He went past her, leaving her behind.
The Princess was struggling with her music the next day.
The last day.
She tried playing one of her favorites. It was difficult, and in the end it didn’t work. Later she tried something else It wasn’t any easier.
She was about to try yet another piece when she heard the door open. She stopped, lifted her hands off the keys, and raised her head, not looking back behind her.
It could only be one person visiting for one reason.
“It’s time, isn’t it Hatter?” she said.
Footsteps echoed across the floor. A hand slid over her should, causing her to tilt her head to the side. His callused palm was warm against her bare neck.
“Your time’s up,” she added, eyes closed. “I know it is. I can still remember the Cheshire Cat’s prediction from the one time I heard it. It was said by him: ninety-nine Hatters down the wall; the hundredth is the one of all. The first, fifteenth, then thirtieth day; Meet, then Mad, then Murder away, until Wonder's grounds are all blood stained."
His hand moved down her collarbone to the end of her shoulder, raising a little path of delicious fire as it went.
“Do you still remember your promise?” she asked.
Unknown by her, he nodded.
“Do you know today’s the thirtieth day?” he asked.
She nodded. “I do.” Pushing the stool back, she stood up and faced him. There was no fear in her eyes. “But I ask of you; can we say goodbye?”
He looked at her, confused. “Is that your final request?”
“Yes,” she whispered, barely audible but so sweet.
The Hatter closed his eyes, sighed, and nodded. “Very well.”
With that seemingly ever-present smile, she started to undress. His eyes followed her movements, taking in her soft skin and tired eyes. He wanted to remember them forever.
He started to unbutton his coat.
“Let’s say goodbye.”
He felt more alive on that night than on all the other days in his life.
He was infinitely gentle. He prolonged the contact, the pleasure, and the touch as much as he could, to feel as much as he could before the feeling left forever.
He didn’t want to stop. He wished it wouldn’t stop.
“Again,” he kept saying. She never refused him his wish.
They didn’t stop. If they stopped, they knew what would catch up with them; it would break the dream, ruin everything.
Once they stopped, time would move.
And the time for death would arrive.
He begged for the first time in his life.
He begged of her, “Say it. Just once will do. I need to hear it. Even if it’s a lie. Tell me anything that’ll make me feel this forever. Please... don’t leave me wondering.”
“Yo-you are mo-more than just…a poss-possesion,” she stuttered and moaned. “I-I truly l-ove…I lo-love...”
She couldn’t stop crying as she tried to tell him the truth; she had finally found love.
But he understood.
Time wasn’t stopping for them.
It was time for it to be done.
Neither could deny it any longer.
Everything was quiet.
He stood over her on the floor as she lay on the bed, holding that hateful black sword of his with one hand. The other was tangled with her hair in a gentle hold. The blade was touching her neck.
Their eyes met.
“Please, don’t …”
Warm drops of water began to fall on her beautiful face. They weren’t her own.
More drops fell in a torrent onto her pale cheeks. She smiled that smile of hers and stroked his wet, trembling face with soft tenderness.
Her cheeks were soaked, shining in the moonlight from the tears falling down like a waterfall.
He could do this. He couldn’t do this. His arm was shaking…
“I love you, Hat —”
She never finished what she was saying.
It was done in one swipe.
For a minute he couldn’t believe it was done.
He couldn’t believe he did it.
Control of his breathing left him. It got louder, heavier, faster.
The moon kept glowing on the crimson-splattered walls as if nothing had happened.
Her blood was spreading. Thickening, moving, it soaked the already red bed sheets and pillows, turning them almost black. He could feel it on his skin; it was steeping into his abdomen, his thighs, his face ...
The face she had so lovingly touched just seconds before.
Quivering fingers clutched at the thick, still golden strands of her hair. Quaking hands and arms held the priceless, bloody head tightly to his chest.
His legs gave out and he collapsed to the floor, rocking back and forth, back and forth, wishing it would all go away.
All that could be heard was his sobbing.
He opened his mouth.
And a broken scream echoed throughout the tower.
The kingdom heard the scream.
And though the Duchess wept for her brother’s pain, Wonder rejoiced.
The Queen heard the news, and her heart sang with joy.
In the late afternoon of the next day, she called the entire court to the shining throne room. They waited patiently.
For some reason the Cheshire Cat was missing.
Finally the White Rabbit, who had been sent to greet him, entered the room. In her hands was a covered tray.
“Queen of Hearts, I present to you the gift from the Hatter,” said White Rabbit, holding the tray out in front of her. She proceeded to walk up to the throne, but stopped when the Queen raised a hand.
The royal messenger bowed. “Yes, your Highness?”
“Where is the Hatter? I want the Hatter to present it.”
“He is …”
“There he is,” said the March Hare.
The White Rabbit turned.
Hatter had entered the room and was standing right behind her. Without a word he took the tray and walked up to the throne where the Queen sat, the White Rabbit at his heels. The Queen raised an eyebrow, and the Duchess gasped. He looked like a walking corpse. The Hatter’s face was blank, partly hidden in shadows, and streaked with blood, just like his uniform. He stopped in front of her Majesty and took off the white cloth covering the platter.
Only the Duchess winced at the sight of a head with yellow hair. The long golden locks fell around the severed neck in waves. Despite the pain it had gone through, the face was serene; a deep calmness had taken control of its features.
It was smiling in its sleep.
The Hatter dropped the cloth, placed the tray on the floor, and gently picked the head up by its hair. An anxious air surrounded everyone as he stood at the base of the throne.
He lifted the head up to the Queen’s eye level.
“The head. Her head. As you have wished,” said the Hatter with no emotion. The Duchess suppressed a whimper at his tone.
“Excellent.” The Queen’s smile was cold. “You have saved us and Reality, Hatter. And the prize you’ve brought back is a beautiful one.”
No one saw the Hatter’s jaw clench.
“It shall be put it on display for all to see,” the Queen declared. She waved her hand, dismissing the Hatter. “Put it outside for the executioner to deal with.”
“You take it.”
Her surprised eyes lifted to gaze at him. Indeed, everyone looked surprise. Never had he defied her until now.
“Put it —”
“You take it.”
The Playing Card Guards tensed, hands on their spears.
“There’s no need for violence,” said the Queen of Hearts. She stood up from her crimson throne and walked down the steps. “Of course, Hatter. Thank you.”
She lifted her hands to take the gift.
But then he smiled creepily.
The Queen’s eyes swelled; she knew that look. She opened her mouth to scream, but her head flew off her neck before she could utter anything.
Chaos immediately erupted.
“Hatter!” the White Rabbit shrieked. The Queen of Hearts’ body and head fell to the floor at his feet. Blood gushed from the severed neck.
“Hatter!” the White Rabbit yelled again. “What the — oh my …”
Hatter turned around to face his audience. Standing in front of the empty throne, with fresh blood staining his feet and clothes, his matted red hair did nothing to hide the insane sneer or the psychotic eyes.
The court couldn’t move; their hearts had stopped.
“It’s the …”
He raised his sword and murdered away until Wonder’s grounds were all blood-stained.
In his room, the Cheshire Cat sighed as he heard the wails.
The prophecy — his prophecy — had come true. If only they had understood it correctly …
“It was said by him:
Ninety-nine Hatters down the wall;
the hundredth is the one of all.
The first, fifteenth, than thirtieth day;
Meet, then Mad, then Murder away,
until Wonder's grounds are all blood-stained."
In the back of his mind someone familiar sounding called his name.
Jerking to a stop, the black blade froze a millimeter away from the Duchess’s neck. He looked up, straining his ears to listen.
He knew that voice.
“Princess …” he dryly croaked. He dropped the sword with a clatter, turned around, and immediately saw her. “Prince … princess …”
She was smiling at him. Beautiful as ever, she wore his favorite dress and had her hands in front of her, palms up.
“Hatter … remember when I told you I’d like to be the ocean?”
Slowly he nodded. He remembered that conversation; he had asked her why.
“I wanted to be free; to be unstoppable, forever moving,” she said with a smile. “And you have set me free. Thank you …”
He reached out to her, but her smile grew and she playfully took a step backwards. With a giggle, she turned and ran out of the Heart Castle throne room. Without question, he followed her, leaving behind a wounded soul.
“Bro-brother …” the Duchess whimpered as she weakly stood up. She stared at the bloody carcasses of family and friends, tears falling rapidly down her cheeks. Yet she felt more sadness for her brother than the court entire.
They did this. Their deaths were their own fault for making him out to be an unlovable monster, for making him kill the girl he loved despite the importance of her death. But why did he spare her? What unseen force had he run after?
Did he love his sister after all?
Avoiding torn and broken corpses, she stumbled away from the bodies; the March Hare, who had protected her, her mother, the White Rabbit …
Leaving the room, she regained her footing and ran after the Hatter. “B-brother!”
Hearing his pounding footsteps, she followed him up the highest tower. Reaching the top, she stepped outside and found him.
Her eyes widened.
Her voice was music to his ears.
“Hatter …” she said, floating in midair over the tower’s edge. He stood on one of the short, flat platforms that connected the banister.
“Princess … Alice …”
“That’s the first time you’ve called me by name. My real name. I like the way you say it.”
She held out a hand. “Do you want to be with me, Hatter?”
“I … I …”
“Come with me, Hatter.”
She smiled. His heart burst.
“Come be free with me.”
Time slowed at that moment.
The Duchess gasped as he stepped closer to the platform’s edge. Below him, the ocean raged around the jagged, pointed rocks scattered at the base of the cliff Heart Castle sat on.
He was reaching out to the heavens, grabbing the air as if it were someone’s hand.
“Big brother … stop. Please. I love —”
It was her heart that stopped as his eyes closed and he smiled at the wind.
He stepped onto the sky.
The Duchess shrieked.
The Hatter was falling.
The Hatter was diving.
The Hatter was swimming.
The Hatter was sinking.
The Hatter was dying.
The Hatter … was free.
And the Duchess screamed.