The sun began to set as Maxwell Ardend Dane crossed the White Rose Plaza, intending to drink a little before going home. He'd left his Wonderland jacket at a Laundromat to get the blood out of the white. He remained donned in white gloves, black shoes, slacks, and tie, a button-up maroon shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows, and matching grey suspenders. His reflection on the Jack of Spades liquor store showed his short brown hair to make him appear extraordinarily disheveled. He smoothed it out gruffly as he peered through. Sighing in mild irritation as someone screamed from the near-by alley, he buttoned the cuffs of his gloves, picked out a cheap beer, and strolled into the alley casually.
A tallish blonde woman, dressed almost too expensively for these parts of town, was backed against a brick wall. Her assailant was possibly seven feet tall, likely to be an athlete, and wearing a dark grin across his shaven square jaw. He caged her in with his body, an arm separating her from the street. The hand attached to that arm was clutching her much smaller arm, while its companion was reaching for her slowly, clenched in such a way as to suggest claws might be present. A rivulet of salivation dripped from the corner of his mouth excitedly.
The Mad Hatter interrupted, and with a polite cough he halted the excited stream of drool. The man turned and glared at him, as if he was interrupting a very expensive dinner. In a deep, powerful voice, he addressed the Hatter. "Leave now, and I'll spare you," he said, growling for emphasis. The Hatter smiled a white grin and chuckled.
"I'll offer the same," he answered, "but who shall leave first? As I am clearly the gentleman here," he stepped back to open the alley's corridor, "ladies first." He kept his grin, a daring flash passing in his eyes. He became slightly aware that he might look a bit ridiculous without his jacket, but shrugged it off as the brute responded.
"You, kill me? Unlikely. You are no match for me, the King of the Grey Forest werewolves." He snarled and turned to face the Mad Hatter, his body transforming into a bipedal wolf beast.
"Look at that," mocked the Hatter. "The doggy has thumbs. You do not intimidate me, Lucas," he said fiercely, his face taking on all seriousness as he took off his hat. The Hatter reached into the wide-brimmed black fedora and reached in as far as his elbow. Wind billowed around him as he gripped the hilt of a black katana that materialized within. White-blue light shrouded him, silhouetting the Hatter as he pulled the sword from the hat. With a commanding, nearly possessed voice, the Mad Hatter levitated a foot above the ground by his hat's magic and addressed the werewolf.
"Lucas Morscorn, King of the Grey Forest werewolf clan, is sentenced to immediate execution for three counts of murder, eight counts of magically aided robbery, twelve counts of armed robbery, and two counts of attempted treason. The fine of these crimes is his life and that of his accomplices." The Hatter dropped to the ground lightly, brandishing the blade defensively. "Any last words?"
Lucas snarled. "Bite me," he said before leaping at him. The Hatter laughed gleefully, appreciating the irony as he side-stepped the hound. He spun as Lucas passed and hacked the sword two inches into his collar, breaking the bone and drawing first blood. Lucas grasped the wound in pain, but readied to charge again. He leapt again, but a beat slower, giving him the time to redirect as his adversary moved.
They fell to the ground, man under werebeast. Lucas hacked at the Hatter with his claws, angry as each blow was blocked, other than small cuts that breached his defense. In time, the Mad Hatter grew more and more tired, and weaker. Finally, Lucas gave up with slashing. He lifted the Hatter to be pinned against the wall by his throat, beginning to cut off oxygen.
live," Lucas grunted, crashing his fist into the Hatter's gut with each word. His vision began to swim. He needed to break free fast. He smiled weakly, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth.
"At last," he said, coughing blood on Lucas's face as he glanced into the empty street. "Reinforcements."
Terrified, Lucas turned to look. Perfect, thought the Hatter, before slashing the katana clumsily into Lucas's exposed right side. The wolfman jumped back in surprised pain, dropping the Mad Hatter to clutch his wound. Lucas moved to make one final strike before remembering why he and Selene were there. He turned and ran away, holding his injuries as he disappeared into the street.
Max held himself, refilling his lungs and retching blood. Glad I meant to visit Alice anyway, he told himself, beginning to stand himself up. After his knees steadied, he turned to the blonde woman, asking if she was alright. Instead, he'd found that she vanished, a small black feather showing in the street light where she stood. Apathetically he assumed it had fallen off her black feather scarf and turned to leave the alley. He looked down at his shirt and groaned as he saw that it had been shredded in the fight, with some buttons missing as well. Blood had turned the red of the tatters darker. He tore off what remained and used its shreds to clean and bandage himself, and walked the rest of the way to the White Rabbit Club.
Lucas met Selene on the next street over, limping and gasping for air when he finally stopped running. He was glaring in anger after he'd calmed down.
"I could have killed him, Selene," he growled at her, the fur on his neck ruffling as he returned to his human form. Though his pants clung to him as a wolf, his transformation ripped them to a size too big for his frame, so they fell to the street, piled around his ankles.
"I know, Lucas, but we aren't here to kill him. We're here to test him. Ches told us Mordred would fail if Wonderland was prepared." She spat the name Wonderland like a bug in her throat and tossed Lucas some pants she pulled from her purse. "Now put that on before you get too much attention." Selene looked him over as he pulled them on, quietly satiating an interest in anything with well-sculpted that moves.
"You were watching, right? What do you think? Do we stand a chance?" Lucas had forgotten his anger upon the mention of the powerful warlock who'd hired them, and the ringmaster of it all.
Selene looked down with a sigh, shaking her head as she rubbed her temples with her fingers. "It's hard to say. That Hatter is probably one of the most powerful Cards I've ever seen. If Wonderland's got any more of him around, we're not going to get anywhere. For now, let's just report to Ches. Knowing him, he was watching." She turned on her heels and beckoned the shirtless King to follow her and they walked casually towards the sunset, into the darkening forest as dusk dawned over the city.
Max nodded at the satyr that stood at the entrance of the White Rabbit as he passed.
"Evening, Darius," he said before descending the red-carpeted steps to the first floor, the Under Ground floor. Lights of purple and red, blue and orange, green and yellow pulsed and throbbed as he stepped into the foyer. A wide, mildly populated bar stretched out across the front wall, where he saw Blaise and Alice mixing drinks and passing around glasses. Max gave a small smile as he strolled through the crowd, loathing the attention his lack of shirt brought him.
Ignoring all the hands of fey and warlocks that took liberties with him as he passed, and fighting his agitation of the small clusters of women who flocked to block his way, he finally pulled up a barstool and waited for Alice. He watched her golden white hair shimmer slightly as she turned and weaved to her drunken customers, and chatted lightly with Blaise until she came over. He walked over to the Hatter, scrubbing at a stain someone left after spilling a Black Rabbit mixer.
"Bloody mistress, Max, what happened? I haven't seen you this beat up since our first witch hunt." Blaise looked up at him in concern. He'd seen many beaten men walk into that bar, and by the end of the night they'd forgotten their wounds and left in the arms of some enchantress or other. But not Max. Not only was he the one man Blaise hated to see harmed like this, he was the only man the bartender knew who wouldn't be carried off drunk in the arms of a succubus.
Max sighed and explained. "Well, for starters, I finally took down the witch Lilith, and..."
Blaise's eyes widened. "Lilith? Seriously? She's, like, a Triple C rank witch. What were you thinking? Do you want to die?"
Max smirked a little. "I...went for a walk. Now then, can I finish?"
Blaise mumbled to himself something about very enthusiastic walks before responding. "Yes, you may. I doubt Lilith did this...claw damage."
He nodded. "I killed Lilith and dispatched her cultists and came back into town for a drink. My jacket was bloodied, so I took it to Rose's Laundry to get it cleaned. Those coats are expensive. Anyway, I was passing Jack's Liquor when I stepped in against an attack in an alley and met Lucas, Mr. Big King Werewolf. Then we fought, ended in a draw, he ran away, and I came here. I had intended to come chat with Alice, but it seems I'll need her for more than conversation tonight."
Blaise sighed. "What's Lucas doing in town? Whatever it is, it can't be good. Anyway, I'll send Alice over, and grab a spare shirt from the back. I don't need all these pixies flocking and pushing away customers." He walked over to Alice and whispered to her and summarized what Max had told him. She nodded solemnly and walked over to Max after handing a homeless man his drink. As she made her way down the bar, she grabbed a subtly glowing green bottle and a tea cup.
"You need to stop doing this to yourself, Maddy," Alice said as she confronted Max. He watched as she poured some Green Caterpillar tea into the cup and waved her hand over it. Blue tendrils of light spiraled in weaves and knots from her hand into the cup.
"A job's a job, Alice. I've told you this. Lucas was
a freak accident," he explained calmly. She slid the cup across the counter to him, and he drained it. Exhaling a blue mist, his body instantly began to repair itself. It gradually lost its pallor, and he peeled off his makeshift bandages. Alice took them in her hands, whispered a short spell of fire, and incinerated them.
"Alice, have I ever told you how glad I am you're on Wonderland's side?" Max said with a smile.
"Might I remind you who tried to kill me?" She answered in kind.
"Good thing I changed my mind, huh," he answered before adding "Now go help Blaise with his customers. I can get a shirt myself." Alice blew a kiss in his direction before heading back, ignoring the whispering about her being a witch, and the mixed views that were shared.