The Mad King – Jovee Winters

A mess. That’s what this is. One giant, enormous, never-before-heard-of quandary. And the worst of it is, it’s all my fault. Look, I have to be bold. Brave. Fearless. All the things I’ve never been to fix this kettle of fish we now find ourselves in, but the truth is I’m not sure how to solve it, or whether I even can. Everything’s changed. Magic has altered. Even the landscape has shifted. Places that once were are now different. They’re still there but no longer the same. Everything is topsy-turvy, and I don’t know how to make sense of this. It’s been a week since Harpy took the magic from me.

Since the world I once knew was no more. And nothing at all is what I thought. At first I thought time had altered, but I quickly realized that not every one of Danika’s couples were affected by this transformation. Though many of Dani’s Bad Five are altered. The Wolf and his beloved Heartsong have been separated. And worse still, I can find neither one of them. It’s as though they’ve simply vanished into the ether, as though they’d never been at all. The only proof of their ever having existed is the stony presence of their son still trapped in the hidden realm Calypso and Aphrodite fashioned for him along with Rayale—the Pied Piper—during the games. And speaking of the elemental goddess Calypso, disaster doesn’t even begin to describe what’s happened to both her and Hades. Their case would be the most tragic to me, considering how many other lives are affected by the loss of them, but in truth, there is one loss far greater than all the rest.

Wonderland is no more. The madcap, beautiful realm is now nothing more than a mundane woodland full of mundane flowers and mundane animals. The insanity is almost entirely all gone. Flowers no longer sing. The March Hare is little more than a fluffy, brown-furred bunny with only an occasional lapse into lunacy. Trouser-and-tie-wearing skinks and stunks no longer wander the woods quoting Frost as they drink their tea. Even Leonard, Hatter’s longtime chef and beloved mouse, is naught but a chittering rodent in search of grains and nuts. Only Hatter owns magic, and even so it is very, very little. Enough to occasionally fashion a bit of whimsy to please Other Alice’s avarice, but that is it. My fear is that once the magic’s gone, can Hatter ever be saved? Can the fairy tales be saved? The ramifications what it would mean to lose Wonderland is too great a thought to bear.

Magic is vital to the institution of Kingdom itself. Every thread of everyday life is woven by it. To lose its magic would be to lose the very heart of our world. Only now have I realized that the very beating epicenter of Kingdom starts right there. The tales and so many of the stories bloomed from that madness. To bring it back, I must somehow make the Hatter remember, for he is the very soul of that realm. And so now I have no choice but to journey and do the impossible. I must make Hatter fall in love with his Alice—his real Alice—again. But Other Alice is in the way, and I’m not even certain whether Hatter’s true Alice is still alive, or for that matter was born at all. With her great-grandmother now a part of Kingdom, I have my doubts that our Alice was ever created.

I wish I understood why the Creator allowed this nightmare to happen. Why taking that seed of darkness from me caused all this chaos. I can only hope that in time I’ll learn why It saved me at all, knowing how disastrous the outcome would be to everyone else. No matter what happens to me through all this though, I’m determined to right this sinking ship. I’m a godmother; this is exactly what my kind does. But nothing at all is right with this new world. And I’m quite certain that no fairy godmother has ever before faced the challenges in front of me now. I will fix this. I will fix all this. Somehow.

I hope. Oh, Goddess, I hope. So I guess there is only one way to start this tale. Once. Upon. Another. Time… ~Galeta the Pink, one of the thirteen keepers of the Tales Chapter 2 Alice Before the BOOM Rolling over, I grunted. Gripping the pillow and sheets, tearing at the thin fabric with nails that could almost rival claws. Lost in the surreal reality of a dream that felt more alive than imaginary. Rip.

I froze in place with panic. Dreams. Nightmares. All of it is flooding through me. A swirl of colors. Of chaos. Noise. Screams. Cries. Whimpers.

Begging. Pleading. Families being ripped apart. Children vanishing. Lovers no longer knowing the names of their beloved. Utter and total bedlam. A ripping. A tearing asunder. Then darkness. Lost to me forever.

Never the same again. Never the same. I screamed, shooting up in bed and clutching the sheets to my sweaty chest as I stared with unseeing eyes at the walls of our bedroom—Hatter’s and mine. I’d come to this strange, madcap world so long ago that my memories of Earth were vague, wispy recollections. This place, this strangely glorious place, was my home. And the thought of my dream ever coming true, it terrified me. Caused my heart to race, my pulse to throb on the back of my tongue, fear to grip me in its icy claws. Hatter was beside me in a minute, gripping my shoulders. In moments the lights flickered on, but our bed was a garden and our lights the soft blue glow of luminous mushroom caps. A cool breeze licked at my body, cooling my heated flesh instantly.

I shivered, heart still racing violently inside my chest. He gripped my shoulders in his strong, capable hands, turning me to face him, those devilish eyes of his so beautiful even in their worry. “Again?” he asked roughly, rubbing my shoulder with his thumb. I trembled, sliding my eyes shut as I shook my head. “Something’s coming, Hatter. Something awful. Something that will destroy us. I feel it. I know it. I—” “I believe you,” he said instantly, then dragged me against his chest and hugged me tight as my fingers dug into his nude back.

His nose was in my hair, inhaling my scent. It’s what he did when he was nervous. And I knew he was, because every muscle in his body trembled. For the past three weeks, I’d suffered terrible nightmares. And at first I’d shrugged them off as merely the by-product of an overactive imagination—the madness of Wonderland, something I was normally immune to. Then I’d begun to worry that even in Kingdom, maybe somehow my cancer had come back and was affecting me. But Hatter had taken me to the Caterpillar, and she’d been able to spy inside my brain, proclaiming me as cured as the Hatter himself. A little mad, but all the more wonderful for it. Now though… The dreams had shifted. I could taste them.

Feel them. Feel Hatter being ripped from me. Feel the loss of our daughter and grandchildren. Everything that made me, me and him, him—gone in an instant. My heart shattered. My soul screamed. My hands shook as I buried my face in his chest. I’d rarely been prone to premonitions, but with my having been a part of this realm so long now, the madness and magic had leached into me as surely as it’d leached into my mate. Wonderland was preparing me. Wonderland was sharing its secret with me: something terrible this way came.

Feeling as though I might puke, I shivered. “This is real, Hatter. I don’t know how I know this. Or why I know this, but I feel almost as though Wonderland is trying to warn us.” Pulling back just enough so that he could peer into my eyes, he looked at me intently. “Wonderland has bonded to you, my heartbeat. If you say this is an omen, then I have no choice but to believe.” The canopy of leaves that created our four-poster bed began to thicken and swell, the leaves themselves broadening, growing larger than our own bodies, and crawling closer to us as though they meant to encase us. But I did not sense malice from the magic, rather as though Wonderland were in the beginnings of birthing pains and trying to shield us from the worst of it. “What do we do, Alice?” he asked, and my heart swelled with agony and also love for him.

No other man could hear what I’d just told him and believe so easily. But Hatter never doubted me. Always I felt his love, his deep devotion to me. We were lovers, but we were so much more than that. We were one soul. One heart. He was me, and I was him. It’s how we’d always been. We were two parts of the same whole. I wasn’t me without him, and the same went for him.

I was the sun to his moon. The night to his day. The very first whisper of breath to new life and the very final one to death. We could not exist whole without the other. Especially after we’d bonded souls in a very literal sense with the Stones of Veritas. If anything ever happened to my Hatter, I would feel it, and the same went for him. Yes, it was intense. But that’s who we were. Who we’d always been. I blinked, swallowing back the pain as I forced myself to speak the nightmare to life.

“You leave me, Hatter. And I leave you. Separated by time and distance.” He shook his head in denial, but I felt the sands of time slipping through the hourglass of our lives. We were down to the final grains, and I had to make him strong for us both. “Where I go, you will not follow. I do not know where I’ll wind up, but I need you to find me. Never stop searching for me, Hatter. Make me remember you. And know that no matter what I may say or do in that new life, very deep down in a hidden recess of my soul, I am there and I am fighting and I will come back to you.

” “Alice!” He shook, jumping to his knees as his hands dug into my biceps almost painfully, his eyes wild and alive with panic, his dark, shaggy hair hanging long upon his shoulders. I had to touch him. One final time. Frame his beloved face. I loved this man with all my dark soul. “Hatter, you must give me the seed of your power. It’s the only way.” “What?” “I don’t know.” I shook my head as I recalled the vision. I didn’t understand any of this; all I knew was I had to obey.

Before we lost each other forever. If I didn’t do this, if he didn’t do this, there was no saving either one of us. We’d be separated eternally. I placed my fist gently against the beat of his heart, pleading silently with my eyes for him to trust me. “I do, my Alice. I always have.” I nodded, biting my lower lip. “I know. We have only minutes, my dark heart. I wish we had more time, but we don’t.

Please hurry.” Without another word, he did as I asked. Closing his eyes, Hatter whispered words beneath his breath, and as he did coils of glittering gold wound out of his chest like dazzling serpents. Those same serpents shoved instantly through my chest, and I sucked in a sharp breath as I felt the pressure and fullness of his power wind rapidly down my soul. Tighter. Tighter. And tighter still until I felt I would drown from it. The final flick of a serpent’s tail exiting his chest and entering my own rocketed through me, and then there was silence. I clutched my hand to my breast. The heaviness of that magic still coiling and slinking inside me made me feel full, but also much less frantic.

We could not exist without the other; he would find me again. I knew it. Wonderland had always been linked to me from the moment Hatter had declared me his own, but now I felt the pull and life of it. Felt the soul of its madness beat like bats’ wings within me. That wonderfully strange magic all its own, where up wasn’t always up and the sky was sometimes beneath you. The pitter-patter of insects marched like a drone in the back of my mind; animals slinked, slithered, and crawled; and humans whispered nonsense among themselves. I was tied to it at all and all of it tied to me. And for a moment I was in awe of the absolute power my mate had kept protected within him. Tears gathered in the corners of my eyes, and I felt a fullness of love for Hatter I’d not known was possible before. He was so bloody amazing, and I wasn’t sure I could survive the loss of him.

Hatter clenched my fingers tight. “You have nearly all my magic now, Alice. Anything I possess now is there to find you again. But are you sure? Is this truly—” And then the earth shook and trembled. The skies above our gardens turned bloody and the clouds black, and on the wind whispered a gathering roll of dark magick. Tears burned my throat as I shook my head, desperate to deny what I knew came next. We held each other tight, and the very last words I whispered to him were these: “Let us always meet each other with a smile. For a smile is the beginning of love…” Then we kissed until the curse ripped us out of each other’s arms. Chapter 3 Galeta Present Day Syrith gripped my hand tight as I stood at the head of the long polished mahogany table in his massive royal estate. I hung my head to my chest, breathing deeply, shaken to my core by a mixture of overwhelming exhaustion and a runoff of several days’ worth of adrenaline.

It’d taken days to help the rest of the assembled crowd get over their shock, not to mention it hadn’t been easy tracking down the other queens in the game. When the magic had been released, everyone still inside the games had been scattered to the four corners of the universe. It’d become apparent to me after the shock had worn off that the games had been so much more than a place to find love matches. Each of us had our strengths. For Fiera it’d been the elemental regions of Olympus. Considering that Calypso no longer recognized any of us, let alone her best friend of over five centuries, Aphrodite, our only hope of reaching her was through her sister. Though the sisters weren’t exactly on the friendliest terms, and I was fairly certain that had Fiera been anything other than an elemental herself, going to her sister might have resulted in her demise. But I’d had no choice but to assign her the unenviable task of forcing Calypso to reshape into maiden form and try to remember all she’d lost. Fiera, and the mate she’d been assigned to—but whom she seemed to have about as much chemistry with as a snoring sloth—had left only an hour ago. The love games had been a giant farce for Fiera, and that fact was only impressing itself upon me now.

That goddess had had a hand in nearly every one of the five queens stories, and I had to wonder if her only purpose for being in the games in the first place had been for what came after the games. Somehow I didn’t believe the Creator was that shortsighted. And though Fiera’s story intrigued me, there wasn’t time to dwell on it right now. Aphrodite had left with Fiera and her companion as well. The goddess of love was determined to mend Calypso and Hades, and since Calypso had tried to drown and curse her as she had Fable, Dite had instead decided to turn her attention to the Lord of the Underworld. That assignment, however, was only marginally better. Even in the land of the living, rumors stirred of his terrible temper and foul mood. The Hades before the boom and the Hades after were two completely different men. Before, he’d been standoffish but amiable; now he wanted no company other than his dead and his bleak, cold winters. The other queen—Tymanon—I would task with speaking to the three Fates.

Much harder a journey than it might sound. The Fates weren’t known to be the most kindly of the pantheon. But they had answers to questions I desperately needed. Rumpelstiltskin had left four days ago, frenzied, furious, and determined to get Gerard and Betty back together again come hell or high water. I rather worried there might be blood on his hands before it was all said and done. He was as determined a fellow as any I’d ever encountered, and having had my own run-ins with Rumpel in times past, I knew that once set on a task, he’d be unswerving in his dedication to make it so. It’d taken him over a millennia to find the cure for his son in the alternate time; I did not doubt he’d give much more than that to regain his beloved Carrots. And if he had to kill a few humans along the way to see it happen… Rumpel was no villain, but he was certainly no hero either. He existed in a shady gray realm somewhere between the two. His conscience for the past few centuries had been Shayera.

Without her, I feared what he might get up to. Unfortunately, I could do nothing to stop that particular train wreck.

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