Read ArchEnemy Online

Authors: Frank Beddor

ArchEnemy (10 page)

Molly had expected fresh anger, renewed agitation. Instead, the tears dropped from her eyes as she’d not allowed them to do when she watched the diary with her father on Talon’s Point.
“Hatter, I know how you feel about halfers,” Weaver’s image said, “and I was never sure how you’d react to hearing you had fathered one. Every time I thought to tell you of my joy—of
joy—I found an excuse not to. I did plan to tell you the next time we’d be on Talon’s Point together. But as you know, there was no next time.”
The recorded Weaver then explained how, at the Alyssian HQ, she had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Only once before had Molly heard her mother describe her as “beautiful,” but the sorrow that threatened to take her breath was little compared to what she felt when Weaver said Hatter should know his daughter’s name and—
“Molly,” she whispered, as if afraid enemies might hear.
The flat echoed with silence. The diary lay open in Molly’s lap, but she made no move to close it or to play the entry a second time. She had heard it was easy to blame others for one’s own failures. But that wasn’t exactly accurate. It was easy to blame herself for what had happened—hard to live with it. And if the others in question were Hatter and her mother . . . it was hard to blame them, harder still to live with the need to blame them.
The flat’s security system unlocked. Molly barely had time to slip her mother’s notebooks and diary into a coat pocket before the front door opened and Hatter stepped into the room, uttering the words he’d often uttered at Talon’s Point, though for very different reasons:
“We can’t stay.”
T WAS not possible to gather a large number of imaginationists together without attracting the Club soldiers’ suspicion, so Alyss, Dodge, and Mr. Dumphy went from tenement to tenement, systematically visiting every flat in the limbo coop.
“They broadcast the Lady of Clubs’ speech here,” a lanky tinker explained to them as they settled in the center of a narrow, humid flat so full of Wonderlanders that Dodge couldn’t put a hand on his hip without knocking into one of them.
“Go on, Silas,” Mr. Dumphy said, encouraging his friend.
Mr. Dumphy had an impressive collection of friends. Whether this was due to the itinerant nature of his business or to his easy, optimistic nature, he frequently recognized someone in each of the visited flats. And his evident concern for the prisoners’ well-being and that of their families, his general air of being privy to a happy secret he was about to reveal, helped lessen the shyness that overcame imaginationists when they discovered themselves so near the queen.
“Go on,” Mr. Dumphy coaxed again.
“Well,” said Silas, “all of us here heard the Lady of Clubs’ preaching, and even though I’ve made my livelihood by my wits, I think I agree with her—imagination causes more problems than it solves.”
“The burden of creating has always been a source of worry for me,” said a pouty-faced poet. “Maybe it’s better to be without imagination.”
“But how would any of you make a living without imagination?” Dodge asked. “How would you feed and clothe your families?”
It had been the same in the flats Alyss, Dodge, and Mr. Dumphy previously visited: There were always imaginationists who felt as Silas and the poet did, who talked about the stress of their creative lives, the full brunt of which they had never realized until their imaginative gifts had been taken from them. But at least Silas and the poet weren’t vowing outright to sign the Clubs’ Pledge of the Unimaginative, as had prisoners before them. Alyss’ task here—Dodge and Mr. Dumphy’s task—shouldn’t be as difficult as it had been in other flats.
“My friends,” Mr. Dumphy asked, “can we ever truly trust the Clubs, who have locked us up in this horrible place?”
“Regardless of what the Clubs wish,” Alyss said, speaking for the first time and addressing the entire room, “imagination
returning to Wonderland. Very soon, if you haven’t already, the lot of you will again begin to experience your own imaginations.”
A young girl raised her hand. She was sitting on her father’s shoulders, the better to see the queen over her flat-mates’ heads.
She looks just like Lorina Liddell. As she was when I first met her.
Alyss flashed on memories of the entire Liddell family: Lorina’s hiccuping laughter, always easily provoked; Edith’s exacting morning toilette, its primpings usually intended to attract some boy who may or may not have ever noticed her; the reverend’s breakfast grapefruit and his gentle voice; walking arm-in-arm along Oxford’s High Street with Mrs. Liddell. Alyss even had a sudden vision of Miss Prickett, the governess who’d tutored her and her “sisters” in the dining room of Christ Church’s deanery and had insisted she incorrectly spell her name “A-L-I-C-E.”
It was strange to be thinking of these things now . . .
Inappropriate really, considering the cicumstances.
... but the sight of the girl on her father’s shoulders reminded Alyss of a promise she’d once made to herself—to never forget her life with the Liddells.
“Yes?” Alyss asked, because the girl’s hand was still in the air.
“I have my imagination.”
“And I have mine,” the girl’s father said.
“As do I,” a voice announced from another part of the room.
The admissions came more rapidly then, prisoners acknowledging the full or partial return of their imaginations, which they’d been too afraid to confide to anyone until now. Even Silas confessed that he’d again been getting ideas for products.
“And do you believe,” Alyss asked him, “that the Lord and Lady of Clubs will be satisfied with any pledge you make to anti-imagination when they know you have imagination they themselves don’t possess?”
“I won’t tell them it’s back,” Silas answered.
“I seriously doubt that’ll keep them from finding out,” said Dodge.
“What about imaginationists who refuse to sign their pledge?” Alyss pursued. “Friends of yours perhaps, or members of your own family? What do you think will become of them if the Clubs gain absolute power?”
“We’re imaginationists,” Mr. Dumphy declared to the room. “That’s what we
. It’s useless, our wishing to be what we’re not.”
“We can all be free shortly,” Alyss said, “and the Clubs’ plot brought to ruin if we work together.”
“Work together how?” someone asked.
“Until I give word to the contrary, do nothing to reveal your imaginations even to the lowliest Club soldier. I’ve yet to feel the faintest glimmer of my own imagination, but when my gift returns, we’ll take the Clubs by surprise.”
defeat them,” Dodge said, “but it’s absolutely imperative for the return of imagination to be kept secret.”
Alyss agreed. “Were the Clubs to discover it before I have my power and we’re ready to act, there’s no telling what they’ll do to us, penned in as we are. The Heart decks are presently fighting to keep Wonderland out of foreign hands and won’t be available to help us. Imagination is the only way.”
“I’m with you, my queen,” Silas vowed.
One after another, every imaginationist in the flat swore to do as Alyss Heart instructed: Imagination was the only way.
Mr. Dumphy accompanied Alyss and Dodge from the tenement at the end of the limbo coop’s main thoroughfare. They had canvassed both sides of the street, every shoddy building delegated as prisoner-housing.
“All we can do now is wait,” he said.
“We’re sure that’s the last one?” Alyss asked. “We didn’t miss a single flat?”
“Not in
coop anyway,” Dodge said.
It was risky enough, implementing a counterplot dependent on so many keeping a secret, but they had no way of knowing how many imaginationists were imprisoned in limbo coops elsewhere.
That the Clubs
learn of imagination’s return was a certainty. But before they did, Alyss tried to believe, she would regain her powers. She had to.
AD YOU walked the quartz-speckled pavements of Whiffling Heights or strolled the Turtledove Mews, had you window-shopped along Slithy Avenue or stopped to talk with sunflowers in the Brillig Street Gardens, you might not have realized Wondertropolis had just fallen to an invading army. Buildings gleamed as serenely as ever. Transit ways were clear of rubble and debris, wounded tribal warriors and dead card soldiers. Neighborhoods might have been deserted, but nowhere within city limits would you have found the after-blast mayhem so common in war, with entire districts reduced to quarries of urban desolation. True, there
intersections in the Plattnerite and Cinnabar quadrants that evidenced recent violence—blown-out shop windows, smoldering, overturned smail-transports—but most of Wonderland’s resistance had happened on the capital’s outskirts. And having no ambition to rule over a demolished city, Arch had instructed his troops to inflict as little damage as possible on Wondertropolis while still guaranteeing victory.
“It’s beautiful,” the king said, admiring the skyline from the balcony of Heart Palace’s upper salon—a balcony from which, in better times, Alyss Heart might have enjoyed the amusements of an Inventors’ Parade passing below.
Defeated, lined up as if for inspection on the salon’s threshhold: Bibwit, General Doppelgänger, the white knight, and the Lord and Lady of Spades. Behind them, Ripkins stood with his hands hanging loose at his sides, ready for whatever his king might command. Blister was in a corner, pinching the blush-pink petals of an orchid between thumb and forefinger and watching it die.
“You really don’t know where Alyss is?” Arch asked, turning to the Wonderlanders.
“She went off before your attack,” Bibwit said. “She didn’t tell us where she was going and we haven’t seen her since.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“Whether you do or not doesn’t change the fact that it is so, Your Highness.”
Arch glanced at his intel ministers grouped around a table in the center of the salon. “Without her imagination, your queen must be a coward. What else explains why she escaped but left you all here to be conquered? Wait. Did I say ‘conquered’? I meant to say you’ve been left under my guidance, along with the rest of Wonderland’s subjects.”
The intel ministers chuckled. Ripkins’ mouth slanted upward, approximating a smile. Expressionless as granite, Blister made his way to an arrangement of pansies and grass stalks.
“I’m not like Redd Heart,” Arch continued. “I wish no damage to Wonderland and love it as much as any of you.”
General Doppelgänger snorted.
“I don’t mean the intangible guff about imagination,” the king said, steely-voiced, stepping close to the general, “but the actual, physical place—Wondertropolis’ streets and architecture, the ice and rock of the Chessboard Desert, the jungles of Outerwilderbeastia, the greenery of the Everlasting Forest, even the scorched ground of the Volcanic Plains.”
“You honor us with insight into your thoughts, Your Highness,” Bibwit intoned. If he was being sarcastic, he gave no sign.
“As I’m aware,” Arch said. “So long as you’re all loyal to me, your lives are safe. General, you’ll help me earn the respect and allegiance of the card soldiers. Knight, you’re to help me earn the same from the chessmen. I expect the lord and ladyship’s full cooperation in my taming of the Spade soldiery, and Bibwit, you and I will determine how I can best win the confidence of the populace. You’ll all soon recognize the benefit of having me as your sovereign. But as I also have the Millinery to rule over . . . where is the Great Defector Hatter Madigan?”
“I don’t know, my liege,” Bibwit answered.
Arch frowned for the first time. “For a tutor, Mr. Harte, you don’t know much.”
“It isn’t always the case.”
“Let’s hope not. Leave me—all of you.”
Bibwit and the rest of the Wonderlanders left the salon.
“Have them watched,” the king ordered. “And send in the Clubs.”
A minister hurried out to arrange surveillance while the walrus-butler ushered the Lord and Lady of Clubs into the salon. Arch was much pleased to see the ranking couple readily genuflect before him.
“Flugelberry wine?” he asked, dismissing the walrus with a flip of his hand and, without waiting for an answer, pouring the wine himself. He handed brimming goblets to the Clubs, raised his own in a toast. “To the kingdom of Wonderland!”
“To the kingdom of Wonderland!” the lord and lady echoed, and emptied their goblets in a single swig.
“I hear the House of Clubs has been busy stirring up the population against the former queen,” Arch said, pouring refills.
“The House of Clubs has done what it thought necessary for the betterment of Wonderland,” the lady responded.
“I wouldn’t have supposed otherwise.”
“Our house does
intend to continue its subversive activities,” the lord promised.

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