In the cold, stone halls of the lower levels of Shibusen, was one of the many small rooms. This room had a bed in the corner, a desk with an unlit lamp and a bared window high above one’s reach.
The heavy metal door opened and a slim figure walked in, wearing a long sleeve, black dress with large white cuffs, matching black shoes. This person had short pink hair and black eyes with lines under them. Crona held a red, hardcover book and shut the door with a dull thud.
Ragnarok’s small, black form emerged from Crona’s back, huffing angrily, “Why are we back home already? I thought we were going to do something interesting!”
“But we did do something interesting…we went book shopping with Maka,” Crona mumbled. The sword Meister traced a pale finger over the golden lettering, Alice in Wonderland, and added, “She said I might like this story. Maybe it’ll help me sleep.”
“It’ll probably make better toilet paper,” Ragnarok grumbled.
“That’s really gross…” Crona mumbled.
With a pair of shoes left by doorway, Crona settled into bed, despite Ragnarok still jutting out. The Meister grabbed the book and asked, “I could read this aloud for you, if you wanted. Maybe you’ll like it too…”
“I have a better idea—toss the book and let’s do something fun.”
“…I don’t want to do that.”
Ragnarok scoffed, “Fine. Be boring.”
He receded in Crona’s back, and Crona settled more comfortably on the bed. The room was quiet. Crona opened the book and mumbled, “Oh, there’s pictures. They’re cute.”
Crona paused, seeing a picture of a rabbit in a waistcoat. Memories came oozing up like thick oil. A prickling chill went up Crona’s spine. The book trembled in Crona’s hands, and the Meister murmured, “I don’t want to hurt the bunny…”
The silence was deafening. Crona badly wanted to shut the book and not look at it anymore. However, Crona also didn’t want to disappoint Maka. What did she tell me to do if I felt scared? Crona wondered. If I felt alone?
Crona remembered. Maka put a warm hand on Crona’s shoulder and said, Remember your friends. No matter how far apart we are, our friendship is still there.
Letting out a shaky sigh, Crona relaxed partly and looked at the book. Flipping back to the first page, Crona observed the picture of a girl sitting by a tree and thought she was pretty. I’ll think of my friends, Crona reasoned. I’ll think of my friends and I won’t feel alone while I read.
For the first line, Crona replaced ‘Alice’ with ‘Maka,’ and felt better enough to keep reading, mind eventually drifting.
The sun shined through the clouds around it on the green valley below. There was a thick forest, with healthy green leaves and strong brown trunks, crowded by a peaceful village. Just outside of the small town was a small grassy valley. A large, shady tree stood alone in the valley but near the forest.
Maka sat on her knees in the shade and leaned against the tree. She wore a short sleeved, yellow dress with a white apron over it and black slippers. Part of her dark blonde hair was held up in two small pigtails with white bows and the rest reached past her shoulders. Her large, green eyes stared down at the large, open book in her lap.
Steps approached, and a large shadow loomed over her. It was a tall man with short grey hair just barely over the yellow eyes behind his glasses. He wore a long white lab coat with dark pants, shirt and shoes.
“Oh, hello, Mr. Stein,” the girl greeted and shut her book. He puffing a cigarette and blew out a stream of smoke.
“Hey, Maka,” he greeted casually. His glasses gleamed as he looked down at her, asking, “Class has already ended and you’re still reading?”
Maka smiled and hugged her book, “Well, I can’t really help it. I really like reading.”
He looked away and blew out more smoke, “You know, if you stray from reality for too long, you might end up getting lost in your head. Some people never come back.”
Maka smiled and reopened her book. She respected her teacher but what he was saying sounded ridiculous.
“I doubt that would happen,” Maka replied and continued reading. Stein shrugged and walked off.
She continued to read peacefully and leaned against the tree trunk. However, she kept leaning back, never touching the trunk until she found herself falling backwards into a hole. She was too surprised by this to cry out and lost her book without realizing it. The feeling of falling eventually fell away itself and she felt like she was floating upside-down.
Light was above her and darkness was below then she realized she was slowly falling away from the light. As she continued through the darkness soon dark red started to appear below her and she could make out clock shapes around her. She started to fall faster and looked down at the red. Suddenly, she slammed onto a red and black checkered tile.
“Ah!” she cried out in pain as her knee felt most of the impact. After an agonizing minute, she stood up. Behind her was the circular end of the red-walled hall. There was a small brown table with a black vase, red flowers and there were yellow moldings. Above her, was the endless blackness, however, a dark red ceiling appeared farther down the small, red hall. Down the hall was a large brown door in an intersection. She started down the hall and heard a demonic whisper. Maka froze and looked around.
Seeing nothing, she continued. The whisper came again but slightly louder so she sped up. She reached the door and saw the white wall around it was covered by dark red curtains. She looked on her left and right, both of the ends of the hall had an opened curtain leading to utter blackness. Maka heard the whisper again and tried to open the door. Locked. Her heartbeats quickened, and she desperately looked around. Unknown to her, something stared from behind the curtains at the end of the hall and grinned with pleasure.
Looking around, she noticed a small wooden table in a corner on her left, in front of the black curtain. She saw another black vase on the table and a blue key. At the end of the key was a blue circle with thin, blue wings. The whisper came again, nearly deafening, and she took the key. She quickly returned to the door and slid in the key. It turned with a satisfying click, and she turned the doorknob. Quickly, she rushed out of the door and shut it behind her, pressing up against it for good measure. She panted, leaning against the door, and tried to recollect herself.
Outside was a nearly endless valley, showered in sunlight. A dirt road led from the shady area, where she stood, left, right and straight to a large tree ahead. She turned to back to the door to see it was gone and there was nothing more but an enormous tree behind her. She looked at the blue key and pocketed it in her apron. Angry shouts caught her ear, and she turned back to the paths.
Entering from the right was a boy her age but he had spiky yet fluffy, white hair. He wore a pure white tux with a white jacket, a white undershirt, white pants, white dance shoes and white gloves. He was tan, had flaring red eyes and clenched sharp teeth. Also, two rabbit ears stuck out of his hair and he had a matching rabbit tail. He muttered angrily as he had a large white sack on his back and held the straps over his shoulders to hold up the twelve, white, book-sized boxes in the sack.
“Why do they make me deliver this stuff? Making me walk miles, for hours and hours,” he grumbled. He continued to stomp through the path and pulled out a gold pocket watch. He clicked it open with his thumb and checked the time. His eyes widened and he jumped.
“Crap! I’m gonna be late!” he yelled as he stuffed the watch back in his pocket and hurried towards the tree across from Maka. She took her chance and ran towards him.
“Excuse me?” Maka called out.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder, “Heh?”
“I was wondering if you could—”
“Sorry, but I don’t have time for this. I’m in a hurry,” he said and waved his hand dismissively as he continued to walk. Maka, however, hurried back to his side.
“Can’t you at least tell me where I am?” she asked. He stopped again and pointed a thumb towards the left.
“Read the sign,” he answered through his teeth.
“Sign?” She looked and saw a large wooden sign by the tree with “WONDERLAND” shown in faded blue letters.
She looked back at the boy, only to see him jump down into a tunnel that led beneath the tree.
“Hey, wait!” she started to follow after him. Maka stopped in front of the tunnel and saw a white box was left behind outside of it. When he jumped in the tunnel, one must have fallen out, she thought. Maka picked it up and wondered, What was he delivering, anyways? She opened the lid to reveal and small brown pouch with the word, Tea in red letters.
She closed the box and followed him down the stone stairs in the tunnel. She reached the end of the stairs to a black void. However, there were patches of tall green plants, with blue and pink buds, spread out far from each other on the invisible, black ground. Maka looked around for the rabbit but couldn’t see him, however, ahead of her was a black metal gate held up by two stone pillars and two guardsmen dressed in metal helmets and a suit of chain mail under long black and red tunics both carried a black lance in their hands.
She held the box with both of her hands and bravely approached them.
“Halt! Who goes there?” a guard called out spotting her. She stopped in front of them. The one on her left looked down at her and observed her. What caught his eye was a small, black, cursive M on top of the box.
“Oh! A tea deliverer!” he stated and opened the gate, “Please, hurry. You’re nearly late.”
She blinked in confusion but was lightly pushed to the other side of the gate. Now she could make out a white path leading forward and splitting into three directions. The path on the left led to a black tree and tall grassed grove of trees with a lake farther down the hill, the right led through an endless-looking grove of the strange plants and the center path led to a black, metal, guard-less gate, up a tall hill to a white castle. Heading towards the gate, she saw the rabbit. Maka saw he was now only walking and she hurried towards him. His ears twitched at the sound of her footsteps.
“Hey!” she called out. He stopped and turned. His eyes widened and ears perked.
“Wha—how did you—” he tried to ask but stopped when she held out the box.
“Um, you dropped this,” she answered. He grimaced and snatched the box out of her hands. “H-hey!”
“Thanks, now, I gotta get movin’, okay?” he thanked insincerely then threw the box in the air and it landed perfectly back in the neat sack. He waved and continued to approach the gate. Maka pouted and ran towards him again. She grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back.
“Now, hold on. What’s going on here?” Maka snapped.
He glanced back her with his deep, red eyes. She kept his gaze. He sighed.
“If you really want to know. I’m trying to deliver this tea to the Queen. I have to hurry at this point or I’m in big trouble,” he answered and pulled from her grasp. Maka looked down for a moment to let the information sink in.
“A queen? Here? What is this place? This doesn’t make sense,” she looked back up at the boy but he was gone and the gates remained closed, “Dang it! Where did that rabbit go?”
The gate was locked so she started down the path on her right to see if she could go around. When she entered, she heard someone in front of her and looked up at a looming, black figure. She saw a set of sharp, gleaming, white teeth and two yellow eyes. A huge hand slammed into her back and she fell to the ground, unconscious.
Maka groaned and opened her eyes painfully. Her back ached and she felt that she was lying on a hard, cold, metal surface. She sat up in a large metal bird cage and looked at the background. She was in a wooden room with shelves on her left, a few chests and boxes on the ground, as she dangled from the ceiling, and a blinding light was on her left. Everything outside of the cage looked magnified in a distorted and blurry way.
“I found this one wandering outside,” a deep male voice said. She could barely hear him. It sounded like her ears were clogged and she held her head as it spun, or was it the cage? She saw the looming black figure and he seemed to nearly reach the ceiling in Maka’s view.
“Hmm, put her to work,” a woman replied. Suddenly, a large, black figure of a hooded woman leaned towards the cage. She had a snakelike smile and gleaming yellow eyes. Maka gasped and scooted to the back of the cage. Even so, the cage door opened and the man’s large hand plucked her out.
“Heh, better get to work. Hurry over to the factory and don’t be late! Trust me you’ll regret it,” the man gruffly chuckled and threw her into the light.
It turned out the light was actually an open door that led to a silent village outside. Maka painfully landed on the grey, cobblestone street and tumbled across the ground onto her face. She looked around, everything was normal sized again, and she looked back at the normal sized door she was thrown out of but it slammed shut.
Maka pouted. She got up, brushing off the dirt from her dress. She looked around the village. There were small stone huts with straw roofs and red doors, dark grey three story buildings built out of stone and concrete and pale blue two story buildings made of painted stone all scattered around. She glanced at a red picket fence on her right with dark brown soil in the backyard of a hut that had tall dead grass growing out of it. She looked up at the bleak, cloudy sky above her.
What is this place? She wondered. Maka looked back ahead of her and saw a wooden sign creakily, dangling from a metal pole on a three-story building nearby. She read, “Kishin…City?”
Not sure what to make of it, Maka walked through the silent city. She looked around and scanned each building, but they seemed to look the same. After a while, Maka wondered if she was going in circles. How am I supposed to figure out where the factory is? She groaned inwardly. The gall of it. Throwing some girl out in the middle of a street of a city she’s never been in. Don’t be late? How can I now be late, looking something I’m not even sure where it is?!
A sad mewl caught her ear. There was a cat with dark, purplish fur with her leash tangled on a fence. Every time the cat moved her head, the bell on her collar jingled like a strangled, silver bird. Maka forgot her own problems for the moment and cautiously approached the cat. The creature looked up at her with shining, yellow eyes.
“Don’t worry. I’m gonna help you,” Maka assured. She knelt by the cat and wrestled with the leash. However, the knots were tight and seemed to knot themselves up further the more she wrestled with them. If only I had some scissors! Maka thought in annoyance. However, she then got the idea to undo the leash from the collar. As soon as she did, the cat let out a happy meow. Maka was about to leave, but the cat looked expectant, pawing at her dress.
Maka asked, “What is it? Is there something else you want?”
The cat pawed at the collar, and the bell rung like hollow, silver shells scraping against each other. “Oh, you want the whole thing off?”
Maka hesitated, unsure if it was a good idea to take off the collar of a cat that probably belonged to someone. She then reasoned, If the cat dislikes it’s collar to the point of asking strangers to take it off, maybe it’s better off not wearing it in the first place. With that thought, Maka removed the collar. The cat let out its loudest and happiest meow before rubbing against her leg with a purr. The cat then jumped atop the fence and bounded out of sight. Not sure what else to do with the collar, she pocketed it and it was muffled by the folds of her dress. Maka felt satisfied with her actions, though she quickly remembered her predicament and felt significantly less happy. With a sigh, Maka continued wandered through the streets. She asked herself, “Now how am I going to find that factory?”
She stopped when a building across from her caught her eye. It was a tall, red, one story building with black windows, a large, red, boiling cauldron on the roof and a small wooden sign dangled above the black door on a metal pole but she couldn’t read it from where she stood. Is that it? She asked herself.
Maka started to walk towards it when she heard the noise of groups of people’s hurried footsteps echoing in other parts of the city. When those began to die down, a sign on the window reading, “Break Period-Open” which flipped over and read, “Work Hours-Closed.” Panic sunk in. She found herself rushing over to the door and discovering it was locked. Footsteps were heard echoing in the background towards her, but these footsteps were heavy, as if the sound alone crushed her. She didn’t want to look, hoping she wouldn’t be noticed, but her eyes moved to the left anyways. Two figures appeared around the corner. One was a man in a very dark blue uniform with brown, pointed dog ears poking out from a top his officer hat, which was placed upon his red, shoulder length hair, and a bushy brown dog tail poked out from under his jacket. The other figure was a large, bulky wolf-like man on all-fours in the same officer uniform but he had grey fur covered skin, spiky black hair, round yellow eyes and thick grey snout. The dog was holding a black leash on the wolf-like man then the two saw Maka.
“A girl? What’s she doing out here?” the red-haired man wondered.
“That’s the new meat just brought in. Not like it matters who she is. No one should be out at this hour,” the wolf-man gruffly replied.
They headed towards her. A whisper cut her heart, You’ll regret it. She rattled the door to no prevail, and her legs felt too heavy to try running. Maka realized, The key! Quickly, she reached in her apron and pulled it out. She inserted it in the keyhole, hearing a click, and hurried in as soon as she unlocked it.
Maka immediately shut the door behind her. She sighed and leaned against it. The noise of turning gears filled her ears. The building was poorly lit by a single lamp dangling high above the door and right next to a window. Huh, it didn’t look very high from outside, Maka thought, looking at the window. She managed to see a conveyor belt coming out of the wall on the left, moving white boxes on it half-way across the room, then farther into the darkness. Across from the conveyor belt, there was a faded red orange door that stood out in the darkness.
Also at the conveyor belt was a familiar, white figure with rabbit ears and his back turned to her. Maka saw that he wasn’t carrying that sack anymore and he didn’t look like he was going anywhere, so she walked over to him.
He was opening the white boxes and pulled out bags of tea then set them back down on the conveyor belt. She tapped his shoulder and they both jumped as he threw a box in the air. The rabbit caught the box and turned to her, about to yell for scaring him. However, he recognized her immediately and he scrambled with the box he held with even greater shock. He gripped the box tightly this time and shook his head furiously, as if to wake himself up.
“Wh-what are you doing here?! I mean—H-how do you keep—” he tried ask but his eyes fell from her face then he observed her for a second. His mouth closed in disappointed realization and his ears slightly drooped, “Oh. That’s why.”
Maka tilted her head and hovered by him, waiting for him to continue. He returned to the conveyor belt and set the tea and open box on it.
“What? What is it? Where am I?” Maka asked eagerly. He glanced back at her and turned to her, holding no box this time. The rabbit slightly grinned and Maka’s questioning, as if she were a little, curious child.
“This is the Tea Factory in Kishin City,” he answered with a hand in his pocket and another hand waving around at the building and all its barely-lit glory.
She said slowly, “Is it…another place in Wonderland?”
“Nailed it,” the rabbit replied.
“And what’s with all the tea?” she suddenly asked. The rabbit sighed and pointed a thumb at a poster of a black snake entangled in a gold crown on the wall.
“The ruler of Kishin City, Queen Medusa, makes everyone make tea for her,” he answered. His ears perked up, and he held out his hand, “I’m Soul, by the way.”
Maka smiled and took his hand, “I’m Maka.”
They let go and Maka put a hand to her chin.
“So, is it for economic reasons?” she asked.
Soul snorted a laugh.
“Heh. Economic reasons…” he chuckled. Soul sighed and looked back at her, “This is Wonderland. We don’t need to worry about the economy.”
Soul sighed again then continued unpacking the tea. Maka watched him for a moment and did the same. He didn’t object, so she figured it must have been what she was supposed to do.
“Yeah, she has us all make this stuff, as if she ever drinks any of it,” he said, muttering the last part to himself. Soul cleared his throat before continuing, “She’s even taken people from other parts of Wonderland and made them work here.”
He nodded towards the people on the other side of the conveyer belt, further in the darkness. There was a girl wearing a strange, orange hat over her long, light blue hair and she had on a black dress with white polka dots and a much smaller girl wearing a black, mouse hat over her short pink hair and wore a black and white striped cloak that covered her feet and neck.
“Gekko,” Eruka croaked sadly, “I miss home.”
“Chi, chi, chi,” Mizune squeaked in agreement. Eruka walked away with a box and Mizune followed after her. They continued to unpack silently for a few seconds when Maka looked back at Soul.
“So…haven’t you guys ever tried to rebel?” Maka asked. Soul stiffened and quickly covered her mouth. He had a finger over his mouth and was staring intently at the poster over his shoulder.
“Shhh, don’t say that,” he quietly said through clenched teeth.
Maka asked a muffled, “Why?” under his palm.
“She has eyes and ears all over the place,” as he whispered, he pointed at his own eyes and ears to indicate what he was saying. He let go of her mouth and pointed at her neck, “See that snake wrapped around your neck?”
Maka gasped and looked down. She saw a cold, black, inanimate snake lightly wrapped around her neck like a necklace, “O-oh…when did that get there?”
“Well, if Medusa hears anything about rebellion or someone going against her she can make the snake slip inside the person and tear them apart from the inside—” Soul added and snapped his fingers, “—with a snap of her fingers.”
Maka stiffened. She made the motion of zipping her lips shut and throwing the zipper away. Soul simply nodded in agreement. The two were about to continue working but the front door opened, glowing with pale light. The figures that entered were the red-haired man and the wolf-like man, who no longer had a leash. The wolf-like man spotted Maka and walked over to her and Soul.
“There you are,” he gruffly growled and grabbed Maka’s arm tightly with his large hands. She cried out in pain and tried to move away.
“Now, don’t be so harsh on such a poor, little girl,” his red-haired partner said behind the wolf man. The wolf’s grip loosened, and he turned to the dog.
“But being late for work is a strict law around here,” he argued.
“Yo, Free,” Soul calmly called out, head lowered and red eyes, half-lidded, “lay off a little would ya’? She didn’t have a clue where she was going and was pretty lost when I met her. So, she probably didn’t mean to be late.”
The officers glowered at him.
“Hey, that’s Officer Free and Spirit to you,” Spirit scowled. Soul glared.
“Wasn’t talkin’ to ya’, Gramps,” Soul shot back.
Spirit stiffened and recoiled back behind Free. Free grinned and shoved Maka into Soul. He caught Maka but was slightly slammed against the conveyer belt. He let go of Maka and brushed his suit off. Free grabbed his ear.
“Ahhhhhh,” Soul groaned painfully and his eyes watered. He started to flail his arms around and tried to pry to large fingers off of his ear, “Free! Let-go-of-my-ear! Thaaaat hurrrrts.”
Free pulled Soul towards his grinning snout and spoke in a low voice, “Alright then, Rabbit Boy, you’re assigned with the new girl.”
He let go of Soul, who stumbled back and nearly crashed into Maka. He gripped his ear then what Free said came to him, like a whap to the face.
“Whaaat?! You’re making me go out there again? I just got back!” he yelled.
Free nearly laughed but only continued to grin.
“It’s just policy of Her Majesty. All new recruits go with a senior worker. You know, show her around,” Free grinned wider and started back to the door. Spirit gave Soul an untrusting look. He would have preferred to be assigned with the girl then have her with a trouble-maker like Soul. Free snapped, “Come on, Spirit!”
Spirit jumped and hurried after him.
Soul nursed his ear for a moment with one eye closed as he quietly moaned. Maka turned back to him and he sighed unhappily, “Come on.”
He turned and led her to the red orange door. He opened the door and they started to walk down a dark stairway.
“Who were those guys?” Maka asked over his shoulder. He didn’t look over at her but answered.
“The Guard Dogs of Kishin City,” Soul explained, “Free Werewolf. He’s one of Queen Medusa’s most trusted guards. Strong, powerful sense of smell, can track people, and is pretty ruthless, occasionally likes to mess with people—”
Soul noted the last one to his stinging ear and finished, “Yeah, I can see why she likes him so much. Sadists.”
“What about the other one?” Maka asked, “And how long is this stairway?!”
“Relax, we’re almost at the end,” Soul assured. Maka looked over his shoulder.
“I don’t see it,” she argued. He rolled his eyes.
“Well, Gramps is another one of Medusa’s more trusted guards, Officer Spirit Dog. He was once one of the most trusted friends of the former ruler of Kishin City, the Grim Reaper, when it was called Death City,” Soul explained.
“The Grim Reaper was the former ruler?” Maka asked skeptically.
“Yeah, trust me, a reaper is way better than a witch,” Soul answered. They were silent for a moment as Maka pondered something.
“So, why is Spirit one of Medusa’s trusted guards if he was a good friend of the former ruler?” she asked.
“Oh, well. Gramps knows a lot of people in Kishin City, mainly women. Hey, we’re at the end of the stairs,” he stopped as they climbed off of the stairs and into a dark, blue shadows corridor with no doors, lit by an unseen light. The hall shortly turned to the left so all that was seen from the stairway were two rooms in the corner. Soul continued, “He must have met most of them in their beds or something. He’s a perverted womanizer.”
“Gross,” Maka frowned with disgust. They started to walk towards one of the rooms, straight ahead of them and Maka noticed something, “Hey, Soul. Did you know how ironic it sounds when you put Free and Spirit’s names together?”
Soul let it sink in for a moment then he laughed, “Yeah. Heh…I see what you mean. Never noticed that.”
Maka smiled and giggled, “It’s even funnier considering the fact they’re a dictator’s head officers.”
Soul snickered with her. They stopped outside of the doorway of the room and Soul looked inside the blue, stone room with washing machines and piles of dirty, white bags.
“Great,” he sighed, “We’ll have to go to the old storage room.”
He left the room and started down the turn in the hall which was darker and most of the hall was concealed in blackness. Maka groaned and unhappily followed after him.
“How much longer do we have to walk? My feet are getting sore,” she whined.
“Well then, take off your shoes. It should ease your feet a little,” Soul suggested.
“What? No! These floors are filthy. There are even rats,” she mentioned the white mouse that was running across the hall. It suddenly stopped and started angrily squeaking at Maka.
Soul quickly tried calming it down, “Uh, sorry, Mizune. She didn’t know. She’s still new.”
Maka blinked in surprise. Mizune stopped squeaking but still had an angry look in her eye then continued across the hall. Soul turned back to Maka, who was a little guilty.
“Sorry…” she apologized but he shrugged it off.
“Eh, it’s fine. People’ll make that mistake. You know, both Eruka and Mizune are actually able to turn into frogs and mice. It can be useful,” Soul said.
“Huh, it’s sounds useful,” Maka agreed. As a little animal, you could eavesdrop easily. They walked past a few rooms then entered into another dark room but it was a few black piles of bags, and a couple of clothes racks. As Soul searched through a pile by the door, Maka stood behind him. She noticed a red chest in the back of the room.
“Here it is,” he pulled out two white sacks and handed one to Maka. She took it and glanced at the chest. There was a skull shape on top of it.
“Hey, Soul…what’s that?” she asked pointing at the chest.
“Hm? Oh. That? Well, Gramps told me that when the Queen took over Death City and overthrew the Grim Reaper, she locked something in that chest that could defeat her,” Soul explained and had a bit of a sorrowful look in his eye, “we tried to unlock it countless times. We took all the keys in Kishin City but none worked. Some people from other places in Wonderland even purposely got captured and sent here to try out keys from their lands. Those didn’t work either. Not even the best lock picks in all of Wonderland could open it.”
Maka looked back at him, “Have you tried to force it open?”
Soul shook his head, “No. We didn’t want to risk destroying whatever’s inside.”
Maka looked down for a moment then she gasped in realization. Soul’s ears twitched as he watched her reach into her apron pocket. She pulled out the blue key and held it gently in her hand.
“What’s that?” he asked. She looked back at him.
“Oh, well…this key worked on every locked door I’ve used it on,” she explained and looked over at the chest, “maybe we can try it on that chest.”
Soul’s ears droop slightly, and he looked doubtful. Even so, Maka set down her sack and walked over to it. She knelt down, and Soul joined her by her side. She tried to stick the key in the key hole but it abruptly stopped just barely in the keyhole. Maka started to push the key in but it didn’t budge. She then started to use her other hand and felt it move farther in a little. Soul raised an eyebrow as she watched her struggle.
“You sure that’ll work?” he asked. She continued to push the key and gritted her teeth.
“Yes—the lock is just—stuck,” she answered through her gritted teeth. Soul watched her for a moment before getting on his knees by her. He placed his hands over hers and helped her push. As the two tried to force the key in the lock, it started to slowly move inside the keyhole. Soul’s ears raised in realization. He then continued pushing with more determination.
Finally, the key suddenly clicked into the keyhole. Soul and Maka snapped forward and hit their heads on the chest. They groaned. He looked up with a half-conscious look then his ears rose in realization again and he lifted his hands. Maka had her hands to her head, so he could see the key jutting out of the keyhole. She took her hands off of her head and looked at it, too.
“Will it…” Soul tried to ask but he was in too much shock. Maka went to answer his question and grabbed the key. She turned it with a click and the two quietly gasped. Maka started to lift the heavy chest top and Soul helped her. With a groan, it opened and the two leaned over the open chest, “It’s a…”
Soul sat back and Maka pulled out a yellow scythe. On the handle of the scythe was a yellow color and parts of the handle were bit off showing the white pole underneath. Maka marveled at the design and glanced at the blade, it was large and razor thin with a blue tint.
“…makes sense. The former ruler was the Grim Reaper, after all,” Soul shrugged and got up. He turned back to Maka with a doubtful look again, “So, are you supposed to fight Medusa head on with that thing? It seems reckless.”
Maka smiled and got up, “Maybe…but I’ll still try.”
Soul looked taken aback and worriedly watched as she started to picked up her sack.
“R-really? You’d honestly do that?” he asked. She slipped the scythe into the sack, slung over her back and looked back at him with a confident giggle. Soul relaxed and closed his gaping mouth with a sigh. He then picked up his sack and slung it over his shoulders, “Alright, but first, let’s get delivery over with. If you’re gonna take down the Queen, you’re not gonna do it anytime soon and without a plan.”
Maka agreed. They started to walk out of the room, and Soul gave the chest a worried glance before leaving with Maka.
Maka and Soul walked down the grey streets of Kishin City, and the clouds were starting to clear. Maka realized it was because they approached the outskirts of the city where the sun shone on the green valley around Kishin City. Soul stiffened as he realized something. Down the road at the black gates separating the city from the valley, Spirit and Free stood guard. Soul grimaced and leaned over to Maka.
“I completely forgot!” he whispered. Maka glanced at him, and he tilted his head towards Free and Spirit, “I don’t know how you’re going to sneak that scythe by Free. He’ll sniff it out for sure.”
They stopped behind a building with a tiny waterwheel with no water creaking on its roof. Maka glanced around the corner at Free and Spirit, who seemed to be arguing about hats. Despite this, Free still seemed very focused and alert.
“Is there any way to go around them?” Maka asked.
Soul answered, “No, that’s the only way out of the city. And even if did find another way, it’d look suspicious since they’re expecting us to pass through to make a delivery. I don’t know how we’ll get through with the scythahhhh—”
Soul’s sentence devolved as a womanly hand reached from behind him and traced a finely, pedicured finger across his chest. A woman with purple hair and a matching, scanty outfit nestled up behind him. She whispered in his ear, which she held up with her pinched fingers, “I thought I smelled something good. How’s about some rabbit stew, as in a hot bath with me and you?”
Soul couldn’t formulate any intelligible noises. His face was hot and about as red as his eyes. The woman giggled and seemed to think this was cute.
Maka huffed, “Excuse me? We were in the middle of a conversation.”
The woman seemed coyly annoyed at first, but her face brightened upon seeing Maka. The former straightened and greeted, “Heyyy!~ You’re that girl that freed me!”
Before Maka could say anything, the woman drew her into a hug, thanking her, “Oh, you don’t know how much you helped me out! I wish I could pay you back for that!”
Muffled, Maka asked, “Helped? But I’ve never met you before.”
The woman pulled away and said, “But I’m Blair! The cute cat that you helped!” She balled up her hand like a paw, which she rubbed against her cheek with a cat-like wink, “See?”
Indeed, now Maka could see the cat ears poking out of her hair, and she recognized those yellow eyes. Maka responded, “Oh, well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Maka. And that’s Soul.”
“We’ve met,” Soul muttered, straightening his suit in an attempt to readjust himself. He cleared his throat and addressed Blair, “Haven’t heard of you in a while. I thought you skipped town and snuck out again.”
“You can sneak out of town?” Maka asked, “Would you sneak us out?”
Blair answered sadly, “I would, but it wouldn’t be possible if you aren’t a cat like me. Us cats are very sneaky, you know.”
Seeming to remember something, Blair huffed, “Oh! But then that rotten mutt Free put a bell collar on me. I couldn’t sneak around anywhere without getting caught! Then he tied me up somewhere so I wouldn’t get in the way, and he didn’t even use the fun kind of string.” As she spoke, Blair sadly rubbed her face with her balled-up hand.
“He probably wanted to keep you out of the way so you weren’t such a distraction to Gram—” Soul started but cut himself off.
He grinned, showing off his set of sharp teeth. Soul said, “Blair, I think I know how you can pay back Maka.”
“Isn’t that for me to decide?” Maka responded, indignant.
“Wouldn’t you want her to go distract Spirit for us so we can sneak past Free?” Soul asked coyly.
“Oh!” Maka realized, “That would be perfect!”
Blair clapped excitedly, “Oo! As in Officer Spirit? Hehe, it’s been too long since we’ve played. I’ll do it and my debt will be repaid!”
Meanwhile, Spirit stood on the left side of the gate and Free stood on the opposite side. Spirits ears perked at the sound of footsteps as he noticed Maka and Soul approaching, “Ah, it’s the poor girl and that rotten rabbit.”
“Took ‘em long enough to get ready,” Free grumbled. He paused, nose twitching. The wolfman said, “You smell that?”
Spirit sniffed too, answering, “Yes…it smells like—”
“Yoo-hoo~ Oh, mister doggie officer!” Blair called from the side.
“—cat!” Free finished with a growl.
Blair has laid herself out on the roof of a coffee shop. She sat above the sign, which had a beckoning woman with snakes wrapping her head. The cat woman met Spirit’s gaze and winked.
The dog man made an exuberant noise, tongue hanging out and his tail wagging.
Free barked angrily, “I don’t know how you got out, feline, but you still got time to serve for all your trespassing charges!”
Blair made a playfully sad sigh and said, “I got so bored during my capture. I didn’t want to serve anymore. But maybe I’d be more willing if I had someone to play with. Hey, doggie officer, what you say? Want to play with me?”
“Do I?” Spirit exclaimed and seemed prepared to leap onto the roof with her.
However, Free grabbed Spirit and shouted at Blair, “Keep this up and I’m adding ‘aggravating an officer’ to your charges!”
“Oh, she’s not aggravating me,” Spirit insisted, trying to push past Free.
“Well, she’s aggravating me,” Free growled, still wrestling with Spirit. He barked to him, “Stay at your post!”
All the while, Soul and Maka approached, with Soul using his hand to block his view of Blair. They stopped in front of Free and Spirit, who stood in the way of the gate.
Soul called out, “Hey. You lettin’ us go to deliver the tea or what?”
“What?” Free just then noticed them, busy with trying to restrain Spirit. The wolfman growled, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Get outta here.”
“With pleasure,” Spirit answered.
Soul grabbed Maka by her wrist and hurried them through the gate. Maka heard Soul mutter in a strained voice, “It took every ounce of my will to resist my instinct to look.”
“You sound just as perverted as Spirit,” Maka grumbled. She added, “And what instincts? You’re a rabbit!”
Finally letting go of her, Soul scoffed, recovering himself, “You wouldn’t understand.”
All the while, Free paused and looked over his shoulder, watching them go, and his tail flicked.
As soon as the rabbit and girl went from her sight, Blair straightened and turned her back to the officers, calling, “Well, maybe we can play some other time. But if you ever want to meet again, just give me a cat-call~”
Blair then hopped to a different roof and slid out of the officers’ view.
Spirit tried to follow Blair, but Free grabbed his shoulder and growled, “Where do you think you’re going?”
The sky was completely clear outside of the city, and it appeared as they Soul and Maka followed the dirt road on the green valley away from the city. Soul looked back and saw the officers made no move to follow them, nor were paying any attention them. “I can’t believe that worked,” Soul murmured.
Blair chirped from nearby, “Of course it did, silly rabbit.”
Soul stiffened. He and Maka were hesitant to look in her direction but, to Soul’s relief and Maka’s surprise, a purple cat sat on a signpost. Maka could better see Blair’s face in the cat’s face, or perhaps it was the cat’s face in Blair’s face? The sign she sat on said ‘Wonderland’ but it was upside-down so it looked like it started with an M. Maka realized that someone would have purposely carved the letters in like that.
Licking her paw, Blair stated, “This should pay back my debt to you.”
“The help was much appreciated,” Maka thanked.
Blair stood and looked over her shoulder at them. She stated, “Have fun on your quest! Be careful though, there’s dangerous things out there. And I’ll see you again, rabbit boy~”
Soul adjusted his collar.
Maka asked, “Where will you go?”
“Wherever I want, silly,” Blair answered before she scampered off. The cat disappeared without a trace.
Maka blinked, but then smiled. She pulled out the scythe and took out of the sack. She managed to slip the scythe through the apron straps tied around her back and she pulled the sack over it. Maka looked back at Soul and smiled. Soul blinked then replied with his sharp-teethed grin.
They continued down the dirt road and approached a four-way intersection in the dirt paths. A tall, wooden street sign was on the corner intersecting the path on the right and the path ahead. Maka approached it and Soul followed a few steps behind, his ears twitching. Maka tried to read the sign while Soul looked back and forth then he grinned. He grabbed Maka’s arm and lead them a few steps forward, off of the path. Maka blinked in confusion and Soul continued to smile.
“Ya-hoo!” a voice echoed in the air. Suddenly, a large cart zoomed past them on the path. Maka looked over her shoulder, staring at the huge cloud of dust trailing behind in shock.
“Yo! Hey, Black Star!” Soul called out waving. The wooden cart suddenly stopped and a blue-haired boy looked over from the front. He was wearing a short-sleeved, black shirt with a tall collar, black boots and a blue star-shaped flower was pinned to his loose, white pants. Soul walked over to the boy and Maka stayed where she was, bewildered.
“Hey! Soul! Pal!” the shrill boy’s voice called in joy. Maka observed the cart. It was designed to be pulled by horses. It had large wooden wheels, a few stacks of hay in it, and a tall girl sat on the edge. The girl looked a little older than Maka. She had long black hair in a tight ponytail, wore a white, long sleeve dress and there was a red flower pinned to her chest. Maka waved hello. She noticed Maka and politely waved back.
Soul appeared from the front of the cart and greeted the girl, “Hey, Tsubaki.”
She nodded in greeting with a small smile, “Hello, Soul.”
“You mind if we take a lift? We’re on a tea delivery,” Soul asked.
“Sure! Hop on!” the boy at the front of the cart overheard and answered loudly. Soul chuckled and got on, helping Maka up. Suddenly, the cart started moving again as the blue-haired boy managed to pull it with no sweat.
They all sat quietly for a minute when the girl cleared her throat and Soul caught it realizing he forgot the introductions.
“Heh, this is Maka. She’s new and I was assigned to take her on a delivery with me,” Soul explained.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Maka greeted, and they shook hands.
“And this is Tsubaki. The powerhouse pulling the cart is Black Star,” Soul continued. Tsubaki had a basket by her side and she pulled out three cups and a pot of fresh tea. She poured the tea with no trouble despite the moving cart on the dirt road. She handed Soul and Maka cups and gave one to herself. Soul continued, “They’re also deliverers but not for Kishin City—”
He stopped to take a sip, and Maka tried to as well. But the cart suddenly hit a rock, and Maka spilled tea onto her face. Soul laughed Tsubaki quickly pulled out a napkin and helped wipe the tea off.
“Ha, ha! You gotta be careful of that,” Soul warned, smiling. The cart jumped again, he easily kept the tea in the cup then dumped the rest in his mouth. When Tsubaki wiped the tea off Maka’s face, Maka glared at him. Soul laughed again and continued, “Yeah, Black Star and Tsubaki are actually flowers.”
Soul got up and pointed to a large, thick, jungle-like forest, “They’re from the Singing Forest right over there!”
He sat back down, cross-legged, “It’s ruled by Arachne, one of Queen Medusa’s enemies, but me, Tsubaki and Black Star are still good friends and they still give me lifts over there.
“Tsubaki’s a Camellia Flower,” he pointed a finger, which still held the tea cup, at the flower pinned on her chest then he pointed a thumb at Black Star, “and Black Star…well, he’s his own flower.”
“We deliver flowers from the Singing Forest and other parts of Wonderland to maintain biodiversity in forests,” Tsubaki explained, “we’re like the Plant Express.”
Maka managed to slip what tea she hadn’t spilled on herself. Tsubaki was going to pour more tea for herself but something glinted in the sunlight behind Maka’s shoulder. She glanced at it and saw the scythe blade. Tsubaki stared at it for a moment and smiled softly.
Black Star stopped right by the Singing Forest. The trees were tall, thick and blue. No sunlight entered through the thick canopy and a dirt path made its way through the trees, huge bushes and unusually-shaped flowers, many of which Maka thought looked like instruments. One appeared to be a saxophone.
“The Singing Forest?” Maka asked. Soul jumped off of the cart and held the straps of the sack over his shoulders.
“Yeah, we have to go to the Tea Gardens to pick up the tea and take it back to Kishin City,” Soul explained and Maka jumped off of the cart, beside him. He looked over to Tsubaki and waved, “See ya’, Tsubaki.”
“Bye, Soul. Bye, Maka,” she said with a smile. Tsubaki added, “and good luck defeating Medusa.”
Soul and Maka both stiffened.
Tsubaki looked over her shoulder at Black Star and signaled, “Okay, Black Star, we’re ready to go.”
She gave Soul and Maka one last smile.
“Alright! Ya-hoo! Let’s go!” he yelled and started to pull the cart back down the dirt road. In the distance, he yelled while waving with one hand, “Byyyyeee Souuulll!”
Soul grinned and looked over at Maka. He said, “Don’t worry. We can trust Tsubaki. Now, come on.”
Soul started down the dark path, and Maka followed him, toying with the bag hiding the scythe.