Whether it is a lucky guess, a coincidental pick, or from good deduction, you find yourself rapidly shrinking when your feet hit tile three. The she-mouse must have jumped on after you, as she shrinks to the size of a normal mouse too.
Now, you can follow her, with a bit of a squeeze (for a mouse, you’re rather big), through the mouse-hole.
The room you emerge into seems ginormous and cavernous, all dark, earthen walls, stretching for as far as your little eyes can see. In the centre of the cavern, there is a large lake of crystal blue.
The she-mouse leads you forward, nodding to other creatures who are scurrying around the cavern. They all look like her, with human features but animal fur covering their faces, ears poking out of their hair, and some even have wiry or flat or round tails, showing the diversity of all those underground. All of them, you notice, have the same marking on their forehead: a pair of broken ruby-coloured circles.
You both keep walking, the she-mouse’s tail creating a miniature furrow, in which you tiptoe within. Everything is rather scary, what with cats and rats and odd beasts the same size as you.
Other animals are gathered around in gangs, some cooking juicy meat over miniature camp-fires, others pulling wet buckets of lake-water out of the pool and using the water to douse their clothes, or wash their shaped, half-furred faces and paws. All chat and seem very much at home here, in this mysterious and startling place.
They look up and see the shrunken version of you and gasp.
“It’s Alice...” You hear them remark.
You turn to the she-mouse, as she starts to move away.
“Hey, you don’t intend to leave me, do you? Why am I here?”
“For your own safety,” she repeats.
“But... I’m not Alice... And aren’t you going to explain who’s trying to get you?”
The varieties of animals are starting to gather around you. Some bring water lilies and thrushes; others provide small baskets of dark brown bread or handfuls of cheese.
One comes up to you and mutters shyly:
“Alice, it’s so nice you’re here. Please, accept these sand roses I’ve grown for the occasion…”
You pull the burgundy roses from her paws, and smell them. They have no scent but that of the earth and rain, and you want to throw them down in disgust.
“Please…I’m not!” You turn to the she-mouse, “You knew about this, didn’t you? You led me here, because you wanted me to help your- what is this, a civilisation?”
An older woman with grey hair plaited up behind her back waddles forward and places a soft hand on your arm.
“We’re the lost, the broken, the ones who’ve escaped those who are evil. In a way, yes, we’re a trapped civilisation. Living is simple, but at least we’re alive.”
“So… Who are these evil people you mention?”
“We don’t really know who they are, but they want to take over the whole of this land. It’s terrible.”
“Okay…” You say slowly, “And who are you?”
The old woman pauses, her neon green eyes piercing into your own, dull ones.
“We’re really human beings like you. We were taken during the night and the rabbit led us down his hole to a place in which we were suddenly transformed and trapped.”
“The white rabbit. He’s under their spell, or he’s been threatened to work for them.”
A little girl, or a grey squirrel, with a soft cuddly bear tucked under her arm, walks up and tugs at your sleeve.
You look expectantly down at her, as she bites a lip.
“Yes?” You ask her.
After a second’s hesitation, she takes her thumb out her brown-lipped mouth and continues:
“I’ve seen The Queen. She leads all the evil men from her throne of shining rubies...”
“The Red Queen.”