And at the same time, I realize I have no desire within me to kill anyone. I certainly don't want to see my friends continue to be hurt, but I was always the most squeamish girl when somebody cut their finger at a birthday party and a tiny crimson drop spattered to the floor without forewarning.
Trembling slightly, I swallowed my thoughts and turned once again to the Mad Hatter with what I hoped was an expression of grim determination, or, even better, alacrity.
"I don't like blood," I blurted suddenly. Stupid Melody. Shut up.
The Hatter laughed and I looked down at my shining new footwear. Given by my new housemates back in the world I really belonged to.
"Melody," said the White Queen gently, caressing my forehead with a pale, silky finger. "There won't be any blood. Be queasy all you like."
I looked up in astonishment. "But- I have to duel her to the death with a sword! Look how sharp it is! How could there not be blood?"
"There doesn't have to be if you don't want it. You're the New Alice (this she said as though it were a real title like King or Queen or Ruler of the World)."
"I don't understand."
"That's alright," said the Queen kindly. "Let the Hatter explain everything. It's time for her first lesson, isn't it?"
"Yes!" exclaimed the Mad Hatter, widening his brilliant eyes and twitching his lump of a nose. "We must go at once! Take the sword. We're off to the Dueling Room." And he whisked me off, forgetting about my arm. It was quite healed by now but I was sure that after a few more unprecedented drags like this, the skin would break again. Everyone seemed very rough and hurried here. It occurred to me that this, too, might be the fault of young Isabella.
* *** *** *** *** * ** ***
The Dueling Room was extremely spacious for a room (perhaps one or two full acres!) and everything was the yellowish-brown color of a wooden floor. There was nothing at all in it save a perfectly camouflaged rickety rocking-chair and a strange screen on the ceiling.
"Are you ready, then?" inquired the Hatter politely, dropping my arm (thank goodness).
"I think so," I replied, uncertain.
"Excellent!" And with that, he darted out of the room faster than you can "completely mad" and I was left standing awkwardly by the curved door. What, exactly, was I supposed to be doing?
And then the Hatter's voice sounded loudly in my ears and I instinctively covered them, letting the Sword drop uselessly to the floor.
"Over here, Alice!" called the voice cheerfully, a little quieter now, out of consideration I supposed. "Melody," I murmured back, but I'm sure he didn't hear me.
I realized the voice was coming from the funny screen, and I had to run a long way to get there. I bent my head so I was facing up and there he was.
"What do I do, Hatter?" I asked.
"Picture this. You are being attacked by a gigantic Breathing-Mushroom. Surely you know how annoying those are. How do you get rid of it?"
"Is the mushroom alive?" I asked tentatively, fingering the Sword.
"Of course the Mushroom is alive." The Hatter sounded impatient. "Well, how are you going to get rid of it?"
"I don't want to get rid of it," I answered hopelessly.
"It's making the most disturbing whooshing noises." He gave me a demonstration, and it was truly an awful racket.
"I still don't want to kill it."
"Then don't kill it," counseled the Hatter. "You're in charge. Imagine the Breathing-Mushroom."
I did so and it appeared before me. I tried not to look to surprised.
My Sword became a gigantic scarlet lollipop and I hurled it at the mushroom, who licked it with pleasure and trundled off into oblivion.
"Uh, what just happened?"
"You got rid of it the way you wanted to," answered the Hatter simply, trying to hide a proud smile. "With sweet things."
"How does that help me with Isabella?"