The sound of footsteps echoed loudly down the desolate street. Fallen building debris creating an unpredictable obstacle course, as the lone individual ran.
The echoes of her own panting and racing heartbeat filled her ears as she frantically tried to escape, her surroundings a heated blur of grey and purple.
But what or who was she running from? She couldn’t remember.
A right, a left and then a right again. Fallen carcasses of her civilisation’s structures forced her to make unfamiliar turns until she was lost, the environment unrecognisable in its desolation.
In her frantic state, she quickly looked back one last time to ensure no-one was following her but in her haste she tripped and fell, landing with a THUD on the wet concrete, a thin layer of rain water muting her sprawling descent. She huffed, catching her breath, gathering the courage to push on until
The thunderous sound of concrete being pulverised under the weight of heavy footsteps made her freeze in terror. The sounds grew closer and closer with each passing moment and if not for a sudden jolt of pain emanating from her recently skinned knee, the girl would have stayed in the middle of the street, only to be devoured by the approaching terror.
Even with her strength sapped, she managed to hide, her hands covering her ears as she cowered behind debris, gently rocking herself back and forth, hoping for the storm of fear to pass.
CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRU …
Suddenly, all was still and quiet. Only the pitter patter of rain remained but still she dared not look. It was a trick, it had to be. So, she stayed hidden hugging her knees for several minutes, barely making a sound so as not to alert the hulking terror lest it return, until some semblance of her courage had finally returned urging her to push forward.
Yet, no sooner had she crawled away from her hiding spot, her knee still wobbly from the fall, then a large shadow enveloped her form. The quiet vanished as quickly as it had come, replaced by noises of terror, agony, pain and suffering while the air was filled with the pungent stench of death.
This was it. No more running, no escaping, surviving or enduring. She would have to face the terror. She turned in one sudden movement.
Alice awoke with a scream, hot tears streaming down her flushed cheeks as the images of the mangled remains of hundreds of massacred people she had once known and cared for flooded her mind, the dream still vivid and fresh, keeping her emotional scars raw. The guilt of surviving, of not using her powers to their full extent to save her home world continued to weigh heavily on young Alice (Alice of the Lost World flavour text), especially now that she was safely secure on the ARK. Wrapping her blanket around herself more tightly, she took solace in the soft warmth it provided and the soothing sensation of its weight on her back.
It would be hours before the emotional terror of the dream subsided and Alice felt comfortable enough to leave her living quarters, although it was mostly hunger that spurred her to attend the ship’s communal eating space. The ARK’s simulated day cycle indicated that it was still early in the morning, so at the very least it would not be crowded, a fact that brought her some relief. Despite their small number though, she was still slightly surprised by the sheer diversity of the survivors that occupied the dining hall, even at this late hour. However, the surprise quickly turned to melancholy and a tinge of guilt as her heart realised just how many worlds the blight that are the Exvaders had already desolated.
She ate quietly and mechanically, the taste and smell of the food actually helping to quiet her rumbling tummy, though it was of little comfort in any other respect.
“Did you hear? We might have a security breach from the last planet we visited”.
Alice’s ears twitched slightly as she eavesdropped on two shadow figures that were doing their best to whisper but failing miserably.
“That’s impossible. It was completed devoid of life forms. Besides, the ARK’s security barriers would have ripped something to bits, even if it was remotely related to …”
The man’s voice trailed off, a touch of sadness traceable in the way his words dipped just as the sentence remained unfinished.
“bah” snapped his female shadowy counterpart her voice layered with shrewd annoyance “then how do you explain all the dark dreams people have been having? And before you say, ‘it is only natural’ need I remind you that it started from the bottom layer and now it is slowly working its way up in a pattern”.
Her counterpart attempted to interject but he was sternly cut off.
“I am getting to the bottom of this with or without you Mr. Showman. For if it is a pitiful little Exvader I am not passing up the chance for rev … justice”.
With those last words she stormed off, before her male companion rose to his feet and gingerly followed her back into the ARK’s dimly lit corridors, his lips parting to let out a brief sigh before vanishing like a magician.
Alice couldn’t not believe what she had heard. An Exvader, on this ship? No, no, no it could not be possible. They were supposed to be safe! They were supposed to have survived. They were all going to die! Doomed to be eaten, eradicated, Massacred! No, no, no, NO! Alice was spiralling emotionally, her food half finished, forgotten and her body shaking from the turmoil in her heart.
It was not until the ARK’s day cycle flipped to ‘morning’ that Alice snapped back to reality, the hustle and bustle of refugees entering the dining hall for their sustenance grounding her in the present.
With newfound determination she dashed out of the hall and back towards her room to get ready. She had made a decision. She would not hesitate like she did on her homeworld, she would find this lingering threat and eradicate it with her very own powers. She had failed before, but she would not fail the survivors upon the ARK.
As the ship’s day cycle shifted back towards nighttime, Alice stealthily slipped out of her quarters, her preparations complete. As she darted from wall to wall, Alice recalled how the shadowy late-night strangers whispered about how the ‘monster’ only manifested itself in dreams and thus steeled herself to patrol the halls during ‘sleeping hours’.
She remained alert, her ears twitching, on the hunt for the faintest sound of trouble and although she was not exactly sure what it would sound like, she hoped beyond hope that she would recognise it when the time came.
An hour passed. Then another and another, her nerves growing tense the longer her patrolling yielded no fruits. “Was it maybe just bad dreams after all” she pondered to herself as the feelings attached to reliving her own terrible experiences in her nightmares resurfaced. Her thoughts slowed her footing, eventually bringing her movement to a grinding halt at one of the ARK’s many intersections.
Perhaps it was fate or maybe just dumb luck, but had she not stopped she would have certainly missed the flicker of purple light that twinkled down the southern corridor before vanishing. “That’s it” she thought, her head spinning around, her instinct telling her she had found the culprit and potential threat. Yet as quick as she was to recognise it, her body needed a second more to adhere to her will, her hesitation to use her powers creating momentary doubt in her movement.
Dashing down the corridor, she followed the shadowy being. It was large but obscure, almost shapeless in its form as it glided down the halls. At times, she had trouble staying on its tail, but somehow always found it again, instinct guiding her.
The chase lasted mere minutes but to Alice it felt like hours, finally cornering the ‘monster’ at a dead end. As the creature lingered, it slowly rotated on the spot, Eyes of dreaded purple shone back at Alice through the formless black mist that was its body and a ray of scarlet teeth glistened. A low-pitched hum emanated from the creature’s formless shape, almost as a soft growl as the two entities remained locked in a staring contest, Alice’s own eyes matching the beast’s, iris for iris.
Alice could not tell how long they had been frozen in their respective positions, but in all that time she had come to understand that though this entity had a savage appearance, its spirit seemed noble (Jabbawock’s flavour text), almost kind similar to some of the beings of her home planet. Instinctively, she reached out with her hand, her legs drawing her closer to the entity, willing to connect with whatever was present before her very eyes, willing to learn and understand.
Its touch was cold yet warm in the exact same instance, like its very being was comprised of swirl of emotions; sadness, love, hate and hope. Slowly but surely, the shadowy entity began to take form, its appearance morphing from shapeless shadow to that of … well Alice was not exactly sure how to describe it, almost like a mix of a fairytale dragon and dog.
Alice finally smiled, as the final bits of the black mist disappeared, and she found her hand resting on the hulking beast’s head. “You just wanted someone to talk to, didn’t yo …”.
She had barely finished her sentence before a projectile struck the beast, its body reeling from the impact for a split second, slapping Alice to one side, before snapping back to high alert. Its entire body shifting to face its would be attackers, shadowy mist once again beginning to flow over its now well-defined form returning it to relative obscurity.
“Dammit Dutchess” called one of the shadowy figures with a familiar voice “you didn’t put enough power into that strike”.
“Shut up showman” Dutches snapped back “I was trying to save the girl. Next one will definitely leave a mark”.
“STOP” Alice cried as she flung herself between the opposing parties, her arms wide opened barely having recovered from being shoved to ‘safety’.
“Get out of the way you silly girl or we’re all going to die.” Both Dutchess and Showman growled in unison.
Alice stood her ground.
“No, it is not an Exvader. It is … it is …” Alice looked back at the beast before returning her defiant gaze to the two figures in front of her “… he is just like us”.
As artificial light began to fill her quarters from the ship’s day simulator, Alice awoke gingerly, for once without feelings of guilt and deep melancholy that would often plague her thoughts and tug at the corners of her sanity after a night of bone-chilling nightmares. In fact, despite the physical and mental toll resulting from the whirlwind of emotions that had enveloped her only a few hours ago, she felt strangely content in the moment.
“Wait, could it all have been a dream?” she thought, as if to say that her imagination had conjured up a magical scenario to help her cope. But her momentary doubt was put to rest swiftly with a simple glance towards one of the four corners of her room. There lay the being she had chased, met and befriended the night before.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Alice slipped out of her bed silently and tiptoed towards her new acquaintance as though not to disturb his sleep. He was certainly peculiar and nothing like she had ever encountered before. Although perhaps the same could be said for a lot of the residents aboard the ARK.
She had barely taken four steps before the beast stirred. Its head popped up and observed Alice, causing her to take a quick half a step back in surprise. “Good morning, Mr. Jabberwock” Alice said apprehensively after a brief pause. Her thoughts a flutter, she recalled how they had exchanged names last night but not much else during their journey back to her room.
“Good Morning, child. No … Aliccceee” the spectral being cooed back softly, angling its head downwards in a show of appreciation “I must thank you for coming to my aid. Were it not for you, I may have vanished”. Jabber’s method of speech was formal but gentle and soothing. It certainly did not match his ferocious appearance but looks can naturally be deceiving.
In the same way she had done in that dimly lit dead end corridor mere hours before, the young girl reached out and placed her palm on the Jabberwock’s bowing head. This time the sensations she felt radiating from her touch were affectionately warm and pleasant. She smiled softly and any last reservations she may have had slipped away and were forgotten.
“Oh, don’t be grumpy” said the Showman with a sigh, as both he and Dutchess departed from their hiding spot just outside Alice’s room “it all worked out for the best”.
“I am not grumpy” she snapped back “I am just hungry and achy after this ridiculous night we had of running around and having to stand guard outside this defiant little brat’s room”.
The Mad Hatter knew better than to point out that she was the one who suggested they do so, something uncharacteristically nice of her to insist upon. It seems he was not the only one moved by the young girl’s words and strength of character during their tense standoff.
Though they could not describe how and when it came to be, they both felt a glimmer of hope for a better future having awakened within them.
◯Alice A psychic with great powers who was born and raised in a world with a civilization similar to Earth. When her hometown was attacked, she regretted not being prepared to use her powers. She boarded the “Avenger’s Ship, the Dimensional Navigation Continental Ship Ark” and became an eternal warrior across different worlds.
◯Madame Duchess A warrior and a survivor of another world that was destroyed by an invading dimension. Alice’s teacher as a warrior, with a strong body and spirit.
◯Mad Hatter Members of “A7”, the friends who support Alice. He claims to be a magician, but his ability to manipulate time and space is more powerful than magic. Although he acts carefree, he is always concerned about Alice and her friends.
A surviving warrior from the dragon world that perished in a fierce battle with an invading dimension.
A so-called ghost who has lost his physical body and remains in this world only with strong mental energy.
After this story, he finds a place in the vast spiritual world of A7 member “Cheshire Cat”, and usually sleeps there. (In an emergency, it can “migrate” into the mind of any member and act together.)
When his friends are in danger, he materializes as an energy ghost with storm-like telekinetic powers, and serves as the ultimate weapon in the fight against the invading dimension.