A/N: Last chapter! Thanks to any and all who have made it through the fic, and I hope that you enjoy it. Reviews would be nice, so I know how to improve for any future works!
"Give up now, warriors of the O.Z. You have done well, but I know you will not risk the lives of the women you are trying to rescue. Bow before me as your new queen, give me the emeralds, and all of you will live to see my rule."
The Queen was standing where she knew she would appear most intimidating. The entrance hall was very similar to the one in the Northern Palace in the O.Z. Two staircases curved down from above to a landing at the head of the room. The landing then led down to a single broad staircase into the entryway. The Queen had stopped halfway down this staircase, and her guards were lined up behind her, all the way up the staircases to the upper floors. Four more guards stood on the landing, spears held to Azkadellia and Alice's throats.
"Azkadellia!" DG yelled, standing up, "Are you okay?"
"We're fine," Azkadellia said, though she was cut off when one of the guards pushed his spear harder against her throat.
"Let them go," DG said. She took off her pack and emptied it onto the floor in front of her. Emeralds, both raw and cut, clattered out across the marble. "We brought you what you wanted."
"The ransom was for Azkadellia only. Alice stays with me," the Queen said. "And I know better than to let your princess go until you are no longer a threat to me."
"What threat are we?" DG asked. "We're five strangers, facing you and twenty of your metal card soldiers."
"I know what happened to the witch of the O.Z. I know better than to underestimate you."
"Oh do you?" Azkadellia snapped, striking out to her side with her right arm, the blade she'd concealed hitting her guard, an ace of hearts, in the ruby attached to his heart-mark. The soldier dropped his weapon and froze.
Before the other guards reacted, Az had grabbed his fallen spear, and passed the knife to Alice.
Alice dropped to the ground, falling under the strike her guard aimed for her. She stabbed up with the knife. The strike was amateur, but still caught the gem she was aiming for, and the card stopped moving, the same as Az's had, and Alice took his spear.
Azkadellia and Alice were back-to-back, ready to fight off the Queen's other guards if she gave them the order to attack.
As soon as Azkadellia made her move, DG started whispering rapidly to the others, trying to make a plan that would let them win. "Rubies. The queen wears rubies, and so do her guards. The rubies can stop the guards. The Queen's power comes from the rubies, but she wants power of more gems, which is why she wanted the emeralds. But emeralds hold power in the O.Z., right?"
"So she thinks that if she gets the emeralds, her power will be stronger there. But if the rubies gave her power even in the O.Z., then the emeralds… they'll give you power here." Glitch said. "Even if the stones themselves have no magic anymore, they'll still amplify your power. At least… I think they will."
"And Az and I may be stronger than the Queen," DG finished, kneeling and grabbing a handful of the emeralds from the floor, keeping her eyes on the fight on the stairs.
"Only if you're together though," said Cain. "Tell us what to do."
"We need to get the Queen down here," said DG, "Go now, while she's still distracted. I'll try and move up the stairs, but right now she'll be able to keep me from getting close enough."
"Okay, Jeb, stay with me. Raw, Glitch, stick by DG, and don't get too close to the Queen if you can help it," Cain said.
The Queen now had a sword of her own and had turned, and was advancing on Alice and Azkadellia.
"Hey!" Cain yelled, firing a shot before the Queen attacked.
She turned to face him, and deflected the bullet with a quick flash of red light. His shot had accomplished what he needed though; she was moving back down the stairs toward him, leaving Az and Alice.
Alice and Azkadellia were holding their own, but that was partially due to the fact that the card soldiers seemed to be disorganized. They were only attacking two or three at a time, and so were easily being fought off. If they actually made a coherent assault, the two women would be overwhelmed.
Jeb shot at the Queen as well, with no more success than Cain had had. She deflected the bullet easily, and continued to move towards them.
DG shrank as close to the opposite railing of the stairs as possible, and as soon as she saw a chance she ran up, Raw and Glitch following.
A four of spades from above saw her and rushed down the stairs, spear aimed at her head. She tried to get her sword up to block, but the angle on the stairs was awkward. She ducked a little, expecting to be struck.
She heard another shot fired, and the guard running toward them suddenly stopped, the ruby on its chest cracked.
DG glanced back to see that Jeb had made the shot, and she caught his sigh of relief when the guard fell. She smiled at him before running back up the stairs. Raw grabbed the soldier's spear.
Jeb's quick attack had saved them, but it had also directed the Queen's attention back up the stairs.
"No!" the queen yelled, swinging her sword in their direction.
A bolt of red light arced from the tip of her sword to DG. DG turned to try and block it, and a weak green-tinted shield did start to form in front of her, but the Queen's magic broke through and hit DG in the shoulder. DG fell back. Raw and Glitch caught her, and she was able to get back on her feet.
"Keep moving," she said, stumbling back into a run up the rest of the stairs.
"Get her!" the Queen commanded, and the previously disorganized soldiers immediately turned to DG.
Azkadellia and Alice were able to knock out a few more of them, and to engage a few others, but that still left ten or so heading directly for the other three.
Then the Queen was aiming her sword again, but this time she was firing the light at the unconscious soldiers. When she hit the rubies in their chests, they revived and began attacking again.
"Ugh, we just can't get a break!" Az said, stabbing out at one of the soldiers still focusing on her.
DG glanced quickly down the stairs. Despite having been hit by the Queen's bolt of power, the card that Jeb had shot remained down.
"Az! If you hit the gems hard enough to break them, she can't revive them," DG said. She slashed upward with her sword. It was an odd angle to strike from, and it didn't have much power behind it, but it still stopped the first guard to reach them.
Raw struck at another one with his spear, and he did hit hard enough to crack the gem, while Glitch knocked out another one with a well-placed kick.
DG brought her sword back down into the chest of another soldier, shattering its gemstone.
"Is that a vorpal blade?" Alice asked.
"Huh?' DG ducked another spear aimed at her head. "Yeah, it is," she said, knocking the soldier back and running up a few more stairs.
"That's good," said Alice, stabbing out at one of the few soldiers still in the way.
DG rushed up the last few stairs, and locked hands with Azkadellia.
"Here," DG said, handing the sword over to Alice.
Glitch and Raw continued beating off a few of the remaining guards.
Gripping hands, Azkadellia and DG walked down the stairs. Some of the soldiers continued to rush toward them, but they couldn't hit them. The emeralds were still adding to the sisters' power, and they were shielded from harm.
"Queen of Hearts!" DG yelled.
"Face us!" Azkadellia finished, as they stopped halfway down the stairs.
It was an interesting turnabout from how it had been before. They stood on the lower stairs, with the card guards almost entirely unconscious or killed laying on the stairs behind them. The last few were being taken care of by Glitch and Raw on the landing. Alice was walking toward them, sword at the ready. The Queen had been locked in a stalemate with Cain and Jeb. Jeb had picked up a spear, and had been blocking her attacks, while Cain had still been shooting at her and the few soldiers she'd called to her.
Now all three of them had stopped and were staring up at the two sisters.
"Queen of Hearts. You are not the queen of Wonderland, nor will you ever be queen of the O.Z." Azkadellia said. "You have taken up the witch's poisonous hatred and thirst for power. Her body melted away into the ground above, but her hatred seeped farther down, finding a dark heart to latch onto. That's why your try for power started as soon as our witch was dead."
The Queen of Hearts lashed out with her sword again, but her bolts of power dissolved before they touched the sisters.
DG and Azkadellia stepped down the stairs. Jeb kept his spear at the Queen's back, not allowing her to retreat.
Alice stepped forward then as well, and Raw and Glitch moved down behind her.
"Alice?" DG asked. "You are a true queen of Wonderland, aren't you?"
Azkadellia looked surprised, but Alice nodded. "They said I was, the last time I was here. And they still called me that this time. Though this place has so many queens, I'm not sure the title has any meaning."
"Alice, you have the most right of anyone here to decide what to do," Azkadellia said. "Especially as the queen."
Alice stood in front of the Queen of Hearts. The Queen still looked furious, but she was far less intimidating. "Queen of Hearts," Alice began. "You have put many citizens of Wonderland to death without cause. You have imprisoned still more, including dangerous creatures, such as the Jabberwock. Your attempts to take over this land and others by force are unforgivable. In accordance with your own fondness for swift trials, I charge and convict you. Your sentence?" She paused and raised the vorpal sword. "Off with your head."
The journey back to the O.Z. was far less exciting than the trip to Wonderland had been. Alice had been able to open a door in the maze that led directly into the Nome Mines, so they didn't have to trek back across the whole land.
The dark tunnels were far less ominous than they had seemed before, and it wasn't long before they were back at the ladder-stairs out. This time however, Azkadellia and DG were able to make the journey seem a lot shorter by using magic to help. That was a great relief to all seven of them.
Alice had come with, since she said she really did feel that the title of "Queen" was fairly meaningless in Wonderland. Plus, she said the O.Z. sounded far more interesting than Earth or Wonderland.
DG had mentioned the existence of Travel Storms, which, with a few adjustments from Glitch, could probably make up the difference in time that the worlds all seemed to experience. Since this meant that Alice would still be able to visit Earth to say goodbye to her family, she was completely ready to join them. Azkadellia was obviously happy that Alice had decided to stay as well; the two of them had gotten to be rather close in the few days they'd known each other.
No one felt the need to dwell on the Queen of Hearts' death. She had simply vanished when Alice beheaded her. Alice said that she didn't think that she was really the Queen of Hearts at all, or at least hadn't been for quite some time. Regardless, Alice left it all for the Red Queen and the White Queen, or whatever other queens Wonderland had collected, to sort out if they chose to.
A small company of Tin Men was waiting for them outside the mine, to take them back to Central City and then to the palace.
DG blessed her parents' thoughtfulness to keep an eye out for them there. None of them would have had the energy for a long walk through the mountains. As it was, returning to the palace, being lauded as heroes for a second time, was a rather surreal experience for them all.
When they arrived at the palace, Cain provided a very brief 'official' summary of their mission and an abbreviated formal introduction of Alice to the royal family, before they all were granted a much-needed rest.
Glitch stood on the balcony off his rooms, looking out over the moonlit city and the fields beyond. He didn't hear Cain come in until the Tin Man cleared his throat.
"Cain, you startled me," he said, turning back to the view.
"Taking in the sights of pleasant normalcy? Like, say, a sky?"
"Hard to believe we've been back a week already. Can't say I really miss it there though." Glitch sighed.
"No, I don't blame you there."
"Lucky us, having those princesses running around. We'll be sure to never have a dull day."
"True enough," Cain smirked, leaning on the balcony railing next to the advisor. "And we've got three of them now, since Alice is here to stay."
Glitch smiled. "You know, I like this better than my 'dream.' When we were attacked by that caterpillar... And that really does sound ridiculous, doesn't it? A caterpillar attacking us? I mean, the physics of such a creature are beyond improbably. It shouldn't have even had the ability to move itself so quickly, considering the weight it would have compared to the strength of its legs. And it is even odder that it should have had the ability to speak, or to smoke for that matter, since its respiratory system is rudimentary at best."
"What happened in your dream?" Cain prompted, before Glitch got too off-track.
"Well, I dreamed about being on a balcony, looking out over a peaceful space, knowing nothing would ever go wrong. But I like it better here. What did you dream about Cain?"
Cain averted his eyes a moment. He'd always planned to ask Glitch what he saw, but found that he hadn't been prepared to answer the same question. There were too many parts of it that weren't sitting well yet. "It's not important," he temporized. "Not as important as the here and now."
"Mn." Glitch sighed.
"You should come inside before you fall asleep out here," Cain said, turning to go back in himself. "And you really do need your rest. You never know when we'll be shoved off on another exciting venture. Especially as long as the three of them are around."