Heart no Kuni no Alice ; not mine.

. . .

Ghosts in the Lamplight

i. broken skylines

Cloudy amaranthine eyes gazed at the slowly falling snow. The sun had already set hours ago, leaving the young girl out in perpetual eventide; letting her drown in the pseudo-black hole filled with glitter and dust. The road back to Wonderland wasn't the safest of routes, and although it was filled with starlight and carried the scent of dreams, bandits and faceless figures would often capture poor, unsuspecting travelers and would steal all of their possessions.

The girl didn't dare light a candle in this poor excuse for a path in fear of being seen and captured again, but the darkness was ruining even her 20/20 vision. It was frightfully cold, too, as if the cracks in the pavement were releasing gelid mist monsters than would burn right through her. Summer tightened her weathered leather cloak around her as more bitter wind lashed her. She couldn't remember when the nights became so rough, but it had to be because of the Outsider who had just entered Wonderland.

Everything changed because of the Outsider, after all.

Even her sentence was changed. No more was she in exile for the unforgivable sins she had committed almost two years ago. She had received a letter from the Queen herself, telling her that she may return to Wonderland if she wished. But Summer had to go back alone. She had to go back to that false heaven without any guides that might actually help keep her alive.

She didn't even know herself if she should thank or condemn the Outsider. Should Summer be grateful because the Outsider had spared her from a lie – a life – of hiding, or should she be wary because she was going back to the land whose residents once wanted her dead?

And dead – truly dead, without a rebirth – she would have been, if it weren't for Her Majesty. The Queen, after all, had the final say in everything that transpired within her castle. 'Sometimes, that Vivaldi could be good for something,' Summer chuckled to herself.

Another gust of wind caught her unaware, and her overly-sewn and overly-repaired knapsack fell onto the hard cobblestone ground. She cursed silently, hoping that the bandits – or whatever was hiding in the surrounding forests – did not hear the very audible sound of her belongings crashing down.

She then heard the faint sound of footsteps, and Summer began to run, leaving her stuff behind. Ever since she was a kid, they would tell her to fight…but she had always chosen to flee. It was easier, more painless that way. Who cared if she was selfish? Summer had an important role (or, at least they brought her up making her believe her role was important) and she believed that gave her the license to do whatever the hell she wanted to.

And what she wanted to do was run, so run she did. Run back to the life she had abandoned so long ago.

. . .

"Today's the day…" Vivaldi muttered to herself as the female cards began styling her hair. 'Today's the day that I would find the truth at long last.'

"Today's the day!" The servants said amongst themselves, blissfully ignorant of the heavy, important meaning of those three words. But they would do anything – anything – to please Her Majesty, even if it meant talking about such nonsense.

The cards then left, after Vivaldi's hair was perfectly fixed into that elaborate, pretzel-like hair do that distinguished her as the Queen of Hearts. Said Queen was then alone, her room silent and her heart tick-tocking so quickly she thought she would break it herself.

"Today's the day…" It was safe for her to come back now, because of Alice. Alice had changed everything….For the good, Vivaldi hoped; despaired.

. . .

The still-dark sky was glazed with soft columbine clouds, wistful and carefree like a Dove's feathers and was beginning to be stained with pearl-grey when she reached the steps towards Wonderland. Soft streetlights flickered on the corner of the side-walk, and cards of all shapes and sizes treated her as if she was an ordinary citizen.

'Everything did change…everything wasn't like…before.'

Before…was it that long ago? It had been barely two years and Summer was already regarding the unfortunate past events the way someone whose spouse died ten years ago would think of it. Had Wonderland changed so much? She couldn't see the change physically, but she could feel it. The change, it was in the air. The wind still carried the scent of dried blood, yes, but it seemed…lighter, more compassionate. As if love became a reality.

'Love', she laughed, 'LOVE.' Such a sick joke. Such a sick, stupid joke.

…But was it truly a joke? It had to be, because no one in her world could love. Not even Vivaldi, who had spared her pitiful life without a second thought.

Summer glided along the empty streets thinking about nothing – especially not about love or before; feeling nothing but the bittersweet change in the air.

. . .

It was almost time for mid-morning tea and still, the only person in the robin's egg blue tea room was Vivaldi herself. She had already threatened most of the servants that she would let their heads roll on the cherrywood floor if they didn't find her before tea-time. The clock read 9:37. Poor nameless cards would have to get their quote-and-quote hearts brought to Julius today.

Julius. An unbearable pang went through her. He was the reason she had to exile her, after all. If it wasn't for him and his job, Vivaldi would be able to continue living in her bubble with her so-called family. If it wasn't for him, she'd still be happy. Sure, Alice made her happy, but it was a different kind of happy – certainly not the kind of happy she felt being with the King and Summer.

"Your majesty, we cannot find her," A flushed card told her, all the anxiety in the world in his voice, "We've been looking for her everywhere!"

"Well, look for her again!" Vivaldi snapped, dropping her tea cup on the floor; letting it fragment into a myriad of beautiful pieces. "And if you come here without her again…."

The card – a 10 of Diamonds, she noted –nodded quickly as it left the room in haste.

. . .

The sun was already high up when Summer finally told herself the truth – she was indeed lost. She had considered asking for directions once or twice, but she was afraid of recognition. She may have given full amnesty, but people here didn't exactly forget and forgive. Heck, it would be miracle if they simply forgot. Wonderlanders weren't the nicest kind of people, but that was plain to see. Probably even the Outsider was able to notice it.

She then felt the sun boring down on her as she removed her thick winter cloak. Her dull heliotrope-hued hair was stingy and unkempt from two years of living in secret. She began tying her split-end-plagued strands into a simple ponytail. The clothes Summer wore were very practical but not-so-apt for a girl her standing.

And it was then – when she was asking the fates for stupid directions to get her to the castle – when an unfamiliar voice plunged a knife into her 'heart.'

"Hey!" Summer turned around to see a girl with ash blonde hair and an...odd… aura – the Outsider, she thought.

"Is that you," the Outsider asked, her ash blonde hair neatly fixed into a ribbon as she went closer to the once-exiled girl, "…Vivaldi?"