My Ranking Points
Chapter Twenty-Six: Down the Rabbit Hole
As the sun set on the horizon, Cass, Ches, Ace, and Alisha walked through the streets of Maidenvale. Alisha led the way, looking for things that her mother had told her about. The park, the stream and bridge, the small bakery that sold delicious iced teacakes.
“Recognize anything?” Ace asked.
“No. I’ve never been here before,” Alisha said. “I only know what Mother told me.”
“Alisha, look.” Cass’s voice was quiet. The others turned to her. She was pointing at a mailbox. Engraved on its side was the name Liddell.
“That’s- that’s it. It has to be,” Alisha said. She looked beyond it to a large mansion.
“Should we go knock on the door and speak with whoever lives here now?” Ches asked.
“No,” Alisha said. “Mother saw the rabbit when she was sitting under a tree. Let’s go around to the back and see if we can find it.”
The gang followed Alisha around to the back of the house, hoping the owner wouldn’t notice. They found the tree young Alice had sat under in the vast backyard and spread out, searching the surrounding area for a rabbit hole.
Fifteen minutes later, they met back up under the tree.
“Nothing,” Ches sighed. “There’s no sign of a rabbit hole.”
“Now what?” Ace asked.
“We have to find another way to get to Wonderland,” said Alisha. “There’s got to be another rabbit hole somewhere in the Woods, or someone who can help us get home.”
“Let’s find a place to hide out for the night, and we’ll figure something out in the morning,” Ace proposed.
Alisha nodded. “Alright, let’s go.”
She started away with Ace and Ches, but Cass’s voice stopped them short.
Turning around, they saw Cass staring into the distance, cocking her head as if listening for something.
“What is it?” Alisha asked.
“That sound- like a clock ticking. This way,” Cass said.
Alisha exchanged an uneasy look with Ace, but when Ches followed Cass, so did they. She walked about ten yards, then stopped.
“It’s somewhere around here,” Cass said. “Somewhere…”
She began looking around, and the others followed. Alisha walked a few steps to the right while others looked around her. She took another step and screamed as she fell, vanishing into the ground.
“Alisha!” Ace hollered. He rushed over to where she had fallen. Cass and Ches joined him.
“Looks like she found the rabbit hole,” Ches said.
“What are we waiting for?” Cass said, stepping forward.
Ches grabbed her elbow, stopping her short. “Wait. Are you sure-”
“Alisha just fell down there. We have to go after her,” Cass interrupted.
“Cass, we should think this through,” Ace said. “We should-”
Cass jumped into the hole, disappearing from sight.
“CASS!” Ace yelled.
“Well, I guess we have no choice now,” Ches said. “You first?”
Ace nodded before jumping into the rabbit hole. Ches followed right behind. They fell through a vertical tunnel surrounded by cupboards, furniture, and all sorts of random objects.
The fall lasted for what seemed like hours, but was probably no more than ten minutes. The rabbit hole stretched on and on, but eventually Alisha landed in a heap on solid ground, followed by Cass, then Ace, and finally Ches.
“Everyone alright?” Alisha asked meekly as she brushed dirt off of her skirt.
“I think so,” Cass mumbled. She pulled a twig out of her hair and threw it into the surrounding woods.
“Are we in Wonderland?” Alisha looked around, but all she could see were trees for miles around them.
“Let’s find a place to camp out for the night,” Ace said, glancing at the darkening sky, “and then we’ll worry about where we are.”
The others nodded and mumbled in agreement. Ace led the way through the forest, chopping away low hanging branches with his sword. When they found an open clearing, Ace dropped onto a fallen log. Cass and Alisha sat on the ground in front of him, and Ches leaned against a nearby tree.
“Now what?” Alisha looked between each of her companions. Ches shrugged. Cass bit her lip, thinking.
“Let’s set up a camp,” Ace suggested. “Just for tonight since it’ll soon be too dark to travel.”
“Okay,” Cass agreed.
“Alisha, can you go collect some firewood? It’ll be getting cold out in a minute. And Ches, why don’t you go do some scouting to see if you can figure out where we are?”
Alisha nodded and went off to find firewood. Ches, who was slightly more unwilling to listen to Ace, vanished into thin air. Ace turned back to Cass.
“That leaves you and me to get things set up here,” he said. “I’ll see if I can’t get us something to eat while you set up a spot for us to sleep, just like we learned in our Forest Group.”
“I’m not sure how well I paid attention,” Cass said, but she went off and did it anyway. While Ace hunted, she made four beds of leaves and pine needles so they didn’t have to sleep directly on the hard ground.
Finished before any of the others, Cass stood and waited for them to return. A couple minutes later, Ace entered the clearing with some sort of large bird.
“We’ll cook that over the fire when Alisha brings back the wood,” he said. Cass nodded. They stood a couple feet apart, awkwardly waiting for the other two to return.
As the moonlight shone through the trees, Cass perched lightly on a small boulder. Ace watched her with a strange expression on his face.
“What?” Cass asked, catching his gaze.
“Nothing. It’s just- the moonlight in the darkness. It makes your eyes-” Ace stopped.
Cass pursed her lips. “I see,” she said stiffly. She tapped her fingers against the rock.
“No, Cass, I meant-” Ace paused again, looking her over. “You look beautiful.”
Cass gave him a puzzled look. “I didn’t do anything. I look just like I always do.”
“Yes, but- the moonlight gives your eyes this kind of sparkle. I’ve never noticed that before.”
“Hm.” Cass stared into the trees, looking for any sign of Ches or Alisha.
Ace started on the chicken, pulling off feathers and getting it ready to cook. Cass sighed and went over to help, kneeling beside him. They had it ready in minutes, and once again found themselves standing alone, waiting for the others.
“What is taking them so long?” Cass wondered. “It shouldn’t take this long to gather firewood. Maybe we should-”
“Don’t worry,” Ace said. “They’ll be back.”
Cass nodded, but she was still tense with worry. She felt Ace take her han, but her gaze was still on the endless trees.
“Hey,” Ace said. “It’s okay. They’ll be back.”
“What if something happened to them?” Cass asked. “Are you sure we shouldn’t-”
“Alisha’s tough. She can take care of herself,” Ace promised. “And Ches… well, I’m pretty sure we don’t have to worry about him.”
Cass took a deep breath. “You’re right. We just need to stay calm and make sure Tiana doesn’t succeed.” She looked at Ace. “How are you holding up with that? I mean, she is your sister.”
A painful look crossed his face. “I’m worried about her. But also determined to stop her. And no matter what happens, I promise to protect you.”
Cass looked into his earnest eyes. Touched, she smiled gratefully and touched his cheek. He reached up and covered her hand with his, smiling back. His blue-gray eyes were soft and earnest, and Cass suddenly felt warm and content.
Lifting up on her toes, Cass kissed him soft and sweetly. She felt his free arm wrap around her waist and pull her closer.
“Ahem.” Ches coughed behind her, and Cass turned to see him standing a couple feet away.
Blushing, Cass pulled away from Ace. “Did you- did you find anything?”
“Nothing quite as interesting as what you’ve got going here,” Ches said, but the usual teasing note in his voice wasn’t present. “How does Alisha feel about this?”
Cass exchanged a look with Ace. She bit her lip as he looked away.
“She doesn’t know does she?” Ches said. “You are just full of secrets, aren’t you Cass?”
Cass looked up at him. “Ace was going to tell her, but then there was the whole evil Tiana- Jabberwock-rabbit hole thing.”
“I see,” Ches replied stiffly. “Well, it seems that we are in Wonderland, but I’ve no clue where. There’s miles of trees in every direction.”
“Wonderful,” Cass said sarcastically. “Well, Ace and I set up camp for the night. Let’s get some rest and we’ll figure out what to do in the morning.”
Ches nodded. The three of them stood stiffly for a long minute before Alisha finally burst into the clearing with a large bundle of wood.
“Sorry I took so long, there just seems to be a lot of rain in this forest and it took me a while to find wood that was dry enough to be of any use.” She noticed the tense mood of the others and instantly sobered. “Is something wrong?”
Cass quickly put on her brightest smile. “Not at all, we were just worried about you. But now that you’re back, we can cook that bird and get some sleep.”
Alisha just nodded slowly, as if she knew something was amiss but wasn’t sure quite what. She allowed Cass to take the firewood from her and watched as Ace started up a small fire.
After a quick dinner, the group headed to bed. Cass took the makeshift bed on the far right. Alisha took the one beside her, Ches was next to Alisha, and Ace was on the far left. They didn’t speak, and soon Cass found herself drifting into an uneasy sleep.