Status: This is an ongoing story! I will be posting chapters as I finish them. I hope you like the story and have as much fun reading it as I did/do writing it.

Once Upon a Time

Chapter Two

Chapter Two

The next few days after The Writer’s Block were spent without much thought about Alice. Red had spent the rest of that evening as one would normally, drinking to excess and laughing carelessly at the silly antics of her friends. She of course was worried for her friend, but tried her best to still enjoy the evening.
Robin, it seemed, had absolutely no problem letting go of his inhibitions. At some point in the night, he had managed to clamber up one of the tables, pint in hand, and reenact in painstaking detail how he had saved the Lady Marion from the nefarious Sir Guy of Gisborne’s clutches. He went so far as to tell the entire bar what had transpired after the saving, to the disgust of the ladies and the crude interest of the men.

As soon as the word “bedchamber” was mentioned, Red decided that was the best moment to grab his ear and yanked him off the table, much to the dismay of the quite enthralled crowd. Robin amidst cries of pain, yelped out, “I was just telling the truth!” to which Red’s response was, “Yes, well sometimes I do wish you would keep some things private!”

Red then had to escort him back to his story as he was far too intoxicated to remember so much as his own name. It seemed that, much to the happiness of Red, the chaos of the bar had taken over the memory of her earlier conversation.
It wasn’t until some time later that it crossed her mind once again when she was walking back down the path to her cottage. She was kicking a small stone along with her down the trail and listening to Robin tell her a story of how when he was a boy he had taken a small sword and etched an ‘R’ into the side of a recently pilfered wagon. The incident had come back to her in a flash, quite surprising her in the process.
She stopped in her tracks. Robin, blissfully unaware, had taken at least ten strides before noticing the change. He paused and turned to face her. “Ms. Hood, are you alright?”
Red nodded, reaching up and brushing some stray locks of hair back under her hood. “That story just now reminds me of something Alice told me a few nights ago. I wasn’t sure what to think of it-if anything-until now, but..” She trailed off, lost in thought. Robin took a few steps closer, examining her face. “Red, what’s going on?”
Brows creased, she shook her head slightly. “I’m not sure, perhaps it’s nothing.”

She told him what Alice had said that night anyway. When she got to the part about the marking, Robin held up a hand. “Wait, what marking?”
Red eyed him, letting out a huff of air. “I was getting to that.” She then bent down and picked up a stick, drawing said marking in the soft earth. Robin looked on, peering over her shoulder as she sketched. When she finished she tossed the twig to the ground, she looked at her handiwork. “Alice said it was on the side of the White Rabbit’s hollow. I’m not sure what it means, but I have a feeling it’s not good.” She turned to face him, backing up slightly after realizing he was so close that she could see the flecks of blue in his emerald eyes.
His expression was one of confusion, with a hint of something else. Recognition. He rubbed his forehead, his gaze never leaving the mark. “I thought it was nothing..I thought I’d never see it again.” He backed away, collapsing on a nearby fallen tree trunk by the path.
Heart faltering at his demeanor, she knelt down in front of him. “Robin...have you seen this thing before?” A stupid question, she knew, but she had to ask it all the same. He nodded ever so slightly, as if he were suddenly made of glass and was afraid that any movement would break him. His tongue darted out, swiping at trembling lips as he hesitantly continued.

“When I was a boy, scarcely past ten years, my village was raided. The sheriff at the time had put a harsh tax on the county, so harsh that we could barely make the required amount. He told us each time he rode in that if we missed even one payment, he would..” He trailed off, voice breaking so badly he couldn’t finish the thought. Red nodded slowly, knowing the end of the sentence without his confirmation. The law in his story had forever been that any taxes not met at the end of a certain time would mean punishment for the people, said punishment usually ending in one’s death.
It seemed he was done speaking he was silent for so long, but he continued. “The end of the month came and so did the sheriff. We were able to make the payment thank the good lord, and so we were able to relax for a time.” Robin’s hands began to shake. “But that didn’t last long. One day, we woke to chaos. Homes were aflame, the sounds of... swords and men shouting filled the air...along with women and children screaming. I couldn’t find my parents and so I went to look for them. That’s when I saw…” His voice broke off again, this time tears began to trickle down his cheek.
Red grabbed one of Robin’s hands, squeezing it gently. “What did you see, Robin?”
He paused, again for a long time, and then began again. “They had my parents... I didn’t know who-or what-they were. They wore clothes I’d never seen before, carried weapons that sounded like firecrackers..I couldn’t see their faces through the pitch black masks they wore. They took my parents... and a few other people.. and left.” Robin raised his free hand, pointing at the marking. “That was the only thing they left behind.”
Time itself seemed to still. “Robin, I-” Before she could speak, he jumped up, seeming to shake himself from the moment. He glanced at her before waving off her sympathetic gaze. Wiping away the salty remnants of his sorrow, he laughed halfheartedly. “It’s nothing, Ms. Hood.” He turned back to face her. Seeing she remained unconvinced, he forced a smile. “Come now, Red. I’m not the one who’s supposed to be saved, that’s my job!”

Just like that, the moment was over. Red looked back at the marking. “What do we do about this then?”
Robin took another glance at it before replying in a jovial tone. “I suppose we take a look for ourselves. Which way to Wonderland?”
The way to Wonderland was quite a long-yet surprisingly boring-adventure. Robin and Red had to travel through what seemed like the whole Library’s stories, often apologizing for interrupting their readings. One moment, it looked as if Shere Kahn was going to chase her down and eat her. In another instance, Robin had nearly gotten into a fist fight with Tinker Bell-the prospect of which made Red very curious to see it play out-and Peter Pan by association. The whole ordeal was rather embarrassing, and had there been another way to Alice they would have certainly taken it. After they angered what seemed like-and probably was-the fiftieth character, they had arrived.

How one entered Wonderland was the exact process Alice went through in her story. Once you got to the door you had to grab the key and drink the substance lying on a table. With more than the recommended amount of bodies in the room, however, the duo had to split the potion. Before they did so, Red snatched the cake from the table for their return journey.
Realizing that her story was currently being read, the two decided to hunker down in a bush opposite Alice’s home in order to avoid detection.
Some time later, Alice appeared, humming a tune quietly. Red stood up and walked around the bush, Robin following suit. Alice, upon turning and seeing her dear friend, beamed and gave her a surprisingly tight hug. Red returned the embrace, and when it ended they followed Alice inside for some tea.
As soon as the door opened, Red’s vision began swimming. Thrown quite off guard, it took her a moment to realize that she had entirely forgotten that while the outside of Alice’s home was the right side up, the inside was very much the opposite. Glancing over at Robin, it looked like he was having a much harder time with the change than she was. Complexion the color of bone, he cast Red a nervous smile which she returned with one of her own confident grins. She would definitely be telling his men this detail when they got back home.
After the initial shock, they all sat down to have a spot of tea. Unlike the mayhem in the story with the Hatter, Alice’s tea parties were more subdued. She poured them each a cup of something labeled ‘Caroling Chamomile’ which, when properly steeped, sounded like a church chorus was sitting in the cup itself. It tasted like regular chamomile, save for the part where it tasted like an entire Christmas Day. How that was possible Red couldn’t tell, but she assumed that it had something to do with Wonderland.
Some time later after chatting about their day to day lives for a bit, Red brought the topic to the important issue. They had been conversing about the many ways a raven was like a writing desk (though how that topic could have been as extensive as it was Red never understood) when they came to a pause. Red saw that as her opportunity.
Clearing her throat, she spoke, looking directly at Alice, who gingerly placed her cup on its saucer and on the checkered table between them.
“Al, I told Robin what you told me at the bar several nights ago.” Alice blanched, eyeing him suspiciously. Before Alice could interject, Red continued. “He’s the only one that knows, I swear.” For now, Red thought. If this is as much a problem as I think it is, we could all be in trouble. She daren’t voice any of this, however. Red knew how Alice’s emotional stability-or lack thereof-worked. Best to let her down easy.
“I showed him the marking you said was on the White Rabbit’s tree, and it appears Robin has seen them too.” With that she looked over at him, asking with a look if he was comfortable sharing. The look she received said no, he wasn’t, but it wasn’t like saying nothing would get them anywhere. He shared his story. Part of it, anyway; he seemed to leave out the more traumatic bits about how much devastation he saw, but it was still enough information for Alice to go on. As Robin spoke, Alice’s fear started to become so palpable Red could swear she could pierce it with her hunting knife.
At long last, she spoke. “If these ‘File Thirteen’ people have gotten into your story, Mr. Hood, I fear that maybe yours and mine are not the only stories to have been tampered with.” She grew silent again, thinking. Red became restless with all the sitting around, and grabbed a jelly tart from the tea tray as she rose from her seat. Pacing and munching on the not surprisingly yummy tart-in Wonderland jelly tarts were like ambrosia from the heavens-Red’s mind started ticking.
A few moments later, she had a plan of sorts. Swiveling around to face the other two, she spoke.“We need to tell the Library.” They both looked at her blankly. She rolled her eyes and huffed and started pacing again, mind in a frenzy. “Look, if these people came for both of your stories and took a character out-which I dunno about you guys but I think that’s a pretty big deal-if that’s happened then we need to tell the others.” Red gestured to Alice, who jumped. “You said it yourself, Al. If these guys came for Robin and you, maybe we’re not the only ones.” Her eyes darted between her two friends as she continued. “Let’s arrange a meeting with everyone at Writer’s Block. By tonight we need to tell everyone.” Her eyes fell to the floor, lost in thought. “Heavens know what we’ll do about this, but people need to know.” She crouched in front of Alice, her light brown eyes peering into her friend’s pale blue ones. “I need to see that mark. Can you take us to it?” Alice nodded, slowly rising from her seat.
The sight at the White Rabbit’s home took Red’s breath away. The door had been broken, all the glass windows shattered to pieces. Red didn’t need to see the inside to know that it was probably just as bad if not worse.Some few paces away on a tree trunk, a scroll of paper had been stuck to its side. Red crossed to it and looked at what was written there. Her brow furrowed in confusion. “‘The pen is mightier than the sword?’” She looked at her companions, who looked nonplussed. “What does that mean? Doesn’t even make sense..” She looked at it again. She snapped her head up, startling the others. “I’ve heard this before! I think it’s something Writer’s live by, a sort of motto.”
Robin took the parchment and read it. “But why would this be here?” Alice was looking over Robin’s shoulder at the paper, but not at what was written. Red came over and took another look to see what Alice had found. Once she realized what Alice had seen, she clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a yelp. “This-this is from the page!”
Each of their stories was written on a unique type of paper. The pages were very much like the walls of their world, and for someone to be able to rip a piece off-
Her eyes were then drawn to the marking. On the side of White Rabbit’s hollow sat the black symbol. Red’s heart dropped as she looked closer, and let out a gasp. What she saw made her blood stop in its tracks. The marking had been drawn with ink. Not just any ink, either. This was ink that the Writer’s used to create the words that gave each of them life, which meant it was permanent. It was part of the story now.
She looked at Robin and Alice, and by their expressions she could tell they were thinking the same thing. Whoever took the White Rabbit and Robin’s family were a serious people with intentions that at best were... world ending.
As Robin and Red left, Alice spoke to their retreating figures. “I’ll tell everyone in my story and tell them to spread the word, you all should do the same.” Nodding, Red opened the door to Alice’s garden and the edge of her story, pulling out the cake from earlier as she did so. As they made their way back to her story, she turned to Robin. “Your men are still in my story I believe, so let’s both go back there and tell them all we know. After that you need to return to your own story and relay the message.” Robin nodded, brow creased with worry. Red rested a hand on his broad shoulders in an attempt to comfort him. “We’ll get this sorted, Hood. I promise.” He nodded again. “I hope so, Hood.” he replied.
Once they returned, they found Robin’s men. They had been at the tavern. Red wasn’t sure how her story had a tavern and she hadn’t known about it, but she digressed. At the sight of the both of them, the men cheered loudly. “Oy, Rob’! Good to see you again, mate! What brings you to this fine establishment? Pull up a chair and have a drink.” Robin smiled, eyes shadowed with the serious thoughts surely swirling in his mind. “I wish I could lads, but I’m afraid I’ve got” And so he told them, sitting against one of the nearby tables as he did so. Red looked at his men and saw their faces turn from careless mirth, to an expression of what she and Robin had been feeling all day.
Before they left the men alone with their thoughts, she added to Robin’s news. “Given the circumstances, I’ve decided to call a meeting. Tonight at Writer’s Block, we need to talk about this possible threat.” As she spoke the last part, she winced slightly. Red didn’t want to have to face the idea that the ‘possible’ threat could very well be a real one.

The mood at the Writer’s Block was a polar opposite to how it was normally, the feelings that Robin’s men had felt at Red’s story’s tavern were doubled, possibly tripled, here. Red’s heart raced at the thought of speaking in front of all these people. Usually only a dozen or so characters frequented. This time around the number was intimidating. Taking a shaky breath, she went to the front of the room, pint in hand. She swiveled to face the crowd of faces, and her heart fell. Each and every one of them looked heartbroken. She recognized some of the people before her, and realized that there were some faces missing. It was some time before she recovered enough to speak.
She turned to the large chalkboard mounted on the wall behind her. Picking up a piece of chalk, she drew the markings she had seen in Wonderland. Once she finished, she turned back to face the crowd. Pointing towards the board, she began.
“This is a marking found near the home of the White Rabbit from the story Alice in Wonderland. This marking had been made by the same people who came into Robin Hood’s home and left unimaginable destruction in their wake. As of right now, we don’t know these people’s intentions, but from what we’ve seen it doesn’t look good.” She pulled out the piece of paper from Alice’s pages and held it up. “Alongside the markings we found this note, which reads ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.'' At first we didn’t know what to think, before realizing that the Writers of each of our stories live by this quote.” She nodded towards Robin, who sat up straighter. “Robin Hood has seen these people first hand. I know I cannot in good conscience give his life story for him, but since he’s had experience-however brief-I thought it best to have him do this part.” Red moved to the edge of the room.
Robin then told the group about these people; what they looked like, how they acted, and what they did in a sense to his story. As he got to the part about their weapons the room shifted and people began whispering. When the room seemed like it was going to lose control, Red spoke above the noise.
“I know you’re all scared. We don’t know enough about these File Thirteen people, but what we do know isn’t good. Honestly, I’m not sure what we should do, but whatever we decide needs to be planned extremely carefully, and we need to move with just as much caution. We don’t know their full capabilities.” Red, growing quite tired from all this talking, finished with one last sentence. “The reason I called you here is because we need everyone on alert. This can affect all of us so just go about your readings as usual and if anything happens please tell me, Alice or Robin Hood.”
Red looked around at everyone’s faces. A mixture of fear, anger, and shock stared back at her. Then everyone started talking. No, not talking, yelling. Seeing that she had very much lost the entire bar, she snuck out the back into the alley for some fresh air.
Her mind was instantly flooded with thoughts. What was she to do? She didn’t know what she was up against, and she had no experience fighting for anything to do much of anything. Red began to feel her lungs caving in, her throat closing up with emotions and her eyes stinging. She felt so alone in this. She could go to her grandmother, but what good was that other than telling her what was happening?
Finally arriving at the conclusion that it did no good to collapse into tears in an alleyway outside her story, she decided to go home.
The trek back to her cottage had changed. No longer did she feel safe in the shadows. She jumped at every breaking twig, every rustle of leaves. Her blood red cape suddenly felt like a beacon in the dark for hideous monsters to target. After what felt like years she made it home. Collapsing on her bed, she fell into a restless sleep. For the first time since her story was written, she dreamt.

The nightmares had come for her.