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ACROSS THE CHESSBOARD > the royal maze > hold your breath

Posted by: judas alvarez Apr 25 2015, 07:15 PM
The Royal maze had always been a source of fascination for Wonderland's most wayward feline. He'd found it's winding paths curious, and it's false leads utterly amusing. For a creature whose primary mode of transport was teleportation, a maze was simply a source of entertainment rather than anything frustrating or concerning. An average man who found himself lost in the maze might very well despair, having no easy way out- no obvious path to follow home. When Judas took a wrong turn, it was all too easy to remove himself from the situation should he wish to.

In this instance, he was quite content to roam as an ordinary man would, following the twisting, winding paths through the labyrinth of impressively large rose bushes- or one would assume they were rose bushes, on account of the occasional set of thorns or blood red blooms- his expression blank, difficult to read. That ever present twitch at the corner of his mouth suggested pleasure in the activity but a grin on the Cheshire often meant very little.

It did seem to grow, however, when he happened upon another figure lost in the maze.

"Good evening."

His smile was too wide, showing too many teeth. An altogether untrustworthy grin, yet his tone was polite and his eyes seemed sincere. One could never tell.

Posted by: achilles halden Apr 26 2015, 04:59 PM
Too many people. Too noisy. Achilles really didn't like people, distrusted nearly everyone that walked on by. Annoyance mounted, warring with paranoia. He'd neer been this bad before Guinevere arrived. Achilles could handle himself just fine against most Wonderlanders. Guinevere was more a glass flower sitting atop a precariously tilted shelf. One false move, one harsh breath and she might crack or careen to the ground face-first. Wonderlanders had once merely been an obstacle or intrusion. Now every man and woman walking by became a potential threat. It was exhausting, staring down every passerby until Achilles either convinced himself they didn't know Gwen existed or brought them to heel with a well-placed threat.

So like any other volatile man with a short fuse and an inherently bad attitude, he went somewhere safe. His house was no longer an option, given that Gwen split her time there and at the palace gallivanting about. The maze they first reunited was a safe bet, though. After the trauma of their first encounter, Achilles doubted she'd head into the maze--considering Gwen got them lost twice on the way out.

The first hundred yards in did very little to drown out the hubbub of the palace. But half an hour into the venture, deep into the knotted vines and carefully tended roses, the Red Knight was able to breathe a sigh of relief. He could drop his guard a smidge out here--no more overcompensating for his fears with violence. Just beautiful roses, that heady scent of flora growing in profusion, and the bliss of a solitary outing. He swerved left, skipping past a dead end, and drew his fingers along the spiked leaves and tangled vines. He wasn't overly careful in avoiding thorns--gloves really were wondrous inventions. The chill air left Achilles quite content in his standard armor - he wore it more for effect than necessity around the palace, no one cowered in the face of a scruffy humanoid with a bad attitude.

Things looked brilliant--until he saw it. That damned smile, no less creepy for all that a human face encased deadly canines. A sigh escaped, face drawn into a scowl. Cheshire. Of all people, of course it had to be the Terror. People could call him whatever they wanted. The kitty, the Cheshire, Judas Alvarez, mischievous--Achilles could care less what people referred to him. Achilles was twisted inside and he could see the reflection of malice in others as easily as a doctor might diagnose the sniffles. There was something sinister curling around Judas, an aura of danger. Achilles wasn't suicidal, so he never sought out the opportunity to be near Cheshire if he could help it. He knew when he was out-matched.

"Good evening," Achilles acknowledged, nodding his head. "Odd to see you out and about like this. Or maybe it's been a while." The silent not long enough hung in the air, not in challenge - hence him keeping his mouth shut - but trepidation. Cheshire was famous for his smile. Achilles knew there was plenty more behind that beguiling smile and every one of his instincts set off at once. He tried to offer a polite smile in return but it may have come off as a grimace. Controlling expressions, no skill.

You are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless.

Posted by: judas alvarez May 3 2015, 07:37 PM
Achilles’ unease was thick in the air and it only served to widen that effortless grin as the Cheshire observed him. “It is true, I rarely leave the Tulgey unless something grabs my attention and indeed, something has…” Amusement in his tone and demeanour just as trepidation and uncertainty was in Achilles’. The Cat moved closer, watching him, taking everything in… his expression, his stance… something had the man on edge and it wasn’t simply his presence. There was something more, something he was no doubt not keen on discussing, if it had him in such a state.

Still, no harm in trying to coax it out of him, now was there?

“What has you quite so tense, Achilles? It can’t possibly just be me, surely not.”

A low chuckle left him and he leaned idly against the rose bush, unperturbed (or perhaps untouched, who could say if the flora of the maze had some kind of sense or not) by the thorns. All the while he kept a close eye on the Knight, gauging his response. “Did you perhaps come here to clear your head? Is it your relationship with the Queen? A little too straining, perhaps? But no…” Those dark eyes were intense, never leaving their mark as he thought on the matter- tried to decipher what it could be; “If the problem was with our dear monarch, you wouldn’t seek solace so close to the source of the problem. No, somebody else has you all worked up. Do tell.”

Posted by: achilles halden May 5 2015, 12:50 AM

Achilles winced, unable to stifle the reaction. He did not want to become the new stuffed mouse dangled in front of the Cheshire's face. He was lucky enough to resist taking a step back as the Cat drew closer. Stupid idea to run from a feline, they ever so enjoyed chasing their prey. No reason to stroke Cheshire's interest further. "Must be something special to have gotten your attention." He pretended he didn't notice the unexpectedly intense interest the Cheshire showed toward the Knight. Safer to act stupid--that he was stupid only furthered his chances. Tilting his head, he spent thirty seconds thinking. Doubtless Judas knew enough about Achilles to know he wasn't well-spoken, or maybe he simply enjoyed tormenting others. "Must be the roses. They've just begun to bloom and I recall how fond you once were of wreaking havoc in the Mad Queen's gardens." It irked him, most days, to refer to the old Queen as the Mad Queen, as accurate as it may have been. But he couldn't say "the Queen" without referring to Jaq and no one had spoken the old Queen's name in at least a millennium; speaking it again might hurt a little too much, as it had been so long since he could visit and take care of her.

Achilles couldn't control the snarl crossing his face. He bit his lip hard, working to wipe the expression away, but knew Judas wouldn't be fooled. Was he so transparent? At least he doesn't already know about Gwen, he thought gratefully. If Judas deemed it fit to ask, it meant he didn't know. Maybe she could remain a secret a while longer. But then Judas went on - a bittersweet turn of events, both saving Achilles and damning him at the same time. Judas spoke of the Queen and an image flashed across his mind, Jaq and he in a bar discussing Judas not a few weeks ago. Damn, was that what he meant? Achilles was too trusted with too sensitive and fragile of information, he knew it. Two big secrets, and the man who could ferret anything out of anyone with the right smile stood not a few yards away.

But remembering the talk with her Majesty, he remembered the task she asked of him. To learn what he could. And she believed in him, his ability to discover new intel--and she trusted Achilles over Lance for this particular job. Now here Judas was, the Queen's opponent, and all Achilles could do was think of himself. No, he decided. I will not simply break. I will do everything in my power, wasn't that what I promised? He doubted he had the skill to get anything from Judas, but he was in a very unique position--he knew something that Judas didn't. And it had piqued Judas' amusement enough to wheedle it out of Achilles, or so it seemed.

Well then, let's play. Achilles exhaled sharply, nostrils flared. He didn't bother masking his expression, he couldn't. Judas wouldn't be fooled. So he decided on a more blunt approach. "What's it to you?" He snapped, drawing on his fear and anger at once. Judas would expect both these emotions, and Achilles held them in spades around the Cheshire. "It's not as though you've ever shown any interest in me before." Another truth. Judas had never so much as flick his tail in Achilles' direction. How close to the cut could he play this? To cover up both Gwen's arrival and the Queen's interest - though at the moment he didn't know which he feared for more - would take everything he had.

Achilles was a fool. He should have known better. But then, for two of the most influential people in his life, Achilles was quite madly driven to destruction indeed.

You are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless.

Posted by: judas alvarez Jul 5 2015, 10:57 AM
“The Mad Queen, is it now?” The Cat's lips quirked in vague amusement, though his tone and the manner in which he regarded the Knight spoke of something more deliberate, almost careful in his own way. “Is that not a label that might suit our current Monarch? Such a loose, idle word to throw about in a world so clearly defined by its own insanity. Indeed, our previous Mistress may simply have reflected that which resides in the very soul of her realm… in each of her subjects. We all have our own brand of madness to deal with, now don't we?” Though the question was pointed, the tone reflected some idle obscurity as the Cheshire let his gaze roam, looking from Achilles and up at the rose bushes- as though growing bored of the conversation. Yet he remained ever curious, desiring to know what it was that had the Knight so eager to distract him.

The snarl, the manner in which the Red Knight snapped at him- defensive, like a cornered wildcat defending her cubs… Judas chuckled; a deep, unsettling sound as he stepped even closer- dark eyes inquisitive as he stared intently at the other man.

“You are not so artful a creature Achilles, do not test my patience in poor attempts to divert my attention. There is something quite changed about you, something that has inspired a different attitude… perhaps- a protective one.” Too-sharp teeth were slowly bared as his lips parted into that familiar grin, one hand reaching out boldly to trace a delicate line down the side of Achilles' cheek. “You are, as ever- the Queen's loyal creature and yet… how can we measure your loyalty? You swore fealty to the old Queen, the mad Queen and yet as soon as she was usurped you swore that same devotion to her sister.” That chuckle echoed again as he took a step back, looking up at the Knight with a raised brow. “I wonder… have you informed the Queen of this change in your life? This thing that diverts your own attention?”

His gaze was unrelenting, intense- as that grin widened.

“I'd wager not.”

Posted by: achilles halden Jul 6 2015, 06:47 AM

Achilles ground his teeth as his own words came back to bite him in the arse. "The Mad Queen is the perfect title for a woman who had to be strapped down to keep from killing the doctors with her bare hands." Was that pride in his voice? "Queen Jacqueline is just and compassionate in a way that her sister hadn't been in centuries. Her only madness is in trusting people like me." And you hung on the end of the sentence in silence, a bold accusation drowned in self-loathing. The whole of Wonderland was mad, outright batty with a dash of pointless frivolity thrown into the mix. That the Mad Queen was, in fact, the maddest of them all spoke to how far their world had fallen in recent centuries.

Achilles refused to answer the question of madness outright. Yes, they all carried their own madness. Some was self-inflicted, as he and the old Queen bore on their sleeves. Some had been upon it by fate, like Cheshire and Noah. And some stupid, foolish little girls like Guinevere and Alice walked into danger and mania all of their own volition.

With a start, Achilles snapped to attention. He'd been so focused on keeping the conversation away from his sister he'd forgotten how obvious his thoughts shown on his face. He swore mentally and tried not to shudder. His jaw grew so tight at Judas' touch he felt the ache all the way down to his ribs. Both arms shook, either from fear or anger he wasn't altogether certain, but there was nothing to be done. This was the Cheshire. The monster in the dark, the creature that made other monsters cower in fear. The Jabberwocky was terrifying and the old Queen was violent, but this man could destroy their entire world with the lazy flick of a claw. A shiver slid down his spine, slimy and cold as ice.

And damn it all if that cat couldn't cut right to the quick of things and rip open sores Achilles forgot he had."You know nothing of my loyalties, Cheshire." He growled, knowing even as he spoke that he risked his life in the process. "I love the true Queen down to my marrow. But she is gone and this kingdom would die without a leader. The people are too foolish, too vain--" He cut himself off and shot a pointless glare at the cat. "Jacqueline may yet save us all from the brink of our own destruction. My reasons are my own and I will not defend myself to one whose loyalties are as capricious as yours." He managed to spout the words without biting his tongue or stumbling over the various letters, though he had to speak slower to do so. And yes, he was stupid. Challenging or insulting Judas earned most people a death sentence and the red knight knew he wasn't entertaining enough to let live.

Still. No one belittled his Queens, even if it cost his life.

My attention is," Achilles breathed through his nose and tried to calm himself, tried to dampen the rising panic. Judas not only wasn't fooled but managed to finagle a pretty good lead out of Achilles' muck of a predicament with nothing more than a change in attitude. Damn, Judas was scary. "Unchanged." He finished lamely. "There is no o--nothing diverting my attention." He'd slipped. He'd fucking slipped. Achilles tried not to let it show but it must have glowed brighter than a neon sign at midnight on his stricken face. Running wasn't an option. Neither was lying. If he kept his mouth shut there was a chance violence would come into play and the truth would be pulled from him no matter what he did.

Achilles had nothing. No upper-hand, no hidden agenda, no secrets that would distract or discourage the cat. There was nothing. Nothing but his own stupidity and stubborn personality. Fuck, this was exactly why he'd kept Gwen at arm's length for so many years. She'd been around less than a week and she already had him tied up in his own noose. She had always been his undoing, and he couldn't protect her anymore. What was he supposed to do now?

You are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless.

Posted by: judas alvarez Aug 15 2015, 08:11 PM
Judas listened to Achilles speak with a calm air of amusement about him- similar to how a parent might watch a child as they threw a tantrum: a kind of interest that held mixed feelings of annoyance and entertainment, knowing all the while that should they care enough- they could easily put a stop to it. Judas had no such inclination, though, quite content to let Achilles talk himself into his own grave: given half the chance, the Red Knight would utterly destroy himself through speech alone, rendering himself a useless addition to the Queen's court and an unworthy defender. Yet, that was not the end game- all The Cat wished to accomplish this evening was to know what had the Knight so changed, so guarded in his demeanour where there was usually such blunt, unwavering, almost dimwitted honesty.

“I know nothing of loyalties to begin with, Achilles. They are not in my nature- entirely wrong species, I'm afraid.” His tone was playful, almost mocking as he regarded the flustered Knight. “I do know however, that should the old Queen rise up once more and declare war upon her sister that you would be placed in an incredibly uncomfortable position. Do tell… for whom would you fight?”

He was content in toying with the Knight, almost forgetting the reason he'd sought him out in the first place- until Achilles stumbled over his words, and committed an unforgettable blunder in the presence of the Cheshire.

“No one? Are you quite sure? There is nobody that has your attention? Your concern? Nobody you feel the need to protect from me…? It can't possibly be someone I know, or you wouldn’t be quite so… scared.”

Judas moved in, closing the gap between them and looked up into Achilles' eyes with a dark smile lingering at the corner of his lips, reaching out and pushing back a stray curl behind the Knights ear- showing his control over the situation with such an effortless display of power, chucking under his breath as his head tilted to one side. “Come now, no need to be so guarded… do tell...”

Posted by: achilles halden Aug 27 2015, 08:58 PM

Achilles' mouth flopped open but nothing emitted. How did one answer a question like that? He'd tried not to consider it over the years, and it was easy to put the idea to rest when the mad queen was sent to London and the portals closed. But what if he found himself between them? He respected Jacqueline as a queen; he loved the mad queen like a foster mother. He would lay down his life for both of them in a heartbeat. But who would he back if it came down to war?

Maybe it would be better if he were more conflicted. But he knew the answer. It wasn't even a decision. not a question, not a hesitation. And somehow that was so much worse.

Achilles dropped his eyes, breathing through his nose in some vain attempt to calm himself. "I daresay you'll know the answer should the Mad Queen rebel. But it will never happen." He sounded so certain. What if the mad queen was cured by the human doctors? What if she escaped and clawed her way down the rabbit hole? Those were questions he refused to think of. Possibilities he could never entertain.

Unfortunately the conversation went from bad to worse. Twice now Judas found the questions he loathed to answer. "What's it matter if there's someone in my life?" He babbled. It was too late to disagree or lie--he was a bad liar as it was. No use in trying. "S--Someone like that wouldn't be of any use. I mean, it's not like I'm any sort of threat--" The words died as Judas touched him. Loathing rose up inside him. Loathing and terror. He was sure he stunk of fear and it was the worst feeling, helplessness. He knew there was nothing he could do to avoid what happened next. Somehow, some way Judas would find out about Guinevere and her life would be at risk.

And there was nothing Achilles could do to protect her. Again.

"Why do you care?" He whispered, forcing the words between his teeth as he squeezed his eyes shut, desperate to just disappear right then and there. That would be better in the long run anyway.

You are not merely a cruel and heartless man, you are also staggeringly tactless.

Posted by: judas alvarez Sep 13 2015, 02:26 PM
“'Never' is an awfully bold statement, Achilles.” He purred, letting the words hang there in the air between them, provocative yet subtle in their way.

Besides, there were far more important matters to attend to, and he found himself smiling almost affectionately as he ran that gentle hand along Achilles' jaw after sorting out his hair, getting up close and personal- a tiger assessing its prey through the glass of the zoo enclosure: wild, dangerous, with the façade of safety for the man looking in. “Most anyone can be a threat, Achilles, if they have the heart...” The words were murmured so softly, that they were barely audible as he gazed into the other man's eyes, leaning in close, as if testing Achilles' mettle; mouth almost touching the Knight's own until soft lips became teeth and that terrifying grin was back in place, eyes alight with some sort of sinister mischief as he bounced back with a bark of laughter.

“I care for all of you, in my own little way. All you wayward children of Wonderland…”

If it wasn't for the sheer delight he seemed to show in regards to Achilles' discomfort, perhaps he might have been able to at least appear genuine in his words, but there was something sinister about his interest, his concern. That horrid grin stretched wide across his face, showing entirely too many teeth as he watched the Knight, the way he held himself, the fear in his eyes while he fought to keep his expression neutral. It was like a drug to Judas, he thrived on it.

“And because I care… so very, very deeply...” He began, walking slowly back toward Achilles but not getting so close as before, stopping just short with those intense eyes fixed once more on Achilles' own. “I need to know what potential hazards threaten to snare those I care about… love is such a dangerous thing Achilles. Truly.”

One hand shot out, slamming his palm against the armor placed over Achilles' chest, right where his heart would be. The sound echoed sharply around them and he leaned in, grin gone and leaving a grim look of sincerity on his face- ruined only by the mad glint in those dark eyes.

“It can destroy a man.”

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