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    Synopsis

    The Hatter Did Not Always Hat... On a field of battle, a broken man lies. He fears the worst - until an innocent call to Time leads him into a world unlike any he’s ever known... Once, the Hatter was a boy full of dreams of Magic and Fortune. Once, he was sane. Once, before he ever came to the Land of Wonder... From wartime battlefields to great faery forests, from shattered castles to the Borderlands shrouded in fog, from a checked red and black path to a meadow frozen in Spring, from a mad Tea Party to a concert for a Queen... This is the lost tale of the Angry Hatter, condemned to live on in the Steeping Season... Enjoy this second volume of Borderlands Tales, sequel to award-winning Wonderland-esque dark fairy tale, HEART: a visceral fantasy.

    Part I:

    AN OPPRESSION OF TIME

    In the course of war, there comes a time when a soldier feels close to defeat. It may be the constant tension in his shoulders. It may be the incessant alarms. It may be unexpected sounds that pop at inconvenient moments. It may come from the enduring camaraderie found in combat. Or it might come, after all, after receiving a serious would.

    Henrik laughed quietly at the turn of his thoughts, but quickly sobered. That was what he feared the most – an injury that would destroy his ability to live as a normal man. After all, he was only twenty-two. It felt as if he’d been at war most of his life. Mud and cold and the sound of bullets were all he dreamed of anymore.

    But that wasn’t what he feared.

    Not the enemy. From what he’d heard, they would imprison him, make him work, maybe keep him from his family the rest of his life. That was troubling, but not what filled him with terror. It was not what took over his comforting dreams of hard rations and sitting in trenches and running from enemy bullets and tanks. That wasn’t what turned them into nightmares.

    It was the limbs.

    Henrik was terrified to lose his arms or legs. Even just the thought of losing one tightened his spine and filled him with trembling discomfort. He’d heard the screams of the injured, but nothing echoed in his mind as much as the shrieks of a soldier losing a limb, that scraping sound of a bone saw somehow still able to vibrate through the air and into his ears. He’d seen the men after, their hollowed eyes and shaking frames. He’d heard their cries at night, calling for someone, anyone, to stop the pain in limbs they no longer had.

    It was why Henrik always woke up sweating, no matter the season. He couldn’t lose any part of his body. He simply couldn’t. He swore over and over that when the war was done, wherever he ended up, it would be as a whole man.

    But after all, is any man truly and fully in control of his destiny?

    For it was that Henrik fought in the last battle of the Great War. And despite all the years he’d managed with only minor wounds, that was when he was, finally, badly hit.

    He’d been crouched in the trenches, helmet tight and straps snug under his chin. He’d gripped his standard-issue rifle firmly, ready for orders. Before the war, he’d had a mild-mannered mien, but battle had changed him. He was impatient, ready to fight. To fire. He only waited for a command.

    BOOM!

    Louder than any sound yet, the din roared around and through Henrik’s confused senses. He was filled with the clamor, as if his eyes and hands had also become ears and lived for vibration. He shook his head, attempting to clear it, and lifted his rifle, ready to return to the battle.

    That is when he realized his rifle was gone.

    He tried to move his legs, when suddenly he understood he no longer crouched in a trench. He blinked his eyes hazily as his sight returned. He couldn’t sit up, but he didn’t question that. Not yet. Instead, he rolled his head to the side. That was when he saw he was several meters away from the trench that had become his second home.

    In that moment, he knew.

    I’ve been hit!

    There was no pain, though. However, instead of comforting him, it filled him with his old terror. He didn’t want to look, but he had to know. He struggled to lift his head, to see the ruin of his body, but his eyes went no further than the blood spattered across his worn uniform.

    Groaning, tears beginning to leak down his cheeks, Henrik rolled his head away and clenched his eyes shut. He didn’t want his last sight to be of the churned dirt of the battlefield.

    Instead, he pictured his home in the spring. The sky was bright blue, and little buds sprouted from the trees in the front yard. The house was small but well kept, with a wide porch to greet visitors. He ran to the front door, anxious to see his parents and sister. At first, the door resisted, but he finally managed to turn the knob and push it wide open. Excitement filed him.

    Then he saw them.

    Limbs, everywhere, still twitching and convulsing. A mountain of legs and arms and hands. One even held a cup in its grip. He almost swore he could hear them speaking to him, calling his name. Henrik… Henrik… How could they possibly know who he was? They reached for him, scrabbling fingers and feet that somehow saw him and marked his body for their own.

    Screaming, Henrik forced his eyes open to stare up at the overcast sky. Yes, he’d been hit, terribly so. Yet reality was still better than what lived in his imagination.

    Only it really wasn’t.

    This isn’t right. I want to live. I’m too young to die. Please. Just a little more time. More time…

    He didn’t know who or what he was begging, but the words echoed anyway.

    More time!

    Henrik did not expect an answer.

    Even so, an answer he received.