It was clear that magic of the greatest kind had just been performed, and the small crowd of creatures gathered around the long banquet table had all been quite eager participants.
“He did it!” the Doormouse caroled. “He stopped Khronos.”
Slithery chuckles echoed around the clearing. “You can’t halt Time. That’s madness,” Chess purred.
“Ah, well, at least we’re in the best company,” Haiga added.
Nearly everyone nodded. It was only sheer truth.
However, while the rest of the tea party watched the solemn figure of the Hatter float out of his clearing, there was one who was not. His ears swiveled towards the conversation, but his eyes remained fixed on the last spot Khronos had appeared.
Too late yet again.
His shoulders slumped. “I’ll never catch him now.”
“What’s that?” Chess asked, popping in front of Hare.
Hare hopped backwards, but his shock was automatic. Chess had played this trick too many times before.
“Khronos. I- I need to speak with him.”
The Hare straightened and gave Chess his most officious look. Unfortunately, Chess only grinned.
“Missed an important date then?”
Hare glared. “I said that one time!”
“I think we might remember it differently,” Chess chortled. “Now, how to get you back to Khronos...”
“It took the Hatter ages. And now he’s come and gone and… I remain cursed.”
Chess reappeared floating belly up, front legs crossed behind his head. “The thing to consider is how to find him again.”
Hare sat back on his hind legs. “I have no idea where to start. And the Queen needs me-”
Chess hissed with laughter. “Queen? What Queen? She just left, remember? And a King… whoo-hoo, I can barely think of a time we had one. Not since that old nutter.”
Hare straightened indignantly. “Have respect for our monarchs – past and, er, future.”
Chess airily waved a paw. “Sure, sure. But now, there’s a larger problem, isn’t there? This curse of yours. It’s caught my imagination.”
Hare blinked and Chess was suddenly standing next to him, front leg slung across his shoulders. Hare repressed a shudder at the claws so near to his neck.
“W-what should I do?”
“Begin at the beginning, I should think. You’ll find your way to him in the end.”
“The beginning…” Hare mused.
Chess faded out.
“Wait!” Hare called.
A set of yellow eyes opened in front of Hare. Despite expecting them, Hare stumbled back a step.
“Yes?” Chess rumbled.
“What if there’s more than one beginning?”
Chess’ mouth appeared, gaping wide in a perfect circle.
“More than one beginning? More than one? Why, that’s-”
“Preposterous?” Hare asked timidly.
“Marvelous! That’s the most fabulous thing I’ve heard all day.”
“Really?” Hare quivered.
“No. Not even close. Between Hatter and Khronos, and then last night with the Queen and Knave, there’s far too much excitement for you to come in more than a distant fifth.”
Hare wilted completely.
“Still, that’s more exciting than at least one or two million other ideas, isn’t it?”
Hare’s ears perked up. “I-I guess so.”
“Guess again, because I’m ready to share my sage wisdom.”
Hare blinked and fought back a giggle. Best not to anger Chess while he was in a magnanimous mood. He simply nodded and waited. Chess rose to his full height – although as he was floating upright in the air, surely that didn’t matter as much – and clasped his paws together.
“Start at your midginning.”
“Your middle beginning. Then you can choose whether to go backwards or forwards. Somewhere in the midst of all that, you’ll find Khronos.”
Chess snorted and his saintly pose fell away. “No, I doubt you do, but perhaps you shall. Eventually.”
“It’s to be a quest, then,” Hare warbled as bravely as he could. “Very well. I accept.”
“You accept?” Chess gasped. “But it’s your- oh, never mind. Just don’t ignore the Borderlands.”
Hare gulped and nodded.
“Now go. There’s a curse to break, and no time to lose. Well, I mean, Khronos is lost to us, but there’s…”
Chess’ voice faded out, leaving Hare to sit and ponder. He had a god to find, and a midginning to get to.