Strange Things Happen on Quiet Days; In the Nameless Forest
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Prologue || In the Nameless Forest

Alice took a break. She had been following a faintly trodden footpath for ten minutes. The only sound that accompanied her was the cracking of the branches she stepped on and the rustling of the leaves.

She leaned against a tree and looked up at the spreading, dark green crown. There was something soothing about the movement of the gnarled arms of the mighty deciduous tree. The agent unconsciously swayed along.

Alice hesitated.

The tree seemed too symmetrical. The branches too evenly spaced. She stroked the bark. The bark was rough and as if composed of interlocking tiles. It was true, in fact, the surface was like interlocking polygons.

She counted the branches. Ten of a kind.

The crown looked a little like a hexagon.

The moment she realised what was happening, the tree began to move. Creaking loudly, it tried to grab the agent with its branches and thus cut off her path. But Alice had already put a good five metres between herself and the whipping willow.

"I'm beginning to see what's being played here! This is to distract me," Alice taunted, "Unfortunately, you've made a mistake."

She did not bother to shoot at the tree. This one had stopped approaching her and was beginning to deform. The unnatural growth tore its roots out of the ground with brute force and the previous fine branches became bulging and chunky. At a height of about two metres, the bark fractured and turned out a part of the interior. Smeared with resin, within moments the bulge had turned into a very angry looking face of a woman.

Alice was caught off guard by the turn of events and stared wide-eyed into the wooden countenance.

The dryad cracked open her mouth and a ghostly voice came from the depths of the wood. She began to sing. The sounds were like the whistling of the wind and the rustling of the leaves.
Alice covered her ears and ran between the trees, as it were, away from the tree spirit. And she followed her, shrieking.

Alice stopped, breathing heavily. The tree creature lost her after a few metres. The agent was more nimble between the trunks, whereas her pursuer was forced to break through violently to make room. Alice almost lost her service weapon as she ran over hill and dale, attempting not to trip.

„Hey. Psst.“

Alice was startled by the suppressed shout. The barrel of the pistol was pointed at Dr Angelika Lichtenfeldt. The junior researcher raised her arm above her head defensively. "Don't shoot," she squeaked.
The agent followed the request and ducked down next to the young woman as she gestured to join her in the hollow where she was hiding. They crouched behind a fallen log that had come to rest across it.
"What's going on here?"
"Well, it was like this: I went to Steph… Dr Faust's office to get something. Nothing special, you know. I wasn't snooping or anything, you understand. Then I want to get out and I end up here. I'm startled, of course, quite flummoxed —"
"Please get to the point …"
Dr Lichtenfeldt pouted a little, but obeyed. "Ever since I got here, I've been haunted by some monster chimera." The two women winced, as Dr Lichtenfeldt had unintentionally spoken louder than was good for either of them.
Alice listened instinctively, for some reason the leaves rustled louder in the wind than before.
She paused. Something was missing, something very important.
„What is the matter, Ms Peterson?" whispered the researcher.
"What did you call me?" murmured Alice.
Ms Peterson, Alice Peterson?“ replied Lichtenfeldt worriedly.
Alice could not understand her, or grasp the information. She was even more startled when she realised she had forgotten her own name. What kind of place was this? Her gaze jerked to the patch on her chest. There were no more letters on it.

"Listen, take some branches and put my initials on the ground. Don't ask any questions."
An Angelika Lichtenfeldt, who looked as if she welcomed any kind of distracting activity in fear and perplexity, did so. The agent made no sense of the patterns that emerged.

"Never mind. Listen. We've got to get out of here. Try to make contact with the Site somehow. To do that, we need to get our bearings and, above all, avoid the creatures that are here. In your case, you said it was a chimera? Where did you see it last?" Alice wanted to know.

The roar of the dryad, breaking through the woods in song, had come closer. Angelica's lips trembled as she pointed vaguely behind her. She had no real field experience, that much was clear.

Another sound drifted over to them, roughly from the direction the explorer had indicated. Their eyes widened a little more.
"That's the chi… the dragon!"
Alice listened more closely.
"DOR-DOR!" someone shouted in a voice like a bowling ball being bounced around in a steel barrel. "OHHH, DOR-DOR?“

"Doctor… that thing is calling me," whispered the young woman on the verge of hysteria.
Alice rose, grabbed her arm and pulled her up.

They had reached the edge of the hollow when the dragon, the chimera, or whatever it was, spotted them. had been able to recognise some, albeit absurd, but nevertheless comprehensible features of the dryad. The creature that was now squeezing its way between the trees, not without effort, was nothing but grotesque. A four-metre high, pear-shaped body with a pair of legs whose thighs were extremely muscular and seemed somehow attached to the side. Between them, the hanging belly almost dragged across the forest floor. The arms were long and almost scrawny in comparison and, like the stamping feet, ended in yellowish, three-fingered claws. On top of the torso sat a neck about three metres long, curved like an inverted "U", at the end of which sat a bizarre skull that swayed back and forth in front of the chest. Framed by a frayed Prince Ironheart hairstyle was a face too flat for a lizard, with rolling, glaring eyes and huge dagger-like teeth. Nostrils and pupils alike were slit vertically, and the hair looked to Alice like dreadlocks made of rebar. The creature's skin was scaly but looked like it was made of concrete shingles. There was also a pair of grey, leathery wings that were far too tiny for the body and a balancing, tapered tail.
However, the most unlikely thing about the monster was its clothing. It wore a waistcoat that consisted of a cut-off monstrous white smock. In its shirt pocket was a biro as long as a forearm. With every movement, the buttons were pushed to the limit, threatening to pop off. With horror, Alice recognised the Foundation symbol on the dragon's shoulders.

"AHHHH, DOR-DOR!" he rumbled, clearly pleased, and redoubled his efforts to reach the two women. Arms stretched out towards them, claws slicing through the air.
"That way!" commanded Alice, dragging the horrified researcher with her.
"It's jumping over the dip, it'll have us in a minute," the agent heard her shout.
"Look forward! Look where you're going!" she shouted back.

Chirps of giant birds along with the splintering crash of bursting wood all but cut off her last words as the dryad reached the tiny clearing. The inevitable happened, Lichtenfeldt finally lost her nerve and fell. Alice had to stop. She was forced to decide whether to continue running alone or not. She couldn't. Almost simultaneously, the two creatures came within her reach. From the front the roar of the wind reached her, in the back it thundered triumphantly:
The dryad's tendril branches sped forward.

Alice awaited the end, composed, as she had always intended. She thought of Stephan, the clumsy guy would probably have to manage on his own from now on. But neither the whipping arms of the tree creature, nor teeth or claws cutting through the air reached her.

"DOR!" It sounded angry but also pressed and somehow choked out. The agent looked up. The dryad's arms had grabbed the chimera's neck in several places and yanked her out of the air to the side. Apparently the tendrils were squeezing relentlessly as the strangled one struggled to rise from the ground. His claws hacked furiously at the bonds, shredding away geometrically arranged segments of bark. Velvet-purple sap emerged. More branches wrapped around the dragon's arms, holding it in place, so that it shifted to a frontal assault. He charged forward and, using all his weight, rammed into the tree. The dryad staggered and let out a fluttering howl.

"This is the chance, get out of here!"
But Lichtenfeldt did not move, but said, barely audible in the din of creature combat, "There, his name, there, on the waistcoat…"
Alice looked. The bizarreness was once again taken to a new level. The creature's garment clearly read, albeit partially obscured by the monstrous biros that could have passed for a human spear: DR. PROF. JABBERWOCKY.

The dragon had freed its arms, clawed at its opponent's maw and at the implied eye sockets. It gasped, rattled like a steam engine, a black tongue hanging out of its mouth. One of the free main branches bored straight into his chest at heart level, piercing the fabric of the waistcoat. Jabberwocky froze for a moment, only to work the dryad's knobby face like a fury in its death throes moments later, so savage that the claws became shadows. The living tree tore something from its chest and flung it away. Both creatures died at the same moment. The tree staggered and crashed over backwards into the copse. Jabberwocky turned his head and looked over at the women. The tendrils around his neck loosened as his gaze went blank, he wasted his final breath for a very last, "DORRRRrrrrr…" Then he collapsed lifelessly.

Alice looked in disbelief at the object that had been in the dragon's chest. A fine, metallic ping-ping could be heard, coming from rabbit claws. Inside a cage of steel bars, a rather large angora rabbit stood upright, returning her gaze from reddish, intelligent eyes. It tapped promptly on the bars.
"This… this is like Alice in Wonderland," the young explorer noted.
Alice spun around.
"What was that?"
"Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carrol. The rabbit. And then there's the poem. Jabberwocky."
The agent rejoiced. Alice. Alice! Alice! That was her name too, she remembered. At least something. Enthusiastically she repeated her name, each time in a different pitch, until her companion drew her attention back to the rabbit.
"Are we going to let it out, Ms Peterson?" Scientific curiosity had quickly gained the upper hand over fear again. Alice pulled out her pistol.
"I'll shoot you if you try any nonsense, understand?" she asked the animal. The white rabbit actually nodded and saluted.

It ran purposefully to the carcass of the Jabberwocky and climbed up it. At the same time, the dryad's roots began to stir again, to grow and creep across the forest floor, first slowly, then faster and faster. Alice and Angelica dodged them, but the plants didn't care about the two of them anyway, but followed the swathe that the animated tree had cut.

In the meantime, the rabbit had found what it was looking for: it had fished around in the fallen ogre's mouth with its paws and now, how could it be otherwise, held up a golden pocket watch whose chain had probably wrapped around one of its teeth.

Then it hopped courageously onto the moving river of roots to be carried away in comfort. As it passed the women, it waved encouragingly.

"We're not seriously following the famous white rabbit, are we?"
"One direction is as good as another for now. It could be that… We should check it out. Stay behind me, got it?" commanded Alice.

The roots disappeared into the hole where the dryad had initially stood. Close by, the rabbit stood upright, hopping excitedly from one leg to the other. It saluted one last time and jumped in, obviously happy.

"This is madness! Totally crazy! How does Alice get back home again in the book?" asked Lichtenfeldt, grinning somehow distortedly.
"This is not Alice in Wonderland. This is something else."
The remaining trees began to change, bark shifting and straightening, branches arranging themselves symmetrically. An involuntary movement towards the agent and the researcher began.

"Carneliana," Alice hissed through gritted teeth.
"Excuse me?"
"I said, how well can you climb?"

In the Nameless Forest || At the Bottom of the Sea

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