Hey, I'm so sorry. It has been forever since I've updated. I started the story right before my finals sooo… you, know. I kept postponing this. I tried to make a longer chapter, but no beans. Next time, for sure. Please review if you like, don't like, hate or just feel meh about it.

Chapter 2: The secret

I was disappointed. He had said that he would explain what's happening to me and why I'm here. I decided that since there was nothing I could do about it, I should move on. I lifted myself off the mossy bed and looked around, trying to decide where to go. A twig snapped behind me, and I froze in fear. From the trees, a white fox appeared. It looked out-of-place in the lush, verdant forest. It came up to me, whimpered, and held out its paw. There was a thorn stuck in it, the red blood and green stem looked oddly beautiful against the white fur.

"Aww, you poor thing" I cooed.

I gently held the thorn between my fingers and eased it out. The fox let out a little huff of gratitude. The fox seemed to be a wild animal, but it was so friendly, I couldn't help wondering if it was someone's pet.

With a swish of its tail, it crept to a bush with gorgeous blue flowers. It turned around to look at me, as if saying: Are you coming? Ducking beneath a fern, I went after it.

Following it was difficult. Really, it didn't seem as if it had a plan, random directions and the narrowest paths were its only criteria. Finally, after minutes of wandering, it stopped. It nudged me, thrust its nose in one direction and darted away in another.

"Uh, thanks" I mumbled, feeling a bit stupid. I moved in the direction the fox had told me to. Here, the forest gave way to a large clearing. Smack dab in the middle was the largest mushroom I had ever seen. And on top of it was… what was that?

A cloud of blue smoke surrounded the mushroom. I could vaguely make out shapes behind it. Blue and purple lumps bean to materialize. I waited, a bit impatiently, for the thing behind the smoke to become visible. As it finally cleared, I blanched. I was facing the largest, ugliest worm I had ever seen. Blue and purple segments ran across its body, scrunching up into the most unimaginable shapes. Large bulbous eyes blinked innocently at me. Then, it spoke.

"Ah, an outsider. A foreigner. A stranger. An alien," it mused aloud in a low, gravelly voice.

I was shocked. But seriously, what did I expect? This place, this Arcadia, or whatever, was nothing like earth. I mean, materializing tables, crazy games, and smart foxes? Come on, why should a giant, talking caterpillar be any different?

Freaked out, I stuttered "What are you? A walking thesaurus?"

"Oh, young one, sit down. You are here for my advice, are you not? People only come to me for advice. I don't get many social visits, sad as it is. But you are unlike my usual companions. You are not an Arcadian."

" Uh, yeah. Thanks. Like I didn't know that already."

I was tired, angry, sad, and frightened all at once. I was in no mood for small chat. Especially with the monstrosity in front of me.

"No need for the wit. I'm trying to help you."

"Oh, really?," I retorted. "Then tell me exactly where I am. Tell me why I am here. Tell me how I got here. And most importantly, tell me how to get back."

"You are in the Wylde Woods. A region of Arcadia which is neither under the jurisdiction of the Queen of Hearts nor the Duchess of Spades. It is in fact, the most dangerous, yet also the safest place in Arcadia." he replied cryptically.

"What does that mean?" I spat.

"Merely that while the dangers in the Wylde Woods are tangible, and real, the ones out there, in the two Kingdoms, come packaged in the form of secrets, lies, betrayals and treachery."

"Fine," I said shortly "What about my other questions?"

He picked up a cigar the size of a watermelon, and began to puff smoke circles into the air. As they drifted, they changed shape to form images I couldn't recognize. One seemed to be of a grinning boy with mouse ears. Another was a toothless smile. Looking at them made me dizzy, so I turned away.

" Why you are here….. that's a bit difficult. You have some role to play, that's for sure. It will be important."

"Could you be a bit more mysterious?" I mumbled, annoyed at his vagueness.

He simply frowned at me.

"You were clearly brought here by a Shift. They are the only ones who can cross over to your world. Do you remember following some animal on your way here?"

"Uhh, yes, a rabbit." I said

"What colour was it?" he asked.

For some reason, I couldn't recall. Silver? Black? White? I simply could not remember.

"I….. don't know." I said finally.

"Hmmph. Well, that is to be expected. They cover up their tracks."

"You know," I said casually "the way you're speaking, it seems like this whole place is a game."

He raised his non-existent eyebrows at me. "Oh, but it is a game. Why don't you take a look at what's past the clearing. Then, come back. Things will be clearer."

Perplexed, I moved beyond the mushroom, and towards the region he mentioned. Past the treeline, the ground dropped steeply into a cliff. Sprawling out in front of me, like a game board, was Arcadia.

To my right was a wicked looking steel-and-chrome castle in black. All sharp angles and sleek lines, it did not look inviting. Though the palace to the left was in a cheerier colour, red, it didn't look any more inviting. It was complete contrast to the other one, with undulating curves and domes, yet I couldn't help feeling that it looked creepier, if possible. It reminded me of a beating heart.

Directly opposite to me, but miles away was a decrepit old building standing on a similar cliff to the one I was on. I could see some pillars and a few walls, but it seemed to be a ruin, overgrown with ivy. And, behind me, I knew, was the Castle of Games. The four corners of Arcadia. In between the castles was a large valley dotted with numerous towns, marshes, and patches of woodland. I could not see what lay beyond the castles, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to find out.

I went back, to hear what the caterpillar had to tell me.

"To get back home, you must return to the place you came from. But before that, you must navigate the game that is Arcadia."


"You cannot straight away go back to the Castle of Games. You will never reach home that way. You have to travel across Arcadia, collect the things you need, meet with the right people. You have to play. If you want to leave, you must win."

"That seems to be the recurring concept here. The game you have to win. It should be easy, right?" I wondered aloud.

"You underestimate this place, Alicia. It is treacherous. It is not a regular game. Here, there are people with emotions, and feelings, and thoughts. There is no easy way out."

"But, when you say game, what exactly do you mean? And, who should I meet?"

"Oh, I can't tell you everything, now can I? I will just tell you three things. First, find Erebos. Second, the Queen you see is not the Queen you know. The heart will show you the way. Third, trust no one." He concluded.

I wrinkled my nose. "Not even this Erebos person you want me to meet?"

He nodded an affirmative.

I stood still, at a loss. "Well, thanks, but I guess I better go find Erebos. You won't tell me how to get down to the valley will you?"

He shook his head.

I turned, and began in a direction that seemed suitable. Then, I heard a cough.

"Hon, you have to pay for the advice I gave you."

Biting back a snarky reply about the puzzling clues he gave, I merely said "I don't have anything to pay you with."

He grinned widely. "Oh, but you do. Everyone does. All I want is one of your dirtiest secrets."

"Wha—what?" I exclaimed, taken aback.

"You heard me."

"Um," I said, racking my brain," I alphabetize my underwear?"

"That's not a true secret. I want to know something you did."

"Okay," I sighed, "I made out with my best friends boyfriend at a party two years ago when I got drunk. I've been trying to avoid parties ever since."

"That's more like it," he said, satisfied.

"Good-bye," I said curtly.

I headed off into the unknown, armed with cryptic clues, and a heavy heart.