Nonsense Land

Michael Panush

They wandered through the hedge maze, leading along their lizard mounts. The great hedges stretched far above them, great green walls studded with the occasional rose the size of a dinner plate. The maze curled and twisted, with no landmarks and no end. Brass, Lady Foxglove, and Ivy trudged on, dragging their lizards by the reins. Brass carried a canteen and some jerky and hardtack for his friends, but it wouldn't hold them for long. He could imagine them wandering this maze forever and still not find the end. Up above, the oversized insects in impossible formal hats fluttered overhead, staring down with impassive, fractal eyes. Ivy stopped suddenly and sat on the soft, grassy ground. Lady Foxglove knelt down next to her to rest.

Lady Foxglove extended her parasol to create some shade. "This sense makes no sense at all. We turned right three times, which should have led us in a circle – and yet we are brought to an entirely new area. This labyrinth seems to change as we try and navigate it."

"It don't make no sense at all," Brass added.

"My father speculated about a place like this," Ivy said. "A Nonsense Land – where the laws of physics and the rule of logic simply do not apply. A strange universe created of matter with mirrors our own, but distorts everything to create a bizarre region of endless contradictions." She sighed. "I think we need to ask for directions."

Brass's gears creaked. "Who you figure on asking, little sister? Don't see no friendly roadside inns in this damn maze."

Ivy pointed upwards at the slow line of giant insects fluttering their way across the pure blue sky. "But Nonsense Land has its residents nonetheless." She cupped her hands around her mouth. "Excuse me?" She called out, waving to the dragonflies and butterflies. "Excuse me? We are dreadfully lost. Would any of you fine gentlemen care to give us some directions to leave the maze? We would very grateful for any help!"

A dragonfly in a bowler hat swooped down. Its electric blue body poised above the grass, the glassy wings moving at a blur. "Yes?" It had a decent, upper class accent. "How may I help you, little bug?"

"We need directions—" Ivy started.

"Directions on how to fly? You simply flap your wings and off you go." The dragonfly's antennae flicked toward Ivy. "But you don't have any wings at all. What sort of a bug are you, who has no wings and such an odd shell? And your antennae seems so soft."

"I'm not a bug at all, sir," Ivy explained.

"Nonsense. Only bugs fly here and you are here – therefore, you are a bug." The dragonfly pointed its eyes upwards. "But then again, you have no wings. This is a very confusing matter." He glanced at Lady Foxglove. "You have a glassy eye like a bug." He swiveled about to face Brass. "And you have a hard shell like a bug – but you are not bugs either. This dilemma will take some time to solve, I think."

"We are not insects, my good fellow." Lady Foxglove stayed polite. "Now, how do we leave?"

"Simply fly heavenwards," the dragonfly suggested.

"We ain't bugs." Brass's electric eyes shone. "We can't fly. How else do we leave?"

"There is always swimming," the dragonfly suggested. "Turn the corner. You will see." His wings buzzed to life again. He shot into the air and joined the swarm of other oversized insects. They flew away before Brass could ask what he meant.

"Go swimming?" Ivy asked. "What do you suppose he meant?"

"I think we should turn the corner and find out." Lady Foxglove gripped the reins of her lizard and continued.

They turned the corner in the maze, which finally led to something different. An ornamental pond lay in the center of the grassy lane, surrounded by high, waving reeds and a spray of brilliantly colored polka-dot flowers. Round pebbles like oversized eggs rested at the water's edge. Brass walked to the pond and stared at the crystal blue water. His reflection and the hedges didn't stare back. Instead, the surface of the pond showed another reflection entirety. A large field reached out from the shore, and a great fairy tale castle, with high walls and pointed towers, perched in the background. Brass kicked the pond with a boot. The water rippled, shifted, and returned to glassy smoothness. The strange reflection remained.

Ivy joined him at the pond's edge. "It's like I said – no logic at all. The dragonfly fellow mentioned that we can swim out of here..."

"So we just dive in?" Brass glanced at the lizards. "Or ride them Martian critters in?"

Lady Foxglove swung into the saddle of her reptile. She gripped the reins. "Why not?" She tugged at the reins. The lizards hissed and she clicked her tongue to soothe it. "Come on, Mr. Brass, Miss Armstrong. We won't certainly won't escape this maze by walking. I am ready to try riding – or swimming – and see just what lies within that castle."

They followed her example, mounting up and then cracking their heels against the scaly sides of their lizards. The animals charged straight into the water. Cold pond water splashed around Brass, covering his legs and soaking his coat. They sunk under the sunlit water. Brass splashed and creaked, his metal weight dragging him down. He sunk downwards, flailed out, and tried his best to swim. His gears hummed under his arms and then he split the surface of the pond and gazed up – at an expansive mantle of sky blocked with no hedges. The lizard's claws found footing at the bottom of the pond, reared up, and carried him to the shore. Ivy and Lady Foxglove waited for them, already wringing the water from their clothes. They had left the maze and now stood before the castle.

Tall grassy fields covered the castle, dotted with the occasional copse of trees. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove rode through the tall grass, held aloft by their lizard mounts. Brass drew his pistols from their holsters. He let the sun's warmth dry the guns and reloaded them with fresh bullets. This world seemed strange rather than dangerous, but that could change in an instant. He gazed up at the castle, zooming in with his electric eyes.

Brass pointed to the walls and towers. "That place is black and white. Like a checkerboard."

"A chessboard, Mr. Brass," Lady Foxglove explained. "My father taught me how to play. I would recognize their designs anywhere." She turned to Ivy. "Did your father speculate that his Nonsense version of reality would include regions based off of popular games?"

"I suppose it would," Ivy agreed. "Nonsense Land mimics our world, after all."

A deep rumbling came from the tall grass around them. The lizards hissed and twitched around, their forked tongues snaking in and out of their mouths in agitation. Brass tugged at the reins, steadying his mount. He had finished loading one revolver – and doubted that he'd have chance to prepare the second. He raised the pistol, fingering the trigger as he turned to the grass. The tall grasses waved and hummed, the buzzing drawing closer. It sounded like the blistering roar of a Gatling gun, mixed with a raging fire. Lady Foxglove withdrew her parasol and Ivy gripped the reins of her lizard. All of them knew that something dangerous was coming. In Nonsense Land, they had no idea what exactly that danger would be.

A giant bumblebee tore out of the grass, bits of vegetation stuck to its furry body. The bumblebee had the size of an ox, its round body flying like a cannonball as it raced for Brass and his friends. The bumblebee's wings seemed terribly small and Brass couldn't imagine how they held the shaggy bulk of the bee, striped yellow and black and bristling with clutching claws. The dark eyes of the bee glared and it smiled with terribly human teeth. Brass started to wish that they had stayed on Mars. At least the monsters there made a kind of sense.

Lady Foxglove pointed with her parasol to the grass. "More of them." Several other bumblebees, at least a score of them, emerged from the grass and buzzed in to attack. "I suggest a rapid and immediate retreat."

"A fine plan," Brass agreed.

He cracked his heels, spurring his lizard into a gallop. Lady Foxglove and Ivy rode with him, their lizards pounding through the grass and running for the shadow of the chessboard castle. The bumblebees followed, swarming over the ground like striped torpedoes as they sped closer. Brass swung about in the saddle, leveled his revolver at the first bee, and opened fire. The shot struck the bee in its furry flank. Dark goop sprayed from the wound. The bumblebee dipped. Its furry legs ripped into the dirt, casting up showers of dust. It descended and stilled its wings, but the other bumblebees flew after them, quickly closing in.

The lizards ran ahead, hissing as they pounded through the grass. Their claws cut up bits of vegetation, tossing the shredded grass into the air. Brass looked ahead as he rode. The chessboard castle drew closer. He rode up ahead, matching Ivy and Lady Foxglove's pace. A bumblebee's shadow appeared over them, followed by another, and then a third insect. All three of them rushed down to attack, their grasping arms outstretched and eager.

One arm curled around Ivy's slim waist. "Mr. Brass!" The bumblebee flew higher, lifting Ivy out of the saddle. Brass fired at the bumblebee, fanning the revolver and sending three shots blazing into its side. The bee buzzed to the side, dripping gore, and crashed into the grass. Ivy fell back onto her reptilian steed. Another bumblebee buzzed over Lady Foxglove. She twisted the handle of her parasol and a deadly stiletto needle slid from the tip. She rammed the parasol into the bumblebee's underside, causing it to buzz away. Brass fired the last shots from his pistol at the bumblebee above him.

That bought them time. They rode close to the castle and reached the closed gate and the barbican. Brass pulled at his reins, slowing his lizard to avoid crashing. His friends did the same. They came to a stop before the gate. Two strange guards flanked the barbican and they hopped out as the iron gate slid open. These guards had shining marble skin, which matched their completely round ivory helmets, armor, and long pikes. Their feet fused with a white circular platform and they lifted it as they hopped closer to meet the bumblebees.

"What are they?" Brass asked as the two guards hopped past. Dust came from the castle courtyard as more strange men rushed to the defense of the chessboard castle. "They're some sort of automata?"

"They're pawns, Mr. Brass," Lady Foxglove explained. "And I mean that quite literally."

More pawns emerged, hopping out of the gate and rushing to attack the bees. A pair of knights followed – armored figures with curled horse's heads and broadswords in their hands, all made of the same, shining white ivory. The white knights and pawns launched themselves at the bumblebees. Marble blades and pikes stabbed out, slashing at the tawny sides of the bees. Dark gore sprayed onto the white marble. From up above, a pair of rooks – small, mobile castles – slid into position on the parapet overlooking the gate. Slits appeared in their midsection and crossbow arrows shot out and struck the bees. The knights, pawns, and rooks provided a good defense. Soon, the bumblebees buzzed back into the tall grass. The way was clear.

The foremost knight hopped over to Brass. "Thank you kindly." Brass removed his broad-brimmed hat. "Those bumblebees almost had us, sir. We owe you for—"

"Silence, varlet." The knight had a creaking voice. "You are a stranger to our lands. You must be taken before the White King and he will decide your fate." He glanced at Lady Foxglove and Ivy. "We must heed his words and obey his command."

"Is he a good king?" Ivy asked.

The knight's horse-shaped helmet turned back to the courtyard. "He is the king. If he says you must die, then you must. All pieces, whether pawn or queen, go to the same box when the game is through. Now come along." He hopped back toward the gate. The pawns pointed their pikes at Brass and his friends.

Lady Foxglove shrugged. "We'll see this White King," she said. "Maybe he'll help."

"We'll see," Brass said. He swung down from his lizard and led the beast inside, followed by Ivy and Lady Foxglove. Brass's gears clicked as they stepped into the courtyard, flat and covered in black and white chessboard designs, just like the rest of the castle. What other dangers could Nonsense Land hold? Brass supposed he would find out soon.

After taking their lizards to the stables, the knights and pawns escorted them into a great hall – the throne room of the White King. More pawns lined the walls, along with other chessmen. They stood at attention before two thrones, one larger than the other, which rested at the end of the hall. A pair of bishops, their ovoid heads topped with small prongs, flanked the two thrones. On those thrones, the White Queen and the White King sat together. The queen appeared to be a marble woman, with faint features under a ridged crown. But the king was something else entirely. He wasn't a chessman at all.

He stood up from the throne, his white armor clanking as he adjusted his ridged crown. He had dark hair framing a pleasant face, with a rumpled pale shirt peeking out from under his breastplate. A pair of round spectacles, similar to Ivy's, rested on his nose. He rested a hand on his sword as he looked them over. "You don't belong in Nonsense Land," he mused.

"Neither do you." Lady Foxglove smiled. "Pleased to meet you, Dr. Gryphon. I am Lady Amelia Foxglove, and this is Ivy Armstrong – daughter of Professor Armstrong, of whom I am certain you are familiar with – and her bodyguard, Bartholomew Brass."

Dr. Luther Atherton Gryphon walked down from his throne. "I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance as well." He smiled at Ivy and shook Brass's hand. "And you as well. I'm not sure exactly how you ended up in Nonsense Land, but you will certainly be my honored guests." He raised his voice. "You hear that, my friends? These fellows are my friends, so treat them with the utmost respect." The pawns, knights, bishops, and even the queen bowed slightly. "So, did you by chance go through my portal and travel to Mars?"

"We did, sir," Ivy explained. "Though it is an alternate reality and not really Mars." Her smile faded. "The New Lords there constructed a massive portal. We slipped through it and ended up here. We think the Martians may use it to invade earth."

"Egad." Dr. Gryphon pushed ups his crown. "What if they come here? Putting their beastly Walkers into Nonsense Land? Oh, it will be terrible."

"What about earth?" Brass asked. "You care about them Walkers heading there?"

Dr. Gryphon nodded weakly. "Oh, of course. That would just dreadful."

"We need to return to earth immediately, Dr. Gryphon." Lady Foxglove tapped her parasol on the chessboard floor. "I must warn the proper authorities about the incoming Martian invasion. The Queen herself must be alerted. While you, well, reigned here as the White King, did you happen to construct another portal that will lead back to earth?"

"I have, actually." Dr. Gryphon smiled guiltily. "Follow me."

He headed to a side passage. Brass, Lady Foxglove, and Ivy trailed after him. The courtiers, the queen and the two bishops, slid after them – moving noiselessly across the chessboard floors. Dr. Gryphon came to a set of double doors and threw them open. Inside, a strange half-completed archway had been constructed on the chessboard floor. It appeared to have been built entirely of golden fish, lashed together into a loose circle. The glassy eyes of the fish stared out blankly. But no red energy crackled to form the portal and a blank spot rested on top. The capstone had not been added, leaving the archway incomplete.

Ivy recognized that. "It's missing something."

"I'm afraid it is. There is a certain Golden Mirror – held in the Mirror Palace beyond the Wandering Woods – which I must acquire and place in this archway to complete the portal." Dr. Gryphon scratched his chin. "But I just haven't got around to fetching it. The Wandering Wood is a strange place, always moving about – and the maps changes around its location, not the other way around. Currently, it lies to the south."

"Why ain't you heading there to get this mirror doohickey?" Brass asked. "Hell, you got a whole army of chessmen waiting on your command."

"And you don't seem very interested in earth's well-being," Lady Foxglove added.

Dr. Gryphon faced them and emitted a guilty sigh. "I suppose that's true. I've grown rather fond of my throne." He removed his crown, revealing his thinning hair. He turned the crown over in his hands. "I came here soon after the White King fell in battle against the Black King. He was check-mated, you see, and killed himself to avoid capture. I took his place." He looked up from the crown. "In Oxford, I was a small man. Shy and meek and more concerned with my mathematics than anything else. Here in Nonsense Land, I am a king."

Ivy pushed up her spectacles. "I understand that, sir. I've often felt like I didn't really belong. I think my father felt the same way." She glanced at Brass. "Do you think it's the same for him – he doesn't wish to return to earth?"

"That can't be the case," Brass said. "He'd never abandon someone like you."

Lady Foxglove pointed to the incomplete portal with her parasol. "Well, if you won't get this Golden Mirror, Dr. Gryphon, then it's up to me and my allies. You may have given up your place in England for the glories of kingship, but I have a duty to my country. Point me to the Wandering Wood and this Mirror Palace, and we'll get the Golden Mirror."

"Will you complete the portal, sir?" Ivy asked. "Even if you've left earth behind, there are countless innocents who will be killed if the Martians invade. You must help us warn England about the invasion."

"Of course." Dr. Gryphon clapped his hand. "I will draw you map to the Mirror Palace – but I urge you to be careful. It may be a dangerous journey."

Brass didn't doubt him. A pair of pawns approached, carrying a paper and quill, the feathers featuring a chessboard pattern. Dr. Gryphon drew them a map and then a knight led them back to the courtyard and the stables. They mounted their lizards and left immediately. Dr. Gryphon waved to them as they rode out of the courtyard and back into the surrounding fields and Brass touched the brim of his hat in thanks. Dr. Gryphon was an odd sort of fellow, but at least he was helpful. Brass and his friends rode south, as the map said, and neared the dark mass of the Wandering Wood. It appeared to be stable, but Brass knew that things in Nonsense Land were not as they appeared.

After a few hours of riding, they arrived in the Wandering Wood. They crossed a chessboard bridge over a river of oozing marmalade and arrived under the purple boughs of the trees. The chessboard road wound under the tall branches and leaves, all various shades of blue, purple, and turquoise. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove rode under the trees, which appeared to be stable and still. Brass had reloaded his revolvers. They rested in their holsters ready to be used. The lizards didn't like the Wandering Woods. They sniffed the air, their tongues slipping in and out of their mouths, and pawed uneasily at the smooth stones of the chessboard board. Brass knew how they felt. Something rustled through the brush and Brass turned, reaching to his pistol. A small cushioned stool with carved lion's feet dashed across the road. An armchair followed, its clawed feet clicking on the chessboard trail before it raced into the underbrush. Brass released a mechanical sigh.

"I'll be glad to leave Nonsense Land," he said.

Ivy rode next to him. "Oh, it's not that bad. I rather like some of the inhabitants." She pointed down the trail. "Look at those fellows. Giant hedgehogs, I believe." Sure enough, a pair of giant hedgehogs sat in the boughs of a tall, purple tree overlooking the road. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove rode toward them. The giant hedgehogs, one in the bonnet and the other with a bowtie, turned their narrow snouts to watch them. Ivy waved. "Hello there."

The hedgehog with the bonnet waved back. "Hello, my dear. Off for a stroll?"

"I think so," Lady Foxglove agreed. "We're bound for the Mirror Palace."

"Oh my." The hedgehog with the bowtie shook his head. "That is a dreadful place. Do be careful – and the same while you traverse the Wandering Woods. This is a very old forest and a very temperamental one." He pointed with a small claw to the base of the tree. "The Wandering Woods hate to have their fruit disturbed. I'd control your lizard, if I were you."

Brass glanced down at his lizard. The creature's pointed head edged to a branch protruding from the base of the tree. The branch ended in a heavy glass jar, the thin veins of wood reaching down to wrap up the glass. Strawberry preserves filled the jar. The lizard sniffed at the glass, eager for the preserves. "Easy there." Brass tugged at the reins, but it was too late. The lizard's jaws lashed out. The teeth snapped against the glass, breaking it into a dozen fragments. Chunks of glass spilled onto the chessboard road, tinkling on the marble. The jam splashed down and stained the black and white road. The lizard's tongue scooped it up.

Lady Foxglove pulled at the reins, stopping her own lizard from lapping up the spilled jam. "I'm terribly sorry." She glared at Brass. "Do you really think the Wandering Woods will be upset? It's only a jar of jelly, after all."

In answer, a deep rumble echoed through the trees. The branches shifted and waved, groaning slightly as they moved. Brass's lizard perked up, the spilled jam forgotten. Ivy let out a little whimper. "I think we know our answer." The two hedgehogs scrambled away, climbing onto the tree and crawling to a greater height. All around them, the roots of the Wandering Wood emerged from the ground. Showers of dirt rose. The trees shifted and emerged, standing upright on their roots. Some listed to the side, their branches dangling down and scraping the dirt. Then they began to run, racing madly onto the road, and across the ground, all in the same direction. Brass had seen panicked herds of cattle stampeding across the plains – and the unfortunate cowboys those stampedes squashed flat. This was the same, only this stampede had leaves.

He grabbed the reins of Ivy's lizard. "Follow me, little sister!" Brass cried. "Stay close!" He rode down the trail, Lady Foxglove close behind. Their lizards galloped together, trying to keep up with the charging trees. The roots and branches whipped past them, and blizzards of leafs rushed down to cover the road. Brass struggled to see ahead. A stout tree blundered into their path. Brass and Ivy rode around it, Lady Foxglove close behind. They circled the tree, returned to the road, and continued galloping along. Brass didn't know how long they could keep going.

More trees surged behind them, carried along by their rapidly-moving roots. The mobile trees drew closer and Brass cracked his heels against his lizard. The reptile hissed, its clawed legs blurring as it hurried along. Lady Foxglove matched his pace, riding next to Brass, with Ivy between them. "We need to get clear of the trees!" she shouted. "To outrun them!"

"A fine plan!" Brass called. "You got a means to escape this galloping forest?"

Lady Foxglove raised the parasol. "I just might." She twisted the handle. A spurt of flame erupted from the tip, falling through the air in a shimmering curtain. The fire splashed against the trunks of the trees, striking the bark and blazing to life. Thick bands of smoke burst from the flame. The trees writhed, shaking their branches and sending pale blue leaves raining down. They patted the flames with their branches, quashing the fire – but that gave Brass and his friends time to ride ahead.

They galloped their lizards past the pursuing trees. Brass looking to the side, gazing at the charging horde of vegetation. The forest ended after just a few rows of running trees. He pointed to the gap with a metal finger. "Come on!" Brass cried. "We've got to get clear." He turned his lizard off the road, cracked his heels, and sent the reptilian mount leaping off the trail. Ivy and Lady Foxglove followed. Their lizards' claws cut up sprays of dirt and grass as they ran from the charging forest. They weaved around the racing trees, ducking low-hanging branches, and hurrying through spays of fallen leaves. A branch cracked against Deuce's face, peeling bark covering his suit and electric eyes, but he rode on. Ivy's and Lady Foxglove's lizards galloped next to him.

The gap drew closer. Brass rode on, forcing his lizard around the trunks of the passing trees. It leapt over a writhing root, landed hard in the dust, and scrambled ahead through a final mobile grove. The other lizards followed, zooming around the trees and emerging on the other side. A branch reached out and grabbed for Ivy, the curling edges encircling her arm. Ivy moved quickly, grabbing a welding torch from her tool belt and flashing a blue flame against the purple wood of the tree. The branch retracted. Ivy rode away from the Wandering Wood.

They had emerged from the trees onto a small, dirt field. Before them, the Wandering Woods continued their blundering charge to nowhere in particular. Brass sighed and glanced down at his lizard. "You are the most troublesome steed I ever had the displeasure to ride." The lizard gazed at him with its green eyes. It's tongue flickered in and out.

"Well, at least we're safe." Ivy turned in the saddle and pointed past the field, to a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. "And that appears to be the Mirror Palace. I can see the glare from here."

Brass followed her finger. The flat field extended for a ways, broken up by the occasional grove of trees. Strange airborne creatures – living hot air balloons with glassy eyes and long, trailing tendrils – floated far above them in the pinkish sky. But the Mirror Palace rested on a nearby hill, a set of rectangles fused together and jabbing into the sky. Every rectangle had been covered in a shining mirror. The mirrors caught the pale pink of the sky, reflecting light from the distant sun and shining over the whole of the country like some bizarre, square lighthouse. No parapets or walls surrounded the Mirror Palace and no inhabitants stood around its glassy bulk. Brass still felt his gears click. There was something wrong about this place.

Lady Foxglove cracked the reins, stirring her lizard. "Well, I suppose we had best ride in and see if we can find this Golden Mirror."

"Sounds like a plan." Brass trailed after her, followed by Ivy. They trotted their lizards over the grass, nearing the square structure. The Mirror Palace drew closer as they crested a slight hill. Their own reflections appeared on the walls, distorted and strange. Still, they rode closer. Ivy caught up with Brass, matching his lizard's place. In the distance, the sun began to set. The Mirror Palace's sides, changed, reflecting the purple night instead of the blue day.

A simple ramp led into the Mirror Palace's main gate, which had no defenders and lay open for anyone to ride in. Brass pulled at his reins as his lizard's claws clicked on the polished, mirrored floor. Ivy and Lady Foxglove rode next to him. "Sure you want to go riding on in?" Brass turned to Lady Foxglove. "Could be a trap."

"There is doubtless some danger awaiting us," Lady Foxglove agreed. "But we have little choice in the matter. If we are to return to earth and warn England about the incoming Martian invasion, then we must brave any danger."

"True enough," Ivy said. "And we may find more evidence of my father."

Fearlessly, she dismounted from the lizard and tied its reins to a slim tree growing next to the draw bridge. Brass and Lady Foxglove did the same. They walked across the drawbridge, their own reflections following them as they crossed. Brass could look down at the bridge and see himself staring back. He turned away and stepped inside. Ivy, Lady Foxglove, and Brass walked into a long mirrored hallway, with high, sleek walls flanking them as they proceeded. Shadows grew amongst the mirrors, but the walls still shone. Brass glanced at his reflection, staring into his own eyes. He turned away – and wasn't sure if his reflection did the same.

They continued down the hall. Ivy pointed up ahead. "Look, upon that wall. other reflections wait – and they do not belong to us."

Sure enough, the wall at the end of the passage showed several other strange reflections, which moved about and shifted as if they were lost. Hedgehogs in spectacles, giant bumblebees, dragonflies and butterflies in hats, giant chessmen, and stranger creatures looked back, reflections with nothing to cast them. Lady Foxglove approached the mirrored wall. She tapped the mirrored wall with her parasol, prodding a hedgehog. It faced her and squinted, as unsure and confused as they were. The passage curled around that wall, leading further into the Mirror Palace.

Lady Foxglove turned away from the strange reflections. "It's as if the Mirror Palace has captured these images of whatever Nonsense Land inhabitants happened to wander inside and retained them." She glanced over her shoulder, back down the hall. "They must have done the same with our own reflections. They'll be trapped here, stuck in the Mirror Palace forever."

"Let's just hope it don't do the same to us," Brass said. "Come on."

They hurried down the passage, staring ahead to avoid matching eyes with the other reflections. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove passed by the reflections of a set of giant puppets, marionette men dangling down from unseen cords and waving their wooden hands, then reached a wide, round chamber with a mirrored plinth in the center. The mirrored walls stretched around them, with giant ravens, flowers with moustaches, and other creatures caught reflected in the glass. The plinth, a rectangular chunk of mirrored glass, protected from the ground. A silver cushion rested on the plinth. On top of that, the Golden Mirror sat like the prize of some rich man's collection. A perfect circle big enough to be held in two outstretched hands, the Golden Mirror had a pale yellow surface. Brass walked over to the mirror and stared down. His reflection looked back, but distorted, bulging, and yellow. It was like looking into a funhouse mirror at a carnival.

"Well," Brass said. "There's our quarry. Let's grab it and head on back to the White Castle. Dr. Gryphon's got some work to do."

"Wait." Ivy stood next to the wall past the plinth. She turned back, her eyes wide. "Mr. Brass – it's him! It's my father."

Brass and Lady Foxglove hurried to Ivy's side. She pointed at the reflection of a thin, slight fellow in a dark blue suit, golden waistcoat, and top hat, who stared back at them. Brass knew immediately that the reflection belonged to Professor Archibald Armstrong. He had Ivy's dark hair and friendly face, though his formed two sideburns coming down to just below his ears. Professor Armstrong adjusted his tie and looked at his pocket watch while he stared out through the mirror. Ivy reached out her hand and pressed it against the cool glass, as if she could reach through and touch her father. The reflection didn't notice and continued adjusting his tie.

She needed comforting. Brass patted Ivy's shoulder. "It ain't him, little sister," he explained. "Ain't nothing but a reflection. That's not your father. If it was, he'd leapt right out of that mirror to greet you. Just leave it be."

"I know." Ivy's hand slid down. She turned back to Brass and Lady Foxglove. "But that means he came here, right? He visited this place, it caught his reflection, and he moved on. Perhaps he took the Golden Mirror so he could construct another portal, which would leave him back to earth. This Mirror Palace may generate other Golden Mirrors if the original is taken." She paused. "But what if he's like Dr. Gryphon? What if he chose to stay here, or traveled to some other dimension, rather than return home to me?"

"I suppose it's possible," Lady Foxglove said.

"No. It ain't." Brass glared at Lady Foxglove. "Why would Professor Armstrong do that? Dr. Gryphon didn't have noting back on earth, but he's got a throne here. Why would your father stay out here or go on to some other weird place when he could return?"

"You don't know what it was like for him," Ivy explained. "In the days before he disappeared. Steele Industries attempted to force him to sign his inventions over and work for them, and they employed everything from lawyers to back alley thugs to coerce him. He was threatened." Ivy paused. "I was threatened. His work was his only relief. And so he escaped from everything, from Steele Industries and his debts, and even from me. He slipped away into another world. No matter how dangerous that world was, it would perhaps seem preferable to the world he knew."

"Nah." Brass patted Ivy's shoulder. "That can't be so."

"Why not, Mr. Brass?"

"Because that'd mean abandoning you, and no father would do that." Brass's gears hummed as he thought. "I ain't really got a father, strictly speaking. But I had Dr. Gridley, and he played much the same role. He cared for me and he would never abandon me if he could help it. You speak highly of Professor Armstrong. I reckon he's the same way."

Lady Foxglove stared at Professor Armstrong's reflection. "If he came here, and he stole the Golden Mirror, then it must have been to construct another portal, so that he could return to earth. Of course, he does not have the benefit of the information that Dr. Gryphon possesses. His portal may have taken him to another dimension, while Dr. Gryphon's portal will take us back to earth – or at least, I hope it will. Perhaps that is why he hasn't returned to you, Miss Armstrong. He simply is unable to do so."

"That makes sense," Brass agreed. He turned away from the reflection. "Enough jawing. Let's take the Golden Mirror and be on our way. Earth needs warning about the Martian Invasion and I've got no urge to linger here."

He crossed the round chamber and reached the plinth. Ivy and Lady Foxglove joined him. Brass reached down, the dull metal of his fingers reflected in the shining, golden surface of the mirror. His fingers gripped the edge. The Golden Mirror seemed light as a dinner plate. Brass picked it up, pulling from the mirrored plinth and tucking it into the pocket of his coat. He stared at himself, reflected in the mirrored plinth as he pocketed the Golden Mirror.

Lady Foxglove moved next to him. "You've got it?"

"Yeah," Brass agreed. "Simple enough. Now let's head on out before—"

The walls began to shake. Mirrored dust rain down, a glittering powder that fell over Brass's shoulders and pinged on the ground. Brass drew his revolvers, pulling both pistols and raising the guns. He turned to face the mirrored walls. The trapped reflections stared back, the giant birds pressing their beaks against the mirrors like prisoners struggling at the bars of their cells. Cracks ran along the lengths of the mirrored walls, carving through the polished surface and releasing more torrents of glittering powder. Chunks of mirror tumbled down, pinging and clattering against the floor. The jagged chunks shattered into shards. Ivy and Lady Foxglove moved to close Brass, staring at the breaking mirrors in fear.

Ivy looked up at the mirrored walls. "What's happening?"

"The reflections, my dear," Lady Foxglove said. "They appear to be coming free."

Another crash sounded from the upper wall. Shards rained down and black wings spread. The reflection of the giant crow burst from the wall and descended. Its wings stretched as talons like machetes curled down – eager to strike. Brass turned his pistols on the crow and fired. His revolvers struck the mirrored crow. No feathers or blood came from the wounds, only a torrent of broken mirrors. They poured down and shattered on the ground. The crow followed. It hurtled down, hit the floor, and broke into dozens of pieces. The feathers and chunks of wings flew into the air, breaking apart and shattering as they hit the ground.

More reflections emerged. The giant flowers stretched out from the mirrored walls, reaching down with their long, stretching vines. Their round faces, blank apart from their radiating petals and their bushy, handlebar moustaches, stretched down as well as their spindly limbs neared Brass and his friends. He blasted a flower in the face, shattering its pedals and tossing them aside. They shattered into mirrored shards as they fell. A vine drew closer. Lady Foxglove bashed it with her parasol, whacking the vine aside and breaking it in a single swipe.

She spun around and pointed to the hall with her parasol. "Time to make our departure!" Lady Foxglove moved into a quick run, helping Ivy along while Brass followed. Another crow swooped now, its claws reaching out for Brass. The talons struck too quickly, scratching Brass's chest, tearing his waistcoat, and leaving grooves on his metal skin. He fired at the crow as its beak turned toward him, putting a bullet straight through its feathered skull. Chunks of mirror sprayed into the air as the crow collapsed into shining glass. These strange creations may be made of mirror, but they could still do damage. Brass hurried to catch up with Ivy and Lady Foxglove. They needed to escape from the Mirror Palace before they – and their reflections – ended up trapped inside.

They turned and darted down the hallway, running madly for safety. All around them, the reflections emerged from the wall and moved in to attack. The giant marionettes leapt from the mirrored wall, their wooden limbs swinging as they tried to block Ivy and Lady Foxglove's path. Brass pushed past his friends and gunned down the marionettes, hurling lead into their wooden forms. A marionette flew into him, its legs leaving the ground as it crashed into him and knocked him back. They struck the ground together, the hard glass breaking under the impact. The marionette slammed a pair of club-like fists into Brass's head. Metal dented against the blows. Brass shot the marionette through the gut. The bullets ripped through the wood and it turned to glass as it broke. Brass pushed aside the marionette and Lady Foxglove offered the crook of her parasol as a helping hand. She helped him up and they ran back down the hall.

Chessmen and hedgehogs came next. "Goddamn it!" Brass's revolvers clicked empty. His gears creaked in annoyance as a mirrored white pawn jabbed at him with its pike. He dodged to the side as the pike stabbed past him, the point scraping his belly, and then he struck with his pistol handle. He bashed it against the chessman's head, breaking the mirror and sending fragments against the wall. "We gotta fight every resident of Nonsense Land to get out of here?"

"It certainly appears that way." A hedgehog charged for Lady Foxglove. It rolled to the side, trying to impale her on its spiky back. Lady Foxglove pressed herself to the mirrored wall. The hedgehog rolled past her, then reached out with a claw. She smashed the pointed tip of her parasol into the hedgehog's face, breaking the glass. Cracks ran through the entirety of the hedgehog and it collapsed into shining chunks.

A bumblebee buzzed down, followed by a butterfly. Brass reloaded his revolver while Lady Foxglove held them back with her parasol. More reflections emerged – a turtle with a white wig, a living fez with a waving tassel and a pair of eyestalks, and a light bulb full of roaring flies. Ivy kicked aside the fez as it tried to tangle them with its tassels. Brass finished preparing his pistols, brushed past Ivy, and hurled lead at the bee and the butterfly. The mirrored insects shattered, their pieces clattering to the ground. Up ahead, the end of the hall and the drawbridge beckoned. Just a few more paces down the mirrored hall and they would be free.

The drawbridge moved. Its edge raised, the fading sun reflected as the flat surface edged upward. It would close and trap them all in the Mirror Palace – surrounded by their reflections. Brass's gears groaned as he watched the drawbridge rise. Lady Foxglove noticed it too. "Come on, Miss Armstrong." She struck out her parasol, bashing aside reflections to clear a path. "Step lively now. It's time for us to make our departure."

They hurried down the hallway, pushing aside the reflections that attacked them. Brass ran, his boots clattering on the floor. He stared ahead, watching the drawbridge grow closer – and then his exact reflection stepped into his path. More copies of him, at least half-a-dozen, emerged from the wall. They stood together, six Bat Brasses facing him. They raised their revolvers, drawing in exact unison. Brass looked at his reflections, staring into his own electric eyes. They stared back, devoid of emotion. Evidently, they had no loyalty to the automaton who cast them.

"Get down!" Brass cried. "I'm gonna shoot us!" He ducked as his copies fired their revolvers. Ivy and Lady Foxglove crouched low. Bullets flew over their heads and crashed into the reflections and mirrored walls behind them. Chunks of mirrored glass rang down as the gunshots echoed in the hall and puffs of smoke appeared from the muzzles of the revolvers.

Brass glared at his copies. "They ain't me, little sister."

"I know that, sir," Ivy agreed. "They're nowhere near as pleasant as the genuine Bat Brass."

"Their bullets seem just as effective." Lady Foxglove adjusted for her parasol, springing it open and spreading the dark fabric before her. "I suppose we'll finally see who will win in a contest between us, Mr. Brass." She smiled quickly. "To your credit, I must say that I have never wondered which one of us would triumph in a battle before."

"I'm rooting for you." Brass readied his revolvers. "Let's go."

Lady Foxglove charged down the hall, her parasol held in front of her like some knight's shield. Brass and Ivy stayed behind the parasol, hunkering behind the dark fabric. The reflections of Brass opened fire, unleashing a salvo from their revolvers. Bullets blazed through the air and struck against the extended parasol. The lead crumpled and fell down, clanging on the mirrored floor. Brass kicked aside a spent shell as they ran. Lady Foxglove winced as the parasol took the bullets. It had been constructed of specially designed material, strong enough to withstand revolver fire – but Brass didn't know how long it would hold. They charged together down the hall, nearing the six reflections of Brass. Ivy slipped out from behind the parasol as she ran. Brass grabbed her shoulder and yanked her back behind the parasol, keeping her safe from the whizzing bullets. Then they reached the reflections and the folding drawbridge.

Brass fired from behind the umbrella, putting a bullet through the metal skull of his own reflection. His copy fell back, its head breaking apart and tangling to the ground. Brass turned to his next copy, just as his reflection raised his revolver. They fired together. The reflection's shot took Brass in the chest and knocked him back. He struck the drawbridge and slid back – just as his shot punched a hole in his reflection's chest. The other automaton crashed to pieces. Brass turned his gun on the next automaton, just as Lady Foxglove reached them. She lashed down with her parasol, folding it and swiping it against two automatons at once. They broke to pieces, the chunks of glass spinning through the air. The final reflection turned its gun on Lady Foxglove. She stabbed it with the parasol, just as Brass shot it through the head. Mirrored glass rained on the ground.

"Well done!" Ivy cried. She grabbed Brass's arm and struggled to lift him up. "I never thought I'd be pleased to see your destruction, Mr. Brass – especially not six times – but I'm glad those reflections are gone."

"Me too, little sister," Brass agreed.

He managed to come to his feet and followed Ivy up the drawbridge. They struggled up the bridge as it lifted, slipping on the growing slope. Lady Foxglove reached the edge first. She grabbed the edge and hopped down, landing neatly on the grass. Ivy followed, dropping down and striking the grass. Brass reached the edge of the drawbridge, which had now gone nearly vertical – pointing straight up at the dark sky. He grabbed the edge, his gears straining, and pulled himself over, then dropped down and landed hard in the dirt. He rolled over, slipped down the path, and landed next to the three lizards tied to a nearby tree.

The drawbridge finishing retracting, sealing up the Mirror Palace for good. Brass's electric eyes stared heavenwards. His lizard leaned over him and licked his face with its forked tongue. "Thank you kindly." Brass patted the lizard's snout and sat up. Ivy and Lady Foxglove hurried to his side.

"Are you all right, Mr. Brass?" Ivy asked.

"Well as can be expecting after seeing myself shatter." Brass rose and touched his chest, where he had been shot. The bullet wedged in his chest fell away, cracking and falling apart as shimmering, mirrored dust. Brass checked his pocket. The Golden Mirror remained, still intact. Brass rubbed the slick surface with his sleeve to shine it, and then stumbled to his feet. He returned the mirror to his pocket. Ivy and Lady Foxglove hurried to join him.

Lady Foxglove rested her parasol on her shoulder. "We have the mirror? Well done." She untied her lizard from the tree and hopped into the saddle. Ivy pulled herself into the saddle as well. The lizards pawed at the ground, eager to fly. "I think Dr. Gryphon will be eager to see it. We may prepare the portal and hasten back to England."

"If his portal works, that is," Ivy said. "Or it may send us somewhere else, as it did to my father."

"We don't that. No need to fret, little sister. Let's build the portal and ride on through." He looked at the fields and his eyes fixed on the shimmering sides of the Mirror Palace. The towering, smooth sides now reflected the stars and the distant moon – which bore a pair of glowing eyes above its curled grin. "Besides, I figure that any place short of Hell would be preferable to Nonsense Land. Let's ride on back and see what Professor Armstrong says."

"A fine plan," Lady Foxglove agreed. She turned his reptilian steed around and started down the field, riding back to the Wandering Woods. The mobile forest had steadied, returning to its former stillness. The chessboard castle's parapets peeked out beyond the towers. Brass and Ivy followed Lady Foxglove down to the purple wood.

Brass watched Ivy as they rode along. Her eyes remained downcast, staring at the neck of her lizard. She wanted to find her father – she had half-expected and half-hoped to find him on Mars and now here in Nonsense Land, and yet all she found was clues. Brass rode closer to her. He cared for Ivy, just as her father used to. He reached out, offering her his hand. Ivy glanced at him and took it. Her father wasn't there. For now, Brass would have to suffice.

They returned to the White Castle after passing through the Wandering Wood. This time, Brass and his friends kept firm grips on the reins of their lizards, to stop them from eating any of the strange fruit produced by the forest. They rode through without incident and then arrived at the chessboard castle. The pawns spotted them and rooks trumpeted their arrival. The barbican slid open, and knights took their reptiles and escorted them to the throne room. Dr. Gryphon waited there, still wearing his pearl armor and crown. Brass handed him the golden mirror. Wordlessly, Dr. Gryphon hopped off his throne, gave the White Queen a quick kiss on the cheek, and led them out of the chamber. Some of his courtiers followed, the chessmen hopping along in a neat line. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove went with him. They came to the portal, the golden fish fused in place. Dr. Gryphon pulled a stool from the corner and stood under the arch.

He looked over the golden fish and stroked his chin in thought. "Hmmm." He raised the Golden Mirror, examining his reflection in the glass, and set it between the golden fish. "This poses a very interesting problem."

"A problem?" Lady Foxglove asked. "Can you create the portal or not? England is depending on you, sir. I know you will not fail the Queen."

"Oh, of course not." Dr. Gryphon smiled weakly. "And it's not much of a problem. I just need to align the Golden Mirror properly, and maybe change the color of these fish to silver. It is very difficult to construct anything in Nonsense Land, as I'm sure you can imagine." He pushed up his spectacles and stared at Ivy. "Perhaps you could help me paint the fishes, young lady."

"Whatever I can do to help," Ivy agreed.

Dr. Gryphon nodded to two of his knights. "Go and find me some silver paint – and hurry." The knights bowed and hopped off, clanking on the marble floor as they hurried away. Then a rook entered the room, sliding over the ground to approach. It pushed past the pawns, knocking them aside in its haste to reach the king. Marble slid aside in the rook's middle, revealing a small slit. Trumpeting blared through the gap, filling the room. Brass's electric ears ached at the sudden noise and he covered them. Dr. Gryphon hurried down from the stool and ran to the rook. The trumpeting faded. Dr. Gryphon pressed his ear to the slit.

He listened for a few seconds and then his eyes widened. "Egad. Are you certain?"

Lady Foxglove stepped closer. "What's going on? What's happening?"

"Well, we have no choice." Dr. Gryphon continued talking with the rook. "Prepare the defenses. This is our land and we shall not be captured. No other piece will ever take the crown." He pulled away and turned to Lady Foxglove. His hands clasped. "The Martians have arrived. Their Walkers cross the field, closing in to the white castle. They must have followed you in an attempt to destroy you before you reach earth."

Brass's gears groaned. "Then you better hurry with the portal. The lady and I will hold off the Martians."

"Are you sure, Mr. Brass?" Ivy asked. "It could be dangerous."

"You heard the man, little sister." Brass nodded to Dr. Gryphon. "No other piece is gonna take the crown." Brass turned to follow the rook, joined by Lady Foxglove. "Tell us when the portal is ready. We'll buy you some time." They walked down the hallway, following the rook. A line of pawns joined them, hopping a long down the hall. They reached a stairwell, which led up to the parapets. Brass turned to Lady Foxglove. "Got anymore tricks in that parasol of yours."

"I'm afraid I've nearly run out," Lady Foxglove explained. "It's most troublesome."

They stepped onto the parapet, all lit up with pale moonlight. Brass and Lady Foxglove moved to the edge of the parapet. Rooks joined them, along with pawns armed with crossbows, a few sword-wielding knights, and a single bishop. They looked out over the parapet and the surrounding field. Spindly figures stood out against the moonlight, at least ten of them closing in on the castle. Brass recognized them immediately. The Walkers had traveled from Mars, or wherever the Martians had gone after they left the Crimson Gate, and arrived in Nonsense Land. Their long, telescopic legs moved slowly and purposefully over the grass, while their round heads swiveled about and faced the castle. Brass drew one of his revolvers, though he knew how useless it would be.

Buzzing echoed over the tall, waving grass. The giant bumblebees emerged from the field and swarmed around the Walkers. The Martian war machines hardly noticed. Their blasts of super-heated red light flashed out, melting through the bumblebees or setting them on fire. Burning bumblebees buzzed around them and smashed into the field. The fire spread and soon the Walkers stepped over a blazing mass as they neared the castle. Lady Foxglove let out a shudder. Brass didn't want to think of what would happen if those Walkers made it to an unprepared England.

The bishop shouted the order to fire, nodding his head and shaking his pointed hat. The pawns and rooks unleashed a barrage of crossbow bolts and arrows as the foremost Martian Walker stomped close to the parapet. The arrows flew through the air and struck the Martian Walker, but the shafts splintered against the metal and clattered down in pieces. The Walker turned its ovoid head toward the castle. A rocket sparked to life on the underside of the platform, then shot across the air before a trail of curling white smoke. Brass grabbed Lady Foxglove and pulled her down as the rocket slammed into the parapet. Pure white fire blazed against the chessboard wall. A few pawns exploded into chunks of marble, which rained into the parapet below. The Walker unleashed a blast with its heat cannon next, burning a hole through a knight and its marble horse.

Lady Foxglove crouched next to Brass. "These chess pieces cannot hold off the Martian invaders." She glared up at Brass. "This defense will fail. They'll take the citadel."

"Not unless they got proper command." Brass stood up. "The legs, boys!" He waved his hat, getting the chessmen's attention. "Aim for the legs!" Brass pointed at the Walker's foremost leg. The chessmen followed his command. Rooks unleashed a flurry of arrows, which slammed against the stilt-like leg. The metal creaked and broke. The entirety of the Walker crashed down, toppling over and falling hard into the blazing grass. Brass grinned – then looked up. More Walkers approached, already reading their rockets for another destructive salvo.

A pawn hopped closer to Brass, carrying a giant blunderbuss in his hands. The blunderbuss had a massive firing tube, almost like a tuba. The pawn tossed Brass the blunderbuss and he caught it. The great gun seemed strangely light. It didn't appear to be loaded. "I'm grateful for the gun, sir." Brass nodded to the pawn. "But how exactly do I fire the thing?"

Before the pawn could reply, several rockets slammed into the parapet. Brass lost his footing and tumbled against the railing. Lady Foxglove grabbed him and pulled him back before he tumbled down. Chunks of chessboard masonry shattered as explosions ripped through the castle. Dr. Gryphon's crown wouldn't be safe for long. Brass pulled himself back up and tried to stay steady. He turned back to the pawn. The chessman leapt into the air, spun around, and landed right in the middle of the blunderbuss. He fit perfectly, with his round base poking out through the back.

Brass turned to Lady Foxglove. "He wants me to fire him at the Walker?"

"Sometimes, to win the game, a pawn must be sacrificed," Lady Foxglove explained.

"I hope this don't end up sacrificing the little fellow." Brass turned the blunderbuss to the nearest Walker. He pulled the trigger.

The blunderbuss bounced in his hand, rammed against his shoulder like an attacking fist, and fired the pawn. The little pawn flew through the air, trailed smoke, and zoomed to the foremost Walker. Its round head smashed through the carriage on top of the tripod, punching a neat, round hole through the steel. The pawn landed straight into the dirt, casting up a cloud of dust. The Walker swayed on its feet, moonlight shining through its hole. Then it toppled to the side and crashed down. Dust rose in a thick column. Brass stared at the Walker's remains. The pawn popped up, hopping up and down. It was all right. Brass touched the brim of his hat to the pawn in thanks.

More Walkers approached, closing in on the castle. Their heat beams arced out. Brass grabbed Lady Foxglove and pulled her back to the safety of the stairwell. The burning beam raced across the parapet, leaving flickering blue flames on the railing. Brass still held the blunderbuss. Another pawn hopped inside and he fired again. He took down a second Walker. It keeled over slowly, joining the others on the ground. Brass raised the blunderbuss to fire again when a rocket slammed into the wall. He fell back, crashing onto the stairs and rolling down. Black and white dust poured down from the ceiling. Brass's gears strained to move. Someone called his name.

He sat up. Ivy stood over him, her eyes frightened. "Mr. Brass? Are you all right?"

"Confounded Martians seemed determined to conquer this place." Brass stood up. "They're welcome to it." Lady Foxglove appeared behind them, listening in. "How's the portal? We ready to go home?"

"I think so," Ivy said. "If it works, of course."

"Well, there's one way to find out." Lady Foxglove tucked her parasol under her arm. "Come along, then." She hurried down the stairs, followed by Brass and Ivy. They made it through the throne room and then to the chamber where the portal waited.

The fish on the sides of the archway had been painted silver – and that had apparently been all that was needed. A red cloud of energy, the same that filled the Crimson Gate on Mars, filled the archway, emanating down from the Golden Mirror. The three lizards had been led into the room and they poised on the tiled floor, hissing as they waited. Dr. Gryphon stood beside the portal, preparing for war. The White Queen and two knights stood next to him, handing him sword and shield. He looked ready for war.

Brass pointed to the portal. "It'll work?"

"I hope so," Dr. Gryphon said. "Go on, then. Go and warn England of the invasion from Mars."

"You need to come with us, sir," Ivy said.

Dr. Gryphon shook his head. He pulled down a visor from his crown. It slid over his face. "I cannot. I am the king and I am not in checkmate yet. I must stay and defend my people. We may flee from this castle and seek shelter somewhere else. We may even run to the black pieces and ask them for an alliance. But I cannot flee and abandon my people." He raised his sword in salute. "Go through the portal. Warn England."

"Very well." Lady Foxglove hopped into the saddle of her lizard. Brass and Ivy did the same. The castle shook around them, checkered dust raining from the ceiling. Lady Foxglove stared at the portal. "Will it work?" she asked. "I suppose there is only one way to be sure." She cracked the reins and sent her lizard running into the portal. The crackling field of energy enveloped her, pulled her in, and then she vanished for good.

Ivy glanced back at Brass. "I would stay and search this whole world if I could," she said. "I would search all the worlds to find my father."

"He'd do the same for you," Brass said. He reached out and took Ivy's hand. They rode into the portal together.

The energy consumed them. Brass's lizard hissed as it was carried along. Brass fell from the saddle, his boots leaving the stirrup. He reached out and clamped a hand on his hat, pinning it to his metal skull. He spun over as crackling mist rushed past him. His coat billowed around him as his gears spun. Brass could only hope that they returned to earth in time to stop the Martian invasion. He listened to his gears click under his skin, which was all he could do as the portal hurled him along toward his destination.

A heavy cement floor bashed into his body. His electric eyes flickered open. Two British soldiers in pith helmets stared down. "Sorry, fellows." Brass came to his feet. They had returned to Dr. Gryphon's laboratory at the Royal Academy of Sciences. Brass had been hurled from the portal and skidded across the floor. "Didn't mean to frighten you." He looked around. Ivy leaned against a table, still recovering from the journey. Lady Foxglove stood up from behind a desk. She smoothed down her dress, adjusted her hat, and approached the soldiers. The two red-coated guards stared past her at the three lizards, which curled up on the ground and hissed in confusion. Lady Foxglove spoke to the guards quickly. They hurried outside, Brass and Ivy leading their mounts, and then went through a series of halls, carriages, and conversations in several London halls– few of which Brass understood. Lady Foxglove worked her way through the bureaucracy quickly. Soon enough, they had reached the top.

They were brought to a secluded parlor in Buckingham Palace. Lady Foxglove led them into the parlor after speaking to the two guards in bearskin hats and red coats outside. The room lay swathed in shadows. An elderly woman, pudgy and wearing all black, sat facing the fire with her prominent nose. A tall fellow with thinning dark hair and a neat goatee joined her. Brass, Ivy, and Lady Foxglove walked into the room and stood before the two most powerful people in the British Empire.

Ivy clasped Brass's hand. "That's the Prime Minister – and the Queen!"

The Queen smiled. "And we welcome you to our home, Miss Armstrong."

The Prime Minister turned from the fire, which illuminated his wrinkled face. "You are welcome as well, Lady Amelia Foxglove." He bowed to her. "You have served our country since girlhood, in the regrettable years of the Mutiny. Never have you failed your office or your duties."

"Thank you, sir." Lady Foxglove bowed politely.

"But this talk of invaders from another world?" The Queen raised an eyebrow. "It is absurd, Lady Foxglove. It seems to us like a poor joke and, if we may be so blunt, we are not—"

The door slammed open. A Sikh soldier in a red uniform emerged, his bearded face below a scarlet turban. A scimitar rested on his belt. He clutched a crumpled telegram in his hand. "Empress." He bowed low before the Queen – who was also the Empress of India. "Reports have arrived from Woking. They say that strange machines have come from the night, metal giants that walk on three legs, while smaller contraptions fly through the air. The people have fled as the machines neared. They appear to be advancing in the direction of London."

Lady Foxglove folded her hands. "The Martian invaders, your majesty, have arrived."

"Oh." The Queen came to her feet. She gazed at Lady Foxglove, Brass, and Ivy. "Well, we must reconsider our earlier words. Go with Colonel Ranjit Singh here, and organize the defense of our realm." She smiled quickly. "And may God grant you a victory."

They left the parlor and headed down the hall, following the Sikh. Brass hoped that they wouldn't let the Queen down.