Rating: G
Category: Alice, Tarrant Friendship
Summary: Alice tries to spread some Overlandian Christmas cheer, much to Tarrant's confusion.
Author's Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] aiw_advent   Takes place at some point when Alice returns after the movie (because she's so gonna come back...)
A stocking. )



Title
: In Obscurum  
Artist: [livejournal.com profile] skellagirl 
Fandom: Burton's Alice in Wonderland
Pairing: Alice/Tarrant
Rating: T
Any Triggers/Warnings: Character Death, Violence, Torture (It's a real cheery story, LOL)
Summary:  Trapped in Otherland, Alice must work with Iracebeth and her loyal subjects to fight off the advances of the rebellion headed by Hightopp.
Author's Notes: First of all, a big thanks to [livejournal.com profile] just_a_dram  for running the [livejournal.com profile] aiw_big_bang .  Secondly, this story wouldn't have come into play without the original idea of [livejournal.com profile] chrismata1976  which can be found here and was used as a springboard for this story.  So a big THANK YOU for her idea.  Also, a big shout out goes to [livejournal.com profile] skellagirl  who made some wonderful, awesome art *points above* Be sure to drop her some feedback, here.  Thanks so much!!
Finally, a huge, enormous, gigantic thanks goes to my alpha/beta/cheerleader/sounding board [livejournal.com profile] manniness.  She patiently sat through dozens of "I'm never gonna finish this story!!11!!!1!" messages, listened to a very skewed orginal idea, constantly encouraged me throughout the Big Bang and made this story better with her mad skills as a beta  (Seriously, one day I'll learn to use "had", LOL).  Thank you, dude! :D :D


Prologue: The Revolt
Chapter 1: The Request
Chapter 2:  The Ruse
Chapter 3: The Revelation
Chapter 4: The Reunion
Chapter 5: The Resolve
Chapter 6: The Rescue
Chapter 7: The Resolution
Epilogue: The Release

Hightopp paced around his cell, just as he had everyday since his imprisonment. For months he had let his bitterness fester at the idea that the girl and that pathetic hatter had managed to capture him.

There was no way for him to escape the tiny confines of the cell. He had looked over the ten by ten foot area, learning everything about it.

11,068 bricks, 568 cracked, 276 chipped.

87 iron bars, all of them covered in mildew and rust.

Four locks, each a shape of the territories of Otherland: Heart, Club, Spade and Diamond.

One bed, one loo, one blanket and an seemingly out of place tea table and an off-kilter chair.

Everyday was exactly the same. He woke up as the sun--that vile, bright orb from Above--showed its light through the small hole near the top of the wall. He paced around the cell, testing the bars in case somehow one of them became loose in the night, until midday came. Then he was given his daily meal: three tarts, one pot of tea and folded napkin and a change of clothes. The red guard would slide his food wordlessly in his cell and walk away, returning in the afternoon to collect the tray and his old clothing. Then Hightopp returned to his pacing until the darkness of the cell lured him to sleep.

As the sound of a tray sliding across the stone floor caught Hightopp’s attention, he knew that today was no different.

Then again…

He walked over to the plate of food and noticed, much to his surprise, that sitting next to his customary tarts was a bottle of Pishsalver.

He looked up at the guard who nodded slightly. “She’s waiting for you.” Then the card walked away.

Without waiting a moment, Hightopp took a swig of the bitter liquid. Seconds later, his body shrunk so small, he was easily able to walk through the iron bars that had held him captive for the past several months.

Quickly, he ran down the long hallway where he found a piece of Upelkuchen waiting for him. Hightopp greedily bit off a piece of the growth-inducing cake. Once he was the proper size, he opened the door.

There she was.

Her lips were curled in a snarl, revealing a sliver of her yellowed, crooked teeth. Her hair was frizzled and unkempt, barely allowing the dented and deformed crown to rest on her head. Her eyes, wild and crazy, darted around the room.

She looked more dangerous--more feral--than the last time her had seen her. But he had no intention of letting her, Mirana’s greatest and most terrifying success, know how much he feared her.

“So you finally decided to show up, eh, Kingsleigh?”

Without warning, she reached forward and grabbed a handful of his merlot colored shirt. She pulled him so his ear was centimeters from her lips. “You owe me, Hightopp.” She released his shirt and pushed him away, causing him to nearly stumble on the ground. “Do not forget that.”

He sighed. She had been responsible for his escape and he hated being in debt to anyone.

“What would you have me do, my queen?"


Hightopp paced around his cell, just as he had everyday since his imprisonment. For months he had let his bitterness fester at the idea that the girl and that pathetic hatter had managed to capture him.

There was no way for him to escape the tiny confines of the cell. He had looked over the ten by ten foot area, learning everything about it.

11,068 bricks, 568 cracked, 276 chipped.

87 iron bars, all of them covered in mildew and rust.

Four locks, each a shape of the territories of Otherland: Heart, Club, Spade and Diamond.

One bed, one loo, one blanket and an seemingly out of place tea table and an off-kilter chair.

Everyday was exactly the same. He woke up as the sun--that vile, bright orb from Above--showed its light through the small hole near the top of the wall. He paced around the cell, testing the bars in case somehow one of them became loose in the night, until midday came. Then he was given his daily meal: three tarts, one pot of tea and folded napkin and a change of clothes. The red guard would slide his food wordlessly in his cell and walk away, returning in the afternoon to collect the tray and his old clothing. Then Hightopp returned to his pacing until the darkness of the cell lured him to sleep.

As the sound of a tray sliding across the stone floor caught Hightopp’s attention, he knew that today was no different.

Then again…

He walked over to the plate of food and noticed, much to his surprise, that sitting next to his customary tarts was a bottle of Pishsalver.

He looked up at the guard who nodded slightly. “She’s waiting for you.” Then the card walked away.

Without waiting a moment, Hightopp took a swig of the bitter liquid. Seconds later, his body shrunk so small, he was easily able to walk through the iron bars that had held him captive for the past several months.

Quickly, he ran down the long hallway where he found a piece of Upelkuchen waiting for him. Hightopp greedily bit off a piece of the growth-inducing cake. Once he was the proper size, he opened the door.

There she was.

Her lips were curled in a snarl, revealing a sliver of her yellowed, crooked teeth. Her hair was frizzled and unkempt, barely allowing the dented and deformed crown to rest on her head. Her eyes, wild and crazy, darted around the room.

She looked more dangerous--more feral--than the last time her had seen her. But he had no intention of letting her, Mirana’s greatest and most terrifying creation, know how much he feared her.

“So you finally decided to show up, eh, Kingsleigh?”

Without warning, she reached forward and grabbed a handful of his merlot colored shirt. She pulled him so his ear was centimeters from her lips. “You owe me, Hightopp.” She released his shirt and pushed him away, causing him to nearly stumble on the ground. “Do not forget that.”

He sighed. She had been responsible for his escape and he hated being in debt to anyone.

“What would you have me do, my queen?"


Chess didn’t know how much longer he could stay in this dreadful position. Hightopp was not more than a meter from him, making the most uncivilized sounds while slurping on his tea. “And you believe there is no way to convince Iracebeth to surrender?”

“No,” Sluggard said from behind Chess. “She seems quite adamant about remaining queen until the very end.”

Hightopp laughed manically. “It is always more fun when they fight. Makes it much more exciting. I suppose our next course of action is to--”

The table shook slightly as something ran towards them. “Master Hightopp, the castle has been breached.”

Hightopp stood up suddenly, causing the table to flip over. Chess’ Alice-shaped head rolled across the floor, banging against the ground. “What do you mean it’s been breached? By whom?”

“We aren’t sure, but we have already released the hellhounds. They will find the intruders.”

The voices were far enough away that Chess ventured a peek. There, standing next to Hightopp was some kind of large griffin. “Whoever it is will have to leave through the front gate.” He pointed to those who he had traveled with. “Come! It is time to test your dedication to the Cause!”

Chess closed his eyes as they ran across the room, coming close to where he landed. Moments later, the room was empty. Once he was absolutely sure no one was going to enter the room, he morphed into his normal, preferred cat shape. As he finished the metamorphosis, a familiar voice spoke in his ear.

“You’re welcome.”

Chess frowned. His brother did always have a rocky relationship with manners. “You know, it is customary for someone to give thanks first.”

“Tsk, tsk, I would have thought you’d be at least a bit more kind to me. I did do your part in this plan,” Checkers chided.

“What did you do to that vile rat anyway?”

“You don’t have to worry about her, brother,” Checkers replied, licking his lips.

“Your repugnancy is once again appalling,” Chess frowned. “While you were having a snack, did you happen to see which way Alice was headed?”

“You don’t need to worry. She was already approaching the main gate--”

“That’s where Hightopp is headed!” Chess scolded. Instantly, he evaporated from the room and reappeared outside the main gate. Alice, with a rather pathetic looking Tarrant, was walking sluggishly out of the gates of Marmoreal.

“You must hurry,” Chess called. “The plan has been compromised.”

“I’ll stall Hightopp. Get him to the Bandersnatch,” Alice replied.

Tarrant weakly took several steps forward before nearly falling forward and crushing Chess. “This is just like that one night when you overindulged on ginger slapdash trying to forget the Alice,” he said as he reappeared above Tarrant’s head. “Come along, fool, before Hightopp finds you.”

That was incentive enough for the wounded man. He stumbled forward, moaning softly with each foot he moved.

Nobility was extremely overrated, Chess thought as they began their escape.

*********************

Tarrant was safe.

Tarrant was safe.

Alice kept repeating her mantra as she reentered the castle. She knew they needed Time to reach the Bandersnatch and make their escape. She could do this. She could fight long enough to stall Hightopp from leaving Marmoreal. Then Tarrant would be safe and Iracebeth would have time to finish adding the purifying agent to the river.

Then everything would be alright.

As she entered the courtyard, an unpleasantly mad laugh filled the air. “Do you mean to tell me that the hatter left you here so he could make his escape?”

She said nothing, refusing to rise to the bait.

“No matter. It will give me such pleasure when I deliver your head to Salazen Grum, despite how…striking it looked on the tea table,” Hightopp continued as he approached her.

She raised her sword.

“Do you really think you can fight me? The sword you hold in your hand is not like the blade you used in Underland,” he sneered. “The Vorpal Sword was the one who slew the Jabberwocky. Not you.”

Alice’s hold slightly faltered. He was right; her swordsmanship was weak. However, her Muchness was quick to remind her, she was Alice, Champion of Underland. She would not give up so easily.

She swung her sword, the movement awkward and clumsy. When it made contact with Hightopp’s blade, it barely moved.

“It seems as though the Champion isn’t skilled at sword fighting,” Hightopp snickered. With a half-hearted swing, he nearly knocked Alice’s blade out of her hand.

She gripped the sword, knowing there was no way she would be able to out duel the man who stood in front of her.

“Are you frightened?” he asked tauntingly.

“No.”

“You’re lying. But,” he said as he moved dangerously close to her, “I do admire your Muchness.” He swung his sword, hitting her below her neckline. Alice felt as blood began to seep from the wound. “I’ll ask you again: are you frightened?”

“No.”

“Wrong answer!”

Before she realized what he was doing, he maneuvered his sword around hers, causing it to fall on the ground several feet away from her.

Alice looked around for something, or someone, to help her. She’d had to insist that Chess take Tarrant to Salazen Grum, hadn’t she? She was certainly paying the price now!

He walked around her, his blade perilously close to her. “If you would have just listened to me and joined the Resistance, this wouldn’t be happening.” He narrowed his yellow eyes. “It’s a shame, really, we could have used your Muchness.”

Alice pulled back slightly as he raised his blade. She said her silent goodbyes to her loved ones--her mother and sister…Tarrant--as the moonlight glistened off his sword. She refused to cry; she had saved Tarrant, and he, in turn, would save the Red Queen. Her mission would prevail.

As he thrust forward, Alice closed her eyes. But, the fatal blow did not come as she expected. Instead, she heard the sound of medal crashing together. She opened her eyes and, to her surprise, Tarrant stood to the side of her.

His left arm was bandaged; his forehead had a bandage haphazardly placed on it. Blood trickled down his temple, along his cheek.

“Ye will nae b’layin’ a hand on her.”

*****************

“Again, hatter, you surprise me! Are you truly attempting to save Alice? You are nothing more than a milliner posing as a Knight,” Hightopp scoffed. “You don’t think you can really defeat me, do you?”

Tarrant watched as Alice, now momentarily forgotten by the lunatic in front of them, scooted away from the danger.

The madman lunged at him, giggling madly as Tarrant nearly tripped over his foot. “Our spies in Underland told of your cowardice, of how you couldn’t strike down the Knave of Hearts, despite what he had done to your clan on behalf of the Red Queen.”

Tarrant felt his anger building. How dare this…beast…call him a coward?

“Tell me, hatter,” Hightopp taunted as he stabbed at him, “which of us is truly the villain? The one who hid behind the tea table for years waiting for a Champion to come or the one who took matters into his own hands?”

Tarrant’s eyes turned a deadly red color. He thrust his sword forward, crashing into Hightopp’s blade. “At least I do nae hae anyone’s blood on ma hands.”

“Just one more sign of weakness,” Hightopp spat. Hightopp swung his sword, the blade slicing at Tarrant’s arm.

Tarrant’s grip on the hilt loosened, but it wasn’t enough for him to drop the sword. He pushed away the pain he felt and focused on the man in front of him. With a lightning fast thrust, Tarrant stuck Hightopp with his sword, slashing him across the stomach.

Hightopp stumbled backwards, gasping. He looked down at his wound, as if he was unable to believe Tarrant had managed to strike him.

Tarrant pressed forward as the blood gushed from the wound on his arm. The blood running down his arm caused him to nearly loose his hold on his sword. He swung high, attempting to allow the blood to fall away from his hand, but his awkward swing missed its mark.

Hightopp took advantage of his blunder and charged towards him, his blade raised, arching it high above his head.

“Tarrant, watch out!” Alice cried from behind him.

Quickly, he spun out of the way as Hightopp thrust forward. He stuck out his blade, blocking the force of his blow. He swiftly shifted his sword, gaining an advantage against Hightopp. With a quick flick of the wrist, he disarmed Hightopp.

He held the tip of his blade against Hightopp’s throat. “Do you surrender?”

“Never.”

As he saw Hightopp smugly grinning at him, despite being unarmed, a Rage took over him.

“Do you have what it takes, hatter? Can you deliver the fatal blow?”

“Tarrant! No!” Alice shouted, cutting through the dense haze of hatred running through Tarrant.

His chest heaved as he stopped the trajectory of the blade. He turned his wild-eyed look at Alice.

She carefully placed her hands over his own on the hilt. “No more blood needs to be shed for this revolution,” she said softly.

Tarrant drew a long breath, desperately trying to calm himself. His hands trembled as the adrenaline coursed through him. Slowly, he nodded. “You’re right, Alice.”

Hightopp snickered. “Like a dog obeying its master.”

Tarrant could hardly believe what he saw: Alice snarled at the fallen man. “A condition that I‘m sure you‘ll become well acquainted with. The revolution is over and you are finished. No one will ever be calling you Master Hightopp ever again!”

Checkers circled to the back of Hightopp and bound him in iron handcuffs. “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to do that.”

Suddenly, a bright light burned through the dark haze in the sky.

Alice relaxed. “It would seem that the red queen has done her part to bring peace to Underland.”

Tarrant never though he would see the day when he would be glad to know that the Red Queen had gained control of anything. But he was glad. Very glad. He lifted his face toward the sunlight even as he groped for Alice’s hand. The night was over.

Finally, day had come.

*****
Two weeks later:

“My father knew what had been done by the dark prince. He tried to reach out to the king of Otherland, but it was too late--the waters of bitterness had already started to corrupt the land,” Mirana explained as she stirred the pot in front of her.

“There was no convincing the royal house to use the purifying potion,” she continued. “My father refused to go to war with Otherland, assuming that when the time was right, they would seek our help. But now,” Mirana said as she pasted a smile on her face, “the land has been restored. Though the cost was quite high.”

Alice thought of the victims of the Revolution. “Yes, quite high indeed.”

“I have a convoy headed by Absolem going to Otherland to help Iracebeth through this transitional period. The fact that she accepted my help is the first gleam of light that Otherland has seen in a long time,” Mirana said, smiling sincerely.

Alice knew that it would take a long time for the land and its people to heal; so much had happened over the decades of Darkness. However, if her impression of Iracebeth had been correct, if she was, in fact, pure in heart, then she had no doubts that Otherland would soon thrive.

“You will be glad to know that she has released you from your title as Champion,” Mirana said. “Sluggard has volunteered to take that post.”

Alice smiled, remembering how he had bravely offered his help when they had been making their plans to infiltrate Marmoreal. “He will make for a good Champion.”

She watched as Mirana worked in the kitchen for several minutes before her curiosity started nagging her. There was still one factor that hadn’t been addressed. One thing she had to know. “What happened to Hightopp?”

Mirana’s smile faltered. “Some things, Alice, are best left unknown.”

“Tell me.”

**************

Alice found Tarrant standing on a balcony--their balcony!--looking at the courtyard. She stepped next to him, following his gaze. Together, they stood in silence, appreciating the simple pleasure of each other’s company.

She turned to him, noticing that the dark bruises on his face were already beginning to fade courtesy of one of Mirana’s remedies. “I spoke with Mirana.”

He faced her. “And?”

“Things are starting to improve. Iracebeth has been in contact with Mirana, trying to restore peace to her land. Now that the harm that the dark prince is slowly receding, Otherland’s brighter days are ahead of it,” Alice said, smiling.

“And what of Hightopp?”

There was no way to mistake the bitterness in his voice.

“Iracebeth has banished him to the dungeons of Salazen Grum where he will never get to experience the beauty of Otherland, but will be forced to live out the rest of his life away from the land he tried to claim as his own,” Alice explained.

She watched as he appeared to struggle with his words. “Tarrant?” she asked, placing her hand on top of one his own. “What’s wrong?”

“I was wondering---That is I was thinking--I mean, when I was with Hightopp he told me that we were alike. Do you think--what I mean to say is--”

She reached up and cupped his face, looking intently at him. “You are nothing like him, Tarrant.”

He closed his eyes for several seconds. When he reopened them, Alice was relieved to see the warm green color she associated with him. “Thank you, Alice.”

“I thought you should know that Mirana has accepted my requested to remain in Marmoreal as her Champion,” she said with a broad smile.

A hopeful smile stretched his lips. “Does this mean that your Unfinished Business is now Finished?”

“No.” She watched as his face fell. Briefly, she felt guilty for teasing him. She reached up and cupped his cheek. “There is one more thing I Need to do.”

She leaned forward and kissed him, her lips softly caressing his. After their lips had been properly reintroduced, Alice pulled away slightly, smiling. “I never did properly thank you for risking your life in coming to Otherland.”

He reached towards her and grabbed her hand. Never breaking his gaze with her, he raised her hand to his lips, placing a hand on it. “T’was my pleasure, my Alice.”

Author's Notes:  If you are like how I am normally and like a happy ending, tied up in a little bow, then stop now.  Read no further.  If you don't mind a little open-endedness, then by all means, read the epilogue.  But don't say I didn't warn you. :D :D

Next Chapter

 

******************

Chess looked down at his hands, still unaccustomed to their new appearance. Long, wavy hair spilt over his shoulder. How in the name of Underland did Alice do anything with such an unmanageable length of hair, he wondered.

He was pulled away from his study by the gasp next to him.

“That is Marmoreal?”

Chess watched as she took in the sight of the land before her. The beautiful cherry trees that had once populated the gardens were no longer there; instead, dead oak trees covered the land. The castle was dark; its towers were beginning to crumble. The moonlight caused the ominous shadow of the castle to creep across the land.

“We were warned what it looked like,” he reminded her.

Yes, Checkers had told them what to expect when they crossed into the land now controlled by the Outlanders, but it was apparent that Alice had been unprepared for the sight in front of them.

“Are you ready?” Alice asked.

“Do I have a choice?” he asked haughtily.

“Tarrant would do what it took to save you if you were in his position,” Alice chided. “But, yes, you do. You could stay at Salazen Grum like Checkers.”

How could she even insinuate that he would behave in the same manner of his terror-stricken brother? “And he calls me a scardy cat,” Chess huffed. He sighed dramatically. “But, I suppose you’re right. Tarrant has his moments of kindness…even towards me.”

She towards him, unable to mask the look of surprise on her face, despite having seen his appearance during the entire ride. “I still can’t believe how much you look like me.”

“Yes, well, it is certainly a most interesting form,” Chess commented, touching the long locks of hair. “And I thought Tarrant’s hair was bothersome.”

“Sorry about that,” she replied. “Though, I must say, it is quite strange hearing your voice coming from my body.”

“And it is odd speaking from such an unusual shape,” countered Chess.

She smiled softly. “I suppose you have a point.” She drew a deep breath. “You remember where to meet me?”

“Yes,” he said, halfway annoyed. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t asked him the same question several dozen times already on the way to Marmoreal.

“Thank you for doing this, Chess.”

If she was anyone else, Chess would have steadfastly refused her proposal and, with no qualms, disappeared back to Underland. But, since she was the Alice, Chess found himself with the unusual desire to help her out, despite putting himself in danger.

“Don’t make me regret my decision to assist you in this mad scheme,” he replied.

“Good luck.”

“Same to you,” he said sincerely.

He watched as she separated herself from the group and entered the forest. The booming footsteps of Sluggard, one of the sloths from Marmoreal sounded behind him. “It’s time,” he said, holding open the box in his arms.

Chess sighed. “Don’t remind me.”

*****************

He sat, waiting, completely out of control of the situation. As he heard the booming knock, he reminded himself that Alice was trusting him to uphold his end of the plan.

“What do you want?” Chess recognized the screechy voice of the rat version of Mally.

“We have come to join forces with the resistance,” said Sluggard, who had volunteered to be the spokesperson.

Chess closed his eyes as he waited for Mally’s reply, imagining the scene that she saw before her. Several dozens of Otherland’s unfinest, frogs, sloths, grubs and platypuses, all looking broken and defeated, in front of Marmoreal’s gate.

“We ain’t wantin any of your kind here.”

Much to Chess’ fascination, Sluggard did not back down. “Perhaps you shouldn’t be too hasty,” came the muffled response. Oh how Chess wished he could get out of this dreaded place, if only to hear the voices around him properly! “We come baring a gift that I believe Master Hightopp would be quite pleased with.”

There was a long pause. Chess ached terribly to move.

“Show me,” the rat demanded.

“No. This is for Hightopp only.”

She cackled loudly, a sound that was most unpleasant to Chess’ ears. “Ya might be good for the Resistance after all.”

Chess heard the loud clatter of the gates being rolled back. His head bounced as the sloth’s uncoordinated feet boomed across the pavement.

“Wait here.”

Chess stayed still as a tense silence surrounded him. No one dared to say anything to him, not here in the heart of Marmoreal.

Hightopp’s voice cut through the air. “I hear that you have come to lay down your arms against me.”

Suddenly, Chess tumbled as Sluggard shifted suddenly, as if he had been seized by the scruff of his neck by a certain power-hungry Outlander. Chess’s suspicion was confirmed by Hightopp’s menacing whisper. “But how do I know that you’re not here in some pathetic attempt to save the queen on behalf of the Champion?”

“Champion?” Chess noted how labored the sloth’s speaking sounded; what was Hightopp doing to him? “She is no threat to your standing, Master Hightopp.”

“Well, that is one point we can agree on,” Hightopp said, his voice moving away.

Sluggard gasped for air. Hightopp must have been choking the sloth, Chess decided. “I believe we can do something a bit more impressive than agree on a point.”

Chess drew in one final breath and closed his eyes as he prepared himself. Suddenly, the top that had been covering the box he had been forced to stay in was removed.

He could almost feel the shadow of Hightopp covering him. The man gasped. “You have brought me the head of the Queen’s Champion?”

“Yes.” Sluggard’s voice was confident, Chess noted, pleased. Perhaps this sloth had more potential than he had given him credit for. “We knew if we brought it to you, our motives would be clear.”

Chess heard Hightopp clap gleefully. “Why I do believe you have earned a position in the Resistance.”

Chess nearly cringed as Hightopp pulled his head--not gently at all!--out of the box. He cursed the cowardice of his brother as his head was thumped on some kind of hard surface.

“I do believe it makes an excellent centerpiece for our tea party.”

This wasn’t part of the plan! Hightopp was supposed to return the lid to the box, with Chess’ head inside, and Chess was supposed to disappear to find Alice!

Sluggard hesitated fractionally. “Of course it does, Master Hightopp.”

“Now, tell me of the Champion’s plans!” Hightopp demanded.

Chess turned his attention away from their conversation; Alice had given the band of misfits a story to tell Hightopp. Now, he needed to figure out some sort of way to leave without Hightopp noticing--quite an impossible task!

“I told you Hightopp was no fool,” came the soft whisper near his ear.

“If you have come to gloat, then do it quickly,” Chess said, his lips imperceptively moving as he spoke to his brother.

“Don’t worry, brother, I will save your hide.”

Chess felt the air shift as, he assumed, Checkers moved away. Unfortunately for him, there was nothing to do but wait.

******************

Alice watched as the foul, rabbit-flesh-eating rat who called herself Mally granted entrance to the others through the main gate. She snuck through the shadows and found a small breach in the wall exactly where Checkers had told her where it would be. She looked around, making sure she hadn’t been noticed by anyone before pulling herself over the wall.

Silently, she landed on the other side. She recoiled at the sight in front of her. Thousands of plants, mutilated and misshapen filled the garden. Some hissed at her while others begged for her to help them be released from their prison.

Alice made her way forward, not wanting to risk being caught while talking to the plants. If Iracebeth and Mally were successful, then the darkness that reigned in Otherland would be over. Perhaps then Iracebeth would be able to undo the harm that Mirana had caused in the land. Alice wished she had the time to talk to Mally before she had left with the red queen; she had seemed quite surprised at the Iracebeth’s readiness to use the concoction.

As she approached a large, barred door, she saw a large grizzly bear guarding the entryway. She pulled out the pouch that Mirana had given her, filled with sleeping sands, and tapped out a little of the dust into her hand, careful not to inhale the powerful concoction.

She stepped right outside the door.

“Halt!” the bear roared.

Without hesitating, she blew the sand at his face. As soon as he inhaled the dust, he fell to the ground with a loud thud. She took the key he had worn around his neck and his enormous sword then opened the entryway to the dungeon.

As she made her way through the darkened passageway, she kept alert for any signs of more guards. The cells were mostly empty; when she did see someone, or something, they didn’t make any sounds of acknowledgment toward her.

But, when she turned the corner, a shout rang out.

“Git away from me, yer vile wench!”

The loud shout startled Alice. She nearly dropped her sword on the ground, but recovered quickly. Curiously, she looked through the bars and saw Thackery, looking more Mad than she had ever seen him, violently shaking as he stared at her.

“Thackery?”

His yellow, wild eyes widened. He backed to the far wall of the cell. “Leave me be! Haven’t ye awreddy hud yer fun wi’ me?” He dropped to his knees and hugged them. “Nae more tests, queen. I’m beggin’ ye.”

Alice frowned. How could Mirana do this do her subjects, she wondered. “No, no more tests,” she whispered. “Soon things will be all better, I promise.”

The rabbit made no acknowledgment of her words. He babbled nonsensically as Alice left him in his cell.

She stealthily continued making her way to the far part of the prison area where Chess was supposed to meet her. When she reached the pre-arranged meeting place and realized Chess has not yet arrived, Alice began looking around for some darkened corner to hide in.

He should have been there first. There would have been plenty of time for him to make his escape, unless--

“I told you Hightopp was not to be underestimated.”

She turned and saw Checkers with a smug grin on his face. “Did something happen to Chess and the others?”

“No, but it seems that Hightopp was so impressed with the ‘gift’ that he gave it a place of honor. But, fear not, Alice, I managed to do my brother’s bidding.” He held out the keys for her to take. “But, you must hurry. I fear it won’t take long for Hightopp to discover the ruse.”

“I will,” Alice assured him.

, she thought as she started searching the cells for him.Next Chapter

I am coming Tarrant

*********************

When Tarrant was finally able to open his eyes, he noticed that his world was still blurry--though the double vision seemed to have passed--and was thankfully griffin-free. He frowned as he heard movement from outside his cell. Perhaps he wasn’t alone after all.

To his shock, Alice stood on the other side of the bars. She gasped as she took in appearance. “Tarrant,” she whispered mournfully.

She pulled out the keys--how she had gotten them, Tarrant didn’t know!--and opened the gate.

“Alice?” he lisped.

“Tarrant,” she returned, running her hands over his wounded body tenderly. “What did that monster do to you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said sincerely. And when he felt her hands caressing his body in such a perfectly Alice-way, it truly didn’t matter what had happened to him in the past. Suddenly, he realized what Danger she was in by being here with him. “You need to go,” he insisted.

“I’m not leaving you behind,” she replied firmly. “Chess and the others are keeping Hightopp distracted.”

He flinched at the mention of his--no! not his! He wanted nothing to do with that hideous person--counterpart. “He is dangerous, Alice. If he were to find you here…”

“Then we need to leave quickly.”

She held her hand out for him to grab and gingerly pulled him from his slumped position on the ground. To her surprise, he saw tears in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

He shook his head which caused the world to start violently spinning. “Ye did nae do this tae me,” he said softly.

“But if we hadn’t argued in the woods, then perhaps Hightopp wouldn’t have found you. Then--”

“There is no better way to waste Time than to question your past actions. It’s all for naught. Time is quite greedy and, no matter how many times you wish you could change things, he never lets you,” Tarrant said.

He noted with much satisfaction that his words seemed to inspire Alice’s Muchness to reappear. She looked at him with determination. “The best thing for us to do is not waste any more Time then,” she replied, dropping a soft kiss on his lips.

Tarrant swung his arm over her shoulders. She stumbled forward before regaining her footing. “I’ve got you,” she said offering him a weak smile.

“So, Tarrant allowed himself to be captured to save you,” said a voice from behind her. “I just hope he doesn’t expect me to rescue him again.”

Alice stopped running and turned around. It was not Checkers, as she had expected. She was greeted with the sight of an uncharacteristic frown on Chess’ face. “Chess? You’re here too?”

“You didn’t really think Mirana would send him here alone, did you?”

A rustle in the trees startled Alice. She whipped around, sword drawn. But, to her relief, it was Checkers.

“I thought I smelled you,” the cat said, scowling at Chess.

“It’s good to see you too, brother,” he replied, rolling his eyes. “I see you have managed to keep Otherland in fine order.”

Brother? She had thought Checkers was Chess’ Otherlandian counterpart! But now was not the time to satisfy her curiosity.

Checkers puffed up his chest indignantly. “Well, brother, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Then the beholder must be blind,” Chess retorted.

“We don’t have time for this!” Alice interrupted. “We need to save Tarrant.”

Checkers huffed. “I saw them heading towards Marmoreal. Apparently Hightopp wants to play with his new toy before throwing it in the trash.”

Alice would not let that happen. But as she looked at the two cats, she knew that she would need more help to rescue Tarrant. She frowned as she recalled the “help” waiting for her at Salazen Grum. It would have to work, she decided. Leaving Tarrant at the mercy of a lunatic was unacceptable.

“I need to talk to the queen.”

********************

“You mean to tell me there are two Hightopps in my kingdom?” Iracebeth asked weakly. Alice was afraid she might faint at the news, but to her relief, the queen managed to remain standing.

“Tarrant is nothing like Hightopp,” Alice assured her. “He came here to convince me to return to Underland. It is my fault that he was here in the first place. We need to save Tarrant,” insisted Alice.

Iracebeth shook her head. “I know you are worried about your friend, Champion, but we need to focus on how to save my kingdom!”

Alice refused to let the red queen’s rejection distract her. “If we rescue Tarrant, then we could fight Hightopp in Marmoreal. Far away from Salazen Grum.”

“I’m listening.”

“If there was something…some kind of weakness that we can use against Hightopp,” Alice began.

Checkers shook his head. “He has no weaknesses. And even if you managed to find one, he has surrounded himself with the most loyal and ferocious followers. He cannot be beaten.”

“I hardly believe this rebellion is flawless,” Chess retorted.

“Then perhaps, brother, you wouldn’t mind coming up with a solution yourself.”

Chess scowled.

Alice looked around, noting how defeated everyone looked. “We can do this!”

“We are a handful of frogs, grubs and sloths. We can’t fight against lions, griffins and the Hightopps,” complained one of the frogs.

“We can--”

Suddenly, a flurry of action from the front hall caught Alice’s attention. Were they under attack? “Checkers, hide the queen,” she instructed.

Instantly, the two of them disappeared.

“Halt! You aren’t allowed in there!”

“I already told ya, I’m here to help the Champion!” The doors pushed opened and revealed an annoyed dormouse from Underland.

Alice relaxed as she saw the fiery mouse. “It’s alright. She is a friend.”

“A rather rude one,” Iracebeth muttered as she returned into view.

“Alice!” Mally cried, running towards her. She looked around and frowned. “Where’s Tarrant?”

Guilt snuck into the room and planted itself directly in front of Alice. “He’s--”

“Doing what Tarrant does best. Allowing Alice a chance to fulfill her destiny while having a rather poor sense of self-preservation,” Chess intervened.

Mally’s eyes narrowed. “He got captured?”

“We’re getting him back,” Alice assured her.

“Once we manage to come up with a plan,” Checkers added unhelpfully.

“It’s a good thing that I came when I did, ain’t it?” Mally pulled a vial out of her belt and reached into her pouch, pulling out several smaller pouches.

 

Alice and Iracebeth knelt down to the ground, looking at the delivery from Underland.

“Well, it does appear that Tarrant might survive this after all,” Chess said, smiling.

*******************

He was absolutely pathetic.

Hightopp grimaced as he walked around Tarrant Hightopp of Underland, chained in a cell in the castle of Marmoreal. The foreigner slumped forward as blood dripped from his lip, making no effort to fight against the chains he was shackled to.

He didn’t deserve the Hightopp name.

“I’ll ask you again, hatter. What world did Alice come from?”

Hightopp watched as the beaten man raised his chin until he could look his inquisitor in the eyes. His eyes were yellow and full of hate. “I told ye, I’m nae gonnae tell ye anything abuut Alice.”

Rage flooded Hightopp. How dare this weak imitation of him speak that way, using that tone? “I told you not to speak in that barbaric way.” He nodded to Magtfulde who was standing next to him.

The thick rod whistled through the air until it snapped against the hatter’s midsection.

He didn’t cry out this time, Hightopp noted with a wicked grin. Perhaps he had more strength than he gave him credit for.

“What did you hope to gain by sacrificing yourself for her? Her safety?” He snickered. “We have enough forces to crush Salazen Grum right now.”

“The Champion will protect the queen.”

Hightopp laughed manically as he leaned forward, next to the hatter’s ear. “Do you really think the Red Queen is worth protecting, hatter? She is no different than her counterpart in Underland.”

“How do you know about the Bluddy Behg Hid?”

He had the fool’s attention he noted with smug satisfaction. Good. Perhaps if he couldn’t beat the answer out of him, he could deceive him so that he could get the answers he needed about the Champion. “My network of spies is extensive. I know what that wretched queen did to your people--my people. She is not any more worthy of protection here than she was there.”

He watched as confusion swirled in his captive’s eyes. “You know, hatter, we are more alike than unlike.”

The hatter recoiled. “Nae, we’re not.”

“Don’t you think it’s interesting that we both started a revolution?” He walked around him, stepping over the chains. “That we both have a mutual hatred for the Red Queen? That we are both willing to take a stand for what is Right?”

The hatter eyed him suspiciously. “Coincidence.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

He didn’t reply.

“Now, since you had the fortune to have a Champion fighting on your side, I feel as though it’s only fair to use her to our advantage as well,” Hightopp pressed.

Unfortunately, he pushed too hard, too fast; he had brought up her name too quickly. The hatter shook his head, his eyes turning a dangerous red. “Ye are ne’er gonnae use Alice for yer dishonorable purposes.”

Hightopp narrowed his eyes. What was it about these outsiders that made them so stubborn, so resilient, so unbending to bending to his will? “There is no changing your mind?”

“Nae.”

He waved his hand to the griffin. “Perhaps the hatter here needs some encouragement.”

He walked out of the cell, closing the door. The sound of the wood hitting the hatter’s body and the helpless, pained grunts were the only satisfaction he felt after his failed attempt to learn more about Alice.

Next Chapter

“There’s something wrong!” Mally said, as she began pacing the floor again.

Mirana knelt down to her. “I have the utmost confidence in Tarrant and Chess’ ability to get Alice back.”

“They would have been here by now if they had been able to stop her,” Mally argued. “You know how Tarrant is. If Alice finds herself in trouble--and no doubt she will--then it’s as sure and certain as cold tea that he’s gonna make up his fool mind to help her!”

Mirana frowned as she acknowledged the wisdom of the mouse’s words. “Nivens said that he relayed my request for them to return if they were unable to find Alice before she entered Otherland.”

Mally snorted. “Do ya really think Tarrant is gonna leave Alice behind there to ask for help? That smitten lump is gonna do whatever it takes to keep her safe.”

Mirana’s hands faltered slightly. Tarrant had always had a weak spot with Alice. She held her hand out for Mally to stand on. She raised her to the counter where she was working on her latest concoction. “I found my father’s recipe for purification. If Iracebeth is willing to use it, I am going to need someone to deliver it to Otherland.”

Mally’s eyes gleamed. “I’d be willin’ to do it!”

“It is a dangerous place,” Mirana felt the need to remind her. “If what you fear is true, then that dreadful land has already claimed three of my most treasured subjects.”

“I ain’t scared!” she huffed. “You need someone who isn’t so blinded by adoration or self-preservation to convince that Bluddy Begh Hid to use what you’re cookin’ up!”

Mirana turned back to the potion that was brewing, giving it a stir. “The only way to counter the dark magic of the dark prince is to use this purifying agent in the River of Life, but only the monarch has access to the mouth of the river.” She added crystal tears to the mix, giving it a stir before carefully pouring the liquid in a clear decanter. “Iracebeth may not feel the need to use this,” Mirana said, holding up the vial.

“Then I’ll convince her otherwise,” Mally said, whipping out her hatpin.

“Let’s hope that you can find a less violent way of making Iracebeth listen to reason,” Mirana replied softly.

With a scowl, Mally tucked away her pin and took the vial Mirana held out. “Is this going to be enough?” Mally asked, eying the small container suspiciously.

“It’s amazing what a little bit of goodness can do,” Mirana answered.

Mally seemed pleased with this answer and slid the vial in her belt strap. “I’ll be back with the boys and Alice soon,” she promised before scurrying down the counter.

“Fairfarren, Mally,” whispered Mirana as the mouse ran out of the room.

******************

As the Bandersnatch approached the castle, Alice was struck by how pristine and full of light it was. The darkness of the land that surrounded it made Salazen Grum’s brightness stand out even more. The moat that surrounded the castle was not filled with decapitated heads, as the Red Queen’s castle had been in Underland, but croaking toads, which were watching her arrival with great interest.

She slid off the Bandersnatch’s back and walked to the gate.

A lone toad, armed with a butter knife, stood guard at the gate. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“I’m Alice.”

“Alice from Underland?” he croaked.

It was strange for her to be referred to as such a title, but it was certainly seemed appropriate.

“Yes.”

The toad in front of her leapt for joy. “Come! The Queen has been eagerly waiting for you!” He reached up and grabbed the hem of her dress, pulling her forward.

“Where are the rest of the guards?” Alice asked they walked through the near-empty corridors of the castle.

“Her Majesty ordered that all card soldiers are to remain with her in the throne room until the threat of the rebellion is over,” he explained.

He walked her to a large, ornate door. “She has been waiting for you.”

So Hightopp was telling the truth, she thought, Iracebeth had sent her McTwisp to London to lure her down the rabbit hole. Alice thought of the rabbit meat at the tea table in the clearing and shivers with horror.

As she was about to push open the door, the toad spoke. “You will help us, won’t you, Alice? The world is a dangerous place with Hightopp in it.”

She paused. Would she be willing to place her life in danger to save another world again? She did feel an inexplicable tug to protect the land. “I’ll do what I can,” she answered.

She pushed open the door and allowed the toad to jump ahead. “Your Highness, Alice has arrived.”

At this statement, Alice found herself at the center of attention. Everyone, card soldiers and creatures alike, turned to face her. There, seated on her throne was Iracebeth. Alice was taken aback by the stark contrast between the pristine condition of the castle and the frazzled, desperate appearance of the Red Queen.

Iracebeth stood up from her throne and ran across the room, to stand in front of Alice. She raised a hand to her face, patting her cheek softly.

Alice stiffened momentarily before Iracebeth pulled back.

“Forgive my forwardness, Alice, you see, it has been so long since I’ve any reason to have hope, but now seeing you here…” she paused and smiled. She looked behind Alice, a frown creeping on her face. “Where is Nivens?”

Alice swallowed. “He found me and led me down the hole to…here,” she started, realizing she wasn’t quite certain where “here” was. “But, it would seem that the Resistance found him and I have reason to believe that,” she hesitated slightly, “Mally…that is she…”

Iracebeth took a step back, appalled. “Are you telling me that ravenous rat ate my courier?”

“I’m afraid so,” Alice said, her voice full of remorse.

A large tear slid down Iracebeth’s face. “It is worse than I have feared. Hightopp and the rebels have gone mad with power!”

Suddenly Checkers appeared in the room. “And I have even more bad news, I’m afraid.”

Iracebeth’s eyes fluttered shut. “What is it?”

“After Alice’s escape, Hightopp became quite enraged. Now that Alice knows the location of the Rebellion’s stronghold, he insisted that they move to Marmoreal,” Checkers replied. “When the remnants of the white army attempted to hold its ground…well, let’s just say that Hightopp has more blood on his hands now than he had at teatime today.”

He disappeared briefly and reappeared next to Iracebeth. “We must start to prepare. Hightopp no doubt knows the Champion is here,” Checkers replied. “He will come after her.”

“He’s right, your Highness,” a sloth who was standing close to the throne added. “We don’t stand a chance against him now that Marmoreal has fallen.”

“Hightopp hasn’t won yet. We just need a Champion,” Iracebeth proclaimed.

Suddenly, Alice found all eyes on her. “What about Stayne?”

Checkers frowned as Iracebeth began silently weeping. “A while back, he was captured by Hightopp and tortured for information about Salazen Grum,” Checkers explained, sorrow creeping into his voice. “They did things to him that were unimaginable, but he never revealed anything to them.”

“How do you know?” Alice wondered.

“Because…I was there too. I tried to help him to escape but Hightopp he administered a True Colors potion to him, which rendered my ability to make others invisible useless,” Checkers said, ashamed.

Iracebeth dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. “You acted admirably, Checkers,” she assured him. “But, now that does leave me with the unbearable situation of not having someone to protect me.” She batted her eyelashes. “But you could be that person Alice…Would you be my Champion?”

“But I am already Mirana’s, I mean, the other Mirana’s Champion,” Alice replied.

“Which is precisely why you are perfect to assume the role,” Checkers replied. “You have already proven yourself worthy of the title by slaying the Jabberwocky in Underland.”

“But…”

“Please, Alice,” pleaded Iracebeth, looking forlornly at her. “I would not ask you to risk your life if the situation did not demand it.”

Alice couldn’t deny there was a strong pull to acquiesce to the Red Queen’s request, but would she really be willing risk her life for Iracebeth? The image of Tarrant’s--no! Hightopp’s--wicked smile as he explained his reasons for murdering Mirana flooded Alice’s mind. She looked at Iracebeth’s allies - the few loyal servants that had survived Hightopp’s revolution - and knew she had to become her Champion. It would be the only thing that could save Otherland from the blood lust of its revolutionaries.

She looked around at the creatures who gazed at her with how in their sorrow-worn--sloths, toads, rabbits and hedgehogs. They seemed quite pitiful when compared to Hightopp’s army of griffons, lions and bears, she admitted. But, she would protect them as well as she could.

“What would you have me do, your Majesty?”

******************

Tarrant was going mad worrying about Alice. That thought that she was wandering around in this wretched place was nearly unbearable for him to consider.

They had been walking, in Tarrant’s mind, for far too long, but Chess reassured him they were making good time through the forest. He was tempted to argue, but grudgingly admitted that the cat did know more about this place than he did. Chess said that Otherland’s geography was identical to that of Underland, but with the overgrowth of the ferocious plants, Tarrant had no way of knowing exactly where he was.

They climbed a final hill, walking past a grove of embittered orange trees. As Tarrant looked into the distance, he could hardly believe the sight before him, several kilometers ahead of them.

“That’s Salazen Grum?”

“Like I said, the red queen is quite different here,” Chess said.

Not so different, Tarrant thought. She had tricked Alice into coming here. He mumbled curses to this Iracebeth, his yellow eyes glowing dangerously.

To the side of him, Chess sighed. “Calm down, Tarrant. I am sure Alice is capable of seeing a few grotesque things,” Chess said as they made their way through the slime pit of Ipalm. “She did behead a Jabberwocky without a flinch.”

Tarrant frowned. How could that cat ever equate the necessary action of overthrowing Iracebeth’s rule to being immersed in such a vile place?

“If you think I'm going to stand by again Oraculum and Prophecy or no and watch Alice risk her life for that slurvish--”

“Quiet! I hear someone approaching!” hissed Chess, fading away.

Tarrant cursed his companion’s lack of bravery as he ducked behind a tree and held his breath. Several seconds later, he heard a twig on the ground breaking and a voice, as cold as ice, from behind him. “Tell me right now why I shouldn’t kill you where you stand.”

The words were shocking, but what was more unbelievable was whose voice they belonged to! “Alice?” Tarrant asked, turning around slowly.

When she saw him, he saw her eyes soften slightly before she renewed her grip on her sword.

“It’s me…Tarrant,” he said slowly, not wanting to upset her.

“Take off your gloves,” she demanded.

What an odd, unusual, strange request for her to make! Was this a new fashion in Overland? It seemed a highly personal sort of request... Would it be like doffing one's hat? Only Alice doesn't have a hat and he has a hat but why hadn't she asked him to take it off and...

“Tarrant,” she said firmly, calling him from his thoughts. “Your gloves.”

With a confused look, he took off his gloves and tucked them into his pocket.

“Show me your hands.”

He held up his hands reluctantly. They were not very attractive hands. They were orange-colored and scarred from the long years spent as a milliner.

Suddenly, he found himself with an armful of Alice. “It’s you,” she said, letting her sword drop haphazardly behind him. Tarrant barely registered the sound of the blade clattering to the ground as she embraced him, her warm voice near -pleasurably near! - to his ear. “It’s you. But why are you here?”

He slowly wrapped his arms around her, grateful she was seemingly all right. “To get you out of this frumious place, of course.”

She grinned against his chest, which was a most delightful feeling! “You wonderfully mad Hatter,” she said warmly. She pulled back slowly, raising her hands to cup his face before pressing her lips against his own.

Of all the ways he had expected to be reunited with Alice in this Fate-forsaken land, this was not one of them! He responded quickly, bringing his hands--which had brought her obvious joy to see-- to her cheeks as the kiss continued. Finally, after several infinities of perfection, she pulled away slightly.

“Come, Alice, we need to get you out of here.”

Her hesitation told Tarrant everything he needed to know. His eyes flashed yellow. “Ye have already sworn yer allegiance to protect th’ Bludy Bigh Head, havent ye?”

“The Red Queen,” she corrected softly. “And yes. I tried to convince her to go to Underland where she would be protected, but she isn’t willing to let Otherland fall.” She sighed. “We know he will make his way to Salazen Grum soon enough.  I must stay here and wait for the others to report back to me.”

His eyes flashed orange. “And ye thought the best place for ye was in between her and him?!”

“I have no choice,” she replied. “She needs protection.”

“This isn’t your war!”

“Neither was the one in Underland, but I helped you, didn’t I?” countered Alice heatedly.

“But it’s th’ Bluddy Bihg Hed,” he hissed. “She’s nae deserving’ o’ your assistance.”

“She is different here, just like everyone else. I cannot leave her here to die at the hands of the Rebellion,” Alice argued, picking up her sword off the ground. “I won’t do it.”

Tarrant began pacing. Surely there was some way to convince Alice not to put herself in harm’s way! Surely she could see the reason why he was afraid for her to be in such a foul place! “But Alice--”

“I’ve made my decision, Tarrant. You can stay here with me or return to Underland, but my place is here for now,” she replied.

Tarrant couldn’t understand why her stubbornness seemed to be directly tied to her Muchness! “I will not protect the Bluddy Begh Hid,” he answered.

Her eyes flashed in anger. “Tarrant--”

“Look at what she’s makin’ you do! Traveling alone in this slackurish forest with not even proper armor!” he argued, gesturing to her over-sized wardrobe. “She’s naught but a slurvish--”

“Stop!” Alice shouted. She lowered her voice. “I volunteered to patrol the forest while Checkers made his way to Marmoreal, to make sure that Hightopp didn’t send his followers in Salazen Grum. We will form a plan of attack once he has returned.”

“Please, Tarrant,” she said, taking a step forward. “Trust me.”

He did trust her!

It was that no-good-red-queen that he doubted!

As he studied her, looking as Muchy as anyone could with mismatched armor, he felt his anger recede. If he did truly believe in Alice, then he should trust her assessment of this Iracebeth.Besides, his reason whispered, where else would you rather be than by her side, even if it meant protecting that…queen?

“I do, Alice,” he whispered. “How can I help?”

She beauterific smile flourished on her face - a rare sight of pure beauty in this forsaken land - and replied, “Checkers should be--”

Before she could finish her sentence, a loud shriek pierced the air.

“She’s here!”

Tarrant instantly recognized the voice; it was Mally! But when he turned from Alice’s face to the source of the sound all he saw was a hideous, rabid rat.

“He’s here,” Alice whispered fearfully, looking at Tarrant.  Quickly, she scooped her blade off the ground.

“Where is he?” he asked, as he pulled out his sword from its sheath.

Alice spun around, scanning the forested area. “I can’t see him yet.”

Suddenly, a perfectly demented laugh filled the air. “Don’t the two of you make the most adorable couple?”

There!

Tarrant finally saw his Otherlandian counterpart walking through the forest with a smug arrogance that Tarrant had only attributed to evaporating cats.  Alice still had time to flee! 

“Run, Alice.”

She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you. Not like last time.”

Tarrant knew what she was talking about, of course. And, just like the time he had sent her away from the Red Queen’s castle, he was committed to making sure she was safe and fulfilled her duties. “Protect the Queen. It’s what you promised to do!”

She hesitated for a second, looking between him and Hightopp. “Wait for me. I will save you,” she replied before she raced away from him.

It was a situation that was becoming familiar to Tarrant. Sacrificing himself to keep the--no, his--Alice safe. And it was Something he was willing to do without hesitation, even if it benefited the Red Queen…

“She’s getting away!” Mally screeched.

“Let her go,” Hightopp said as he got closer to Tarrant. “She’ll be back for him.”

Tarrant watched as his counterpart looked at him with an undisguised disgust. “Though there won’t be much for her to come back to.”

“I’m not afraid of you,” Tarrant said, looking at Hightopp. He wondered how someone who was so impeccably groomed could even begin to imagine what he had gone through during the years of Iracebeth’s dreadful rule in Underland.

Tarrant hefted his claymore, ready to fight, but then shadows moved out from behind the trees. Lions, bears, griffins and other beasts emerged, armed and ready to fight. He was surrounded.

Hightopp took a step towards him and grinned manically, showing a row of perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth.

“Oh, but you will be.”


Next Chapter

She was not what he had expected.

Perhaps that is why that foolish queen had brought her here, he thought indignantly. To distract, to confound, to throw him off! It wouldn’t work; Hightopp had given up too much, sacrificed too much than to give it away to a woman.

As he watched her step past a hive of fireflies, who blew their often-deadly flame in her direction, he took in her appearance. She wasn’t particularly beautiful; her blonde, wavy hair seemed out of place in his world of darkness. Nevertheless, he couldn’t deny there was something about her that made him regret the task set before him: to behead the Overlander in front of him and personally deliver her head to the pathetic red queen.

He watched her as she looked around the decaying land with a barely disguised snarl on her lips. So far, she had refrained from asking him any more questions about the world around her, but Hightopp could see her curiosity. It impressed him. Lesser people had been so appalled by his land that they had fled to other world a long time ago.

But, Alice was different.

Perhaps, he thought with a wicked grin, she would not need to be his enemy at all. She would be a powerful ally. Anyone who had the ability to slay a Jabberwocky most assuredly had a Muchness that could only help the cause.

Yes, she would be a most welcome addition to the Revolution.

He needed to gain her trust, though. He knew of the Champion’s Oath, that due to her connection to the White Queen in Underland, she would be drawn to protect the monarch of this world. However, if he could convince her that he was the rightful ruler of Otherland, then she could very likely feel the need to protect him.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

He felt her grip tighten around his hand slightly as they walked by the rotting mushroom grove. “I would have thought that things in Underland would have improved now that Mirana is the Queen.”

He suppressed a shudder. How could someone with this magnitude of Muchness possibly speak, let alone speak, any kind word against that foul, unscrupulous excuse for a monarch? “Things are already improving,” he assured her, thinking of the latest blood that had been shed in the name of the Revolution.

They walked for another quarter hour before they approached Ipalm. Hightopp led her into the open field, feeling particularly proud of himself.

It wasn’t just anyone who could have pulled off a feat like he had, creating a Revolution that had grown so strong, so powerful, it was about to completely take over Otherland. He saw the largest griffin, Magtfulde, the Commander of his army, talking with a group of griffins and lions. The surviving Hightopps--he still couldn’t believe his own parents would attempt to side with the white queen!--were scattered throughout the open land.

There were dozens of types creatures here, he noted with a sense of pride. Most of Otherland had come to him, realizing that under the rule of the Royal Family, there would be no hope for the rest of them. It was the Royal family that had turned Otherland into the dark perversion of what it once had been.

Never again, he thought bitterly.

Alice turned to him, her mouth open to ask him a question when a piercing shriek cut through the air.

“What is she doing here?”

At her cry, several of the members of the Revolution, including Magtfulde, drew their weapons, ready to attack.

“She is here at my request,” he answered, his voice dangerously calm. He glared at the creatures around him until they reluctantly sheathed their swords.

“But, I thought--”

“Plans have changed,” he interrupted. He turned to Alice who still had the most confounded look on her face. As he sat Alice down, he looked at Mally who was munching on some rather raw rabbit meat and sighed. “Oh Mally,” he said, slightly disappointed, “You ate our dinner guest again?”

He watched as Alice looked at the rather unkempt rat, who made no effort to wipe the red smudge off the side of her lips. “Mally?” she whispered before looking directly at Hightopp. “Tarrant…what is going on here?”

Hightopp frowned slightly. “I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you, Alice,” he said, taking a seat at the head of the table. “You see, you aren’t in Underland.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

******

This is impossible, Alice thought with more than a dollop of disbelief. Sure, there were unquestionably some differences between the world she had left two years ago and this one, but how could this not be Underland?

“You are in Otherland,” Tarrant--no! Not her Tarrant!--explained. “ I suppose you could consider it a mirror world of sorts.”

Alice looked at the creatures around her who were looking at her suspiciously. She sensed that, whatever was coming, she had best be ready for it. She was unarmed and surrounded. And unwelcome, by the looks on their faces. Her two years spent learning her father’s trade had refined her skills in observation, flattery and negotiation.

She warily allowed that she might have to wield them once more. Here. Now.

A rather intimidating-looking griffin scowled as he took a seat next to Hightopp. “You shouldn’t have brought her here, Master Hightopp. The Red Queen--”

Alice tensed. Iracebeth was in power here? That would explain the welfare of the land around her.

“The Red Queen is no threat to any of us,” Hightopp said, glaring at the griffin. “I hope you are not questioning my ability to lead, Magtfulde.”

The creature shot Alice a nasty glance, his feathers ruffling slightly, before shaking his head. “Of course not.”

Alice refused to be intimidated by those around her, even if there were a pride of lions approaching the table with a particularly ravenous look in their eyes. “Why have you tricked me here?” she demanded.

To her surprise, Hightopp seemed to enjoy her indignation. He grinned widely. “That would not be my doing, Alice. Iracebeth, it seems, is rather distraught after her sister’s untimely death.”

Alice recoiled at the manic laughter coming from the others at his words. Mirana was dead?

“She thought if she could call on you--a Champion--that she would be protected from the one who shed Mirana’s blood, but I couldn’t let that happen,” continued Tarrant.

“Why?” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

“Because,” he replied with a wicked grin as he leaned close to her, “I am the one she fears.”

Alice pulled back away from his predatory look. Even her sense of self-preservation which was screaming at her- “Fool him, Alice! Just go along with it for the moment!” - could not drown out the betrayal.

“You killed Mirana?” she whispered in disbelief.

“In the name of the Revolution, yes. It was unavoidable, I’m afraid. If one is willing to die for a cause, then they should be willing to kill for it as well,” he continued. He took her hand and squeezed. “You could be a part of this, Alice.”

She pulled her hand away from him. “You. Killed. Mirana.” Yes, the Mirana he had killed was not her friend, not the woman she had fought for on Frabjous Day, but still…!

“For the cause!” he shouted as he pushed the chair from the table. He began pacing around the table, never allowing her gaze to stray from her from her. “‘Conform,’ she said! ‘Serve!’ she demanded! For what? So they could rule over us? So that she could use us as her test subjects? Never!”

He jumped up on the table. “Downal wyth th’ Royal Bludd Line!”

“Kill ‘em all!” the creatures shouted.

He stepped off the table next to her, his red eyes morphing into a slightly less threatening yellow color. “I did what I had to do, Alice. Surely you can see that.”

She shook her head slightly. How could Mirana be responsible for this?

Hightopp knelt to the side of her and took a hold of her hand. “I’m sure the queen you fought for in Underland was a monarch of the utmost character, but the White Queen here was a beast. She turned Otherland into her own personal alchemy project. She wanted to control everything around her: the plants of the land, the beasts of the field, the birds in the air, the people who tended the earth.”

He stood up and faced the forest. “Tweedles! Show yourselves!”

Alice turned as two shadows emerged from the forested area. As they stepped into the moonlight, Alice gasped slightly. The two round, child-like twin boys had been replaced by two identically deformed, disproportionate men. Their arms were unevenly matched; one bicep was enormous while the other was terribly atrophied. One leg was longer than another, forcing them to lean on each other for support. Their other arms, Alice noted, were chained to a huge tree.

Their hair was uncombed, their skin filthy. Drool rolled down their chins as they eyed the raw rabbit meat on the table.

“What happened to you?” whispered Alice, reaching out to them.

To her shock, one of the Tweedles reached out and tried to bite at her hand.

“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” Hightopp said, grinning wickedly before turning somber. “This is the work of Mirana. She wanted to create a better soldier. She craved a more powerful fighter than those in her army.” He looked at the Tweedles with a frown. “She experimented on the brothers, hoping they would be a prototype for her new army, but what she created were these…abominations. Disgusted, she threw them out of her castle. But, we in the Resistance saved them and vowed to make sure no one suffered at her hands again.”

“The Revolution needs someone like you, Alice. Someone who would be willing to stand beside me, to bring an end to this bloodshed. Then I will bring in a new era in Otherland!” he declared, his eyes wild.

The wildness - the blood lust - in his eyes unsettled her, but Alice sensed that this was her chance. These creatures would not let her leave - she could plainly see that. But they might believe that this man - Hightopp -- had convinced for of their cause. Of course, she mustn‘t allow herself to seem to easily swayed. She prevaricated, “Tell me, Hightopp, what has the Red Queen done to earn her death sentence?”

He scowled. “That weak, pathetic excuse for a queen has no place in Otherland. She did nothing to stop her sister. She stayed hidden in that castle, away from the atrocities that her sister had done. No, Alice,” he said, shaking his head, “she is not fit to be ruler over this land.”

“Surely you can work out some sort of truce with her,” Alice argued.

“No. The royal bloodline must be purged,” he countered, his eyes swirling with a dangerous red color.

 

Alice frowned. She couldn’t agree to join his revolution; not with knowing that he hadn’t done everything he could to establish peace in the land. “No,” she said resolutely. “I won’t join you.”

The creatures around her shouted in indignation. “I told you, Master Hightopp!” yelled Magtfulde. “If you don’t think you can kill her, I’d be glad to offer to do it.”

“No, let me at the little wench!” cried Mally.

Hightopp held up his hand and everyone went silent. “Just think of it, Alice,” he said, leaning over the table, coming close to her. “The weak will run but they will not be able to hide! Only the strong survive. Only the strong are meant to survive...”

She shuddered. How could this man in front of her be in any way related to the Tarrant she knew? This man was driven by power; his lust for it had clearly distorted him. “No, the strong should help the weak, not exterminate them. If you cared about Otherland at all, you would try to seek peace with Iracebeth.”

He pushed back from the table and snarled. “Does that mean you will not reconsider your answer?”

Now was the time, the moment. Now, Alice must hesitate, make Hightopp think that perhaps he could convince her. Now was the moment when she should claim that she wished to help the citizens of Otherland, that he had not made a strong enough case against Iracebeth to warrant killing her, that there were still questions she needed answered before she could declare herself. Now was the moment to buy time.

However, Alice could not force the vile, repulsive words out of her throat.

“No, I will not.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” he said resignedly. He turned to Magtfulde. “You were right, I should have just killed her when I first found her.” With a flick of his wrist, he hurled a throwing knife in Alice’s direction.

Before she could react, Alice found herself pushed to the ground.

“If you want to survive this delightful gathering, I would advise that you keep silent,” came a familiar feline voice, whispering in her ear.

It was Chess! Alice looked down at her hands, which, she was startled to find, were invisible! She felt a furry paw pushing her in the direction opposite of Hightopp. Crawling on her hands and knees quietly, she started to make her escape.

“Where is she?” she heard Tarrant scream from behind her.

“It must have been that blasted cat,” Mally shrieked.

Alice pushed herself to follow Chess’ invisible helping hand until she was far enough away, tucked behind some trees. “Chess?” she whispered.

“Checkers,” the cat corrected, as he came into view.

As he came into view, Alice noticed that his grey and black fur was, in fact, reminiscent of a checkerboard. But, there was no mistaking that the wide smile on his face was certainly like that of Chess.

She looked down at herself, which was thankfully visible. “How did you do that?” she asked him.

“Do what?”

“Make me invisible. Chess isn’t able to do that…or at least I don’t think he can.”

Checkers huffed. “Chess is a scaredy cat who is far too cautious. Just because turning someone invisible runs a high risk of keeping a person in that state, he refuses to do it.”

“Well…thank you,” she replied, looking at her hands gratefully. Being permanently invisible was not how she wanted to spend the rest of her life!

He looked behind her and frowned. “Now, we must hurry. Hightopp will not waste any time looking for you.” He let out a long meow and the Bandersnatch came bounding from behind them.

Instead of seeing the ferocious beast, a rather timid-looking, yet giant creature stepped cautiously from behind the giant trees. Its black fur almost seemed to glisten in the moonlight. “Go!” he instructed. “I will be in Salazen Grum shortly.”

Alice hesitated. Though she inexplicably felt drawn to protect the Red Queen, she wondered if it would be best to find some way back to Underland to gain help from Mirana. “I should go back to Underland--”

“There is no time to visit your old friends,” chided Checkers. “The Resistance is building strength by the minute. Iracebeth must know what you have seen.”

“Where will you be?”

“Making sure Hightopp doesn’t send someone after you to finish the job,” he said as his head suddenly separated from his body.

Alice frowned as the implications of what he had said registered in her mind. Swiftly, she climbed onto the back of the Bandersnatch and rode out of the woods. As she traveled through the moonlit valleys of Otherland, she wondered what kind of person would be waiting for her at Salazen Grum.

****************

 

Next Chapter

Mirana paced around her throne room, nervous for her Champion. If Iracebeth already had already brought her to Otherland--no! She could not think like that! She looked around--her Chief Advisor, several members of the Royal Guard and Absolem were already there. Once the last two finally arrived, they would be able to discuss what to do concerning Alice.

She frowned as she thought about the Royal Gateway. Her father had always warned her and Iracebeth of the dangers of Otherland. It was a world that was fraught with darkness and corruption, a place that had no room for Fate, but where Free Will and the Desire to do What One Wanted were supreme.

Years before her birth, the dark prince of Otherland, a master of poisons and toxins, took it upon himself to plague the land with the darkness of its citizens’ heart. He tainted the water from the River of Life, the only source of water in the land, with wretchedness and greed. As the people, creatures and plants drank of its water, its bitterness latched onto their hearts, corrupting them. Only those pure in heart were impervious to its power, her father had explained.

Over the years, her father had worked diligently to find an antidote for the dark prince’s poison. After nearly a decade, just as Mirana had just started to begin her study in alchemy, he had managed to find an solution. He had contacted Otherland, desiring to share it with the royal family on the other side of the mirror. But, his counterpart had refused his offer and the mirror had been closed off since then.

When she had successfully mastered the art of alchemy, her father had taught her the recipe for the antidote, in case Otherland was ever in need. It would take time, Mirana knew, Time that she didn’t have if she understood Iracebeth’s desire to claim Underland’s Champion as her own.

Mirana’s thoughts were interrupted as the large doors were pushed open with a franticness that only a Mad Hatter could have. “Is she alright?” he asked without paying any attention to anyone else in the room.

Of course he would know this was about Alice, she fretted. Ever since Alice had left, Tarrant had been constantly thinking, obsessing, about the Overlander. “Once Chess gets here--”

“Which I already am,” he answered lazily as he materialized above Tarrant’s shoulder.

She drew in a long breath. “Today I was contacted from Otherland,” she began. “Iracebeth told me about a revolution that has plagued their land. The Civil War has taken a turn for the worse, I’m afraid. She wanted me to send Alice--”

“Ye cannae send her over there!” shouted Tarrant.

Mirana smiled patiently. “I told Iracebeth no, but you know how my sister--even one from Over There--can be when she doesn’t get her way. I believe she is planning to send someone to Overland to lure Alice to Otherland.” She turned to Tarrant and Chess. “I need the two of you to make sure she does not go through the door. I fear that Iracebeth is planning to use the Champion’s Oath to her advantage. Chess, since you have been there before--”

“Don’t remind me. It is not one of my most fond memories.”

“Your help will be required if we are already too late.”

“If I may ask, your Majesty, who is running the revolution Over There?” Chess asked.

Mirana’s glance flickered to Tarrant briefly. “It would seem that the Hightopp clan is behind the rebellion,” she answered, avoiding Tarrant’s yellow gaze.

“Why you Hightopps do seem to enjoy the usurping of authority,” Chess commented wryly.

“To your benefit!” He reached out a thimbled forefinger and poked Chessur in his very ample and soft middle.

Mirana frowned. Perhaps it wasn’t wise to send the two of them together. But, she needed Chess’ expertise and Tarrant’s drive to make sure that no harm came upon Alice. “The two of you must hurry. I’m sure Iracebeth has wasted no time in trying to locate Alice.”

“If I might ask, why did th’ bluddy--I mean, the Red Queen contact you instead of the other Mirana?” Tarrant asked.

“Because,” she suppressed the urge to gag. “It would seem that she has been murdered.”

“By whom?”

Mirana looked away. “You need to keep Alice from going through that door, Tarrant.”

“I will, your Majesty.”

******************

As Alice fell to the ground with an ungraceful plop, she wondered where Nivens had gone. He seemed particularly twitchy in the garden today--even more so than usual. As she looked around and saw no signs of the rabbit, she made her way to the only door against the far wall.

It looked different, she noted. The wood was gnarled, rotting. In fact, she noticed, as she examined the room a bit more closely, the whole room seemed different. The lighting was darker, the ground was covered in mold and mildew. And the stench was nearly unbearable; Alice raised her hand up to her nose to mask the smell.

Alice frowned. There was something very wrong in Underland.

Questions bombarded her mind as to what could have happened during the two years she had sailed halfway around the world. Had Iracebeth and Stayne somehow escaped their exile? Was there some kind of beast more hideous than the Jabberwocky that had taken control of Underland? Why hadn’t Mirana found some way to contact her before now?

She needed to find answers.

She looked around the room, which was empty with the exception of a singular table in the center of the room. Instantly, she was reminded of the last time she had returned to Underland. She looked on top of the dilapidated table, but saw no key.

Perhaps Nivens had already unlocked the door for her, she thought.

Quickly, she made her way to the door and turned the knob, which was, thankfully, unlocked. As the door swung open and Alice was greeted by the views of Underland, she was tempted to return to the tiny room and shut the door. There were no signs of the beauty that had greeted her when she had returned to Underland the first time.

Gone were the bread-and-butterflies; they had been replaced with vicious-looking fire-breathing dragonflies, burning any signs of greenery in the area. The flowers hissed, shaking their pointy thorns at her. The sky was dark, only the light of the pale moon allowed Alice to see.

There was no sign of Nivens and she had no idea how to get to Marmoreal. Running from the Bandersnatch the last time had thrown of her sense of direction. Surely McTwisp would return once he realized Alice wasn’t on her way!

She retreated into the room, grateful to be away from that disturbing world. What had happened while she was away at sea? How could Underland have fallen to such a state, especially with Mirana as its queen?

For nearly a quarter of an hour, she contemplated Underland’s new appearance, before the doorknob started to turn. Instantly, her heart started racing. It was foolish, she knew. It was probably just McTwisp, wondering why she hadn’t kept pace with him.

“Alice?”

The lisp was instantly recognizable.

As she stood up, her dress caught on the edge of the ragged table, tearing slightly. In her excitement at hearing that familiar voice once more after so long, Alice barely noticed to mishap. “Tarrant?” she asked.

She saw him walk through the opening, oddly, without a hat. As soon as he spotted her, a mad smile passed over his lips. “You have no idea how long I have been waiting for you.”

******************

Alice was in danger.

It was the only singular thought running through his head.

Forgotten were the past two years when he had unabashedly hung on every word of Absolem’s reports of Alice’s successes in Overland. Forgotten were the long, restless nights he had spent berating himself for not making a stronger care for Alice to remain in Underland. Forgotten were the looks of pity that the queen and his friends had shot him when Alice’s name had been mentioned.

No, all that mattered was that he had been charged with the task of saving Alice from that foul, wretched, villious place.

And Tarrant would not fail in his commitment to find Alice and bring her back to Underland--and him--where she belonged!

Tarrant turned the corner, his feet sliding across the freshly polished floor, nearly slamming into the wall.

“You’ll be of no help to Alice if you are unconscious,” came the not-so-helpful reply from behind him.

“Excuse me for being more than a bit worried that the Bluddy Behg Hid might be trying to get her slurvish hands on Alice,” Tarrant shot back impatiently.

“She’s not the bloody big head there, Tarrant. She’s more like a timid kitten.”

“Ye don’t think Alice is going to be willing to work with her, do you?”

“The Champion’s Oath is not something she can easily forsake. Since Iracebeth is the last Queen of Otherland, it would be difficult for the Alice to deny the urge to protect the monarch,” Chess replied honestly. “And I wouldn’t doubt that Iracebeth would do anything to make sure she has a Champion.”

Panic gripped him. Alice couldn’t risk her life for her! He needed to make sure she stayed safe! “Then we need to make sure that she doesn’t get to her.”

“Tell me, Tarrant, how do you plan on protecting your Alice from harm with no weapon?” Chess asked, shaking his head.

Tarrant looked down at his empty hands. He knew he had forgotten something Important! But there was no time to go back to his workshop and bring up his sword. Alice needed him! Alice could not agree to become Iracebeth’s Champion!

“I’ll use my bare hands if I need to,” Tarrant replied.

“As…noble as you might consider that to be,” Chess retorted sarcastically. “I do believe that Mirana has already requested for McTwisp to retrieve your sword.”

No sooner than he had said it, the door at the end of the hall opened. McTwisp bounded into the room, holding Tarrant’s claymore and sheath.

“Thank you,” Tarrant said sincerely as he took the sword from him.

“The queen wanted me to tell you that in case you do not reach Alice before she has entered into Otherland that you need to return. She believes she can create something that the Red Queen will be able to use to her advantage,” McTwisp replied.

Tarrant made no promise to agree to the queen’s request; he knew he wouldn’t leave Otherland until Alice was with him.

McTwisp’s shoulders sunk as he realized that he wasn’t going to agree. “Be careful…and Fairfarren, Hatter.”

“Fairfarren.”

He turned around and continued running down the hallway until he reached the Portal. He pushed the door open and rushed inside.

Tarrant had only seen this room once when Mirana had given him a full tour of the castle when he had become her royal hatter years ago. The room was no less impressive then it had been when he’d first seen it.


There were nearly a dozen rabbit holes, several on the ceiling, a few on the floor and a couple in the walls, each leading to another world. No one used the holes, now seen as a rather antiquated way to travel when compared to the looking glass, outside of McTwisp when he made the rare journey to retrieve Alice from Overland.

Tarrant turned to Chess. “Which one is it?”

“This one,” the cat said, pointing to an oval-shaped hole in the wall.

“And you are sure this hold is quite Alice-oriented?”

“Yes. Regardless of the hole’s origin, all people foolish enough to travel this way will end up in the same location,” explained Chess, looking at the hole with a frown.

Without hesitating, Tarrant jumped through the hole. As they started falling sideways--certainly a most strange sensation--Tarrant closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them he would have an Alice face looking back at him.

Unfortunately, when he hit the bottom there was nothing waiting for them there other than a rather frumious room and one of the most distasteful pieces of furniture Tarrant had ever seen. When he took a closer look at the table, he noticed a small piece of cloth. Carefully, he picked it up.

“Let me see that,” Chess said. He sniffed the piece of fabric as he took it from Tarrant. “Most definitely Alice-scented.”

Tarrant’s eyes flashed yellow. “Then it means we’re too late.”

“To prevent her from entering Otherland, yes. But there is no guarantee that she has seen Iracebeth. As long as she doesn’t have contact with her, then she won’t be bound to her.”

“Then we better not waste any more time.”

************

It was Tarrant.

That fact alone should have made Alice feel at ease, but, for some strange reason, it didn’t.

Maybe it was the way he looked, she thought as she snuck another glance at him. His suit was perfectly pressed, his hair neatly combed. He seemed a little too flawless, like a watch that has been polished too much, she noticed. But there was something more than just his appearance that was unsettling to her.

There had been no warmth coming from him as had taken in in Alice’s reappearance into Underland. In fact, she had noted that his eyes were a barely controlled burning yellow and he hadn’t stopped scowling since she stepped through the door back into Underland.

She forced herself to be calm. Of course he wouldn’t be normal, she thought, there was something not right in Underland. Mirana would not have sent McTwisp to retrieve her from Overland otherwise. “Tarrant,” she said.

She told herself she did not see him flinch when she said his name.

“Yes, Alice?” he asked, his voice barely controlled.

There were plenty of questions she had, but there was one her curiosity needed to know. “Where is your hat?”

She watched him frown slightly before answering. “I’m afraid I have misplaced it.”

“Surely you have an idea where it might be!” Alice couldn’t understand why he wasn’t more bothered by the lack of his most prized possession.

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I don’t know. Nevertheless, right now, we have much more pressing issues to discuss. A hat is of no significance in the grand scheme of things,” he replied.

Alice had no idea how he could say that! After everything his hat had seen throughout his years in Underland! She could only imagine the stories it could tell, of only hats could talk--which, she thought, could be a possibility--and yet, Tarrant seemed to no longer care about it.

She was tempted to press him more, but there was something unsettling about the way he was looking at her now. No, she decided, she would wait and ask Mirana about it when she saw her.

“Are you taking me to Marmoreal?”

That caused him to pause his walk. “As I said, Alice, there is much to discuss.”

She stood in front of him. “I need to know what happened to Underland.”

“And I will tell you…very soon.”

She watched him look around for a moment before he unexpectedly held his hand out for her to take. Unlike the fingers she remembered, which were stained orange in the creases of his palms and knuckles and his nails yellowed and en-brittled with toxins, this man's hands were white, clean, and perfect. It was only in the shadows between the digits that Alice thought she could see the stains of blood. She shivered when he reached for her.

What had happened while she was away?

Next Chapter

“Your Majesty, I need…your attention is required.”

Mirana looked up from her latest batch of Upelkuchen, concerned. Nivens hadn’t sounded this anxious since--no, she would not think of That Day. Forcing aside her worry, she daintily knelt, coming down to eye level with the twitchy rabbit.

“What is it, Nivens?”

He began wringing his paws, another sign of nervousness. “I just received word from one of the guardsman that there is activity in the Royal Gateway,” he rushed to say, the words tumbling out.

Mirana recoiled slightly at his words. “But there has been no contact since my father…” she trailed off, not willing to speak the words aloud.

“I know, your Majesty.” He swallowed thickly. “But, but, she’s asking to speak with you. She says it is of the utmost importance.”

Mirana froze. There was only one person that could cause such fear in the rabbit before her. What could have possibly happened for her to contact Underland? Slowly, she stood up. “Very well, I will speak with her.”

With a nod and a hop, Nivens led the way to the normally unused part of the castle. It was appropriate, she thought as they walked down the ever-darkening hallway, that this area of the castle was not flooded with light.

Though she tried to prepare herself for what was waiting for her at the Gateway, she knew it was pointless.

Mirana waved away the guard that stood in front of the door and turned to face Nivens. “I will speak with her alone.”

He looked at her silently. She could see his struggle. While most of him wanted to flee, he still felt to need to stand by his queen. “I will be fine,” she said, her voice full of confidence.

“Please, your Majesty, be careful. You know what they say about people from over there,” he pleaded.

Her eyes fluttered shut. Yes, despite the fact she had never personally met her, she knew about those on the Other Side. When she opened her eyes, she smiled patiently. “I would never do anything to bring harm to Underland,” she said patiently.

His eyes widened as he took a step back. “I did not--I mean, I wasn’t saying--I--I--I!” Before he could finish his sentence, he passed out.

She looked up at the closest guard. “Would you carry Sir McTwisp to his room please?”

“As you wish, your Highness.”

She did not miss the concerned glance he shot her way when he thought she could not see him. Was everyone so worried about her reaction to her?

There was nothing to worry about, she told herself as she pushed open the thick door. With a determined step, she made her way to the giant looking glass in the center of the room. She should have been prepared for the image looking back at her.

She wasn’t.

In front of her was Iracebeth.

Not the Iracebeth from her Underland, of course. Her sister, along with Stayne was still banished in The Outlands. No. This Iracebeth was from Over There.

She suppressed a shudder as she took in her mirror sister’s appearance. Her hair, now a dull red, resembled a Jubjub bird’s nest. Gone was the bright blue eye shadow Mirana had long associated with Iracebeth; it was replaced with dark trails of mascara running down her cheeks. Her cheeks were hollowed, her eyes bloodshot.

“Mirana?”

There was no mistaking the desperation in Iracebeth’s voice.

“Yes, Iracebeth, I am here.” Mirana resisted the urge to reach through the looking glass for her.

A single tear ran down her face. “I thought it might be too late. After what he had done--”

Mirana’s eyebrows furrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“Hightopp. He…he--”

“Tarrant? What are you talking about?”

Iracebeth studied Mirana carefully. “You mean she didn’t tell you what was going on?” she asked, the anger pushing past the sadness in her voice. “She told me she was in contact with you that entire time!”

“Iracebeth,” Mirana said calmly, hoping not to be witness to one of her meltdowns. “Who are you talking about? What is going on?”

“That wretched traitor Hightopp murdered Mirana--our Mirana--in her castle last night,” the red queen explained, tears freely falling down her cheeks.

Mirana’s knees weakened. “Why would Tarrant to such a thing?”

“We’ve been in a civil war for years now. The Outlanders have been trying to take over Mamoreal, to stop Mirana. They made several failed attempts, but last night, somehow that mutineer managed to get into the castle and kill her!” replied Iracebeth.

She started pacing. “I know some of the things she did were rather…unethical, but what could I do? She would have turned me into toad warts or something worse.” She frowned at Mirana. “I am frightened that they will come after me next,” explained Iracebeth. “I am left with no choice but to come to you for help.”

Mirana studied her as the other queen wept, broken and desperate. She was very different from the sister that was banished to the furthermost parts of Underland. Pity and compassion flooded her heart. This was a version of her sister that she longed to help. “What do you need?”

“There are rumors that you have a Champion,” Iracebeth said.

Mirana’s eyes fluttered shut. Of course that would be why Iracebeth would contact her. “I do,” she admitted softly.

“Then you could send him--”

“Her,” Mirana absently corrected.

“Her over here and she could assist in protecting me,” Iracebeth continued, her eyes looking at her pleadingly.

“Do you not have a Champion of your own?” Mirana asked half-heartedly. Of course she didn’t; that’s why she had felt the need to end the decades-old silence between the lands.

“After that wretched Hightopp slew my dear King, no one has been brave enough to step forward to become my Champion. Please, Mirana... we are sisters, are we not? Could you not find the kindness to at least lend me your Champion?" Iracebeth pleaded through the looking glass. "Just until the threat of the revolution has passed.”

Mirana shook her head. There was absolutely no way she would send Alice Over There. It was too much for her to ask of her Champion. “I am afraid I cannot do that, Iracebeth. My Champion is in Overland tending to some unfinished business.”

“It is easy enough to call her,” argued Iracebeth desperately. “She could travel through the looking glass.”

Mirana shook her head. “I cannot just send her there. She needs the freedom to make her own decision.”

Iracebeth frowned. “But the Champion’s Oath would extend--”

“No! Her oath will not be used for your advantage,” Mirana interrupted. She considered her options for a second. “I can send a couple of my most trusted subjects over there to help.”

Iracebeth waved her hand, dismissing Mirana’s idea. “You know how powerless a queen is without a Champion. Look what happened to Mirana over here.”

“I am sorry, Iracebeth. It is all I can do.”

She frowned and let out a shaky breath. “I see. Then I am afraid I will have to take matters into my own hands.”

******************

“So what do you think?”

Alice watched as her mother and sister cautiously fingered the intricate paper lanterns that she had brought from China as gifts.

“They certainly look…exotic,” Margaret answered, disgust weaving into her voice.

“I thought they looked exquisite,” Alice shot back.

“They are,” Helen said quickly, interceding. “They are very unique.” She pasted a smile on her face. “Just like you, Alice.”

Though Alice had only returned to London the day before, she was already yearning to leave. It wasn’t that she hadn’t missed her family--she had!--but being with her mother and sister highlighted how different they were from her.

“Have you thought about what you are going to do next?” Margaret asked, taking a sip of her tea.

“Yes, I am considering leaving London again,” Alice answered. She did her best to mask the excitement in her voice, but after so long, she was looking forward to being able to keep the promise she had uttered to Tarrant in Underland years ago.

Her mother sighed, as if she had expected that answer. “You’re not planning on going with the trading company to India, are you? I have heard rumors of the people there,” Helen asked, frowning.

“I have too. That they are wonderfully cultured, but I’m not planning to go there. But this land is no less exotic,” Alice replied, thinking of Underland and all of its wonders.

“But Alice! You are already nearing twenty-four! If you wait much longer…well, let’s just say no man wants to marry a woman past her prime,” Margaret replied.

“Not every woman wants to be married,” Alice countered.

“Will you be traveling as Lord Ascot’s apprentice?” Helen asked, breaking up another argument.

“No. I will be making this journey alone.”

The two elder women gasped simultaneously. “Without an escort?”

“I will be fine,” Alice assured them. “Women from America travel to London without an escort quite often.”

“Women from America are not ladies,” snorted Margaret. “Besides, a voyage at sea would be an excellent time for you and a husband to get to know each other. I heard that Lord Walter’s son is looking to be married soon.”

“He is a close family friend,” Helen murmured. Alice could see her trying to come up with a Plan. “Lady Walter and I had tea just last week. She did ask about you Alice.”

“No thank you,” she said firmly. Images of another pompous young suitor, not unlike Hamish, popped in her mind. She would not be chained to a man like that!

Suddenly, the image of Tarrant, his wild green eyes and gap-toothed smile replaced the unwelcome thought. Now he was a man of intrigue and honor that Alice wouldn’t mind spending time with!

“Come, now, Alice, you cannot be serious about wanting to travel to--what country did you say you were going to go to?” Margaret chided.

“It is no land that you have heard of.”

“That only furthers my point. You cannot possibly want to go to some undocumented land rather than stay here and begin a family,” Helen argued.

Alice looked between her mother and sister, both looking at her with that disapproving look she so-often associated with them. “I think I know what I want to do, Mother,” Alice declared.

The rest of their teatime passed in awkward silence. Finally, when Helen began to gather the service, Alice excused herself from the room. As she pushed open the front doors, she let the cool air wash over her. To her surprise, she found that she missed the briny scent of the ocean, but not as much as the air of Underland.

Underland.

She knew she needed to find a way to return there without worrying her mother and sister. After sailing around the world and seeing the most unique things, she still found a yearning to return to the only place where she felt like she belonged.

Alice looked wistfully back inside her mother’s home, seeing the two women in the living room, talking softly to each other, to doubt about her. She suppressed a sigh. Perhaps she wouldn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them as she hoped.

Alice accepted that it may never be possible…for they would never understand.

************************

He had been hiding behind the large oak for several hours, waiting for her. He smothered another sneeze--no doubt caused by the unsightly powder that was covering him, necessary for concealing his less-than-snowy-white-fur--as she stepped out of the house.

Finally.

He pulled out his pocket watch, his hand twitching slightly. If they didn’t hurry, they would be late. And the Queen would not be pleased at all.

For several seconds, he remained there, waiting to see if she would walk further out into the garden. When it became apparent that she was content to stay by the table, he hopped from his hiding place, hoping to catch her attention.

Fortunately, it worked.

“Nivens?” she called softly. “What are you doing here?”

He said nothing, not wanting to waste any more time by talking. Instead, he hopped ahead, hoping she would follow his lead.

And follow she did!

At least the rumors about her had been right, McTwisp thought, her curiosity was strong. He continued through the garden, leading her to the rabbit hole that he came from. With a pointed look, he gestured towards the hole.

To his surprise, she didn’t hop in.

This wasn’t the plan! He had been told that Alice would be willing to return to Underland. He needed her to go with him! The Queen would be most unhappy if he returned without the Champion!

She knelt down to eye-level with him. “I can’t just leave. My mother and my sister…”

He twitched. Oh how he hated when things turned out unexpectedly! He slyly looked around for something he could use to push the apparently unwilling Alice down the hole. Unfortunately, there was so such device.

Finally, inspiration struck. She was a Champion! Surely, she wouldn’t be able to deny the call of the one she was destined to protect! “The Queen needs you,” he finally said.

That worked! Alice stood up with a determined look in her eye. “Did she send you here?”

He nodded and held up his watch. “Yes, and we’re going to be late if we don’t hurry.”

Her look vacillated between him, the hole and the home she came from. “I’ll be right back.”

Then she left, heading back to the house and he was alone again.

Frantic, he started pacing around. He needed her to go with him! He knew every minute that passed was one minute that Hightopp would use to his advantage to try to take over Salazen Grum. When Iracebeth had asked him to fetch Alice, even insisting that he don on this white powder so he would appear as his Underlandian counterpart, he had readily agreed. The only hope Otherland had was placed on this Champion Alice. A little bit of trickery was necessary for the common good!

He relaxed as he heard her footsteps quickly approaching.

“All right, Nivens, I‘m ready,” Alice said, looking resolutely at the rabbit’s hole in front of them.

Without wasting another minute--they were already terribly late!-- he jumped in the hole, hoping she would follow him. He wasn’t disappointed. As he was halfway down the hole, he saw the tumbling Alice coming towards him.

When he made it to the bottom, to his surprise, the door was already open. Was the Queen already waiting for them? He looked up, looking for Alice. She was too far up--or was it down?--the hole for him to see her.

With a twitch and a hop, he went through the door, eager to report to the queen he had brought the Alice.

But, to his dismay, Iracebeth was not waiting for him.

“What are you doing here?” he squeaked.

“You’re not the only ones with spies, Rabbit.”

Then the world went black.


Next Chapter
Prologue: The Revolt

“Hightopp.” There was no mistaking the disgust in her voice.

“Mirana,” he spat.

“Have you come to surrender?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at the Outlander that stood before her.

He laughed, the bitter sound resonating throughout the empty throne room. “You would like that, wouldn’t you, Mirana? To have me come to you, ending the biggest threat to your reign. You should know by now, we are not going to give up without a fight,” he said, taking a step menacingly towards her.

She snarled slightly, revealing her yellowed teeth. “Hightopp, your mutinous ways are admirable. But never forget,” she said, stepping off her throne to stand in front of him, “I am your queen.”

“Not for long.”

She eyed the broadsword that was slung haphazardly over his shoulder. “Are you going to try to assassinate me again, Hightopp? You should know by now, you cannot surprise me. I have the Oraculum. I know what you are going to do before you do it.”

“Unless it’s been replaced with a fake,” he said, pulling the sword from its sheath. He grinned wickedly at the panic on her face.

At this, Mirana took a step back. “But Absolem--”

“You should never trust any crawling creature, especially a grub such as Absolem,” he chided with a wicked grin. “All we had to do was promise him a position of power when the revolution was finished and he was quite willing to help our cause.”

Her eyes shot around the room, looking for her guards that were nowhere to be found. “Where is he now?” she demanded.

He sighed dramatically as he ran his hand over the back of her throne. “I’m afraid after he has finished his duty to the Cause, the rebellion had no use for him. But, Mally was in desperate need of a meal,” he answered as he raised his sword.

She closed her eyes as the truth of the situation weighed on her. After so long, Hightopp had finally out-maneuvered her. She allowed no scream to pass through her lips as the fatal blow came crashing towards her. She would not give him the pleasure of hearing that sound.

Her body thumped to the ground, the blood soaking her black dress. “You will be stopped,” she managed to whisper.

“By whom?” he sneered.

“She will come. She will stop you.”

“I am afraid, once again, you are wrong, Mirana.  No one will be able to stop me now.” He looked down and saw her lifeless eyes staring back at him.

Finally
, he thought as he looked down at his now-helpless victim.

Hightopp laughed almost manically as he cleaned off the bloodied blade with his oft-used handkerchief. Just one more stain to add to the collection, he thought as he watched the blood soak through the thin fabric. One more life sacrificed to the Cause.

It was her fault, really. If she hadn’t used them for her purposes, then none of this would have happened. Her lust for knowledge had led to her untimely death.

He looked down, watching as the blood pooled around her midnight black hair, staining the marble floor. With a sneer, he stepped over the puddle and walked out of the room.

One queen down, one more to go, he thought as the laughter bubbled up in his throat again.
********************


Next chapter

 

Title: Once and Always Champion
Author name: [livejournal.com profile] yappichick 
Artist name: [livejournal.com profile] creepylicious 
Beta name: [livejournal.com profile] manniness 
Word Count: 25,865
Fandom: Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Rating: K+/PG
Main Characters and/or pairings: Alice/ Tarrant, and the rest of the gang is there too. :D
Genre: Adventure/ Romance, AU
Summary: When Alice returns to Underland through the Looking Glass, she realizes how tricky a fellow Time can be.
Warnings: Zip.
Disclaimers: Not mine. Never will be.
Author's Notes: THANK YOU to [livejournal.com profile] creepylicious  for the awesome artwork and fanmix!  A big huge thank you to my Scottish guru [livejournal.com profile] azure_horizon who answered countless questions with the utmost patience. Without her, Tarrant would be speaking like a surfer dude. Seriously.  An enormous, extra huge thank you (and a future package of cinnamon rolls, LOL) goes to [livejournal.com profile] manniness  who has been my cheerleader, beta, and English to Outlandish translator. Without her, the ending would have been rubbish. You, as always, Dude, totally rock!

There are some Outlandish words created by the amazingly talented [livejournal.com profile] manniness  that can be found here

 Part 1  I  Part 2  I  Part 3  I  Part 4  I  Part 5  I  Part 6  I  Part 7  I Art Master Post

Fanmix Time! )

Category: Angst, Romance
Pairing: Alice/Tarrant
Rating: T
Summary: He didn’t understand it. It was almost as though Alice didn’t want to see him.
Author’s notes: Curse these blasted plot bunnies! Don’t they know I’ve got a Big Bang story to try to figure out! *tries not to panic* As always, reviews are tastier than candy (and much less caloric!).

Down the Rabbit Hole... )


Category: Romance
Rating: T
Summary: Tarrant teaches Alice something everyone should know how to do: Throw a hat
Author’s Notes: I really, really wanted to write a prequel for “Raindrops”, basing it off the line about Tarrant teaching Alice how to throw a hat. But, my Muse had other plans for me. So, while it’s not a prequel, it’s completely inspired by that line. :D

The hat landed on the ground with a dissatisfied plop. )
Category: Romance (No, seriously...full-on, not UST or friendship, romance)
Rating: T+ (again, seriously)
Pairing: Alice/Tarrant
Summary: Tarrant never liked the rain.  Alice, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the rain immensely.
Author’s notes: Takes place in some kind of AU where Alice has returned. Because you know she’s totally going to. And reviews are awesome.

Tarrant never liked the rain... )

Summary: He waits for her Return. Again.
Author’s Notes: I’ve read some wonderfully angsty fics about how Tarrant is handling Alice’s departure at the end of the movie. This, however, is decidedly less angst-filled. As always, I’d love to know what you think.

What number is infinity? )
Written for [livejournal.com profile] 10fics_10words 
Fandom: Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Pairing: Hatter/Alice

Why is a raven like a writing desk? )
Rating: K+
Genre(s): Hurt/Comfort, Friendship
Characters: Tarrant, Alice
Summary: Maybe, he thought, she didn’t want to be reminded of her actions. Perhaps, he worried, she was frightened by what she saw in his workshop.

 

Tarrant knew there was something about standing on the balcony with Alice that made this a Memorable Moment. )

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