Chapter 25

Once out of the dungeon, Jack led them through a back passage out of the palace. Dodo then took the lead, across the broken path to the old library entrance.

"Around this way," Dodo whispered to Jack, the three of them cloaked. He led them to a back alley one block over.

He pulled out a loose brick from the wall, revealing a small key. He replaced the brick, then walking one more block down the dark alleyway. Finally, he came to a small half-door. He leaned down and turned the key, opening the door and pulling out the key.

"Quickly," he said, ducking through the tiny door. Jack then Hatter followed behind, closing the door behind them.

"Where are we going, Dodo?" Jack asked, squinting his eyes, trying to adjust to the dim light in the damp tunnel.

"This passage way leads to the bowels of the hospital in one direction, to the library in another. This way," he motioned.

They walked along the dank passageway, winding down into the depths of the city, for more than an hour before reaching a small body of water.

"Now what?" Jack asked, trying to catch his breath. He was obviously still not fully recovered from the side-effects of the toxic teas.

Dodo began removing his shoes. "The passage has flooded. We have to keep going."

The trio waded into the waist-high water, the murky color creating an added chilling effect to the cold.

"Wha- what was that, exactly?" Hatter whispered urgently, noticing a sleek, dark creature in the depths of the water.

"You don't want to know," Jack replied, teeth chattering. "Just keep moving."

Hatter swallowed down his disgust as he felt the creature brush up against him, just hoping it wasn't hungry.

Finally, they reached their destination, and made it to dry ground.

"This is it, Caterpillar's cavern. This is where he spent his time during the Queen's reign. I was brought here before, but blindfolded. The passageway wasn't flooded then," Jack said.

"Will he be here?" Hatter asked.

Dodo shrugged. "At this point, we can only assume the Queen has retaken control, driving Caterpillar back underground."

"Only a temporary arrangement, friends," Caterpillar said, appearing behind them on a small raft. "It's rather wet down here now, isn't it?"

"Caterpillar, we need reinforcements. We must retake the palace, we have to…" Jack started, before Caterpillar cut him off.

"The Queen's house of cards is very unstable at this time. It only takes the removal of one Card for it to crumble. I assume you know which card?" Caterpillar said, rowing slowly to shore.

"Nine of Clubs," Hatter said.

"Have you discovered his significance?" Caterpillar asked.

"He is a cousin of the Duchess, my mother spared him," Jack answered, knowing the reasoning rang hollow.

"Thomas Baker is, in fact, a hybrid, but not of the Diamond cast. Thomas Baker is a royal, of the Hearts line," Caterpillar said.

The three men stood staring at Caterpillar, absorbing his words.

Jack was the first to speak, "My father…?"

Caterpillar shook his head. "Would your mother have spared him if so?"

Jack closed his eyes. "My mother then. With an oyster?"

Caterpillar nodded. "A very important oyster. The most important oyster."

Hatter was the first to make the realization. "Carpenter."

Dodo continued, "Then that makes Nine the brother of…"

"My brother. Alice's brother," Jack said, shocked.

"Your elder brother. And the first born son of the Queen," Caterpillar clarified.

"But not legitimate to the throne. An oyster could never be the heir, even one who's simply a hybrid," Jack pointed out.

Dodo shook his head. "He could be, if there was no other heir."

"I am the last of the royal line," Jack nodded.

"That's why it was important to protect the monarchy, while removing both you and your mother from the picture," Hatter reasoned.

"And why a resurgence of the monarchy over the Resistance is necessary," Dodo continued.

"And why the Resistance is under attack as we speak. Once the dust settles, there will be only one leader of Wonderland, Thomas Baker, raised as the son of the Queen's loyal cousin and an oyster surrogate mother. A child abandoned by his real mother, who feigned loyalty only to betray her and his country in search for the power he believed is rightfully his," Caterpillar finished.

"How do we stop him? How do we save Wonderland?"

"Again, the answer lies with your oyster, Hatter," Caterpillar said. "One piece of the puzzle is missing for Thomas Baker."

Jack nodded. "His paternity."

"He doesn't understand the blood bond. He doesn't know the effects it will have." Dodo pondered.

"What effects? I don't understand," Hatter asked.

"Alice. She has the ability to send him back through the Looking Glass, for good," Dodo explained.

"Okay, then let's do it, let's go," Hatter nodded.

"There's only problem, Hatter. If she sends him through, she traps herself on one side of the Looking Glass, and won't be able to travel again," Jack sighed.

"I don't understand."

"It's her oyster DNA that gives us the ability to block passage. We can use it to program the Looking Glass to reject passage of any oyster bearing her specific code," Jack continued.

Hatter blinked. "Why can't we just kill him?"

Jack faltered. "I - I can't, he's my brother."

"So? You didn't know that until two minutes ago. He poisoned both of us, framed your future wife for murder, and will kill us if he finds us first. So will that beast of a mother of yours," Hatter complained.

Dodo weighed in. "Majesty, I realize the moral implications of this, but we should consider Hatter's proposal."

"Caterpillar?" Jack asked, hopefully.

"I am opposed to any acts of violence, even against a malevolent illegitimate royal."

"Well, I'm not," Hatter said, flatly. "I'm done with this. Crazy royals, manipulative games. I won't sacrifice being with Alice or exile one of us to save the Queen's bastard son from the fate he earned."

"Hatter, I hate to admit it, but for once I agree. The Club either surrenders and agrees to a life in exile, or we execute him. Same goes for the Queen," Dodo said gravely.

Jack sighed. "I don't know if, when the time comes, I can do it."

Hatter nodded. "Then I will."