Disclaimer: I own nothing but me brain (and even that is oft taken up by characters having conversations).
Chapter 2: Entrances and Exits
The Main ways to get into Underland are by either Rabbit Hole or Looking-Glass (though, in some other parts of The Underland, different ways of coming and going have been reported).
Looking-Glass is the easiest way to enter Underland, but it is also the least common. Very few people have the ability to travel via Looking-Glass. Only those who are able to picture themselves on the other side of the Glass are able to go through.
Rabbit Hole is the most common way to cross into Underland. It is not the easiest, for it requires falling down for miles and miles, as well as the added inconvenience of going through the Room of Doors.
The Room of Doors is located at the bottom of the Rabbit Hole. Each door leads to a different section of Underland, provided one knows how to get through a door. Some doors open when you ask politely, others require a key or special code-word.
The wasteland was rocky; the ground covered in small, sharp stones, the landscape dotted with large, oddly-shaped rocks and boulders. A mountainside loomed over the landscape, and large caves gaped like numerous toothless mouths in its crevices. The sky - as it often was - was overcast and grey, lending even further to the creepy atmosphere in the already gloomy place. The smell of rain was in the cool air, and a hint of lightning far off hinted at a storm - a condition frequent to the area. The wind was taking great pleasure in howling through the rocks, making ghostly whistling noises reverberate among the stone columns and boulders in a manner fit to unnerve even the most collected person.
Set on the edge of a vast desert in the remotest area of the Outlands, this area was not often visited by anyone, for most people - sane or insane - avoided the place. It was more often frequented by Jabberwocky, Snark, Jubjub bird, Bandersnatch, and the like; fearsome, frumious creatures.
Two figures - one extremely tall and thin, the other possessing an unusually large head - stood by the aperture of a cave. Smoke billowed out from the darkness of the cavern, and a guttural voice issued from within, hissing, "You… I know who you are." Two spots of emerald shone in the darkness. "What do you want?"
"I have come concerning a matter of pressing issue, which deals with the Oath that was sworn years ago to Jabberwock until the event of his death at the hands of-"
"State your purpose clearly, Iracebeth, Daughter of Crims, for I have not the Time or Patience to deal with dithering Humans and their tedious formalities," hissed the voice.
"I have come," the former Red Queen took a deep breath to disguise any nervousness, "to renew the Oath that was sworn to Jabberwock."
There was silence from within the cave for a moment before the voice hissed coldly, "Why should I agree to this renewal? You failed to uphold the terms of the bargain that you made the first time with my Father, while - on his part - he upheld every term made to you."
"That may be so, but it was not on my part that the Oath was not kept. You ought to know from Jabber's memories that we had not the means to destroy the Sword, so until a means was found I had taken every precaution to keep it safe-"
"Until The Insignificant Bearer stole it," hissed the Jabberwocky coldly.
"True… We had not anticipated that," Iracebeth said.
The Jabberwock was thoughtfully silent for a few minutes before suddenly saying, "I believe… I shall take you up on the Offer, but we do so on my terms this time."
"Name them," Iracebeth said tersely.
"First, you must destroy the Vorpal Sword completely. Afterward bring me the Bearer. The 'Insignificant Bearer' is not so Insignificant after all. Other Bearers never before succeeded in slaying Father, and he must be avenged according to the rules of my Clan. As soon as that is done, I shall see to it that you regain your Throne and Power."
"That sounds fair."
"Have we an accord?"
"Stretch out your arm."
The Jabberwock suddenly snaked out its neck, fast as lightning and sank its teeth into Iracebeth's wrist. She gasped in pain and shuddered as Jabber languidly ran its tongue across the marks, cleaning them of blood, and licked its teeth.
"There. A Blood Oath. It is Official and Binding. Should either of us fail to uphold the terms, Certain Death shall await," hissed the Jabberwock. "Leave now."
And they did.
Once they were a considerable distance away, Iracebeth stopped and leaned against a boulder before sliding to the ground.
"I feel sullied and unusual," she declared faintly, examining the marks on her arm.
Stayne, who had remained remarkably silent throughout the exchange between Iracebeth and the Jabberwocky, was unable to keep silent any longer. "You would swear a blood oath to that… thing?" he hissed. "Have you gone stark mad?"
In reply, Iracebeth silently grabbed his wrist and slid the glove off his hand and the sleeve up his arm, lightly tracing her fingers over a raised scar revealed on the exposed skin. She looked up at him with an enigmatic half-smile. "It isn't so very different from this," she whispered. "Remember that Vow? …Nor that," indicating the scar on his face. "You hadn't the decency to honor them- not even the heart to feel dishonor over breaking them. So you see. Oaths, Vows… formal or informal, are easily broken and can mean nothing," she said, voice and face becoming hard.
"…Are you forgetting the 'Certain Death' part of the Oath?"
She looked down, plucked at the chain that still bound them, and did not respond. That was a subject she would rather not think of at present.
The sound of rustling parchment filled the room, which was lit only by moonlight and a few lamps, as a pair of pale hands - fingernails tipped with a black cherry shade - elegantly unfurled the Oraculum. They smoothed it out from side to side until the document was revealed in its entirety, and it covered the length of the long marble table. As the Calendrical Compendium was unrolled, black and white illustrations began to appear and spread across the blank parchment, depicting each and every day that had or was to occur in the History of Underland.
The hands skimmed gently across the images, lingering on some and skimming past others- from the illustrations depicting The Alice as a child: staring curiously up at Absolem who was sitting atop a giant mushroom; at the Hatter's tea party; standing as witness during the now-legendary Trial of Tarts; jumping down through the looking glass; being Crowned Queen… to illustrations of the most recent Dark Part of Underlandian history: a Maypole surrounded by dancing people wearing top hats with a Jabberwocky hovering in the distance; an imperious looking woman with a rather large head sitting on the throne with a crown entirely too small for her perched on her heart-shaped hairstyle… Then on to Griblig day with The Alice, a young woman now, studying the Oraculum; Alice fleeing the Bandersnatch; Alice in armor battling the fearsome Jabberwocky; Alice standing alongside the beast's severed head holding her sword triumphantly… And more recent Underlandian events: the White Queen on her throne; people and animals restoring Underland…
The hand skimmed over the next images, skipping ahead to the present day and onward to the future, where – oddly - the images had stopped appearing past the illustration depicting the present day, leaving the Oraculum blank.
The lines depicting the picture of the present day began to blur, to bleed over to the blank part of the Oraculum like tea seeping slowly across a tablecloth, spreading a black stain over the future.
This was unusual; an anomaly. Such a thing had never happened but twice - the first time The Alice had fallen down the rabbit hole as a child, and before The Horunvendush day.
A few days after her arrival at her home, the Ascots - old friends of the family that they were - arranged a small welcome-home garden party for Alice with just a few close friends, as well as others from the company. Though Alice disliked garden parties as a rule (for they were generally full of dull, dreary people and superficial conversation and the same repeated dances), she could not very well refuse this offer.
The lawn of the enormous Ascot Estate was buzzing with people. Some sat conversing at tables set about the garden in proximity to the brightly colored flowers, others were playing croquet on the lawn, and still others were dancing.
After speaking with Lord Ascot - the host of the party - and returning greetings, answering questions, and promising to make a full report of all that had happened abroad later, Alice was free to walk about and enjoy herself. She wandered around the garden, greeting people and sampling the food. After a while of watching her brother-in-law and sister to make sure he wasn't wandering off again (she still had a slight distrust of him), she had just begun to consider taking a turn on the dance floor when she was accosted by the Chattaway sisters, Faith and Fiona, who felt that it was their duty and honor to confer to her all the gossip she had missed during four years abroad… albeit in a condensed version.
During the next half hour or so, the sisters more than lived up to their name by chatting away and educating Alice on all the latest hearsay. They informed her that they had both gotten married to brothers (very mild and patient men they must be, Alice thought, to bear such chatty wives) and that Hamish had also gotten married recently, to a 'very sweet girl' (it seemed that she and the sisters had become friends). After expounding on the details of both the weddings, they went on to tell about other trivialities that had happened to some other people of their mutual acquaintance. No matter what tactics Alice tried to extract herself from the situation, she was unable to leave (for the Chattaways were obstinate and would not hear of her missing a single detail!) and had to stay until the end of their disclosure. When they seemed to be talked out, Alice was finally able to leave and make her way toward the dance floor. However, she was stopped - once again - by somebody, only this time it was her nephew, little Charles.
"Charles! What are you doing here?" asked Alice, perplexed. Children were usually never permitted at adult gatherings.
"I came with Mother and Father. Toby and I were invited- there are other children here," Charles said. "They are playing croquet in the garden."
"Ah, I see," Alice remarked. "Then why are you not in the garden?"
"I was on my way there when I saw you. Where are you going?"
"I am going to dance."
"Oh," Charles quickly made a face that plainly indicated that he was not thrilled with the idea, then asked politely, "Shall I escort you?"
"If you like, yes," Alice said, amused, extending her arm. Charles took it politely, and off they went, attracting many stares from people they passed.
"They talk much about you, don't they, Aunt Alice?" Charles asked confidingly.
"Yes, dear, they do talk quite a great deal."
"Why do you not tell them to quiet?"
"Because it would be terribly rude, you know that," Alice admonished.
"But it would be awfully satisfying, right?" Charles whispered, smiling impishly.
Alice thought it better to not answer that question bluntly, for fear of setting a bad example. Besides, by that time they had reached the dance area.
"I do believe that we have reached our destination. Thank you very much for escorting me, Mr. Manchester," Alice said with civility.
"It was an honor, Miss Kingsleigh," replied Charles, barely keeping a straight face. He bowed slightly, and then scampered off toward the garden.
Alice then turned her attention toward the dance.
Underland had flourished again under the gentle Rule of the White Queen. Order in the Courts of the Red and White Castles had been established, the citizens of Underland were no longer oppressed, and – as a result – began to rebuild. The land grew bright and lush again, the temperate climate reflecting the peaceful emotions of its Ruler and Citizens. One who viewed the land now could certainly see why the young Alice had called the magnificent place 'Wonderland', for a Wonderland it was indeed.
This particular day, Frabulous day, was a day for festivating and rejoicifying, for it was the anniversary of Frabjous day. The entire population had devoted the day to joyful partying and merrymaking with the natural Underlandian sense of abandon.
In the Palace of Marmoreal, a bustling crowd was gathered in the Courtyard, dancing, singing, talking, and generally causing a hullabaloo. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, excepting the White Queen, who had arrived late (highly unusual) and seemed preoccupied with some Thought – for she sometimes did not answer when a question or statement was addressed.
The Hatter, who was always the life of the party, also seemed to be a tiny bit brooding that day; when urged to perform the Futterwacken, his attempt could have been called – at best – half-hearted, and his entire demeanor recalled his despondency during the reign of Bluddy Behg Hid. His attitude was unfathomable to most, except for a few friends (who suspected that his dejection had something to do with the absence of a certain person whose name started with an 'A' and ended with 'lice'. He was the same every year when the Frabjous day anniversary came round, as it was for she that the celebration was in honor of). So, Chessur did not attempt to steal his hat on that day, and even the Bandersnatch came and sat beside him, seeming to commiserate.
The only person who showed no mercy was Mallymkun, the dormouse. "Oi, Hatta, you have to stop this!" Mallymkun complained. "I know yer upset about her, but she'll come back. She said as much, didn't she? An' I don't think she'd be wantin' you to be mopin' about when there's a party. It's a celebration. Celebrate!"
"No, Mally. I couldn't possibly celebrate Today. Tomorrow- perhaps. The next day- certainly. But not Today."
The sun was setting and shadows were beginning to spread across the lawn as the guests left the Ascot estate. The evening had been a success, as far as parties go. The guests had seemed pleased with the affair, and most everybody had had a good time.
The Manchesters - who were waiting for the nurse to arrive with the children - and the Kingsleighs were just exchanging farewells in preparation to leave when said nurse came rushing up in a state of dishevelment, appearing very distressed and perplexed. And, indeed, it seemed as though she were about to cry.
"Nurse Ellen? Why, whatever is the matter?" Margaret asked.
"Oh, goodness, oh, dear," the woman moaned. She wrung her hands in distress, before blurting, "They're gone!"
"What? The boys?" cried Margaret.
Nurse Ellen nodded mutely.
"Were you not watching them?" Lowell snapped.
"Aye, I was, sir. I assure you I was! But… earlier they were going to play hide-and-go-seek- I didn't like the idea myself, since they could have got lost and I told them not to go far! Well, when the game was over all the other children came back except for them; I searched and called all over the garden, but they never did answer!" and the poor woman fell to weeping.
As soon as the Ascots had been informed of the situation, they graciously and sympathetically invited the Manchesters to stay at their manor for the night, since it contained many spare rooms, in the hopes that the children would show up sometime soon; for boys would be boys, and - silly creatures - they had probably fallen asleep under a tree or some other such thing and would show up at any moment. The Manchesters accepted gratefully, but it was quickly concluded that it would be best for Margaret to return home with Alice and her mother. She was almost hysterical with worry, and seemed to need their support.
Alice felt very sorry for her sister, but she had a suspicion that the boys were not to be found anywhere in the gardens or the woods or – indeed - anywhere aboveground, and she determined to try to confirm her suspicions.
Late that night, as soon as she thought that everyone in the Kingsleigh household had retired for bed, she rose from her own realm of soft blankets, lit the night-lamp, and wrote a note - which she placed on her bedside table- just in case. She quietly packed a few items into a small carpet bag (for no other reason than to feel prepared), and then stood in front of her mirror, fully clothed in a plain, everyday dress. She was uncertain if they would know anything, but contacting- and perhaps returning to, for a brief time- her friends in Underland would put her mind at ease.
She took a shaky breath and began, "Absolem, come-" when she was interrupted by a quiet knock at the door. "Drat," she muttered, then more loudly called, "Come in."
Margaret stole into the room quietly, looking tired and as though she had been crying for some time. "I saw the light; I thought you might be awake," she whispered, sitting on the edge of Alice's bed. "I couldn't sleep and- why, Alice, what are you doing? You're dressed; going somewhere at this time of night?" she asked, bemused.
"No- Well… Something of the sort," Alice hedged, slightly irritated that her sister had interrupted her. Then again, she considered that what she had been about to do concerned her sister; she couldn't very well leave her out of it. Why shouldn't she tell Margaret? …Because Margaret would think her mad. And how was that any different from normal? …Well, not much of a change at all, really.
And so she was decided.
"Margaret," Alice began slowly. "If… If I had a suspicion of where Charles and Toby were, would you believe me?"
"Do you know where they are?" Margaret sprang up and grabbed Alice by the shoulders. "Do you? Why did you not say anything before?"
"Would you believe me?" Alice asked.
"No matter how… odd… or impossible or… mad it sounds?"
Margaret let go of her sister and backed away a few steps, a bemused expression flitting across her countenance. "What do you mean?"
"What I mean is…" Alice sighed and lowered her voice. "Do you remember the stories I used to tell when I was a child? Of Wonderland?"
"Your dreams? Yes, of course I remember them," Margaret replied. "It was to me you first told them, I remember - the smiling cat, the hatter who was mad, the queen of hearts, and the caterpillar with a hookah- but what of it?"
"They… they weren't just stories or dreams," Alice whispered.
"What- of course they were! They were so ridiculous they could not possibly have been anything else," Margaret scoffed.
"But they were real," Alice insisted. "I've been there- thrice. Twice as a child and again - you remember the failed engagement party when I fell down a hole and said I had hit my head? - then."
Margaret regarded her sister skeptically for a moment, before tears sprang to her eyes and she exclaimed, "Oh! Alice, you must be playing a joke! And a cruel one, at that!"
"Margaret, dear, I'm not! Oh- how can I possibly make you understand… No, you won't believe me if I simply tell you," Alice said helplessly, mind racing. "Then I suppose- I must show you. Sit down, sit, there on the bed, if you would. Please, Margaret." Reluctantly, Margaret sat.
Alice stood once more in front of the mirror and called, "Absolem, I need you! Come to my aid!" Please, she added in her thoughts.
A few moments later, Alice's reflection in the mirror rippled ever-so-slightly and a bright blue butterfly popped out of the mirror and hovered in front of her face.
"What do you want, stupid girl?" Absolem snapped, seeming even more out of sorts than usual. "It's late, even by Underland standards."
"I apologize for the inconvenience."
"You had better have good reason for waking me."
"Absolem, allow me the honor of introducing you to my sister, Margaret," Alice said, turning to her sister, who was staring with wide eyes at the spectacle. "Margaret, this is Absolem, Messenger and Keeper of the Oraculum of Underland."
Absolem fluttered over to Margaret. "Ah. The sister of our Champion. Charmed."
"Pleasure to meet you," Margaret said awkwardly.
Absolem flitted back to Alice and perched on her shoulder. "So. Did you merely Call me here for the purpose of meeting your sister, or was there another reason?" he asked dryly.
"My sister's children are missing, and I think they may have fallen down the rabbit hole. Is there any way that you would possibly know if they are there?"
Absolem made a noise that, for all the world sounded like a 'hmm'. "I wouldn't know that, however… The Cheshire Cat might know; he prowls the Tulgey Woods at night," he mused. "Perhaps the Queen would know… or the Bloodhound…"
"Could you ask them? Please?" Margaret piped up, looking pleadingly at the Butterfly.
Absolem darted a glance from Margaret to Alice. "I shall see," he harrumphed. "Excuse me for a moment." He flew away back into the mirror.
There was silence in the room.
"Alice," Margaret said slowly. "Was there just a talking butterfly in the room, or was I dreaming it?"
"No, Margaret. You were not dreaming," Alice said, smiling slightly.
"I thought not," said Margaret faintly.
A few minutes later, the blue Butterfly returned, with the statement, "The Queen requests an audience with you- both of you - as soon as can possibly be arranged."
Margaret noticed that Alice looked positively happy at hearing that she was to return to Underland. She must truly like the place, she thought, and then wondered why, for Alice's childhood dreams of Wonderland had often been considered nightmares.
Alice grabbed her carpetbag and seemed ready to go at that instant. "Perfect! I believe we can leave now- right Margaret?"
Margaret looked stricken at the idea. "Oh no, no! I-I'm not even properly dressed; just- wait a moment," She raced out of the room and returned a few minutes later, fully dressed.
"Ready?" Alice asked.
"Wait- will this take very long?"
"I'm not sure," replied Alice, hesitantly. "Time runs differently in Underland- last time, I was there for days and days, but only minutes had passed here when I returned."
"Then… it won't take long at all. At least… not here," Seeming slightly comforted by this, Margaret said, "Very well, then. I'm ready," and stepped up onto the table and through the mirror.
After watching her sister disappear through the mirror, Alice paused for a moment to glance back at her room. "Fairfarren, room," she whispered, before following her sister through the looking-glass.