AN: Wow, twenty chapters. I honestly didn't think I would get this far. By now, I thought I would've either finished this story, or completely abandoned it, but surprisingly, I was wrong about both. Of course, I doubt I would've gotten this far without the endless amount of support I get from my readers and reviewers. Last chapter I got tons of reviews from my anonymous/non-registered readers and it totally made my day! I love hearing from you guys!
At this point, I'm not entirely sure how many more chapters we have to go before we reach the end, but I don't think we'll hit thirty. I usually play each chapter, more or less, by ear.
Disclaimer: I don't own Rise of the Guardians or Alice: Madness Returns.
With your feet on the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah
Your head will collapse
But there's nothing in it
And you'll ask yourself
Where is my mind?
Where Is My Mind ~ Yoav feat. Emily Browning
Just like Jack originally assumed would be the case, Wonderland wasn't made up of only forest.
Alice had once mentioned that her Wonderland was broken up into several different sections. Sections that included domains run by some of Wonderland's more notable inhabitants, namely characters from the Alice in Wonderland books, such as the infamous Hatter's domain.
Despite his better judgement, and Baby Tooth's constant disapproving chirps, Jack agreed to follow the Cheshire Cat through Wonderland. It might've been the worst possible decision for him to make according to what he knew about the books, but it sure beat the hell out of sitting around and waiting for Alice to show up and rip his heart out of his chest. The unpleasant thought was more than enough to prompt Jack into jumping ship with the extremely disturbing Cheshire Cat, even though the elusive feline has yet to inform him on where they were going and why.
True to his book and movie persona, the Cheshire Cat never remained visible for very long and there never seemed to be any limit on the number of snarky comments that the cat had at his disposal.
"I really hope you're not leading me into another kitchen," Jack called out to seemingly to no one as he continued his flightless trek through the colorful forest. "Which makes total sense by the way; having a fully functional sliver of kitchen placed randomly in the middle of a forest. I mean, I would understand if it was an entire house, but it's just a kitchen. What does that thing do when it isn't trying to boil alive poor creatures in a giant crock pot?"
"The Duchess' reasoning behind the placement of her kitchen is just as lost on me as it is on you, Frost," Cheshire remarked dryly from the high tree tops above Jack. The grey cat walked leisurely along the sturdy branches with trademark cat-like balance as he occasionally jumped from one tree to another. "She did have a house at one point, as ill-claimed as it might've been, but it burned down soon after the Red Queen's reign ended. Silly Alice left the oven on."
"Yeah, I'm still not entirely convinced that thing was a she."
"Neither is anyone else in Wonderland," Cheshire drawled with a tightening grin as he peered down at Jack from his tree branch. "Regardless though, next time I warn you against the assaulting smell of pepper, I suggest you take it seriously. I don't talk just to hear myself speak, you know."
"Could've fooled me," Jack murmured under his breath before increasing his tone again. "And I wouldn't have called that a warning. A warning would be like "Hey Jack, don't take the path on the left, it leads to your death!" or maybe "Look out Jack, a pig-faced ogre lives in that kitchen. Don't go in there or you're totally screwed!". Those are warnings. Your whole "There's a distinct whiff of pepper on the wind" comment was not a warning. It was another one of your cryptic phrases, which by the way - and I hate to continue beating a dead horse- I don't have time for."
"Oh but it was so much fun to watch the Duchess try to stuff you into her soup pot like a frozen carrot," Cheshire sighed wistfully at the memory.
"Wasn't fun for me."
"But it most certainly was for me," Cheshire purred. "I thought the whole point of your existence was to have fun, and make fun. That is your center, is it not?"
Jack stared up at the cat incredulously. "How did you-"
"As Alice's second in command and most trusted ally, I possess certain...abilities. Abilities that the others lack."
Jack couldn't see the grinning cat's face from his position all the way up in the trees, but he picked up on the slight hitch in his tone that told Jack that the feline's smile curled higher. "Oh really?"
"While our dear champion has been reacquainting herself with the outside world, and mingling with the likes of you and your bodacious bunch, I've been taking the initiative and doing a little exploring."
"Does Alice know about this ability?"
"More or less."
"Well, I'm not here to have fun," Jack remarked callously, mentally noting how ironic that statement just was. "And I'm definitely not here to make sure you have fun either."
Jack only rolled his eyes and fought back a cringe when he thought about his recent brush with death at the hands of a cannibalistic storybook character and her deadly cooking spoon.
Soon after agreeing to follow the Cheshire Cat, Jack had come across a path that smelled so strongly of pork and pepper, that it made his eyes water and his nose burn annoyingly before sneezing several times. Curious though, of the clanking kitchen sounds that emanated from further down the path, Jack decided to investigate further, despite the cryptic warning from the Cheshire Cat and the nervous chirps from Baby Tooth.
Horrible mistake as it turned out. He had barely stepped one foot on to the uneven, blue and white tiles of the out-of-place kitchen before a large, grotesque thing in a goofy hat and dress that vaguely resembled a woman, charged at him with gripping hands and hungry eyes, screaming shrilly about how the freaked out ice spirit would make a delectable treat. Jack didn't need much more incentive to flee after that, but the Duchess had been much faster than he originally gave her credit for. If it hadn't been for Baby Tooth poking the ugly woman in the eye and a rightly placed ice blast from Jack's staff, he would've been boiling in a pot of stew next to some potatoes and carrots right now.
"It is strange though," Cheshire remarked out loud, bringing Jack from his thoughts. "The Duchess hasn't tried to eat anything other than pork in quite sometime. She did try to snack on that overgrown rabbit once, but Alice reprimanded her harshly for it. One would think the obese pig-woman had learned her lesson after her failed attempt to consume Alice during the Red Queen's reign, but it only serves to show that we should never underestimate one mad individual's stupidity."
"You make it sound as if everything in Wonderland wants to kill Alice," Jack pointed out as he walked, putting his unpleasant Duchess encounter as far out of his mind as possible. "Can't imagine you doing that by accident."
"I didn't," The feline replied bluntly. "Everything in Wonderland does want to kill Alice, and the very few who don't, want to use her for their own gain."
"Why?" Jack asked curiously. "Why aren't they nicer to her? She's their queen right? She probably rules this place with an iron fist 'cause, you know, on account of her being so scary and domineering."
The Cheshire Cat let out a low grunt in response, but said nothing.
"But not just that. She's their creator, isn't she? Why don't they treat her like she's their mother? Not in the conventional way, of course, but that's basically what she is to them, right? Like Tooth and her fairies? Without Alice, none of you guys would exist."
"I'm afraid I can't speak much in regards to the fairy queen since my knowledge on her is scarce, along with that of the Sandman, but I'm confident I can answer the first half of your question, Frost," Cheshire spoke in a flat tone that really didn't match the seemingly permanent grin on his grey face. "They are not nicer to Alice simply because they are too mad to comprehend anything that doesn't immediately concern them. And they don't see Alice as a mother because she doesn't present herself as one. She doesn't see herself as one. Understand, boy?"
"I think I'm starting to..." Jack murmured, placing his staff across his shoulders and resting his arms on it. "I don't think you're mad though. You're definitely creepy and unnatural, but not crazy. Crazy people are too disorganized, especially in thought."
"I'm flattered to hear you think that, but what exactly is your point being?"
"You said the inhabitants here are too mad to care about Alice, but you're not mad, so does that mean you care for her?"
"These questions are boring me," Cheshire said with a fake yawn, promptly ignoring Jack's words. "Ask me something interesting for once."
Jack thought about it for several minutes as he walked along his grassy path until something he hadn't thought about in a while suddenly popped into his brain. It was a little on the other end of the spectrum and entirely random depending on which way one would look at it, but the Cheshire Cat didn't seem to mind their random shifts in conversational topics.
"Alice's night terror," He said suddenly.
"What about it?"
"Was it just a night terror?"
The Cheshire Cat halted in his mid-leap position and gazed at the Winter spirit below with a delighted glint in his yellow eyes. "Now there's the ticket," He purred deeply. "You can be quite clever when you want to be, can't you boy?"
"I have my moments," Jack shrugged.
"Scarcely though, I'm sure." Cheshire sniffed as he gracefully leaped to his next tree branch.
"So...? Alice's night terror?" Jack prompted impatiently, wishing that the cat would come back down to ground level. His neck was seriously starting to hurt from constantly craning upwards at the towering tree tops.
"What makes you so certain that it wasn't a simple sleep affliction?"
"Are you purposely channeling Alice, or is that something her creations just automatically do because their souls are just as black as hers?" Jack asked somewhat snidely before shaking his head. "I never really bought it when Alice said the night terror was nothing, but I barely knew her so it wasn't really my place to press the matter, especially since North and the others were willing to let it go. Something about that night just never really sat well with me. Not after seeing how it affected the Sandman. Sandy said-"
"I doubt that," The Cheshire Cat interjected rudely.
"Sandy said -in his own special way- that something weird happened to his dreamsand when he tried to use it on Alice. He was kind of vague about it though, but whether it was intentional or poor interpretation, I'm not sure. Something definitely had him on edge, that much I could tell. He didn't seem too relieved either when North and others decided to just let the matter drop."
"And I'm suppose to believe you conjured all this up by yourself?"
Jack shrugged his shoulders. "The Sandman's barely understood on a good day. If he doesn't feel like sharing what's on his mind, it's impossible to get anything useful out of him, but I'd like to think that I know a thing or two about body language and facial cues. Silently watching from the sidelines while humans interact with no way, or hope, to join them...I've had three centuries to practice."
"Oh don't start wallowing in self-pity, Frost, it makes my teeth ache," Cheshire droned dully as he made another leap. "The Sandman has a good sense to worry though. It would seem the Boogeyman has learned a new trick. Entering the dreams, or nightmares in this case, of people. Children to be more exact."
"What!?" Jack spluttered, his staff dropping from his shoulders and his wide gaze shooting upwards.
"I saw him mucking about the shadowed hallways of Father Christmas' domain the other night."
"How is that even- how in the world did he manage something like that?"
"Well I suppose he used something quite similar to Alice's old technique. It certainly shares some stunning similarities."
Jack's brow furrowed at the comment.
In Jack's short experience, the cat's comments were always spoken offhandedly and rarely ever took on a serious tone, but it didn't take him long to figure out that he should always listen closely regardless. The Cheshire Cat was more apathetic in real life than he ever was in the books or movies, dangerously so. Not once did the emaciated cat move from his relaxed perch on top of the kitchen cabinets while the Duchess was trying to dunk the struggling Winter spirit into her pot of stew. His definitions of dire and important were clearly different from Jack's definitions of dire and important.
But honestly, Alice's old technique? Now what did that mean? That sounded like it was something that should be elaborated on at least a little bit. Should he try asking? Or would the feline just avoid the question? Certainly wouldn't be the first time.
Through his endless pondering, Jack barely noticed the change in scenery until the rough feel of dirt and hard ground assaulted the bottom of his bare feet. The shift from cool grass and soil immediately made Jack jump with surprise. The ground wasn't necessarily boiling hot since there was no visible sun in the sky to bare down on it, but it was still warm enough to make the Winter Spirit wince.
"Wha-?" Jack lifted one of his feet and looked down at the rocky ground before taking in his new and sudden surroundings. "Oh hey, what happened to the forest?"
Almost like a light switch, Jack's surroundings changed from trees and giant snails, to high canyon-like walls of rock before he could even look up and realize it. Above and among the jagged tips and crevices of the rocky area, the over-sized housewares theme that decorated the Vale of Tears, took the form of giant, white crockery. Chipped and worn teapots littered the new area with white steam slowly drifting from their long spouts as they mingled with tea cups and plates and the occasional stray machine gear.
Jack vaguely took notice when he felt something shift against his abdomen, knowing immediately that it was Baby Tooth finally venturing out of her hiding spot to take in their new surroundings. Ever since the Cheshire Cat joined their little party, the fairy stuck as close to Jack as possible, just in case the skeletal cat decided it had a hankering for hummingbird.
She swiftly hovered up to Jack's shoulder and lowered herself down on the narrow sliver of skin between the ice spirit's neck and hoodie collar. He heard her chirp nervously when they passed by a cluster of rectangular cages, obviously still not a fan of confinement after the whole "Pitch-kidnapping-all-my-sisters" thing. As a show of comfort, Jack reached up and gently patted the tiny fairy's head while his eyes continued to trail over their surroundings. He took note of the black banners with a strange red symbol on the front that hung from the cages. It was an astronomical symbol, Jack gathered that much, but which one, specifically, eluded him. Between the banners, the mysterious key, Alice's necklace, and the symbols on her apron pockets, the dark-haired girl obviously had some sort of fancy for them.
The air around them had an overwhelming scent of tea, several different types all in one big cluster, strong enough to give Jack a headache if he lingered too long. He continued moving forward, despite the change in scenery and the disappearance of the Cheshire Cat. He would show up again eventually. The creepy feline seemed to have a sixth sense for whenever Jack hit a dead end and was in dire need of a new direction.
"Get more creative, stupid boy. Show me some of that Jack Frost ingenuity."
Condescension at its very best.
He kept walking through the canyon, ignoring the stinging pebbles that bit into the bottom of his feet and the hollow silence around him. As he walked, the sky steadily grew darker until Jack found himself travelling underneath a starry sky, beautiful with its deep colors that made it somehow feel closer to the ground than it did in the real world. No doubt surrounding the giant, floating plateau in a star-filled sphere with a bottomless drop into a dark, cloudy abyss should Jack find himself walking off the edge.
His path soon came to an end when he reached a large, gear-shaped platform that jutted out over the side of a cliff. With a quick glance around, Jack moved forward and stepped on to the platform. The hard material was significantly cooler than the dirt ground he was just walking on and he couldn't suppress a soft sigh for the mild reprieve.
He walked to the end of the platform and stared out through the cloudy, night-time sky at the floating structure in the far distance. After a few moments of squinting and staring, Jack slowly started to make out the large structure, despite the darkened sky and the looming clouds that lightly surrounded it. From what he could tell, it was some sort of colossal fortress with a high stone wall circling it and the inner workings of giant gears and towers, like a deformed clock. Much like the Vale of Tears, there were smaller clusters of land hovering nearby the main piece, along with more gears that slowly orbited the fortress like planets around the sun. Long pendulums hung from the bottom and ticked back and forth ever so slightly while the structure gave off a raspberry-colored glow from the scarce windows. Even from where Jack stood, all the way in the distance, he could hear a faint chorus of clocks, all ticking in tandem.
"Oh gee, I wonder who lives in there," Jack muttered sarcastically to himself as he looked around the platform again and spotted another one, albeit much smaller, attached to the side with some sort of foghorn perched on top of it.
Jack jogging over to the smaller platform and quickly climbed the steps until coming to a stop in front of the teapot-shaped foghorn.
"Hmm," He hummed softly in thought as he examined the oddly shaped horn. "Think we should give it a try, Baby Tooth?"
The little fairy on his shoulder chirped once before scooting further into Jack's hoodie. No, she did not think they should try it. They should be focusing on getting back home, but she just knew her excitable friend was going to do it anyways.
With as much air as he could take in all at once, Jack inhaled deeply until he couldn't anymore before exhaling directly into the opening of the foghorn, causing a loud, bellowing sound to spill out the teapot's long spout and echo throughout the wide, expansive sky. The entire platform seemed to shake from the sheer force of the blow and it continued to echo even several moments after Jack stopped blowing into the horn.
As Jack stood waiting on the large gear-shaped platform after blowing into the foghorn for something interesting to happen, the Cheshire Cat appeared out of nowhere long enough to inform the Winter spirit that the Mad Hatter's teapot cable car was currently out of commission. He remarked with a teasing glint in his eye that "silly Alice" had been responsible for the cable car's unfortunate breakage and that neither Alice, nor Hatter, have gotten around to repairing it yet. Jack grunted contemptuously as he turned away from the foghorn and looked at the small speaker box set up next to it.
Although the road to the Hatter's domain was nonnegotiable through the cable car, there had been a fully functional intercom system installed right next to the foghorn for when Alice needed an audience with the domain's owner, but when Jack tried to use it, all he got was static for several moments before a grating voice spilled out of the speaker and started yelling obscenities at him, making the spirit flinch and step back.
"Get your boney finger off the button and leave my domain, you heathering, white-haired cockroach! Late birds receive no tea! No invitation, no entrance! Leave now!"
"Aww," Cheshire cooed mockingly from Jack's left side, appearing once again. "He likes you."
Jack gave the cat an unimpressed glare before sighing tiredly and turning away to leave the gear-shaped platform. "So I suppose that's an obvious no-go."
"Let's continue then, shall we?"
"Depends, are you going to tell me where we're going?"
Feeling a bit too hollow to argue, Jack only rolled his eyes and wordlessly took his leave without any more prompting.
As he disappeared from the platform and reappeared atop of a low cliff that lined along Jack's new path, Cheshire did remark mirthlessly to himself, while watching Jack turn away from the cable car platform and moving to follow him, that it did seem remarkably strange that most of the domains and sections of Wonderland appeared to have become randomly inaccessible to the Winter spirit. Upon further contemplation as they continued their way through Wonderland, Cheshire made the curious comparison between the boy, and a bodily virus.
Just like it had been when the Easter Bunny first visited Wonderland, Frost was an unknown toxin within the already disease ridden body of Wonderland; however, unlike the Easter Bunny, Frost was roaming the lands without the supervision of Alice, which could possibly prove to be very fatal for him. The inhabitants and the domains themselves, as crazy as they all were, have been put on the defensive. Their fight-or-flight responses have been triggered due to the pale boy's unintentional intrusion and Alice's leave of absence. Fortunately for Frost, it would appear most of the inhabitants have chosen to do the latter, rather than the former. Although, Cheshire didn't doubt that there were still hostile forces lurking about, just waiting for the naïve, real-world outsider to stumble across their paths.
Of course, if the boy handled himself correctly, they wouldn't be much more of a threat to him as they were to Alice. The only real threat lays with the creature that dragged Frost there in the first place.
Whether the boy would believe him or not, Cheshire initially didn't intend for Jack to be pulled into Wonderland against his will. The plan was for him to come willingly out of curiosity. To dangle a shiny, mysterious key in front of his face and watch him come running like a moth to a flame. Both Jack and Cheshire had been blindsided rather spectacularly by the Red Queen.
Cheshire still couldn't help but wonder what had tipped off the malignant bitch. He had anticipated that the former queen of Wonderland would greatly favor staying well-informed of current events even as she continued to lay dormant in her hideaway, but he couldn't quite figure out how she knew that Frost had opened a portal. Undoubtedly, the news of Alice's return to the outside world had roused the queen from her deep hibernation, but to call it a coincidence would be ridiculous.
If luck would allow it, Cheshire could only hope that the Red Queen's personal agenda coincided closely to his own in regards to the Winter spirit, or else the end game wasn't going to turn out very beneficial for anybody.
"You sound fatigued," Cheshire noted listlessly when he pulled out of his thoughts and looked down at the ice spirit. His breathing was slightly ragged and he wasn't moving as fast as he was when they were in the Vale of Tears.
"I'm fine," Jack replied with a small grunt when he gathered up a small burst of wind and hopped over a narrow ravine in the ground. It had been awhile since the last time he did so much uninterrupted walking, but nifty spirit durability made it easily bearable. The temperature around him was what really bothered him. It was mildly warm to anyone with a normal body temperature, but it was slowly becoming stifling for Jack the farther he walked.
Usually, when stuck in warmer climates, Jack used the wind to keep him cool enough to avoid becoming sluggish and sick. However, since the Wonderland wind was too demonic to utilize, the chink in his frozen armor was growing more and more bothersome.
"The heat's just not agreeing with me, is all," He reluctantly admitted.
"Fortunate for you then," The Cheshire Cat grinned. "This portal right around the corner just so happens to lead somewhere very cold. Follow me."
The grey feline jumped down from his position atop the canyon's walls and landed neatly in front of Jack. Without even turning to see if the spirit was going to follow, Cheshire broke out into a slow run with only a swift flick of his long tail to prompt Jack into picking up his pace.
Sometimes, Frost just made things far too easy for her.
"If this isn't a sign of that bumbling buffoon's presence in my land, than I would be hard pressed to find one that actually is," Alice remarked dryly as she ran her fingertips of the frost-covered bark of the tree she currently stood in front of. She pulled her hand back and slowly rubbed her fingers together until the frost trapped between them melted, her green eyes watching almost lazily. "And you say there's been no word of Cheshire's location?"
The white, medium-sized rabbit that stood silently next to Alice as she examined the large patch of frost that coated the trees and floral life around them, looked up at his queen with shifty green eyes and twitching whiskers as he nervously wrung his yellow-clawed paws together.
"Unfortunately, no," He answered obediently and regretfully, his head dipping a little. "When word reached the kingdom of an intruder, the Cheshire Cat was nowhere to be found. I checked the grounds myself, but came up with nothing."
"With Frost no doubt," Alice scoffed lightly as she lowered her hand and looked in the only direction that Frost could've headed off to. "I already thought as much. Cat obviously has something planned."
"I apologize profusely for allowing such a thing to happen, your majesty," The White Rabbit spoke sincerely, but with a slight trepidation in his voice, his eyes trained intensely on the grass underneath his clawed feet. "I s-should've been more diligent-"
"Oh stop it, Rabbit," Alice sighed in agitation while pinching the bridge of her nose. "Cheshire acted on his own, much like he always does. Nobody's at fault except for him."
Alice really wished the White Rabbit wouldn't act so skittish around her. It wasn't in-character for him and it didn't feel natural.
Since taking the throne for herself after the Dollmaker's Siege, the White Rabbit rarely called her "Alice" anymore. It was all formal titles and forced eye contact between them, always nervous and fully compliant on Rabbit's part. She understood that he was deeply condition to serve under a harsh, unforgiving ruler due to his years of servitude to the malignant Red Queen, but hadn't Alice proved several times over that she was nothing like the former queen? He had no reason to fear her, especially since he was one of her most trusted, and not mention sane, allies.
She never dwelled on it too long though. From her experience, all forms of rabbits, whether ordinary or mythical, were naturally nervous and hypersensitive to danger. Even Bunnymund shared similar qualities, and unlike the White Rabbit, he was highly trained in combat.
"Go back to the Red Kingdom," Alice commanded softly while reaching out and affectionately rubbing the tip of his matted white ear between her fingertips, hoping to remind the anxious rabbit for the hundredth time that he wasn't in any danger of losing his head just because something unexpected happened under his watch. "Make sure that everything that needs to be locked up, is locked up. I'll have to bring Frost through there eventually in order to return him back where he belongs."
"Should I prepare the dungeon?"
Alice pulled her hand away from his ear and fixed him with a sharp gaze. "Of course not, we're not neanderthals, Rabbit! The sooner I can purge Wonderland of this inconsiderate, white-haired virus, the better it'll be for everyone. Now go do what I asked."
"Yes, right away," The White Rabbit complied, turning to run off in the opposite direction, but stopping after only a few feet to look back at Alice. "You seem rather calm about this, my queen. Rather...collected."
"Well of course I am," Alice commented offhandedly as she crossed her arms and determinedly stalked off with a deep scowl on her face in the direction she knew she would find her grey and white prey.
"I'm the bloody picture of calm and collected."
"This is absolutely amazing!" Jack declared with loud conviction and laughter as he stood on top of a gigantic glacier that overlooked the new section of Wonderland he just entered. "A Winter Wonderland! I totally love it!"
Jack felt completely rejuvenated, like someone had pumped him with adrenaline. The freezing cold seeping out from the monstrous icebergs and sharp peaks around him, easily penetrated the thin fabric of his, already partway, frozen hoodie. It crawled along his lukewarm skin until his body temperature lowered back down to its correct level.
"I thought you might," The Cheshire Cat said around a loud yawn. Personally, he didn't care much for the cold, or being kept from his daily nap, but dire sacrifices needed to be made sometimes in order to help the greater good.
Just like the emaciated feline promised, he led Jack to a portal that opened up "somewhere very cold". Although, it wasn't like any portal Jack had seen.
It was glowing mushroom top that sat in solitude at the back of a dead-end in one of the crockery canyons. He was instructed to simply jump on top of it, which Jack eventually did after several moments of hesitation and skepticism. Immediately, it launched the ice spirit high into the air before rudely blinding him with a bright, white light. When it dissipated and his feet met solid ground again, Jack opened his eyes to see that he had landed at the top of a very long, very twisted, ice slide. It had been beyond fun to jump on it and slide down, even after all the times he nearly fell off. It was exactly the pick up Jack needed to put the bounce back in his step. Even Baby Tooth couldn't help cracking a gleeful smile as they slid down at a neck-breaking speed.
At the end of the fun slide was a series of ice caves and tunnels, which Jack enjoyed walking through and seeing all the strange creatures frozen into the walls and floors like a museum. When he came to the end of the caves though, he was met with the full sight of the area Cheshire cleverly called, "Tundraful".
Jack now stood at the top of one of the biggest and most magnificent glaciers he had ever seen, overlooking an endless midnight blue ocean, littered with sharp, jagged ice peaks and cliffs that all seemed to converge and curl around one large waterfall right in the middle of the frozen area. The water that flowed below, above, and along the falls was calm and only lightly rippled. In the subtly reflection of the water was a beautiful, starry sky with soft hues of green that emanated from the bright, personified crescent moon's cigarette. There were long wisps of Northern Lights flowing from the tip like cigarette smoke.
It was like a dark, almost foreboding version of Antarctica, but still managed to maintain a remarkably soothing and transcendent atmosphere that immediately made Jack fell more at ease within the unpredictable world he found himself trapped in. Solitary and cold; right up his alley.
A gorgeous, serene place straight out of a nursery rhyme.
However, it was notably plainer than the Vale of Tears and Hatter's Gate. It wasn't as packed with eye-catching features and oversized objects, or impossible designs and gravity defying structures, but it made him feel much less overwhelmed by his surroundings. And of course, the fact that it covered in ice and snow was unfathomably beautiful to someone like Jack.
"This is amazing," Jack said again with utter awe as his eyes trailed over the beautiful sight for the umpteenth time until they stopped at the top of the waterfall where a gigantic bottle lay floating atop the water, like a ship in a bottle, but broken straight down the middle and void of its ship.
As he stood in silence at the top of his peak, Jack barely took notice when a light dusting of snowflakes begun to slowly float down from the cloudless heavens. It was something he had seen, and caused, nearly everyday of his entire immortal life. He didn't think it was anything special just because it was in Wonderland, and not the outside world, but apparently, it actually was something special.
"Curious," Cheshire hummed lightly with shining eyes as he watched the white specks falling in front of his grey face..
Jack looked over at him with a cocked eyebrow, not entirely sure he wanted to know what the feline found "curious". It only seemed to mean more trouble for him. "What's curious?"
"It's snowing," Cheshire replied simply.
"Uhh, yeah," Jack muttered before shrugging his shoulders. It seemed rather obvious to him, but that was of course before he realized that it was an extremely unusual sight for it to be snowing in Wonderland. "And?"
"It has never snowed here before."
Jack looked down at the fresh layer of white fluff underneath his feet. "But-"
"There's snow on the ground, of course. I can plainly see that," Cheshire interjected somewhat tautly. "There's always snow on the ground, but it has never snowed here before."
Still not understanding the feline's meaning, even with the emphasis on his words, Jack only continued to stare blankly at his passive-aggressive companion. "And that means what exactly?"
"Think about it, Frost," Cheshire chided. "What's the first thing you do when you step into a place like this?"
"I don't know," Jack sighed, glancing around the tundra thoughtfully. "Make it snow more I guess?"
The Cheshire cat's grin curled higher, but he didn't respond, leaving a thick silence to gather before it finally clicked in the Winter spirit's head.
"Wait...I'm doing this?"
"Indeed you are, Frost," Cheshire purred, greatly amused by this new development. "I can't imagine Alice doing it. Snow tends to bring back some rather hostile memories for her, so she does what she can to avoid such things."
"But how am I making it snow? I can't just stand completely still and make it snow, at least not in the real world. Sometimes the weather gets colder depending on my moods and it starts snowing, but usually I have to use my staff or something."
"Well you are not in the real world, are you, boy?" Cheshire snapped. "You are in Wonderland and your presence is affecting things that, until now, only Alice had the power to influence, such as: the weather. I tried to explain it to you once before, but clearly, explaining it to a brick wall would've been a far better use of my time."
"Hey, don't get all pissy with me, you bag of bones," Jack threw back indignantly, causing the snowflakes around them to fall a little faster. "If you could just stop speaking in rhymes for five minutes, I could actually understand what the hell you're talking about!"
Cheshire's golden eyes narrowed, his smile never faltered, but Jack could just feel the ill emotions seeping from the cat's harsh glare. "Although Wonderland is now real and separated from Alice, the bond has never been truly severed. There is still a connection. A connection that you are unwittingly cutting into and influencing, you little disease. However, it's on a much smaller scale compared to Alice, mind you. Almost like an annoying mosquito bite; small and barely noticeable until given attention, but still there."
Silent and unsure of how to respond to the new information given, Jack only muttered out a blank "Oh" before turning his head to stare down at the dark water below in deep contemplation, his brow knotted tightly as his mind raced.
It wasn't until Jack saw something suddenly move down by the water that his train of thought broke and he spoke again.
"Whoa! What was that?" Jack wondered aloud with a curious laugh as he moved closer to the edge and crouched down to try and get a better look. "Did you see that?"
"I wouldn't get too close if I were you," Cheshire chimed in casually from his spot on the short ice cliff above Jack. "It would be quite unfortunate if you fell in. These waters' inhabitants are known to be rather territorial and hostile."
"I'm not going to go down there, stupid cat," Jack replied, the very thought of it making his stomach churn. "I just wanna see what that was."
"Suit yourself then," Cheshire sighed wistfully before disappearing.
Jack didn't spare the cat a single glance. He didn't even move to look at Baby Tooth when she tentatively ventured from his hoodie pocket and chirped for his attention, no doubt attempting to pester him to move along. He just leaned slightly over the peak's edge and meticulously searched the water for any movement.
There! He saw it again! Just above the midnight blue surface of the water, Jack spotted something black skim its way briefly into sight before disappearing again underneath the calm waves.
"What is that?" Jack whispered to himself as he leaned a little further over the edge, his curiosity effortlessly overlapping his better judgment.
Jack jumped frightfully at the sudden sound of his name, almost losing his balance. He stood up to his full height and whirled around sharply just in time to see a cloud of blue dust and butterflies drift down from one of the higher peaks above him and land several feet away. Dread immediately pooled in the pit of his stomach when the cloud begun to take shape and the butterflies swiftly depleted.
In less than ten seconds, Jack found himself being stared down by a livid looking Alice Liddell with a deadly sharp, glowing blade clutched tightly by her side.
Neither spirit spoke a word as they stared at each other with eyes that both spoke entirely different words. Alice's clover gaze was piercing and unforgiving while Jack's was wide and intimidated.
When Jack opened his mouth, Alice narrowed her eyes further and took a single step forward.
"I-I was just-" Jack stammered nervously, instinctively stepping back in response, but only to regret it instantly when he remembered a second too late that he had been standing on the very edge of a tall, icy cliff.
He let out an embarrassingly high yelp as he felt himself fall backwards and the familiar texture of solid ice disappear from beneath his feet. His world was spinning again. The pit of his stomach flexed painfully when his brain finally realized he was plummeting down towards the dreaded dark waters just below the cliff's peak.
Desperate to keep as far away from the ocean's surface as possible, Jack fought hard to twist the wind around him and manipulate it into catching him, but just like all the other times he tried, the Wonderland winds ignored his calls. Jack would've sworn he heard the faint sound of maniacal laughter echoing through his ears if he wasn't already so petrified of the rapidly approaching waters. The winds did absolutely nothing to help, not even cushion his fall.
Back at the top of the cliff, Alice peered over the edge with a blank face and crossed arms as her Vorpal blade disappeared from her hand with a wisp of blue dust. She scoffed mirthlessly as a loud splashing noise reverberated off the icy walls of the surrounding icebergs and the blue and white speck that was Jack Frost was swallowed up by the waves.
"Fool," She remarked callously before promptly turning on her heel to walk away and find somewhere to wait until Jack pulled himself from the water.
Horror-stricken by Jack's sudden plummet, Baby Tooth continued to hover near the edge and stare downwards with terrified eyes and tiny hands glued to her face. It wasn't until she heard Alice's retreating footsteps and realized the woman had no intentions of helping the fairy's friend, that she finally snapped out of it.
With renewed vigor, Baby Tooth flew determinedly up to the back of Alice's head and pulled as hard as she possibly could on the spirit's dark hair.
"Ow!" Alice immediately cried out when she felt the painful yank on the back of her scalp. "Let go!"
Baby Tooth's grip was unrelenting, even when Alice tried to swat her away like a fly. She refused to release the dark strands in her arms until she was certain that she had Alice's undivided attention.
"Now what is your problem!?" Alice demanded shrilly, turning to face the little fairy with her hands on her hips. She watched with sharp eyes as Baby Tooth buzzed over to the cliff's edge and pointed down urgently. Almost immediately, Alice scoffed again when she deciphered Baby Tooth's meaning. "Oh, and I suppose you expect me to go down there and retrieve him, don't you? Well, if he got himself into that mess, than I have faith that he can get himself out! It won't be hard. He can swim, can't he?"
At the golden question, Baby Tooth let out a woeful cry and furiously shook her head, pleading Alice with her wide, mismatched eyes.
Alice's arms dropped and she blinked confusedly at the fairy. "What? He can't swim?"
Baby Tooth shook her head again and pointed down several more times frantically, as if to say, 'Go get him! Go get him!'
Alice looked between the panicked fairy and the spot where Jack had fallen over before scowling deeply.
"Oh for Hatter's sake!" She growled as she practically stomped over to the cliff's edge. "How useless can one spirit possibly be!?"
Without a second of hesitation, Alice stepped right off the edge and allowed her body to fall down towards the dark water below, leaving a teary-eyed Baby Tooth to watch the surface fearfully for any signs of her white-haired friend.
When his body hit the dark waters, every ounce of breath was knocked from the Winter spirit's lungs. To his own ears, he made nothing more than a muffled splash when his back impacted with the glossy surface of the water and the drowning liquid sucked him into its core. In an instant it swallowed him whole and shrouded his world in a suffocating darkness.
Jack's brain stalled completely and he found himself floating weightlessly a dozen feet underneath the ocean's surface. For several, timeless moments before the traitorous organ rebooted itself, everything was eerily calm as he remained motionless and brain-dead. There was even an unexpected haze of ease that clouded his mind, coaxing him gently into a dangerous false sense of security.
Then, like a swift drop of a lead ball, the panic set in.
Instinctively, his body attempted to take back the oxygen that had been stolen from it, forcing Jack to inhale the salty water. The sudden rush of liquid in his system skyrocketed his panic and he begun to twist wildly with slow and constricted movements. His hands flailed desperately in search for the beloved staff that he just realized wasn't in his hand. When his fingertips finally grazed past it, the relief of having the aged wood in his tight grasp again was short-lived when it became terrifyingly obvious that he was sinker deeper despite his struggles.
'Come on, Jack! Don't panic!' He screamed inside his head as he fought to keep control of himself. 'Panicking is the worst thing you can do! You're immortal! You can't drown! No anymore. It's just water, the fear is all in your head. All you need to do is stay calm and find which direction the surface is and kick. It's that easy!'
It was difficult for Jack to listen to his own advice. He was much like the little, storybook Alice in that sense. He always gave himself good advice, but very seldom followed it. He was so scared, so unbelievably afraid of drowning again. It made him wish desperately to be like the real Alice; strong-willed and unmovable in the face of conflict.
Jack had a phobia for water. A phobia that, for obvious reasons, had only presented itself in recent years.
It wasn't an "in general" fear of water. Jack wasn't at that point where he would be too afraid to pour himself a glass of water, or hose himself down underneath a small waterfall after falling into a puddle of mud or something. He didn't mind water when it was on a safe, small scale. It was large bodies of water that really got to him, more specifically, bodies of waters with dark floors that made it impossible to judge how deep they ran.
By textbook definition, it was an irrational fear of water, but since Jack had already drowned once before, he was willing to argue that it was a perfectly rational fear.
If the other guardians knew about his extreme fear, they never say anything about it. In fact, a few other guardians weren't much fans for water themselves either. They didn't fear the water, but they chose to avoid it. The Sandman having the best reason to. Water made it difficult for him to hold his form. Magical Dreamsand or not, the Sandman's sand was still just that; sand. Jack hasn't had the chance to see it happen, but he could only imagine Sandy's sand taking on the same properties as wet sand on the beach.
Tooth, for somewhat of the same reasons, avoided water too. She avoided it like the black plague during battles. She puts on extra weight whenever her feathers become soaked, slowing her movements. Her main inconveniences though when it came to water, were her wings. Much like an insect's, they had a tendency to stick together when they were wet, making it difficult to fly.
Jack was terrified of water though.
He suppressed the urge to cry out in overwhelming fear as adrenaline leaked out his body and bad memories poured in, throwing him back in time. The cracking of ice ringing through his ears, the cry of his sister, unbelievably cold water, his numbing limbs, and the collapsing of his lungs as he struggled to break the surface again, only to fail when his body eventually shut down due to the killing cold and oxygen deprivation.
This time though, Jack's body wasn't so inclined to give in so easily. The only thing that was dragging him down and keeping him from escaping the water was his own inhibitions. He knew the only way to get out of his unpleasant situation was to let them go and focus. So with great difficulty, Jack willed his limbs to cease their instinctual thrashing and became motionless again. The panic was still there just below the surface, so to speak, especially since he could still feel himself sinking deeper, but he pushed it aside along with the assaulting memories that flashed relentlessly whenever he closed his eyes.
He peered into the inky blackness of the water around him and wondered bleakly if the waters of Wonderland were just as malicious as the winds, or if he was finally going to catch a break. Unlikely, yes, but it never hurt to delude oneself for a moment or two for a small bit of comfort.
Jack tightened his grip on his staff and willed it to light up, banishing the shadows surrounding him and calming him further. He was still afraid, something that wouldn't go away until he had both feet back on dry land, but now the darkness couldn't intimidate him anymore. The light made everything seem that much more bearable. A makeshift beacon of hope. Wouldn't Bunny be proud?
Unfortunately, his search for the surface didn't go as straightforward as he desperately wished it would. Not long after his staff lit up with its signature blue light, something moved in his peripheral vision. He whipped around with his staff held out in front him as fast a he could, but he found nothing. Then, he felt the water shudder violently behind him as if something big just sped past him, but again, when he turned there was nothing. His racing heartbeat picked up even faster as the terrifying thought that he wasn't alone begun to permeate his brain.
His quest for the surface was temporarily put on hold as Jack quickly scoured the water around him, keeping his staff clutched tightly to his body. He kept seeing things move within the shadows, even with the blur that clouded his eyes. It scared him even more than what he thought was possible, but it seemed whatever it was that kept circling around, didn't appreciate the light of his staff flashing about. Another reason why his old wooden conduit was his saving grace.
Suddenly, there was a muffled splash above him. The dark shadows immediately forgotten, the Winter spirit peered through his blotchy vision to see a figure of color and light descending down from the ocean's surface. It wasn't until the figure came within arms length that he was able to distinguish what, or rather who, it was.
Beautiful like a glowing siren with a halo of dark hair that floated above her like black ink, Alice looked down at him with determined clover eyes as she reached out with both hands to grasp one of his own that he didn't even realize he had outstretched. He felt a surge of warmth the instant her skin met his, not really knowing why, but trusting fully that she would guide him out of the darkness of the sea and help him break the surface again. He was going to get an earful once they were back on dry land, no doubt, but Jack couldn't help finding utter euphoria in Alice's presence.
Through his fear and panic, Jack somehow noticed the feel of Alice's nails biting harshly into his skin. It must've been Alice's small way of conveying her annoyance for all the inconveniences he had caused her. It hurt (emotionally, not physically), but Jack figured he should just be grateful that she didn't grab him by his hair.
The tiny lights that danced along the flowing skirt of Alice's dress mesmerized Jack as they mimicked Alice's movements, coaxing him even further to follow the siren savior as she turned away from him and begun to pulled him upwards. For a moment, Jack's brain stalled again as he watched the graceful movements of Alice's svelte frame, cladded tightly in nothing but the pastel colored dress that, when paired with the glowing lights, illuminated Alice's skin to a fair porcelain and contrasted deeply with her raven black hair, giving her the true ethereal image of a siren (Although, Jack hoped this siren would lead him away from his death). It wasn't until another violent shudder ripped through the water around them, reminding Jack of the unseen monsters still lurking in the ocean, that he finally snapped out of it and started moving.
Alice broke the surface first. She inhaled the cold air and gradually stilled her limbs to a slow wadding just as Jack joined her. His re-entry was a little more dramatic. He shot up excessively from the water with a long string of coughs and gasps as his arms continued to flail wildly. Alice flinched and brought up an arm to protect her eyes from the salt water that Jack was splashing everywhere.
"Stop it!" Alice demanded, splashing him back straight in his face.
Jack coughed and spluttered for a few more seconds before gathering his wits and opening his eyes again. "Sorry. I just don't-"
A loud, harrowing crack echoed throughout the towering walls of the icebergs around them as Jack's head whipped sharply to the side and pain erupted along his skin from where Alice had delivered her powerful slap.
"No, you're not," Alice hissed angrily, somehow looking ten times deadlier with her acidic eyes and dark hair clinging to her skin, even while trying to stay afloat.
Stunned, Jack nearly forgot that he was still in the water as he held his free hand up to cup his stinging cheek. He stared wide-eyed at her as he opened his mouth to speak, but only ended up closing it again when he couldn't think of anything.
A large shadow then fell over him from behind, making him look back just in time to hear the long groan of sea-worn wood coming off the large ship that had somehow managed to sail up behind Jack without him noticing. He looked at Alice once again with a silent plea of guidance in his eyes which she effortlessly ignored as she shoved past him in the water and swam over to the ladder on the side of the ship.
"Well come on then," Alice snapped at him from halfway up the ladder. "That Shipwreck Shark behind you won't give you very much of a chance to escape if he catches up."
"Shipwreck what now?" Jack whipped around and immediately reeled back in the water when he saw a black, skeletal shark swiftly lurking towards him with demonic yellow eyes.
He let another emasculating yelp and quickly made his way over to the ship and scrambled up the ladder. His foot left the water just as the Shipwreck Shark skimmed sharply to the right last minute to avoid colliding with the ship. As Jack climbed, he heard the wooden creature let out a low growl before disappearing underneath the water, clearly displeased to have lost its prey. Jack would've let out a snicker, or possibly even stuck his tongue out at it, but his desire to gloat shriveled up and died when two hands came from over the side of the ship and grabbed hold of his hoodie, yanking him up with surprising strength and throwing him unceremoniously on to the hard deck of the ship.
"Ow!" Jack cried out as his elbow connected painfully with the deck. He let go of his staff and clutched his abused elbow before glaring up at the dark-haired girl standing over him. He was still sobbing wet and trembling from his unpleasant encounter with his old nemesis; water. "Why are you being so mean to me!? This isn't my fault! I didn't ask to come here!"
Alice said nothing. Her eyes only narrowed further as she uncrossed her arms and reached her hand into one of her apron pockets. Jack didn't even realize that she was wearing her blue dress again. What happened to the dress with the lights? Did he just imagine that? Was it a trick of his terror-stricken mind?
Jack watched wordlessly from his sprawled position on the deck as Alice fished out a folded wad of paper from her pocket before throwing it at Jack's face. He flinched when it hit his nose and bounced off, landing on his chest. He quickly picked up the white square before it could grow damp from his soaked hoodie, and started unfolding it.
For the hundredth time since being dragged into Wonderland, Jack felt his stomach plummet when he fully opened the papers in his hands and his eyes landed on a small picture of a burning house.
His eyes shot up to stare at Alice in utter bewilderment while she only crossed her arms again and hissed dangerously at him in her velvety, accented voice.
AN: Hatter got a small cameo in this chapter, but he should get a full appearance soon. As for the cable car bit, that's a reference to Madness Returns. Alice broke it.
Also, the scene where Alice saves Jack in Tundraful is a scene I've been dying to do for over a year now. It's based on a piece of fanart that my FanFic/Tumblr friend, Sunvenice, did for me a looong time ago. Way back in the early, one-digit chapters. The piece is called "Floating Dark" and there's a link to it on my fanfic profile for those of you who haven't seen it yet, or who don't follow my Tumblr blog. It leads to her DeviantART account where you can check out all her ROTG/AMR fanart.