Borrowed, Not Lost

Looking Glass Saga - Book 3

It wasn't that she lost three people. The Cheshire Cat was just a jerk.

Overview

It's her fault that Adrinna's brothers are missing, so Alice takes it upon herself to scour Wonderland to find them over the summer. She never thought it would be this difficult to find three boys who so obviously didn't belong there, but they continue to elude her search for them.

There's a new group of people in the plains that are most definitely not from Wonderland. Alice encounters Tiger Lily, a young woman determined to do whatever she needs to help her people as they escape the horrors of their homelands. Though Alice is hesitant to stop looking for Adrianna's brothers, Tiger Lily  proves to be very persuasive and will have Alice's help whether she is willing or not.

Excerpt

Chapter 1


Hiding a Cook in the Kitchen


Being grounded had never come at a better time.

Alice had spent more time in Wonderland than her room since summer began. As soon as she was home and far away from the Bandersnatch, she was able to go through the mirror and into Wonderland again. As soon as she could, she started to look for where Mike, Mark and Matt had gone. She was hopeful and began scouring the place as much she could, looking through all the familiar areas, and a few not so familiar ones, for any sign of them.

Every night she donned her watch to keep an eye on how long she’d been gone for so that she could return before she was missed. The time wouldn’t move while she was watching it, but changed as soon as she looked away. Alice was quickly learning how time worked in Wonderland — which was not very well — but it was often convenient enough to allow her to finish looking before she had to return home.

After a week, Alice was running out of places to look. She combed as much of Wonderland as she could while avoiding anyone who knew her, and therefore avoided any lectures about her rudeness that might cut into her searching time. Now she was starting to run out of people she didn’t know.

She didn’t remember Wonderland being this big before. It had always been kind of large and mysterious, but the first time she was here she spent most of it as large as a ladybug. It occurred to her that the brothers may have been shrunk as well, and soon she’d have to try becoming very small in order to continue looking, but she could still come up with a few places she could look before resorting to that.

There were also a few people that she would absolutely need to ask before she went changing sizes. While Cat would know for certain, he was no longer in Wonderland. The Mad Hatter was missing as far as she could tell. At least, she hadn’t run across him or his tea party yet. There was still the Caterpillar. He might know where she could find something. He seemed to know far more than he should when she was a child and she could only hope that he still did.

It was surprising how many mushroom patches there were in Wonderland, but it was easy to find the one with the smoke coming out of it. She stepped away thinking about the Caterpillar's hookah and, when she appeared, the smoking mushroom patch was down below, billowing out blue and green smoke in small puffs.

Alice bent down to peer into the underbrush and find the Caterpillar there, looking not at all bothered by Alice’s sudden appearance or the parting of the foliage above him. Instead, he took another puff and nodded up to her, waiting for her to begin the encounter herself.

“Hello, Caterpillar,” she said, glad that she wasn’t met with how rude she was for once. “It’s been a while. How have you been?”

He took a long, contemplative puff on his hookah and let out a fluttering trail of purple and blue smoke. “Alice,” he said, letting her name roll over her tongue like a distant memory. “Hello. It has been a while since your last visit. Are you only passing through once more?”

“Passing through again, I’m afraid,” Alice said. She sat down so that she could easier talk to him. She had been so small the last time she saw him, but even at her full size, he was still an enormous bug. “I’ve lost a few people. Perhaps you’ve seen them pass through here.” Alice stopped, waiting for an answer before realizing she never asked a question. “Have you seen three boys around here? They’re a little older than I am. Dark hair. Taller. They all look the same.”

“I cannot say that I have,” the Caterpillar said, taking another long puff of his hookah. Alice thought she saw this puff of orange and yellow linger behind him and settle into wings on his back before fading away. “Not truthfully, in any event. I suppose the words would still come and form, but words with no truth are not worth speaking at all, now are they?”

Alice would have argued that if she wasn’t trying to find people. Words with no truth to them was precisely how she had won so much of the freedom she had right now. Not that aimlessly looking around Wonderland for lost boys was what she’d thought of when she thought of freedom.

The Caterpillar took another puff and Alice stayed quiet. He was going to say more and she knew better than to stop the Caterpillar from speaking when she needed information.

“I may have seen one peculiar thing,” he said after a far too long pause. “There was the most peculiar foot. It would have crushed me had I been under it. Very inconsiderate, I thought, but it was so odd that I continued to watch it. There was one boy attached to it, constantly crushing several things underfoot. Did not stay on the path where feet will not crush things.”

He looked pointedly at Alice’s feet; she was grateful they were on a rock. Luck on her side at last. She stayed quiet as he returned to his hookah and his story.

“He was running away from a red metal boot. I had thought he was a little familiar, like I had seen a shoe like his before. The first one, not the metal one. The metal one was always meant to crush things, but I do not know about the other one. The other one, that boy attached to him kept yelling all sorts of things at the red boot. Not very polite things. A bit like you, Alice. But the red one caught the strange one soon enough, and the red one took him away.”

“A red metal boot?” Alice asked. Her heart clenched in her chest at that. She had a sinking feeling about this. “Did this boot belong to a large set of red metal armour by chance?”

“So you do know who I’m talking about!” the Caterpillar said. “Quite a lovely boot, though. Very shiny. If only it didn’t crush so many things.”

“Thank you,” Alice said, though she wasn’t happy about what she’d found. He was at the castle. Alice really didn’t want to go to the castle.

Alice bid the Caterpillar a fond farewell. “If you’re heading to the castle,” he said as she started to get up, “could you take these with you?” He gestured to the mushrooms in a patch near him. “I haven’t been able to deliver them myself, but I think the Queen of Hearts could do with a little perspective.”

Alice grinned and picked a few of them, not at all against putting a few of them into the Queen’s soup. Unlike the cake and the potion, she knew the Caterpillar’s brand of mushrooms had a bit more unruly and unpredictable effect on anyone who ate them. She would very much like to see the slender queen with her head on the top of a very long neck that she couldn’t quite keep upright.

And then the image of it started to blend into the memory of the Queen’s melted face. Alice vowed to avoid the Queen of Hearts at all costs this time around.

She checked her watch to make sure she had time for it and tried to think of a place in the castle where she would arouse the least suspicion if she appeared. A place where the Queen and the Red Knight would not be. When she couldn’t come up with a place, she opted to start from the bottom and work her way up.

She walked forward into the dungeons, finding the Jail Bird napping in the corner and people in the cages. In fact, there were several people who looked a little irritated, all in one cell that had grown to absorb all the cells on one side. She stopped and looked into it, blinking as she tried to come up with some explanation for it, or something more intelligent and polite to say. Instead, there was only one thought on her mind.

“Do you bring the tea party with you everywhere?”

The Mad Hatter perked up in the cell. He had obviously tried and failed to be a good host to his more dour guests who realized the gravity of the situation more than he did. The tea was likely cold and there wasn’t actually a table there at all. They’d taken apart a wall that separated the cells to turn into a table. Even the cups were made out of bricks and Alice assumed that, since everything was brick, there probably wasn’t even any tea here.

“Why Alice!” the Mad Hatter said, clapping his hands and looking at her through the bars. “How lovely to see you, dear. But you can’t join the party this time. Invite only, I’m afraid, though you would be a lot more interesting than these ones. Quite a dull lot, they are. No conversation. No manners. Well, better than yours. At least they don’t interrupt my stories.”

Alice looked past him to see that some of these people weren’t from Wonderland. There was a certain look that Wonderland had to their inhabitants that Alice hadn’t noticed until someone who wasn’t from there scowled at her from behind the bars of a Wonderland jail cell. The people of Wonderland, those who hadn’t had their hearts removed, had much brighter eyes. But these others, they looked down and upset. One was just a boy who looked like he was about to cry.

“I understand,” Alice said, looking back at the party. None of them looked back at her. The people not from Wonderland bothered her. What else had been getting through and where had they come from? She worried that Cat had let even more people through, but they didn’t look like they were from Lucena Academy either. They were from somewhere new.

“Oh good,” the Mad Hatter said.

“Why are you here?”

“Because we were caught, of course!” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in all of Wonderland. “When you are caught doing something that you aren’t supposed to do, people do not want to have tea! Upsetting, that. But you know the Queen of Hearts. Still upset that she doesn’t have a pretty daughter yet. Perhaps you should offer, Alice. She does seem to quite like you.”

“I don’t think that will work out,” Alice said. He’d forgotten the last time already hadn’t he?

“Well, think on it,” he said. “You did not before, but perhaps you might like the idea more now. You have gotten older, you see, and time will change you. You will grow your hair longer and perhaps you will want to become a princess as well.”

So he did remember.

“What did you do that was so bad that you were caught and thrown in jail?” Alice asked. She shouldn’t even bother asking. She should be looking for the shoe the Caterpillar had seen.

“Oh, that,” the Mad Hatter said, waving it off. “I found them! The White King and that blasted Hare. They’ve been hiding in the castle this whole time! Just off peeling potatoes instead of doing what they were supposed to do, the both of them. Unfortunately, they are quite good at peeling potatoes. The Queen of Hearts would not part with them.”

At least he was taking this unnaturally well.

“She won’t let any of us leave, though,” he said. “A shame. It’s getting so crowded in here and I fear that there won’t be enough tea for everyone if she keeps throwing people in.”

“There’s no tea in here now!” the little boy yelled at him, floating in the air as he said so. He was immediately shushed by the other more dour looking inhabitants as a futile gesture and pulled back down into his seat.

“Such rudeness at my tea party,” the Mad Hatter said. “But a guest is a guest is a guest! Although I do hope they come soon to take another one away. It might mean we will have room for you as well! But, you know, you would need to join us in here. And it would mean someone else was sent to see the Queen. The last one has not come back to visit yet. What did he say his name was?”

“Lance,” the boy said, sniffling as the tears started to well up in his eyes and pour over. “He was nice, but now they said they were going to take his heart.”

Alice’s heart sank. She was already too late.

“There is a much bigger concern here than that,” the Mad Hatter said. “Lance will live on without his heart, but I fear I have been unable to feed the Jabberwocky for quite a while. The poor dear will get so hungry without me to feed him scones and a nice cup of tea. Perhaps, Alice, since you are not invited, you might check up on the poor creature?”

Alice looked at him and tried to decide if she could get away with smacking him without waking the Jail Bird up. He didn’t seem to be paying any attention. “You want me to go feed your Jabberwocky?” she asked.

The creature did not like her to say the least. She’d brought him to Wonderland with a great amount of difficulty and the Jabberwocky had never been willing to let her get close. She might have even been eaten by the thing if she wasn’t as careful as she was.

“If you would be so kind, dear,” the Mad Hatter said. “We know you aren’t busy, seeing as you are here.”

“The Jabberwocky hates me.”

“Well, maybe if you bathed a little more thoroughly,” the Mad Hatter suggested. “He likes very few people, but so few people bathe regularly that it’s hardly a wonder! I imagine you smell like a barbarian to him and no one wants to associate with someone so uncivilized as that. Ah, but here, this should help to cover the smell.”

Alice was not at all surprised to find there was another hat under the Mad Hatter’s hat, though this one was quite a bit smaller. He passed his larger hat through the cell bars and Alice took it, not really sure what he thought she should do with it.

“Now, mind you are good to it,” the Mad Hatter said. “It is quite dear to me, that hat. But the Jabberwocky, he only knows me by it. My good smell should cover your bad one and he’ll let you near enough to take care of him for me.”

She put it on, which made the Mad Hatter happy. It was too big on her and dropped over her eyes, leaving her in the dark. She managed to tilt it back up, resting it on her head like a hood, and looked back at the Mad Hatter, who was beaming. “Much better! Much better! So much better than a silly old black ribbon, wouldn’t you say? Now run along. He needs to be taken care of, the poor thing.”

Alice stared at him and then past him to the crying boy at the table.

“Isn’t anyone going to come save us?” he cried. “I don’t like it here. I want to go back home! I’ll even let a girl save me if I have to! There’s nothing to eat or drink and he’s crazy!”

“Saved from a party, really,” the Mad Hatter said. “Alice, you are the only other person I have ever met that was so rude. I do hope the Queen of Hearts takes him next.”

Alice took out a couple of the mushrooms from the Caterpillar and threw them through the bars to land on the table. If he was that hungry and wanted out, maybe the mushrooms would help him, but she didn’t want to be in the presence of the Mad Hatter anymore. She walked away and went to the next place she could think of.

She was surrounded by trees a moment later, all of them with pots and pans hanging off them, along with forks and spoons. A small bush grew butter knives and far more mature butcher’s knives. There were fridges and all sorts of other things for the kitchen growing around her and she stayed well near the back to think.

Lance was Mike and Mike had been taken to the Queen of Hearts. Maybe he would just be without a heart and not dead from having it removed. She really didn’t know how that worked for people outside of Wonderland who didn’t have the madness to keep them together. When you stole a heart from someone who was from Wonderland, you took away their madness and turned them into an obedient servant to the Queen of Hearts, presumably because she was the one who held your heart. But if you took someone’s heart out in the real world, then they were usually dead.

Somehow, she couldn’t fathom anyone dying in Wonderland. It was dangerous and heads might have been removed now and then, but no one ever really died here. She didn’t know what she would do if she found out he was dead. She did her best to not think about it. There was hope. A chance. There had to be.

Alice heard a branch snap and perked up. Mindless drones though they were, she still didn’t want to know what would happen if they caught her right now. She almost hid in the knife bush, but quickly settled for one that was flowering pretty little tea cups and saucers instead.

A boy with dark hair and a perfectly intact chest came down, moving mechanically as he looked around the small forest for something. Alice’s breath caught in her throat. He was alive. One of them was at least. She didn’t know quite which one for sure yet, but one of them was definitely still alive. No mole on his palm, so not Matt.

He went to the knife bush and Alice risked coming out of her hiding spot and pouncing on him. She grabbed him around the mouth in case he tried to scream. He jumped under her hands and thrashed, pushing Alice back until she clattered into the teacup bush.

“Alice?” he demanded in a harsh whisper, the mechanical movements becoming more natural as he turned on her and went to help her up. “What are you doing here? You can’t be here!”

“I’m getting you out,” Alice told him. “Come on, we just need to find a shiny pan.”

“What?” he asked before shaking his head. “You can’t be here. Do you know what they do to people in here?”

“I know exactly what they do here,” Alice said. “That’s why we need to go. Now. Come on.”

“How did you get here?”

“What part of we need to leave right now do you not understand?” Alice demanded of him, keeping her voice as low as his. “It’s amazing the Queen of Hearts didn’t take your heart already. Did she take your heart?”

“How do you know about any of this?” he asked. “Wait, are you the Alice that the Mad Hatter kept talking about? He said something about a really rude girl that came to his tea party and didn’t want to be a princess.”

“If you met the Queen of Hearts, you wouldn’t want to be her daughter either,” Alice told him. “Now, we have to-”

“I found the Hare and the White King, though,” he said. “I think we can get them out.”

“Wonderland is getting to you,” Alice said desperately, grabbing his hand and trying to pull him to the pots. “Come on, we have to get you out of here. Adrianna’s worried. Everyone’s worried. You didn’t leave with them at the end of the year and I had to tell Adrianna that I lost you guys and I promised I’d get you guys back as soon as I could.”

“But I can’t go yet,” Mike said, pulling his hand away. “I said I’d try to find the Hare and the White King and get them out if I could.”

“You know he’s mad, right? The Mad Hatter? It’s in his name.”

“He also helped me,” Mike said. “He told me how to keep from getting my heart ripped out. Well, he kind of told me. I owe him. I can’t go until I help him get out and help him get them out too.”

“I can come back and do that later,” Alice said. “For now, you need to-”

Alice stopped, both of them turning to see something step into the woods. Red armour filled the small path and he caught sight of Alice almost immediately. She pulled on Mike’s arm, but he became a mechanical zombie again. He looked at Alice as if he expected her to do the same.

She checked her watch. She didn’t have time.

“The Queen of Hearts wants you,” the Red Knight said, raising his weapon.

Alice took a quick look at Mike, who was frozen and staring at the sword. Distraction. She needed to get him away from Mike. Or Lance. Whatever his name was now. Easily done.

Alice pressed the remaining bag of mushrooms into Mike’s hand, hoping he’d figure out what to do with them, and slid back around the tree. She showed up behind the red knight. Maybe he could cause a little chaos and slip out on his own before she got back, but she wasn’t counting on it.

“She wants me?” Alice asked the Red Knight. “Tell her I don’t really want to see her.”

“You will come with me,” the Red Knight said, turning around.

Alice ran across the trees and behind another one, appearing up in the branches and waiting for the Red Knight to follow her. He did, so predictably, as soon as she talked. “I don’t particularly want to come with you,” she said. “It seems like it would not be in my best interest.”

“Your interest does not concern the Queen.”

Alice appeared above him in a tree full of chrome fridges. She looked around, but Mike was already gone. At least she knew where he was. Next time, she could get him back if he didn’t manage to escape on his own. Whatever she had to do.

First, she needed to get back home before she was missed. She’d be back.

Alice reached over and grabbed a knife out of the knife bush, then severed the chrome fridge from the branch. It dropped down on the knight, this time with a good bit of weight, and looked like it was going to pin him down. Alice looked at the reflective surface and jumped down onto the fridge, falling through it and back into her own room.