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Never Lost

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A/N: Obviously an AU. Characters are going to be a little OOC (out of character). Similarly, as this is AU,  many situations are going to be different. I honestly have no idea where I’m going with this or when the next chapter will be up. Anyway, beta’d by my good friend, MoisMo!

I hope you enjoy. Feel free to R&R, if you like.

Chapter Warning(s): None that I can think of. (I'll edit if someone finds something I should warn about, though.)

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 Alice could hardly believe her mother and sister when the Chattaway girls told her that Hamish, of all people, was going to propose to her. It truly shouldn’t have surprised her; for the last few years, Alice’s mother and the Lady Ascot had always made sure she and Hamish spent at least a little bit of time together at parties. But to bring her to her own “engagement” party while everyone but herself knew was simply an outrageous concept to Alice.

 Yet here she was, being led to a white gazebo in the center of the garden, where everyone in attendance was already waiting. And there Hamish Ascot was, kneeling down and asking for her hand in marriage with all the emotion of a wet blouse carelessly flung upon a drying line and left there. She felt her mouth moving, and heard her own voice, but she didn’t seem to hear whatever fell past her lips until she took a step back from Hamish and turned away, only to face the gathered party-goers.

 “This is all so sudden, I…”

 Alice felt her heart speed up in nervousness and fear as she looked out into the gathering staring at her and Hamish expectantly. She was barely twenty-one years old, and, while this was normally the age for a young woman to marry, Alice wasn’t sure that being married and having children and becoming the next Lady Ascot was what she wanted to do with her life.

 “I think I….”

 There’s that rabbit again! she thought with slight exasperation as she glanced over to the far left, where the tall hedges ended and a small forest began. The white rabbit, in a waistcoat, was standing on its hind legs, very nearly glaring at her and tapping on a golden pocket watch.

 “I need a moment.”

 Making a snap decision, Alice lunged down the gazebo steps and dashed off after the rabbit, which had left just a moment before. She ran as well as she was able through tree branches and sticking brambles, just barely keeping sight of white hind legs and a colorful waistcoat. She came to a sudden stop in front of a old, gnarled looking tree that had a massive hole settled at the very base between two massive roots. Had the rabbit gone down here?

 Better to check and be safe, than to not and be sorry I missed such an odd creature, she thought as she crouched down on her hands and knees, leaning forward to peer down the dark hole with slightly narrowed eyes. Perhaps she had been leaning too far, or the soil was loose around the hole, but with a yelp of surprise, Alice suddenly pitched forward, almost as if pushed, and tumbled into the hole engulfed in darkness.

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 When Alice took the long fall down the enormous hole at the base of such a large, old looking tree, she was beyond afraid. When she landed, fell again, and finally landed on the actual floor, she thought she was having the same nightmare she’d always had since she was a child. As Alice looked around at all of the doors, however, something felt different. Something was niggling at the back of her mind, pushing its way forward. And when she finally approached the glass-topped table, staring hard at the key and the small bottle full of a clear liquid, she remembered everything .

 The vanishing cat, tea with a crazy hare and a rather strange man with a beautifully patterned top hat, painting Red Queen’s roses red, the blue caterpillar surrounded by blue smoke…...Falling into Wonderland at just eight years old had never been her nightmare, or even a dream of any kind.

 “....Wonderland,” she mumbled to herself, delicately picking up the small silver key and glancing over to the tiny door against the wall.

 No, not Wonderland, her mind supplied. No one here had ever called it that. Wonderland is a child’s nightmare. Her fingers tightened around the silver key and she turned back to the glass table, determinedly picking up the vial labeled “Drink Me”.

 This potion, she recalled, was one that would make her smaller, and somewhere beneath the table, there was likely a small cake that would make her bigger. The blonde narrowed her eyes at the vial as a thought came to her before gently setting the vial back down and stepping away to remove her boots.

 No need to have to climb out of them, she reasoned to herself as she set them to the side of the glass-topped table. That settled, she uncorked the little glass bottle and took the smallest of sips, quickly replacing the cork before a short coughing fit started up.

 Alice felt a tingle run all over her body, and she looked around curiously as everything around her seemed to suddenly grow enormous, though she knew that is was in fact her own self shrinking down to about the size of a doll. She dropped the bottle somewhere in the folds of her light blue dress, but the key she kept tight in her fist, even as she climbed her way free of the dress.

 Stepping away from the heap of cloth, Alice gathered the extra fabric of her underskirts around her and cinched it at the waist with a ribbon-like sash. After tucking the key into a pseudo-pocket, she ran her hands through her wild blonde locks before immediately stepping beneath the table to pick up the tiny cake residing in an ornate case and gently placing it into a different pouch while simultaneously hoping that it wouldn’t get crushed or mushed in the folds of her under-dress. She went back again to the pile of a dress she had no choice but to leave behind--as such a quantity of fabric would be nigh impossible to drag behind her--to retrieve the bottle still nearly full of shrinking potion.

 It was a small struggle keeping hold of it, as it was nearly one-third her current size, but Alice was determined to keep it with her just in case she needed it in the future. Making sure the bottle was well balanced on one arm, she fished the silver key from its pocket before walking over to, and unlocking the small door that was now only slightly shorter than she was now. The blonde took a nervous, steadying breath a moment before she opened the door at stepped through into Underland, free arm covering her face to block out some of the sudden brightness.

Chapter Text

The brightness dimmed after a moment as clouds drifted along, partially blocking the path of sunlight. Alice lowered her arm in favor of keeping a tighter hold on the bottled potion as she carefully navigated her way down a few crumbling, cobbled steps. She made it nearly the whole way down before a loose rock came free from the rest of the stone, causing her to stumble and lose her grip on the potion.

The plain, small (to her normal size, at least) bottle flew from Alice's arms and shattered on the stone a moment later.

"What curiously strong stone," Alice intoned softly, carefully stepping around the broken bits of glass to continue down the path. "Or perhaps the vial was exceedingly delicate?"

That bottle hadn't looked fragile, the glass had actually looked thicker than other bottles she'd seen, but one could never be sure.

She briefly entertained the thought of going ahead and eating some of the cake, but decided against it. Being this small could have its advantages.

Then again, she thought as a rocking-horsefly flew right at her, maybe not. She ducked out of its way, turning around as she did so to watch it fly off.

"Curiouser and curiouser," the blonde mumbled to herself, just as she came to a stop at the mouth of a side path, where beings appeared to be waiting for her. A mouse, two boys who looked alike, a blue Dodo bird, a few beings who looked like flowers with faces, and-the rabbit in the waistcoat!

"See! I told you she was the right Alice!" the rabbit said proudly, though the mouse rolled its eyes.

"I am not convinced," it, she, said, one paw (or would that be hand?) on the hilt of a tiny sword and the other making a dismissive slashing motion.

"How is that for gratitude? I've been up there for weeks. Trailing one Alice after the next. And I was almost eaten! By other animals! Imagine." Here the rabbit adopted a faintly disgusted look. "They go about entirely unclothed and they do their...shookum...in public! I had to avert my eyes!"

"She doesn't look anything like herself," a flower suddenly exclaimed with crossed arms (leaves?), another flower nodding along.

"That's because she's the wrong Alice!" the mouse exclaimed in exasperation, making Alice frown slightly.

"Hm. If she was, she might be," one of the boys spoke.

"But if she isn't, she ain't," the second boy pointed out.

"But if she was so, she would be," the first twin insisted.

"But she isn't, no how," the second said with a short roll of his eyes.

"How can I be the wrong Alice when-" Alice cut herself off with a shake of her head, deciding it would be no good to intervene in their argument without all the facts. What if another Alice had been here before, too? "And who are you, if I might ask?"

"Oh, I'm Tweedle Dee, he's Tweedle Dum."

"Contrariwise, I'm Tweedle Dum, he's Tweedle Dee."

"We should consult Absolem…" the Dodo said slowly, almost as if he wasn't sure they should.

"Exactly," the flower who had spoken before exclaimed with a sharp nod of her petals, the other flowers nodding along. "Absolem will know who she is!"

Here, Tweedle Dee stepped forward, gently taking her arm. "I'll escort you."

"Hey! It's not being your turn!" Tweedle Dum complained, taking her other arm. Both tugging lightly at her as they continued to argue.

"It's unfair." "Heey!" "Leave off!" "Let go!"

"Are they always this way?" Alice called out in question, turning her head to look at the rabbit as the boys led her along.

"Family trait." Here, the rabbit rolled his eyes. "You can both escort her!"

After a few minutes of walking, the boys grew bored and let go of her arms, allowing Alice to walk a step ahead of them. She couldn't keep her eyes off of the forestry around her, wondering at the curling blades of grass and the vibrant colors.

Until her eye caught the rabbit in the waistcoat again, and a question came to mind.

"Who is this Absolem?" she asked, blinking owlishly at the answer given.

"He's wise. He's absolute." The white rabbit replied solemnly.

"He's Absolem!" the twins said together.

Well, that wasn't very helpful. Alice had no time to ask anything else, however, as they came upon a tiny clearing surrounded by curling smoke. And at the center of the clearing, a sapphire blue caterpillar sitting on a leaf, a hookah of all things next to it. He looked a bit familiar; was this Absolem?

"Who. Are. You?" the caterpillar queried slowly.

"Absolem?" Alice asked, and the caterpillar seemed to frown, perhaps with annoyance.

"You're not Absolem, I'm Absolem. The question is: who are you?" the self-identified Absolem demanded, blowing smoke into her face.

"Alice," she coughed out, waving a hand in front of her face to clear the smoke away.

"We shall see."

"What do you mean by that? I ought to know who I am."

How rude. He asked her name and she gave it, yet he didn't believe her? Did he think she was this 'Other Alice', too?

"Yes you ought, stupid girl." Dismissing her entirely, Absolem turned to the others. "Unroll the Oraculum."

At Alice's quizzical look, the rabbit explained as he brought out a scroll and unrolled it part of the way.

"The Oraculum. Being the calendrical compendium of Underland."

The blonde leaned forward, fingers lightly running along the ancient looking paper. Already she was learning so much more than the first time she was here. Or maybe she had learned of these things, but forgot them? In either case, it was all incredible.

"Oh, it's like a calendar," she realized after a few moments, seeing little numbers next to images implanted into vague square shapes.

"Compendium." Absolem corrected with a sneer. "It tells of each and every day, since the beginning."

How fascinating.

"Today is Griblig Day, in the time of the Red Queen." Here the rabbit pointed to a picture of herself, surrounded by the others, looking down at the Oraculum.

"Show her. The Frabjous Day."

"Yeah. Frabjous being the day you slay the Jabberwocky."

"Sorry. Slay a what?"

'What a curious name,' Alice thought as she looked back to the twins.

"Oh, yeah. That being you with the Vorpal sword."

As the boys spoke, Alice looked back down at the Oraculum, a little surprised to see the images had moved. Now, in front of her, there was a person with long, curling hair, holding a sword raised high. And in front of that person, a dragon-like creature, claws and fangs extended as it approached.

"No other swords can kill the Jabberwocky, no how."

"If it ain't Vorpal, it ain't dead."

Alice stared at the image for a long moment, before deciding that while, yes, that person did look like her, it probably wasn't. She didn't know who this Jabberwocky was or what it had done, if anything at all. This little scroll may be prophetic, but she didn't have enough information for this. Especially when those around her were claiming she was going to kill someone.

"I don't think that's me," Alice finally said, shaking her head as she moved away from the scroll.

"I know." The mouse sounded a little annoyed, yet grateful at the same time. As if glad that something she thought was a waste of time was finally over.

"Resolve this for us, Absolem. Is she the Right Alice?"

A pause, as Absolem pulled deeply from his hookah.

"Hardly," he decided with an exhale, the smoke curling closer and seemingly making him disappear.

Suddenly, they all seemed to be approaching her, closing her in. Surprised, and perhaps a bit nervous, Alice began stepping back.

"I told ya!" The mouse seemed smug with that answer.

Then the twins began in on her, though still managed to argue with themselves.

"I said so."

"I said so."

"Contrariwise, you said she might be."

"No, you said she would be if she was."

"Hmph. Little imposter, pretending to be Alice. She should be ashamed," a rose patronized, crossing its arms and sneering at her.

"I was so certain of you." The rabbit shook his head in a disappointed manner.

"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be the wrong Alice," she apologized. Alice wondered, then, how many Alices could possibly have come here? What were truly the chances of another named Alice, with curling hair, had been to Underland?

"Wait…" Alice began, but before she could speak further, there was a crash. And out of the forest, a huge, hulking grey creature stopped in front of them all. 

Chapter Text

There was a pause, barely a heartbeat in length, before chaos erupted.

"Bandersnatch!" cried the Tweedle boys. Suddenly, everyone was trying to escape in different directions. Only to be foiled by armoured cards with nets. Not that Alice stayed long enough to catch more than a glimpse.

For, as soon as the twins had shouted, the blonde was off, slipping slightly in her haste to run away. She ran as fast as she could--which, admittedly, was not a very hardy pace. It was that very reason that it should not have been a surprise when Alice heard crashing and growling behind her.

She also heard two similar-sounding cries of fear and, in a moment of brave stupidity, she stopped and turned around. The Tweedle boys, holding hands as they ran, and just behind, the grey creature, gaining ground.

Seemingly intrigued by her non-moving, the creature, Bandersnatch , quickly turned its attention to her. Hands curled into fists, Alice held her ground, staring the thing down even as it stopped mere feet in front of her and roared right in her face, blowing her hair back. 

"Run, you great lug!" the mouse screeched as she ran at the Bandersnatch. 

She leaped upon it, little sword drawn, and stabbed it right in the eye and pulled. It came out with a wet squelch, and the Bandersnatch let out a horrible yelp, lashing out as it tried to get away. Its claws caught her arm, hard enough to spin her halfway around, and Alice let out a yelp of her own. Clutching a hand to her upper arm, she slipped and stumbled before she managed to right herself and run.

She ignored the sharp sting of little branches and leaves hitting her as she ran, slowing down only when there was a break in the forest. At the same time, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum caught up with her, and she smiled softly at them both, glad that they had gotten away.

They walked in silence, until the three of them came upon a rather severe fork in the road. There was a sign posted there, with two arrows pointed in opposite directions. 'Queast' and 'Snud', they read, and Alice wondered at the odd names. Though, she supposed, perhaps they were not that odd, given some names of places in her own country.

Her musings were cut short by both boys grabbing her arms, gesturing to either direction.

"East to Queast!"

"No, south to Snud!"

Before Alice could chime in with her thoughts, a bird called out and then snatched them up. Crying out again, it flew off with the Tweedles over a forest of dead trees. Horrified, Alice could only watch as they disappeared over the horizon. Biting her lip, she closed her eyes a moment, and picked a direction. 

She wanted to help the boys, and the others who were captured, but she couldn't do that just sitting around in one place. Direction chosen, the blonde began walking with determination. Soon enough, she came upon forestry again, and it seemed to get quite dark all of a sudden, but she didn't let that stop her. 

Alice kept an eye out for anything interesting as she walked, but other than the rare pair of eyes peering through the gloom, there were only dark trees with curling branches. 

"It looks as though you've ran afoul of something with wicked... claws," a deep, drawling voice called out to her, and she whirled around. Lounging on a high branch, a fluffy, striped cat. 

"A smiling cat," Alice muttered to herself. She knew for sure that she knew this cat, though his name escaped her at the moment.

" What did that to you?" the grinning feline questioned. 

Alice gazed at the deep scratches on her arm. "Bandersnatch…" 

"The Bandersnatch?" The cat looked thoroughly surprised. In an instant, it vanished, just as instantly appearing in front of her. Floating. "Well, I'd better have a look." 

"Oh. Certainly." How kind of him. He looked surprised at her again, and then she heard a soft purring coming from him.

"It needs to be purified by someone with evaporating skills, else it will fester and putrefy," he said matter-of-factly, peering at the wound. 

"Really? Can you?" Alice asked hopefully. The Cat appeared to be an evaporating sort. Maybe. If that was an actual thing here. 

"No." It was said without apology, and Alice's lips pursed slightly. He must be of the vanishing sort, instead, she assumed. "But at least let me bind it for you."

"Thank you." Alice held her arm out a little further as a length of cloth materialized into the cat's paws. 

"What do you call yourself?" he asked as he tied the cloth around her upper arm. 

"Alice." 

"The Alice?" He looked excited now, his eyes widening even as his pupils thinned. 

"There's been some debate about that," she said somewhat distractedly, trying hard to pull his name from her memory. Alice couldn't even recall if he had given her his name thirteen years ago. 

"Oh, I never get involved in politics." 

"Nor I," Alice quipped with a little smile of her own. The purring grew a little louder, and the cat disappeared again. 

His voice sounded behind her, and she turned quickly to face him. "You'd best be on your way, now." 

"Yes, but which way?" Alice pondered, finally noticing that she'd come to another fork in the road.  

"I'm trying to find someone...Or something? Both, maybe...As long as it helps..." she half-mumbled her thoughts aloud, glancing down both paths. 

"Fine." The Cat seemed to take pity on her. "I'll take you to the Hare and the Hatter, but that's the end of it." 

'The Hatter?' Alice thought, and her mind conjured a rather nice top hat with a sash and vibrant orange hair. Along with teapots and...a twinkling bat? Odd, but Alice smiled nevertheless. 

"Coming?" She heard from farther away, and when she looked up, she realized the cat was down the path a ways. Nodding, Alice lifted the folds of her dress a little higher and took up a light jog, even as the cat vanished again.

Alice couldn't help but stare at the cat as they walked. Well, she walked. He seemed to not be able to make up his mind between walking, floating, and vanishing about. Regardless, she stared at him, trying hard to remember his name. At last, after perhaps half an hour, it came to her, and she gave a loud 'Oh!' of excitement.

"I remember now!" Alice said, a pleased grin curling the corners of her mouth. The feline turned to look at her curiously, and she knew if he had eyebrows, they'd be raised at her.

"Remember what, if I may ask?"

"The Cheshire Cat," she exclaimed. He simply blinked, staring at her for a long moment with that same grin, before his purring became the loudest she'd heard so far.  

"The Alice," he finally said as he turned away, continuing to lead her through the forest. The way he had replied sounded almost like a decision, Alice thought. Odd.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Tea Biscuits and Talking

It was a mere few minutes later that the foliage thinned out, and the faint sound of music reached Alice's ears. She quickened her pace slightly, no longer trying to keep up with the Cheshire Cat.

In no time at all, she came upon the sight of a broken down windmill that looked like it might be a home. Just in front of that, several mismatched tables put end-to-end, surrounded by many more mismatched chairs. On the left sat the March Hare, dozing softly in his chair, and on the right, the mouse from before was lounging in a teapot. At the very end of the tables, however, sitting in a high-backed chair and dozing as well, was the Hatter. 

The three of them seemed to sense Alice at the same time, for they turned to look at her. As soon as she was a few feet away, Hatter was out of his chair and atop the tables, hurrying as quickly as he dared. He ignored the annoyed cries of his companions, his bright green eyes focused intently on her face as he knelt down.

"It's you ," Hatter said, and Alice smiled a little. Her expression dropped, however, when the dormouse spoke.

"No, it's not! McTwisp brought us the wrong Alice!"

"It's the wrong Alice!" Hare repeated, tugging at his ear in distress.

"It's absolutely Alice," Hatter said, sending a brief look to his companions before he smiled down at her. "You're absolutely Alice. I'd know you anywhere."

"I'd know him anywhere," he said, louder this time, to his other guests. His choice of pronoun, of course, drawing a burst of giggles from them both. 

Clearly excited, Hatter took Alice's much smaller hand into his and began pulling her up with him to the table tops. He led her along back the way he'd come, her feet barely touching the ground as she tried to keep up. As they walked - well, he walked and she jumped - he spoke.

"Well. As you can see, we're still having tea. And it's all because I was obliged to kill Time, waiting for your return. You're terribly late you know." He paused, giving Alice a sly look. "Naughty."

Hatter chose then to let go of her arm and motioned her to sit in the chair to the right of him. She did so, watching him with rapt attention as he continued talking.

"Well. Anyway. Time became quite offended and stopped altogether." Hatter frowned as he pulled out his pocket watch, tapping the glass face. "Not a tick ever since."

"...Cup." Was the March Hare's contribution to the conversation, and Alice couldn't help but smile slightly.

"Time can be peculiar that way," Alice replied after a second, turning her attention back to the orange-haired man.

“Yes, yes, of course. But now you're back, you see, and we need to get on to the Frabjous Day."

"Frabjous Day!" Both the hare and dormouse exclaimed, raising their tea cups in a toast of sorts.

"I’m investigating things that begin with the letter ' M '’," Hatter said casually, changing the subject entirely, before he leaned in close and whispered. "Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?"

Alice's eyebrows scrunched together, but before she could make an attempt at solving the question, the three of them spoke simultaneously. Well, shouted, more like, which startled her quite a bit.

" Downal wyth Bluddy Behg Hid !"  

"What?" she asked, head turning to look at the three of them. It was the Cheshire Cat, who had been silent until now, that answered.

" Down with the Bloody Big Head . 'Bloody Big Head' being the Red Queen…" he explained in a bored-sounding drawl as he picked up a cup and swirled the tea within. Not to be deterred by the lackluster tone of voice, however, Hatter perked up and carried on with his speech.

"Come, come. We simply must commence with the slaying and such. Therefore, it is high time to forgive and forget, or forget and forgive. Whichever comes first or is, in any case, most convenient." 

'What an odd turn of phrase,' Alice thought. 'I shall have to remember that one.'

"I’m waiting," the Mad Hatter added, pulling out his pocket watch again. Miraculously, or perhaps not so, considering Alice didn't understand the possibilities of this world yet, the watch was ticking softly.

"It's tick - it's ticking again," the Hare muttered, twitching and looking at his own little watch.

"All this talk of blood and slaying has put me off my tea," Cheshire muttered sullenly, softly tapping his spoon against the side of his cup.

"Well," Hatter started tersely, his face taking on a slightly pinched look. "The entire world is falling to ruin and poor Chessur's off his tea ."

"What happened that day was not my fault,” Chessur quipped back just as tersely, and Hatter sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes going dark. Alice noticed, with a small flash of alarm, that his eyes actually changed color !

He stood slowly, his posture stiff and seemingly calm at first, but growing more erratic as he walked closer to the cat.

"You ran out on them ta save yer own skin. Ya guddler's scuttish pilgar-lickerin', shukm-jugglin' slurking urpal. Bar lom muck egg brimni- !"

Alice could not do much else except watch as Hatter seemed to fill up with a sort of fury aimed at Chessur, her own eyes getting wider and wider. So absorbed was she at the sight of this previously happy man, that she jumped a bit in her seat when the mouse called out his name.

"Hatter!"

It worked almost immediately; Hatter stopped stalking toward Chessur as if he'd hit an invisible wall. His fingers curled into fists, Alice saw, but they were at his sides, and the dark look was receding from his eyes.

"Thank you," he responded in a raspy voice. Alice couldn’t tell if it was because he was restraining himself, or if he had hurt his throat by yelling so. She also couldn’t help but hope it was the latter; admittedly the less... frightening option, in her opinion.

"Oh. Meow ."

"I'm fine," Hatter insisted as he made it back to his seat at the head of the table.

"What's wrong with you, Tarrant?” Chessur asked, a melancholy tone in his voice. “You used to be the life of the party. You used to do the best Futterwacken in all of Witzend."

"Futter-what?" Alice interrupted, having been slightly too preoccupied with the revelation of Hatter’s name to listen fully to the odd new word. Though, could she really call any new word she learned here ‘odd’? Here in Underland, all of these words were quite normal, and she was the odd one out.

"Futterwacken," the Hare corrected, standing to do a little jig on his chair that made Alice smile.

"It's a dance," the mouse explained further, doing her own little curtsy.

"On the Frabjous Day, when the White Queen once again wears the crown. On that day, I shall Futterwacken… vigorously ." 

At that, Alice brought a hand up to her face to hide her quiet giggle, as well as the light blush that warmed her cheeks. She wasn’t the only one to giggle, thankfully, and so her reaction wasn’t too out of place. 

Their amusement was interrupted, however, by the sound of a horse from not too far off, and everyone grew tense at the sound.

“Oh no,” the Hare muttered, jumping onto the table in an odd attempt to hide behind the Cheshire Cat, who vanished a moment later with a short “Goodbye!".

The mouse muttered something as well, at the same time the hare said something, and both exclamations were lost to Alice. She turned to ask Hatter what was going on, but before she could do more than open her mouth, he was pressing an open vial to her lips.

"Drink this, quickly!" Hatter urged her. Never mind that she was already choking it down to avoid breathing it in. Grimacing at the slightly familiar taste, Alice felt a tingle and saw everything around her getting ever bigger. How much smaller was she going to have to get?