The following days the exhaustion didn't vanish. In fact it seemed like it had become worse, but he couldn't fool himself. The worries about the girl and the nearly fight with her friend took a toll on him. His underlings haven't found anything odd and so he had to admit, that it was simply him feeling not as good as ever. Nonetheless he has given a promise and he intended to keep it. The next day he had sent Wilkins down to the Archive with the names of Alice' dead grandparents.
The Archive was a very important part of his castle and was located directly under the big halls of the Living and the Deceased Underlandians. While the Oraculum was a complete compendium of Underland itself and presented every day with an event, which happened then, there also existed a compendium of every creature in this world. The biggest difference was, these books were only records of the past of the person they belonged to and who was dead by now. There was no chance to ever find one of a still living creature, because the memories were kept in their clocks. When it stopped ticking, it gave free these memories, so everybody could theoretically read it. But Time did also watch over their history, so no one would ever see or even know about this secret. Only he himself and Wilkins were able to enter it and since he didn't like the Archive, he let his butler do the search down there.
Time tried his luck in the meantime above in the hall of the Living. His first station was to check on Alice clock, which had a nice melodic sound, soft but very forceful and full of life. What humans couldn't even imagine, was not only that every clock had a very own signature ticking or that he could remember their sounds, but that he could even hear, if someone was related to another. Indeed it was very difficult and he needed silence, which was of course not quite possible being in a castle, where you could hear the ticks of the Grand Clock in every corridor and also it's turning gears in every corner. But he had to concentrate himself carefully, freed his mind from the troubling thoughts. In his head he isolated Alice' tune, listened a bit longer to it and then let his attention wander to different clocks nearby. After some minutes he was sure, that none of them sounded a bit like hers. Like this he searched sector to sector through all of them.
It was hours later when he came to the conclusion, that he had found at least one still living relative. But he could hear, that her tick was already the weak one of an old woman.
“Elyra Fonder”, he whispered and looked at her precious life span. If other family members than her were still alive, then they were more distant relatives and their sound was too foreign, mixed with the own of other families. He had, what he had searched for and with that he left the hall to find Wilkins. When he turned around a corner, he saw him running to him, calling out to him and there was panic in his voice. Strange, that didn't suit him.
“Sir, Sir, somezhing terrible has happened down zhere in the Archive! It's perfectly horrible, a compete catastrofy!”
“Pull yourself together, Wilkins, what is this nonsense you are talking about?”
“You must see yourself, Sir! Would you please follow me down zhis instant?”
“Fine, lead the way.”
He followed his butler down the endless stairs to the bottom and the lower they went, the temperature sank, too. It was freezing cold in the Archive and the book shelves went from the ground to right under the ceiling, which was very high above. But something was not right, he could now feel that clearly. Wilkins led him to the room with the letter K and on the table were multiple books laying open. He could clearly see the gap where they were missing.
“I don't know what caused zhis, but every book which belonged to a member of zhe Kingsleigh family is burned!”
“Burned?”, he asked unbelieving, but took a look at the specimens on the table. They indeed looked like they have been burnt. Most of the pages were completely eliminated, the rest weren't readable any more. But the most outstanding detail was, that their covers and backs were untouched. If they would be still in the shelves, it would look like everything was alright.
“Do you know, what zhis could mean, Sir?”
“I don't know... but this is nothing which would happen on it's own... Someone must have destroyed them on purpose.”
“But who? Nobody but you and me can enter zhe Archive! I've seen nozhing zhat indicated someone had broken in!”
“Seems like whoever did this, is not only very resourceful, but also didn't want us to know what he or she has done... And to add one mystery to the list: Why was it done?”
This was not good, this was the totally opposite of good! His head was full of theories, but with no evidence to prove them.
“Wilkins, I want you to check every single book in the Archive.”
“Did you say every single book?”, his voice hitched and his eyes were wide with shock. “Zhat will take forever and -”
“I don't care!”, Time shouted angrily and Wilkins just instantly turned silent.
“Don't you understand how important this is? Get all of the Seconds and Minutes together and comb trough the books. Start with the books of the Fonder family. And I need to do something different. I will be out of the castle and I don't know when I will return. But it's necessary to find the last living relative of the girl. Maybe she knows something why this happened!”
Time hurried the stairs up, breathing really heavy and then went out into the void. He had to find Alice fast and with her help, they had to get informations about the whereabouts of Elyra . His quick steps echoed in the stony corridors of Mamoreal, while he called out for the young woman. He was just making a terrible ruckus, but he couldn't care less. Where was she? He checked her room, asked other people he met on his way and no one seemed to know where she was. Panic was rising in his chest and he hurried up. It was then, when he collided with another person and nearly fell to the floor.
“YE? What ar' ye daeing here?”
Not again this angry Hatter!
“Where is Alice? I have to find her, quickly?”
“I believe, that she could be in danger. Maybe someone is after her. This is why I have to find her!”
The yellow eyes widened in shock. The other man examined him and it seemed, he came to the conclusion to trust him... at least for once.
They were both running now through the white castle and Time struggled to keep up with the Hatter. His outfit was not exactly something you could easily move or run. He followed blindly through more hallways, across the garden and down to the stables. Finally the mad man slowed down and called for his friend.
“I'm in here Tarrant.”
It was such a relieve to hear her voice and they opened the door. Inside of the stable stood a giant hairy creature which looked very dangerous and she was just caressing it. Both of them were breathing heavy and she looked confused.
“What's going on?”
“I've found … uh... one living relative... but I have reasons to think... that she and you are in danger.”
It was hard to speak, when you were out of breath like he was at this moment.
“What? Why? And where is she?”
“I don't know where, but her name is Elyra and her family name is now Fonder. We have to find her. Someone seems to want to eliminate the history of your family and maybe this person is also planning to erase every living evidence.”
Alice and the Hatter looked at each other in alarm.
“Does this name ring a bell?”
“Don't think I've heard it, but when she lives here, then maybe the Queen should be able to help.”
“Good, then we should see her immediately.”
They all agreed to this plan and left the stables together. For now it looked like the both men had concluded an armistice in order to protect the young woman.
“Do you know anything about the attacker?”, she asked like it was a business affair and not like her live may be at stake.
“Nothing, just that he must have a very effective way to disguise himself. If we are unlucky he has abilities beyond a human being.”
“You have something specific in mind?”, the Hatter asked seriously
“Should we take our swords with us, or will they be useless?”
“As I said, I don't know who or what this criminal is, but it's never wrong to have something to protect yourself with you”, he answered her question, while they entered again the castle in order to speak to Mirana.
“And where is your weapon? With what do you intend to protect Alice?”
“I'm Time, I don't fight like humans.”
That was the only statement they got from him. Of course he was not a great fighter, not like a certain girl who slayed the Jabberwocky. Not even like an angry madman. The three of them went straight to the throne room, after that they searched for the queen in the basement and found her mixing some potions. She smiled at them, when they enter her room.
“Well, how nice to see you.”
“We need your help, your majesty”, the Hatter spoke first.
“We have to find a relative of me, her name is...”
“Elyra Fonder. She might be in danger.”
She was still smiling but looked slightly confused from one to the next.
“Then we should visit my Master of Household, he keeps track of which house belongs to whom in the kingdom.”
She was leading the way now and the other three followed her less elegant but also quick. When they found the man, they explained to him the situation again. A few minutes later they had the location of her house. It was far away from the little town around Mamoreal, so they had to go there by horse or in Alice case by Bandersnatch.
“Wait, horse?”, Time asked and felt uneasy.
“Well yes of course. It's the quickest way to get there”, she told him.
“I've never been riding on a horse”, he admitted and made the others look baffled at him. It was the red haired man, who suggested that he then should stay behind and let just himself and Alice take care of the situation.
“No you don't understand, she may have very important informations. I have to see her, too.”
“Then you will ride with me on the Bandersnatch, it should be much easier than on the back of a horse.”
“I'll go down there and let saddle my fastest horse for you, Tarrant”, the White Queen offered.
The Hatter looked like he didn't like the idea, but he didn't say anything, cause when Alice had set up her mind, it was set in stone. Before they hurried back to the stables, they split up again, hence the two could catch a sword of their own. Of course Time went with Alice, when she lent a weapon from the chess pieces shaped guards.
“You think you can handle that?”
“I'll manage, it's not heavier than the Mrutal Sword.”
They arrived at their destiny before the Hatter did and they thanked the queen again for her help. Time had to admit, that he would have preferred another way of transportation than to mount this beast. He clearly had some problems to get on it's back and Alice had to help him.
“Just make sure to not pull out his hairs, he doesn't like it”, she warned and climbed up in front of him.
“And what am I supposed to hold onto?”, he asked worried.
“On me of course.”
She shook her head like his question was silly. While she seated herself properly and ordered him to scoot a bit nearer, Tarrant arrived with a rather big two handed sword at his side. Immediately he mounted a white and grey horse which was prepared for him.
“Travel save”, the Queen said with worry in her eyes.
They were ready and the blonde gave the Bandersnatch the signal to charge forward and one of it's riders nearly fell off.
“How long do you think, we have to travel?”, he asked.
“Should be there in three or four hours”, the Hatter answered with a serious face.
“Oh dear”, Time murmured.
It was like a trip to hell and back for him. And he swore to himself, that if they wouldn't have to hurry back, he would walk! He never ever wanted to ride on that thing again. In the end he was grateful to not be able to be physically sick, but he sure didn't feel good when they finally hopped off the back.
“It must be the house, they told us. Let's see, if we can find her.”
With a determined look Alice was the first to go, while Time looked around cautiously and Hatter had already a hand on his sword. She knocked on the door.
“Hello, anybody there?”, she shouted and waited for a reply. Then she tried it again.
“Mrs Fonder? Are you there? My name is Alice and we think, you may have known my father, Charles Kingsleigh.”
Still no answer. Was she simply not at home or were they too late? They looked at each other.
“We should go in and search the house”, Time suggested.
“You mean, we should break in, while she's gone?”, Alice asked outraged.
“Pardon but who of us has a history of breaking into someone’s castle and steal something?” She didn't laugh about this one.
“We're not here to harm her, but maybe save her life. If you don't want to join, I'll go in myself.”
He laid a hand on the doorknob and turned it. The door was open, which seemed odd. He had a bit of a problem to fit through the frame again, but went in sideways. It was a little house, so he stood directly in the living room. The room was empty and he carefully went further. In the back there was a tiny kitchen and stairs to the next floor. The fire in the oven was still burning. The other two had followed him and Alice was also looking at the kitchen.
“She wanted to make herself a tea, it seems. She has to be near... Mrs Fonder?”
Still no answer.
“Watch it”, the Hatter warned them. “If she isn't gone for long, maybe the attacker could still be here.”
The tension in the room was heavy. Time set a foot on the first step, when they heard the whinnying of the horse and a roar of the Bandersnatch outside. In an instant they dashed to the exit, to see what was going on. But they just saw the two animals really distressed. The giant beast searching around like it did sense something.
“Stay behind me”, Tarrant ordered them and took a few steps outside to look around. Alice followed him and after her Time to watch her back. The both in front of him had drawn their swords already and were ready to fight. They were on the edge of their nerves with the horse still panicking. But there was nothing to see. They waited for some more seconds, but nothing else happened. They did see and hear nothing.
“We should go back inside and look for her, quickly”, she suggested. And they agreed to her silently.
It happened in the blink of an eye. They just had turned around, when a dark creature appeared in front of Time, stabbing him with a long spear. He was so surprised he didn't even feel the pain at first. But then he looked down in horror and saw the weapon had pierced his abdomen. His body sent out electrical shocks, which caused him to wrench his spine.
“NO!”, Alice shouted and charged forward, swinging her sword against the shadow creature. It pulled out it's weapon from his body and defended itself with amazing speed. But the moment the Hatter tried to strike at it, it vanished into thin air.
“It's a shadow skipper”, Time called and held a hand to his wound. Now that he realized what has happened, he felt the agonizing pain, which almost brought him to his knees.
“A creature not of this world. Do not touch it or its spear, it will kill you instantly.”
“Ah didn' plan tae!”, the Hatter shouted back, looking around himself hastily.
They heard a terrible distorted laugher. It seemed to come from everywhere around them.
“Not of this world, he says. You do remember my kin, but it appears you have forgot, that we once belonged to this world and you and your friends banished us!”
The voice caused goosebumps and let the hair in someone’s neck stand up. Alice had never heard anything comparable to it and she was never a religious person. But she thought, that maybe the devil himself would sound like that Shadow Skipper.
“It... it was for all the best!”, Time tried to explain.
“LIAR!”, it shrieked horribly angry.
Before any of them could react or even see it's movement, it stroke again.