Ensnared Page 40

“Once I finish the outline,” he says, drawing Dad’s lower half, “I’ll fill it in with paint. Then you’ll need to back up into the painting before it dries. It has to be joined with your skin to be able to follow you anywhere. It’ll stay intact as long as it doesn’t touch water. Since I manipulate the weather and landscapes, that won’t be an issue.”

I lift an eyebrow. “So, you’re basically playing the part of Wendy.”

Jeb pauses and glances at me. “Windy?”

“Wendy, from Peter Pan. You’re stitching Dad’s shadow into place.” Peter Pan was his favorite fairy tale as a child. His mom read it to him every night.

There’s the hint of a shy, boyish grin on his face—the one he used to give me when I’d catch him off guard. Then his smile is gone and he’s back to concentrating on his work.

His detachment is like a splash of cold water. Dad winks subtly my way, encouraging me to relish the victory, however small it was.

Jeb finishes his sketch on the canvas and starts adding wings. “Unlike Al”—curves and lines flourish flawlessly with a graceful sweep of his hand—“we don’t have the equipment built in. The safest way to travel here is to fly, so you’ll need wings for our trip to the Wonderland gate.”

“We’re going to the gate today?” I have mixed feelings about the news. I know that if I leave without facing Red, it will come back to haunt Wonderland and the ones I love again. She’s proven that she won’t be gone until I make her gone. But I also want to get to Mom as quickly as we can, and it’s impossible not to be excited when Jeb has decided he’s coming. “So you’re going to leave with us?”

Dad watches me with contrition in his eyes.

“You misunderstood,” Jeb answers, punching holes in my buoyant hopes not only with his clipped response, but the flattened tone of his voice. He returns to the table and mixes paint until he has a black pigment with purplish undertones. “Only your dad and I are going today. His choice.”

Dad offers an apologetic frown. “We plan to take the supplies to the guards and feel things out,” he explains. “You’re staying here. So we can be sure everything is on the up-and-up before you and I try to leave together.”

You and I. The room grows gloomier.

I clench my hands to fists. “There’s no way I’m sitting here while you two face all the weirdness out there. I’m going.”

I want to add one thing more: that if Jeb thinks for one second I’m going to let him stay behind when we leave for Wonderland, he’s mistaken. I’ll use my magic to force him to come home if I have to.

The thought of his graffiti army stomps through me. I had no power over them. Jeb is my match now, in every way. It would be a difficult fight to win.

“Allie, please,” Dad presses.

“What?” I snap. “You still don’t think I can hold my own? Even after everything you’ve seen?”

“That’s not it at all. It’s your bloodlust I’m worried about. None of us knows where Red is. But it’s a given she knows you’re here now after our encounter with those birds. I don’t want you running into her. Remember our deal? We get in, we get to the gate, we get out.”

I can’t help but notice he omitted the part about getting Jeb. Frustration burns my eyes. There’s nothing I can do about Jeb until I have some time with him. But maybe I can use his and Dad’s absence today to my advantage. After they leave, I’ll go out on my own and search for Red. I have a feeling the diary will lead me straight to her.

I look up at the moths on the ceiling to maintain an angry facade. If Jeb were to find out about my plan, he could paint a gilded cage around me and I’d be trapped. “So, what am I supposed to do all day while you’re gone? Play with bugs?”

Jeb crouches to fill in the sketch’s lower half with paint. His lips twist to a cruel sneer. “That’s your favorite pastime, right? And you’ll have your prince of moths for company.”

I keep my expression unreadable. Morpheus staying behind is actually a good thing. He can accompany me to find Red. He knows his way around this world and understands its occupants better than me. The only downside is my vow to him, how determined he is to collect, and how a part of me is starting to crave those twenty-four hours at his side in Wonderland.

“So . . . you’re not taking Morpheus?” I manage to sound nonchalant.

“He’d be lost without his griffon.” It’s impossible to miss the smugness in Jeb’s voice. “He can’t fly without it, and he needs its homing device to lead him back here if he gets turned around.”

“So that’s his compass.”

“Right. All my paintings have the ability to find their way back to this mountain—to me—no matter how far they wander.”

“But Morpheus can use his shadow.” I attempt to reason with him.

“I took it away. It needs some repairs,” Jeb says—an answer for everything.

Unable to hide my annoyance, I blurt, “Well, that seems like a pretty stupid move. There’s safety in numbers, you know.” I bite my tongue so they won’t know I’m the one needing a safety net.

“We’re taking reserves.” Jeb motions toward one of the Japanese screens in the corner. The crane flaps its wings and pecks at the panel it’s stuck to.

“What, the cranes?”

Preoccupied and silent, Jeb guides Dad to back up into the painting, then seals them together with a flash of magic from his brush.

Dad steps away and the painting peels off the canvas—a quiescent, fluid trail along the floor—looking like an ordinary shadow with the addition of wings.

I wander over to the Japanese screen Jeb pointed to, curious.

“Al, wait,” Jeb warns, dropping his brush in some water and rushing my direction.

Before he can reach me, I peer behind the screen. A drop cloth hangs in place atop something shaped like a hat rack. I tug the covering away.

CC screeches and scrambles out, almost knocking me over in its haste to escape.

I scream.

“Hey!” Dad starts toward the creature.

Jeb catches it before it can run out the door. “It’s okay. I’ve forbidden him to ever touch either of you again.” He pats his doppelganger’s shoulder. “Show them, CC,” he urges—his voice tender, as if speaking to a child or a pet.

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