Untamed Page 20

Morpheus pressed a finger to Jeb’s mouth. “Ah, ah, ah. Already used that one.”

Jeb jerked his head back, leaving the netherling’s finger hanging in midair.

The jewels at the edges of Morpheus’s tattoos darkened to the color of dried blood in the lantern light. “Now, now. Is that any way to treat your rescuer?” He pouted. “Besides, how can I let Alyssa go if I don’t have her? She was entering the garden of souls, last I heard. But once she’s finished there, she’ll find me. She has a very important role yet to play.”

“Right. Because she’s the heir to the throne.” Jeb listened, incredulous, to his own words echo as if they’d slipped from someone else’s mouth. “I don’t know how, but it’s her.”

“Oh, ho!” Morpheus applauded. “Do you see what I told you, brethren knights?” Glancing over Jeb’s shoulder at the elves, Morpheus patted his chest atop his red necktie, as if overwhelmed with emotion. “Smarter than the average mortal. Too bad he still has all the physical limitations of one.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Jeb snarled. “She’s out of your reach.” He tugged against the elves, but there were too many holding him. “She must be inside the cemetery by now, and you can’t force her to do anything. You said it yourself—the Twids won’t let you in.”

“True enough. But she’ll find her way to the castle on her own. The moment she realizes I hold captive the one thing she treasures above all else in the world, she’ll come crawling to me, wings in tow.” Morpheus raised a hand in some sort of signal.

The elfin knights released Jeb. He spun on his heel and flung his backpack at them, scattering the group like bowling pins. Throwing out a fist, he cuffed Morpheus’s forehead and unbalanced him. One of the knights scrambled into place to maintain the mirror’s opening. Before Jeb could catapult after him and leap through, blue crackles of lightning snagged his skin and clothes like static electricity. They dragged him around, controlling him like a marionette until he faced Morpheus once more. The lightning was coming from the netherling’s fingertips.

Morpheus moved closer.

Jeb tried to step back, but his muscles shut down—paralyzed.

“Sleep,” Morpheus said simply, and he laid a blue-glowing palm on Jeb’s head. A pulse of light swept through Jeb. He tasted something sweet, like honey and milk, then smelled the scent of lavender. Fingers cinched in the silky weave of Morpheus’s shirt, Jeb struggled to stay awake. But the light was too comforting . . . too soft . . . too warm. Against his will, his eyelids grew heavy, and he fell to the ground, sound asleep.

MEMORY THREE: CAGED

Jeb’s skull throbbed, and blood drizzled from his hairline into his eyes.

He swiped away the stickiness to focus on his surroundings. Morpheus had brought him to the Red castle after putting the sleeping spell on him. Dumped him inside a birdcage in the dungeon. Jeb wished he hadn’t drunk the shrinking liquid when he woke up, but the bug man had given him an ultimatum.

At first, he’d threatened to kill Al. But Jeb had called that bluff, knowing she was indispensable. Then Morpheus had pulled out another big gun, threatening to send Al’s fragile mom completely over the edge of sanity. That he would do.

Al had fought so hard to save her mother. It would kill her to lose her to madness. So Jeb didn’t hesitate putting the bottle to his lips.

His body swayed, but it wasn’t from the woozy aftereffects of the potion. The platform beneath him was swinging from his attempts to head-butt his way through his prison’s bars—a desperate move that had resulted in nothing more than the gash at his hairline. A piece of Morpheus’s magic—a blue electrical thread—held the wire door of the birdcage immovably shut.

“Well, plenty of good that did, yes?” a nagging female voice intoned. “Morpheus chooses who has the power to coax his magic loose. Obviously, you’re not a chosen one.”

Jeb grimaced at his fellow captive. She was a lory—a parakeetlike netherling normally the size of a human. Since they’d both been shrunk, the only thing that set her apart from the birds in his world were the robes of creamy satin and red jacquard fitted over her wings, body, and bird legs, and her humanoid face slapped onto crimson feathers as if it were a mask. A beak that was more like a rhinoceros’s horn jabbed at him from where a nose should have been, and her lips flapped furiously.

Worst of all, her voice could topple the Tower of Pisa with one syllable. Whenever she spoke, it was as if someone had surgically implanted speakers in Jeb’s ears and locked the volume dials on “deafer than a stone statue.” She was one of the many reasons he’d been trying so hard to get out of this bird prison.

Flickering light from the candles on the wall outside the cage illuminated her scowl and cast the rest of the dungeon into shadow.

“Listen, Lorina,” Jeb said after her voice stopped echoing. “We wouldn’t be in here if it weren’t for your husband.” He pointed to the creature snoring below the cage, who was just as strange-looking as his wife, with the body of a dodo, the head of a man, and hands protruding from the tips of his stubby wings. “He kept Alice Liddell in a cage just like this one all those years ago. It’s his fault my girlfriend has what it takes to dethrone your queen. Did it ever occur to you that this is what you both had coming?”

“Charlie did no such thing!” shrieked the lory, fluttering in midair in the cage. “Did it ever occur to you that Morpheus is a brass-faced liar?”

Only every minute of every hour. Jeb leaned against the bars. His knees gave out, weakened by his efforts to strong-arm the wire bars with every available muscle. He clunked to the metallic floor, nudging a browning pear slice sitting on its side like a small couch. The cage was an impregnable fort in his miniature state. But it didn’t matter. The bars could’ve been made of uncooked spaghetti, and he still wouldn’t be able to help Al. Even if he escaped, at this size he couldn’t take on anyone.

Charlie, Lorina’s dodo husband, wasn’t much help. He was bound in iron cuffs and manacles, napping against a wall. Though the birdcage hung on a peg just inches above the dodo’s head, there was nothing Charlie could do about it.

Morpheus must’ve treated the giant birdman to the same sleeping spell he’d cast on Jeb earlier, though Charlie was starting to come out of it.

Lorina settled on the perch in the center of the cage, swinging over Jeb’s head like an acrobat on a trapeze. Her face flamed as fiery as her feathers, which caused the red spade and heart stenciled on her cheeks to fade in comparison. “Since we’re to be exiled in this urine-stenched facility,” she bellowed, “you shall have plenty of time to hear the truth.”

Jeb rubbed his head to ease the splitting ache. “If you could take your voice down about two decibels, I’d appreciate it.”

“Take my voice down?”

“Augh.” Jeb cradled his face in his hands.

The miniature trapeze squeaked with each swing, adding to the noise pollution. “For your information, my queen adores the sound of my voice. Praises it, in fact.”

The dodo’s snoring paused, and he smacked his lips. “That would be because she stops her ears with beeswax, O Loveliest of Lunatics.”

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