Splintered Page 36

We follow our luminous guides into a thick forest, weaving through tall, neon grasses until we reach a clearing of lime green moss, bright yellow lichen, and glowing mushrooms. A circle of trees reaches overhead, branches stretched and twisted together to form a domed roof. Slivers of the purple sky break through, just enough to cast shadows.

Each of the sprites takes her place inside the canopy, dotting the branches like lit candles. Their luminance adds a soft, glowing haze to the surroundings. Gossamer motions for us to follow her to the middle of the clearing, where a giant ultraviolet-striped mushroom awaits, wreathed in a fragrant cloud.

An unmistakable sense of knowing curls through me. I recognize this place from my Alice nightmares. We’re in the lair of the Caterpillar—the wisdom keeper of Wonderland.

“She doesn’t look like anything special, my lord.” Gossamer hovers over the thick smoke that cloaks the mushroom’s cap, hiding whatever sits atop. “She’s covered in mud and reeks of clams.”

“That would be because she just drained the ocean, pet. Had to be a rather laborious feat, don’t you think?”

My entire being shakes at the sound of that deep accent. Liquid, masculine, and sensual. It’s him. My netherling guide. If only I could see past the smoke.

“Her apparel appears to be that of a scullery maid,” Gossamer says, shooting me a disapproving glance. “Perhaps you should send her home and wait for another. Someone more acceptable.”

“One who’s naked shouldn’t judge apparel,” that familiar voice answers. “You well know that clothes do not the lady make.”

Humbled, Gossamer joins the other sprites overhead. At last, the smoke clears, revealing a hookah pipe and the crow-size moth— black wings and luminous blue body—perched atop the mushroom like a butterfly on a petal.

It inhales smoke from the hose and releases plumes into the air. Some are shaped like birds, others like flowers. One of the vaporous designs pulls away to form a woman’s head—like the carving in a cameo. As it slowly dissipates, it starts to look like a five-year-old girl. A five-year-old me . . .

“So good to see you again, little luv. How I’ve missed you.”

Gasping, I fall to my knees. The Caterpillar and the moth and the winged guy. They are all one and the same. They have been all along . . .

“I’ve seen that bug,” Jeb says. “In your car. On the mirror.” He drops the backpack and grips my shoulders, trying to drag me to my feet. My legs won’t cooperate.

“Tut-tut. You are never to bow to me, lovely Alyssa.” The voice drifts from the moth’s proboscis on gray puffs of smoke. His attention shifts to Jeb. “You, on the other hand, will bow to her.” Smoke streams toward Jeb and transforms into a net in midair, cloaking him. The weight brings him to his knees. A stick slices his kneecap where the hole gapes in his pants from the octobenus’s tusk. Blood drizzles out.

“Aha! He’s no elf. He’s a mere mortal.” The moth flaps his wings as if he’s made some great discovery.

“A mortal man!” the sprites screech in voices as dulcet as tinkling bells. They plummet from the trees like radiant snowflakes, swarming around Jeb as he slashes at his smoky restraints. The sprites knock the knife from his hand, then wriggle through the net, covering him like ants on a sugar cube.

I leap up to fend them off. “Get away!”

“Oh, don’t stop the fun,” the moth croons in my direction. “We won’t break your toy soldier.”

I grab the knife and try the scissor attachment on the net, but the ropes keep disappearing in my hands. I’m so preoccupied, I almost miss the transformation happening atop the mushroom. The moth laughs, and I look up just in time to see his wings fold over his body. The satiny appendages expand to the size of an angel’s wings, then swoop open to reveal the guy from my mirror’s broken reflection— the one from my memories—all grown up.

The knife slips from my hand. I’m mentally trapped between the past and present.

He’s close to Jeb’s height and age. He wears a black leather suit with utilitarian boots and lounges on the mushroom’s cap with the hookah’s hose perched elegantly between two fingers, ankles crossed. Weathered pants cover his toned legs. He’s lankier than Jeb but in great shape. His jacket, unzipped almost to his abdomen, reveals a smooth chest, milky white like his clean-shaved chin.

The sprites steal our knife and abandon us to rush to their master. They preen his hair and smooth his clothes, cooing and laughing.

No wonder Persephone’s movie poster always seemed so familiar. My netherling companion grew up to look just like the hero, except his shoulder-length hair is blue and glowing, and he wears a red satin half mask. Other than that, he’s the spitting image: porcelainpale skin, eyes as black as the makeup lining them, lips full and dark.

With the gray smog swirling around his sooty wings, he also reminds me of Jenara’s window display: a dark angel.

Although he’s more of a devil.

I know, because my childhood memories return in a crashing wave—slamming me with the name I haven’t spoken in eleven years.



“Morpheus.” I say it more as an accusation than a revelation.

The winged devil flashes his white teeth in a stunning smile that draws me in as it puts me on guard. “Mmm.” He moves his hand along the hookah as if it’s a violin. “Your voice is a song. Say it again.” He takes a drag of smoke from the pipe.

I’m so entranced by seeing him alive and real, I don’t even try to resist. “Morpheus.”

“Beautiful. Your mum should’ve known it would take more than a pair of pruning shears to snip me out of your life. Though it appears she managed to cut me from your memories for a bit.” He puffs out circles of smoke. “I’m wounded, Alyssa. It shouldn’t have taken this long for you to find me.” Catching the smoke rings on his finger, he tosses them into the air, where they burst into vaporous stars.

Jeb struggles under the net next to me. “This is the joker you’ve been looking for? The one from the website?” he asks.

“More than that,” I answer, not even sure the words I’m forming are coherent. “We grew up together, somehow. He was the one in my dreams when I was little. That’s right, isn’t it? You came to me in my dreams . . . brought me here. Told me things.”

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