Splintered Page 48

Jeb’s stance stiffens. “Change of plans,” he says. “Al’s not going to help you play out this little game, whatever it is. You’re sending us back. Now.”

Morpheus lifts one side of his mouth in a sneer. He addresses Gossamer again while still staring at me. “Seems you were wrong. You told me the mortal wasn’t a threat. Perhaps you underestimated the allure of our crafty Alyssa.”

Gossamer studies her teensy feet. Her wings flap slowly, like a butterfly’s at rest. “I thought he preferred someone—”

“Shush! That’s not your secret to tell!” Morpheus shouts. The volume of his voice knocks Gossamer off her perch. She flutters in midair, hands slapped over pointed ears.

Morpheus touches a finger to his mouth. “Read my lips, loosetongued little spriteling. Get. The. Bloody. Box. It’s time to show our maiden and her toy soldier what kind of welcome they’ll receive, should they turn their backs on their one ally.”

Gossamer whisks out of the corridor.

“And bring me my Cajolery Hat!” Morpheus calls after her. His command is still echoing when he spins on his heel to study us. Smug, he coaxes his gloves on. “There’s a problem with your request, pseudo elf. I can’t simply send you back. And Alyssa knows this.”

Jeb casts a glance over his shoulder, eyes wide with questions.

“Oh, dear me.” Morpheus slaps a palm to his cheek, as if stunned. “Were you too busy to talk about anything pertinent? Or perhaps our innocent maiden was feeling guilty for the money she ‘borrowed’ from your other girlfriend’s handbag, and you, being the noble knight, decided to comfort her.”

Jeb turns to me. “Wait . . . that money in your pencil box. Tae did leave her purse at the shop? You stole from her.”

Morpheus leans in between us. “Well, how else was our Alyssa to skip off to London to find me?”

Jeb’s gaze doesn’t budge, heavy with accusation. “I can’t believe you lied to my face. You stole money to get a fake passport and planned to go to London all along.”

“Two for two,” Morpheus taunts, behind me now. “A liar and a thief. That pedestal’s getting slippery, isn’t it, little plum?”

I elbow him hard enough that his wings rustle. “I did what had to be done to help Alison,” I grind out to Jeb, disregarding Morpheus’s smug smile as he walks by in my periphery. “I only borrowed the money. I’m going to pay it back.”

Morpheus stops beside Jeb. “She has a point. Motivation always justifies the crime. That’s the law of the land here.”

“Hear that?” Jeb says, piercing me with the mockery in his voice. “The local cockroach has given you his stamp of approval. And you wonder why I can’t trust you to go off on your own.”

A tiny fire burns at the base of my throat, an annoying need to justify myself rising like acid. “I had a plan.”

“Oh, great plan.” Jeb motions to the room around us.

“Like I could have ever seen this coming, Jeb!”

Before Jeb can respond, Morpheus steps between us, gripping us each by the shoulder. “Beg pardon, lovebirds,” he intones. “But as much as I’m enjoying this, your quarrel is in danger of upstaging my grand unveiling.”

He motions to the door, where Gossamer has returned with twenty other sprites. Five of them carry a red top hat with a wide black band holding a peacock’s feather in place. A string of iridescent blue moth corpses drapes the brim like a garland.

The other sprites bring a black bag too heavy to lift, so they drag it across the floor.

“All the guests have arrived, Master,” Gossamer says, her tiny voice quavering. She and her companions drop the top hat onto Morpheus’s head while the others leave the bag next to our backpack.

“Introduce the appetizers and have the harp play a tune.” Morpheus angles his hat. The dead moths tremble with the adjustment, as if they’re struggling to escape. “We’ll be there shortly.”

Gossamer nods and trails behind the others, glancing over her shoulder once before she flits into the adjoining hall.

Morpheus snatches up the bag. As he strolls toward the glass table, his satiny wings skim my left boot. A vibration hums through my birthmark and up my shin before it stops to settle in my thigh, warm and titillating. Frowning, I slide my leg back and tap my boot to ease the sensation. Jeb watches me with disapproval in his eyes.

Morpheus folds down the bag to expose a tall silver hatbox flocked with white velvet. I’ve never seen anything like it, even in my dreams. Curiosity lures me to the table.

Morpheus gestures to the chair, playing the role of gentleman host again.

“I’ll stand,” I murmur. I’d like to blacken his already black eyes for stirring up things between Jeb and me just to get back at us for the kiss. Although I’m strangely intrigued that he cares enough to be jealous in the first place.

Jeb settles behind me and squeezes my shoulders—still my protector, even when he’s angry. I lean into his body heat, grateful for it.

Morpheus shoots a disgusted glance at us, then drags the box to the center of the table. It’s actually made of pewter. White velvet roses cover the sides, and engravings curl across the top of the hinged lid in some archaic language. The longer I stare at the words, the more legible they become. Is that another manifestaton of the Liddell curse? That this language comes naturally to me?

“Time for introductions,” Morpheus says, opening the lid an instant before I make sense of the first sentence.

Dark, oily fluid sloshes inside the box. A sheet of glass over the top holds the liquid inside. Morpheus gives the contents a jiggle and a whitish object bobs toward the surface.

It reminds me of a Magic 8 Ball I once saw at a garage sale. The black plastic ball had a window inset. Blue fluid filled the core, and a white die would drift up to the window, marked with phrases on every side. All you had to do was ask the ball a question, roll it around in your hands, and then turn it over. Your answer would appear in the window on the die . . . everything from Most Likely to Ask Again Later.

Only this floating object is almost the size of a honeydew melon and oval shaped. Thick whitish strands swirl around it, attached to it. Morpheus gives the box another shake. The orb spins to reveal a face.

It’s a head!

Yelping, I battle the bile rising in my throat.

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