Splintered Page 74


If I refuse to bring the teddy bear, does that mean I level his plan to dust? And Jeb—how will we get home? I bite my lip and tuck the toy beneath my left arm, snug against my rib cage.

Sister One draws out a tiny key and turns it so the surface opens to the portal. Her eight feet tap impatiently.

Everyone in this place has an agenda. In exchange for her precious spirits, she’s delivering me straight to the one who’s manipulated and used me this entire journey. My entire life.

Tears blind my vision as I step through the glass.

If only I hadn’t stepped through the first portal; if only I hadn’t found the rabbit hole.

If only I’d never been born.



I land in the Red castle, a few feet behind the chair I saw in the portal. My heels sink silently into the spongy carpet and Morpheus doesn’t even stir, still puffing in front of the fire. The scent of his licorice tobacco lights a flame inside me . . . a burning need to trump him in this warped game.

I squeeze the teddy bear under my arm.

“It wasn’t little Alice who came back to the mortal realm, was it?”

I ask, facing the chair’s back.

“No.” Morpheus’s answer comes from behind me and I spin, almost falling. His wings sweep over him like an eclipse as he bends to steady me.

I shove him away.

Arching an eyebrow, he smooths his silver and black pin-striped suit. Between the suit and the punkish hair, he looks like an emo gangster.

“You were waiting for me to come through the portal?” I accuse. “Then who’s—” No need to finish. Rabid White tumbles over the chair’s arm into view, pink eyes aglow. Of course. He’s in league with Morpheus, which means he’s only been pretending to be my enemy. They’ve both been playing me all along.

The cadaverous creature lays the hookah hose aside and bows to me. “At your service be I, fair queen.” His high-pitched voice drips sincerity.

I exhale to steady my wobbly insides. “I’m not the queen. And I don’t want your service.” I turn back to Morpheus.

“I believe you’re being dismissed, Sir Rabid.” Morpheus keeps his fathomless gaze on me. “No doubt she’ll call upon you soon enough, just as Grenadine once did. When she’s officially queen, she shall covet your talents as an experienced and devoted advisor.” “Highness. Loyally and always, ever yours.” Rabid bows so low on his way out that his antlers set him off balance and he almost topples. He catches himself, then hops across the threshold, a rattling bag of bones in a waistcoat.

The door latches shut and I’m alone with Morpheus in a room of shadows and flashing firelight.

“Your spy,” I say.

“Yes,” Morpheus answers. “It never set well with him what Grenadine and the Red Court did to Red and Alice. He wants to see Red’s heir upon the throne almost as much as I do, to amend the injustice done to his true queen.”

The play of the firelight across Morpheus’s wild hair and otherworldly beautiful face spins me back into my memories. He was training me to be a queen. The Red Queen. And now I stand here, vulnerable, imprisoned by feelings he inspired in my youthful dreams: happiness and comfort, affection and admiration. But nostalgia is deceptive, and I shove it aside. Because everything has been a lie.

“What have you done to Jeb?” I ask, suppressing the urge to lunge at him and attack.

Morpheus’s lips twitch a half smile. “He is here in the palace, safe. I’ll allow you to see him soon. He wanted me to give you this.”

Fishing his gloved fingers into his jacket pocket, he draws a small crystallized bead between us so it reflects the firelight.

My wish. I thrust my hand out for it. I won’t hesitate this time. I’ll wish I never came at all, just like Jeb suggested . . . then we’ll both finally be safe again.

Morpheus jerks back, holding it high. “It will stay in my keeping until the time is right.” He tosses the bead into the air, then catches it with a deft twist of the wrist before tucking it back into his breast pocket.

Fury surges through me. I bide my time. I have to play this smart or I’ll lose everything.

“Have a seat, Alyssa, princess mine.” Morpheus gestures to the bed. “If I sit anywhere, it won’t be on the bed.” I hug the teddy bear—my one bargaining chip.

“Surely you don’t think I mean to seduce you? Wouldn’t I have already taken advantage of your innocence at my manor, whilst I was watching you sleep?”

The reminder of that intimate moment, when his birthmark touched mine, sparks uncomfortable heat in my abdomen. “This entire quest has been a seduction, Morpheus. It’s time to come clean.”

He lifts the end of his red necktie and scrutinizes it, then scrubs at an invisible smudge. “There’s nothing clean about betrayal, luv.

And that’s where the story begins, as you well know. Queen Red’s court mutinied against her, her own husband joined the traitors in order to marry her stepsister, and it upended the balance of the realm. But you will restore the equilibrium.” He tucks the necktie back into place.

“Because I’m her heir,” I murmur, nearly choking on the words. The proud smile on his face is luminous. “Figured it out, did you?”

I suppress the ache in my throat. “It was never about me fixing things. My family wasn’t cursed by Alice’s messes. We’re not cursed at all. We’re half-breeds.”

He splays out his wings and arms. “Isn’t it glorious?” “You brought me here . . . set the scenes to fit the Alice story.

Everything’s been a game. Everyone’s been playing a part. That’s why most of them were different from the characters in the book. Everyone helped you . . . they were your accomplices.”

“Yes. Characters playing the parts written for them in a book from the human realm. Some, anyway. Others played along unwittingly.”

“The octobenus.”

Morpheus nods.“Despicable. Murdered his best friend to appease  a wave of gluttony. He deserved what he got. And the card guards?  They are always expendable. Now, quench my curiosity, little plum.”

He gestures to the chair behind me. “Make yourself comfortable, and enlighten me on how you came to be a netherling princess.” I refuse to sit. A bitter taste burns my tongue. “A masquerade.” He frowns. “Pardon?”

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