Unhinged Page 43

“Free?” I ask.

“Free to be your faithful subject,” Morpheus explains. “He made a trade. Red’s life for his loyalty. In order to be true to you forever after, he had to betray you one last time.”

Logic wrapped within nonsense. Par for the course for Wonderland. “So is Red here?” I ask, fighting a clench of dread in my chest.

Rabid doesn’t answer. Everything that’s happened today—Taelor seeing me and Morpheus, the mosaics going missing, the near-death car ride, my mom’s betrayal—hangs over me, a noxious cloud of black emotion. The power inside me begs for free rein, promising to make him talk. To make him obey.

I surrender to it: envision the earbuds lifting and swaying like cobras. The song that’s playing grows loud and screeching. Rabid plugs his ears, howls, and backs up. The buds follow and strike. Though they have no fangs or venom, they’re vicious in their pursuit.

Wearing an amused expression, Morpheus steps back to allow Rabid to scramble onto the mattress. The black cords slither up the edge behind him.

“The insects, listen you should!” Rabid yelps as the cords strike and wrap around his antlers, yanking him to his stomach atop my quilt. “Please, Majesty!”

I hold up my hand, and the earbuds go limp.

“I said, Is Red here?” The power behind my voice surprises even me.

Rabid shakes his head no as Morpheus helps untangle his antlers. “A flower she chose to be. Lead the forest in a revolt. Amplifying pastries for all. Thorns the size of dragon talons. First, they wake the dead. Shake the foundations, free the consecrated.” Frothy white saliva drizzles from the corners of his lips. “Then divide and conquer the living. Enslave them all.”

Terror, as dark as a raven’s wing, casts a shadow across my thoughts. So that’s what the bugs were trying to tell me. They weren’t referring to the flowers here in the human realm but to the ones in Wonderland. Queen Red has gathered a giant flower army.

“It won’t work, will it?” I ask Morpheus as he adjusts the volume on the earbuds and coaxes Rabid to listen to the music once more. “The cemetery is hallowed ground. Right? No full-blooded netherling can step inside the cemetery gates. That’s what you told me.”

Morpheus sweeps the towel off the bed and crosses to my aquarium, blotting up the puddles. “That’s true for those of us who live,” he answers without turning, “but Red is a dead inhabitant in a living body. She’s no longer held to the natural laws of our world.”

His flippant use of the term natural in reference to Wonderland almost makes me snort.

“Red can cross the boundaries of the cemetery gates because part of her belongs there already,” he continues. “If she made it inside, she could free the dead, for she knows the secrets of the maze. But she would have to get through the Twid Sisters. That wouldn’t be easy.”

“I remember.” My feet jitter as I picture both the twins’ spidery bottom halves beneath their gowns. Sister One has her charms, but Sister Two …

I faced her side of the cemetery, felt the cold chill of blades along my neck as she threatened me with her mutated hand. I stood under her trees ornamented with toys possessed by the spirits of the dead. I’ll never forget how their eyes pierced me with agony.

“When the twins stand united,” Morpheus continues, “they are the two most formidable netherlings in all the land. The only way for anyone to defeat them is to put them at odds so they aren’t working together. Since both twins hate Red for her successful escape last year, it’s doubtful she could break them apart.” He says the word doubtful quietly while tracing the glass of the aquarium. His profile is troubled as my eels follow his finger, mesmerized.

Morpheus loves his world. It’s why he’s so adamant about getting my help. I’ve seen the destruction in my dreams, and the violence in my mosaics. It would be heartbreaking for such a beautifully unique and bizarre land to succumb to Red’s schemes.

Nausea winds through me. This entire disaster is my fault. I made it possible by drying up the ocean last year, by giving the flower fae a path into the heart of Wonderland, and by freeing Red’s spirit from the cemetery so she’d have access to a new body.

I stumble toward my bed, almost tripping over my dress. Morpheus is at my side in an instant and steadies me until I’m seated next to Rabid.

Rabid drops the earbuds to the floor, scoots close, and pats my gloved hand, brittle fingers snagging on the lace. “Majesty,” he croons. “Please … no exile for Rabid of the family White. Ever your loyal subject. Stay with you always.” He reaches inside his wet waistcoat and offers a key that looks just like mine with a ruby on top.

“You’re not staying here,” I answer, wrapping his bony fingers around his key. I point to the closet behind us. “Get back inside until we can figure out a way to get you home.”

Rabid’s pink eyes lose their shimmer, as if a curtain of cotton candy has fallen across them. He tucks his key into his coat’s inner pocket and shivers. “Rabid wet be.”

Touched by his discomfort, I pick up the thimble and give it to him. “Dry yourself off and keep quiet in there.”

The light in his eyes reignites. “A prize to keep! Generous are you!” He presses the thimble into place on his antler, scoots across the bed, drops down, and shuts himself in the closet, leaving me alone with Morpheus.

“You said home.” Morpheus looks down at me, expression hopeful. “You admitted it. Wonderland is your home.”

I shake my head. “I meant his home.”

Didn’t I?

I shake the doubts from my head, suspicious again of Morpheus’s part in all of this. “You were with the flower fae in my dream when I was drowning.” I look up at him pointedly.

He steps back, scowling. “Obviously Red hadn’t yet bribed them to aid her cause. Stop finding reasons to doubt me. We need to work together.”

My fingers trace the pearls on my dress, letting the slick, cool bumps soothe me. “I don’t know how to work with you.”

“You did when we were childhood playmates,” he answers, his expression as close to humble as I’ve ever seen it.

My fists clench around the fabric of my dress. “Before I knew you were a liar. You and my mom. That’s all netherlings do. The only people I can depend on are … people. My dad, Jeb, Jenara. Humans haven’t let me down. Not like you have.”

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