Unhinged Page 68

Morpheus looks over my shoulder at her. “Go back through the rabbit hole and protect your castle. Warn Sister One that her twin has crossed over to the human realm. She’ll need to keep a close watch on the dark side of the cemetery. Alyssa and I will follow soon. We’ve little time to waste.”

“Right,” I say. “Now that you’ve managed to lure one of the creepiest and most venomous netherlings into a world of helpless humans, we don’t have much time, do we?”

Morpheus resituates Jeb on his shoulder. “We’re not at a complete disadvantage, Alyssa. Sister Two has a weakness, as we all do. She has a blind spot. Once she’s cornered her prey, she notices nothing else around her. So, since there are two of us, we can work as a team to defeat her and send her back to Wonderland.”

“Right,” I answer. “And then you’ll be the big hero again. For cleaning up a mess that you caused to begin with.”

Morpheus doesn’t answer. He strides out the door. Chessie looks up at us once, then follows.

“Perhaps you were a little harsh with him,” Ivory says.

Hands clenched at my sides, I face her. “Jeb is the target of a black-widow woman big enough to eat a horse, and now he’s catatonic and can’t even defend himself. Not to mention all the humans who almost went up in flames today, all because of Morpheus’s stupid plan.”

“He never expected Sister Two to become involved. And he had nothing to do with the events at your school. The bugs caught wind of Queen Red’s alliance with the flower fae. They feared she would lead her army into your world after she destroyed all of Wonderland, where they would feed on insects and humans alike. They released the wraiths in an effort to protect their home from Wonderland invaders.”

“Technicalities,” I answer. Her calm rationalizations are only making me angrier. “Doesn’t it ever bother you? How he always gets by on those? He couldn’t use his magic because of the glamour, so he had you and Hattington and the nurse do all his dirty work. Which meant that each time he told me he wasn’t doing those things, he was able to lie to my face—guilt free, in true Wonderland form.”

“He wasn’t guilt free. He has been in torment. It was not his original plan to use your mortal knight.”

“Right. I’m sure it was to sacrifice his own life for all of Wonderland, because he’s an old-school martyr like that.”

She frowns, her pale pink lips shimmering like flower petals in the sunlight. “That was his plan.”

I want to laugh, but the sincerity within her frosted eyes stops me. One thing I’ve learned about Ivory, she’s always honest when confronted. “All right. Convince me.”

“A week before Morpheus started visiting your dreams again, he came to my castle and told me of Red’s ultimatum. He asked me to use my crown-magic to look into your future, to assure that if he did as she asked and gave himself up to Red, she would be satiated and you and Wonderland would be safe forever. What I saw … it changed everything for him.”

She holds out her palm, and a bubble appears. It’s the size of a softball, only luminous and clear. “Vow to me you’ll never tell anyone what I’m about to show you.”

I stand mute, staring at the bubble as a blurry image begins to form inside.

“Vow it,” Ivory presses.

I make the pledge. Two life-magic vows in one day. I’m becoming a pro at netherling negotiations without even trying.

Still holding the bubble, she bends down beside my mosaics and scrapes off a small residue of gray powder left from Chessie’s sparkle cloud of earlier. She swipes it over the crystallized bubble, which animates a scene that’s startlingly familiar. Not only can I see it, but I can hear, smell, feel, and taste it.

I’m crowned and seated on a throne at the head of a table, hosting a feast with mallet in hand, prepared to strike the main course dead. The scent of clover wine, moonbeam cookies, and baked fruit wafts from sparkling platters and crystal glasses.

Gathered around are a mishmash of creatures, some clothed, others naked, all more bestial than humanoid. They are my subjects, and my heart brims with affection for them—for their weirdness, for their madness, for their loyalty.

We talk and tease and bargain with the main dish. Maniacal laughter echoes in the marble halls, sweet to my ears.

There’s movement at the banquet hall’s entrance. A child with my eyes tumbles in—all wings and blue hair and giggling innocence. Holding his hand is Morpheus, wearing a ruby crown.

The Red King. My king.

The bubble bursts and takes the vision with it, leaving nothing but the sound of my gasp and wisps of gray smoke behind.

“You see,” Ivory says, “once Morpheus knew that one day you would belong to him and he to you, that you would share a child, he was no longer willing to die to save Wonderland. But he’s insecure about your feelings for him. He feared you would refuse to help. So he made a new plan, however flawed it was.”

I’m reminded of that first day in the bathroom at school, the words Morpheus said: “One does what one has to do, to protect what they love.” I knew there was an underlying meaning; I just had no idea how soul-deep it went.

I’m having trouble breathing. “A son,” I say, recalling every detail of the child’s perfect face.

Ivory’s smile is blinding. “A most unique creature. The first child to be born to two netherlings who’ve shared a childhood. Wonderland is founded on chaos, madness, and magic. For so long, innocence and imagination have had no place there. As a result, we haven’t had children, at least by your world’s definition. And because of this, we’ve lost the ability to dream. But Morpheus experienced those things via you, each time you played together in your dreams. Through your child, Wonderland will thrive with new magic and strength. Our offspring will become true children once more; they will learn to dream again. And all will be right with our world.”

“No,” I murmur. I put my theoretical son out of my mind. I’m not ready to make that sacrifice. All I can think of is Jeb, my family and friends, and my future in the human realm. “That can’t be right. I chose to stay here.” I look down at the spot where Jeb was earlier and feel so empty.

Ivory catches my hands and clasps them. “You can still have a future with your mortal knight. You can marry him. Have a family and children, here.”

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