Splintered Page 50

Something the flower zombies said nudges my memory. Something about time moving backward in Wonderland. What had they meant by that? It’s obviously not a literal truth. Time has been moving forward since Alice’s visit, or things wouldn’t be in such a state.

A sense of urgency rolls over me. Alison goes for electroshock on Monday. “I need to get to that tea party and wake up the guests.”

Jeb looks at me. “And how are you supposed to do that? Give a magical kiss to the half-baked hatmaker?”

Morpheus secures his hat on his head and tilts it. “‘Half-baked’? Herman Hattington’s skills happen to be exceptional. No one can custom-fit a hat like he can. And as for a kiss waking him? Wrong fairy tale, Prince Charming. Although I assure you”—Morpheus grazes my temple with his thumb—“our little luv is going to bring us all a happily ever after.”

Jeb catches Morpheus’s wrist in midair. Their gazes meet.

“No touching,” Jeb snarls.

Morpheus jerks his hand free. “Our dinner guests know why Alyssa’s here. Since they’ve been missing their excursions to the human realm, they’re willing to welcome her in hopes they’ll get the white portal back. But should they realize you are an outsider who dropped in without an invite, they’ll not be so accepting. For your own preservation, you must be convincing as an elfin escort. Elfin knights are even-tempered and dispassionate. Time to pretend you have such virtues.”

I sense the tension in the air as Jeb struggles to contain his temper. The two face off, staring each other into the ground. I shove an arm between them. “Shouldn’t we get to the banquet?” Frowning, Morpheus fishes Alice’s white gloves from his lapel. The grass stains and dirt have been washed off. “We’ll need the lace fan.” He directs the command to Jeb, who pauses as if he might deck him. I tug on his elbow—a muted plea.

Jeb stalks down the corridor to retrieve the backpack. Morpheus and I study each other in electrified silence. I can’t decide what upsets me most: my evolving netherling traits . . . the ticking clock on Alison’s treatments . . . the jabberlock box . . . why Morpheus seems to care that I kissed Jeb when he’s involved with someone else . . . or, worst of all, why it upsets me to know about his love for Ivory.

The thoughts scatter around me like broken glass when Jeb returns.

Morpheus tucks the fan inside his lapel along with the gloves. “Leave your baggage here. If anything goes awry during dinner, come immediately to this hall. It is isolated . . . nigh impossible to find unless you know the secret entrance. Gossamer will see that you’re sent to the tea party should we have any unexpected guests.” “Unexpected guests?” I ask.

“Guests of murderous or malicious intent. You are, after all, a fugitive from the Red Court.” Morpheus rubs his hands together as if relishing the thought of trouble. “I’m famished. Let us feast.”



Black-and-white stripes cover the walls of the windowless dining hall. I can’t tell where the walls end and the floor and ceiling begin. It’s almost as disorienting as the moving moth spirits earlier. Even the long dining table and chairs at the far end of the room are painted to match, creating a camouflage effect. The guests look like they’re hovering in place on a striped background. I feel lost yet strangely at home, like a flea who has taken up residence on a zebra. A giant chandelier mounted on the cathedral ceiling illuminates our surroundings with swathes of swinging light. I step across the threshold with Morpheus on my right side, my hand curved atop the back of his. Jeb stays two steps behind on my left. In elfin code, it’s unseemly for a knight to have any interaction with his charge, other than to protect her life should the moment arise. We can’t touch, we can’t exchange glances, we can’t even speak to each other, or we’ll blow his cover.

“Your attention, please,” Morpheus says to the guests. Gossamer peers out from under his hair again, and the self-playing harp falls silent along with the dinner chatter and clatter. “Miss Alyssa of the Other Realm.” He turns to me and holds out my arm. “These are the solitary of our kind, born neither of the Red Court nor White. We, the wild and woolly of Wonderland, welcome you to the Feast of Beasts.”

My hand tightens on his as the guests gawk at me, food dripping from their snouts.

Gathered around the long table is a mishmash of creatures, some clothed, others naked. Though they vary in size and gender, they’re all more bestial than humanoid. One looks like a hedgehog, prickles and all, except she has the face of a sparrow. She must be shy, because she rolls into a ball upon our entrance, then bounces under the table. A pink woman with a neck as long as a flamingo’s ducks down and gives the hedgehog a thump with her head, sending the ball out from under the table to the other side of the room.

There are more creatures: some with wings; some that are partfrog/part-plant, with wriggling vines growing out of their skin; others as bald as seals with the bodies of primates and the woolly heads of lambs.

The one thing they all have in common is their interest in me. I’m the focal point of fifty-some sets of eyes.

A few muttered whispers break the hush.

“It’s her . . .”

“Spitting image, she is.”

“I hear she drained the ocean with a sponge. A sponge. Cunning and imaginative, that.”

They all know about my relationship to Alice and what I’m here to do. Talk about epic fail potential.

My nerves combine with the stenches of food, animal dander, and musk. Dizziness spins the room. Jeb’s behind me. I know he’ll catch me if I faint. I also know that if I do, it will ruin everything. I have to stay strong for Alison. So I pull it together and glance from one strange face to the next, curious which creature came to collect the fan and gloves on behalf of the duchess.

Morpheus leads me to the table and slides out a chair at the right-hand side of his seat at the head. There’s a huge mallet propped beside the table’s leg, and one underneath every chair down our row. He settles me next to a small wiry creature that looks like an albino ferret wearing a black baseball helmet on his head, though his serpentine eyes and forked tongue detract from any cuteness factor.

Jeb takes his place behind me, just out of reach. Morpheus stands at his chair and tips his hat to the guests, black wings arched high. “I apologize for my lateness. But on the bright side, our avenging angel has come at last. So, let the celebration begin!”

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