Splintered Page 61

“Her home, of course.” The jewels at the edges of Morpheus’s tattoos turn clear and sparkle like liquid, mimicking the sincerity of real tears. “I’d like nothing more than to get Chessie’s head myself. But, because of our misunderstanding over the moth spirits I harbor, the Twid Sisters and I aren’t on the best of terms. They’ll not let me set foot nor wing anywhere close to their gate.”

“Wait.” I step up. “What does this have to do with the cemetery?”

“That’s where Chessie’s head resides,” Morpheus answers. “Because he’s technically ‘partly’ dead, he was able to find solace there. So the solution is simple: Save the cat to subdue the bandersnatch, free the Ivory Queen with the sword, and then you get to go home.”

“What a load of crap.” Jeb shoves Morpheus away. His netherling wings swipe wide, maintaining his balance before he crashes into a chair. Gossamer drifts down from the leaves, hovering over him.

Jeb takes my hand. “Let someone else go after the cat. Al’s in danger out here. We need to hide until we can get home. She’s done everything you asked. The curse is broken, right?”

Morpheus looks at me, not Jeb. “What good is breaking the curse if you never go home? If Alison never sees her daughter again, she’ll be worse off than she is now. Her sanity will no longer be an act.”

I shudder. Morpheus is right. Alison would never forgive herself if I was lost for her sake.

Morpheus glances over his shoulder toward where the tea party crew argues over who gets to drink the mouse’s bathwater from the hare’s boot. The edge of his mouth curls. “The inner garden is hallowed to our kind. We’re forbidden to walk upon those grounds. You’re the only ones I can send.”

I squeeze Jeb’s hand, hating what I’m about to say. “We have no choice, then. We’ll go.”

Jeb presses my knuckles to his chest. “No. I’ll go. You fly back with bug snot.”

“Of course,” Morpheus interrupts, his voice edged with something between sarcasm and suggestiveness. “I’ll be happy to take Alyssa back with me. We can pick up where we left off in my bedroom, right, luv?”

I scowl at him.

Jeb pushes me aside and snaps out the Swiss Army knife, the blade pressed against Morpheus’s sternum. “Better idea. Give Al her wish—now.”

My stomach turns. “Jeb, I won’t leave without you.”

“It won’t come to that.” He slides the blade up to Morpheus’s throat. “You can wish you never came at all. You’ll still be the subject of the wish, and it’ll get us both out of this. I never would’ve come if I hadn’t seen you leap into that mirror.”

He’s right. That would work. The only problem is, I’ll have done this for nothing: Alison will still get shock therapy and my family will be cursed again because I’ll have never come to fix things.

“Give it to her,” Jeb says, “or she’ll have a king-size moth to use in her next masterpiece. Got me?”

Gossamer flies in Jeb’s face in a frenzy of wings. Her distraction gives Morpheus a chance to catch Jeb’s wrist and hold him back. “I don’t have the wish,” he seethes. “It fell out while I was trying to save your bloody little lives, and now it’s in the hands of Rabid White.”

Jeb twists his arm free. “Lies.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Morpheus answers, watching Jeb warily. “Alyssa wouldn’t use her wish so lightly. Elsewise, her family will forever suffer the curse she risked life and limb to break. ”

The heat from Morpheus’s knowing gaze is a thousand times worse than the spotlights on the miner’s caps at Underland, and there’s nowhere to hide my bared soul. “He’s right.”

Jeb glares at me. “You’ve gotta be kidding. Your mom wouldn’t want you in danger!”

I look down at my boots. “Why are we talking about this? He said he doesn’t have the wish, anyway.”

Jeb’s laugh has a bite of venom behind it. “That’s amazing. You just keep playing into his hands.” His face hardens. “You know what I’d do if I had a wish? I’d wish you would trust me like you used to. The way you trust him now.”

The insinuation cuts deep. He can’t really believe that. Can he?

Jeb turns to Morpheus, brandishing the knife’s blade again. “Anything goes wrong—she gets even a scratch—and I’ll gut you from head to toe.” Forcing himself to pull back, he turns to retrieve our backpack.

“Get directions to the graveyard,” he says to me before he moves to the edge of the hill, stopping at the border of the chessboard desert. He snaps the army knife closed and looks off into the distance with all the patience and composure of a wild, caged animal while Gossamer flutters around him.

“Your boyfriend has some real trust issues,” Morpheus baits.

“Shut up. He had a rough childhood.”

“He should be grateful he had one at all.”

“Stop fishing for sympathy. You had a childhood. I was there, remember?”

The black marks around Morpheus’s eyes crinkle in a snide grin. “No, Alyssa. It was poor little Alice I was referring to.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“You will need a weapon.” Morpheus sidesteps the question. Reaching a gloved hand into his jacket, he digs around in an inner pocket and draws out a small, thin cylinder of wood. He turns it, revealing holes in the body and a mouthpiece at one end.

“A flute? How’s that supposed to protect us?” I ask.

Morpheus steps closer and tucks the cylinder into my blouse. He slides it against my bare skin until it fits snugly in my cleavage. Gossamer must be distracting Jeb, or he would’ve already thrown the jerk off the hill. Personally, I’m considering shoving the instrument up his nose.

His gaze holds me in check. Somewhere behind the fathomless black glitter is sincerity, maybe even concern. My heart pounds against the flute’s cool, smooth wood.

“Let us hope you remember those music lessons your mumsy had you take.” Morpheus leans his hip against the table. His wings relax behind him. “A cello should suffice for knowing the musical scale. You’ve played one instrument, you’ve played them all, aye?”

For the first time, it hits me point-blank. “You’re the reason she wanted me to play.”

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