Splintered Page 81

His free palm opens to display my wish. “When you’re ready, squeeze it to burst in your hand while thinking of your heart’s dearest desire. But be sure to choose your words carefully. Say that you wish to be free of Queen Red’s influence forever. That is the only way to free your family.”

I nod.

For some reason, he won’t meet my gaze. “All I ask is that you wait for me to crown you before you make that wish.” His lashes cloak his eyes, and the jewels on his face blink three different shades of blue—as if he’s indecisive about something.

I slip off my gloves and take the bead, still warm from being in his pocket.

He surprises me by offering something else—the jade carving of the caterpillar from his room. “So you’ll never forget me, or your better side.”

I take it, swallowing against the doubt in my throat.

He lifts the ruby crown over my head.

I clamp my fingers around the gelled wish, waiting for my cue, rehearsing to make the words perfect in my mind.

“I crown you Queen Alyssa, rightful ruler of the Red Court.”

He’s no sooner placed the circlet on my head than the door flies open. Card guards and elfin knights fill the room, expressions stern and solemn. Two elves point their swords at Morpheus and force him to his knees. Gossamer hovers over one of the knight’s heads and Morpheus glares up at her.

“You spilled the magic beans, eh, traitorous pet?” he asks with venom.

An apology glimmers in her coppery eyes. “The guilt would’ve eaten you alive,” her bell-like voice chimes. “To take an innocent girl from all she knows and place her in a foreign world, away from her friends and family. So blinded by fear, you could not see you were repeating what happened to Alice. You are my most beloved master . . . I will not watch you wither away in regret. Better you face your fate with nobility.”

Morpheus hisses at her. “Nobility? Was it not noble that I saved your life? Now you’re condemning me to death! I should’ve left you to be eaten by that fanged toad all those years ago.” The elves tighten their stance over him, and Gossamer hangs her head in shame.

The knights and guards around me part to make an opening for someone coming through the door.

“What’s going on—?” My last word clips short as a woman in ivory lace—flesh and gown glistening like ice crystals—steps forward. Her feathery white wings arch high and graceful, like a swan’s, complementing the lovely turn of her long neck beneath waistlength silvery hair. Her face is familiar for its beauty and loneliness, and she carries the pewter hatbox that once imprisoned her.

The Ivory Queen.

How did she get out? Did Queen Grenadine and King Red release her?

One glance at the roses on the box, and that hypothesis falls to shreds. The roses used to be white. Now they’re the color of . . .


Ivory steps up, inches away from where Morpheus kneels.

“You seduced me,” she accuses him, her voice cracking. In spite of the angry frost shooting from her bluish white eyes, tears roll down her cheeks.

“Recovered your memories, I see,” Morpheus remarks, smug even in the face of the swords pointed at him.

“Along with my crown.” She touches the glistening diamond tiara on her head. “You used such pretty words.” She sobs. “All the nights we shared. You made me think you cared for me . . . used my affection to trick me into the box.” Her delicate fingers brush the wetness from her face. “Then you framed King Red and turned my court against him, all so you could close my portal and hold the young princess here until she completed your plan! Have you told her yet? The truth of it all? What you intended to take from her?”

I look down at Morpheus. The guilt on his face sickens me. “He told me I could leave after I was queen.” I throw the caterpillar carving at his feet. “What else is there?”

Morpheus stares at the chess piece next to his knee. “Nothing. To atone for all of the wrongs done to her, I was to see Red’s blood heir crowned as ruler of the Red Court.”

A queen in ruby-colored robes, with ribbons on her toes and fingers that match her flaming hair, pushes forward, her king and guards flanking her. It’s Queen Grenadine. “There is more . . . the sprite told us . . .” She holds a beribboned hand to her ear, listening to the whispers. “Yes . . . there was one other stipulation to his curse, you see. One that will lock you forever to this place.”

“He never intended for you to leave,” Ivory tells me.

I curl my fingers around the gelled tear. If that’s true, then why the charade with the wish?

“In your mad rush for freedom,” Ivory says, her attention once again on Morpheus, “you have cost a noble mortal man his life and betrayed both courts. Amends will be made for your heresy.”

The words mortal man ice my heart. I turn to the jabberlock box and the blood-painted roses. My chest cinches tight with a horrible intuition. “Where’s Jeb?”

Ivory opens the box’s lid, sympathy softening her expression.

My stomach writhes even before I see the matted dark hair in the black water, even before it spins to reveal a face so familiar it scrapes my soul bare.



“Jeb . . . no, no, no.” Rivers of hot tears burn my face.

He looks confused as he watches me from inside the jabberlock box; then a flash of knowing brightens his eyes. “Al.” His lips mime my name on a surge of bubbles. The muted word breaks me in half. I was supposed to be his lifeline . . . how could I let this happen?

“Oh, you idiot!” Morpheus shouts up at Jeb. “Just had to be the hero, didn’t you?”

“You are to blame for his state.” King Red steps up to speak. “Your actions caused this earthly young man to make a choice . . . an irreversible one.”

“You’re one to speak of blame,” Morpheus shoots right back, arrogant as ever. A knight whacks him on the head with a gloved palm.

Guilt gouges so deeply inside me, I almost double over from the pain. I kissed another guy, and Jeb bled his body dry for me. “This can’t be happening,” I say to Ivory, swatting tears away.

Her expression grows tender. “I’m so sorry. My court would never have listened to King Red’s claims of being framed. The only one they would believe was their very own queen. Morpheus planned to set me free but only after he succeeded in trapping you here. Gossamer told your mortal boy, and he chose to take my place so I could stop Morpheus from completing his plan. He could not bear for you to be locked in our world forever.”

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