Splintered Page 85

“I don’t believe you,” I murmur, half-conscious. My veins refill, healing my skin. The agonizing lacerations both inside and outside my body ease to numbness.

He strokes my head. “Of course you don’t. I’ve given you no reason to.”

I snap open my eyes as a roar breaks from the bandersnatch’s pen. The gate hangs off its hinges, the padlock crushed and useless as the monster rises over Morpheus’s shoulder with Queen Red’s ivy illuminating its veins. She found another body to inhabit . . .


He leaps toward the monster to defend me. Two tongues and a lasso of vines cinch around his neck, jerking him high into the air. He loses his hat.

Still weak, I struggle to stand. “Fight back!”

But it’s over even before I say it.

Morpheus clutches his throat. “Better to take my medicine, luv,” he chokes out. “If you try to outsmart magic”—a strained cough breaks his words—“there’s always a price to pay.”

The creature swallows him whole. His wings slide down last—a flash of glistening black grace.

The creature is about to charge me but instead falls to the ground and rolls around, wrestling itself. Morpheus is still defending me from the inside.

When the bandersnatch rises to its feet again, it runs into the closest wall. Slamming its massive body against the rock until it crumbles and breaks open, the monster bursts out of its chain and leaps through the hole, escaping into the wilds of Wonderland.

I sit and stare at the giant gap in the castle wall—my hooped gown encircling my waist like a velvet globe—for what seems an eternity. As I breathe in the night air, I know it really can’t have been more than a few seconds.

The pixies arrive to gather the dead. They first appear in the distance, mining lights bobbing in the darkness before they clamber in over the rocky ruins and set to work.

I scoot forward to pick up the tiny caterpillar carving from the floor and tuck it into the top of my dress. I stop to look at Morpheus’s fedora, and a pang of regret stings my heart.

Crawling to Ivory, I tap her face to wake her so she won’t be mistaken for dead.

The pixie brigade passes us, sniffing as they go. “No smellum deadses. Move longish and wide.”

While they gather the corpses, Ivory and I help each other stand. I tell her everything that happened when she was unconscious.

I’m numb . . . my emotions rubbed so raw, I’ve become desensitized. “It makes no sense,” I whisper, holding my chest where the carving, cold and lifeless, presses against my heart. “Morpheus defeated Red’s Deathspeak, then gave himself up to the bandersnatch, the very fate he’d been running from—”

“To save you.” Ivory finishes my thought. “It appears he did have the capacity for unselfish love, after all. Just not for me.”

I rub at the tears and blood dried on my face, overwhelmed by the destruction surrounding us. “I came here to set things right. Instead, I made a mess of everything.”

Ivory straightens my gown and wings. Her eyes are kind as she catches a strand of my loosened hair, studying the fiery red color. “Sometimes a flame must level a forest to ash before new growth can begin. I believe Wonderland needed a scouring.”

I look down at my tattered and bloody clothes. “What happens now?”

She places the ruby crown on my head and repositions her own. “You are the rightful heir of the Red Court. You passed all the tests and received the crown. Grenadine is required by her court’s own decree to step down. Whatever you bid your subjects do next, they will abide by it as law.”

“Whatever?” I ask.

As she nods in response, the door bursts open with the help of a battering ram. Both courts pour in from the outer hall. Even the clams and zombie flowers have found their way through the hole in the wall.

Soon, I’m surrounded by a celebration of creatures both winged and wily, left to decide my own fate for what feels like the first time in my life.

“What will it be, Queen Alyssa?” Ivory asks.

I bend over to pick up Morpheus’s hat and place it on my head over my crown, tilting it at an angle. “Let us feast.”



In the realm of humans, a proper high tea would’ve better served negotiations between two kingdoms trying to reestablish peace, but watching my albino ferret friend pound the roasted goose into submission, and seeing all my guests plunder the giggling main course for its succulent, aromatic meat, I know I made the right choice.

The maniacal laughter, smacking lips, and uncivilized conversations provide a comforting backdrop while I square away things with my new royal friends. I sit at the head of the table with Ivory on my right and Grenadine on my left and catch a floating bottle of wine sent my way by the woolly-headed netherlings at the other end. Pouring a glass for myself, I toast them, then take a long drink. The flavor of berries and plums rolls down my throat, thick and sweet like honey.

Dad wouldn’t approve, even though this is nothing like the wine at home. All I know is, I need something to warm the chill in my chest that hits each time I see Morpheus’s fedora on the arm of my chair—the red moths fluttering with the movement around me.

Morpheus’s sprites share my grief. They bob and weave around the table like hiveless bees, unsettled. Gossamer hangs limp from the chandelier above, crying inconsolably.

Rabid White entertains Grenadine with a joke while passing a plate of moonbeam cookies. The ribbons on her fingers that reminded her of her king’s whereabouts and the skeletal netherling’s betrayal mysteriously flew off when we first sat down to eat. I tuck the red bows beneath my leg to be destroyed later.

Rabid has sworn a vow of loyalty to me and whomever I choose to rule in my stead while I’m gone. Grenadine will need an experienced royal advisor, and I have no reason to doubt his devotion after everything he did to see me crowned.

“You are resolved in your decision?” The Ivory Queen asks me. “It’s better this way,” I answer, touching the necklace around my neck. This key is mine to keep. A ruby embellishes the top, in honor of my kingdom.

“You should know . . .” Ivory lifts a crystallized candy, sucking on one end. “Since you’re a half-blood, the realm in which you live shapes your form. Your wings and eye stains appeared here but will vanish within hours there. Your powers are eternal but will become dormant if neglected. The more you avoid reminders of your stay in the nether-realm, the more human you’ll become.”

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