Ensnared Page 33

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Morpheus squeezes my shoulders over the drop cloth. “The creature out there wasn’t going to hurt you. It was simply intrigued. It’s seen your face before. All the creations down here have.”

Remembering the barbed wire sketches, I shake my head. “No. The graffiti acted like I was a contagion. They tried to kill me.”

He lifts an eyebrow and trails a fingertip along my neck. “Is that how you got these scratches?”

I nod.

He studies the rips in my sleeves and the burn marks from the shooting stars. “How very curious.”

“They’re monsters.” I clutch the cloth tighter around me.

“Not all of them,” Morpheus corrects. “Little Nikki has the same creator and she’s quite pleasant.” As if to prove his point, Nikki lights next to his hand on my shoulder and strokes my hair.

The same creator. The blood on my tunic’s hem left by the broken-heart sketches . . . the stains look like paint. Just like Jeb’s doppelganger tasted like paint.

Sick awareness tightens my windpipe. The fluorescent fairy and graffiti, Jeb’s disfigured elfin look-alike, and the landscapes on his easels—it all reminds me of when I first stumbled upon my powers . . . the time I inadvertently made a mosaic come alive. I animated it on the wall at my house—dead crickets and winterberries dancing and dripping inside their plaster frame.

“Oh, no,” I say, my voice airy. “It isn’t that Nikki is immune to the consequences of using her magic here. She’s made of magic. Jeb painted her. He painted his look-alike, too. He’s bringing his artwork to life.” The explanation sounds like fiction in spite of how my gut knows it’s true.

A glint of pride reflects back at me from Morpheus’s black eyes. “Splendid deduction. Yes, Jebediah has tapped into netherling gifts. But there’s more to it than that.”

As if satisfied I’m okay, Chessie prances off my thigh and ducks out from under Morpheus’s tented wings. Nikki follows him.

Once they’re both gone, I turn back to Morpheus. “What do you mean, there’s more?”

“Hmm.” His fingers find their way to my neck again, but this time, he catches the strings there and drags out the diary and key before I can stop him. “First, you tell me about this little treasure.” The red glow glosses his face. He tries to open the book, but the magic is too powerful and the key’s too big.

I yank the strings away, tucking them under my tunic once more.

Morpheus studies me. “What are you hiding on those tiny pages, Alyssa? And why?”

I look at him dead-on. “I finally have a secret of my own. Not so fun being on the other side of one, is it?”

The slow burn of amusement warms his features. He leans in and whispers, “On the contrary, My Queen. I cannot imagine anything more delicious than peeling away your defenses, layer by layer, and baring your precious . . . secret.”

Heat climbs my chest and fills my neck and cheeks. It’s beyond unsettling, how quickly he can shift between comforter and tormentor.

He watches the blush of my skin, obviously enjoying taunting me. “In fact, I’m willing to bet I get to the bottom of your secret before you do mine. It’s like I’ve always told you: Netherling logic resides between sense and nonsense. When you turn your back on everything that you once thought was real, you will find illumination.” He drops his wings.

Warm sunset pours through the glass ceiling.

“I suppose we’ll see how much you’ve learned to rely on your Wonderland side.” He singles out the red strip of my hair from my braid and holds it up to the light, then tucks it behind my ear. “Netherling intuition can decipher the illogic of everything you’ll encounter while you’re here, which will aid you on your grand quest.”

I sense this “grand quest” he refers to is more than just Dad’s and my attempt to get to Mom.

Dad . . . I forgot him again! “My dad!”

“Glad to see you’re concerned,” Jeb says from the doorway, and I wonder how long he’s been standing there. “No worries. I was just with him, and he’s all right.”

A long-sleeved black satin shirt hangs over Jeb’s broad shoulders and arms, unbuttoned and flowing. His eyes glimmer with a disorienting light that confirms there’s something otherworldly flowing through him. Though relieved he hasn’t transformed physically, I’m terrified of what’s happening inside of him.

His labret glints red in the fading light overhead, reminding me of how the elfin knights pricked their skin to mark their faces with gems made of crystallized blood. With his long, wavy hair, Jeb really does favor the ones I met in Wonderland. His stony expression—giving no emotions away—only adds to the illusion.

“Would you take me to him?” I ask about my dad, feeling like I’m talking to a stranger.

“First, answer a question for me,” Jeb says. “If you care so much about him, why would you bring him into the middle of all this?”

Jeb’s accusatory tone stings. I’ve been away from him for weeks and was just attacked by his creatures, yet instead of comforting me or welcoming me, he’s raking me over the coals. “My dad is as much a part of this twisted fairy tale as the rest of us.”

Jeb meets Morpheus’s gaze. “Right. Bug-snot told me all about Thomas’s past. But why would you drag him through that pain again? He’s better off not remembering.”

“I—I had to give him his memories back,” I stammer, shaken at the thought of Jeb and Morpheus sharing confidences. “Do you think you would’ve been better off not getting yours back?”

Jeb looks down at the floor, a thoughtful crease between his eyebrows. “I think I would’ve been better off not ever making them to begin with.”

I struggle not to cry. As razor-sharp as the confession is, I’d be weeping blood. “I needed Dad’s help to find a way into the looking-glass world. He wanted you and Mom back. It was time for him to know the truth.”

“The truth.” Jeb scrubs at the red stains on his palms. “Surprised you know what that is anymore.”

I whimper before even realizing it.

“It’s not what you think,” Jeb says without looking up. He splays his hands, as if they’re what made me react. “It’s paint. Not blood.”

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