Ensnared Page 21

Both gates are separated from the terrain in such a way. The green glowing vortex holds the prisoners at bay, makes it impossible for them to storm the gates. They would have to control the wind funnels to get across. The other eyeball, the one that used to guard this side of the gate, was mentally connected to the funnels. The knights have formed medallions of the creature’s remains and now harness that power to safely travel into and out of AnyElswhere.

After a short discussion with the knights, Uncle Bernie steps down and offers a mechanical pigeon to Dad. “Push the button under its throat.” He demonstrates. “When the beak glows, you can record a message. Once you find the boy and make it to the Wonderland gate with the supplies, send us a message to let us know everyone’s okay. The pigeon will find us. It’s gilded with iron, to deter any of the prisoners from intercepting. You have one day. If we don’t hear back within twenty-four hours, we’ll follow the pigeon’s homing beacon and find you.”

Dad takes the iron-gilded bird, tucks it into our bag, and tries to talk. Nothing comes out.

Uncle Bernie nods. “You haven’t built up a tolerance to the black mist you inhaled.” He speaks loudly over the twister coming our way. “Your vocal cords will stay asleep for a half hour or so.” He gestures behind us and we turn to see the funnel hovering close. Winds gust around us, slapping my braids against my face and neck.

“You remember how to do this?” my uncle shouts to my dad.

Dad nods.

“Step in and hold tight to each other,” Uncle Bernie directs. He lifts a medallion at his neck, holding it up. An off-white oval shimmers in the center and red strands run through, jagged and fine like blood veins. Tarnished, brassy metal frames the strange stone. “We would give you a medallion of your own, but we can’t risk it getting into the wrong hands. Since you have someone to find, I’ll have the funnel drop you in the middle of the world, where we release the prisoners. Beware, though. The landscapes are unpredictable lately, and since the twisters are tied to them, they’ve become unruly. So we can’t be sure exactly where you’ll end up. We’ve provided a map. Look for both of the glowing green gates from where you land. They are the north and the south. Use them as the key to the map. Above all else, stay together.”

Dad nods. Uncle Bernie hugs us both and nudges us toward the approaching funnel. I watch Dad’s hand disappear into his suit as he tightens the duffel on his shoulder. He stares into my eyes. I want to crawl into his hug and hide, like I did as a little girl.

But I’m a woman and a queen now. And I’m the one responsible for all of this. There’s no hiding anymore. I tip my chin. I’m ready.

We pull down our hoods to keep ash out of our faces, then leap inside together, holding tight as our feet lift and our bodies swirl. Within minutes, the funnel opens to reveal a snow-capped hill coming up fast beneath our feet. Scraggly, leafless trees dot the landscape at the base. I can’t see the iron dome overhead. There’s a false firmament between it and the ground that looks like an orange sky. A smoky tang stings my nose through the fabric, as if there’s a fire somewhere close.

We’re ejected onto the top of the peak, and the impact breaks us apart. Dad grabs for me but rolls down the opposite side of the incline, his hood opening so I can see his face and neck. It’s a haunting image, as if he’s been beheaded. I dig my nails through the fabric cloaking my hands in an effort to clutch the snow. But it’s not snow at all. The hill is coated with ash like the funnel we arrived in. The terrain crumbles beneath my fingers and sends me skidding out of sight of Dad.

I remind myself he’s been here as a child and survived, and this time he has the advantage of invisibility and a duffel filled with weapons.

My body twists sideways and the hood wraps tighter as I’m dragged along the dusty landslide. My bones clatter with the rough ride until a rock the size of a medicine ball slams into my stomach at the bottom of the hill. The impact knocks the air from my lungs.

I struggle to catch my breath.

“Well, bloody holiday. What have we here?” The deep, British accent strokes my eardrums like velvet.

I peer through my hood’s fabric. Morpheus stands on the other side of the rock, gaze turned down on me. He glows in the orange dimness, a soft blue light radiating from his hair. A lilac shirt under his navy tapestry jacket complements his alabaster skin. Striped pants hug his streamlined silhouette. He wears a fedora cocked to one side. Although I can’t make out the moths clustered around the hatband in this strange lighting, I know they’re there.

He holds a cane. The eagle-head handle is so realistic it could be on a plaque at a taxidermy shop. Feathered wings wrap the shaft, and four paws sprout from the base, each one covered with golden fur like lion’s feet. Talons splay from the toe-pads in place of claws.

Morpheus is as stylish and eccentric as I remember. Somehow, this place hasn’t broken him. I’m so happy, I want to hug him—until I notice the angry red jewels blinking at the tips of his eye markings.

He tucks the walking stick beneath his arm and kneels close, wings drooping. Anger hardens his exquisite features. “Here I’d hoped never to see your face again.”

Morpheus’s hatred hits me like a fist, an agonizing throb that rivals the bruises where the rock juts into my rib cage.

“Your being here changes nothing,” he seethes. “You’ve made your bed. Now lie in it.” He doesn’t spare another word, doesn’t ask how I got here or even speak my name. He simply shoves the rock aside so it’s no longer between us.

I curl into a ball. What did I expect? I destroyed the home he loves, then sent him to the looking-glass world to rot without his magic. It’s not like he was going to draw me into his arms and say how much he’s missed me.

But it’s not as if he didn’t play a part in this nightmare himself, either.

An apology tangles with my righteous indignation. Better the words stay locked inside a voice box that’s dormant. There’ll be time to break through Morpheus’s walls later. Right now, I need to find Dad and make sure he’s okay. Then we’ll search for Jeb—who will most likely have the same reaction to my being here.

I grip the diary and key at my neck to assure they’re safely under the clothes. I’m about to stand and trek through the barren trees when Morpheus gets to his feet and turns his back and wings on me.

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