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That’s why he lets other people drive the Mercedes: He’s afraid to. While imitating Finley, he can’t use his wings or transform into a moth. Never once has he had to rely on anything but himself for transportation, and he has no control of his momentum inside a car. It probably feels like he’s locked in a tin can, barreling down a cliff, and he can’t do a thing to stop it. So … better to leave the driving to someone who knows what they’re doing.
For the first time since I can remember, Morpheus is totally out of his element. For the first time since I remember, I’m the one in control.
All those years he teased and pushed me when we would go flying, all those times he made me confront gruesome creatures and frightening situations until I was paralyzed with fear. He showed me no mercy.
It’s time to serve up some crow and get some answers.
Pressing on the gas, I smile—a Cheshire smile.
Brown dust pelts the windows and the sides of the car—loud enough to sound like pea-size hail. Flipping on the windshield wipers to cut through the grit, I let out a hoot.
“This ride is spectacular! Right, Morpheus? Just like flying, right?” He tenses next to me, trying to hide his panic. I glance at him and he’s practically green; even the jewels beneath his skin flash a putrid, sickly tone. “What’s the matter? Stomach a little kicky? Didn’t you always say it’s the kicks that let you know you’re alive?”
“Blast it! Would you watch what you’re doing!” he screeches over the sound of the train whistle getting louder in the distance.
I laugh, returning my attention to the road, where the fork up ahead leads over the railroad crossing and straight to my neighborhood. “Tell you what. I’ll take it nice and easy the rest of the way under two conditions. First, you’re going to clear everything up with Jeb about what happened today in the girls’ bathroom. And second, I want to know the truth about my mosaics. Otherwise …” I give the gas a push, and the car leaps forward.
“All right.” He smashes the hat with shaky fingers.
“Both of my conditions. Vow it.”
He presses his palm to his chest, repeats my conditions, then finalizes the vow with a snarled, “On my life-magic.”
“Perfect. Now, about the mosaics.”
He slaps his thigh with his hat. “Do you honestly think I’m the only one with the ability to slip undetected into a car with its alarm on? Someone else wants those mosaics as much as we do. She’ll do anything to get them.”
“She?” I shake my head and slow down to forty miles per hour. “My mom? But she was in my hospital room. How could she …?”
Placing the crumpled hat in his lap, Morpheus gives me a glare that could put molten lava to shame. Then his gaze drifts to the key around my neck.
“Red,” I murmur, my temples pounding at the thought. “She’s here. She’s in the human realm.”
Morpheus looks nauseated again, but this time it has nothing to do with my driving.
“If Red is indeed here,” he says, “things are direr than I thought. Both kingdoms have the portals guarded against her. For her to come through, she must be holding a palace hostage—either the Red or the White. Which alters the balance of everything. And if she’s seen part of what you know, she’s going to want the rest of those mosaics to complete the puzzle. We have to ensure she doesn’t get them. We can’t let her see your visions first.”
I force my eyes to stay forward, only peeking sporadically at the rearview. “My visions? What are you talking about?”
He grinds his teeth, and the scar at Finley’s temple wriggles. “Since you were the last one crowned of the Red royal lineage, the crown-magic now channels through your blood and yours alone, even when you’re not wearing it. This power is at its peak when your kingdom is threatened—it has the ability to show you the future. With the war brewing in Wonderland, the magic is overflowing. Your blood can no longer contain it, and it’s found a way to play out on its own, with glass as its receptor. Those mosaics you’ve made are like bottled visions. And Red doesn’t want you to decipher them before she can, for fear you can use them to defeat her, in the same way that she can use them against you.”
I tighten my fingers around the steering wheel so hard I almost swerve. “So, if she can get my blood, she can make her own mosaics and read them?”
“No. The magic always chooses a route unique to the crown’s bearer. For you, that’s an artistic venue. Red is a full netherling; she lacks the ability to set her imagination and subconscious free. You are part human, and an artist. Creation is your power. It’s a power she covets but will never have. Although, if she can steal what you’ve already made and decipher it …”
My windpipe tightens as I take the fork in the gravel road. My duplex community lies about a half mile on the other side of the train tracks.
“That’s why she would do anything to get them,” I answer, dread winding around my heart.
Morpheus nods. “Now do you understand why we need to get to your house?”
In that moment, the railroad crossing arms start to lower and the alarm bell rings.
My intention to “take it nice and easy” is all but forgotten. I shove the gas pedal to the floor, determined to beat the train and get to Mom, too worried for her safety to care about anything else.
The motor roars and the car speeds forward, full throttle, until there’s a loud thump in the engine. Shaking and stuttering to a stop, the Mercedes stalls and the engine dies—right in the middle of the train tracks.
The alternator light blinks on. “Oh, no,” I whisper. “No-no-no.” I grind the key and pump the gas. Nothing happens.
“Start the bloody car,” Morpheus says with a desperate glance out the window on his right, where the freight train barrels toward us.
I turn the key, and turn again, but the engine won’t start.
“Do it!” he yells.
“I can’t! I—I don’t know what’s wrong!”
The train’s whistle blares, no longer lonely but ominous.
“Get out!” Morpheus unbuckles his seat belt. Fingers stiff and trembling, I try to loosen mine, but my skirt is still bunched inside, screwing up the release button.