“At least you’re consistent,” she said coolly.
His silver eyes were ice. “I loved her.”
She failed to control it. Every muscle in her body locked. She refused to do what her body was screaming to do, break the lock with motion, turn away, distract her hands with something, evade his much too sharp gaze, which even now was searching her, trying to translate her body language. He’d always seen too much. She willed herself to relax, went fluid. “You don’t know the meaning of the word.”
“Refusal to permit emotion is a noose with a very short rope.”
“Emotion is a noose with a very short rope.”
“I agree to disagree. For the moment. Dancer is here. I expect you to—”
“My cooperation has nothing to do with what you expect. Nothing I do has anything to do with what you expect.” For years she’d lived precisely that way. “Merely that I will do whatever it takes to save my world.”
“Our world.” He turned toward the door at the sound of footsteps approaching.
“Is the only thing we’ll ever share.”
“Careful, Dani. Crow is something you used to like to do. Not eat.”
The footsteps sounded wrong to her. People were running, shouting.
Jada darted sideways into the slipstream and blew past him.
If her elbow was slightly out and nailed him in the ribs, it was a matter of haste, nothing more.
“You think you own me, you should have known me…”
On a tiny world of teleporting trees, Jada encountered a furry creature that could best be described as a cross between a feral lynx and a chubby koala bear, with a feline face, a shaggy silver-smoke pelt, and a fat white belly. Its paws were enormous, with thick, sharp black claws. Its ears were tall and perky and great silver tufts curled out of them.
It was surprisingly agile despite its pudginess, capable of shimmying up trees on the rare occasions they remained stationary long enough, and loping great distances at astonishing speed.
It had morosely informed her it was the last remaining survivor of its race.
Incessantly talkative, cranky, prone to fatalistic commentary on virtually every topic, it had mocked her many bruises from colliding with the impossible to predict, randomly relocating trees, chastised her for no doubt starting a certain apocalypse with her chaotic crashes, and taught her to better navigate “the slipstream.”
She wasn’t, the little beast told her, sounding enormously cross and depressed for whatever reason he was always spectacularly cross and depressed, picking herself up mentally and shifting sideways, she’d merely managed to hitch a ride through one of the higher dimensions—and how was quite perfectly beyond him, considering how primitive and clumsy she was.
She’d asked his name, not surprised they could communicate in the strange fashion they did because by then she’d already seen too many strange things to be surprised by much of anything.
He’d announced with nearly hysterical despair that he had no name but was not averse to being given one.
With tears streaming from enormous violet eyes, he’d told her that his life was without meaning and he preferred to remain in the eighth dimension—which she couldn’t possibly understand, seeing how she couldn’t even manage the fifth one adequately—where no one could see him because there was no one to see him, and when someone is unseen and alone, nothing matters, not even matter.
He’d only returned to the third dimension when he’d sensed her there, he’d told her, around great hiccupping sobs, because he thought she might be troubled to finger-comb his matted fur (considering the dirty orange mass of tangles on her own head wasn’t a complete mess), perhaps trim his nails (though not quite as short and dirty as hers), which were too sharp to chew and getting painfully ingrown.
She’d christened him Shazam!, hoping he would grow out of his brood into the moniker and become an epic companion. She’d later changed it to Shazam, as he favored the wizard more than the superhero.
This was during her first year Silverside, as she called it, before she’d hacked off her hair, when she still believed she might be rescued and was yet willing to risk connecting with the seemingly more reasonable occupants of the worlds she briefly inhabited.
Trapped on the planet Olean, roughly a sixth the size of Earth’s moon, for months, she’d traveled the small continents, seeking the way off world with the gloomy, prone-to-vanishing-without-warning, small-cranky-needy-feline-bear thing by her side, absorbing all he had—or was willing—to teach her between his nearly comatose bouts of depression that alternated with alarming binges of eating everything he could get his paws on.
She’d been instructed by her mopey, volatile companion to stop locking her grid down mentally, and instead expand her senses and feel for the disturbances looming in her path.
She’d ended up with far more bruises than she’d ever gotten doing it her way.
But one day, blindfolded, aching in every limb, depressed and aggravated by his eternal defeatist commentary on everything from the ominous portent of the angle of the sun in the sky to the certain impending destruction of his world as clearly foretold by the bent of the teleporting tree limbs, she finally began to see what he was saying.
Thanks to Shazam, Jada now freeze-framed effortlessly, sensing all obstacles, impacting nothing, riding the slipstream as smoothly as an unobstructed water-park slide.
Here, now in the abbey, moving in the fifth dimension, she sensed enormous energy ahead. It wasn’t Ryodan, she’d left him in her dust in the study.
It was Fae/not Fae. Prince/not prince.
Thirty feet to go and nearing, twenty-five, twenty—
She slammed into a solid wall and bounced off it, exploding out of the slipstream, cartwheeling her arms for balance.
“Ah, Dani,” Ryodan said, smiling faintly. “Didn’t see you there.”
She went still. Her ass, he hadn’t. She didn’t press her fingers to her cheekbone, which she was certain would soon bruise. She was the eye of the storm, not the storm. Never the storm.
“I realized years ago your vision wasn’t as astute as I’d once believed,” she said without inflection. He’d been in the slipstream with her and she hadn’t even known. She would learn to sense him. She would eradicate that vulnerability.
His smile vanished.
Good. She hadn’t reacted. She’d responded. She was Jada. Not the one he remembered. In the periphery of her vision, wings unfurled and she turned to assess the visitor. The last she’d seen Christian, he was unconscious, being transported by his clan back to Scotland, along with his uncle’s remains.