“Otherwise you wouldn’t care if I remained alive,” I said, stating her unstated implication.
“Otherwise it wouldn’t signify.”
I deflected the pain of the jab, remaining focused on her, realizing I might have a unique insight into Jada. How had I forgotten I’d once gone away and come back different myself? When I believed I’d killed Barrons, grief and rage had turned me into a cold, hyperfocused bitch. Jada might never tell me what she’d gone through in the Silvers but it was a sure thing it hadn’t been a walk in the park. How would someone have reached me during those days and nights of unyielding obsession when I’d found it perfectly reasonable to sleep with my sister’s lover and plot the destruction of the world? Could anyone have? “I know you’re not Da—not the person we remember. I’d like to get to know you now.”
“Take the spear. I am what you see. There is no getting to know me.”
“I’d like to hear about your time in the Silvers.” Perhaps the right actions could have thawed me back then. Maybe love, if someone had been able to rattle me enough to feel it. I did recall enough of those dark days to know the last people in the world I’d wanted to see were my parents. Jack Lane would have disturbed me deeply. Staying savage and psychotic would have been extremely difficult around the man who’d taught me to be everything but. What might penetrate Jada’s icy facade? “I want to know what your life was like.”
“My life is now.”
“Jada, I’m sorry I chased you that night. I wish I could do it over again. Keep you from going through.”
“Once again implying that I am a mistake. That I came back wrong.” She looked at Barrons and Ryodan, who were standing behind me in silence. “How does one get her to focus?”
I snatched the spear from Jada’s hand. “Bees.” I changed the subject that was clearly as dead as a three-day corpse. “And bats. I wasn’t out here taking a cheery stroll through your gardens. I was investigating. Figure out how to keep the damn things from getting sucked into that hole or we’ll be tearing down the abbey.”
“No one is tearing down my abbey. This evening,” Jada said. “Galway. Three miles east of town there is one of these anomalies much higher in the air. Bring Dancer. I’ll meet you there.”
“This evening, Chester’s,” Ryodan said flatly. “That’s where we’ll be. Unless you think you can save the world alone.”
Jada was motionless a moment then, “The map I saw—”
“The map Dani saw,” he corrected.
“—I assume you’ve continued tracking the anomalies.”
“Every bloody one. And there are more than there were. You’re missing information. I have it.”
“Tonight, then. Chester’s.” She turned and freeze-framed out.
Dawn was pressing at the edges of the drapes by the time Jada sought her private quarters to sleep for a few hours. It had been three days since she’d last rested, and she wanted to be sharp for the meeting tonight.
Working with a team was so much more complicated than working alone. But none of the things she’d learned Silverside had the least effect on the growing tears in the fabric of their reality. Closing the doors on Cruce had been difficult but doable. Not a single ward or spell she’d mastered affected the black holes. She’d tested them exhaustively on the smaller, isolated ones.
Long ago she’d have pursued her investigation alone, but she’d lost too much and was unwilling to lose more. The girl she’d once been was impulsive, to her own detriment. Jada had conditioned herself to pause before acting. She was uncomfortably aware that very pause might be why she’d failed to predict the Crimson Hag’s moves on the cliff. Intellect and gut were two vastly different things, with disparate strengths and weaknesses.
Imperfect as a child. Imperfect as a woman. But at least she could choose her imperfections.
The Dragon Lady’s library in the east wing was her domain, locked, warded, and spelled so nothing could get in or out unless she permitted it. Inside the ornate yet comfortable book-filled chambers was everything she needed to survive. And a few things she’d gathered for no discernible reason.
Seeing Dancer had been uncomfortable. The others she’d managed with nominal discomfort, reminding herself of one past incident or another, mortaring the wall between them.
Not Dancer. They’d had a single argument long ago about boundaries and friendship, about letting each other breathe, but it had steamed off like fog on a sunny morning.
He’d accepted her on first sight, had said, “Jada,” letting her know right off the bat they were fine, the same as his hand had always held easy, letting her stay or go. He’d said, “Welcome home,” and meant it, smiled, and it was genuine, with none of the rejection she saw in other people’s faces.
Mac, too, seemed different, but Jada had no desire to ponder it.
She moved into the second room of the chamber, draping various bits of shirts and towels and throws over lamps and sconces as she went, dimming the lights. Thanks to Cruce, all lights burned at all hours, and she hadn’t yet fathomed how to degrade that particular magic. She no longer feared Shades in the abbey. Her sidhe-seers had exterminated the last of them.
When she reached the bed, she rummaged beneath it and removed a small wooden box containing various items she’d collected upon her return to the city. She withdrew a folded piece of paper smudged with chocolate, sat on the bed, undid her hair, and ran her fingers through it.
Time. Both enemy and ally.
They thought she’d lost five and a half years of her life. She hadn’t. She’d lived them. They were the ones who’d lost five and a half years of her life. And held it against her.
She turned to gaze at handwritten words she knew by heart.
Kill the clocks, those time-thieving bastards
Haunting every mantel, wrist, and wall
Incessantly screaming our time is gone
Marching to war with us all
Kill the clocks they remind me of people
I once met in passing that pushed me aside
To rush to their train or plane or bus
Never seeing where the true enemy lie
Kill the clocks before they’ve seduced you
Into existing as they do, in shadows of the past
Counting the days as they slip by us