The imposter was sitting, leaning against the crate, its head swinging back and forth between us, eyeing me warily as if to ascertain I wasn’t about to begin moving toward it again.
I gazed at Barrons in mute pain and protest. Now more than ever, I was wondering if I’d ever escaped the Sinsar Dubh’s clutches that night in BB&B.
You are here and I am here and this is real. Barrons shot me a cool, dark look. Don’t flake out on me now, Ms. Lane.
I stiffened. I never flake out.
Remember that. And don’t do it. Focus on the moment. We’ll figure this out. You’re trying to see the whole fucking picture in a single moment. That’s enough to make anyone crazy. What do you do on a bloody minefield?
Try to get off it?
One step at a time.
He was right. Focus on the moment.
I looked back at the thing masquerading as my sister. It sat, looking as confused and disturbed as it had since the moment I’d first seen it. Then it looked up at Barrons, searchingly. “Who are you? What are you to her?”
Barrons said nothing. Answering questions isn’t high on his list with anyone but me, and that’s only because I have things he wants.
It went on in a rush, “My sister is carrying the Sinsar Dubh. It’s in her clothing somewhere. We have to get it away from her. We have to save her.” It cringed as it spoke the words, snatching a quick glance at me, as if it expected me to suddenly rain death and destruction on its head for speaking those words.
“I’m not carrying the Sinsar Dubh,” I snapped to whatever it was. “It’s inside me. It has been since birth. But it’s not in control of me.”
It blinked at me. “What?”
“My sister died over a year ago in an alley on the south side of the River Liffey after scratching a clue into the pavement. What was that clue?”
“It was 1247 LaRuhe, Jr. But, Mac, I didn’t die.”
I felt like I’d just been kicked in the stomach by a team of frigging Clydesdales. For the teeniest of instants I wondered if it was possible. “Someone watched you die,” I prompted.
“A girl with red hair. She took me to the alley. But she left before I…I—”
“Before you what?” I demanded coldly.
It shook its head, looking hurt and confused and lost. “I don’t know. I don’t remember. It’s all…fuzzy.”
Oh, that was convenient. “You don’t remember. That’s because my sister died. Dead people don’t remember things. They sent Alina’s body home to me. I saw it. I buried it.” I’d mourned it. It had become my inciting incident, the catalyst that had reshaped my entire life.
“Mac,” it gasped. “I don’t know! All I know is I was in that alley and I was gouging a clue into the pavement for you. Then…I guess…I must have lost consciousness or something. Then two days ago I found myself standing in the middle of Temple Bar with no freaking clue how’d I gotten there! I have no idea what happened. And everything has changed! It’s all so different, like I came to in the wrong—” It broke off, narrowing its eyes. “That happened a year ago? I was in that alley a year ago? I’ve lost a year? What is the date, I need to know the date!” Its voice rose with hysteria as it surged to its feet.
I took a step forward without meaning to and it pressed back against the crate, trying to become paper thin. Its hands went to its head, then one shot out to ward me off. “No, please, don’t come any closer!” It whimpered until I took a step back.
I looked at Barrons.
It is conceivable, his eyes said.
“Bullshit!” I snapped. “Then how do you explain the body I buried?”
I cursed and spun away. Turned my back on the imposter. I couldn’t keep looking at it. It was dicking with me royally. I couldn’t believe the body I’d buried hadn’t been her body. I didn’t want to believe it.
Because deep down—desperately and with every ounce of my being—I wanted to believe it. Discover that someone, somehow, perhaps a Fae, had hidden my sister away and she’d never died at all. What a dream come true!
Unfortunately, I don’t believe in clichéd happy endings anymore.
“Why do you have a ring on your finger?” I shot over my shoulder.
“Darroc asked me to marry him.” Its voice caught on a sob. “You said he’s dead. Is that true? Have I really been missing for a year? Is he alive? Tell me he’s alive!”
I glanced over my shoulder at Barrons. Is it really human? Could whatever it is be fooling even you? I sent silently.
I sense her as fully human. Further, Ms. Lane, she smells like you.
I blinked, my eyes snapping wide. Do you think she’s my sister? If Barrons believed it, I might have a complete meltdown. Or suspect my entire reality of being false. Barrons was nobody’s sucker.
Not enough evidence to make that call.
What do I do?
What do you want to do?
Get that thing out of here.
No. Remove it
What will that accomplish, Ms. Lane?
It will make me feel better at this very moment and that’s enough.
Continue questioning her, he ordered.
I don’t want to.
Do it anyway. I’m not taking her anywhere.
She’s not a “her.” She’s an “it.”
She’s human. Deal with it.
I waited for him to remove the imposter. He didn’t. Pissed, raw, seething, I kicked a crate out from the wall and dropped down on it. “You can start by telling me about your childhood,” I fired at it.
It gave me a look. “You tell me,” it fired right back.
“I thought you were afraid of me,” I reminded.
“You haven’t done anything.” It shrugged. “At least not yet. And you’re staying far enough away. Besides, if I really lost a year and Darroc’s dead, do your worst,” it said bitterly. “You’ve got my sister. I don’t have anything left to lose.”
“Mom and Dad.”
“Don’t you dare threaten them!”
I shook my head. It was acting like my sister. Bluffing me like I would have bluffed. Tried to keep the Book from knowing I had parents, if it didn’t already know, then threatening if the Book appeared to be threatening them. Another twist of the worm in my apple. I was rapidly losing my grip on reality.