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How was she supposed to get to the astrolabe, get it away from Sophia and the guardians before they could take it? And then hide the fact she wasn’t bringing it back to Ironwood long enough to get Rose free from him? Her mind began to dissect the problem, cutting it up into manageable measures, testing the tempo, the flow of beats, until finally she settled on a possibility.

The only way to do this would be to get Sophia on her side. To make her complicit in not only destroying the astrolabe, but lying to Cyrus. Etta could force him to set up a trade—to claim she needed to see her mom before she gave him anything. If her mother knew something was going to happen, would she already have a plan?

Or…Etta was beginning to feel the tremor of certainty in the pit of her stomach that this might only end with the old man’s death. And it might have to be her who dealt the killing blow.

The thought made her sick—her mother might have been ruthless, but Etta wasn’t sure what it would make her into if she did kill him. He was responsible for Alice’s death—the thought should have filled her with the satisfaction of revenge, but…it didn’t.

Besides, what would she do about the other travelers there? The ones that Ironwood would no doubt have guarding Rose?

As she lay in the darkening room, her mind kept circling back to those words, the ones her mom had written at the end of her first letter: An ending must be final.

Final. As in…destroyed? Do what her mother and her great-grandfather couldn’t, and destroy the astrolabe entirely? Now that she had a clearer picture of her mom’s heart, Etta began to wonder if her mother didn’t expect to be saved—if this, like Alice’s last words to her, was meant to comfort her; to direct her; to tell her it was all right.

A flash of bone-deep horror cut through her.

I can’t lose Mom, too. Not now, when she had so many questions about her family. Not ever, when they had so many places to go together. If her mom was gone, too, what reason would Etta even have to try to get back to her New York, to the tattered remains of her old life there?

Destroying the astrolabe would be her last resort, she decided. Some part of her was still hoping she could get through to Sophia, to convince her to come back to Etta’s own time and escape Ironwood once and for all. That way she could use the astrolabe, somehow, to create a passage directly to her time without needing to find the one in the Bahamas that led to the Met.

Etta slid the compass into the folds of her robe, just in case, and stretched out over her blanket. She forced her mind clear of all of the competing thoughts that sprang up when she closed her eyes.

It’ll be over soon, she thought. An ending must be final. She rubbed the raw markings around her wrists, and tried very hard not to wish that Nicholas was there. She didn’t need a protector, or a rescuer. But she did need him.

Sophia returned half an hour later by Etta’s guess, still grumbling as she sank down onto her bedding. Next door, the guardians were talking, laughing, and Etta caught a familiar word passing between them, one Hasan had used: ašwaak.

Ašwaak…as in, Thorns?

There was silence between the girls as the last lights from the caravanserai were finally extinguished, dragging them into the darkness of night.

“Does the astrolabe really create passages?” Sophia asked suddenly. “Not read them?”

I’ll give you an answer if you give me one. Etta almost said it, but she thought of Nicholas then, and realized suddenly that she might not need to manipulate Sophia. Not when the truth was on her side.

“Yes. He wants to create a passage back to a point where he can save his first wife without losing his fortune, or his control over the other families,” Etta said. “He’ll destroy our future, I’m almost sure of it, just to rebuild something he thinks is better. You can’t let him have that much power.”

“Oh, I was never going to give it to him,” Sophia said. “Especially not now that I know exactly how powerful it is—thank you for that piece of information, by the way. My God, this is amazing. I won’t just be able to lord it over him—I’ll be able to burn his life down around him.”

“Sophia—” Etta tried to interrupt, but the girl talked over her, almost trembling with her excitement.

“This is the most powerful object in the world; the travelers and guardians won’t just align with me, they’ll kneel. I won’t need to be the heir—I can go back far enough to take him out of the game entirely.”

Etta was so stunned, she almost couldn’t speak. “You’d really kill him?”

“Not before he lived to regret not choosing me,” Sophia said, that false sweetness back in her voice. “I want him to suffer, to see me rise as he falls. So don’t worry, darling. He won’t change the future, because I’ll change it first.”

AFTER NEARLY SEVEN HOURS ON camelback, rocking with the animal’s slow gait, Etta was too focused on controlling her ride to notice when the sparse desert had begun to take on some green again. If she’d thought the first leg of their trip had been barren, this last section felt like they were seeing the dry, crumbling bones of the world. Etta’s eyes never once stopped watering from the sun’s glare cutting through the cloudless blue sky.

But then in the distance, something began to take shape. Not the city itself, but the crumbling fortress on one of the hills that flanked it. What was left after a thousand years of wear and wind looked distinctly Roman, a sea of pillars and columns, hundreds of them that looked like they were holding up the sky.