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Etta would have been destroyed by this, torn apart by the knowledge. He was grateful, if only for a second, that she wasn’t there to witness the unraveling of what she loved most dearly.

Rose’s eyes sparkled with fury. “This is what it means to be a traveler—to make impossible choices, to serve the good of the world and not yourself. Ironwood will tear the future apart now, do you understand? A traveler warned me of it, of war unlike anything we’ve seen, of the debts and contracts Cyrus will be called upon to fulfill from powerful men and kings. Etta had to travel. The world—time itself—needed her to destroy it. And if I have to justify that to you, to explain my motivations in any other way, then you aren’t worthy of what we can do.”

How could she begin to justify the killing of kin? Of an elderly woman who her daughter had loved above nearly all else? He could understand the importance of safeguarding the timeline, preventing Ironwood from growing that much more powerful, but the deceit here—the murder of a loved one, the outright manipulation of her daughter, which had led to her death—it all made him wonder if ice water was running through her veins. Even now, there was something so…infuriatingly calm…about the way she spoke, and he had held back his anger for too long to stop himself. “How can you be so callous about your own daughter’s life?”

Rose sent him a venomous look. “I can assure you, I’m not.”

“She’s—she’s gone forever, and you stand there, and you speak of her as if—as if you only care whether she’s useful to you—” He could scarcely get the words out. “Why…why…”

“Gone forever?” Rose interrupted sharply. “Tell me exactly what happened.”

Somehow, Nicholas did. Each and every agonizing word. Coward that he was, he couldn’t bring himself to look the woman in the face.

“When a traveler dies, they don’t disappear,” Rose said, brushing a hand across her horse’s flank, brows drawn together. “If she had died, the passage in Damascus would have collapsed with the surge of energy released as time took her unnatural presence here into account. But it didn’t—I wouldn’t have been able to come through, otherwise.”

His heart was beating so fast in his chest, the pain of it stole his breath. “It’s not…true?”

“It sounds to me like she was caught in a wrinkle—anything you heard, or felt, or saw, was time reaching out to orphan her when the new timeline took effect. Only a traveler can affect that kind of change—these guardians, the Thorns, they were travelers, weren’t they?”

He nodded. If they’d truly followed Sophia as she had followed Etta and Nicholas, then they would have had to be.

“Their presence here instigated the change, then,” Rose said. “They must not have been part of the original event—the version of the timeline in which the astrolabe was destroyed.”

“Why didn’t it shift immediately when the others took it?” he asked.

“Because there was still a chance that it could be destroyed, and time would have corrected itself the best it could to smooth over the snag on the timeline that their presence caused,” Rose explained.

Unless Sophia had planned to go with the men to destroy the astrolabe, or there was a chance it might be damaged or lost on their ride back to Damascus, Nicholas couldn’t see how this was possible.

“If the traveler who warned me is correct, the alteration to the timeline will be catastrophic,” Rose said. “We must prepare ourselves for that.”

“What does all of this mean for Etta?”

“She’s been flung to the last common event before the timeline shifted, whenever that may be.”

“Why were you not affected? Why wasn’t I?”

“Because both of us were born before whatever this last common year is,” she said.

Nicholas shook his head, trying to rid himself of that futile hope. “But…this is what passed with my brother, when he was killed—he fell to his death.”

One of Rose’s brows arched again. “Then perhaps he, too, survived without you realizing it.”


Nicholas had not cried since he was a child, and could not remember what it was to weep, but he imagined it had to be what was happening to him now. It seemed the only explanation for the pressure that rose up inside of him, that broke over him like a wave. He was stunned by the quiet force of it.

“She’s not…” The words shook as they left him. “He’s not…”

“Speaking for Etta, I think she’s still alive. The wound sounds serious, but not fatal, especially if she can find help,” Rose said. “I can’t tell you any more than that.”

“Can you help me find her?” he asked. “How? Where is she?”

Her expression sharpened, became assessing. “Who are you to her?”

“I’m the one who will always protect her,” he said. “I’m the one that will see her home.”

Rose allowed a small smile through, and it was so very Etta, he had to press his hands to his side to keep them from shaking. “What’s your name?”

“Nicholas. Nicholas Carter.” He managed a curt bow despite his disgust and fury. “Your servant, ma’am.”

Some of the ice in her expression chipped away as she gave him a small smile. “My, you’re serious.”