And then she remembered.
Panicked, Etta tried moving her legs, shifting to get them under her. If he was here, then…she hadn’t gotten away. Ironwood would know she’d tried to slip out of their deal. And her mom…
He’s going to kill her.
She shouldn’t have left—she should have been more careful. What was the point of any of this if Cyrus turned around and killed her mom while Etta was centuries and continents away from protecting her?
I had to take the risk—I had to get ahead of him, to beat his deadline.
But when she closed her eyes, her mind was already imagining it, already seeing her mother’s lifeless eyes staring back at her.
This was better. Leaving without his permission had to be safer for her mother than waiting and ultimately running out of time. The air seemed to tick around her, counting down.
“Miss Spencer?” Nicholas said, his voice loud in her ears. “Can you hear me?”
Etta forced her eyes open all the way, taking in his face, the remnants of a broken ceiling, and the blue sky beyond. Unsure of what to say, she tried, “Hi?”
The relief in his face flashed to irritation. “Do you realize you could have been killed—or worse? What the devil were you thinking? Or were you not thinking at all?”
Irritation burned through Etta. “Mind your own…business.”
Need to move…need to find it…need to get to Mom…
But her legs were still not cooperating.
“I ought to throttle you for this,” he continued. “Is anything hurting other than your cheek and hand? I’ve cleaned your cuts as best I could—”
She shook her head. Aside from those things, she was fine. Mostly. “Dizzy.”
He sucked in a sharp breath. “That is traveler’s sickness. It’ll ease with every passage. For now, I’m afraid you’ll have to bear it.”
“H-horrible—” Etta tried to get her hands beneath her, to push, so she was at least sitting up. Aside from the anger she felt radiating off him, Nicholas seemed completely unaffected.
She twisted away from his hands as he reached out to help her, and scooted back through the dust and debris until her back hit a wall. A cool expression slid over his face, and she was suddenly pinned by guilt. If it were possible, Etta felt worse than before.
“You were attempting to run,” he said, stating the obvious. “Incredibly foolish. Do you honestly believe Ironwood’s reach is limited to the eighteenth century? If nothing else, have a care for your mother! If he sees you crossing him this way, he will kill her.”
“I left a note with—with Sophia, saying I needed to leave now, because of the deadline.…” Etta shook her head. She’d written it by moonlight, and waited only long enough to be sure the man on guard outside their door was asleep. “I can’t run out of time.” And I don’t necessarily want Ironwood to be able to follow me. “You don’t understand—”
She’d known it was a risk; that she was maybe naïvely banking on the chance that Ironwood would not punish her mother if she left without his permission in order to, as she’d written in the note, “make your deadline.” Etta had a feeling the old man had ways of tracking her progress across time. She needed a little bit of a head start to find her footing and avoid anyone tailing her to report back on her movements—which passages she’d used. Unfortunately, she hadn’t factored in traveler’s sickness.
“Explain it to me!” he said, his voice a harsh, deadly quiet. “Explain to me why you’d risk her life—why you’d risk your life—leaving without any supplies or preparation! I didn’t take you for an idiot!”
She clenched her jaw, glaring back at him. Her arm was filled with pins and needles as the blood rushed to it, but she lifted it all the same, searching the ground for the bag of things she’d “borrowed” from the trunk in Sophia’s room.
It looked like they were in some sort of hallway—only, maybe hallway wasn’t the right word. The vaulted stone ceiling was broken up by shattered skylights and long hanging lanterns. There were shops inside here—she saw battered chairs, shoes that had been blown out of storefronts. The second-story windows above each gold-and-black store entrance looked like they had been thrown open all at once.
“There,” she said, pointing to the leather bag a short distance away. “I didn’t c-come un-unprepared.”
What had happened here? It looked like a bomb had gone off; everything looked damp, like the people here had only just put out an enormous fire. Where am I? she thought, panic gnawing holes in her core. She heard distant voices, clipped English accents, too faint to decipher.
Nicholas sorted through the bag. “A pair of sewing scissors, a harmonica engraved with Sophia’s initials, a small mirror, a few pieces of gold, your mother’s letter, a—”
“—a lady’s support garment, an apple, and a revolver,” he finished, closing the bag again. Sophia hadn’t had a truly modern “support garment,” but the one Etta had found in the trunk was as close to it as she was going to get.
“What else would I need?” she asked innocently.
“Water? Maps? A list of known passages? Era-appropriate clothing? Ammunition for said revolver? Do you even know how to use the weapon?”
Well, he had her there. “If you try to bring me back, I’ll—”