Are you listening, Etta?
You won’t forget, will you?
“Remember, the truth is in the telling,” Etta said slowly. In other words, what she told me overrules anything she’s written?
Maybe her mother had moved the painting at some point after writing the clues out—or had it been meant to be a false lead, on the off chance that Ironwood figured out her set of clues, and picked up her trail? In either case, they were in the wrong city, the wrong time.
“We have to go back,” she said. “We missed something. We’re not supposed to be here.”
“But you said…” Nicholas’s brow wrinkled. “Are you certain?”
“Positive,” Etta said. “Can we get back to the passage to Angkor?”
“We can damn well try.”
AS THEY BOTH FEARED, THE AUTHORITIES HAD BEEN CALLED TO Luxembourg Garden after the disturbance, and Etta felt a shiver work through her at the thought of it being written up in the papers—of there being a witness, a record of the event. They’d been so careful until now.…
“I wouldn’t worry,” Nicholas said. “I think…perhaps this was supposed to happen.”
She looked up, startled. They were keeping to the very edge of the garden, weaving in and out of the outer ring of trees. The uniforms of the police blended in with the dark suits of the men giving their statements and accounts, offset by the pops of vivid color that were the women.
“In Virgil’s letter he referenced a sighting by my—that Augustus had, of Rose in Paris. Perhaps this was it?”
Perhaps. But that was almost too insane for her to accept. It took away the idea that she had free will in any of this; it seemed to suggest there was a set path that they were already on, and had been on from the beginning.
“Or perhaps it’s only a coincidence,” he said.
The passage was only humming by the time they found it, rippling in the darkening air. Nicholas forced her to wait a moment while he prowled through the trees, his pistol drawn, to make sure they were alone. When they finally stepped through the passage, the crushing pressure felt familiar, like a too-tight embrace, but not like an attack against each one of her senses.
The entrance spit her out at full speed, and Etta found herself slipping forward onto the stone, pinwheeling her arms to try to slow down. Her weight carried her forward until her toes hung over the edge of the terrace, forcing her to sit to avoid falling on her face.
“Etta? Where are you?”
The darkness in her vision wasn’t from traveler’s sickness, then—the sky was as black as coal around them.
Same day, she thought wearily. Different time-zone.
A heavy set of clouds blocked out the moonlight and the stars. In response, her other senses came alive again: the sweet, rotting smell of the jungle as it decayed and bloomed in turn. The sound of small raindrops striking the stones and leaves. Nicholas’s hands brushing the top of her head as he felt around in the darkness.
“I am praying to God that that’s you and not another tiger.”
Etta laughed. As if in response, a cloud peeled back just enough for a thin shaft of moonlight to sneak down and make the puddles glow.
“Quick—where’s the harmonica?” said Nicholas.
He released a single, powerful breath and winced as the passage screamed back in response.
Her ears, already sharp, were beyond sensitive when all of her other senses were swamped; it reminded her of all of the times that Oskar had demonstrated a technique and asked her to close her eyes to truly focus her ears on the difference in tone or sound quality. The layers she heard before were easier to separate now, like sections of an orchestra.
There. She’d been right before.
“Do you hear that?” Etta asked.
Nicholas said, “All I hear are Satan’s hammers and the war drums of hell, thank you.”
Etta shushed him.
He fidgeted impatiently. “I mean no disrespect, but perhaps…”
“Listen,” Etta said, and then began to hum, matching the pitch of the low, growling snarl. It changed without warning; she adjusted the sound until it was sharper, higher, a match to a trilling his ear had ignored.
Each gate seemed to deliver a veritable mess of sounds as they struck the air, but these two were so different in their nature, cast at such different pitches, that she was angry with herself for not investigating it before. There were two calls woven together. Two passages.
“So there is another one here,” he said. “I can hardly hear it.…”
Etta turned, trying to decide where it was coming from; the stones bounced the sound around, disguising its true source.
Nicholas swung his gaze around wildly, searching for the ripple of air, the glimmer of the second passage’s entrance.
When he turned back to her, he was smiling. “I know where it is.”
“You do not!” Etta said, standing on her toes and searching herself.
“I do believe that one goes under my tally,” he said, obviously enjoying her outrage.
“Have you been keeping score?” she demanded.
All right, fine. “I figured out how to find the one in London.”
“We found the passage to Paris together, and the old man figured out the location of the passage in my time,” he said, “so, no points awarded for those. We’re one for one, pirate. An even draw.”
That…didn’t sound so terrible after all. “How are you so sure?” she asked.