Steadfast

Page 27


Let her go. Don’t argue any longer. Soon you’re going to steal her memories. Steal her magic. And she won’t be able to do anything to your father or to anyone else you love. To anyone, ever again. Let Elizabeth walk away tonight. Next time—the tables will be turned.

Nadia took one last look at the burns on Elizabeth’s shoulder before she was swallowed up by the darkness. Imagined the pattern burning itself into her retinas to leave a shadow, like staring at the sun too long.

Elizabeth came home to find Asa waiting for her, as her servant should; instead of kneeling and awaiting her bidding, however, he was reading a book by candlelight.

“You let yourself be diverted by human cares,” she said, kicking shards of the broken glass in his direction.

He didn’t flinch. “If you didn’t want any distractions, maybe you shouldn’t have sheathed me in someone who has homework.”

“Don’t let your human body deceive you into thinking that this world is anything more than a shell.” Elizabeth went to one of the few pieces of furniture she still used, a chest of drawers so dilapidated that it leaned to one side and creaked as she pulled it open. “A shell we have already cracked.”

“I can’t help noticing that Nadia Caldani isn’t with you.” Asa smirked at her. Insolent beast.

“She will be.” Elizabeth’s fingers touched the thing she sought—a piece of human bone so old that it felt powdery in her hand. “Have you watched them as I bid you? Or are you too preoccupied?”

“I have watched. Their vulnerabilities are obvious, their schedules predictable. I know the vehicles they travel in, the comings and goings of their families, what they order at Burger King, so on, so forth. Which of them will you turn me toward first?”

“All three.”

“Ambitious. You’re not giving Nadia another chance?”

“I don’t want you to destroy them. I want you to sow discontent.” Elizabeth closed her fist tightly around the bone; motes of dust escaped between the cracks of her fingers. “She resists because she believes herself supported. Beloved. Take that away, and she’ll be able to see reason.”

“Tear her friends apart. Understood.” Asa grinned. This was the kind of task demons were best at.

The quartz ring on her finger felt warmer against her skin as she called up ingredients for her spell:

Death in ice.

Hatred forever hidden.

A child never born.

Old memories sliced through her, so familiar that she could bear them without flinching.

“Please,” the young man whispered. He was lost in the woods, a blizzard freezing the world around them, while Elizabeth stood and watched him from within a protective fire. “Please help me.” He had no more strength to speak after that, could only lie there as his skin turned blue and the tears in his eyes froze.

“You will not raise your voice to me,” her husband growled, lifting his arm in a way that meant only a threat, not a blow. Elizabeth wanted to use her spells to strike him down, but no man could ever see magic, could ever know that it existed, and so she meekly nodded and gave him a smile, that he might believe himself loved.

“Why won’t it come?” The girl writhed in her childbed, trusting Goodwife Pike to help her. There were tisanes of certain roots that might have brought the baby, certain spells that would have done more, but Elizabeth knew she would need this memory someday, and so she merely mopped the girl’s brow and waited for the hours and pain to bear her down to death.

Elizabeth turned her hand upside down and opened her fingers. The bone dust remained suspended, a small, swirling cloud. She stepped back and let it rise until it steadied at eye level.

Asa looked bewildered, as well he might; this magic was obscure even for her. “What is that?”

“Something for Nadia Caldani,” Elizabeth said.

“Another warning?”

“Indirectly. Call it a sign of things to come.”

Mateo was dreaming.

He knew when he was in one of the visions by now. But that didn’t make them any less immediate, less real—or less frightening.

The waves churned beneath the boat, twisting his gut with nausea. Overhead lightning split the sky. Mateo hung on to the sides of the boat and screamed, “Nadia!”

She didn’t hear. He could see her in the distance, a dark, small shape almost lost in the whirling gray clouds and water. Her hair whipped and snapped in the wind, like a scarf of silk streaming behind her.

He had to get to her somehow. He had to get to her in time.

In time for what?

The boat suddenly rocked as though it had struck a shoal, but when Mateo turned he saw Gage sitting next to him. Gage’s dreadlocks didn’t blow in the breeze; his expression was stoic. It was as though nothing happening around them had the power to move him.

They were going too fast now. Their boat was slicing through the water at a speed so great it seemed to steal Mateo’s breath away. Nadia was coming closer, closer—but soon he would race by her and she wouldn’t even see him—

“Drop anchor!” Mateo shouted to Gage. “Drop anchor now!”

Gage lifted the heavy metal anchor, raised it high, then smashed it down toward Mateo’s head—

Mateo woke with a start. In that first moment, he could only think, Vision.

But it still felt very real. Too real. Like, for instance, the flat, hard surface beneath his back—and, when he opened his eyes, the night sky above.

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