Her discomfort at the thought of being watched while she slept, unable to do anything about it, was defused by how weak of an effort this guard had put into the task.
A breeze caught the tears and sweat on her face and ruffled his open shirt collar. The window, framed by long crimson velvet curtains, had been left open.
Slowly, so as not to make a sound, Etta shifted up, biting her lip against the pain that lanced from her scalp down to her toes. Her eyes skimmed quickly around the room, searching for anyone else, but saw no one. A handsome little writing desk was nestled up against the floral wallpaper, a short distance from a bureau that looked so large, Etta had a feeling the room must have been built around it. Both had been carved from the same gleaming wood as the bed; leaves and vines arced along their edges, the pattern weaving in and out of itself.
It was a pretty little gilded prison, she had to admit. But it was already past the time when she needed to be searching for a way out of it.
Several candles were burning in the room: on a side table, on the desk, in a sconce near the door. It was the only reason she could make out her own reflection in the dusty mirror hanging over the bureau, though the image was split by an enormous crack across its center, and distorted from hanging at a crooked angle.
Etta rubbed at her eyes and examined herself again with growing disbelief. She knew her time in Damascus had given her pale skin some color, but now her face, ears, and neck were sunburned to the point of peeling. Her greasy hair had been braided away from her bruised face and hollow cheekbones. She looked ill—worse than that. If someone hadn’t cleaned the dirt from her face and arms, she would have guessed she’d been dragged beneath a taxi through Times Square. Repeatedly.
Yet, somehow, the worst thing about it all was that someone had taken her clothes from Damascus off her—while she slept—and replaced them with a long, ankle-length nightgown, tied high and prim at the throat with a hideous mauve ribbon. She hoped it was the same person who’d taken the care to wrap and bind her shoulder—the same person who had cleaned her up the best they could. Still, she shuddered, both at how vulnerable she’d been and how badly it could have gone for her.
Unable to ignore the stinging pain a second longer, Etta turned her attention to her left shoulder, peeling the fabric back to inspect the itchy bandage that covered it and her upper arm. Biting her lip, she fought the unhelpful rush of tears that came as she pulled the fabric away from the sticky, healing wound.
It was a hideous, grim shade of pink—not the sheen of new skin, but the furious color of a burn. The splotch was still swollen with an uneven blister. The tightness in her throat became unbearable; Etta heaved in a breath, her gaze darting back over to the sleeping guard.
Let’s go, Spencer. Run first; think later.
As soon as she could manage without feeling as though she would vomit from the motion, Etta swung her legs around and pressed her toes into the dusty Oriental rug. Just as she began to test whether her legs could bear her weight, a fast clip of steps drummed out beyond the closed door at the opposite end of the room.
In a rush of motion that smeared black across her vision and made her head feel like it was collapsing, Etta dropped to her hands and knees, ducking down until the bed blocked her from the view of anyone who might come barreling through the door.
“…have to get…”
“…try telling that to him…”
The voices trailed past, disappearing as quickly as they’d appeared, but the faint buzzing in her ears had subsided long enough for her to detect the strains of garbled music rising up through the floorboards. The clinking of glasses cut into the rising voices that bubbled like champagne froth.
Fear woke inside Etta all at once, blazing through her confusion.
It seems like this Ironwood does have some luck left to his name, after all.
Both Nicholas and Sophia had warned her that Cyrus Ironwood had guardians watching each of the passages. She hadn’t recognized the man who’d spoken to her, but it didn’t matter, seeing as that single word, that single name, was enough for her to know she was in serious trouble.
But even that thought was devoured by another fear.
Where is Nicholas?
Those last few seconds in the tomb were splintered in her memory. She remembered the pain, the blood, Nicholas’s horrified face, and then—
The only way to describe the sensation she had felt next was as if some invisible rope had knotted around her center and yanked her through a veil of imploding darkness. Etta pressed her fists against her eyes, unknotting the idea inch by inch.
I’ve been orphaned by my time.
The timeline has changed.
My future is gone.
Panic swelled in her chest, hot and suffocating. It fit—all of these pieces fit with what Sophia and Nicholas had explained to her. Time had reached out and snatched her, tossing her through a series of passages before spitting her back out at whatever the last common point was between the old timeline she had known and the new one they had inadvertently created.
Because the Thorns took the astrolabe? Etta knew carelessness could change the timeline, but not severely enough to cause travelers to be orphaned. That required intent. Focus and strategy. Taking the astrolabe from her, preventing her from destroying it—that hadn’t been enough to orphan her, but something else had. They must have used it. That was the only explanation she could think of. The Thorns had used the astrolabe and irrevocably changed—broken—some event or moment in history.
And now she was here, with the Ironwoods, and Nicholas was not.
Colors burned beneath her eyelids, blood beat between her ears, a crescendo that broke over her in a frenzy of pain and grief.
She couldn’t think about her right now. Ironwood had sworn to kill Rose if Etta didn’t return with the astrolabe by his deadline. But…She took in a deep breath. Knowing what she did about her mother now, Etta had to believe—she had to hope—that Rose was alive, that she’d already escaped from wherever the Ironwoods had been holding her.
Now it was her turn to do the same.
She forced herself to relax the muscles bunching up her shoulders, to breathe the way Alice had taught her to when her stage fright was at its most crippling. The anxiety, the terror, they were useless to her; she breathed in, out, in, out, until they were chased out of her mind, replaced by a floating, graceful measure of notes. The music was soft, serene, filling the shadows in her thoughts with light. Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending. Of course. Alice’s favorite, the one Etta had played at her instructor’s birthday, a few months before…before the Met concert. Before she’d been shot just outside the mouth of the passage.