This time I am going to die.
My knife was gone, lost in the tumble from the wagon.
His weight had crushed me, his hands crazed steel rings around my neck. My nails scratched at flesh, face, arms. Sound blurred. I had no more air, the deckled edges of the world ruffled away, disappearing, my fingers doing a last desperate dance.
I saw Death standing behind him, smiling. You are next.
My fingers pulled, searched.
Make a wish, Kazi, make a wish for tomorrow.
Make a wish for the next day, and the next.
One will always come true.
And then my hand knocked against something hard. His knife. His knife was still sheathed at his side.
* * *
I sat on the wagon seat beside Jase, his arm around me, and everything about it seemed right and easy and blessedly calm. My clothes were still drenched in blood, and his knuckles were bruised and swollen. Mije followed behind, tethered to the back. The raiders’ horses were tethered behind other wagons. I leaned into Jase, sometimes closing my eyes. Sometimes dreaming. Sometimes feeling his lips brush my temple.
The next day and the next.
The ghosts, they never go away. They call to you in unexpected moments.
Because if I could believe in tomorrow or the next day, maybe that would give the magic time to come true.
There was a time when I wondered if it was all a dream. A nightmare. That she had never existed at all. That I was sprung from a fevered sleep and had always been a hungry shadow on the street. Her face faded, her touch faded, the same way a dream does no matter how hard you try to hold on to all its parts. But her voice remained clear as if she had never left me. The memory was bittersweet, saving me, when she couldn’t save herself.
You must find the magic, my chiadrah.
I nestled closer to Jase.
Maybe I had.
Maybe there could be tomorrows.
It didn’t seem like such a dangerous thought anymore.
* * *
The main house exploded with activity. We had rolled in the back way through Greyson Tunnel so we wouldn’t parade our injuries and bloodstained clothes through town and create a panic. The news raced through the tunnel, and by the time we reached the front steps of the main house, Vairlyn was already out there shouting orders. Fetch the healer! Call Gunner and Jalaine home! More bandages from the stockroom! Set out supplies in the dining room! Buckets of ice from the icehouse! She walked from Tiago to Samuel to Wren, examining them for injuries, grabbing chins and turning heads from side to side. Go to the dining room! Inside! Though Synové tried to flinch away, she couldn’t escape Vairlyn’s clutches, and Vairlyn examined her bloody, bandaged head. More orders were shouted. Draw baths! Prepare guest rooms! It was clear she had done this before. Maybe too many times.
At the bottom of the steps, Jase pulled me aside before she made her way down to us.
His fingers gently skimmed the bruises on my neck, and he shook his head. “I don’t want to say you shouldn’t have come, but if you hadn’t—”
“No thanks necessary, Jase Ballenger. I did it for an entirely selfish reason.”
His brows lifted. “Which is?”
“You still owe me a riddle. A good one. You’re not getting out of it that easy.”