I huffed in breaths through gnashed teeth, then pushed with my arm. The bar scored me inside, inch by ragged inch, till I freed myself. I struggled to my feet, reeling for balance. My wobbly legs didn’t want to hold me. Each breath was agony.
If I could take one step, it’d be one step closer to Jack.
I took that step. And another. And another, until I was slogging through filthy water toward the town. I wound around debris—and half-submerged Baggers trapped under storm wreckage.
That could’ve been my fate. How close those Bagmen had come to biting me! No wonder Aric had held on to me so tightly.
Aric, where are you?
No answer to my telepathic call. No Arcana voices at all.
Baggers snapped their teeth at me as I passed. For each one I could see, how many were concealed? Would I step on one? Like a Bagmine?
Focus. In this situation, Jack would keep his cool and work out logistics. Everything depended on me reaching Tess as quickly as possible.
When Aric had abducted me from the Hierophant’s mine, I’d believed Jack had died, and I’d decided to live for vengeance. But this time, I would simply refuse to believe he was gone.
I swung my head left and right, searching for any clue about my location. As I trudged, supplies floated past me—food, bottles of water. I never would’ve passed by these treasures when I was on the road with Jack, but I didn’t have my bug-out bag, nothing to stow them in.
I’d lost it when I’d lost my arm.
Jack’s training still resonated within me; I needed survival gear. To save him, I had to survive long enough to find Tess. So I snagged a floating tackle box and found a utility knife inside. A good start. I shoved it into my jacket pocket.
Something was already stuffed inside?
I gave a cry. The red ribbon! The ribbon he’d taken from me a lifetime ago, the night before the Flash. The one he’d saved and carried for more than a year. I was supposed to give it back to him when I chose him above all others, when I was ready to make my life with him.
I’d intended to.
Jack was . . . dead.
Something else was in my pocket . . . His letter! I snatched it out. The drenched paper disintegrated in my trembling hand, and I could only watch it. He’d left me this letter, urging me to go with Aric, to live in a place with sunlamps and food and safety.
Because I love you, Jack had written. This might be the most noble thing I’ve ever done. Noble, for the record, cuts like a blade to the heart.
Why had I never told him I loved him? In all the months I’d known him, I’d never said those three words.
I didn’t grieve the letter, because I was going to go back in time. It would never have been lost. I shoved the ribbon back into my pocket. One day, I swore to God, I would give it to him. I pushed on with even more determination.
Finally I reached a cluster of brick buildings—the only things left standing here after the firestorm of the Flash. I limped toward the middle of them. In what must have been the town square stood a monument: a man on a horse with trash wrapped around him. Wasn’t it always a freaking man on a freaking horse?
By the light of my glyphs, I read the plaque: GREEN HILLS, INDIANA
My heart stopped. My glyphs sputtered. Indiana???
A completely different state from the fort’s location. Reaching Tess might take a week—if I had transportation, fuel, and directions.
I sagged against the monument, and tears welled.
Crying is a waste of time, Evie!
Tick. Goddamn. Tock.
I wiped my wet sleeve over my face and raised my chin. My plan was still sound. I’d find Tess, and then I wouldn’t rest until she could reverse time—by months. By years! Hell, I’d go back to before the Flash and save my mom and Mel!
Step one was getting a vehicle for the journey. Step two: fuel. Step three: directions.
I had a mission. I would be like Lark, with her single-minded focus. I would have strength and fortitude. I imagined myself as a horse with blinders on, seeing only the road before me. Nothing else mattered. I would bury my grief and destroy anything that got in the way of my mission.
Any vehicle near this town would be sunk, stuck, or swept away. I needed to get out of the path of that flood. I needed highlands. I turned toward the foothills.
Holding my injured side, I fought the resistance of the water, moving my legs through sheer will.
I ran until I splashed out of the edge of the receding flood. I headed upland toward the line of rocky hills. A road snaked through them. I followed it.
My deadened legs tripped. I lurched forward; only one hand to catch me. I face-planted onto a shelf of stone.
Tick-tock. I scrambled back up. Spat blood. Blinders on.
Day 389 A.F.?
“Who let the dogs out? WHO? WHO? WHO?”
Even over the freezing winds and drizzle, I heard a song blaring from over the next rise.
Maybe I’d gone crazy and was having—what had the mental-ward docs called it?—an auditory hallucination. Likely. I hadn’t slept in days. Hadn’t stopped running.
Get to Tess. Get to Tess. Get to Tess.
Though I was filled with purpose, my glyphs had dimmed, my abilities on the fritz. Regeneration was agonizingly slow—my arm had regrown just a couple inches, and the wound in my side still gaped. My broken bones weren’t knitting. Exhaustion threatened to consume me.
But my mind was all-powerful. My mind told my body not to stop, and it obeyed. The ribbon was a talisman that kept me moving.
Aric had said I possessed untapped potential. I drew on anything—everything—I had. I reminded myself that Demeter had scoured the earth looking for her daughter, never resting. My search for Tess would be just as relentless.