Giguhl came back in and handed Rhea a blanket. She carefully wrapped it around his front. “Don’t cover the wounds. They need air to heal.” She turned to me. “Can I speak with you for a moment?”
I nodded. Before I rose, I looked at Adam. Despite the blanket, he was still shaking. I rose to my knees and put my hands on his cheeks. His eyes were red-rimmed and shining. I bit my lip and tried to fight my own need to fall apart. So much needed to be said between us. So much regret and sadness hovered between us like a ghost. But we didn’t have the luxury of indulging our need to talk or find solace in each other.
So I simply leaned forward and kissed his forehead. I closed my eyes and inhaled the sandalwood scent of him. But it didn’t bring me the comfort it normally did because of the added stench of blood and fear.
I pulled away quickly before I could give in to the urge to wrap myself around him and make promises I wasn’t sure I could keep. That we’d get Cain. That he was safe now. That Maisie wouldn’t be a threat to him anymore. That everything would be okay between us.
“Giguhl, stay with him,” I said, my tone clipped. Then I turned my back on Adam and followed Rhea into the studio.
She didn’t shut the door. Instead, she pulled me to the other side, where we could keep one eye on Maisie’s limp form and the other on Adam and his demonic nursemaid. “You know what comes next, right?”
I wished I didn’t. I wished I could just turn away and disappear into the night, my memory wiped clean. But wishes were for children and fools.
Of course I knew what I had to do. The problem was, unlike conventional battles, I felt totally unprepared to fight Cain in the Liminal. Sure, I could get there. Sure, I could probably find Maisie’s dream form. And then what? I couldn’t kill Cain. But even if killing him didn’t have horrible repercussions, how did one defeat a dream?
Rhea looked at me with those we’re-counting-on-you pleading stares. It’s funny. I’d spent so much time declaring myself a lone wolf. Shouting to the world that I didn’t need anyone. But I’d learned a lot about working as a team over the last several months. I’d finally begun to rely on my mentor, my mage, and my demon more than I ever expected. Beyond just friendship and love. As allies. Warriors who had my back no matter the foe. As friends and champions.
But this was one battle I had to fight alone. One I might not be able to return from even if I somehow managed to win. But I didn’t have a choice. Again. Fucking fate had screwed me again.
“Yeah,” I said finally. “Do we need to go back to the chapel?”
“Yes.” She rubbed her lip for a moment, thinking it over. “It’ll go better if we make another offering to Asclepius. He might be able to help once you’re in the Liminal.”
The false optimism in her tone told me she already expected to be mourning me too soon. But she also knew I would go through with the plan despite both our fears. If I was going to be trapped in the Liminal forever, fine. I’d just spend eternity kicking Cain’s ass and making sure he never tormented anyone I loved again.
Giguhl emerged from the closet. “What’s going on?”
I turned and frowned at him. “I thought you were staying with Adam?”
The demon shrugged. “He said he needed a minute alone.”
“We’re talking about Sabina going into the Liminal to hunt down Cain,” Rhea said.
The demon’s scraggly brows rose. “Since when can you access the in-between?”
I paused. How had I not told him about this earlier? Guess he’d been right when he said it’d been too long since we’d really hung out. I’d allowed us to drift too far apart. But now was not the time for sentimentality or regrets. Now was the time for action.
“It’s a long story,” I said. Then I paused. “Wait, how do you know about the Liminal?”
“Are you kidding?” he said, waving a claw. “It’s like the rest stop between your world and Irkalla. I’ve been there lots of times.”
“You’ve never gotten lost?”
He frowned. “Of course not. You know as well as I do that whoever summons me controls me. Even if I wanted to hang out there for a while, I couldn’t if you told me to leave.”
My mouth fell open. I slowly turned to look at Rhea. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
A slow smile spread across the elder’s face. “Let’s get moving.”
The three of us turned to grab Adam and head to the chapel, but the doors to the studio burst open. The Queen’s knights rushed in like commandos storming a hostage situation. When they saw the three of us standing there frowning at them, they skittered to a halt. “Hold it right there,” their leader demanded.
I didn’t have time to argue, so I raised my hands. My companions followed suit.
The shout of “all clear” echoed back through the ranks until they parted to allow the Queen through. Alexis was by her side, looking shell-shocked to see the scene in the studio. Their eyes took in the four dead mages, the canvases filled with murder, and my bloody, naked twin unconscious on the ground.
Adam came out of the closet to see what the racket was and stopped just beyond the doorway. “What the hell’s going on?”
The Queen raised a ringed finger. “What happened to you?”
Adam shook his head and blew out an annoyed breath. “If it’s all the same to you, I really don’t have the energy to explain it again.”
“And we definitely don’t have the time,” Rhea said.
The Queen’s eyes narrowed. “Mind your tone, Rhea.”
“No, you mind yours, Maeve.” The silver-haired mage rose up to her full height and infused her tone with dignity. “Now, you can get your crown in a twist and throw a tantrum because we’d rather stop a murderer than bow and scrape before you. Or you can shut the hell up and let us do what needs to be done. Either way, you will not stop us. However, if you go with plan B we will explain what’s happening on our way to the chapel.”
The Queen’s mouth fell open so wide a small family of birds could have taken nest in her maw. “Well, I never.”
“That much is clear,” Rhea said. “So what will it be?”
The Queen’s eyes narrowed. But instead of calling for Rhea’s head or whatever it is monarchs do, she scanned the room. Whatever she saw, which frankly could have been one of a thousand different damning details, must have convinced her we were more than prepared to handle the situation. Finally, she cleared her throat and nodded her head regally. “Lead the way.”
A chill seeped from the stone floor and up through the thin cotton pallet. Maisie’s still form lay a few feet away. Our positions brought on a wave of déjà vu. My memory flew back to another ritual space, in another town. To another night when both our lives had hung in the balance.
In New Orleans, our grandmother had chained Maisie and me to altars and then forced me to watch as Maisie fed from Adam. That moment wasn’t the beginning of our issues, but it certainly took them to a new level. The image of my sister feeding off the mage I loved was the one that haunted me every night when I closed my eyes. It was the one I dreamed about. The one that made me wake up covered in sweat and grasping desperately for Adam to reassure myself he was still alive.
And there we were, months later, lying in almost the exact same position. Only this time, there were no physical bodies to fight. Only nightmares.
My willingness to fight this battle didn’t prevent the cold sweat on my chest or the urge to jump up and run away. Gods only knew what horrors waited for me in the dreams that had become my sister’s prison.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Adam’s color was better, thanks to a potion Rhea mixed up for him. But his eyes still had shadows that I worried might never go away.
“No.” I forced a wobbly smile. “But I’m going to do it anyway.”
He caressed my cheek with his palm. “Do you remember when you said I didn’t love all of you?”
I swallowed hard against the knot of regret in my throat. “Adam—”
“Hush, let me finish.” He placed a finger over my lips. “It’s not that I don’t love the reckless, dark parts of you. They’re what make you brave and I love that about you. But the truth is they also scare the hell out of me.”
“Why?” I whispered.
“Because deep down I’ve always known the day would come when they would take you away from me.” He paused. “I thought that if I could get you to leave that part of yourself behind, you’d stay forever. But I see now I only managed to push you away sooner.”
I sat up and pressed my lips to his. My hands twined up into his hair. I tried to put a lifetime into that kiss. Just in case. “You listen to me, Adam Lazarus,” I whispered against his lips. “When I return, we’ll have plenty of adventures. Together.”
“I’m holding you to that.” He grabbed me by the chin and forced me to look in his eyes. “Come back to me.”
Emotion gathered in my throat like bile. My dry eyes stung. This wasn’t new, this sinking feeling. It was so familiar now that I knew better than to indulge it. “It’s a deal.”
Too soon, he pulled away. Retreated to the rear of the temple. His gaze held mine as Rhea moved in to begin the ritual. I was so tired of saying good-bye, maybe forever, to him. Used to be that pain involved fist to flesh or snapped bones. Physical pain. Easy pain. But now? It had been a long time since I’d had even so much as a hangnail. But the emotional pain I endured since I’d left my violent life behind hurt worse than any fist, blade, or bullet.
In the back of my brain, a faint, echoed voice—the ghostly remains of the Old Sabina—whispered insults. Old Sabina never cried. She would never be scared of a fucking dream. And she sure as shit wouldn’t volunteer to put herself in the path of a madman who knew all her secret weaknesses. Not for her sister. Not for anyone.