Emily turned and found the Prince slouched in a chair, a wicked grin on his face. “It’s not your doing?” she asked, failing to mask her surprise. “So, someone else is…” Her voice trailed off as the pieces fell into place. “That’s why you’re in a such a hurry. That’s why you’ve asked me to…” Her skin prickled with the realisation.
The Prince reached over to her desk and snatched up her eyeliner between his slender brown fingers. “As I said before, time is not on our side.” He waved the pencil through the air, drawing sweeping lines that spun together, like tendrils of wind gathering around a storm. “The threads of fate weave towards an inevitable Moment, when all eyes fall upon a single decision, a word to change the world.”
He poked the eye of his illusionary storm. “Right now, the pattern of that Moment is still in flux, but it is coming, whether you wish it to or not.”
Emily pictured all the threads of her life, all the various coincidences and contrivances, the way they wrapped around Dante’s life and his parents’ lives, linking everything together into a single, momentous tapestry, like the cataclysmic murals adorning the walls of the World’s End.
“You’ve been planning this for years, haven’t you?” she said.
The Prince replied with a lecturer’s nod, an encouragement to continue. Standing tall, letting the bedsheets fall around her, she reached for those invisible threads, plucked them from her memories, wove them together as only a Maiden—only a seer could.
“The Director said there were others besides me, so you’ve been keeping an eye on Torsten—no, the Theatre for years. Ever since the Sophists attacked the Donara. That’s also when Rembrandt Payne started to keep initiates on for a full six terms, regardless of their ability. He wanted to keep them around for as long as possible.”
Prince Freyr smiled.
“It’s us! Them, I mean. The initiates. You’re studying them. But why? What would—”
Princess Phantasia’s innocent admission sang loud in her thoughts: “Prince Dionysus is investigating the Erebus.”
“You’re studying the Erebus. That’s why you send people into the Scar, because like attracts like.” The Director must have known all along, just as he’d known about her—
The imaginary pain in her shoulder flared up, a twisting black fire that no one else could see. The reason she had made a deal with the Sidhe in the first place. Her brand. The Brand.
“That’s why you want me to get inside their heads—you want me to find traces of the Erebus that you’d otherwise miss.” No wonder the Director was familiar with Prince Dionysus. “You set the Sophists up with a seer, too. They enslave the Branded, and you study them. That guy this morning, the one who broke down the moment he saw me, she got inside his head, didn’t she?”
Legs threatening to buckle beneath her, Emily collapsed onto the edge of her bed. Maybe, had things played out a little differently, that seer could have been her…
“Do not sully yourself with such comparison,” said the Prince, responding to her unvoiced fears. “Your skills are on another level, your eyes able to perceive things even we cannot. Which is why it’s a shame to see your bury them beneath such a”—he cast a scowl at her dyes—“dull persona.”
“No,” Emily shook her head. “That’s not who I am. I’m not Aliza. I’m Emily. I won’t—I can’t do it. I’m not like that. I’m not—”
She grasped her pendant. I’m not like my mother.
Pulling the threads together.