“I thought I knew how I felt about you,” he said, “when we were in the Alley. When I was convinced you saw me only as your friend. But now I know the truth.” He touched his forehead to mine, his dark lashes closing. “I love you, Kai. Which is why I can’t let you see this.”
Confusion made me frown, but his kiss and his words still burned inside me.
“Reev,” Avan said, drawing back farther. His hands fell away. “Can you take her?”
“What?” I reached out, but Reev took hold of me instead.
“Come on, Kai,” Reev said, his voice too soft. Too careful. I tried to elbow him off.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
Avan said, “Kronos is going to release my time.”
“But that means—”
“You can’t watch this,” Reev said. My feet faltered. Reev’s hands were like manacles around my arms.
“Let me go!” I struck out at Reev, abandoning all my training and letting my limbs fly. A raging frenzy consumed me. This couldn’t be happening.
My strength was no match for Reev’s. He hauled me against him, his arm wrapping around my waist and dragging me toward the exit. Avan watched me go.
I shouted at Kronos, “If you do this, I’ll never join you!”
My fingers grappled against the threshold, but Reev peeled them loose with a quiet apology. He reached for the door.
I didn’t realize I was crying until the sob tore free. Stupid, stupid Avan—I took in the beautiful curve of his mouth, that drekking dimple, the warmth in his eyes. I had to make sure this image of him would remain with me always, seared into my mind.
He whispered, “Stay safe.”
Then Reev slammed the door shut, time hurtled forward again, and Avan was gone.
NINU MUST HAVE liked his solitude, because there were a surprising number of secluded places on the palace grounds. My favorite was the enormous oasis right next to a block of official buildings.
The gardens stretched over three acres, filled with all varieties of trees, dirt paths and meandering streams, lush flowers and wildly overgrown plants as densely tangled as the forest. Scattered throughout were tables and benches set in patches of grass that had been allowed to grow wild.
When I’d first found the oasis, I had tossed my bag over my shoulder and lost myself in its winding paths for a week. Eventually, I’d come upon a gazebo at the end of a path laid with cracked stones. The gazebo overlooked a pond with water so clear that I could see all the way down to the silt bottom. Glittering gold and silver fish darted through the water.
I spent most of my time here. Like today. I’d folded a blanket to soften the gazebo’s stone bench and sat watching the branches rustle and shake the leaves loose.
Everyone else had spent the last couple of weeks running around me, briefing and reorganizing the sentinels—those who’d chosen to remain—while making room for the recent arrival of Irra and a contingent of his hollows. Kalla had decided to continue the Tournament to avoid alerting the public.
The first thing I demanded of Kalla was to remove my alias from the citizen registry and clear my fugitive status so I could move about freely.
After Reev found me on the riverbank, I had tried not to obsess about what I couldn’t remember. Tried to be someone Reev would want to keep by his side, despite the questions that filled the space where my memory should’ve been.
I had returned the false ID to Irra and hadn’t bothered asking for my original one. There was no going back to who I’d been.
But that was okay. I didn’t need the ID to tell me who I should be. Now, I could be whoever I wanted.
I had also gone back to the arena and found Tariza and Grene. It felt nice to see them again, although a little tricky explaining what had happened. When they asked about Avan, I had smiled and told them he had returned to the North District after recovering from his wound.
Across the stone floor of the gazebo, Reev sat on a wooden bench, immersed in an old textbook. Irra had requested that Reev and I remain in the White Court until decisions had been made about what to do now that Ninu was dead. Considering how the Infinite had manipulated me, I was certain they had a plan for what to do after they succeeded in getting me to kill the Kahl, but no one would tell me anything.
I folded my arms on the gazebo’s ledge and cradled my head in the crook of my elbow.
Seeing him, having him here with me—I was happy, of course. Reev was safe. It was all I had wanted. But I should have been happier.
Watching him study was relaxing. He joined me most days with his textbooks. He liked it here as much as I did.
Sometimes, he got this look on his face. It never lasted more than an instant, but it was enough for me to notice his eyes grow distant and his mouth tighten. Familiar as I was with the emotion, I recognized it as guilt. I didn’t have the courage to address it yet.
I hadn’t allowed myself to think too long about what had happened to Avan. A part of me blamed Reev. But even if Reev hadn’t killed him in the arena, Ninu had done it numerous times afterward.
He has so much of you already, Avan had said in Etu Gahl. Is there anything left for anyone else?
I finally understood what he’d been asking me. Although I hadn’t recognized it at the time, there had been jealousy in the way he’d spoken about Reev. Not the petty kind—a sad kind of jealousy.
But it was too late now to give him a proper answer, no matter how badly I wished otherwise.
I should have told Avan how I felt. I should have protected him. I shouldn’t have let him come with me. I shouldn’t have been such a coward.
I turned my face into my elbow. I’d have to tell his parents sometime. I owed him that.
Tucking my feet up under me, I twisted around to face the pond. Lights flashed beneath the water whenever a fish swam close to the surface.
Reev’s footsteps were soft as he approached. He did that on purpose so he wouldn’t startle me. I knew he could move without a sound.
“I’m done studying for now. Want to spar?”
He thought beating up on him made me feel better. It didn’t. It made me feel worse.
He reached out, hesitated, and then clasped his hands awkwardly in front of him. I didn’t have to force a smile as I patted the seat beside me.
Things between us had been awkward at first. Reev had been as much a pawn as I had, and he’d been through enough already without me flinging accusations at him. With him just as worried about hurting me, neither of us knew how to talk.
But I had missed him so much—his presence, his safety, his voice—that this time I shut away the fear and asked my questions. Once I learned that Reev hadn’t known who I was when he took me in, my doubts about his love had faded. Kronos had erased that part of his memory to protect me, and Istar’s mention of missing spans of time supported that truth.
Reev had known, instinctively, that he was meant to protect me, but it wasn’t until I used my power to steal another Sunday that he realized why.
We had been designed to find each other, but Reev’s love was genuine.
He took my hand now. “Did you want to go for a w—”
A shout interrupted him. We both looked to see Mason and Irra coming up the path. Mason waved, smiling brightly. The sight of him brought an echo of the relief I’d felt when I first discovered he was safe.
“Reev,” Irra said, “I’m going to review the store of energy stones if you’d like to accompany me.”
Reev wanted to learn about how the energy stones were created. More than that, he wanted to learn about traditional, nonmagical methods of producing energy. Kalla had confessed that the energy stones were her creation and not Ninu’s, so the city wasn’t at risk of collapsing from an energy shortage. But it was still much too dependent on magic, and we needed to revive the technology that had been lost after Rebirth if we wanted to progress and survive. Reev had spent the last two weeks studying the old texts.
I went back to watching the trees and then glanced over my shoulder when something brushed against my leg. It was Irra’s oversize tunic.
Looking up at him was a strain on my neck, so I didn’t bother. I waited for him to speak first.
“You should be aware that Avan said he wouldn’t regret his choice to join you in the Tournament regardless of what happened.”
My fingers scraped over stone. Even though Irra had been here for a week, he’d been so busy with Kalla that, aside from the initial greeting, we hadn’t spoken. Why was he telling me this now?
“I was unaware of what Kronos had done to him. But when I realized, I gave him a choice. I would have given him a choice regardless.”
“But you didn’t warn him.” I dug my nails into the gazebo’s ledge.
“He knew the risks. He made his decision.”
“Irra,” Reev said, a warning in his voice.
“This was meant to comfort her.” Irra sounded genuinely baffled. Mason shot me an apologetic look as Irra stepped away to join Reev on the path.
Once they left, Mason took the spot beside me. “So,” he said lightly, “nice day.”
I rubbed my temple and attempted to regain the tentative calm I’d felt before Irra showed up. “It was.”
“We missed you in the training center yesterday.”
“I didn’t feel like being Hina’s punching bag.”
“The only reason she doesn’t go easy on you is because she knows you can do better,” he said, his instructor tone creeping into his voice.
I knew he was only trying to steer my thoughts away from the conversation with Irra. “I’ll come tomorrow,” I said.
“Good. Because Hina’s planning to drag you there if you don’t show up.”
My lips twitched. “Thanks for the warning.”
He relaxed against the stone, his eyes softening at the glimpse of my smile. “Have you decided what you want to do now?”
Sucking on my bottom lip, I turned his question over in my mind.
“I want to tear down the wall around the White Court.”
“And how exactly are you planning to accomplish that?”
I didn’t know. Everything was different now. Going back to the Labyrinth was no longer an option. I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere in the North District without the constant reminder that Avan wasn’t waiting behind the counter at his dad’s shop.
Honestly, thinking about the work it would take to clean up Ninurta overwhelmed me, but with Ninu gone, all those promises he’d made about improving the North District seemed possible. With the right leaders, of course.
Not that I wanted the job. Even if Kalla offered it to me, I would refuse. But I did want to help. Maybe I could even bring Grene and Tariza onboard. They had wanted to change things as well.
“I guess I’ll figure it out,” I said. “We’ve got time.”
Mason pulled one leg up onto the bench and rested his arm on the stone ledge. We sat that way for a while as fish skittered beneath the water and birds darted between the trees.
His fingers found mine, and he squeezed them gently. He’d been a good friend since arriving, never asking for more than what we’d had in the Void.
But I missed Avan. I missed him more than I could put into words, and every day, the missing grew. I tried not to think about it, the lack of him, but my dreams made it difficult. Every night, I had to relive different moments with him: lingering conversations in the halls at school, him laughing from behind his dad’s counter, his body wrapped around mine in the Void, his steady presence beside me every night in Etu Gahl. His smile, his tattoo, the way he’d looked that night in his room when we’d made an unspoken promise that couldn’t last.
Mason said, “Kalla asked to see you. She’s in her tower, but you don’t have to go. You don’t owe her anything.”
I wasn’t as angry with her as I was with Kronos, but I didn’t like her, either. As far as I was concerned, once they sorted out Ninurta’s leadership, they could go back to wherever the Infinite were supposed to spend eternity and stay there. I didn’t know how much time I had before Kronos—it was still weird to call him “Dad,” even in my head—came back, either, and it was an unnerving feeling, as if I was walking around with a ticking clock over my head.
Kalla hadn’t spoken to me since she restored my citizenship. If she wanted to see me now, it was probably important.
I slid my hand away from Mason’s and stood. “Thanks.”
“I’ll walk you up.”
“It’s okay. Stay here. I’ll come back after.”
“Tonight, I want to show you the observatory,” he said. “If that’s okay.”
I smiled, genuinely pleased by the idea. “I’d love that.”
From the oasis to Kalla’s tower was a quick walk through the palace grounds and the government buildings, separated from the public by yet another wall, although not as tall or imposing as the others. The arena had been built just outside the grounds but was connected to many of the buildings via an underground tunnel.
On the long staircase leading up to Kalla’s tower, I contemplated all the reasons she’d want to see me. Maybe Kronos had come back. Maybe carrying her scythe around for weeks had taken its toll on me after all. Maybe Ninu wasn’t as dead as he was supposed to be. I didn’t know how death worked with the Infinite. Immortality was supposed to be pretty straightforward, but I guess there were exceptions.
The doors at the top of the stairs were open. Kalla stood in front of the tall windows overlooking the city. She’d taken a different form. She’d shorn her hair, that one black streak a feathery patch above her temple. Her face looked more angular, her cheekbones more prominent, eyes thinner, and mouth wider. She wore a silver tunic over a simple white shirt and fitted white pants.
“Join me,” she said. The torches had been doused. The only light came in through the windows, and it left the corners dressed in shadows.
I hadn’t been here since that night, since Avan—
Straightening my shoulders, I stepped in to greet Death.
“AREN’T YOU CURIOUS about what you are?” she asked.
I stood next to her by a window. With my hands pressed to the glass, I could almost imagine myself floating above the city.
Of course I am. But you killed Avan, and you would have killed Reev. “I’m human,” I said. And I still planned to stay that way.
“For now,” she murmured. “Did you know that Ninu was once human?”
I glanced away from studying the crooked lines of the Labyrinth in the distance. Ninu had said something about not always being Infinite.
“How’s that possible?”
“There are ways. He and Istar were both human. But Istar was from a much earlier time. She has been Infinite far longer. And she came to enjoy it.”
“Where is Istar?” I asked. I wanted to know which parts of the city to avoid.
Kalla smiled. “She doesn’t get along with Irra. She finds him unsightly, and he finds her obscene. She’s chosen to leave Ninurta for the time being.”
Even though he’d been in on Kalla’s plan, Irra had helped sentinels like Mason. Finding out he’d essentially chased away Istar only improved my opinion of him.