“I went to get a cart.”
Oh no. I turned back to look at the palace. “She didn’t know she couldn’t come with us.”
“She didn’t know.”
No answer. Somehow I didn’t think it would matter.
“Get in,” Naeemah called.
“Climb in,” I told Christopher and Robert. The two men didn’t move.
Curran picked them up and set them into the cart one by one. Naeemah pulled a blanket out and threw it at me. “Here. Come before Roland changes his mind.”
Curran climbed up next to her. I sat in the cart with the two men. They lay stiff like two wooden statues. Naeemah turned the cart and the horse clopped its way down the road, heading out of Jester Park.
“Well?” she asked. “How did it go?”
“I had a shot and I didn’t take it.”
“You chose to live. Smart choice. Life, it should mean something. A death is just a death. If you died there, what would your death mean? Nothing. You would stop nothing. You would change nothing.” She blew on her fingers and waved them at the road. “A bug under a shoe. But you lived. And now they live, too.”
“Damn right,” Curran said.
“I killed Hibla,” I said.
“Did she need killing?”
“It wasn’t exactly a killing,” Curran said. “It was more like punishment piece by piece.”
Naeemah looked at him. “And you? Did you roar at the wizard?”
“No,” Curran said. “I’ll roar at him if he comes to Atlanta.”
“See, you both did good. You accomplished things and got out alive. Best behavior.”
The laughter finally broke free and I laughed, gulping in the cold air.
• • •
THE MAGIC WAVE receded three hours after we had left the Swan Palace. Twenty minutes later a lone figure dotted the field ahead of us.
“God damn it,” Curran swore.
The dot grew at an alarming rate until it finally became Thomas, running full speed over the snow. He sprinted to us, leaped into the cart, and hugged Robert to him.
“It will wear off,” I told him before he could freak out over Robert’s stasis. “The more distance between us and Roland, the better.”
Thomas turned to me. “Make her go faster, Consort.”
We found the rest of our people waiting where we had left them. We loaded up our gear and headed toward Atlanta.
At some point I climbed into the back of the cart and fell asleep. I dreamed of Christmas and garlands. They wrapped around me in long shiny strands. I kept trying to break free, while Jim was reassuring me that I was a lovely Christmas tree and the Pack was appreciating my efforts on its behalf.
Another magic wave hit closer to the morning. I felt the moment we passed out of Roland’s territory. It was like hitting a speed bump in the road. I lay there with my eyes open and took a deep breath.
He’d let us go.
We weren’t done. He said he would see us in Atlanta. Things would only get worse from here. Not only that, but both Naeemah and Thomas had disobeyed. It was a partial disobedience—Naeemah had left to get the cart before I announced that they had to stay put, and Thomas ran to us after we had left the Swan Palace—but still, there was a price to be paid. I half expected their eyes to melt from their sockets.
“Incoming,” Curran said.
I raised my head. A swirling clump of darkness appeared on the road in front of me. The tightly wound whirlwind of dark twine, snakes, and feathers spun on its end, stretching to seven feet high.
“What the hell now?” Curran growled.
“No clue,” I told him.
The clump broke open and spat a person onto the road. He or she wore pants and a tunic of animal hide with patches of fur sewn onto it at seemingly random places. Pale paint covered the person’s hands and face, with two scarlet vertical lines stretching from the hairline on both sides of his or her nose down to the lips. Three scarlet lines curved from those two, tracing the cheekbones. A pair of longhorn’s horns, painted with bands of red and white, rested on top of the person’s head, positioned so the tips pointed downward.
The person shook a staff at us. “Daughter of Nimrod!”
“I cast my eye upon you!”
The man threw something to the ground. Red smoke exploded. The wind cleared it, and the man had vanished.
Shaman ninjas. Perfect. Now my life was complete.
Curran looked at me.
“I’ve blown my cover,” I told him. “Now every weirdo with a drop of power will be coming over to investigate.”
“It’s like you had a coming-out party,” Andrea said. “You’ve been presented to polite society, except now everybody wants to kill you.”
“Kate Daniels, a debutante.” Andrea grinned.
“It’s not funny.”
“It’s hilarious.” The smile slid off Andrea’s face and she vomited on the snow.
“Karma,” I told her.
“Daughter of Nimrod?” Curran asked quietly.
“Nimr Rad, if you want to get technical about it. He who subdues leopards. The great hunter.”
“Nimrod like in the Bible?” Curran asked. “The one who built the Tower of Babel?”
“It’s an allegory,” I said. “My father and his contemporaries built a civilization of magic. It was great and mighty, like a tall tower. But they made the magic too strong and the Universe compensated by starting the first Shift. Technology began to flood the world in waves, and their civilization crumbled like the tower. The language of power words was lost.”
“How old is your dad, exactly?”
“A little over five thousand years old.”
“Why does he build towers?”
“I don’t know. He has a thing for them, I guess. I think they might help him with the claiming of his territory.”
I explained what the witches had told me about the genocide of the Native tribes and the lack of natural protection for the land, and the Witch Oracle’s vision of Roland claiming Atlanta.
Curran stared straight ahead, his expression grim.
“Are we okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. We’re okay,” he said. “I just need some time to process.”
It was one thing to know that you were sleeping with Roland’s daughter. It was a completely different thing to have met Roland. And to have challenged him. “Why the hell did you invite him to start a war?”