“Kaleb, Lily, Michael, and Emerson.”
“If I’d known I had to do Emerson again I’d have left her dead the first time I killed her.” He turned away from Teague and walked toward the cabin, saluting us with his knife. “Not like I’ve ever been a hero to anyone, anyway. Least of all to you, Hallie.”
And then he winked.
Hallie squeezed my forearm, but her expression didn’t change. Poe hadn’t switched sides. He was still on ours.
I looked downriver. We were still in line with the veil, the current following my subconscious bidding.
“You’ve taken care of the Hourglass,” Hallie said. “What are you going to do about those?”
Teague looked toward the ever-growing population of rips. “Lots of room for history on a riverboat. Especially one this old.”
Everything from Mark Twain types in white suits to tipsy senior citizens took up residence on the deck. I begged the heavens for a repeat of the rip in the park—that Hallie and Teague together would confuse the possession process.
My prayers were answered. The rips switched focus between Hallie and Teague. The riverboat chugged toward the veil. I wanted to boost the river flow, but I didn’t know where Poe was, or how he planned on getting Teague where she needed to be. I would have to wait.
The rips didn’t want to.
“Look at them.” Hallie began to tremble. “They know who they want.”
The rips moved in one accord, approaching Hallie at the same rate the riverboat approached the veil. I put my body between them, as if I could hide her from fate, but this time we couldn’t run.
I wanted to call out for Poe, but I didn’t want to tip Teague off about his allegiance, especially if something happened to me and Hallie was left on the boat with him. I looked over my shoulder. Too much was happening at once.
“Stay as close to me as you can,” I said over my shoulder to Hallie.
Her breathing sped up. “If I go to them, she can’t use me. She won’t have any reason to hurt you or anyone else.”
The rips were ten feet away.
The veil was fifteen.
“Hal, don’t be reckless.” Where was Poe?
“It’s true, isn’t it, Mother? You don’t want to lose the Infinityglass, but you’re afraid of the rips. What did you see when you were with them last? How did you manage to get away?”
Teague tore her gaze from the rips, which were now two feet away from Hallie.
The veil was right behind them.
I couldn’t hold back the current any longer.
“Poe!” I tried to rein in the power of the water.
He burst out of the cabin with the knife in his hand.
“Throw it!” I roared. “Now!”
It left his hand in less than a second, tumbling end over end.
I set the current free.
The rips were coming for me, their pull terrifying and seductive. Impossible to resist.
The veil floated a few tantalizing feet away from my mother, but even though she had her own exotic matter, she didn’t have duronium. Going with them was our only out. I’d just have to have faith that I’d come out on the other side.
And then Dune bellowed Poe’s name.
His knife flew through the air, slicing its way into my mother’s shoulder at the same time the veil swallowed her whole. She stumbled, gagging violently and clutching her head, her eyes rolling back.
As one, the rips swiveled their focus toward her.
Mother flew into the air as if jerked by an invisible string. Once there she floated, parallel to the ground. I would remember the look on her face for the rest of my life. Tears of furious defeat, and eyes wide with terror.
That’s when I realized this possession was different.
Because she was still in the veil. Dune was holding the current steady.
Her body absorbed the rips, and not just their faces. Their bodies, too. We watched as they consumed her. Witnessed her skin melt away, heard her bones break, as she assumed each form.
Every single rip on the boat entered the veil, one by one, reshaping my mother into their images as they did. When they were gone, there was a flash of light and a terrible ripping sound. One keening scream.
Darkness devoured it all, including the veil, leaving behind nothing but the steady sound of paddle wheels churning up the Mississippi.
I stared at the empty air.
I wanted to feel sorry, feel something, but I was numb. Dune put his hand on my arm. “Hallie?”
Then Poe was in front of me, reaching out.
The consequences of one simple touch registered a second before it could happen.
“Stop!” I threw myself against the rail. “Don’t touch me, either of you. Not until I get this necklace off.”
How long would I have to worry about accidentally killing someone I loved?
“She made sure it wasn’t going to come off easily. Fire’s the only thing that’s going to get through it.” Poe held up his hands. “If you want, I can take care of that.”
“Please.” I voiced my other concern. “When will the duronium be out of my system?”
“It shouldn’t take long, especially with your metabolism. You’ll burn it off. Be right back.”
Dune reached for me. In that second, I needed him to touch me more than I needed air in my lungs, but the fear of what I could’ve done by touching him or Poe weighed heavily.
“Just me,” he said. “I’ll move the second Poe comes back on deck.”
I threw myself into his arms, burying my face in his chest, squeezing his waist. Safe. Solid. My anchor.
“I don’t think she’s coming out of the veil,” I whispered, looking up at him.
The unusual sadness in his eyes told me he agreed. “I’m sorry for my part in it. I didn’t know what would happen, but I wasn’t expecting that. I can’t stop thinking that it could’ve been you, Hallie. It could’ve been you.”
“I know.” My mother had been an unwilling sacrifice. That was going to take years to unpack, and trying to deal with it now was pointless. I would focus on the present. “Is everyone okay? Carl—”
“He was on his way to the hospital, and everyone else is fine.”
Poe exited the cabin and conferred with one of the ship hands.
When he turned toward us, Dune let me go and took a step back.
“We’re headed back to shore.” Poe held up a tiny blowtorch. “Ready?”
“I’ll check in with Michael,” Dune said. “Be right back.”
“Stay where I can see you.” I sounded like his mom instead of his girlfriend, but I didn’t care. Was I his girlfriend? The word seemed too simple.
Dune nodded. I should’ve known he’d understand.
“I’m sorry, Hallie.” Poe shoved his free hand in his jeans pocket. “I don’t know what else to say.”
“How did you end up here?”
“Your dad asked for my help. That’s why I was on the boat. When you made him promise not to come straight home, he called me. Thank God Teague still thought I was on her side.”
I couldn’t stop looking at the place she’d been standing when she disappeared. “He was right to send you. I’ll have to tell him she’s dead.”