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I whirl towards him. ‘Who are you remapping tonight?’ I demand.
‘I’m going to miss your attitude,’ he says.
Loricel clears her throat impatiently next to us. ‘I’m not worth your trouble.’
I stare at her. He can’t really mean to remap his only Creweler.
‘Oh yes,’ Loricel says with a nod. ‘Cormac thinks it’s worth his time to remap me.’
‘I don’t have the time to explain the complex principles of remapping to you, you old fogey—’
‘Look who’s talking,’ she cries, straightening up. ‘At least I have some dignity.’
‘Take her into custody,’ Cormac commands, turning his back on her.
One of the guards drops his hold on Jost and moves towards Loricel, while the other drops the club and pulls Jost up into a choke hold.
‘It’s too dangerous,’ I remind Cormac, my voice breaking with desperation. ‘What will you do without her?’
‘I’ll have you,’ he says, unmoved.
‘And if you lose me, are you willing to risk Arras to have your precious control?’
‘We have time, and your sister will be ready before our raw materials run out,’ he says, staring me down.
‘She can’t weave,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘She won’t be of any use to you.’
‘If you already demonstrate the ability, she might have the recessive gene. Our scientists believe they can access the dormant gene and activate it.’ He pauses to let this sink in. ‘I’ve done some checking up on her. She’ll be a suitable substitute in every duty Arras demands.’ Cormac’s smile is mocking, twisting into something more wicked and heartless at his final threat than I’ve seen from him before.
It hits me like a blow to the stomach. Even if I comply with his wishes, Amie isn’t safe. I look at Jost, and his eyes meet mine. Even now – bent and broken – there’s strength in his gaze. He hasn’t given up, so I can’t either.
Maela saunters back towards the loom, and with a quick glance at Loricel, she smirks at me. She’s so close her over-applied perfume makes me gag.
‘The doctor is coming, and Pryana is on her way to the clinic. And I’d be happy to take care of that problem for you,’ she tells Cormac, tossing her head toward Jost.
My fist flies and makes hard contact with her jaw. My knuckles sing where they crack against bone. It hurts in a very satisfying way.
‘This is why I told them you weren’t ready, little girl,’ Maela screams, wiping the blood from her lip.
The words sizzle like spat venom. I can feel the hatred in them. I raise one eyebrow at her, and she glares in response, but Erik steps forward and seizes her arm.
‘Let me go,’ she says, wrenching free from him. ‘You’re on her side.’
‘I’m keeping you from making a mistake,’ he warns her in a low voice.
‘Sell it somewhere else, Erik. You think I don’t know that you’re helping her? At first I thought, Let him bed her. It will take care of both our problems. I was counting on you to ruin her,’ Maela says, lurching towards him and grabbing him by the collar. Under her rage, her eyes reflect the wounds caused by his betrayal.
Detaching her fingers, Erik pushes her gently away. ‘Now’s not the time.’
Spinning back, she glowers at me over the loom. ‘You’re playing a dangerous game. Do you think you can save him and yourself? Your life is over, Adelice. You’ve proved you could never take over here. You don’t have the stomach,’ she growls, ‘or the smarts.’
And then she laughs, and it’s like she’s injected me with some type of stimulant, because the weave of the room zooms into focus in front of my eyes, and I seize the strands of it with my left hand, rending it in two at my feet. The room splits down the middle, and Maela screams at the crack in the middle. It’s a terrifying sight: a black abyss broken by shimmering, interlocking light. This would panic most people. They might run. They might go pale and clutch against the wall as Maela has. To his credit, Cormac looks curious, but maintains his position. Silently, I will him to step forward, imagining myself pushing him down to an unknown fate, but he’s clever and he keeps his wits. And his life.
‘I may be dumb –’ I linger on the last word for Jost’s benefit, in an effort to catch his attention; maybe if he’s watching closely he can foresee my next play – ‘but let’s see you do that,’ I chide her.
Maela lets out a low hissing noise, and I realise she’s stifling hysteria. For a moment, it appears I’ve driven her genuinely crazy, but Loricel steps in. She’s on the other side of the rift, and the guard has lost his grip on her in the chaos. I can see her eyes growing hard with determination. There is no amused sparkle or friendly warmth in them now. They are cold, set, green.
‘Adelice, you have the power to stop this,’ she reminds me.
‘I know,’ I murmur. ‘I just can’t think of a good reason to.’
‘You know what will happen,’ Loricel insists, gesturing to Jost. ‘Will you leave him here to die for you? What about your sister? What about me?’
I almost laugh until I realise she’s speaking in earnest.
‘Let’s see. I can save a man who’s been revealed a traitor to the Guild. Why? So they can torture him for information? So they can keep him alive, but in agony, to try to keep me in line? You know, Loricel! You know what they’re capable of!’ I’m shouting, and it sends a tremor down the open tear. Maela presses herself harder against the wall.