Freedom was killing her, she knew.
She’d thought of nothing else all this time, nothing but getting out of darkling flesh, back to Bixby, to Ma and Pa. In her tattered dreams Billy Clintock always came flying across the desert to save her, clinging to her as the sun rose up over the desert and set her free.
But the reality had turned out to be a grim one. She had grown too weak inside that other body. They hadn’t left enough of her to survive without her other half.
Still, it was good to be herself again. Human, more or less.
Anathea curled up on the salt, hoping she’d make it to sunrise or at least until the dark moon set.
When they came back, as the young acrobat had promised, there were three of them.
They landed hard, the other seer stumbling. He was naked until he put on his long coat that had been discarded on the salt, but the darkling flesh had been stripped away from him somehow.
Anathea found herself both angry and glad that they’d saved him, as no one had ever saved her.
The redheaded girl had said she’d brought her own sun Anathea wondered again at the strange, intense Focus that clung to her. She carried some sort of metal shaft in her hand, a weapon that Anathea had watched cut through a whole swarm to rescue their friend. And her eyes were wrong.
What talent was she? And why didn’t Anathea know any of them? Had it been that long?
“You’re Anathea?” the other seer asked her.
“Yes,” she said softly. Her voice had grown weak after all that time inside the darkling.
“What year is it?” he asked.
“What year do you remember, I mean?”
She hadn’t thought of years and months for so long… Darkling reckoning in twelves and gross counts seemed more natural to her now. “Nineteen and fifty-two?”
He nodded, as if glad for the information. She let her eyes drift closed.
“Do you know what happened?” he said. “To the rest of your people, the midnighters of your time?”
“My time?” She shivered, remembering now. There had been orders given by her own hands long ago, arranged out on the spelling blocks for villainous daylighters to read. But that had been so long ago, too long to recollect. She shuddered. “Terrible things. But it wasn’t my fault. She gave up the secret. Not me.”
“No one was supposed to tell.” She shook her head. “That’s what started it all, that Madeleine Hayes telling secrets. Those Grayfoot boys knew what they were doing when they brought me out here…”
Anathea let herself sink back to the ground. Thinking about things that had happened before the transformation hurt her head. Maybe she wasn’t so human anymore after all. And talking stole her paltry breath. She felt herself slipping away.
The acrobat, the pretty Mexican boy, spoke up. “Can we do anything for you?”
She smiled then and held out her hand. All this time she’d had wings, but it was hard work, laboring inside that horrible other body. Nothing like when Billy Clintock had taken her soaring, what seemed like years ago. “Please?”
He understood and took her hand, and that lightness filled her. It had been so long…