THE TERRORS OF THE EARTH
Night had fallen over Alicante, and the stars shone down like bright sentinels, making the demon towers, and the water in the canals—half ice now—shimmer. Emma sat on the windowsill of the twins’ bedroom and looked out over the city.
Emma had always thought she would come to Alicante for the first time with her parents, that her mother would show her the places she had known growing up, the now-closed Academy where her mother had gone to school, her grandparents’ house. That her father would show her the monument to the Carstairs family he always spoke of proudly. She’d never imagined she would first look on the demon towers of Alicante with her heart so swelled up with grief that sometimes it felt like it was choking her.
Moonlight spilled in through the attic windows, illuminating the twins. Tiberius had spent the day in a vicious tantrum, kicking the bars of the baby’s crib when he was told he couldn’t leave the house, shrieking for Mark when Julian tried to calm him down, and finally smashing his fist through a glass jewelry box. He was too young for healing runes, so Livvy had wrapped her arms around him to keep him still while Julian picked the glass out of his younger brother’s bloody hand with tweezers, and then carefully bandaged it.
Ty had collapsed into bed finally, though he hadn’t slept until Livvy, as calm as always, had lain down beside him and put her hand over his bandaged one. He was asleep now, head on the pillow, turned toward his sister. It was only when Ty was sleeping that you could see how uncommonly beautiful a child he was, with his head of dark Botticelli curls and delicate features, anger and despair smoothed away by exhaustion.
Despair, Emma thought. It was the right word, for the loneliness in Tavvy’s screaming, for the emptiness at the heart of Ty’s anger and Livvy’s eerie calm. No one who was ten should feel despair, but she supposed there was no other way to describe the words that pulsed through her blood when she thought of her parents, every heartbeat a mournful litany: Gone, gone, gone.
“Hey.” Emma looked up at the sound of a quiet voice from the doorway, and saw Julian standing at the entrance to the room. His own dark curls, shades lighter than Ty’s black, were tousled, and his face was pale and tired in the moonlight. He looked skinny, thin wrists protruding from the cuffs of his sweater. He was holding something furry in his hand. “Are they . . .”
Emma nodded. “Asleep. Yeah.”
Julian stared at the twins’ bed. Up close Emma could see Ty’s bloody handprints on Jules’s shirt; he hadn’t had time to change his clothes. He was clutching a large stuffed bee that Helen had retrieved from the Institute when the Clave had gone back to search the place. It had been Tiberius’s for as long as Emma could remember. Ty had been screaming for it before he’d fallen asleep. Julian crossed the room and bent down to tuck it against his little brother’s chest, then paused to gently untangle one of Ty’s curls before he drew back.
Emma took his hand as he moved it, and he let her. His skin was cold, as if he’d been leaning out the window into the night air. She turned his hand and drew with her finger on the skin of his forearm. It was something they’d done since they were small children and didn’t want to get caught talking during lessons. Over the years they’d gotten so good at it that they could map out detailed messages on each other’s hands, arms, even their shoulders through their T-shirts.
D-I-D Y-O-U E-A-T? she spelled out.
Julian shook his head, still staring at Livvy and Ty. His curls were sticking up in tufts as if he’d been raking his hands through his hair. She felt his fingers, light on her upper arm. N-O-T H-U-N-G-R-Y.
“Too bad.” Emma slid off the windowsill. “Come on.”
She shooed him out of the room, onto the hallway landing. It was a small space, with a steep set of stairs descending into the main house. The Penhallows had made it clear the children were welcome to food whenever they wanted it, but there were no set mealtimes, and certainly no family meals. Everything was eaten hastily at tables in the attic, with Tavvy and even Dru covering themselves in food, and only Jules responsible for cleaning them up afterward, for washing their clothes, and even for making sure they ate at all.
The moment the door closed behind them, Julian slumped against the wall, tipping his head back, his eyes closed. His thin chest rose and fell quickly under his T-shirt. Emma hung back, unsure what to do.
“Jules?” she said.
He looked toward her. His eyes were dark in the low light, fringed by thick lashes. She could tell that he was fighting not to cry.
Julian was part of Emma’s earliest memories. They had been put in cribs together as babies by their parents; apparently she had crawled out, and bitten through her lip when she’d hit the ground. She hadn’t cried, but Julian had screamed at the sight of her bleeding, until their parents had come running. They had taken their first steps together: Emma first as always, Julian afterward, hanging determinedly on to her hand. They had started training at the same time, had gotten their first runes together: Voyance on his right hand and on her left. Julian never wanted to lie, but if Emma was in trouble, Julian lied for her.
Now they had lost their parents together. Julian’s mother had died two years before, and watching the Blackthorns go through that loss had been terrible, but this was a different experience altogether. It was shattering, and Emma could feel the breakage, could feel them coming apart and being glued back together in a new and different way. They were becoming something else, she and Julian, something that was more than best friends but not family, either.
“Jules,” she said again, and took his hand. For a moment it lay, still and cold, in hers; then he seized her wrist and gripped it tightly.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I can’t take care of them. Tavvy’s just a baby, Ty hates me—”
“He’s your brother. And he’s only ten. He doesn’t hate you.”
Julian took a shuddering breath. “Maybe.”
“They’ll figure something out,” Emma said. “Your uncle lived through the London attack. So when this is all over, you’ll move in with him, and he’ll look after you and the others. It won’t be your responsibility.”
Julian shrugged. “I barely remember Uncle Arthur. He sends us books in Latin; sometimes he comes from London for Christmas. The only one of us who can read Latin is Ty, and he just learned it to annoy everyone.”
“So he gives bad gifts. He remembered you at Christmas. He cares enough to take care of you. They won’t have to just send you to a random Institute or to Idris—”
Julian swung around to face her. “That’s not what you think is going to happen to you, is it?” he demanded. “Because it won’t. You’ll stay with us.”