Chapter 25

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Dedicated to Piafitzy.


“Let’s go on the stage,” Dietrich suggested quietly. His face was tight, his body tense. 

I felt the turbulence of his emotions through our mental connection—grief, uncertainty, self-doubt. Determination. He slipped past me and strode to the side access steps leading to the stage. 

What’s wrong? The question slipped from my mind tentatively, sliding along the connection to him. 

I followed him onto the stage, waiting for a response. He stood in front of the massive set piece of the ship’s deck, in the center of the ghost light, where we had first kissed. 

The blurred image of an alley formed in my mind. A huge gray dog baring its teeth. A gunshot. 

A little girl lying on the cobblestones. 

A puddle of blood pooling on the stones, seeping into the cracks between. 

That was the last time I directed full shape-shifting magic. That was the last time anyone but myself wore her chain. Until tonight.

My breath hissed through my lips. This was as hard for him as it was for me. He had his back to me, his head bowed, and his shoulders hunched. I walked up behind him and slid my hand into his.

Are you ready? 

He looked at me over his shoulder, his eyes wistful, his smile sad. Without releasing my hand, he turned to me. “I have to be. We both do.”

We can do this, Dietrich. Together. You and me. I tried not to feel afraid. I wanted to be strong, for him. 

He brushed my cheek with his fingers. You and me. Then, out loud, “What do you want to try?”

“To shift into?”

He nodded. 

My chest tightened. “Just Nadine.” She, or the closest approximation possible, was the only person I felt safe trying to shift into. I supposed I would have to practice some other shapes—probably animals—as part of my escape plan, but tonight, Nadine was the only being I could envision becoming. 

“All right, then.” He took several steps back, until he stood at the edge of the ghost light’s circle, half in shadow. 

My breathing grew short and shallow. My stomach knotted. Memories pressed in around me. 

Don’t think about the past. Dietrich’s magic swirled around me. This is now. New. 

I exhaled, shaking. 

“Close your eyes.” His spoken words hummed with magic, low and commanding. Pretend you’ve never done this before. Let me guide you through it.

My eyes drifted shut. I heard my blood pounding in my ears. The room grew cold—or maybe it was only me.

Create her in your mind. 

That was different. I was never allowed to form the shifting image. 

Don’t think about before. Only now. Now, you are my partner, my equal.

“Give me her image,” Dietrich said. “Show me what you see when you think of Nadine Fairchild.”

I built her in my mind, starting with her smile. Her grace, her beauty, her inner strength. All the things I loved about her—the way she never gave up on finding me, the kindness in her touch as she calmed my nightmares, the gentleness in her eyes. I constructed her the way I would one of my devices, only instead of springs and gears, I made her out of all the memories I’d treasured of her. 

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