Lina hoped her perky little put-off would work on the terrifying old women. She needed it to work, Jackson’s scheduled-in interruptions or not. It had to work.
Of course, it didn’t. Ethan’s aunts were not going to let her get away with being friendly, chipper, and innocent. Which was a pity, because she more or less was all three of those things.
“Don’t even bother.” The left-hand aunt really wanted to frown, but her face wasn’t moving in that direction at the moment. “You can save that shit for the credulous masses.”
“I will then, thank you.” She turned her back on them. “Come on, Ethan. We’ve got a deadline.”
She started walking as if they’d dismissed her, hand on Ethan’s shoulder, her fingers brushing across his neck where, she could feel, the mark she’d left was glowing and a little warm. He kept trying to turn around, so she set one finger on the base of his skull and kept walking.
She got the shield up a half-second before the blast hit them; she could hear the grunt from Ethan as he tensed for it.
It hit her shield harmlessly; she pushed him a little. With her free hand, she sought Dylan’s hand and held it firmly.
“Harpies,” he muttered. “They’re fucking harpies.”
Indeed, one of them screeched “Ethan! Don’t you walk away from us!” sounding note-perfect to how Lina had imagined harpies sounding.
And the other one followed up with “You know what happens when you spite us. You know what’ll happen when you come home.” She no longer sounded human. Lina wondered what would happen if she turned around.
“I can’t ever go home,” Ethan muttered. She didn’t think he sounded as upset by that as he might have been.
“We don’t know if our homes will even still be there,” Jackson pointed out. “Nothing in the prophecy says where to build your house, just where to be to survive.”
“What if that’s just to get Catalina there? What if the whole prophecy was just so that someone brought her to the right place at the right time?” Ethan was starting to shake under Lina’s hand. “What if the whole thing is just some — some meddling in our lives to get her there?”
“And if it was?” Jackson looked at Ethan in challenge. “For one, there’s more than one prophecy, and not all of them, not the way they were written, could be about Lina. For two — if the main three, for instance, were intended to make sure Lina was where she needed to be to save the world, what of it? She’s here and she’s going to save the world and we’re going to help her.”
“But the whole Organization, the whole thing, the money, the gathering, all of it—” He leaned into her hand now, which slowed them both down. She moved her arm to his waist, holding him close while they kept walking. “— it’s all built around there being a leader who knows what the prophecies mean—”
“Maybe to start with,” Dylan cut in.
Lina had already wanted to hurry. Something about the way they were talking, though, made her hurry Ethan — and thus all of them — along. She wanted to be well away from the rest of the Organization before they said anything that could get them even deeper in — and she had a strong feeling they were going to get really, really deeply into it pretty quickly. “But you heard Miss Bosch here when she was talking to my father. You heard him, too. My dad isn’t a scholar of the prophecies. When Jackson went into it, I think I understood more of it than Dad did. He’s not the sort, you see? He’s good at leading people. Really good at leading people.” He took a breath. “So, so he can lead everyone and he can use people like Jackson’s mother and like Mrs. Tolliver and Dr. Carben, but if the Organization was intended to be led by the wise leader—”
“It was,” both Ethan and Jackson cut in.
“—then we’re already not being led by them. And maybe, maybe that was just something scholarly people said to be in power, back when they wanted to lead the Organization—“
“The Charter of the Organization,” Jackson cut in, “says ‘for the betterment of our people and of our world, the Organization for the understanding of the Writ of Mallechai and other such Writs is formed so that the wise and learned scholars of the Writs of Prophecy may lead those who seek to be guided to a better world, to a safer world.’ It goes on for a while after that, too, but that’s the relevant part. I mean, that’s why Lina’s parents rebelled, isn’t it? Because your father is a good leader, not a good scholar?”
Lina picked up her pace again. They were all taller than her; they could keep up.
“Wait.” Ethan made a noise of frustration. “What does any of this have to do with anything? I mean. We’re still part of the Organization. Even if I can’t go home — are we part of the Organization?”Want more?