Authors: Vanessa Len
Joan ran back to the monster street. She wiped angrily at her face as she did. She hated that she was crying.
Being that close to Nick had brought it all backâall the feelings she'd had for him. Maybe still had for him. And in turn he'd told her the truth in that clear-eyed way he had. He'd have killed her family even if he'd known who they were to her. He'd have killed her if the cameras hadn't been there today. To him, she was a monster, and he'd been born to kill monsters.
And Joan was terrified too. Her mind kept throwing up images of Ruth and Aaron dead in the flat. Of everyone on that monster street lying deadâjust like at Holland House.
She made herself take the long way, though, down side alleys and doubling back rather than running straight to the flat like she wanted to. She wasn't going to lead Nick to anyone.
For the first time, she looked for cameras, avoiding them like Aaron always did. Nick had pointed out the cameras in the cafÃ©, and Joan was sure that was how he'd found her. She was beginning to understand why monsters hated cameras. If your enemies could travel in time, you never wanted to leave a record of where you'd been.
The market was bustling with people. Joan wanted to scream at them:
The hero is here in this time!
But she'd have sounded madâlike screaming that Superman was here.
She stumbled up the wrought-iron staircase to the landing. To her relief, she could hear Ruth and Aaron arguing through the door of the flat.
“âthe only family without allies,” Aaron was saying. “That's how much you're despised.”
Joan pounded on the door and Ruth opened it mid-sentence. “I don't know what the Mtawalis see in your family,” Ruth said. “They're tooâ”
,” Joan said. She'd had it with their fighting. She slammed the door behind her and took a deep breath. “We have to stop this,” she said. “Nick is here.”
They stared at herânot frightened, but confused. “What do you mean?” Aaron said.
“Nick is here!” Joan said. “He's here in this time!”
There was a longer silence. “He can't be,” Aaron said. “He's human. I saw him with my own power.”
“Humans can't travel,” Ruth said.
“I don't know how he got here!” Joan said impatiently. “But I'm telling you, he's here!”
“Are you sure?” Aaron said. “Are you sure it was him?”
“He took the necklace,” Joan said.
Aaron looked at Joan's bare throat and went pale. “Why would he do that?”
Joan could guess why. Sometimes it felt as though she knew Nick as well as she knew herself. He was going to use the necklace to get to the Monster Court. To get to the same device that they were after. He was going to change the timeline.
Aaron had said it last night.
The human hero is the end of days for monsters.
“You told us the myth,” Joan said to Aaron. “You said that in the end of days, the hero kills the ancestor of monsters.”
Nick's plan was as clear to Joan as if he'd told her himself. He was going to use that device to change the timeline. He was going to kill that ancestral monster. And when he did, no other monster would ever be born. Every monster would be erased from the timeline. Nick's purpose as the hero would be fulfilled.
Aaron didn't say anything, but Joan had seen that expression on his face before. He'd had it in the mazeâwhen he'd looked down and seen the symbol of the hero on the back of a man's neck.
“No.” Ruth shook her head.
She didn't want to believe it. Joan knew that feeling well.
“Gran told me about the hero that night,” Joan said. “Ruth, she knew about him. She was expecting him, butÂ .Â .Â .” She remembered what Gran had said.
I was supposed to have so much more time to prepare you
I thought I'd be fighting beside you.
“I think he came at the wrong time. She wasn't ready for him. She tried to tell me more, but she was too weak. She gave me the necklace. And now Nick has it. We have to stop him. We have to.”
“What are we supposed to do?” Aaron said. “If he can travel, he's probably left this time already.”
“We know where he's going,” Joan said. “We know what he wants. We just have to get there first.”
“The Monster Court.” Aaron breathed it out like a fearful prayer. He looked toward the windows. The middle two were cracked open, allowing glimpses of white sky amid the rippling blue of the stained glass. “ListenÂ .Â .Â .Â ,” he said. “If you're right, then every monster is in danger. We need to trust the Court to stop him. I think it's time to seek an audience.”
“Don't be a fool,” Ruth spat. “I realize that you're an Oliver, so your instinct is to lick boots, but the Court can't be trusted. Court Guards have been hunting down survivors of the massacre. And you know as well as I do that only the Court can have altered the family records to conceal what the hero has done.”
Aaron had glared at
, but now he started to frown. “I can't make sense of it.”
“Isn't it obvious?” Ruth said. “This is the King's timeline. Every event is how he wishes it to be. Or so the Court says. The King protects us from humans discovering us. Or so the Court says.”
“You're perilously close to blasphemy,” Aaron said.
“Then let me say it clearer,” Ruth said. “The hero is proof of the limits of the King's powerâa failure in the King's purported control of the timeline. If the King could have stopped the hero, he would have. Instead he can only conceal him from us. How's that for blasphemy?”
As Aaron's face lost all color, Joan had a strange feeling of almost knowing something. Like a word on the tip of her tongue, or like a dream that she couldn't quite remember.
“No,” she said. “The King created this timeline. He used something to change the original timeline.” That was true. She didn't understand why she was so sure, but she was.
And at the same time, she felt unsettled. Why
the Court concealing Nick's actions? And if the Court knew about Nick, why hadn't they already stopped him?
“We have to do something,” she said. “I know there are things we don't understand about this, but if Nick gets to the Court before we doâif he changes the timelineâhe's going to end us all.”
“JoanÂ .Â .Â .” Aaron looked helpless.
“No,” Joan said. “No.” She didn't want to talk about anything but a plan. Because, Nick aside, they had to get to the Monster Court. She
that device. It was the only way to bring back Gran and Aunt Ada and Uncle Gus and Bertie. She needed it to undo what Nick had done.
“We can't get there before he does,” Aaron said. “We can't get there at all. The Court sits outside time. It's inaccessible. Nick took the only way in. The necklace.”
“There must be another way,” Joan said.
“There isn't,” Ruth said.
“There must be,” Joan said. She needed to
. Instead she found herself helplessly remembering how Nick had slipped the necklace from under her shirt. How he'd looked at her. She tried
to steady her breathâshe didn't want to cry again. She remembered how his knuckles had brushed her throat as he'd worked the clasp from her neck.
The necklaceÂ .Â .Â .
A vague memory came to her. Ying Liu hadn't been the first person interested in the necklace. Someone else had asked about it first.Â .Â .Â .
“When I first went to the market yesterday,” she said slowly, “someone offered me money for Gran's necklace.”
“So?” Aaron said. “Those stall owners buy and sell all kinds of junk.”
“But it wasn't junk, was it?” Joan said. “It was a key to the Monster Court.” Joan remembered the gleam of interest in the man's eyes.
, he'd said,
name a price
. “If he buys stuff like that,” she said, “then maybe he sells stuff like that too.”
“If he does, then he's mixed up in some dangerous things, and we should stay away from him,” Aaron said.
“If there's even a chanceÂ .Â .Â . “
“Joan.” Aaron sounded helpless and scared. “The King's power is absolute. We can't justÂ .Â .Â .” He shook his head. He'd thought the term
was blasphemous; Joan couldn't imagine how he must be feeling about going against the King more directly.
“You don't have to do this,” she said to him. He didn't have to be part of this at all. “I'll go down there and find the stall.”
But when she reached for the door, Aaron and Ruth followed her.
Joan pushed through the market. The Court Guards who'd raided earlier were gone, but they'd left behind an atmosphere of discontent and fear. One stall owner was crying as Joan passed her. The man who had stood at the stall with her earlier was nowhere to be seen.
“What do you remember of this guy?” Aaron asked Joan as they walked through what Joan now recognized as the twenty-first-century section of the market. There were clothes here that could have been from her own wardrobe at home.
“I think he was a Hathaway,” Joan said. He'd had their muscular build. Aaron grimaced.
“You don't like that family?” Joan said. Aaron had been annoyed by the loud Hathaways at the inn.
“They're thugs,” Aaron said.
The man wasn't at his stall; his card table was bare. Joan thought about the crying woman earlier. She turned to the seller at the next tableâa woman with a bob of gray hair and a youthful face. “Excuse me,” Joan said. “Yesterday, there was a man here selling phones.” She hesitated, not sure how to ask if he'd been caught in the raid.
To her relief, the woman pointed to the far end of the market. “Down the back.”
The back of the market was dingy and cold. There didn't seem to be a particular time associated with it. Some tables were selling fresh eels and fish on ice. Other tables had nothing on them at all.
Muscular men and women watched Joan as she passed. All Hathaways, she thought. There were animals with them. Dogs, mostly, but Joan glimpsed some cats and an animal that looked more fox than dog.
“I've never seen a dog like that,” she whispered to Ruth.
Ruth glanced over. “It's not from this time.”
“We can take animals with us when we travel?”
“We can take small objects,” Aaron said. Which made senseâthey'd arrived in this time with their clothes. “But only the Hathaway family can travel with animals,” he went on. “Most of them travel with a familiar.”
“A familiar.” It was a word Joan associated with witches. “You mean a pet?”
“Yes, a pet. The most useless family power in London.” Aaron's tone was contemptuous. He kept his voice very low, though, as if he didn't dare insult the Hathaways within their hearing.
The man who'd bought Joan's phone was at the very back of the market, where it ended in a smoke-blackened brick wall. From here, the rest of the market was just the curtained backs of stalls. Cardboard boxes lay about, discarded. There was a smell of old cabbage leaves and fish.
The man sat at an empty card table, asleep, his squashed face snoozing against the dirty brick wall. A tiny bulldog snored at his feet. The man was a little older than twenty, broad-shouldered and hulking. Sprawled out, he barely fit into the folding chair.
” Ruth said to Joan. She groaned. “Tell me
isn't your guy.”
The man's arms were crossed in sleep. There was a tattoo around one bulging bicep. Curled lines formed a two-headed dog, both heads meeting to growl at each other.
“You know him?” Joan asked.
Ruth grimaced. “Everyone at the Ravencroft Market knows Tom Hathaway. Used to be a Court Guard. Got sacked. Now he's a washed-up drunk who buys and sells phones.”
“Fantastic,” Aaron said.
Joan took a step closer. “Tom?” she called. The man and dog continued to sleep. “Tom Hathaway?” Joan said louder.
The man sniffed and twitched. “Mm?”
“Can we talk to you?”
“Mm.” Tom smacked his lips, but he didn't open his eyes. “Get me a drink, love?”
Ruth looked at Joan and Joan mouthed back
Aaron rolled his eyes. He bent down and grabbed a half-drunk beer bottle from under Tom's own card table. He plonked it down.
Tom's eyes opened at the sound. He fumbled for the bottle and then swallowed down the remnants of the beer in one big gulp.
“Tom?” Joan said. “We want to buy something from you.”
“Get me a drink, love.”
“I think he's broken,” Aaron said dryly. “When you pull the string, he only says one thing.”
“I think he needs a coffee,” Joan said. The bulldog was awake now, sniffing at Joan's shoe. She bent to stroke its soft head. It was very small for a bulldog, but clearly well cared
forâsleek brown-and-white fur and a solid build. Better cared for than Tom himself, who had the crooked nose of a fighter and was barely conscious in the early afternoon.