“So why did you decide to tell me now?” I asked icily. I might understand Ella’s position, but I was not about to forgive her. Not so quickly, anyway.
Ella turned her foot down, toe pointing against the ground. I tried not to grind my teeth together. She was about to lie to me. I recognized it in her posture.
“I couldn’t leave you,” she said, not meeting my gaze. “I thought how lonely you would be, here without me, and how angry Mother would be with you and—“
“Try again,” I interrupted her. “The truth this time.”
“Well, you would be lonely without me and Mother will be angry,” Ella said with wide-eyed innocence.
“And that’s not why you told me.” Across the room, a fire leapt to life in the grate. With a hiss of annoyance, I tapped my hand against the air and put it out. It was too warm for a fire.
Ella pressed her lips together. “Well, no.”
Behind me, a candle burst into flame. I glared at Ella and pinched my fingers together, putting it out.
“Sorry,” she said contritely. “But look how well you’re doing! Not a single piece of fabric singed.”
“And you know perfectly well that if Mother was to walk in right now and smell the smoke, I’d spend the next month locked in this room, with not a single scrap of fabric in it. Nor paper. Stop making me angry, Ella, or the next thing that goes up in smoke are those.” I gestured to her sheaf of papers.
She squeaked and clutched the papers to her. “All right, all right. I was going to go alone, but I want you to come with me.”
“Come with you? Through the hole that people disappear into and never return?”
“Amelia de Winterhoffe returned, again and again. She claimed the hole was how she found her menagerie of monsters.”
I rolled my eyes. “That was a convenient way to deny smuggling alien species into the country.”
“Her father, Revel de Winterhoffe, said that he’d been through the hole and it led to another world, a beautiful world, like fairyland.”
“A fairy tale he told his children.”
“Sibylla de Winterhoffe claimed that she travelled through the hole to a fantastic marketplace where she traded her outer robe for a string of perfectly-matched pearls. Those pearls are still part of the demiparure traditionally worn by de Winterhoffes during our first presentation to the crown.”
“Smuggling again. Avoiding import taxes.” I waved a dismissive hand in the air. But behind me, all the candles in our candelabra roared into life. I grimaced, snapped my hand flat, and the flames went out.
Ella winced. “Sorry.”
“Not your fault.” I returned my gaze to the window, staring out of it, not bothering to hide my gloom. I was seventeen, a year past old enough to be presented at court. Unfortunately, I was my father’s daughter. The chance that I would ever even be allowed at court, much less enjoy the stress of a full presentation to the ruling family, was slim to none.
Ella leaned forward. “Come with me, Lila. We can escape together.”
“Or die together?” I asked, not quite facetiously.
“Well…” Ella nibbled her lower lip.
Realization struck me and I turned my attention back to her. “That’s it. That’s why you want me to come with you!”
“I’d be lonely without you,” she offered with a hint of mischief in her eyes.
My laugh was half-hearted. “I’d be lonely without you, too.”
“But I’d also be safer with you,” Ella admitted. She nodded toward the candelabra. “I know fire is a hard talent to have. But… well, Amelia de Winterhoffe did collect monsters on the other side of the rift. That means there are monsters over there. And you would be much, much better at facing down monsters than I would be.”
I should tell our mother, I knew. Immediately. Not that I believed the mysterious hole would really appear on cue, but what if it did and Ella went through it? She was fifteen years old and definitely not equipped to fight monsters. Her talents included strong truesight and persuasion, and minor levitation.
My talents, on the other hand… well, I’d taken after both of our parents. Lucky me. It meant I never got to go anywhere or do anything. The Grovers were the only neighbor who dared my company and that because they had a marbled ballroom which was quite inflammable. As well as three sons to marry off, of course.
“All right,” I said.
“What?” Ella almost dropped her papers in surprise.
“All right.” I smiled at my sister. If I told our mother, Ella would never trust me again. I’d find out about her next escapade at the same time as everyone else, most likely when we found her dead or badly injured body.
The hole wouldn’t show up, but if it did, we’d go through it, take a look around, and then return. No one would need to know. Ella would be delighted with the successes of her research, and perhaps the family would make a plan to investigate the hole — or the rift, rather — in more depth in seventeen months.
Ella jumped to her feet. “You won’t regret this, Lila, I swear you won’t.” She glanced at the clock on my mantel. “We have ninety-three minutes. You won’t have time to gather any food, but wear your warmest over-robe. The stories say…”
“I know, I know.” I stood. “There’ll be a space between worlds and it will be chilly. I have heard the stories, too, you know.”
Ella hurried over to her bed. Leaning down, she dragged out an empty canvas satchel, followed by one that looked stuffed to the brim. “Here.” She levitated the empty satchel across the room to me, letting it float to the window seat. “I got a bag for you. And you’ve got just enough time to pack it.”