The stars were dim but visible beyond the bright lights of the pier. Julian held her arm neither roughly nor gently, but with a sort of clinical distance. He turned it over, his stele describing quick motions over her wrist, inking runes of protection there, runes of speed and agility and enhanced hearing.
This was the closest Emma had been to Jules in two weeks. She felt dizzy from it, a little drunk. His head was bent, his eyes fixed on the task at hand, and she took the opportunity to absorb the sight of him.
The lights of the wheel had turned amber and yellow; they powdered his tanned skin with gold. His hair fell in loose, fine waves over his forehead. She knew the way the skin by the corners of his mouth was soft, and the way his shoulders felt under her hands, strong and hard and vibrant. His lashes were long and thick, so dark that they seemed to have been charcoaled; she half expected them to leave a dusting of black powder on the tops of his cheekbones when he blinked.
He was beautiful. He had always been beautiful, but she had noticed it too late. And now she stood with her hands at her sides and her body aching because she couldn’t touch him. She could never touch him again.
He finished what he was doing and spun the stele around so the handle was toward her. She took it without a word as he pulled aside the collar of his shirt, under his gear jacket. The skin there was a shade paler than the tanned skin on his face and hands, scored over and over with the faint white Marks of runes that had been used up and faded away.
She had to move a step nearer to Mark him. The runes bloomed under the tip of the stele: agility, night vision. Her head reached just to the level of his chin. She was staring directly at his throat, and saw him swallow.
“Just tell me,” he said. “Just tell me that he makes you happy. That Mark makes you happy.”
She jerked her head up. She had finished the runes; he reached to take the stele from her motionless hand. For the first time in what felt like forever, he was looking directly at her, his eyes turned dark blue by the colors of the night sky and the sea, spreading out all around them as they neared the top of the wheel.
“I’m happy, Jules,” she said. What was one lie among so many others? She had never been someone who lied easily, but she was finding her way. When the safety of people she loved depended on it, she’d found, she could lie. “This is—this is smarter, safer for both of us.”
The line of his gentle mouth hardened. “That’s not—”
She gasped. A writhing shape rose up behind him—it was the color of an oil slick, its fringed tentacles clinging to a spoke of the wheel. Its mouth was wide open, a perfect circle ringed with teeth.
“Jules!” she shouted, and flung herself from the carriage, catching onto one of the thin iron bars that ran between the spokes. Dangling by one hand, she slashed out with Cortana, catching the Teuthida as it reared back. It yowled, and ichor sprayed; Emma cried out as it splashed her neck, burning her skin.
A knife punched into the demon’s round, ribbed body. Pulling herself up onto a spoke, Emma glanced down to see Julian poised on the edge of the carriage, another knife already in hand. He sighted down along his arm, let the second knife fly—
It clanged off the bottom of an empty carriage. The Teuthida, incredibly fast, had whipped its way out of sight. Emma could hear it scrabbling downward, along the tangle of metal bars that made up the inside of the wheel.
Emma sheathed Cortana and began to crawl along the length of her spoke, heading toward the bottom of the wheel. LED lights exploded around her in purple and gold.
There was ichor and blood on her hands, making the descent slippery. Incongruously, the view from the wheel was beautiful, the sea and the sand opening in front of her in all directions, as if she were dangling off the edge of the world.
She could taste blood in her mouth, and salt. Below her, she could see Julian, out of the carriage, clambering along a lower spoke. He glanced up at her and pointed; she followed the line of his hand and saw the Teuthida nearly at the wheel’s center.