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PROLOGUE

THEY ABANDONED EARTH. MEN LEFT THEIR HOMES and their shops. They deserted the streets to crack and scatter into the soil, renouncing dominion over the world and rejecting their own progress for the promise of the new and the next. And so Earth sits in splendid ruin.

On the horizon a metro rises in grotesque majesty, and behind us the ocean roars with life. Above us the sky twists and turns to watch us—an evolution of stars and light. I know little of this world, but hope gathers in my chest. This is our first chance. Maybe our only one.

Life.

Possibility.

Choice.

I’d been taught there was one reality: a reality guided and overseen and created by others. But standing on the edge of the past, I feel potential coursing through me. The natural strands of life are free here, glorious and unrestrained. Time slides around and wraps me in its protection. Anything can happen, and I feel the pulsing vitality of this truth in my arms and in my aching hands. Loricel was wrong about Earth and what it represents. She told me it was dead, a half-remembered relic of a different time, but this world isn’t doomed.

It’s waiting for me.

ONE

A SHIP’S BEACON SWEEPS OVERHEAD, BATHING US in light. My hand stretches out as though to beckon the ship toward us, but I draw my hand back to shield my eyes, fear supplanting the brief thrill of knowing we are not alone on this planet. Fear the Guild has cultivated in me since they took me from my family. It is more powerful than the hope growing roots within me.

The hull of the ship is bloated and torpid, making its flight a reluctant crawl across the sky. It doesn’t change course when it coasts over us, and although the brilliance of the watchlight fades past us, blood pounds through me, reminding me of one thing: even a world away from Arras, where no one has reason to harm me, I’m not safe. But I understand now what I couldn’t before. My parents were wrong about me. They taught me to hide my gift.

But my hands are my salvation, not my curse.

I watch the ship ride low along the skyline, skimming across the glittering night sky. If it stays on its current trajectory, it will collide with the mountain range nestled against the metro I spy on the horizon.

“Did it see us?” Jost whispers as though the pilot might be able to hear us. His usually bright blue eyes are dark, nearly matching his curly, shoulder-length hair, and I can see the fear in them.

“It couldn’t have. Where’s it going?”

Jost squints in concentration and he cocks his head, trying to see it more clearly. “I think it’s on patrol.”

Then it hits me. The ship isn’t soaring birdlike, it’s hanging from a patchwork of rough strands like a puppet dangling from a master’s strings. The sky is wrong. I thought it was stars sparkling overhead, like the ones that peppered the evening sky in Arras. But these stars are long, and they seem to fade into a tangle of light that twinkles erratically over us. I stare for a long moment while the truth sinks in. These aren’t stars nestled into a night sky.

They’re strands.

It’s the same strange, raw weave that we came through when I ripped us out. Loricel, the Creweler who trained me and the most powerful woman in Arras, showed it to me in her studio, explaining that it was a buffer between Arras and another world. She revealed the truth to me that day: that Arras was built on the ruins of Earth.

“It has to be the Guild,” I say. I already knew the Guild had a presence on Earth. If I had stayed in Arras, it would have become my job to help them drill for elements here. Of course they would have security forces guarding the buffer between the worlds. The hope building in my chest evaporates, giving way to complete panic. I spot Erik to my left. He’s too far away from us for me to protect him, but I can’t sit by and do nothing, and before I can plan my next move, the watchlight washes over us again. I respond instinctively; my left hand lashes out and rends the air around us, looking for something to latch onto and warp into a shield of protection. There is no delicate, precisely knit weave on this planet. It’s not constructed like Arras, which means I’m useless here.

And yet, I can feel the strands of Earth. They snake against my skin, and if I could calm my racing heart, I think I could even hear them because the space around me crackles with vitality. These aren’t the uniform strands of Arras, but they’re composed of the same material. They’re loosely connected and flexible. Their vibrancy shivers across my damaged fingertips, the threads more alive than any I felt in Arras. There the weave pricked dully at my touch after my hands were scarred during Maela’s torture session. But these threads aren’t neatly woven into a pattern and they are full of unexpected life. During my time at the Coventry, I could warp time strands into a separate moment, protecting Jost’s and my conversations and giving us time alone. Those moments were easy to construct because of the uniformity of the Coventry’s weave. However, the Earth strand doesn’t warp into the bubble of protection I expect. Instead the thick golden strand coils into my fingers, pulling farther and farther into the sky until it snags across the hull. The ship groans loudly, changing from tarnished steel to bloody rust, bits flaking and falling off. It crumbles more with each second until it plummets to the surface in a flood of sparks and debris.

Jost yanks me along as he runs toward the metro that lies miles away, farther under the hood of the strange raw weave of Arras. The other direction would take us toward the ocean and there will be nowhere to hide there. I stumble behind him, tripping against rocks in our path. Fragments of the wreckage drift by us as we run. The small sparkles of fiery debris are lovely against the black air but the clattering maelstrom behind us scrapes at my ears, and I reach up to cover them. I can’t attach what’s happened to me. How could I have done that?

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