Circle of Shadows (Circle of Shadows, #1)(7)

“Tanoshi is a perfect mission for us, Commander,” Sora said.

Glass Lady let out a long exhale, as if it took all of her patience. “You’re lucky we didn’t refuse to give you a mission at all, after that stunt at Rose Palace tonight. We will mete out an appropriate punishment, but that will have to wait, as we have other missions to assign. For now, you are dismissed.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Sora said, relieved. She placed both fists over her heart, the taigas’ symbol of loyalty. Daemon did the same. “Cloak of night. Heart of light,” they recited.

The councilmembers saluted with double fists over hearts and repeated the Society motto as well.

“Happy Autumn Festival, and have a good mission,” Scythe—the least stern of the warriors—said.

As Sora and Daemon burst out of the Council Room doors, Fairy and Broomstick left their places in line and ran up to them.

“What’d you get?” Fairy asked, her eyes as bright as if they’d been sprinkled with pixie dust.

“Tanoshi,” Sora said.

“Can’t wait until it’s our turn to get our assignment,” Fairy said. “You’ll have a great time in Tanoshi. The boys there are cute.”

Sora laughed, then turned to Daemon. “Can you believe it? Our first real mission!”

He frowned. “What if there’s nothing in Tanoshi?”

Broomstick made a face. He may have been skinny as a child, but he’d more than made up for it over the years. He was one of the biggest Level 12s now, and he looked menacing with his shaved head and eyebrows half-singed from his experiments blowing things up. But the effect was countered by his constant smile and the fuzzy blond hair all over his arms. He was the kingdom’s most lethal teddy bear. “Why would it be bad if there’s nothing in Tanoshi?” he asked. “Are you afraid that the kingdom is perfectly safe?”

“No,” Daemon said. “I’m afraid that there’s nothing there, and we’ll come back with nothing to report, and our first mission will look like an enormous zero.”

“Don’t worry,” Sora said. “No matter what, we’ll make it an adventure. Anyway, we live and fight and die together, right?” she said.

Daemon grinned. “We do.” He clapped his arm around her and laughed. “But perhaps we should try not to die quite yet.”

Chapter Three

The next afternoon, Daemon and Sora made their way to Tanoshi. It was on the way to Sora’s parents’ home on Samara Mountain, where they would spend the Autumn Festival. They figured they might as well get their mission out of the way first, so they could relax during the rest of the break.

Before the discovery of tiger pearls made Kichona prosperous, the island kingdom had been unremarkable, subsisting mostly on fishing and agriculture. Many of the villages, like Tanoshi, still reflected this history, made up of small, well-kept wooden buildings with curved ceramic tiles on the roofs. Every few blocks, there was another impromptu shrine for this minor god or another. And thousands of acres of vineyards and apple orchards around Tanoshi perfumed the air with sweetness, especially now during grape harvest season.

They left their horses—and their taiga uniforms—at a coaching inn. In order to blend in to assess the state of the town, they wore ordinary layman’s clothes, which was always a bit jarring. While taigas wore stark black, civilians in Kichona embraced color, and lots of it—the more vivacious, the better. Sora wore a silk blouse modeled after a violet—lighter purple at the collar and sleeves, deep plum closer to her stomach, and a vivid starburst of yellow in the center—and her trousers were green, like the stem of the flower. Daemon had on a turquoise tunic embroidered at the hem with a pink-and-orange coral reef. He drew the line, though, at garish pants, opting instead for a pair of narrow gray trousers. There was only so much he could stomach to blend in.

Nevertheless, it was good enough, for the townspeople walked past them without a second glance. Everywhere Daemon and Sora went, people were smiling, pausing to chat with each other under strings of orange Autumn Festival lanterns or in front of crates of muscat grapes. They bought each other cold bottles of freshly pressed pear juice—traditional in this region of Kichona in the fall—and drank them together on the sidewalk.

“This place is so peaceful,” Daemon said, but it was more of a complaint than a compliment.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Sora asked. “This kind of life is what the Ora emperors and empresses have always wanted for Kichona.”

Daemon shrugged. She was right, of course. There were pirates roaming the ocean surrounding the kingdom, but the Imperial Navy worked diligently to keep them away from shore so the regular citizens of Kichona didn’t suffer. The Imperial Army kept posts throughout the island to ensure that traders from the mainland were really traders and not anything more nefarious. And there were also local police forces of taigas to keep the peace.

Even so, Daemon was jittery. “I just want something to do today, something to show for our work. If we’d been sent to a bigger ocean-side town, we could have investigated the harbors for suspicious ships. Maybe we would have found some pirates or smugglers or, I don’t know, a spy from another kingdom. But here in farm country . . . what are we even looking for?”

“Don’t worry,” Sora said. “As long as we’re thorough, we’ll get good marks.”

Evelyn Skye's Books