The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2)(3)

“You’re tensing your muscles,” Edel says, stroking my cheek. “Let the arcana wake up. Focus on that.”

At the mention of the word arcana, their power throbs inside me, rising quickly to meet my request. All three skills—Manner, Aura, Age—are threads ready, able, and eager to be tugged and bent to my will.

The veins in my hands swell beneath my skin. My nerves prickle with thick energy.

“Think of your own face,” Edel whispers. “Your curly hair and your high forehead. Your full lips. The shade of your skin is the brown of the almond luna pastries Rémy brought us this morning for breakfast.”

When I would see clients for beauty work, a familiar warmth would race through me like someone had let a candle flame graze across my skin. But now, a deep chill settles in, replacing that feeling. My teeth chatter, and a shiver makes me jerk.

“You’re all right. Keep going,” Edel says. “Change your hair to match one of the crimson Belle-roses from our home solarium with petals as large as plates.”

The flower sprouts beside the image of my own face in my mind. Its color bleeds into the strands of my hair, twisting around the coils like ribbons of blood. A headache erupts in my temples. My lungs tighten like I’ve just raced up a winding staircase.

“It’s working,” she says.

I sit straight up.

“Don’t break your concentration.”

“Why does it feel this way?” I ask, out of breath.

“I don’t know. But you’re doing it.” Edel rustles through the beauty caisse Arabella sent with us, retrieving a small mirror and thrusting it into my hands. “Look!”

I gaze into it. The frizzy curls at the crown of my head are a deep fiery red like Amber’s, like Maman’s. I play with one curl and twist it around my finger to examine it more closely.

“How long does it last?” I grimace through the cold. It grips my bones, a radiating ache splintering my insides.

“As long as you can hold it in your mind and your levels stay strong. I’ve been able to maintain it for almost five hourglasses when I’m rested and focused,” Edel boasts. “But I know if I push myself or drink Belle-rose tea or elixir, I could go longer.”

“I can’t concentrate any longer.”

The red fades away and the brown appears once more. I crumple on the bed.

The door snaps open. Amber marches in, her presence a landquake. A nest of red hair peeks out from under her hood.

Edel stands. “You’re back early.”

“There were too many guards, and I lost the mask you gave me,” Amber reports, then surveys the room. “What’s going on?”

“Edel was just teaching me how to—” I start to say.

“Quickly refresh your arcana.” Edel’s eyes burn into mine.

I purse my lips and flash her a puzzled look.

“Where’s Rémy?” Edel asks, taking a porcelain bowl from a nearby table and fishing out two wiggling sangsues. She wraps one leech around my wrist like a cuff, and in a whisper says, “Don’t say anything.”

“He’s doing one of his rounds before coming upstairs.” Amber rushes to the dragons’ cage and lifts the blanket. They’re tangled together in a pile and remind me of jeweled bracelets made of pearls, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and gold. “I brought them some pig meat and found these sweet necklaces.” She dangles the collars from her fingers and sets them in front of the cage.

“Why’d you spend our money on those?” Edel snaps. “You were supposed to get hair dye for all of us.”

“I did.” She yanks two pot-bellied jars from her pocket and throws one at Edel.

Edel catches it.

“All she had left was evergreen.”

“That’s going to help us blend in,” Edel replies sarcastically.

“The whole city is at a shortage of Belle-products with the teahouses shut down. And she gave me those collars at a discount. The dragons need leashes for their training.” She hands me a crumpled page. “Found this on the lobby table.”

Four cameo portraits stretch across the page: Amber, Edel, Rémy, and lastly, me.

My own eyes stare out, looking haunted. The animated portrait shifts through a series of my most notable looks: one with my hair in a signature Belle-bun full of camellia flowers; another with it down and around my face in a big, curly cloud; and the last with the strands all ironed straight and resting on my shoulders. The text calls us dangerous, cunning, and traitors to the crown. Sophia has promised 850,000 leas and 275,000 spintria for our capture. That would make a person instantly one of the wealthiest individuals in all Orléans, ready to join the circle of the kingdom’s finest.


What does that mean? Are we cattle headed to the slaughterhouses on the Isle of Quin?

Amber places fresh food in the teacup dragons’ cage, then plops down in one of the wooden chairs. “I hate this place.”

Edel starts to cough. “I need water,” she says.

“Are you sick?” Amber asks.

“Thirsty,” Edel replies. “Can you grab some?”

“Why can’t you?” Amber’s eyebrows lift with suspicion.

“You always get the water. You know how to work the house pumps.” They lock eyes. “Plus, I’m not dressed, and you are.”

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