The Everlasting Rose (The Belles, #2)(4)

“Amber, please. The teacup dragons need some as well,” I add.

She shrugs, then leaves the room.

As soon as the door closes, Edel stops coughing and turns to me. “Don’t tell her about the glamours.”

“Why?” I ask, feeling Edel’s distrust of Amber like a flash of heat.

“She’s too weak to try it right now. We should wait until we know exactly how it works. We both have always been stronger and more willing to experiment than she is.”

“But we’ll need to show her soon.” I study Edel’s face.

“Of course,” Edel says, avoiding my eyes. “When the time is right.”

The sun hasn’t risen when I sneak out of bed and dress to go out. Rémy is off on one of his night-watch rounds. I don’t bother using the cold water in our basin for fear of waking Amber and Edel. I’m getting used to the dirt. The memories of onsens full of claw-foot tubs and rose-shaped soaps and sweet oils and honey scrubs, perfume blimps leaving behind their scents, and beauty-lanterns dusting us with perfect beams of light are clouds drifting out to sea never to be caught again.

I put in the eye-films that Arabella gave us, then blink until they settle, and I can see the small room again. We’ve fallen into a synchronized rhythm like the dancing koi fish that used to live in our fountain at Maison Rouge: Amber fetches fresh water from the house pumps every morning and even scrounges up small pieces of lime soap so we can make an attempt at bathing; Edel keeps the room tidy by stealing the house mistress’s broom each afternoon; Rémy watches every movement in and out of the boardinghouse; and I nurse our teacup dragons, teach them how to fly, and secure our nightly meals.

At times it feels like we could go on living this way if we wanted. Move from boardinghouse to boardinghouse to evade the imperial guards. Take care of one another. Fold into the regular population of Orléans and live in secret. But my desire to see Sophia fall has become a whispered refrain making my body restless, as if my limbs and heart know that this isn’t the place for us. That I must face her. That I must make her pay for what she’s done. That I must do what Queen Celeste would have wanted.

Amber and Edel are still a mess of legs and arms and quilts in the bed we share. I have only a few moments to get out the front door of the boardinghouse before Rémy returns. I ease down the staircase, careful not to hit any of the squeaky wood planks. This is the second time I’ve sneaked out since we arrived.

In the main salon, a few night-lanterns putter low along the ground. Three teacup cats wander across the long tables in search of crumbs. One meows at me.

“Shh,” I whisper. “Don’t ruin my plan.”

I tie the ribbons of the mask Edel gave me. It’s made of rich black velvet and lace, and hugs the contours of my face and neck like a soft glove. Guaranteed to protect one’s makeup from the cold-season weather. Or shield one’s identity. The southerly winds make these popular here, creating the perfect locale for staying hidden.

I unlatch the hook on the front door and close it gently behind me.

An early-morning mist covers the city, choking the buildings with fog. The day after Maman died, the world outside the windows of Maison Rouge looked the same. Through the rose-shaped bars, I watched the dark forest catch rain clouds, trapping them down from the sky. I always imagined them as the Goddess of Beauty’s tears, shed over the death of another one of her gifts to our world. I wanted to race out the back doors and venture deeper into the forest than we’d ever been allowed to go before, scream for Maman to be brought back, and wait for the Goddess of Beauty to answer me.

I gaze up at a wakening sky. The plum darkness cracks open like an egg, releasing ribbons of orange and yellow and tangerine.

“Are you up there, Beauty?” I wait to hear her voice boom down from the sky. “Were you ever there? Or are you a lie, too?”


A milk vendor and her cart plod along, leaving the noisy trail of clinking glasses. “Fresh pints to go with your morning pastries. Get them here!”

Her calls hasten me forward. Last time I sneaked out, the streets were empty.

Black mourning-lanterns drift about, casting their shadowy light over the cobblestones. Portraits of the departed Queen Celeste hang from banners and populate nearby avenue boards. The sight of her beautiful face wrenches my heart. How upset she’d be about what has happened, her warnings about Sophia now prophetic. Blimps snake through tall towers and post-balloons zip around their large frames. Their bulbous underbellies leave behind swaths of darkness and shadows.

A woman exits a shop.

My heart beats against my rib cage.

A warning. A sign to turn back.

I duck into a nearby alley, waiting for her to pass. She slows down and stops to look in my direction. She wears a peculiar mask that curves around all the edges of her face, neck, and chest, reminding me of a gilded mold for a bust or statue. The moonlight exposes its delicate iron edges and intricate etchings.

I press myself farther into the shadows.

The noise of the milk vendor pulls her attention. She abandons her curiosity about me and runs off.

I should go back to the boardinghouse, but I count to twenty, then leave my hiding spot, and press on. I turn onto the Imperial Mile that stretches from Metairie’s royal mansions and empties out at one of the island clusters’ many bridges. Gauzy arch-lanterns scatter strips of light like bars of gold. I’ve memorized each street and avenue and alley near the boardinghouse under Rémy’s guidance and his expert maps. “You must know how to get out of here without me,” he’d said right after we’d first arrived. “If anything should happen, I need to know that you’ll be able to navigate.”

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