The Shadowglass (The Bone Witch, #3)(3)

I tugged my waist wrap into place around me and glared at him again. “This is all your fault.”

“I know.”

I reached up and kissed him. “Take me home,” I commanded, “and if we’re late, you get to explain why to Parmina.”

“I would much rather face another daeva.”

I paused. “I need one stop,” I amended quietly.

Kalen squeezed my hand. He knew what I wanted. I always asked for the same detour. “Of course.”

? ? ?

The graveyard was not far from the Willows. As was the custom, a generous portion of it had been set aside for ashas’ and Deathseekers’ graves, a row of daffodils planted in a line to demarcate their headstones from the rest of the populace. Even in death, the great equalizer, important people pushed up better shrubbery than the rest, I thought.

A small monument stood at the graveyard’s center. It was a statue of Vernasha of the Roses, the founder of Kion, as well as its first asha. A single line was set in bronze at the foot of the statue, a tribute to all those who had served and given their lives to protect the kingdom. My fingers traced over the words:

A life worth dying for is a life worth living.

We stood among the Deathseekers’ tombs first, where Kalen honored in silence all the brothers he had lost. Then we moved toward the ashas’ side, to one grave in particular.

“Good morning, Polaire,” I said, greeting her softly, sinking to my knees. Hers was a shiny, gray slab, free of the moss that claimed those around hers. It grated at my heart that she was here at all. Today, a bouquet of fresh lilies had been carefully placed over the grave—Althy’s doing, I surmised.

These daily pilgrimages did nothing to lighten my guilt. Three months wasn’t long enough. Thirty years wouldn’t be long enough either.

“I’ve been having visions,” I told her softly. “But are they bad dreams or something worse? Sometimes I dream you are alive only to see Aenah use the daeva to kill you again and again. Sometimes the victim changes, and it’s Mykaela or Althy or Likh or Zoya. Sometimes I dream that the Valerian is on fire. The vision is so real that I can feel the heat on my skin and the sun burning in my hair. Only Kalen helps chase those nightmares away. Is this my penance for not saving you?”

Kalen was quiet. He wrapped his arms around me as I tried in vain to slough off my sins like old skin.

I wove a tiny rune before Polaire’s stone, allowed the magic to flow out of my fingers, burrowing into the ground below me. I probed the dirt for any spark that I could channel, any suggestion of life I could steal from her bones and multiply so she could rise from the earth, smile, and tell me how much of an idiot I had been while she’d been gone.

But I sensed nothing. Whatever powers bone witches could wield, they cannot bring back silver heartsglass.

“Tea.” Kalen knew the futility of my attempts but allowed me my self-flagellation. I wondered if he thought it would exorcise the demons inside me. I wondered if he would ask me to stop if he knew it did not. “We have to go.”

I looked down at my own heartsglass, inspecting it closely for any signs of the black that had manifested on the cruel day of Polaire’s death. In the last few weeks, the dark flecks had lessened. The more time that passed since the horrific night I killed Aenah, one of the Faceless, and drove the traitorous King Telemaine of Odalia insane, the less the darkness showed itself there. Small spells masked its discoloration—Kalen was my sole accomplice in and confidant to this fact. Fox had far too much on his plate nowadays, and this was not a guilt I could advertise to friends—bone witches have been killed for lesser transgressions.

A black heartsglass was made from rage and murder. Only the Faceless bore such darkness, and the Willows would have my head should it manifest in mine. Even now, I hold no regrets for killing Aenah, though I wished I had turned King Telemaine over to his son, instead of destroying his mind. Prince Kance didn’t deserve to lose his father that way, and his anger at me, his decision to exile me from Odalia, was the direct result of my recklessness.

There was no black in my heartsglass today. But it is like droplets of blood, dripping into a bowl of fresh spring water, I thought. Mix it well enough, and you can’t see the blood. But would you drink it? Let the taste run down your throat? How can one know liquid so clear could also bear such a taint?

I bent my head and, briefly, allowed myself to wash her grave with a few more tears.

Kalen helped me to my feet. His warm brown eyes studied me before he placed a gentle kiss on my forehead. Faint wisps of rune surrounded us—Heartshare was a near-permanent runic spell that allowed two people to share strength. Kalen had saved my life with it. It was not as strong a bond as I shared with my brother, but I was connected to Kalen through it nonetheless. He knew my heart’s pain and understood, and I could not have loved him more for it.

? ? ?

We rode outside the city of Ankyo for a mile, to where the others waited. By asha standards, this was an unusual rendezvous point. We also had an unusual means of transport.

Those of us who formed the delegation wore woolen cloaks despite the hot day. Councilor Ludvig, the previous adviser to Istera’s King Rendorvik, was garbed in Isteran colors—blue and silver, in a deftly embroidered long coat he called a gákti. Likh, lovely as ever, was in an eye-catching cerulean hua, tasteful crewels skimming up his sleeves. Althy’s garb was plainer, with white doves sewn over a sky-blue fabric. Rahim, as always, was dressed to kill. His sherwani was a magnificent display of beadwork waves stitched along the edges of his shirt, with a collar of pewter threads surrounding his thick neck, which was half-hidden by his long, angularly trimmed beard. He wore no cloak himself—the man claimed to have shrugged off Tresean winters and was as invulnerable to the Isteran cold. In contrast, Khalad looked like a merchant in his rough, brown ?ūqā.

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