The Shadowglass (The Bone Witch, #3)(4)

At Rahim’s insistence, I had worn his latest creation—a beautiful mahogany hua, stitched with a jewel-eyed, three-headed dragon, which was partly concealed by my waist wrap. My mastery of the azi was no secret, he pointed out, and it was important for me to command such narratives in subtle ways. I slipped a small knife into my sleeve, a growing habit of mine.

My brother wore a huge grin on his face when we approached. “Have a good rest?” His voice was mild enough, but I knew Fox. We had perfected our Veiling rune and rarely stumbled into each other’s minds whenever one of us wanted privacy—but we knew anyway.

“As if you spent the night alone,” I grumbled at him with a sideways glance at Inessa. As usual, the princess looked stunning. The way they snuck adoring glances at each other was almost oversweet. Three months ago, Inessa had been engaged to both Prince Kance of Odalia and Emperor Shifang of Daanoris. My brother had fought her and both engagements nearly every step of the way.

How much things change in a short time, I thought with another pang of sadness.

“You’re late.” Zoya’s presence was suspicious. Mykaela, Inessa, and Fox were there to see us off, but Zoya wasn’t the type for such sentiments.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded.

She shrugged. “Mistress Parmina sold tickets for an azi viewing. They are to be summoned by none other than Lady Tea of the Embers herself.”

I groaned. That particular moniker had spread quickly, a not-so-subtle reference to my connection with the daeva.

“She’s dispatched me here,” Zoya continued, “to ensure your pet dragon actually arrives and her guests receive their money’s worth.”

“An azi viewing?”

“Rather like a cherry blossom viewing, but with daeva. They’re at the fourth floor of the Falling Snow cha-khana, which has a very good view of this particular terrain. Why did you think she suggested this meeting place? Because she was concerned about her safety or yours? You don’t know your mistress very well.”

“Did she promise you access to my room for your part in this? My room, which happens to be right next to Shadi’s?”

Zoya’s smile was so bright it was blinding.

“I wish Fox and I could come with you,” the princess murmured to me with a sigh.

“But there are no emperors in Istera to be accidentally engaged to, Your Highness,” said Zoya.

“You have a very lovely mouth, Zoya. It would look even lovelier if it remained shut for the rest of the day.”

“As you wish, Your Highness.”

“How is the old Heartforger?” I asked Khalad.

He smiled sadly. “Feeling his age. His own heartsglass is weakening. The exertions at Daanoris finally caught up to him, and I’m not sure he can shake it off. We brought him to Holsrath for treatment. They have better facilities to help him there. We both knew that day was coming, but…”

“I’m so sorry, Khalad.”

“Kalen was a lot of help.”

Kalen was the new Duke of Holsrath, a title he hated for how he came to it. His father’s death at the hands of King Telemaine and Aenah was a painful subject, and not one he liked to talk about. “It was nothing,” my love murmured, looking a bit abashed. “Just glad I could be of service to Khalad.”

It felt odd to not be traveling with my brother. As the Kion princess’s official consort, Fox grew more involved in the politics and day-to-day administration of the kingdom Inessa would one day rule. They were frequent visitors to the city, overseeing new constructions to the marketplace and tending to those in the poorer slums, often with Khalad and me in tow.

As if sharing the same thoughts, Fox smiled sheepishly. “I’m half-tempted to jump onto the azi’s back with the rest of you when it arrives.”

“And I’m whole-tempted to drag you back to Ankyo on your ear,” Inessa said tartly. “I’m not going to spend the next two days alone with the Drychta and Yadoshan ambassadors talking about trade deals. They’re more likely to murder each other than reach an agreement.”

“You have your own responsibilities now, Fox,” I said. My feelings were strangely contradictory. I had only ever wanted Fox to have a life of his own, to be happy. But I could not stamp down the spark of resentment that he was no longer at the forefront of my life, nor I at his.

“It’s strange to be away from you,” my brother admitted, rueful.

“We don’t have much time, you know.” Zoya scanned the sky. “Are you certain the azi will come when you’re not lodged inside its head? I’d rather not have the asha elders hear of our plans early enough to stop you.”

“You didn’t need to come and see us off, Zoya,” Althy reminded her gently. “And don’t use Parmina as an excuse.”

“And not get the chance to complain?” she chided.

“We still have room for one more,” I encouraged Mykaela. Physically, my mentor was in peak health. Her bright-silver heartsglass, lost for so many years, now hung around her neck where it belonged. But Polaire’s death had hit her the hardest. It would not do, I had argued, to have her spending the rest of her life in vigils by Polaire’s gravesite when Polaire had sacrificed so much for Mykaela to keep living. Still, the older asha split her time between her friend’s tomb and her old lover King Vanor’s crypt. I had often wondered about the conversations she had with the latter but didn’t want to pry.

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