The Shadow Glass – Rin Chupeco

He wore her unread letters like an amulet. They were tucked into his coat, folded carefully over his heart. Sometimes he ran a hand over where they lay hidden, reassurance that they were not figments of his imagination—that she still lived, though she had gone where his thoughts could not follow. He said nothing, revealed nothing. His reluctance to read them puzzled me, though I understood his grief. It was a closed coffin that no sympathy could penetrate. A week of fierce riding found us traveling down the Sea of Skulls, where I had first met the bone witch. Farther south, a ship lay in wait to take us from southeastern Daanoris to the familiar pastures of Odalia, and then to Kion. But here, in this land of roaring waves and broken monsters, Lord Fox’s urgency disappeared. He was reluctant to leave these dead shores, content to wander the coarse sands his sister had once made her home. He explored the cave she had appropriated for her shelter. “We searched for her in every city we knew. I never expected she would have been here.” He touched the various vials and knickknacks she had left behind. “Still so vain, even in exile,” he said, and a small, sad smile crept over his face.

Lord Khalad, the Odalian Heartforger, conducted a more thorough investigation. “Not all of them are for vanity, Fox,” he responded soberly, seemingly unsurprised by his findings. “There are enchantments in every bottle to anoint her hua with battle spells. She planned her revenge down to every rune.” “Did you know what she intended to do, Khalad?” Lord Fox asked. “You were missing for so long that we feared we had lost you as well.” The Heartforger met Lord Fox’s gaze without flinching. “I was an able helper and a willing hand.” His voice was calm. “But these were her plans, her decisions.

I was another cog in her wheel, but I do not know what other levers she pulled.” “She confided in you, at least.” Lord Fox turned away, more regretful than angry. “Can we find her?” I asked, still stinging at my dismissal from her side. The bone witch had forbidden me a place in her monstrous entourage of daeva, though she had promised me her story to sing. “What good is it for us to lead this chase if a week’s ride is to her a mere day’s flight?” “Only the azi flies, Bard,” the Kion princess, Inessa, reminded me. “And the indar, to a limited extent. The other daeva walk the lands with one foot in front of the other, as we do. The azi cannot carry them, and she will not leave any of her beasts behind.” Over the course of our seven-day journey, Empress Alyx’s daughter had made little protest at our speed, eating soldier’s rations and sleeping without the comforts most traveling royalty demanded.

We had left the rest of the army behind, knowing the importance of a swift return to Kion. We rode only two horses—the princess and Lord Fox on one, and Lord Khalad and I on the other. They were magnificent steeds and powerfully built, and it was a shock when Lord Fox told me they were Kismet and Chief, Lady Mykaela and the bone witch’s horses. “When Mykaela…” Lord Fox’s features grew anguished. They all still grieved the loss of the beautiful asha. “Kismet fell dead when she died. It was how Mistress Parmina knew what had happened to Mykaela before the rest of us learned the news. Tea resurrected Mykkie’s horse, yoked it to herself.” He closed his eyes and pressed his head against Kismet’s. The horse nickered and snorted, showing no signs of its previous death.

“Fox.” Princess Inessa’s arms encircled his waist. She leaned her head lightly against his back. Her voice soft, she said, “We’re going to find Tea, and we’re going to save her. Let us talk to my mother and the rest of the asha, and to Kance as well. There’s always a way.” Lord Fox took one of her hands, then bent to kiss the inside of her wrist. “I didn’t die when I lost contact with Tea. But I spend every day expecting it to be my last. I can’t go on like this, Inessa.

I can’t be alive and dead all at once.” He shifted so that he was holding her, hands light and familiar against her hips. “She intends to save me. She knows a spell to bring me back to life, so that my heart beats as real as yours. But she requires the First Harvest, the same ingredient she needs for shadowglass. And she’ll sacrifice herself—and anyone else—to find it.” His anger now flared. “Tea’s changed. Sometimes I’m afraid I no longer recognize my sister.” “Then read what she left behind for you,” Princess Inessa suggested gently.

“It may offer an explanation of her motivations, though her words will not change what’s been done.” Lord Fox looked at the princess, and I saw the similarities he shared with the bone witch. The brother and sister had the same dark eyes, the same stubborn chin, and Fox gave Princess Inessa the same expression as when Tea looked at Lord Kalen. “I’m afraid,” he said, unashamed. “I am not.” The princess smiled. “You wanted to know why Tea left Kion. You’ve carried the answer for nearly a week now. You cannot chase after her yet hide from her own words.” Still, the man made no move to retrieve the letters.

“She is weaker,” I interjected, and his attention swung back to me. “Every time she uses her runes, it drains her. She told me once that darksglass was not meant to last for very long.” Lord Fox took out the thick sheaf of papers and stared at them. He looked tired and worn; his love for his sister has aged him, I realized, even if time had not. Finally, he inhaled a long, shuddering breath. He handed the letters to me. “You were there when she began telling her story. Tell me how she ends it.” I accepted.

My fingers touched the soft parchment, noting the faint smears in her otherwise-elegant writing. With my practiced eyes, I knew these stains were not caused by faulty ink, but rather tears. Above us, the pomegranate-colored sky gave way to darker clouds, suggesting only a few hours of brief, portentous respite before the storm. 1 I have always known darkness. It has been my friend. Yet it has also been my enemy. Some days, it is a mist over my eyes, leaving me blind to what should be obvious. But some days, I wipe away that fog and see more clearly in its aftermath than I ever have before it. The darkness was inside me, I think, long before I raised my brother from the dead. My silver heartsglass merely gave it a mouth, made the darkness realize that it too can hunger… This is not Fox’s fault.

This is not Lady Mykaela’s fault. I have told the bard much of my story—all but its end. Once we leave Daanoris, it will be far too dangerous for him to travel with Kalen and me. And so I write the rest of it now, with the clarity it deserves. I write while the fog is lifted. While I can see. I am sorry about many things, but I am not sorry about this. I start with a happy memory. They are so few nowadays. As I write, Kalen patrols the city with my azi, and Khalad is hard at work with his forging.

It is a lonely vigil tonight in the Santiang Palace, with none but my own thoughts for company. My brother always asks me to be candid, though I know it sometimes makes him uncomfortable. Let me be candid now. • • • On the day we were to leave for Istera, I woke up later than I intended and with every desire of prolonging the hour. With a low grunt, I rolled onto my stomach and pressed my face against the sheets, content to breathe into the mattress. The bed was harder than its downy counterpart at the Valerian, but I preferred this. The bed in my asha-ka didn’t have his scent on the covers, and his warmth was better than any blanket. He was the only place I could rest my head and dream without nightmares plaguing me, as they had for the last three months. I felt the bed dip beside me, felt his lips ghost over my skin. “You need to get up,” Kalen murmured, his voice husky from sleep, but the rough fabric against my shin told me he’d already dressed.

I squinted in the direction of the windows. It was a little past dawn. Of the two of us, he was the morning person. I no longer needed to attend classes in the Willows, but with many mandatory nights spent entertaining visitors at the asha-ka, I frequently crawled into his bed a couple of hours past midnight. I muttered something inconsequential and burrowed my head underneath the pillow. “Go away.” I heard him chuckle, and the mattress dipped farther. “Tea.” “A few minutes.” Kalen nudged the pillow out of the way.

“I know you’re tired, but as generous as Zahid has been regarding our room accommodations, I don’t think sleeping in would be a good plan for today.” That was true enough. Asha were offered some leeway when it came to pursuing personal relationships, as long as those relationships didn’t conflict with their duties. Lord Zahid, the Deathseekers’ master-at-arms, had been understanding of Kalen and me; Kalen’s fellow soldiers were not above some friendly ribbing. Faced with the choice between losing my visiting hours with Kalen or embarrassment from his mostly goodnatured comrades, I had quickly learned to live with the latter. “Five more minutes…” His breath warmed the spot behind my neck, the part that never fails to break into goose bumps from his touch. His tongue flicked out, and within a few seconds, I was both wide eyed and wide awake. “Kalen! You cheater!” He laughed and dodged my attempts to flail at him. “Don’t make me kick you out.” He was wearing a maroon jobba instead of the dark coat and pants he preferred.

Deathseeker or not, Kalen was nobility, and any visits he made to allied countries required formal dress. Remembering that I too needed to hurry home and change given the crumpled state of my hua, I sat up and turned toward the mirror. With common cosmetics, I would have resembled a raccoon. With apothecary spells mixed in, my rouge and liner managed to look only slightly marred. “This is all your fault.” “I know,” he agreed, unrepentant. “It’s rare enough for Parmina to give me the night off. I should have been resting. You said you were going to walk me home.” “We are home.

” “I meant to the Valerian, you lout.” “I can walk you home now.” I glared at him. He walked me home in the mornings, regardless of where we ended up the night before. He smiled back. Gruff as he usually was, Kalen could look insidiously innocent if he wished. “And I will. Councilor Ludvig isn’t expecting us for another hour.” “An hour?” I swore loudly and hopped out of bed, pulling on my hua haphazardly. “You never mentioned how late it was!” “Yes.

My trying to get you out of bed had nothing to do with that.” 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 nearpermanent 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.

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