The Sky Weaver – Kristen Ciccarelli

Eighteen Years Previous Skye was only a child the first time she watched them put a traitor on trial. She saw them take the man’s hands. Saw the blood run swift and dark over the stone altar as the soldier wiped his blade clean, like a storm sweeping over a sapphire sea. Skye remembers the way the severed hands twitched like crushed spiders dying on their backs, thin legs curling inward. Remembers the way the enemy stared at the stumps of his arms as the blood ran down to his elbows. Remembers how he screamed. That was a lifetime ago. Tonight, they’ll put another traitor on trial. Skye is waiting in her cell. Because it won’t be an enemy’s hands they take this time—it will be Skye’s hands. And she has only herself to blame. Be a good girl. Keep your head down. Remember your place. These were the words she lived by once.

The lessons instilled in her since birth. That was before she met Crow. A boy from the shadows undid all her lessons. He undid everything. Crow. Like a swallowed thorn, the name stings her lips and tongue and throat. How could she be so naïve? Skye will tell you how. She will weave you a tapestry while there’s still time. It will be her last weaving. Because once the moon rises and they come for her, Skye will weave no more.

You can’t weave without hands. One Eris had never met a lock she couldn’t pick. Lifting the oil lamp, she peered into the keyhole, her wheat-gold hair hidden beneath a stolen morion. Its steel brim kept slipping forward, impeding her vision, and Eris had to shove it back in order to see what she was doing. The wards inside the lock were old, and from the look of them, made by a locksmith who had cut all possible corners. Any other night, Eris would have craved the challenge of a more complicated lock. Tonight, though, she thanked the stars. Any heartbeat now, a soldat would round the corner. When they did, Eris needed to be on the other side of this door. The lock clicked open.

Eris didn’t let out her breath. Just slid her pin back into her hair, rose to her feet, and wrapped her slender fingers around the brass knob, turning slowly so as not to make a sound. She glanced back over her shoulder. The hall lay empty. So Eris pushed open the door and stepped inside. Holding up the lamp, its orange glow alighted on a simple desk made of dark, scuffed wood. An inkwell, a stack of white parchment, and a knife for breaking wax seals were neatly arranged on top. Eris shut the door gently behind her. Her gaze lifted from the desk to the object hanging on the wall: a tapestry woven of blue and purple threads. The very thing she’d come for.

Eris knew this tapestry by heart. It depicted a faceless woman sitting at her loom. In one hand, she held a silver knife curved like the moon. In the other, she held a spindle. And on her head sat a crown of stars. Skyweaver. The god of souls. But it wasn’t just the image that was familiar. It was the threads themselves—the particular shade of blue. The thickness of the wool and how tightly it was spun.

The signature way it was woven. The moment Eris glimpsed it from the hall two days ago, she nearly stumbled. Every morning for years, this tapestry stared down at her from stone walls flanked on either side by the sacred looms of the scrin—a temple devoted to the Skyweaver. What was it doing here, in the dragon king’s palace, all the way across the sea? Someone must have stolen it, she thought. So Eris decided to steal it back. She had some time, after all. Her captain—a heartless man named Jemsin—was currently meeting with the empress of the Star Isles. It was why he sent Eris here, to steal a jewel from the dragon king’s treasury. Not because he needed the money. No.

He needed Eris out of sight while the empress and her Hounds came aboard his ship—for his sake as much as hers. If it was ever found out that Jemsin harbored the very criminal the empress had been hunting these seven long years, it would mean death for both Eris and her captain. But Eris had already stolen the king’s jewel. And she still had a day before needing to report to Jemsin’s protégé. She had some time to waste. So here she was, wasting it. Eris pushed herself away from the closed door and set the oil lamp down on the dark wood of the desk. The moment her gaze lifted to Skyweaver, there was that sharp shock she’d felt two days ago. Memories of warmth, friendship, and belonging flooded her . quickly followed by feelings of terror, grief, and betrayal.

She narrowed her eyes. “I’m not doing this for you,” she told the god as she reached to untie the tapestry from where it hung on the wall. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re a traitor and a fraud.” She kept her voice low, knowing the security had been doubled since the king’s jewel went missing two nights ago. “I’m doing this for the ones you betrayed.” Eris no longer believed in Skyweaver, god of souls. But the one who’d woven this tapestry believed in her—and he’d died for that belief. So, lifting it down from the wall, Eris rolled it up tight, then tucked it carefully under her arm. As she did, she plucked the gray, spiny scarp thistle from the pocket of her stolen uniform. Careful not to prick herself on its thorns—which were poisonous—she set it down on the desk.

In some ways, the signature was more for Eris than the ones she stole from. A way of proving to herself that she did, in fact, exist. She might live an invisible life, but she was still here. Still alive. The scarp thistle was proof. With the tapestry still under her arm, and her signature there on the commandant’s desk, Eris reached for her spindle. It was time to go. She would take this tapestry and put it with the rest of her loot. Then she’d head for the Sea Mistress and wait for her summons. But before she could pull the spindle free of its pouch, a voice behind her broke the quiet.

“Who let you in here?” The voice was low and gruff and it made Eris freeze—except for her right hand. Her fingers tightened around the smooth, worn wood of her spindle, slowly drawing it out. “I asked a simple question, soldier.” Soldier. Eris had forgotten she was in disguise tonight. With the heightened security, it was easier moving through the palace dressed like a guard. So Eris turned. A soldat stood in the doorway. He hadn’t quite stepped into the room, clearly startled by the sight of her, but he wore the same uniform she did: a steel morion on his head and the dragon king’s crest across his shirt. The only difference was that a saber hung from his hip, while a woven pouch hung from hers.

Eris hated soldiers. “I was sent to remove this ratty old thing,” she lied, nodding her chin toward the tapestry of the god of souls, rolled up beneath her arm. She winked as she said, “Apparently our commandant isn’t exactly the pious type.” Her wink had the desired effect. The soldat relaxed. He smiled then, leaning against the door, seemingly about to remark on the commandant’s piety or lack thereof, when something on the desk caught his eye. Eris watched his face go blank, then light up with recognition. Looking where he looked, she silently cursed herself. The scarp thistle. “You .

you’re the Death Dancer.” He didn’t wait for her to confirm it. Just drew his weapon. Time to go. Eris gripped the spindle hard in her hand as she crouched down. As the soldat stumbled into the room, she pressed the spindle’s edge to the mosaicked floor and drew a straight line. The line glowed silver. The mist rose. The soldat lurched toward her, calling for help and alerting the other soldats nearby. But by the time he rounded the desk, Eris was already stepping into the mist, and beyond it.

By the time he reached for her, Eris was already gone. When the mists receded heartbeats later, Eris was not where she should be. Instead of being Across—surrounded by stars and darkness—she was surrounded by walls. A dark hallway spread before her, lit every few paces by flickering torchlight. Beneath her feet lay that same mosaicked pattern as the room she’d just left. And it smelled like mint and lime. She was still in the palace. Eris gritted her teeth in annoyance. It happened sometimes. If she was concentrating harder on the place she was trying to leave rather than the place she was trying to get to, the spindle would get confused and blunder up the crossing.

Eris was just about to curse the godsforsaken splinter of wood when something slammed into her from behind, hurtling her forward and causing her to drop the spindle altogether. “Kozu’s balls!” She spun, watching the spindle roll toward two black leather boots with silver buckles polished to a shine. A hand reached down, picking it up, and as the newcomer rose, so did Eris’s gaze. The young woman before her was dressed like a palace guard. Only instead of the king’s crest, a flame-like flower blazed across her shirt. She wore no morion, and tucked into her belt were five throwing knives. “Apologies, soldier.” The young woman’s voice was hard and commanding. The voice of someone used to giving orders—and used to her orders being obeyed. “I didn’t see you there.

” Eris’s gaze snapped to eyes as cold and blue as sapphires. The torchlight made it impossible not to notice the girl’s strong cheekbones or ink-black hair braided away from her face. Eris knew who this was. The commandant. This young woman before her was not only cousin to the king—and therefore royalty—she held that same king’s army in her fist. A dark memory flickered in Eris’s mind of another cold commander. Fear pooled in her belly. She shook the memory off, stepping back. But the sharp sliver of it lodged in her chest, reminding Eris of who she was. That she needed to leave this place.

Now. Except her spindle was currently in the commandant’s hand. The young woman’s gaze moved over Eris quickly and dismissively. It made Eris stiffen. She should have been glad the commandant found nothing of interest in the girl standing before her. Eris wanted—no, needed—to be invisible. For some reason, though, that indifferent glance rankled her. The commandant’s lips parted, as if she were about to say something, when a shout echoed from down the hall, interrupting. Making them both turn. More and more voices joined the first.

The soldat Eris had just left was alerting the entire palace to the thief in their midst. It was an alarm. Eris waited for the truth to dawn on the commandant’s face the way it had with the soldat. But the commandant was no longer looking at Eris, only frowning in the direction of the alarm. “That Death Dancer.” Her eyes were sharp with ire. “If he thinks he can steal from the king without consequence, he has no idea who he’s dealing with.” Eris should have kept her mouth shut. This commandant had her spindle, after all. Her only escape.

But Eris couldn’t help herself. “How do you know it’s a he?” The commandant looked straight at her then. Eris shivered under that cold gaze. Stupid, she thought, even as she stared into the girl’s eyes. What a stupid thing to say. The commandant studied her as the alarm grew louder in the distance. On her face Eris could clearly see the need to respond to the alarm warring with . what? Wariness? Suspicion? Any moment now, she’s going to figure it out, draw her weapon, and arrest me. But the commandant did none of those things. Instead, she held out the spindle, her eyes seeing Eris now, taking all of her in.

“You dropped this,” she said. Eris swallowed, staring at the elegantly carved spindle lying on that callused palm. Is this a trick? When Eris reached to take it, though, the commandant’s hand fell away. She turned on her heel. “Come on. Let’s see what that cocky bastard has done this time. ” Concentrating on the alarm now, the commandant failed to notice that Eris didn’t follow. The moment she strode away, Eris crouched down to draw a silver line across the floor. Cocky? she thought, working quickly. It felt like a challenge.

She shook her head. She couldn’t let herself get distracted this time. She needed to pour all of her focus into her destination. As Eris finished drawing the line, the air grew thick and damp. The mist billowed up. But the sound of those diminishing footsteps drew her attention back. Eris paused, watching the commandant turn the corner. Watching her disappear from view. Eris rose to her feet. Before putting Firgaard and the palace and that girl out of her mind, she thought: I’ll show her just how co

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