The birds started singing in the trees about the time that Anie had to start watching her feet while she walked. She lost her energy in the space of a yawn, and the growing light spreading through the sky on her right seemed wrong. She blinked heavily. Thea slowed, holding steadier, as Anie started to stumble. The others all pulled in a little closer, as if they might lean against each other.
The sun climbed heedlessly into the sky.
“When do we sleep?” Anie murmured.
“It’s not safe yet,” Chas said. But he was slowing too. The whole crowd ahead of them seemed to be stuttering in their steps. The trees were thinning, the ground evening out, but their feet seemed more and more hesitant to leave the ground.
“Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Your choice.” And the girl smiled as she said it, her mouth a charming, crooked line.
In her chair, she relaxed without leaning either forward or back, her spine carelessly straight. Her dark hair was braided loosely down her back and a too-bright scarf held it back from her face. With one elbow propped lazily against the table, she let the silence stretch. And she waited for the unnecessary reply.
Happily, Zain put his hands in his pockets and pretended to scan the room. He turned on his heel, taking a breath that filled his chest and pushed his shoulders back, idle, even from a distance. Terius looked at the ground, to hide a smile.
Then, “This way,” Zain said, and he wandered toward the wall. He let himself glance over his shoulder to make sure Terius was still with him, turn all the way back and pause as if he had interrupted himself with the need to continue the conversation. When he didn’t actually say anything, Terius folded his hands in front of himself and glared at him lightly.
“Right,” Zain said. He turned around again and didn’t stop again until he hit the wall with its row of padded chairs.
“Are we sitting?” Terius asked.
“Oh, no,” Zain said. “We’re using the crowd for cover.” He began threading his way along the outside of the ballroom, slowly, and unevenly. The dancers continued their patterned whirl in the middle of the floor, and knots of people too tired or too bored formed and unformed around the walls. Zain moved when the people nearest him moved, stopped, started, and loitered as he pleased. Terius stayed close, watching him with a growing smile.
“I see now how no one is going to get angry,” he murmured after a few minutes.
I watch him carefully, while he smiles at me from across the table. He spins a white feather between his fingers, held as loosely as his secrets. I lean forward, elbows on the table to see every gesture and shadow, and he leans forward as well, daring me to catch him.
His smile tilts a little higher, and he drags a match against the table. It doesn’t spark or spit, just lights as if he had snapped his fingers to make it so. I wait for him to touch the match to the feather, watch the fire catch as willingly in the white threads as it had on the wooden stick.
It was easy to spot the city watch. Even on the wrong streets when they chose to hide and leave their uniforms behind, they were obvious. Their collars were always pressed, the seams in their breeches always perfect straight lines to pass inspection. Elodie knew from a friend that the city only provided them with coats and boots, and they simply wore plain clothes shirts and breeches underneath. Lazy as human beings were, she doubted that they bothered to change more than they had to. Either that, or they only owned one pair of pants.
The man and the woman approached Elodie slowly and she decided not to walk away. She had a few things in her pockets that could get her in trouble, but nothing so large that it could be seen through the cloth. Standing against the wall of the old bakery, she had a good view of the rest of the street. She was enjoying the smell of the morning’s loaves cooling on the high windows somewhere over her head, and she didn’t want to give up such a sweet spot.
They continued toward her and stopped when they reached the bakery. The man hung back, leaning against the wall himself, while the woman smiled at her. It was a nice smile, but a little too calculated to erase everything behind it.
“Hey,” the woman said.
Elodie smiled back, and wondered if the woman could recognize the better form of her mask.
Zain had been on board the Zealot for thirty days, and he still had not figured out what was so magnificent about the ship.
It was large. He could give it that.
It had three masts, each one a massive spire meant for climbing, with lines and rigs enough to confuse and amuse. He’d gotten lost the first time he’d tried to reach the top, and it was the first time he realized that lost could mean seeing exactly where he wanted to be and having no idea how to get there. It was amazing.
It was impossible to keep Albert anywhere.
Pushing open the door, Tien already knew that he was gone. He’d shut it tight behind him, but without the key he hadn’t been able to lock it again. The afternoon sunlight glared in the open window on the far side. It had seeped through the eaves, too, keeping the room comfortably warm even as the cool breeze brushed the walls. The cheese and bread she’d left with him was gone, empty wax paper crinkled on the floor. The book she’d left behind was untouched, but reading had always bee more work for him than for her, and it probably didn’t cure his boredom the way looking for a way out of the room had.
Brance arrived with a smile, coming down the garden path with his hands in his pockets. His jacket hung open in the warmth of the afternoon and his dark hair curled lazily where he had combed it back with his fingers. He took his steps slowly, as if the air and the greenery and the high sun had earned his calm. Turning, Kadelyn came to a stop to let him catch up, and she smiled back. Behind Kadelyn, Noach, her bodyguard shifted to take up his proper place a few feet away. Her younger sister, Ineli stopped too, with her bodyguard pulling to the same distance, as if both he and Noach were hung on the same tether.
“Hello,” Kadelyn said as Brance came within a few steps. “I’m glad you could join us…” She blinked and trailed off as Brance came closer and did not stop. He turned just to the side, passed them, held up a finger to promise he’d only be a minute, and kept on walking, all with his lazy smile pinned in place. He disappeared behind the next bend in the path and Kadelyn shut her eyes, holding her breath until she opened them again.
“Where is he going?” Ineli asked. She looked to Kadelyn.
Kadelyn shrugged and shook her head. “The south gate? The moon? They’re both equally likely.”
Aithan, Ineli’s guard cleared his throat quietly, and worked to straighten his smile.
Silas opened his door sleepily, one hand on his head to keep his hair out of his eyes, though they were barely open. It was past midnight, and the whole house had been dark for hours.
“Zain?” he said.
Zain smiled down at him, hands resting in the pockets of his jacket, shoes still a little wet from the streets outside. “Hey,” he said.
“Why aren’t you asleep?” Silas asked.
“Oh, I don’t sleep,” Zain said. “Haven’t since I was six. Waste of time, really.”