Author’s note: this is from a next-to-final version, pre-copyediting. Any errors are mine, with apologies.
CHAPTER TWO: “Dead Goddesses” (watercolor)
Apparently I am pretty. Magic is all I see, and magic tends to be beautiful, so I have no way of properly judging the mundane myself. I have to take others’ word for it. Men praise parts of me endlessly — always the parts, mind you, never the whole. They love my long legs, my graceful neck, my storm of hair, my breasts. (Especially my breasts.) Most of the men in Shadow were Amn, so they also commented on my smooth near-black Maro skin even though I told them there were half a million other women in the world with the same feature. Half a million is not so many measured against the whole world, though, so that always got included in their qualified, fragmentary admiration.
“Lovely,” they would say, and sometimes they wanted to take me home and admire me in private. Before I got involved with godlings I would let them, if I felt lonely enough. “You’re beautiful, Oree,” they would whisper as they positioned and posed and polished me. “If only — ”
I never asked them to complete this sentence. I knew what they almost said: If only you didn’t have those eyes.
My eyes are more than blind; they are deformed. Disturbing. I would probably attract more men if I hid them, but why would I want more men? The ones I already attract never really want me. Except Madding, and even he wished I was something else.
My houseguest did not want me at all. I did worry at first; I wasn’t stupid, I knew the danger of bringing a strange man into my home. But he had no interest in anything so mundane as mortal flesh — not even his own. His gaze felt of many things when it touched me, but covetousness was not one of them. Neither was pity.
I probably kept him around for that reason alone.
“I paint a picture,” I whispered, and began.
Each morning before leaving for Art Row, I practiced my true art. The things I made for the Row were junk — statues of godlings that were inaccurate and badly-proportioned; watercolors depicting banal, inoffensive images of the city; pressed and dried Tree-flowers; jewelry. The sorts of trinkets potential buyers expected to see from a blind woman with no formal training who sold nothing over twenty meri.
My paintings were different. I spent a good portion of my income on canvas and pigment, and beeswax for the base. I spent hours — when I really lost myself — imagining the colors of air and trying to capture scent with lines.
And, unlike my table-trinkets, I could see my paintings. Didn’t know why. Just could.
When I finished and turned, wiping my hands on a cloth, I was not surprised to find that Shiny had come in. I tended to notice little else around me when I was painting. As if to rebuke me for this tendency, the scent of food hit my nose and my stomach immediately set up a growl so loud that it practically filled the basement. Sheepishly I grinned. “Thanks for making breakfast.”
There was a creak on the wooden stairs, and the faint stir of displaced air as he approached. A hand took hold of mine and guided it to the smooth, rounded edge of a plate, heavy and slightly warm underneath. Warmed cheese and fruit, my usual, and — I sniffed and grinned in delight. “Smoked fish? Where on earth did you get that?”
I didn’t expect an answer and I didn’t get one. He guided me over to a spot at my small worktable, where he’d arranged a simple place-setting. (He was always proper about things like that.) I found the fork and began to eat, my delight growing as I realized the fish was velly from the Braided Ocean, near Nimaro. It wasn’t expensive, but it was hard to find in Shadow; too oily for the Amn palate. Only a few Sun Market merchants sold it, as far as I knew. Had he gone all the way to Wesha for me? When the man wanted to apologize, he did it right.
“Thank you, Shiny,” I said as he poured me a cup of tea. He paused for just a moment, then resumed pouring with the faintest of sighs at his new nickname. I stifled the urge to giggle at his annoyance, because that would’ve just been mean.
He sat down across from me, though he had to push a pile of beeswax sticks out of the way to do it, and watched me eat. That sobered me, because it meant I’d been painting long enough that he’d gone ahead and eaten. And that meant I was late for work.
Nothing to be done for it. I sighed and sipped tea, pleased to find that it was a new blend, slightly bitter and perfect for the salty fish.
“I’m debating whether I should even go to the Row today,” I said. He never seemed to mind my small-talk, and I never minded that it was one-sided. “It will probably be a madhouse. Oh, that’s right — did you hear? Yesterday, near the Easha White Hall, one of the godlings was found dead. Role. I was the one who found her; she was actually, really dead.” I shuddered at the memory. “Unfortunately that means her worshippers will come to pay respects, and the ‘Keepers will be all over the place, and the gawkers will be thick as ants at a picnic.” I sighed. “I hope they don’t decide to block off the whole Promenade; my savings are down to fumes as it is.”
I kept eating, and did not at first realize Shiny’s silence had changed. Then I registered the shock in it. What had caught his attention — my worrying about money? He’d been homeless before; perhaps he feared I would turn him out. Somehow, though, that didn’t feel right.
I reached out, found his hand, and groped upward until I found his face. He was a hard man to read at the best of times, but now his face was absolute stone, jaw tight and brows drawn and skin taut near the ears. Concern, anger, or fear? I couldn’t tell.
I opened my mouth to say that I had no intention of evicting him, but before I could, he pushed his chair back and walked away, leaving my hand hovering in the air where his face had been.
I wasn’t sure what to think of this, so I finished eating, carried my plate upstairs to wash, and then got ready to head to the Row. Shiny met me at the door, putting my stick into my hands. He was going with me.
As I had expected, there was a small crowd filling the nearby street: weeping worshippers, curious onlookers, and very snappish Orderkeepers. I could also hear a small group off at the far end of the Promenade, singing. Their song was wordless, just the same melody over and over, soothing and vaguely eerie. These were the New Lights, one of the newer religions that had appeared in the city. They had probably come looking for recruits among the dead goddess’ bereft followers. Along with the Lights I could smell the heavy, soporific incense of the Darkwalkers — worshippers of the Shadow Lord. There weren’t many of them, though; they tended not to be morning people.
And on top of these were the pilgrims, who worshipped the Gray Lady; and the Daughters of the New Fire, who favored some godling I’d never heard of; and the Tenth-Hellers; and the Clockwork League; and half a dozen other groups. Amid this rabble I could hear street-children, probably picking pockets and playing pranks. Even they had a patron god these days, or so I’d heard.
Small wonder the Orderkeepers were snappish, with so many heretics crowding their own Hall. Still, they had managed to cordon off the alley and were allowing mourners to approach it in small groups, letting them linger long enough for a prayer or two.
With Shiny beside me, I crouched to brush my hand over the piles of flowers and candles and offertory trinkets that had been placed at the mouth of the alley. I was surprised to find the flowers half-wilted, which meant they had been there awhile. The godling who’d marked the alley must have suspended the self-cleaning magic for the time being, perhaps out of respect for Role.
“A shame,” I said to Shiny. “I never met this one, but I hear she was nice. Goddess of compassion or something like that. She worked as a bonebender down in South Root. Anyone who could pay had to give her an offering, but she never turned away those who couldn’t.” I sighed.
Shiny was a silent, brooding presence beside me, unmoving, barely breathing. Thinking this was grief, I stood and fumbled for his hand and was surprised to find it clenched tight at his side. I’d completely mistaken his mood; he was angry, not sad. Puzzled by this, I slid my hand up to his cheek. “Did you know her?”
He nodded, once.
“Was she… your goddess? Did you pray to her?”
He shook his head, cheek flexing beneath my fingers. What had that been, a smile? A bitter one.
“You cared for her, though.”
“Yes,” he said.
He had never spoken to me. Not once in three months. I hadn’t even realized he could talk. For a moment I wondered whether I should say something to acknowledge this momentous event — and then I inadvertently brushed against him and felt the hard, tension-taut muscle of his arm. Foolish of me to fixate on a single word when something far more momentous had occurred: he had shown concern for something in the world besides himself.
I coaxed his fist open and laced my fingers with his, offering the same comfort of contact that I had given Madding the day before. For an instant Shiny’s hand quivered in mine, and I dared to hope that he might return the gesture. Then his hand went slack. He did not pull away, but he might as well have.
I sighed and stayed by him for a little while, then finally pulled away myself.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I have to go.” He said nothing, so I left him to his mourning and headed over to Art Row.
Yel, the proprietor of the Promenade’s biggest food stand, allowed us artists to store things in her locked stand overnight, which made my life much easier. It didn’t take long to set up my tables and merchandise, though once I sat down it was exactly as I’d feared. For two whole hours not a single person came to peruse my goods. I heard the others grumbling about it as well, though Benkhan was lucky; he sold a charcoal drawing of the Promenade that happened to include the alley. I had no doubt he would have ten more drawings like it by the next morning.
I hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, since I’d been up late cleaning Shiny’s mess. I was beginning to nod off when I heard a soft voice say, “Miss? Excuse me?”
Starting awake, I immediately plastered on a smile to cover my grogginess. “Why, hello, sir. See something that interests you?”
I heard his amusement, which confused me. “Yes, actually. Do you sell here every day?”
“Yes, indeed. I’m happy to hold an item if you like — ”
“That won’t be necessary.” Abruptly I realized: he hadn’t come to buy anything. He didn’t sound like a pilgrim; there wasn’t the faintest hint of uncertainty or curiosity in his voice. Though his Senmite was cultured and precise, I could hear the slower curves of a Wesha accent underneath. This was a man who had lived in Shadow all his life, though he seemed to be trying to conceal that.
I took a guess. “Then what would an Itempan priest want with someone like me?”
He laughed. Unsurprised. “So it’s true what they say about the blind. You can’t see, but your other senses grow finer. Or perhaps you have some other way of perceiving things, beyond the abilities of ordinary folk?” There was the faint sound of something from my table being picked up. Something heavy; I guessed it was one of the miniature Tree replicas that I grew from linvin saplings and trimmed to resemble the Tree. My biggest-selling item, and the one that cost the most in time and effort to produce.
I licked my lips, which were abruptly and inexplicably dry. “Other than my eyes, everything about me is ordinary enough, sir.”
“Is that so? The sound of my boots probably gives me away, then, or the incense clinging to my uniform. I suppose those would tell you a great deal.”
Around me I could hear more of those characteristic boots, and more cultured voices, which were answered in uneasy tones by my fellow Row-denizens. Had a whole troop of priests come out to question us? Usually we only had to deal with the Orderkeepers, who were acolytes in training to become priests. They were young and sometimes overzealous, but generally all right unless antagonized. Most of them hated street duty, so they did a lazy job of it, which left the people of the city to find their own ways of resolving problems — exactly as most of us preferred it. Something told me this man was no lowly Orderkeeper, however.
He hadn’t asked a question, so I didn’t speak, which he seemed to take as an answer in itself. I felt my front table shift alarmingly; he was sitting on it. The tables weren’t the sturdiest things in the world, since they had to be light enough for me to carry home if necessary. My stomach clenched.
“You look nervous,” he said.
“I’m not,” I lied. I’d heard Orderkeepers used such techniques throw their targets off-balance. This one worked. “But it might help if I knew your name.”
“Rimarn,” he said. A common name among lower-class Amn. “Previt Rimarn Dih. And you are?”
A previt. They were full-fledged priests, high-ranking ones, and they didn’t leave the White Halls often, being more involved in business and politics. The Order must’ve decided that the death of a godling was of great importance.
“Oree Shoth,” I said. My voice cracked on my family name; I had to repeat it. I thought that he smiled.
“We’re investigating the death of the Lady Role and were hoping you and your friends could assist. Especially given that we’ve been kind enough to overlook your presence here at the Promenade.” He picked up something else. I couldn’t tell what.
“Happy to help,” I said, trying to ignore the veiled threat. The Order of Itempas controlled permits and licenses in the city, among many other things, and they charged dearly for them. Yel’s stand had a permit to sell on the Promenade; none of us artists could afford one. “It’s so sad. I didn’t think gods could die.”
“Godlings can, yes,” he said. His voice had grown noticeably colder, and I chided myself for forgetting how prickly devout Itempans could be about gods other than their own. I had been too long away from Nimaro, damn it —
“Their parents, the Three, can kill them,” Rimarn continued. “And their siblings can kill them, if they’re strong enough.”
“Well, I haven’t seen any godlings with bloody hands, if that’s what you’re wondering. Not that I see much of anything.” I smiled. It was weak.
“Mmm. You found the body, I’m told.”
“Yes. There was no one around, though, that I could tell. Then Madding — Lord Madding, another godling who lives in town — came and took the body. He said he was going to show it to their parents. To the Three.”
“I see.” The sound of something being put back on my table. Not the miniature Tree, though. “Your eyes are very interesting.”
I don’t know why this made me more uneasy. “So people tell me.”
“Are those… cataracts?” He leaned close to peer at me. I smelled mint tea on his breath. “I’ve never seen cataracts like those.”
I’ve been told my eyes are unpleasant to look at. The “cataracts” that Rimarn had noticed were actually many narrow, delicate fingers of grayish tissue, layered tight over one another like the petals of a daisy yet to bloom. I have no pupils, no irises in the ordinary sense. From a distance it looks as though I have matte, steely cataracts, but up close the deformity is clear.
“The bonebenders call them malformed corneas, actually. With some other complications that I can’t pronounce.” I tried to smile again and failed miserably.
“I see. Is this… malformation… common among Maroneh?”
There was a crash from two tables over. Ru’s table; I heard her cry out in protest. Vuroy and Ohn started to join in. “Shut up,” snapped the priest who was questioning her, and they all fell silent. Someone from the onlooking crowd — probably a Darkwalker — shouted for the priests to leave us alone, but no one else took up his cry, and he was not brave or stupid enough to repeat it.
I have never been very patient, and fear shortened my temper even more. “What is it you want, Previt Rimarn?”
“An answer to my question would be welcome, Miss Shoth.”
“No, of course my eyes aren’t common among Maroneh. Blindness isn’t common among Maroneh. Why would it be?”
I felt the table shift slightly; perhaps he shrugged. “Some aftereffect of what the Nightlord did, perhaps. Legend says the forces he unleashed on the Maroland were… unnatural.”
Implying that the survivors of the disaster were unnatural as well. Smug Amn bastard. We Maroneh had honored Itempas for just as long as they had. I bit back the retort that first came to mind and said instead, “The Nightlord didn’t do anything to us, Previt.”
“Destroying your homeland is nothing?”
“Nothing beyond that, I mean. Demons and darkness, he didn’t care enough to do anything to us. He only destroyed the Maroland because he happened to be there at the time the Arameri let his leash slip.”
There was a moment’s pause. It lasted just long enough that my anger withered, leaving only horror. One did not criticize the Arameri — certainly not to an Itempan priest’s face. Then I jumped as there a loud crash sounded right in front of me. The miniature Tree. He’d dropped it, shattering the ceramic pot and probably doing fatal damage to the plant itself.
“Oh, dear,” Rimarn said, his voice ice cold. “Sorry. I’ll pay for that.”
I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath. I was still trembling from the crash, but I wasn’t stupid. “Don’t worry about it.”
Another shift, and suddenly fingers took hold of my chin. “A shame about your eyes,” he said. “You’re a beautiful woman otherwise. If you wore glasses — ”
“I prefer for people to see me as I am, Previt Rimarn.”
“Ah. Should they see you as a blind human woman, then, or as a godling only pretending to be helpless and mortal?”
What the — I stiffened all over, and then did another thing I probably shouldn’t have done. I burst out laughing. He was already angry. I knew better. But when I got angry, my nerves sought an outlet, and my mouth didn’t always guard the gates.
“You think — ” I had to work my hand around his to wipe a tear. “A godling? Me? Dearest Skyfather, is that what you’re thinking?”
Rimarn’s fingers tightened suddenly, enough to hurt the sides of my jaw, and I stopped laughing when he forced my face up higher and leaned close. “What I’m thinking is that you reek of magic,” he said in a tight whisper. “More than I’ve ever smelled on any mortal.”
And suddenly I could see him.
It was not like Shiny. Rimarn’s glow was there all at once, and it didn’t come from inside him. Rather, I could see lines and curlicues all over his skin like fine, shining tattoos, winding around his arms and marching over his torso. The rest of him remained invisible to me, but I could see the outline of his body by those dancing, fiery lines.
A scrivener. He was a scrivener. A good one, too, judging by the number of godwords etched into his flesh. They weren’t really there, of course; this was just the way my eyes interpreted his skill and experience, or so I’d come to understand over the years. Usually that helped me spot his kind long before they got close enough to spot me.
I swallowed, no longer laughing now, and terrified.
But before he could begin the real questioning, I felt a sudden shift of the air, signalling movement nearby. That was my only warning before something yanked the previt’s hand off my face. Rimarn started to protest, but before he could, another body blurred my view of him. A larger frame, dark and empty of magic, familiar in shape. Shiny.
I could not see precisely what he did to Rimarn. But I didn’t have to; I heard the gasps of the other Row artists and onlookers, Shiny’s grunt of effort, and Rimarn’s sharp cry as he was bodily lifted and flung away. The godwords on Rimarn’s flesh blurred into streaks as he flew a good ten feet through the air. He stopped glowing only when he landed in a bone-jarring heap.
No. Oh, no. I scrambled to my feet, knocking over my chair, and fumbled desperately for my walking stick. Before I could find it, I froze, realizing that though Rimarn’s glow had vanished, I could still see.
I could see Shiny. His glow was faint, barely noticeable — but growing by the second, and pulsing like a heartbeat. As Shiny interposed himself between me and Rimarn, the glow brightened still more, racheting up from a gentle burn toward that eye-searing peak that I had never seen from him outside of the dawn hour.
But it was the middle of the day —
“What the hells are you doing?” demanded a harsh voice from further away. One of the other priests. This was followed by other shouts and threats, and I snapped back to awareness. No one could see Shiny’s glow except me and maybe Rimarn, who was still groaning on the ground. They had simply seen a man — an unknown foreigner, dressed in the plain, cheap clothing that was all I’d been able to afford for him — attack a previt of the Itempan Order. In front of a full troop of Orderkeepers.
I reached out, caught one of Shiny’s blazing shoulders, and instantly snatched my hand back. Not because he was hot to the touch — though he was, hotter than I’d ever felt — but because the flesh under my hand seemed to vibrate in that instant, like I’d touched a bolt of lightning.
But I pushed that observation aside. “Stop it!” I hissed at him. “What are you doing? You have to apologize, right now, before they — ”
Shiny turned to look at me and the words died in my mouth. I could see his face now completely, as I always could in that perfect instant before he blazed too bright and I had to look away. “Handsome” did not begin to describe that face, so much more than the collection of features that my fingers had explored and learned. Cheekbones did not have their own inner light. Lips did not curve like living things in their own right, sharing with me a slight, private smile that made me feel, for just an instant, like the only woman in the world. He had never, ever smiled at me before.
But it was vicious, that smile. Cold. Murderous. I drew back from it, stunned — and for the first time since I’d met him, afraid.
Then he glanced around, facing the ‘Keepers who were almost surely converging upon us. The look on his face considered them, and the crowd of onlookers, with the same detatched, cold arrogance. He seemed to make some decision.
I kept gaping as three of the Orderkeepers grabbed him. I saw them, dark silhouettes limned by Shiny’s light, throw him to the ground and kick him and haul his arms back to tie them. One of them put his knee on the back of Shiny’s neck, bearing down, and I screamed before I could stop myself. The Orderkeeper, a malevolent shadow, turned and shouted for me to shut up, Maro bitch, or he would have some for me too —
At that fierce bellow, I started so badly that I lost my grip on my stick. In the silence that fell, it clattered on the Promenade’s walkstones loudly, making me jump again.
Rimarn had been the one to shout. I could not see him; whatever he’d done to conceal his nature from me before, it was back in effect now. Even if I’d been able to see his godwords, I think Shiny would have drowned out his minor light.
Rimarn sounded hoarse and out of breath. He was on his feet, near the cluster of men; he spoke to Shiny. “Are you a fool? I’ve never seen a man do anything so stupid.”
Shiny had not struggled as the priests bore him down. Rimarn waved away the Orderkeeper who’d put a knee on Shiny’s neck — my own shoulder muscles unknotted in sympathetic relief — and then shoved the back of Shiny’s head with a toe himself. “Answer me!” he snapped. “Are you a fool?”
I had to do something. “H-he’s my cousin,” I blurted. “Fresh from the territory, Previt. He doesn’t know the city, didn’t know who you were…” This was the worst lie I had ever told. Everyone, no matter their nation or race or tribe or class, knew Itempan priests on sight. They wore shining white uniforms and they ruled the world. “Please, Previt, I’ll take responsibility — ”
“No, you won’t,” Rimarn snapped. The Orderkeepers got up and hauled Shiny to his feet. He stood calmly between them, glowing so brightly that I could see half the Promenade by the light that poured off his flesh. He still had that terrible, deadly smile on his face.
Then they were dragging him away, and fear soured my mouth as I fumbled my way around my tables. Something else fell over with a crash as I groped toward Rimarn without a stick. “Previt, wait!”
“I’ll be back for you later,” he snapped at me. Then he, too, walked away, following the other Orderkeepers. I tried to run after them and cried out as I tripped over some unseen obstacle. Before I could fall I was caught by rough hands that smelled of tobacco and sour alcohol and fear.
“Quit it, Oree,” Vuroy breathed in my ear. “They’re too pissed off to feel guilty about kicking the shit out of a blind girl.”
“They’ll kill him.” I gripped his arm tight. “They’ll beat him to death. Vuroy — ”
“Nothing you can do about it,” he said softly, and I went limp, because he was right.
Vuroy and Ru and Ohn helped me get home. They carried my tables and goods too, out of the unspoken understanding that I would not need to store my things with Yel because I would not be going back to the Row anytime soon.
Ru and Vuroy stayed with me while Ohn went out again. I tried to keep calm and look passive, because I knew they would be suspicious. They had looked around the house, seen the pantry that served as Shiny’s bedroom, found his small pile of clothes — neatly folded and stacked — in the corner. They thought I’d been hiding a lover from them. If they’d known the truth, they would’ve been much more afraid.
“I can understand why you didn’t tell us about him,” Ru was saying. She sat across the kitchen table from me, holding my hand. The night before, Shiny’s blood had covered the place where our hands now rested. “After Madding… well. But I wish you had told us, sweetheart. We’re your friends, we would’ve understood.”
I stubbornly said nothing, trying not to show how frustrated I was. I had to look dejected, depressed, so they would decide that the best thing for me was privacy and sleep. Then I could pray for Madding. The Orderkeepers probably wouldn’t kill Shiny immediately. He had defied them, disrespected them. They would make him suffer for a long time.
That was bad enough. But if they killed him, and he pulled his little resurrection trick in front of them, gods knew what they would do. Magic was power meant for those with other kinds of power: Arameri, nobles, scriveners, the Order, the wealthy. It was illegal for commonfolk, even though we all used a little magic now and again in secret. Every woman knew the sigil to prevent pregnancy, and every neighborhood had someone who could draw the scripts for minor healing or hiding valuables in plain sight. Things had been easier since the coming of the godlings, actually, because the priests — who could not always tell godlings and mortals apart — tended to leave us all alone.
Shiny wasn’t a godling, though; he was something else. I didn’t know why he’d begun to shine back at the Promenade, but I knew this: it wouldn’t last. It never did. When he became weak again, he would be just a man. Then the priests would tear him apart to learn the secret of his power.
And they would come after me again, for harboring him.
I rubbed my face as if I was tired. “I need to lie down,” I said.
“Demonshit,” Vuroy said. “You’re going to pretend to go to bed, then call your old boyfriend. Think we’re stupid?”
I stiffened, and Ru chuckled. “Remember we know you, Oree.”
Damn. “I have to help him,” I said, abandoning the pretense. “Even if I can’t find Madding, I have a little money. The priests take bribes — ”
“Not when they’re this angry,” said Ru, very gently. “They’d just take your money and kill him anyway.”
I clenched my fists. “Madding, then. Help me find Mad. He’ll help me. He owes me.”
I heard chimes on the heels of those words, which made my cheeks heat as I realized just how badly I’d underestimated my friends.
Someone opened the front door. I saw Madding’s familiar shimmer through the walls even before he stepped into the kitchen, with Ohn a taller shadow at his side. “I heard,” Madding said quietly. “Are you calling in a debt, Oree?”
There was a curious shiver in the air, and a delicate tension like something unseen holding its breath. This was Madding’s power beginning to flex.
I stood up from the table, more glad to see him than I’d been in months. Then I noticed the somberness of his expression and recalled myself. “I’m sorry, Mad,” I said. “I forgot… your sister. If there was any other way, I would never ask for your help while you’re in mourning.”
He shook his head. “Nothing to be done for the dead. Ohn tells me you’ve got a friend in trouble.”
Ohn would’ve told him more than that, because Ohn was an inveterate gossipper. But — “Yes. I think the Orderkeepers might have taken him somewhere other than their White Hall, though.” Itempas Skyfather — Dayfather, I kept forgetting — abhorred disorder, and killing a man was rarely neat. They would not profane the White Hall with something like that.
“South Root,” Madding said. “Some of my people saw them headed that way with your friend, after the incident at the Promenade.”
I had an instant to digest that he’d had his people watching me. I decided that it didn’t matter, reached for my stick, and went over to him. “How long ago?”
“An hour.” He took my hand with his own smooth, warm, uncallused one. “I won’t owe you after this, Oree,” he said. “You understand?”
I smiled thinly, because I did. Madding never reneged on an agreement; if he owed you, he would do anything, go through anyone, to repay. If he had to go through the Itempan Order, however, that would make business in Shadow difficult for him for quite some time. There were things he could not do — kill them, for example, or leave the city except to return to the gods’ realm. Even gods had their rules to follow.
I stepped closer and leaned against the comforting strength of his arm. Hard not to feel that arm without remembering other nights and other comforts and other times I’d relied on him to make all my troubles go away.
“I’d say that’s worth the price of breaking my heart,” I said. I spoke lightly, but I meant every syllable. And he sighed, because he knew I was right.
“Hang on, then,” he said, and the whole world went bright as his magic carried us to wherever Shiny was dying.
On to chapter 3!