Live it. You made a mistake, the mistake, and now your life is ruined, short, and pointless, and you want to know what to do. It’s still yours, so live it. Ten years or ten seconds, who cares? You might have nothing left, but there’s nothing to lose, everything to gain, and damn it, you idiot, walk out there and do something!

Baine

 

Off the main road through Durabilis ran the long, straight, Pilgrim’s Way. It led to the temple, and the temple happened to be above the bridge. The road ran across, to the temple courtyard and then into the Palace itself behind it, and above it the temple towered, supported by pillars rising from the bridge and the river on either side. Steps spiralled up from the bridge to the Temple above.

Sarea hadn’t stepped foot in the temple once. It wasn’t for her kind. But, standing in the middle of the road, rubbing the long white arm bands she’d been told to wear, she remembered sneaking across for the summer celebration because there’d been free fruit. Amisine hadn’t cared for faith, but she came along, and sat by the river they ate a pair of small, sweet apples. Not much, but it was food, so they ate even the core.

Today, the road was full of carts and ponies. The carts were painted bright colours and decorated with wooden shapes made to look like fruit, vegetables, and wheat. Isaye’s had real hay, stacked so the centre was one bale above the level of the cart walls. Somewhere nearby were another five girls dressed in the same… ridiculous clothes.

Sarea looked down.

She thought the costume meant to be traditional. The dress barely passed her knee, but long, thin green and white striped socks stretched to just above her knees, and Isaye produced a pair of flat black cloth shoes that were nearly too big for her. She’d chirped a bright, “And look, it’s a country dress!”

Country dress. Sarea’d never met someone who wore bright red dresses, with puffy sleeves to her elbows, a tight, high collar, and a neckline that cut down –

She eyed the neckline and looked away from it. Better not thought about. At least she’d underwear that stayed hidden under it.

She shivered. If anyone from South saw her like this, and were still on speaking terms with her, they’d laugh themselves silly. You wore your best for festivals, not…

Not this.

Too cold to wear this little. She didn’t like having her hair back, either, not after Isaye decided to braid it then twist it up into a tight bun. Her hair should be down, against her back, not at the mercy of a young lady. Even her neck was cold.

“Looking pretty there, Sarea.”

Ionas. “You’re late,” she said, not bothering to look.

“I came in late, and someone left me my medicine in the morning.” He stepped up beside her. She glanced sideways, not wanting to turn her head.

“Are you a scarecrow?” she said.

He grinned, tipping his hat with his left hand. “Your new friend’s driver fell off the bridge. She’s easily charmed by an illusion or three.”

Sarea pressed her lips together. “You shouldn’t be doing anything.”

“I go where you go.” He nudged her – left shoulder, still – and said, “Look up. What do you see?”

She looked. On the underside of the temple, paint still clung to the surface, yellow and white. Half sun, rays spreading out, and half moon. “The Durasoona symbol,” she said softly. Another relic of another time.

Ionas shrugged lopsidedly. “It’s that, too. The Durasoona took it on. Look closer.”

Sarea held in a sigh. What else was there to see? Yellow, white, a touch of blue, and occasional specks of something that glittered like stars.

Like stars. “It’s the sky,” she said. “Isn’t it?”

He nodded. “Sun, moon, stars. Those symbols have old meanings. The stars are your… well, basic magic user. Bright or dull, large or small. The moons are a group, perhaps one in a hundred, who are inclined towards the moon and night. Then there’s the sun. There’s only ever one of those.”

Sarea hugged herself. “That’s me,” she said. “Isn’t it.” Extending one hand a little outwards, she thought sunlight and it came, lighting her skin. He turned, covering her hand in his.

“Careful,” he warned, low, eyes dark and intense. “This is how you can tell them apart. When we first summon light, we know. Blue for a star, silver for a moon, gold for the sun. The colour can be hidden, later, but it takes time and practise. Stick with fire for now, Sarea.”

She nodded, letting it go.

“I’m a moon, if you have to know,” he said, flashing a smile. Even in the misshapen rags, straw sticking out, he still managed to be charming. “I have to be. We need a sun and a moon to do something very important, Sarea.”

“For the same reason the Durasoona took the symbol,” she said, and moved her hand flat against her arm, away from his. “Yes?”

“Yes.” His smile widened into a grin, and raised his voice. “And don’t you worry yourself, Sarea Sahar. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“She’s nervous, is she?” Larone, tight and curt. “A word with you, Master Pachin.” She came around them, stopping in front of him, dressed in the same ridiculous clothes and wearing the same hair as Sarea.

“There’s nothing so private my apprentice can’t hear it,” he said cheerfully.

“Very well.” She raised her head. “I’m missing a full six hours of my memory. Did you have anything to do with it?”

Six hours? Sarea stepped back. If Larone meant she’d hit her head, she’d have said so, and Isaye would have mentioned it. Larone thought Ionas took them away. How would he even do that? Just reach into her head and take them away? Sarea tightened her hands on her arms. She didn’t even know magic could do that.

Ionas and Larone were just looking at each other. He shook his head, eyebrows raised, mouth a little agape. Larone glared, fingers tensed like she’d hit him.

“I can honestly say,” he said, “I wouldn’t even consider doing such a thing.”

Sarea looked away. Liar. She could see that, now. But did that mean he’d considered it, or that he’d done it?

Larone, on the other hand, seemed to believe him. She snarled, turning away.

“I do have some experience with people who have had it done to them,” Ionas said. “It’s hard to know.”

“My cousin came to me to apologise for an argument I didn’t remember,” Larone said tightly, hands curling into fists. “If you find the person that did this, Pachin, send them my way.”

He inclined his head.

She raised hers. “And here comes the storm,” she said. “Watch out.”

There you are.” Isaye darted up to Larone, catching her hands. “Isn’t this lovely? And we have to get ready, we’ll start moving soon – Master Pachin!” She spun around, taking Larone with her. “A pony-length from the cart ahead!”

“Yes, ma’am.” He tipped his ridiculous hat, nudged Sarea one more time, and ambled around the cart.

Kite hurried up, the other girl from the bath house, and someone with pretty fair curls Isaye introduced as Elise – “My hair just won’t stay up,” the girl fretted, pulling at the loose curls.

“Don’t worry.” Isaye laughed. “It looks delightful.” – and one more, who offered her hand, ducked her head, and murmured, “Yvaine.”

“Sarea,” she said back, smiling.

“Up we go!” Isaye bounced past them, climbing up the hay. Sarea glanced at Yvaine, who gave her a knowing look.

“She gets so excited about these things,” she said, voice soft.

Sarea sat at the back, where Isaye wouldn’t see her. But Larone sat next to her and said, “You look positively blue. What’s the matter with you, girl?”

“It’s cold,” Sarea muttered.

Larone cast her a sharp look. “Of course, he didn’t start with the basics, did he,” she said, and pulled a leather band off her wrist. “Give me your hand.”

Sarea hesitated. Too slow for Larone – she grabbed Sarea’s hand and slid the band on. “I’m hardly going to hurt you in front of her. Is that better?”

Nothing happened, for a moment, then warmth flowed up her arm and down her body. Sarea said, “Yes, but -”

“I thought since you were wearing that thing around your neck, you understood what enchantment was.” Larone sniffed. “Just give it back to me, they’re a pain to make.”

My necklace. She raised her hand, touching the ribbons. “It was a gift,” she said.

“It would have to be.”

“Not everyone has the money to give expensive jewellery,” Sarea said, eyeing Larone’s locket. Larone caught her gaze and covered it, scowling again. “So you use what you can.” Sarea looked away, at the river flowing ever on. “Even if it’s ribbon and bead.”

And the more she’s uncomfortable, the more she’ll want to be away from me, so I can get away. The Instigators always came out in force for the harvest festival, although they’d drag you back quick if they caught you up to something. She’d lay down coin that hadn’t changed. No matter how long she’d been away, the fighters needed time to have their fun.

Tonight would be the best time to sneak into the West Side and find her da.

 

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