Hi! I hope you enjoy this chapter :) Good luck with the new school year for everyone in school or college. Enjoy!

Chapter Twenty-Six


Forget truth, or lies, or whatever the hell I said last time. This is my part of the story, and as I remember it, I was angrier right now than I had ever been.

It shouldn't have been a big deal, not really. I just happened to be stuck, indefinitely, in the middle of some creepy magical garden, roasting like a stuck pig on an island whose real name I could barely pronounce, and right then I couldn't even think of escape—I had to understand how we had gotten there in the first place. Ariana, the doe-eyed flirt, a princess? Scratch that. The princess? Of course she was. And spastic, jumpy Marielle—not only was she a noblewoman, but she was also apparently fluent in Elfin and about fifty-eight other languages, which she proved easily over the course of the first evening we spent on that godforsaken island. The whole thing was like one of those stupid stories mothers told their children so they would not speak to strangers, would grow up to be brave, and would eventually become productive members of society. They weren't supposed to be real.

She had lied to me, I kept thinking that first night as Lela led us out of the garden and through one of the longest corridors I had ever seen. Tristan and Ariana had lied to us, too, but Marielle… she spoke Elfin, God, why was I so stupid? There were whole conversations I should never have had with Marc, things I shouldn't have talked about with him in front of her. Things like my parents, like his mother, things like—ay, what was she thinking now? She didn't look as though there was anything wrong, staring around at the sandy walls that hid the ocean from us and blinking happily at the vaulted ceilings. She turned and spoke in a different tongue I didn't recognize to what's-his-name, the boy I had mistaken for an errant nobleman's son at the tavern back in the Walled City. Here, in this place with the whispering breeze and waves lapping against the sand, it seemed like I was years away from tucking Bethanne into bed.

We stopped before a pair of double doors flanked by more orange-clad guards, and I stepped too close to Marc by mistake, knocking his elbow with mine. This time it really was an accident, but he glared at me anyway. I stepped back, crossing my arms. Honestly. All right, so we shouldn't have started the fight over Marielle and her stupid secret languages, but I had felt this brewing, hot words cooking slowly in the tension that had hovered over us both since we'd last really talked. I could be just as angry as I wanted to; I knew that this had been coming. I was glad for it. If nothing else, it meant that honesty was once again the best policy.

In front of me, Marielle was gazing with delight at the doors, both of which were covered in some ancient text that, while the letters meant nothing to me, curled over the wood. I was so caught up in scanning the strange letters, trying to see what she did, that it took me a moment to realize that the doors did not have handles. At Lela's chirpy command, they swung open of their own accord to reveal a pavilion, and I smiled in spite of everything. At home, in Irenta, magic was commonplace, and studying the craft was an honor. It was nice to see that the leaders of the colonies felt the same way.

Two footmen stood at the head of a long, low table in the center. The table had been laid out for twelve, and rather than chairs, the governor preferred to use cushions—were they for lounging, or sitting? I couldn't tell, just imitated Lela as she slid into her seat. Leaning heavily on one hip and trying to keep balance with my arm, I noticed Marielle and Ariana struggling and reflected that perhaps the candles that lined the center of the table were probably not the best idea.

Once I had gotten my bearings, I glanced around at the space, trying to take in anything important. There were no walls; past the brightly tiled floor, the red roofs of the rooms of the palace layered down to the ground like the toy blocks Bethanne had lugged from village to village. The empty spaces between the four broad pillars were covered with thin white nettings that blew in the sea breeze. No matter if I looked west, north, or east, white waves crested and fell into a rapidly darkening ocean. But—there. To my left, in the west, there it was: the harbor. Three wide docks lined with boats stretched several feet into the water, but what was important to me was the ship planted in the water several feet offshore. It was enormous, the masts large even from where I stood, and people small as insects scurried back and forth, hauling cargo. Perfect.

A birdcall startled me, and I looked around for the source of the noise. A golden birdcage hung, suspended by a glittering chain from the vaulted ceiling. Inside were two yellow and blue birds squawked and flapped their bright wings around although they could go nowhere. They were louder than the flock of chickens I'd once tended for an innkeeper, and their individual cries were twice as piercing.

I was debating the merits of silencing the birds when Lela suddenly sprang up, and Ariana and Marielle followed suit. In a moment everyone was on their feet, just in time for the governor to enter.

I hadn't wanted to hear anything Ariana had to say, so I missed her description to Tristan of the monarch, but he didn't look any different from the noblemen I saw striding through the crowds whenever we performed in cities. He was shorter than Marc but taller than me, and the way his fingers stroked the rings on his hands indicated, at least to me, that for the moment his mind was entirely on what he owned and how to keep it. For half a second, I wanted to lean over and say as much to Marc, to see if he had sized the governor up the same way, but then I remembered.

The governor did not speak until he had been seated, and even then, it was just a greeting. I was about to drop to my cushion when I remembered Ariana, who went first, and then Marielle, then tavern boy and finally the rest of us. Humans. In the elf courts, it was always too much trouble to remember positions besides the queen. Then again, I supposed we really didn't have nobility anymore. There were the elders and the heads of each village, but not much else. Once, Litza said, there was a court along with the elf queen, but most of them had been killed in the war, or they had fled.

It didn't matter anymore, I realized as a servant in orange—why orange, of all colors?—brought out trays bearing glass plates and placed them in front of us. I didn't recognize the tan sauce, but I knew, at least, that the meat was fish. When no one was looking, I tasted the sauce with a finger. Spicy, just enough to be bitter, and made from a strange cheese. I managed to choke down half of it, helped by a glass of wine. Any other night I might have enjoyed that, but tonight was different. The ship meant a way out, and if I wanted to find a path to the ship, I would need to keep my head.

The meal did not last long. The governor seemed to have already gathered all the information from Ariana that he could, and since he didn't talk, neither did us visitors. I spent most of the time watching Lela flirt with every non-relative male at the table. What she was doing was obvious, but then she was only fourteen years old. "Please," she said to Tristan once, "I would love for you to tell me about your home."

"I live with my sisters and my parents," Tristan said flatly without looking up. "My lady," he added after a moment, the words sounding strange coming from him. Ariana smiled into her second-course plate of bright fruit. Undeterred, Lela turned her attentions over to the tavern boy, who by now, I had been reminded, was Ben.

"Those are so interesting," she exclaimed, turning to one side to touch the tattoos on his wrist. I wondered if the governor noticed his daughter's behavior, or if he cared. Probably he didn't. "These mean—you are a mage. Right?"

"Yes," Ben admitted, the arm-touching moment whistling faintly as it flew over his head. He pulled his arm slightly out of her reach. "My father is a lord and a mage, see?" He pointed to two of the symbols on his wrist, dark green splotches. I stretched out my hands, suddenly glad that they were now bare.

"You must have a splendid sorcerium," Lela said. I glanced sideways at Marc, wondering if he had noticed that my tattoos were gone. He had noticed the hair. It wasn't exactly easy to hide. Of course it didn't matter and I didn't care, but did he know why I'd gotten the ink off my skin? He caught me looking at him, gave me a strange look, and turned out to face the ocean.

"I beg your pardon?" Ariana asked as Marielle looked up. I bit my tongue, even though I was dying to comment, and wished that I wanted to kill Marc less. It wasn't a difficult word to understand. Scholars formed schools. Sorcerers worked in sorceriums. It really was that simple. Lela explained in politer terms while Marielle listened, fascinated with the descriptions of spellbooks and scrying crystals and shimmering potions. If what Tristan had said was true, then she hadn't known what she was for more than a few weeks. Most people would be absolutely petrified, but she seemed happy as a bird about the whole thing. I couldn't decide if this showed intelligence or terrifying stupidity, but then, that was Marielle. Talking obliviously to strange men in taverns one moment, spitting out six languages and spouting off irrelevant bits of history the next.

She wanted to see the sorcerium; it was obvious. And Lela was only too happy to take her. After the meal had finished and servants collected the empty plates, the governor dismissed us and his daughter announced a short trip to the sorcerium. "You may use it tomorrow," she promised Tristan, Marielle and Ben. "I'm sure you'll love it."

Lela laughed all the way through her father's exit through those doors, about what I wasn't sure. The sound was really starting to grate on my ears. Ariana and the others followed her, but I pretended to drop something and crouched for a moment, watching as they continued down the hall. The guards had gone after the governor, and so that left me alone in the pavilion as the door closed behind them.

Finally. I stood and stretched, liking, against my better judgment, the way the divided skirt felt on my skin. Interesting. I reached down and grasped my ankle, pulling my leg over my head, and the material moved with me. This could open up a world of opportunity for dance. When I got home, I'd have to take some of these with me.

Right. Home. If I wanted to get there, I'd have to act quickly, before they left the sorcerium and realized that I wasn't back in our quarters. Glancing to the west, I couldn't see the flag of the ship that had landed, but if I had to guess, I'd put my money on Irenta. As the owner of the Bright Isles, it only made sense for them to trade freely. It could take a week or so for them to reload or pick up more sailors, and a month or more to return, but how much time were we to spend here? I didn't like the feel of being transported by magic. A ship, at least, was a safer bet than the chance of getting, say, added into a transportation spell when the caster didn't mean to do it.

I looked down out over the edge of the pavilion, squinting into the darkness to see the buildings that had grown up and around the palace. I could see the flat roofs, but I had no idea how far a drop I was to expect. For a moment I saw, thinking, and then I remembered the flowers on the table. I grabbed a handful and selected a pink blossom I was unfamiliar with, and dropped it over the edge.

I watched it fall for about twenty feet on the first one; a bad jump, one I'd made before but didn't want to chance a second time. The second fell way too far for me to even gauge. The third was nearly forty feet. I made my way around the first edge of the pavilion like that until finally, beside one of the pillars, the flower fell about eight feet and stopped.

No one was behind me or in the pavilion at all. It was easy to lift the mosquito netting, swing my legs over the side, and drop into a crouch. The impact jarred my legs, but just enough to inform me that I was out of practice. It had been a long time since I had last jumped out of a tree. I swiped the flower from the floor and paused, my eyes finding the pattern of roofs in the darkness. Then I threw the blossom again, watching as it landed in the right spot, and jumped. Following my bizarre staircase, I worked my way down the blocks that made up the palace until finally the only thing beneath me was the street. The streets I had seen while the guards pulled us inside had been made of dirt; hopefully this was the same, or I was in trouble. I hadn't considered it.

I hit the ground—dirt, thank you—without making too much noise and looked up towards the sky. If I was looking for the ship, then I would have to go west, to wear the sun had set. It did not help that all of the sandy white buildings looked the same, but I found the lightest place in the sky and turned towards that direction.

With the task of getting to the street and the distraction of finding the direction of the ship out of my head, my thoughts turned immediately back to Marc. Ay, no, I wouldn't think of him now, not when I had something to do and I could help it. But if I was going to keep my sanity in this place, I might need him. That was an unpleasant thought, about as welcome as the memories of that night the week before when it all started. I didn't want to need anybody. I wanted to be on my own, it was better. And as for everything else, I wanted to blame Santiago. If I hadn't seen him with Chandra, he never would have had to tell me he was keeping her as a bed warmer. If he hadn't told me about her, I wouldn't have gone to the tavern. If I hadn't gone to the tavern, Marc wouldn't have had to come and find me. And if he hadn't found me, nothing would ever have happened.

Come on, Kailyn. Thinking about it was pointless. I realized that I had been standing still right there in the center of a strange city, vulnerable to any onlookers, and shook myself. I kept myself from asking what was the matter with me; I knew the answer to that. The only thing I ought to be concentrating on right then, it seemed, was finding the ship. Once I knew what sort of ship it was, then I might be able to figure out a way to get home. A merchant ship with little cargo to return would be best. The captain might not be opposed to taking me with him as a passenger. It wasn't unheard-of. If that wasn't the case, I'd find a way around it somehow.

The streets were wide, filled with stalls selling everything from figs to jewelry. They also were mainly empty, possibly because of the bugs. I had swatted at least ten by the third narrow alleyway I passed, uncomfortably aware of the watching people in the windows and doorways of the sandstone buildings and peddling their wares. No matter how quiet I tried to be, one glance at me must show that I was a stranger. The bright clothes were just another way of marking us as visitors at the palace. The few city dwellers I happened to spot were wearing simple, faded colors, and I felt as though I glowed like a flame that got brighter with every step. As I probably wasn't supposed to leave the palace without causing some kind of international problem, this wasn't good. In Marquia, staring mostly was a good thing, for Helen, anyway. Marc had hated it.

Of course Marc would go back to being himself right afterwards. The boy sitting outside the inn the night before, the one I didn't deserve—he was already gone. It had taken him a little more than a week, just about the same mourning period he had for any girl whose favor he captured, held, and lost. Or got bored with, or just left when Helen's contract sent us to another village or town. It had been eight days. I knew. I had counted. Anyway, by the time I got back tonight, even, he would probably be fine. Still angry with me for shouting at him, sure, but fine. He probably would have forgotten all about the lovething.

Men, I had learned, were like that. They thought they liked you because you could dance or were an elf or happened to be able to pull your leg up beside your head, and most of them believed they really did like you. Some even wanted to get to know you. I had thought that Marc was different, at least with me. He had always stopped me from going too far before. He had spoken to Helen for me, kept me from doing anything that I would truly regret on bad nights. He cautioned against climbing up too high in the trees during our games when we were children. I had discovered too late that the only person Marc didn't stop me from taking things too far with was himself.

Where was my head tonight? I stopped in the middle of an intersection of two roads, aware of the woman standing just a few feet away from me, her son tugging at her hand. They stood outside a stall with a sign in a language I couldn't read, but I was familiar enough with the contents of an apothecary's shop to recognize it. Dried herbs hung from every possible free surface. Some I knew, but most of them were different than the plants that grew in Irenta. There were yellow flowers with purple centers, brown weeds that curled like ribbons, and even bags of seeds with strange labels. The ancient woman tending the stall noticed me and smiled, her eyes nearly disappearing in the folds of her wrinkles. I looked away. I'd been to an apothecary in the Walled City and I did not wish to repeat the experience.

"No," I said without thinking about whether or not she could understand me, more to myself than anyone else. "I'm fine."

"Who are you talking to?"

I spun around, heart beating so fast I thought for a moment I might just die right there. "What are you doing?" I said, the words coming too quickly to make too much sense. "How—how did you get out?"

"I went back to quarters and jumped out the window," said Marco de Rosaura, as though it was obvious. He stood in front of the jewelry stall, his mouth still set in a hard line. My stomach turned over, and I took quick steps back towards him, just in case he saw the apothecary and asked the wrong questions. "And I'm looking for a way out."

"Or looking for a fight," I said, perhaps too harshly. When Marc was angry, he picked fights that it was impossible to win. If he felt anything like I did, then I might have to enlist Tristan's help in putting him back together.

"We can't stay here forever," Marc said with a glare. He glanced in the direction of the ship. "And I'd rather go now. I'd say I was waiting on your answer, but it doesn't look like that's necessary, does it?"

"Are you going to be like this the whole journey back?" I asked after a pause, struck by the venom in his voice. "Because if you are, then you can find your own way home."

"You started it," Marc said matter-of-factly.

"I didn't see you objecting—"

"Hey, I meant just now, got it? I'm sorry." He sighed, drumming his fingers on one leg absentmindedly. Then, abruptly, he brightened. I bit the inside of my cheek when he grinned. "I'm calling a truce," Marc announced, loudly, so that any Elfin-speaking natives of the Bright Isles would understand as well. "As long as we're in the islands. Any mentions to anything that happened in the Walled City ends the truce, and we can go back to being grownups. But we have to get out of here before the politics smother us both, and I don't need all this—" He gestured at the space between us, erratically, and I couldn't help smiling, just a bit "—right now, I need you when you were fifteen. Can we both just be fifteen?"

"A truce," I repeated. I turned the word over in my mind. I didn't know if I could act like everything was fine, nothing had happened and it was all rainbows and butterflies between us, best friends from now until forever. But the alternative was much worse. "Sounds fine."

"Good," Marc said, and for a moment we just stood there. Where did we go from here?

"Well," I said after a second, "I've got a question. If we're fifteen, are you going to keep telling people you were trained by an assassin? Because that's not true, and I don't know how well it works as a cover story—"

Marc laughed, the sound bright and false. I could tell it wasn't real, but I didn't say so. It didn't seem to be the best way to start off a truce. Especially not when he was the only person in the world that I could trust.

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