Chapter 5

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"Lena."

I pried my eyes open at the sound of my name.

"You've overslept," Analiese said from the edge of her bed where she was sitting as she pulled on her shoes.

I sat up, rubbing at my eyes. It felt like I had only just fallen asleep before she was calling my name.

Most of my night had been spent tossing and turning, thinking about Ró. Thinking about the promise he'd made. I'd left him there with every intention of getting to my bed and sleeping away the memory—pretending it had all been a dream. Because a dream was what it felt like.

But I hadn't fallen into a peaceful slumber when I returned to my bed. I sat for what seemed like hours, staring at the dark ceiling and replaying every moment of our conversation. Over and over again.

Ominira.

The word was stuck in my mind even as I rushed to dress for the day ahead. Draped over the small storage chest was my dress, tattered and old, I grabbed it and pulled it over my head, tying the strings at my waist.

"You got in late," Analiese said questioningly.

"Shouldn't you already be up there?"

A frown pulled at her lips. Analiese finished lacing her shoes in tense silence and then stood. I thought she was going to leave without another word, but instead she turned back to me.

"Everyone's to report to kitchen before anything else," she said irritatedly.

Analiese slammed the door shut behind her and I sighed toeing on the simple white silk-made flats that were daily attire unless we were leaving the paestra. I made quick work of braiding my hair back into a neat braid. Smoothing my dress down and checking for anything out of place, I confirmed I looked just as I should and left the room, jogging up the stairs.

The main kitchen was located on the floor just above ground level and was easy to access from the stairwell. I pushed open the door right into the kitchen, avoiding any Morrí in the paestra who had already made their way into the dining room for an early breakfast. It would be a few more hours before most of them were up and the tables in the dining room were full. I was the last to arrive which was made worse by the fact that every other girl was standing still in two lines listening to our veetrala as she spoke.

The elder Morrí woman was not as decorated as many of her peers, her hair, more white now than the deep shade of green it had been when I first arrived at the paestra, was kept in a tight bun and she wore little makeup without occasion. Her life was her title, her occupation as much as mine was. Except everything she was, was by choice. For her, the position was an honor.

She got pleasure from having power over all of us. It was Veetrala Faedra who was in charge. She told us where to go, what to do, when to take a break and when there was perceived call for it, she was the one who took charge of any punishment. That, I was sure, was her favorite part.

Whatever she had been saying was cut short at my arrival. Her eyes, the color entirely black so that it was impossible to differentiate pupil from iris, snapped to me. They narrowed and held my eyes for a long moment, promising something awful as a punishment, before she continued with her speech. She took it personal, when we messed up. If we were late, we were unkempt, she viewed it as a sign of disrespect, a show of human rebellion.

"Appearance is everything," she said. "If your clothes are unclean, get them in the laundry—" her eyes roved over each of us, her nose crinkling in disgust, "Those of you with rips and stains are to leave here and report directly to laundry for something new. Do not be seen walking around as you are in front of our visitors."

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