Chapter 1: In the Stars

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Tuvos, Day 14 of Rhexia, Blind Moons, Year 602

"Respect. Respect everyone. Always. I cannot count the times I've made an ass of myself because I didn't consider what someone else has been through." —From the private journal of Farax Lucean, Master Alchemist at Craestor University from Year 598 to Year 603.

* * *

Evin started.

Her tongue was thick and dry and her head pounded. How long had she slept?

Stark daylight insisted through the dirty glass window panes of her second-story private room. Her sheets were twisted and soggy with her own sweat, and the room smelled of stale alcohol and cheerlessness.

She stared blearily at the blank ceiling for a moment, willing the hot throbbing in her head to subside.

The wine was not sitting at all well in her roiling stomach.

She rolled over and put a weak hand to her head, trying to judge what time of day it was by the cast of the shadows in her silent room.

These sodden mornings were miserable. And self-inflicted. Why do I keep doing this to myself? she wondered desperately.

Evin loved to dance, and rollicking evenings at the pub were something she looked forward to all week. The thrill of the fiddle and bodhran thumping in her chest, the grasp of someone else's warm hand in hers, the shy glances exchanged between ever-revolving partners—these were all things she fell addictively drawn to. She supposed she liked the taste of the ubbeave wine too, and enjoyed the way it made her feel.

It didn't seem to be worth this, though. Surely, she had no real reason to indulge so vehemently—and so often. She had no sorrows to quench. Her work life was challenging, but not unbearable.

Work, she thought then, incoherently, her damaged synapses finally beginning to fire and a pool of panic beginning to form in her belly. Her heart sprang to life.

She had slept late. And she was expected at work.

Suddenly spurred into action, Evin stepped shakily out of bed. The movement elicited a small, despairing whimper.

She was dizzy and felt worryingly ill.

Relentlessly, she upbraided herself. This is your own fault, she told herself viciously over and over again, as if it might make the whole thing easier to bear. Your fault.

The situation might, perhaps, have bothered her less—if it wasn't the third time it had happened this month. If she'd had any parents, they'd have been most disappointed; her older sister Wynn had been very firm with her as it was. And Master Stacia had threatened to turn her out for the habit. Evin hated her own lack of foresight and self-control, perpetually telling herself that every drink downed was money lost, and to cap it, she would continue to manufacture mornings like this for herself.

Today, she may just have murdered her own livelihood.

Resolving to hurry down to the shop and see if she might keep her position, she rummaged in her chest for something clean.

She threw on a worn chemise and stockings, then followed with a pair of brown eborel trousers and a simple earth-coloured tunic. She shoved unsteady feet into a pair of scuffed brown boots and glanced up into her small, grimy dressing mirror.

Evin's long hair had been braided the night before but had since mostly fallen out into ratty tangles. Her grey eyes looked tired. She pulled her hair free and didn't bother to comb it, opting instead to twist it up into a haphazard top knot.

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