Chapter 27

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Shaylan sat with Rami and Rilien, in their usual booth. The sounds and sights had the familiarity of old friends.

Outside, the tram huffed and dinged to a stop, people closing their umbrellas and getting on. Fashionable shoppers strolled by under canvas roofing and awnings. A City Watch officer was buying coffee from a stall. A carriage drawn by two black horses reined in before a fruit market – the clopping of hooves on cobbles could be heard from across the plaza.

Inside, a jazzy tune blared from the gramophone, Jia worked her steam espresso-makers, Mori slipped plates of food over the counter. The pendulum swung in the longcase clock, and chimed as the hour changed; 11 AM.

Across the room, Uptown and Midtown folk chatted around wooden tables, under lamplights and amidst decorative plants.

Familiar or not, none of it comforted Shay.

She brooded and worried, coffee cup in hand. The warmth had long vanished along with the beverage, and the porcelain was stone-cold. She just held it to give her hand something to do. She noticed a snag in the lace of her fingerless gloves, and grimaced.

Then, she sighed.

Today was Leithan's birthday. And he was missing.

"Do you think we should tell someone?" Rami asked, staring at his plate of unfinished pancake rolls like he couldn't decide whether he was still hungry or not.

"I don't know," Rilien said. His fingers were tinkering with the chain around his neck, something Shay had noticed him do whenever he was nervous.

"What would we even say?" Shay asked. The rain spattering the window beside her suited her mood.

"I don't know," Rilien said again, unhelpfully. He chugged down his coffee. "This isn't like Leith. But he's been acting strange lately, so I'm at a loss here."

Shay rubbed her eye, then remembered she'd put eyeliner on, and stopped. She was so tired. It had taken her ages to fall asleep last night. Even though her cat had been curled up against her back, purring, and Shay usually slept like a log when Tufty was there with her.

Yesterday evening had been so weird.

Shay had been in the lecture hall with everyone else, hanging out with her mom, dad, and Shiv, when she'd heard something. A loud noise, like someone dropping a heavy piece of furniture upstairs.

And she would've shrugged it off and let it go, like most people had, it seemed, except Shay saw Hanna Slyfox crossing the room like she wanted to go and check things out. If the Captain of the City Watch thought something was up, Shay felt it wise to trust her opinion.

But then, the Elder Priest himself had stood in Hanna's way, underneath the second-floor gallery. Shay had craned her neck to see them over the crowded room, glad to be wearing high heels. The Elder Priest had a hand on Hanna's arm, said something to her, and then Rami's mother nodded and re-entered the crowd.

The elder, however, vanished.

When Shay tried to find him again, he wasn't anywhere in the lecture hall.

Instead, she'd caught Rami glancing her way, and she went to talk to him in the middle of the room, standing on the cushiony golden carpet.

"Did you hear that?" Shay asked.

Rami nodded, frowning. "Yeah."

Shay tucked her hair behind her ear. "What'd you think it was?"

Rami hesitated, glancing toward the second-floor, south-side. That was where Veya's Chosen's rooms were. Shay thought it might've come from there, too.

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