Chapter One

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They called her the queen’s spider, because she may as well have had eight eyes. Whispers spoken behind painted wooden fans said that she was a changeling gifted with the ability to see everywhere at once. It was said that when she was a baby, she came from the faerie realm as a gift to queen Sanaa, a blessing from the faerie empress. Rumors circulating through the common people were less fanciful but no less miraculous. It was said that the spider was actually the queen’s shadow given life by the Goddess. She was a witch, she was a goblin, she was demon, she ate the souls of children, she sucked the marrow from your bones, she was cruel, she was vicious, she was calculating, and she always knew.

The only thing that anyone could agree on was her name. She was Nkiruka, or Nkiru, as she preferred. Not that anyone actually addressed her as anything other than ‘spider’.

The stories did not bother her. She found them to be inventive, and much more interesting than her true background. It was best that she was shrouded in mystery, anyway. The more she was feared, the better protected the queen would be.

Yet as close as they were, queen Sanaa had not actually seen her assassin in months. Nkiru was good at hiding from everyone, even those she was sworn to protect. Especially those she was sworn to protect.

Sanaa watched from the comfort of her balcony as the sun dropped behind the peaks of the Goddess’ Crest. As soon as the sky was dark, she saw thousands of paper lamps being lit in the town square and heard the high pitched song of a flute being carried on the wind. All of the world was celebrating the official recognition of her adopted daughter, Lumusi, as the new heir to the throne.

Sanaa rubbed her bare arms and looked up towards the sky. For the last hundred years queens had been adopting their heirs from noble, well-liked families instead of crowning their own daughters. The practice was all accepted, even expected. But that didn’t stop her from wondering whether or not the ancestors were looking down on the country of Simisola with approval.

So lost was she in her thoughts that Sanaa almost didn’t hear the padded footsteps as they approached her from behind. She shivered when she felt fingers slide gently over her shoulder. Nkiru did not wish to startle her queen.

“Nkiru,” Sanaa sighed. “You are not celebrating with the others.”

“Neither are you,” Nkiru pointed out, moving to stand beside her queen and folding her arms. “It is Lumusi’s naming day, I would expect you to be the most joyous of all.”

“I am,” Sanaa assured her, turning to face her assassin. “I am rejoicing on my own. Won’t you join me?”

“I shouldn’t drink,” Nkiru said even as Sanaa walked back into her bedroom, taking hold of a crystal wine decanter.

“Who said I was going to offer?” Sanaa teased. “I haven’t seen you in months. Maybe I want to get you sauced just to keep you around for a little while and talk.”

“It’s all fun and games until I cannot throw a dagger straight,” Nkiru said, approaching her queen. “And then where would we be?”

“I can take care of myself, you know,” Sanaa said, pulling the stopper out of the decanter and filling a beaten gold goblet to the brim with dark purple wine.

“I know,” Nkiru said, refusing the goblet when it was offered to her. “It is not you I worry about the most.”

“And yet you remain my faithful shadow,” Sanaa said coyly. “What have I done to deserve such loyalty?”

Nkiru rolled her eyes. “Nothing, my queen. Do you want to know why I’m here?”

Sanaa sighed “I should have known it was not to spoil me with a visit.”

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