Chapter 23: First Lesson

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Chapter 23: First Lesson

Though both ended in a similar outcome, plotting murder and accidentally killing someone were two completely different things. I faced this fact in my room as the servants came to prepare me for the Initiation ball of the Masquerade.

I believed the words I said to Afali when I said them, but now I wasn't so sure.

The crime against Afali disgusted me. I could taste the burn of her rage on my tongue, almost as if it were my own.

Almost, but not enough to deliberately murder someone. I wouldn't sacrifice Marin's life for Afali's revenge.

At least, I bought myself more time.

If I didn't want to have to look over my shoulder every time Afali's shadow crossed mine, I would have to prove my loyalty to her eventually, with a deed and not just words.

But I couldn't murder someone who wasn't here.

In a matter of weeks, the elders of every leading nobility branch in the north would be here. The Pinnacle was the name of the ball that would be held in their honour, where they would officially present the eligible lords and ladies in their families. Lady Golia's brother and Lady Golia herself wouldn't dare miss this event.

I had six extravagant gowns for the six main balls of the Masquerade. The first one, the one I wore that evening, was a bright greyish lilac colour, overlain with swirling patterns of black velvet underneath pewter grey tulle. The bodice that hugged my waist rigidly was decorated with crystals meant to resemble amethysts to match the amethysts in my mask and the ones woven into my hair.

My breasts were pressed up over the stay that was pulled closed by a bright purple ribbon that matched the bright purple paint on my lips. I was a primed and ready for feasting. The silver slippers with the soft leather soles and heels that were like spikes pinched my feet as I stepped up to the vanity, placing the box that contained my mask on it.

There was a stone lodged in my throat. The servants had left me to my business, so if I cried now, there would be no one to fix the dark kohl around my eyes, or the gentle glue that held the glittering silver eyelashes that had been placed between my natural ones.

With a seizing heart, I removed the lid of the box, and moved back the crinkling wax paper.

I already looked at it before, but it was even more wonderful on second inspection.

Oh, Shana.

How did she make this in such a short time? It couldn't even be compared with the mask Lady Golia had broken. She had woven this hawk using filigree with a white gold alloy.

I took it out from among the cushions and brought it to my face, tying it in place. It was a perfect fit.

My dark hair, piled high, provided the perfect background to the bright hawk's face, angled to the side to bring prominence to the dangerous curve of its hooked bill, and the glare of an ever-scrutinising purple sapphire eye. Its wings fell on either side of the mask. Shana had created tiny feathers by stretching shimmering silk between frames of white gold. The feathers moved when I moved, and the silk flashed from violet to blue when it caught the light. For the area below the eyes, she had cut amethysts into flat diamond shapes and created, together with strings of white gold, a mosaic of tiny fluttering hawks.

The lower rim of the mask was a thicker band of white gold, gleaming against the darker shade of my skin and making my lips look like a jewel.

The centrepiece at the hawk's heart, right where my brows met beneath the mask, was a purple spinel. I would never know how Shana had gotten her hands on such a rare stone, one so perfect and brilliant. Even for the nobles it would've cost more than a dose of serum. I had a sinking feeling that this had something to do with the reason she had come to Thalmina in the first place.

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