Chapter 1

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Cinnamon was heavy in the air as I sprinted through the market sector, charging past women clad in turquoise, ruby, and magenta wraps and earning disapproving squawks from the men who served as their chaperones. They all knew me as "that Febrian woman who won't leave Sorrol," though this description was often interlaced with varying and devastatingly uncreative profanities. I had won over very few locals since arriving here, and I certainly wasn't changing that today. But I couldn't slow down now. The man I'd seen pickpocketing a hunched woman on Parliament Street had cut down this way, probably hoping to lose me in the chaos of stalls and bodies and stacks of wire cages holding everything from spotted chickens to diamond-patterned salamanders.

A small explosion of flames to my left sent me skittering right and knocking into a table covered with an odd assortment of wares: teardrop-shaped candles, jars filled with pickled cucumbers, and stacks of prayer cards.

"Oi!" The seller shouted at me, waving me away from his table, but I was already moving, steering clear of the stalls that had just flared to life on the other side of the aisle. Bags of garlic hung from their roofs, and the stoves within had just been lit, their owners brandishing wide pans over the flames, sifting oil and meat as the cinnamon smell around me shifted to thyme.

Past a textile stall selling a rainbow of fabrics from which the women here crafted their wraps, I saw brown hair flopping as someone darted through the crowd. My feet pounded the street as I lurched forward to catch up to him, careful not to catch the toe of my boot on the cobblestones that jutted up randomly like baby teeth.

My walkie crackled at my hip.

"Davey?" It was Li, probably trying to distract me. I ignored him.

A group of women had stopped to watch a vendor weaving an intricate grass basket, and the only way past them was blocked by a giant black hog. I groaned, weighing my choices. At some point you get tired of pissing everyone off, so I opted not to barrel into the cluster of onlookers and the bored men hovering behind them, and instead leapt over the hog. More shouts followed me, presumably from the pig farmer, but I was gaining on the pickpocket. I saw him duck into an alleyway several paces ahead and lunged after him, turning the corner—only to slam into a very hard chest filling the entrance to the narrow alley.

"Hey!" I started to tell the man off, but then I saw who he was.

Long, dark hair was pulled up into a tiny knot on top of his head. And a cocky, impossibly straight-toothed smile extended all the way to golden brown eyes that had charmed the wraps off of half the women in this city.

"Hey," Li answered back, holding up his right hand, which was tangled in the hair of my pickpocket. "Look what I caught."

"That one's mine," I huffed, trying to catch my breath while also attempting to hide the fact that I was winded.

"Huh." His smile faded, and mock innocence widened his eyes. "Are you hers?" he asked the man, who, I was now realizing, was actually a boy. Probably late teens, not much younger than me, but definitely old enough to know better.

"No," the boy grunted.

"Huh." Li nodded, looking satisfied, and returned his gaze to me. "He says no."

I glared at the boy. "Stay out of it." Turning back to Li, I added, "I had him, before you got in the way."

"Got in the way?" He placed his free hand to his chest in mock offense. His other arm hardly budged as the boy flailed and struggled to break free from the fist in his hair. "I was an innocent bystander when this criminal crashed into me. I was just doing my civic duty by halting his progress. A simple thank you would suffice." He winked then, and I felt my blood warm. It was a strange combination of irritation and something else, as it always was with him.

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