Chapter 17: Golden Shadows

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It was like everyone's heart was suddenly illuminated by silver fire. The dancers below them were a forest of twinkling lights—some bright, others dimmer—all joyously, brilliantly silver. Jane closed her eyes, but still she could still see them against the back of her eyelids, an intricate network of silver dots twirling and whirling upon the dance floor. She opened her eyes again.

"What... is this?"


"You see this all the time?"

"If I want to."

Jane looked beyond the dancers, to the opposite balcony. Silver fire glittered across the trellises, dancing around the ivy which tumbled in brilliant waterfalls past the balcony edges. The lights floating over the hall were almost dazzling in their brightness. Jane's eyes fell on the azdaja, and she was startled to see that the winged snake glowed soft red, almost pink.

"It's beautiful," she whispered.

"Look closer," said Nikolay.

She followed his line of sight down to the dance floor again. Kir had rejoined the tsar on the dais. Jane squinted, and her magical view zoomed in suddenly, as if she was looking through binoculars.

And that was when she saw it.

Kir's heart was silver fire, like the other dancers in the hall. But... the harder Jane stared, the surer she was... flecks of gold glittered around Kir. They spiraled around his head like faery dust. And the tsar...

Jane frowned. The tsar's entire body was riddled with gold—it was everywhere—tendrils coiled inside his stomach and heart and lungs-

"What is that?"

She turned to Nikolay and had to throw up a hand to shield her eyes, so blazingly bright was the light from his magic. Blinking stars from her vision, she looked down. Her eyes fell on the Oath-spell which twisted around Nikolay's arm, now in brilliant silver vines.

Nikolay's hand left her arm. The magic light faded, and Jane felt a strange sense of loss. The hall seemed suddenly drab in comparison.

She tore her gaze away from the Oath-spell. Frowned at Nikolay.

"What do the different colors mean? Most people were silver... but the azdaja was red... and why was there gold in some people, but not others?"

"Why indeed."

She had the oddest sense he was trying to tell her something, but for the life of her, she didn't know what. "Kir's head was gold..." she said. "And the tsar..."

Nikolay said nothing. His eyes bored into her. In them, she saw despair, and bitterness, and a loneliness so profound it seemed to swallow him.

A braver person might have probed deeper. Asked him what had made him this way, so bitter and horrible, how the scar on his arm had come about, and why. Offered to work toward a solution.

Discussed her Writings in the Book of Truths.

Later, Jane would think back on this moment and wonder if this was when it all went wrong. Not falling from the tower, nor the fiasco with the dragon, but this one moment of relative clarity on the balcony, when she could have reached out—

—and didn't.

Instead, she said:

"I have to go. My brother's sick. I shouldn't be out here celebrating."

"Blood always wins in the end." His voice was light, sardonic. "Doesn't it, avtorka?"

"I wouldn't know," said Jane. "I'm adopted. But replace 'blood' with 'family', and I suppose it's true."

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