Today's Reading

I don't bother stifling my snort. "It seems that two years haven't been enough time for you to practice subtlety, A."

I doubt she even heard me. Doubt she can focus on anything other than the fabric now gliding between her fingers. With hazel eyes scanning over sewing supplies, Adena abandons our previous conversation to ramble about what pieces she'll be making with the new silk. Her warm brown hands dig through scraps of fabric in the flickering lamplight, beginning to fold edges, pin corners, prick fingers, curse relentlessly.

We fall into the type of easy conversation that only comes after spending years surviving on the streets together, making it easy to interpret Adena's garbled words around the pins pressed between her lips. I roll over, finally falling quiet as I watch her steady fingers and furrowed brow, too engrossed with her work to sleep.

A stabbing pain in my side has my drooping eyes flying open, drowsiness forgotten. The jagged stone jutting up from the alley floor has me groggily grumbling, "Mark my words, I'm going to steal a cot one day."

Adena rolls her eyes at me, just as she does every night I make the same empty promise. "I'll believe it when I feel it, Pae," she singsongs.

I've rolled over about a dozen times before a scratchy, balled-up blanket collides with my head. "If you don't quit your squirming, I swear I'll sew you to the bloody ground," Adena says with all the sweetness of a sticky bun.

"I'll believe it when I feel it, A."



Aball of fire skims past my face, nearly singeing my hair off. I barely have the time to duck when I feel a second wave of heat rippling toward me.

'Plagues, Kitt's in a lovely mood today.'

Dancing on the balls of my feet, I watch as another sphere of fire comes hurtling in my direction while the familiar feel of adrenaline floods through me. I throw up a shield of water, hearing the fire hiss before it melts into nothing more than a thick cloud of steam. Kitt squints, attempting to see me through the smoke, before his eyes widen when I suddenly collide with him. We tumble to the ground as I pin him down, raising a flaming fist aimed at his face.

"Yield?" I can't keep the smile from twitching my lips. He coughs out a laugh, his gaze flicking between my face and the blazing fist raised beside it.

"If I say no, are you really gonna punch me, little brother?" Despite the fire burning mere inches from him, Kitt's green eyes glint with amusement.

"I'd think you would know the answer to that by now." I smile slightly as I cock my fist back farther, posing to strike.

"All right, all right, I yield!" Kitt sputters. "But only because I wouldn't want poor Eli to have to set another one of our broken noses."

I chuckled darkly at the thought of seeing the look on the royal physician's face if we were to stumble in with yet another broken bone. After standing to my feet, I offer a hand to Kitt, who's still sprawled on the ground.

The smile he gives me doesn't quite reach his eyes when he finally says, "Plagues, Kai, you're better with my powers than I am."

"And that is why 'you' will be ruling the country," I say simply, "while I'll be fighting on the battlefield, distracting the enemy with my dashing good looks."

"Are you saying I couldn't distract the enemy with my own dashing good looks?" Kitt asks through his deep laughter, feigning offense.

"I'm saying that we are only half brothers, so I'm afraid that means you only have half my charms."

Kitt barks out another laugh. "By that logic, I suppose you only have half my brains then."

"Thank the Plague for that." The words are barely out of my mouth before he's shoving me with a grin.

We walk the worn path between the dirt training circles that reside on the castle grounds. Imperials in training and other Elites of higher status continue their sparring as we pass, most using abilities while few use weapons.

Heads turn toward us, their eyes burning my skin mirroring the sun beating down on us from above. Ignoring the stares, I breathe in the training grounds' familiar scent of literal blood, sweat, and tears before grabbing a sword from a weapons rack and tossing one to Kitt, whose expression can only be described as exasperated.

"You know I've always enjoyed fighting with weapons more than abilities," I say in answer to his pointed look as I mindlessly test the balance of my blade.


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