Elaria and the boy slid across the floor and slammed into the wall. Smoke filled the air.
Coughing, Elaria sat up and checked the boy. “Are you all right?”
The boy nodded and looked at the chair. He paled. A huge chunk of the chair had been blown away. The boy trembled and looked at his hands. His hands were fine. It had been close.
“Next time, focus on the stone,” Elaria said. “Trust yourself. If you can feel a shift in the energy when you bring it close to the wood, toss the stone.”
The boy nodded, still staring at the chair. Elaria wondered if he would quit, but she knew he wouldn’t. It was the only real work a Burnt Child could get in Jelam.
Mr. Himmel hurried over and lifted the boy to his feet. “Well then, you survived.” He nodded to another worker. “Go work with Ethay. You need a bit more training before you have your own bench.”
The boy mumbled his thanks and hurried to the other worker’s bench. The rest of the section had already returned to their work.
Mr. Himmel helped Elaria to her feet. “You knew it was bad even from a distance.”
Elaria rubbed the back of her neck. “It was just a feeling.”
“Right.” A pensive look crossed his face. “You okay?”
Elaria examined her arms. Small cuts trailed across her skin, but nothing serious. Dust caked her shirt and tunic. She touched the mass of brown curls piled on top of her head and came back with a few slivers of wood. Untying her scarf, she used it to wipe the dust off her face.
“Yes,” she said. “Lucky, that.”
Mr. Himmel gave her a strange look and turned away. “Just lucky.” He cleared his throat. “Go on to Artifacts. I’ll check in on you after I get this mess cleared. And make sure you get those cuts cleaned up.”
Elaria nodded and gave her skirt a final pat, before walking to the water basin. She tried to ignore the look Himmel gave her. She’d have to be careful. Though she was definitely a Burnt Child, she still had something a little extra from the other Burnt Children. She could see strands. That extra ability had gotten her out of Embedments and into the Artifacts section. Still, no one knew she could see the strands, not even Himmel. If they knew, she wasn’t sure even Himmel wouldn’t turn her into the Purifiers.
She shuddered at the thought and quickly washed off the dirt, giving her cuts a cleaning. She eyed the alcohol next to the basin and decided to forfeit the burning it would cause. They were only small cuts after all.
Elaria felt out of breath. If she hadn’t known better, she would’ve thought a Tongue had spoken her into trouble. She smiled and shook her head. That, of course, just wasn’t possible. The only Melitan Tongues she knew were her father and Korvin and neither one had the inclination or the power.
Ever since the war fifty years ago, neither Tongue nor Hand wielded great magic, though the Tongue Melitan-El might’ve been the exception. No one knew what exactly the Melitan-El could do. Rumors said he didn’t use rokas stones to enchant any of his possessions, but instead spoke enchantments into them. After all, he was the one who had embedded the golden armor of the Champion with both Tongue and Hand powers with just a few words. Without him, the Champion would never have been able to defeat the mad Spirit Queen.
Elaria grimaced. The Champion had saved the world from the Spirit Queen, but in exchange people like her became nothing more than the rats of Meli. She knew it was the right thing to do. People needed to protect themselves from the Spirit people, but she wished there had been another way. Why did Meli keep making Spirit people just for them to become Burnt Children? Elaria pushed those thoughts away. It was an old argument, one without an answer. She couldn’t do anything for the Burnt Children, but she could do something for herself. At the end of the week she would tell Himmel yes. It was time to leave Jelam behind.
Elaria pushed away from the basin and went to the back offices. She stopped in front of the fifth door and fished a small iron key from her pocket. In or out, the door to the artifacts was always locked. She unlocked the door and then closed and locked it behind her.
The air was filled with the heavy tang of energy, like the feeling before a lightning storm. It sent a surge of giddiness through her. She put away the key and grinned when she saw three large crates overflowing with different objects. Crossing the room, she maneuvered around the workbenches and piles of good and discarded artifacts. She peeked inside one of the crates and saw interlocking ivory bracelets and a red bowl with black carvings etched on the inside. Colored strands encircled both objects. She itched to touch them, but she already had a pile of artifacts on her bench. She turned away and went to her station.
Artifacts. It was a dangerous job. While working in Embedments could get her injured, working in Artifacts would send the Purifiers after her. Burnt Children weren’t allowed to handle magical items, with the exception of the rokas stones. Having rokas stones to strengthen furniture or keep a home warm was too important. No one else could use them as well as a Burnt Child could, nor did anyone want to with the possibility of getting their hands blown off. She had been the best with the stones. Himmel had surprised her when he’d offered her a position in Artifacts. They both could lose everything, but since she’d started working in Artifacts, Himmel’s Crafters had sold more artifacts than any other crafter or jeweler in Sanzela. It was because of her, a Burnt Child. She had proven to Himmel she was well worth the risk.
She watched swirls of mist dance in an array of colors around the artifacts on her bench. Some were thick strands that spun slowly across an artifact. Those were heavy with magic, but the enchantment wasn’t strong. Others were thin and wove tightly around an object. Those were better made enchantments, ones meant to last.
She reached for a gold cup on her bench when a loud crash sounded behind her. She whirled and peered at the room. There was something on the floor. With quick steps, she crossed the room and picked up a necklace with a rusted pendant attached to it. It wasn’t one of her artifacts. It must have fallen out of the crates. The pendant was round, rusted, and she could see faint silver strands encircling it. It looked like a sealing. She returned to her station and set the pendant aside on her bench. She would get to it once she was finished with the cup.
The gold cup contained a complex enchantment. She almost had it figured out. She studied the strands. They all braided into one another — green, gold, and red. The red bothered her. She narrowed her eyes and turned the cup in her hands, twisting the strands. It was like picking a lock, wiggling and searching for the right series of actions until…Click! It all fell together. The lock opened and she knew what it was and how it worked. A smile spread across her lips.
“You got it?” Himmel asked.
Elaria jumped. She hadn’t heard him come in, but she grinned up at him. Adrenaline pumped through her.
“The cup has three stra–three settings depending on what you put in it. If you put water in it, one drink and you will not thirst for a week. If you put in milk, you will not hunger for a week. If you put in wine, you will die within a week.”
“Great stuff,” Himmel said. “I’ll never understand how you get it down to the detail.”
Elaria said nothing.
Himmel patted her shoulder. “Let’s test it out. Water or milk?”
Elaria’s eyes widened and she laughed. “Water, please.”
Himmel winked at her and left. Elaria turned back to her bench. The pendant drew her attention. She frowned and picked it up. The silver strands swirled faster. The strands were thin and she could make out something strange about them. They looked like tiny chains. Her brow furrowed as she looked closer and then she saw past the silver chains. It was power, pulsing like a small heartbeat.
A shout rent the air and Elaria jerked up and rushed to the door. Unlocking it, she opened it a crack. White robes. Purifiers! Five of them stood in the Embedment section. She recognized one of them from the group earlier. A Purifier grabbed a girl’s arm, twisting it behind her. The girl’s face was drawn tight with pain and fear.
Himmel hurried over, his face blotchy and red. “What are you doing?”
One of the Purifiers advanced on Himmel, disgust clear on his face. “You have these soulless creatures here.”
Himmel crossed his arms. “I’ve got a license for them to be in Embedments.”
“Yes, for Embedments.”
As though some hidden signal was given, the remaining four Purifiers spread out. Himmel took a step, as though to protest, but the lead Purifier blocked him.
“Now, why don’t you show me your license?”
Himmel nodded. He didn’t look in her direction, but she knew what would happen if they found her. She swallowed and quietly shut the door and locked it. She scanned the room for an escape route. The window! She darted to it. If there were more Purifiers outside, they would see her escaping, but she would have to take her chances. Elaria took a deep breath and pushed the window open. Someone grabbed her from behind, yanking her away from the window.
She started to scream, but a hand clamped over her mouth and she was whirled around. Spring green eyes stared at her from a white heart-shaped face, carrying a wry grin and a sprinkle of freckles. He put a finger to his lips and dropped his hand.
“Korvin. What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Rescuing you.” He brushed at his fringe of strawberry blond hair and winked.
She frowned. “How did you get in here?”
“The same way we’re getting out.” He grabbed her hand and tugged her toward a closet where Himmel kept artifacts he couldn’t sell.
Elaria gave Korvin a quizzical look, but kept quiet. At the door, she could hear the jingle of keys. Korvin pulled her in the closet and shut the door, leading them deeper inside until he stopped at the back wall. He slid open a panel, revealing a crawlspace.
Elaria looked at it and then back at Korvin who simply grinned and mouthed, “Hurry.”
She nodded and ducked into the space. Korvin crawled in after her and slid the panel back into place.
They had to crawl for about half a block before the space widened. Once it did, they ran and didn’t stop until the tunnel ended. Elaria sucked in a breath when they stopped in front of a dead end. Korvin marched past her and pushed against the wall. Another panel opened. They climbed through and found themselves in a small storage room. Korvin took the lead, guiding her outside.
Outside, people milled around, talking excitedly about the Purifiers’ raid. Himmel’s Crafters was only three blocks from where they stood. In the distance, Elaria could see a crowd of people staring at the shop; others carefully took different routes to avoid drawing the inquiring eyes of the Purifiers.
Elaria scanned the area for the best route, when a carriage stopped in front of them. She jerked back in surprise, but Korvin didn’t move. He grimaced as someone pushed open the carriage door.
Her mother, Lady Jenia Corik, sat inside. Dread filled Elaria’s stomach. Jenia didn’t look at her like a worried mother, but with the cold eyes of a woman who was staring down a mistake that she had to live with. It was always like that. On those rare occasions when she wasn’t Jenia, but her mother, it made the cold stare all the worst. What was Korvin thinking bringing her here?
Elaria looked sharply at Korvin, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. He climbed into the carriage and, after a moment, Elaria followed. The carriage stared with a jerk and they rode toward the Corik estate. The silence thickened, nearly choking her.
“This isn’t one of our carriages,” Elaria said.
Her mother’s hand cracked against her cheek.
Elaria’s jaw went slack and she rubbed at her cheek. Jenia raised her hand again and Elaria scrunched back into her seat. Before the blow could land, Korvin grabbed her mother’s wrist.
Jenia glared at him. Korvin paled, but he didn’t let go. Her mother took a deep breath and snatched her hand back. She looked away from them and gazed out the window.
“Sometimes I wonder if I made a mistake with you, Elaria.”
Elaria clenched her jaw. This time she did not break the silence. She stared at her hands, folded in her lap. She still held the pendant.
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