Flamecaster (Shattered Realms, #1)(7)
Written By: Cinda Williams Chima
The gods, it seemed, were occupied elsewhere.
Adrian was no use in a fight, and he was no use as a healer. He was no use to anyone. He couldn’t bear the thought of facing his mother and sister and telling them what had happened. How could he live in a world that claimed the good and left the bad alone?
He lifted the serpent amulet from around his father’s neck and hung it around his own. He didn’t much care where he went, as long as it was away from there. So he ran, limping badly, until he lost himself in the tangle of streets.
The day Jenna’s friend Riley died began as they all did—at three in the morning with the long, bone-jarring ride up the mountain to the mine. It was sleeting when Jenna trudged up the hill to the pickup place, so she was shivering and soaked through by the time she got there. The wagon was waiting, the horses steaming and stomping in the cold, the driver yelling at her to hurry up, he didn’t want to get fined for being late.
Jenna shook off the ice as best she could and climbed in, squeezing in next to Riley as the wagon lurched into motion. She always sat next to Riley if there was room, with little Maggi on her other side. He’d put his arm around their shoulders, their bodies pressed tight together. That way, they’d all three stay warm, and she could sleep, which made the workday seem shorter.
On the way home, if they could stay awake, she and Riley would talk about what they wanted to be when they grew up, even though Riley was fifteen and already grown, and Jenna twelve and nearly grown. They’d made a pact that they would get out of the mines one day.
Today, Riley had this smug look on his face, like he was hiding a great big secret. As soon as Jenna got settled, he draped a bright-red cloak over the two of them, pulling it up over their heads to keep off the sleet.
The cloak smelled of wet sheep, and it was scratchy, but it was big enough to cover them both, even leaving a corner for Maggi, and it was rum warm. Jenna fingered the wool, snuggling down inside it. “Riley! Where’d you get such a fine cloak?”
“There was an explosion at the ironworks two days ago, and three of the colliers was killed. So the foreman, he give me one of their cloaks.”
“You got a cloak off a dead man?” Jenna stared at him, horrified.
Riley shrugged. “He won’t be needing it.”
“But . . . but that’s bad luck,” Jenna said. “Everybody knows that.”
“Me, I think it’s good luck, ’cause we’re warmer for it. Also ’cause it’s like a cave to hide in.” He leaned close, his lashy brown eyes meeting hers. She knew he wanted to kiss her—he’d done it before—but was a little shy, with Maggi there. Jenna pulled his head down toward hers, and he kissed her on the lips.
Her cheeks burned, but she felt a pleasant tingle deep in her belly. She didn’t know what to say, so she changed the subject. “I have a surprise for you, too.” She patted her lunch bucket. “In here.”
He eyed the bucket. “If I guess, will you tell me?”
“It’s a meat pie. Isn’t it?” Riley was big and strong and he always seemed to be hungry. Jenna ate better than most because her father owned a tavern. She’d brought Riley a meat pie once before.
Maggi overheard. “A meat pie! Can I have a bite?” Maggi was probably seven years old, scrawny as a baby bird. She was an orphan, so she was always hungry, too. There were lots of hungry orphans in town, though lots had died. If Jenna’d had a sister, she would want her to be just like Maggi. Except better fed and living somewhere other than Delphi.
Jenna shook her head. “Sorry, Maggi. It’s not a meat pie. It’s a book.”
“A book?” Riley looked away and cleared his throat. “But you know I can’t read. I’m fixing to learn, but—”
“I’ll teach you,” Jenna said. “I’ll read it to you on the way home.”
“You will?” Riley’s eyes widened.
“Can I listen, too?” Maggi said. “You tell the best stories.”
Jenna nodded. “You can listen. And here.” Digging in her pocket, she pulled out a small, wrinkled apple and handed it to Maggi. “I found this on my way up to the ride. You can eat it now or save it for the midday.”
Maggi had already bitten into it. She knew better than to save things for later. The juice ran down her chin, making trails in the dirt on her face. Once she’d finished the apple, she tossed the core and snuggled down to sleep, her head in Jenna’s lap. Jenna stroked her hair, working out some of the tangles.
“Most of my stories come from books,” Jenna said to Riley. “I used to read all the time before I went into the mines. My da taught me how. I liked to pretend I was one of the characters.”
Riley wrapped their cloak tighter to keep out the wet and looked over the packed-in bodies around them. He blotted rain from the end of his nose with his sleeve. Riley was usually a cheerful sort, but on this morning he seemed a little downcast. Maybe because the bosses were working him harder than anybody else. “If I was a character in a book, I’d want to be in a different story.”
“You will be,” Jenna said, leaning closer so she could speak into his ear. “You can be in my story.” And then, for reasons she couldn’t explain, she leaned toward him and shared the secret she’d kept forever. “See, I’m magemarked.”