• emoryjglass


Updated: Feb 11


In the Fifth Era of the Paltran Emperors

Late Winter of Year Forty-Three


Winter of Year Forty-Four



The Fortieth Day of Winter, Year Forty-Three of the Fifth Era of Paltran Emperors

AS I LAID on my cot studying the documents a few days later, Pashzak knocked on my open cabin door.

I didn’t look up from the false genesi to ask what he wanted. My real birth fortune was barely understandable as it was. This version verged on incomprehensible. Symbols and star charts and constellations swirled across the page, supposedly telling the tale of my past, present, and future. Apparently, in the mainland, nothing of import was done without consulting the genesi of every involved party. That tradition extended to how well the genesi of a potential member of the Imperial Staff complemented those of the Imperial Family — whether the candidate was an uzņika or not.

“Hungry?” Pashzak asked in Candrish. “Thirsty?”

I ignored him to continue my perusal. He hung on the threshold with his arm against the jamb, staring at me. Unconcerned, I noted that whoever it was who forged the document didn’t even have the decency to keep the date of my birth the same: the twelfth day of Autumn rather than the ninth day of Winter. That would take a while to become accustomed to.

“Lady Dahlia. Do you want something to eat?”

“Please let me be.”

He sighed. “You can’t ignore me forever. I’m the one you’ll report to if you make it into the Imperial Court.”

“And why wouldn’t I?” I snapped.

“I didn’t mean—”

“If it isn’t obvious, I am studying. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to recall so many falsehoods about myself, but Edhidzhanis-eat-my-soul I swear I’ll do it if it means I get to see Artis stuff both of his dirty, rotten feet in his lying mouth.”

“You sound like you need a break.”

“You sound like you cannot take a hint.”

He cocked his head to the side. “May I ask something?”

I drew in a deep breath, sucking in my cheeks so hard my teeth scraped against their insides. “What?”

“How do you imagine your time in Old Brisia will go if we’re already at such odds with one another? I understand that we don’t know each other and I can appreciate that you seem personally offended by the idea of calling me your brother, but that was not my choice any more than it was yours.”

I scowled.

“So. Let’s forget our circumstances for a moment and try to get to know another. Perhaps we’ve just met after one of your performances. I am Pashzak of Kandrisev. I enjoy hunting, tabula, and even a bit of poetry if I’m in the right mood. What about you?”

I straightened my posture, looked at him, and smoothly replied, “I often take long walks upon the seaside’s sandy shores. To travel far and wide is my most pressing, fervid aim; I hope with all my heart to visit Ålsia one day. Good day, Pashzak, and ever am I pleased that we have met.”

“I like beaches, too,” he replied.

I squinted. Upon realizing he wasn’t joking, I scoffed, “Well obviously I’ve never been to a beach.”

“How is that obvious? Surely you uzn’yika have days of rest.”

“We aren’t allowed to leave the launnal until we are uzņika. I haven’t been off the Butterfly House grounds since the day I arrived in Örös.”

“How sad.”

I swallowed the venom inside my mouth.

“It is. Sad. To keep you locked up inside the campus for years, slaving away at perfecting your writing or voice, nothing but a handful of approved visitors to meet with every night. I certainly couldn’t handle it.” He made a doleful face. “I encourage you to try the beach sometime. It may lift some of that darkness from your eyes.”

Bile churned in my stomach as he turned to leave. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, he was right. None of this was his fault any more than it was mine. Besides, I was in no position to refuse friendship. I needed any ally who would have me.

“I’ll have a cup of wine if you’re willing,” I quickly said.

He turned around. “You will?”

I looked down. “Yes.”


While he retrieved the wine, I shoved all the documents off to one side of the cot and smoothed the sheets. When he returned with a small, dark bottle of wine and two stale hemp cakes, I motioned for him to sit beside me. He offered me a cake. When I took a bit, it disintegrated between my teeth, leaving a chalky, dusty taste on my tongue. I choked it down and followed with a sip from the bottle, but the wine tasted like seawater. I handed it back to Pashzak, rubbing my tongue against the roof of my mouth to dissipate the saltiness.

“Where did you grow up?” I asked Pashzak as he took a swing.

He made a face. “That is disgusting. Anyway, Chariv. You wouldn’t recognize the town.”

“Alright, well…” I glanced at the scrolls, then back to him. “How did you meet the Chobortsriya?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“What about Artis?”

“I can’t tell you that, either.”

“What can you tell me, then?” My cheeks flushed. “You’re supposed to be my brother. I’ll have a hard time convincing anyone of that if I know nothing about you.”

“Your big brother Pashzak was also one of Serkun Artis’s nezhdoya made so as a result of his dashing good looks and charming wit — and his unusual inclination for numbers, which he put to use as an apprentice to Serkun Artis’s elderly accountant. You grew up at the launnal; I in Maj Melidi. When I found out my little sister was invited by the Empress herself on account of her wondrous skills, I insisted that it was I who accompanied her during her time there. We have so much to catch up on, but Divine Household above, I could not be more proud of her accomplishments.”

I huffed. “How can I trust you if I don’t know you?”

“I am irrelevant. All you need to know is that I’m here to protect you and keep the wheel of gossip turning.”

A flood of white-hot rage surged through me. I thrust my pointer finger at the door. “Get out. Go.”

“As you wish.” He dusted the crumbs off his tunic and stood. “If you need me, you know where to find me. I do hope your day improves, Lady Dahlia.”

Alone again, I let my head fall into my hands.

Nothing could be worse than this.

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