Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(11)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(11)
Kathryn Purdie

“Sonya?” Sestra Mirna gasped. She moved past him to me, her eyes so wide the whites showed above her irises. “Praise the gods, you’re alive!” She embraced me, something she had never done before. My arms hung stiffly at my sides, not because I wasn’t touched by her sentiment, but it gnawed away at me with shame. How would she react when she knew what I’d done? As she held me closer with trembling arms, I glanced past her to Anton, who observed us with interest. My hands balled into fists. He would not take Yuliya. Somehow I’d help her escape. We would find the Romska, be free.

“How did you ever survive, child?” Sestra Mirna pulled back and cupped my face. “When Basil locked everyone in the east wing, I assumed . . .” Her words drifted away as she waited for my explanation.

“I . . .” My thoughts warred between saving Yuliya—my priority—and justifying myself. “I was never locked in the east wing. Basil . . . he . . .” My throat grew thick with emotion. My gaze flitted to the library’s empty fireplace. Would no one in this convent dare to kindle a fire again?

“Yes? Where is he?” Sestra Mirna swallowed. The foreboding she felt, belying the hope in her voice, pounded through my body like a death toll.

“Basil died in the fire,” I said softly, slowly, unable to look away from her, though I wanted to. “A—a peasant man died, as well.”

The walls of the library seemed to shrink in as the sestra contemplated me, piecing together what I did say with what I didn’t. The ash-choked air grew thinner, my legs weaker. She took two steps back, shock and horror and profound disappointment etched across her wrinkled face. Only then did I notice her nursing apron and kerchief. They were stained with more blood . . . too much blood.

I forced a ragged breath. Turned my attention to the prince. And drew back my shoulders to feign strength. “Yuliya is unwell. She cannot serve the emperor.” She is only unwell, she is only unwell.

“Yuliya is dead,” the sestra said flatly.

The air siphoned from my lungs. I gripped a chair for support and waited for the prince, the sestra—anyone—to contradict the words she’d just spoken. My tongue was a foreign object in my mouth. I couldn’t make it form words. All I could do was point an accusing finger at the abundance of red on Sestra Mirna’s apron. She did this. She bled Yuliya to death.

“The blood-letting worked,” she said, her voice still emotionless. “Yuliya’s fever broke. Then when the convent started burning and the flames barricaded me from assisting those in the east wing, Yuliya could no longer endure the suffering she felt from so many. She took a knife to her leg and”—she briefly looked down before returning her detached gaze—“she hit a large artery. The blood came too fast. She was gone within minutes.”

Every word she spoke came like a blow to my gut. I had done this, not she. I had locked the Auraseers away. Let the peasant man in. Allowed his insanity to overtake me. Allowed it to start a fire that burned everything, harmed everyone. Killed them. Killed my best friend.

I needed to sit. No, I had to stand. Pace. Leave. See Yuliya for myself. But my legs were made of lead. My heart was heavier. Because how could a person with any feeling do what I had done?

“Pardon me, but . . .”

Distractedly, my eyes wandered to Prince Anton, who had just spoken. He darted his gaze between the sestra and me, clearly uncomfortable with what he’d just witnessed between us. I could only imagine his discomfort if he knew what the sestra did—that I was guilty. He merely understood another Auraseer had died. What was she to him among so many who’d perished at this convent?

“That is to say,” the prince continued, “I’m very sorry for your losses. However—”

“You do not care about us or our losses,” I snapped, ignoring the prickling sense of fresh sorrow within me. It couldn’t possibly be coming from him. “You think only of your own.” I referred to the death of his mother, another monarch who surely didn’t mind that the Auraseers of her empire were herded like cattle and given a life akin to slavery.

Anton’s distinguished brows slid together until they almost touched, and his brown eyes hardened into stone. “You have my sympathy,” he said, “whether you choose to believe me or not isn’t my concern. I will not express it again.”

I clenched my teeth. Let him be angry. Anger was useful. I could leech onto it, let it blind me to far more painful emotions—to the image of Yuliya’s face, pasty and drained of life. To the terror she must have felt in her last living moments.

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