Home > Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(14)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)(14)
Kathryn Purdie

“Stop that at once!” Sestra Mirna ripped my hand from Yuliya’s.

My eyes flew open, and I gasped out a sob from the separation of auras. My wet lashes blurred my vision, but I didn’t need to see to feel the sestra’s fury.

“Leave her be!” she said.

I absorbed her disdain until it transformed into my own shame. Still, I tried to defend myself. “I’m not harming her.”

“Unnatural child!” She flung the accusation in a harsh whisper. Beneath it, I felt her visceral fear of me. “No one should be able to sense the auras of the dead. Your gift is unbridled. You are abnormal.”

“Forgive me,” was all I could say against the sting of her dagger-sharp words. “Please forgive me.”

The sestra’s shoulders fell. Her fear turned to remorse. It paved its way across her weathered face and into the marrow of my bones. “What more could I have done for you?” She sighed, touching my wet cheek. “How was it possible to teach you anything?”

I shook my head. I had no answer for her. And her brief tenderness did nothing to comfort me. It only racked me with more humiliation. “This wasn’t your fault, Sestra Mirna.”

She dropped her hand. What “this” meant, we both knew—the deaths of twenty-three Auraseers, those whom the sestras deemed holy, blessed by the goddess Feya, even if the empire saw us as nothing more than a race of slaves.

Just as I saw tears glisten in her eyes, Sestra Mirna turned away from me and lifted her chin. “You must listen to me now, once more. It is imperative you strive to perform your duty to your utmost ability. If not, Sonya, you will have the blood of more Auraseers on your hands.”

Her warning grounded me with resolve, as well as a resounding chord of foreboding. She spoke of Dasha and Tola. We both understood what would become of the little girls she kept under her wing if I failed the emperor. If he executed me as he did Izolda.

“I promise,” I said.

And now as I waited for the troika, I said it again, though Sestra Mirna couldn’t hear me from where she stood at the edge of the road with Dasha and Tola, the snow swirling about their faces. Dasha lifted her little hand in a wave and gave me a delicate smile. That she, the youngest of the three, should try to comfort me in this moment nearly broke me—she whom I was abandoning, whose life I was leaving in shambles.

I wiggled my fingers back at her and forced myself to return her smile. My vow was as much for Dasha and Tola as it was for Yuliya. I would be the best Auraseer I could be. And if that meant guarding the emperor with my gift—guarding the dynasty of rulers whose law brought me the life I had known, a life torn from my family and sent into hiding with the Romska, measures that had all been for nothing—then I would do it.

I’d taken Yuliya’s wooden statue of the goddess Feya from the infirmary windowsill and tucked it into the pillow slip that now served as my traveling bag. The idol would be a constant reminder of my promise.

As Anton guided the troika from the stables, my knees wobbled. Did I feel the fatigue of the three horses, whose rest from their initial journey hadn’t been sufficient, or was the weariness my own? Did it mark the resignation I would feel until my dying breath? I touched the black ribbon I had tied around my wrist, my emblem of mourning.

The twilight deepened. A gust of frosty air blasted through the thin gray dress I wore. It was nothing more than a laundered gown meant for the sick when they breached their next level of wellness. It was a dress meant for Yuliya. I should have left it behind for her to be buried in, but Sestra Mirna insisted I wear it into Torchev. It was the best the convent could offer. All the other clothes or trinkets in my possession had, of course, been burned.

My gaze drifted to the remnants of the east wing, where I hadn’t dared to go and say good-bye, where the bones of the dead Auraseers surely lay huddled together in some terrible dying embrace. Nadia was somewhere in there. She should have been taking this journey to Torchev, not I. As I scanned the fallen east wing one last time, I searched myself for some fragment of gratification that the once-senior Auraseer was gone, but all I found was my own self-loathing.

The troika pulled alongside me. Anton glanced over the blankets wrapped around my shoulders in lieu of a coat. The frigid air cast a pink tinge across his aristocratic nose and sculpted cheekbones. I shivered for him. “Don’t you have any furs?” he asked.

“I never wear furs.” I closed my heart off from the note of concern in his voice. I would not allow myself to think the prince capable of any small kindness. I would go with him, I would serve his brother, but he would not now, nor ever, be my friend. He represented the empire, whether or not he wore its crown.

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