Home > Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra #1)

Cast in Shadow (Chronicles of Elantra #1)
Michelle Sagara

CHAPTER 1

Black circles under the eyes were not, Kaylin decided, a very attractive statement. Neither was hair matted with old sweat, or eyes red with lack of sleep. She accepted the fact that on this particular morning, mirrors were not going to be her friend. Luckily, she didn’t have many of them in the small quarters she called home. She got out of bed slowly, studiously avoided the short hall that led from her bolted doors to the kitchen, the closets and the large space she lived in otherwise, and lifted clothing from beneath a rumpled pile, examining it carefully.

It sort of looked clean.

She pulled the linen tunic over her head, cursed as her hair caught in the strings that secured it and yanked, hard. Shadows fell over the ledge of her single window, stretching across the floor at an ominous angle. She was going to be late. Again.

Pants were less tricky; she only had a few, and chose the black leather ones. They were, at the moment, the only ones she owned that weren’t cut, torn or bloody.

She’d have to ask Iron Jaw for a better clothing allowance. Or more time to spend the pittance she did have.

The mirror in the hall began to glow, and she cursed under her breath. She’d clearly have to ask him on a different morning.

“Coming,” she muttered.

The mirror flashed, light hanging in the room like an extended, time-slowed bolt of lightning. Iron Jaw was in a lousy mood, and it wasn’t even lunch. He hated to use the mirrors.

She buttoned up her pants, pulled on her boots and sidled her way toward the mirror, hoping that the light was the effect of lack of sleep. Not much hope there, really.

“Kaylin, where the hell have you been?”

No, the mirror this morning was definitely not her friend. She pulled her hair up, curled it in a tight bun and shoved the nearest stick she could find through its center. Then she picked up the belt on the table just to the left of that mirror and donned it, adjusting dagger hilts so they didn’t butt against her lower ribs.

“Kaylin Neya, you’d better answer soon. I know you’re there.”

Putting on her best we-both-know-it’s-fake smile, she walked over to the mirror and said, sweetly, “Good morning, Marcus.”

He growled.

Not a particularly encouraging sign, given that Marcus was Leontine, and had a bad habit of ripping the throats out of people who were stupid enough to annoy him. His lower fangs were in evidence as he snarled. But his eyes, cat eyes, were wide and unblinking in the golden fur that adorned his face, and his fur was not—yet—standing on end. His hands, however, were behind his back, and his broad chest was adorned with the full flowing robes of the Hawks.

Official dress. In the morning. Gods, she was going to be in trouble.

“Morning was two hours ago,” he snapped.

“You’re in fancy dress,” she said, changing the subject about as clumsily as she ever did.

“And you look like shit. What the hell were you doing last night?”

“None of your business.”

“Good answer,” he growled. “Why don’t you try it on the Hawklord?”

She groaned. “What day is it?”

“The fourth,” he replied.

Fourth? She counted back, and realized that she’d lost a day. Again. “I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

“Brains,” he snapped. “And survival instinct. The Hawklord’s been waiting for you for three hours.”

“Tell him I’m dead.”

“You will be if you don’t get your ass in here.” He muttered something else, a series of growls that she knew, from experience, meant something disparaging about humans. She let it pass.

“I’ll be there in half an hour.”

“Dressed like that? You’ll be out in thirty-five. On your ass.”

She put her palm on the mirror’s surface, cutting him off and scattering his image. Then she went to her closet and began to really move.

Bathed, cleaned, groomed and in the full dress uniform of the Hawks—which still involved the only intact pants she owned—Kaylin approached the front of the forbidding stone halls ruled by the three Lords of Law: The Lord of Wolves, the Lord of Swords and the Lord of Hawks. At least that’s what they were called on official documents and in polite company, of which Kaylin knew surprisingly little.

The Swords were the city’s peacekeepers, something illsuited to Kaylin; the Wolves were its hunters, and often, its killers. And the Hawks? The city’s eyes. Ears. The people who actually solved crimes.

Then again, she would think that; Kaylin had been a Hawk for the entire time she’d been involved on the right side of the law, and didn’t speak about the years that preceded it much.

By writ of the Emperor of Karaazon, the Halls of Law were the only standing structures allowed to approach the height of the Imperial palace, and the three towers, set against a wide stretch of expensive ground in the shape of a triangle, flew the flags of the Lords of Law: the Hawk, the Wolf and the Sword. From her vantage, they could hardly be seen; she was too close. But from the rest of the city? They never rested.

Neither, she thought, did the people who served them. She was damn tired.

The front doors were always manned, and she recognized Tanner and Clint as they lowered their pole-arms, barring her way. It was the Hawk’s month for guard duty; they shared rotation of that honor with the Swords. The Wolves, lazy bastards, weren’t considered fit for dress duty. Or ritual entries.

She hated ritual.

Clint and Tanner didn’t love it much better than she did.

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