The palace wavered, but that was nothing new. The columns moving back and forth, tilting one way and then another, was how this place had always been known for. Silver towers adorned with white spires.
It was a very vertical place.
Mai didn’t like it. She didn’t care what other people claimed. It all looked ready to fall over, as if someone was trying to balance a match on its head. This was not the type of place that she wanted to leave her charge, not for any amount of time.
Zlhna’s dark eyes were wide as she stared up at it.
Mai couldn’t protect Zlhna against a building. A building had no blood to stop. A building had no desires. A building would just follow the whims of the earth.
“We aren’t stopping here.”
“Oh, but Mai. We must.”
Unclenching her muscles, Mai followed her mistress into the danger. As she always did.
It was a spectacle to hide the truth of her work.
Zlhna didn’t like to lie. She told her audience it would change their lives and then she would begin. Pulling the threads of power through the air, people believed as she had said. Afterward she would hear how they would never forget the image of something they could barely see being pulled into a different form, one indescribable to most.
That was not what Zlhna truly meant.
She was a seamstress and she did not bring her own material with her. She pulled the magic from the very existence of their location and turned it into something beautiful. That was not what she meant. She turned it into something better.
Not everyone thought it was better.
Yet she had yet to hear that it was bad. She believed it must be done. Zlhna would continue to do it. Because she believed it must be done.
Because Mai believed in her.
Mai glanced over at her charge. She had been awake the entire time, but Zlhna should have been sleeping. They never had much time to stay in one place and get any restful sleep and Zlhna needed all of the rest she could get. “You should get some sleep, mistress.”
“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?”
How come we never have these conversations in the daylight? Mai wondered. “How could it be wrong?”
“If it were so right, would I need you to protect me?”
Mai did everything in her power not to snort. Sometimes it was easy to forget how young Zlhna still was. She stood up from the chair she had been resting her legs in and placed herself on the edge of Zlhna’s cot. “If everyone knew what was right, then there wouldn’t be problems in the first place.”
“I suppose so.”
She placed her hand on Zlhna’s head, stroking back her long black curls. “Someone must, mistress, and only you are able. What truly troubles you?”
Zlhna bit her lower lip. “I… wondered if you’d be doing something else, if not for this.”
That was what really troubled her? Mai kept down a laugh. “Probably something worse, I assure you. Now. Get some sleep while you can, mistress. We will be moving on tomorrow.”
Nodding, Zlhna settled herself back on the pillow. “Thank you, Mai.”
And while it wasn’t the best position in the room, Mai merely shifted her perspective and kept watch there for the rest of the night.
Mai stood still besides Zlhna’s chair as the woman wove her magic. The audience watched in awe and that was who Mai watched – the watchers. Those hovering close all had the same look of wonder on their faces. Mai wasn’t as worried about them. She recognized the complete banality that they represented.
Zlhna smoothed out the magic as though it were fabric and began to cut out the shapes she desired. Mai had seen this so many times, she could narrate it without looking. Which was what was necessary, because it meant she knew when, if anyone, would strike.
There were not many standing at the peripherals and they all appeared to be there because they had been late or shoved out from the main crowd. Zlhna’s eyes aimed up under her upper eyelid, showing the whites of her eyes. All she had awareness of was her fingers.
Mai caught sight of the assassin when Zlhna’s eyes narrowed further. This was the moment.
Mai shifted her stance barely and bit the side of her tongue until she tasted the blood begin to flow. She felt it flow through her veins. Staring directly at the attempted assassin, she shifted her arms as though she were about to move, just to get his attention. It worked. He met her eyes and she had him.
She stopped his blood. He crumpled to the ground.
Satisfied, Mai swallowed her blood and waited for Zlhna to finish her magic.