Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)

Burning Glass (Burning Glass #1)

Kathryn Purdie





DEDICATION


FOR JASON,

who always said I could

and that I would





CHAPTER ONE


I CLUTCHED THE CARVED FIGURINE OF THE GODDESS UNTIL A splinter of wood bit my finger. The sting was only a fraction of the pain I felt—pain that wasn’t entirely my own. “You shouldn’t be letting her bleed.”

Sestra Mirna startled, whirling around with wide eyes. When she saw it was only me, her face settled back into its complex array of sags and wrinkles. “Sonya, what are you doing here?” She pressed a bandage to the crook of Yuliya’s arm. “Novices aren’t allowed near the diseased.”

Ignoring her, I crept farther into the convent infirmary.

I breathed through my mouth to avoid the stench of sickness in the air, lifted the hem of my nightgown, and tiptoed around the blood spatter on the floor. Despite the coldness in the rest of my body, the heat from the fireplace stung my eyes, and the tiles near the hearth baked the soles of my feet.

I pulled my shawl closer across my chest and peered around Sestra Mirna. A notched porcelain bowl rested on Yuliya’s bedside table. Blood skimmed its highest measurement line. My friend’s eyes were closed and her ginger hair lay plastered against her bone-white face. I swallowed. “There must be another way to treat her. She doesn’t have any more blood to lose. Have you seen her legs? She cuts herself.” I winced as the figurine’s splinter dug deeper past my skin.

“It’s her emotional release,” Sestra Mirna said, and rubbed her brow with the back of her hand to avoid her stained fingers. She wasn’t careful enough. A smear of blood marred the kerchief tying her gray hair away from her face. “You would do well to find one, too.” Harsh lines formed between her brows. “Perhaps then you would be able to refrain from sneaking into forbidden wings in the dead of night.”

I pinched my lips and curled my toes, fighting to keep my frustration at bay. I wanted self-control without cutting myself like Yuliya, pulling the hair from my head like Dasha, or weeping night and day like Kira. Besides, my frustration wasn’t solely my own. I must be allowing Sestra Mirna’s emotions to nest inside of me.

“I came to give Yuliya this.” I held out the figurine of Feya while keeping my shawl together with one hand against the chill. My time with the Romska had dispelled any religious notions I’d had, but Yuliya was even more devout than the sestras of the convent. I hoped seeing the goddess of prophecy and Auraseers nearby would give her strength to recover from the ague.

As I watched the faint rise and fall of her chest, I bit my trembling lip. The rattle of her breath was too soft, her pulse too slow.

The truth was, I needed Yuliya to be better. I couldn’t endure this place without a friend, without someone to make me smile and tell me stories into the long hours of the night.

Sestra Mirna took the figurine, and the lines on her face softened, changing pattern. The frustration inside me also faded, though I grew colder as she reached up to set the goddess on the frost-rimmed windowsill, all the while keeping her hold on Yuliya’s bandage. Outside, the snowfall kept its steady torrent.

My stomach rumbled. Sestra Mirna must be famished. When had she last allowed herself a meal or a moment’s rest? Little Dasha and Kira, fast asleep in their beds on the other side of the room, had regained some of the color in their skin, and many of our peers had been excused from the sick wing after recovering from the epidemic. But Yuliya kept declining.

When Sestra Mirna began murmuring prayers to the goddess, I took advantage of her eased guard and sat beside Yuliya, my dark-blond braid falling over my shoulder. If my hair were any longer, it would have brushed her bloodied arm.

My gaze traveled to her lifeless hand. Did I dare touch it? Sestra Mirna would make me leave at once if I so much as whimpered with Yuliya’s pain. Still, I wished to give my friend my vitality, even if such a thing wasn’t possible, even for an Auraseer. All we were good for was divining what others felt. An agonizing way to live and a pitiful existence. Being born with the gift meant becoming the property of the Riaznin Empire and being trained in this convent for one purpose only—to protect the emperor. Most girls involuntarily revealed their ability when they were old enough to learn their letters but too young to control their feelings. Evading the empire until the age of seventeen was unheard of until eight months ago when the bounty hunters had brought me through the convent’s doors.

“I’ve brought you your idol,” I whispered to Yuliya. Halfheartedly, I waited for her eyes to open. Once we’d played at trading the color of our irises, her sapphire blue for my hazel. “I’ll give you mine,” she had said. Yuliya was the only girl at the convent who dared to befriend me. “The girl raised by gypsies,” the others would whisper when they thought the stone walls of the corridors wouldn’t carry their voices. Little did those Auraseers know, Yuliya and I would sneak into their rooms at night and guess at the dreams they were having.

Our games taught me more about my ability than any of the sestras’ fruitless exercises for separating what I felt from what everyone else did. At least Yuliya believed in me. She had a way of making me feel her equal, despite being two years older. Even if she outlived the other Auraseers and became guardian to the emperor herself, I trusted I could always depend on her genuine friendship. That was why she needed to live, why I ached to give her some means of healing, instead of a lump of wood depicting a nonexistent and powerless goddess.

“You’re trembling.” Sestra Mirna’s attention returned to me, her wrinkles twisted with the shape of worry.

I shrugged a shoulder. That strange and still-present hunger gnawed inside me. “Yuliya must be cold.”

The sestra’s wrinkles deepened. “Yuliya has a fever.”

“Then you must be cold,” I said while she felt my brow.

She was no Auraseer, but her sharp gaze seemed to look through me.

Unease prickled the downy hairs of my arm. “I am cold?” I didn’t mean for my voice to sound small or my words to be a question. Because I was more than cold. Deep in the pit of my stomach, an unknown something was forming and clawing its way through the rest of me. Worse than hunger, it made my hands clench with urgency, my jaw lock with an angry need, my eyes mist over with helpless desperation.

“This room is a furnace, child.” Sestra Mirna frowned. “And your skin is like ice.” Her wrinkles crisscrossed into fear. I felt fear, too, its force thudding my heart against my rib cage.

“Am I ill?” Perhaps she was right; I shouldn’t have come to the infirmary. But I’d had the ague last winter at the Romska camp, so I thought myself immune.

She stood and released the pressure from Yuliya’s arm. “Hold this,” she commanded.

For a brief moment, I hesitated, watching the blood pool from my friend’s inner elbow. Then I inhaled, squared my shoulders, and pressed the flat of my palm to Yuliya’s bandage.

At once my muscles cramped, my spine rounded, my breath spilled out in a ragged gasp. A weak but determined longing seeded in my chest. A fight to live. Pure and simple.

Sestra Mirna squinted out the window. Warm light danced across her face. I mistook it for the glow of the candle bouncing its reflection off the glass. Until the sestra’s weathered lips parted in horror. “Feya, protect us,” she whispered, and made the sign of the goddess by touching two fingers to her forehead, then her heart. “They have come.”

Her fear—my fear—perhaps both our fear—collided.

“Who?” I angled my position in an effort to see what she could. “What is happening?”

When she didn’t answer, my trembling doubled and the yearning in my belly grew teeth. I needed to eat. Now. Something. Anything.

I slackened my hold on Yuliya’s arm. Blood trickled between my fingers. It almost looked the color of wine. Staring in fascination, in desire, I raised my hand near my mouth to smell it.

Basil burst into the room. The old man bent over, hands on knees, panting to catch his breath.

I blinked at the blood and wiped it off onto my nightgown.

“Peasants . . . at the gates,” he managed to say between rasps. His bald head gleamed with a sheen of sweat. “A mob—no, more like an army—of them.”

I took a step to the window, but caught myself as I remembered Yuliya’s arm. “What do they want?”

Sestra Mirna’s shriveled lips pressed into a flat line. “What they always do when they bring torches and every sharp implement they farm with—our food.” She looked back at me, her gaze skimming me over. “Let me guess, you’re not only cold now?”

In response, my stomach emitted a vicious growl.

Her eyes narrowed on my mouth. “What is that?” She stepped closer. “Did you taste blood?”

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