Umi closed his eyes and imagined in the thick, dreaming aroma of Shiori’s room both of them were in their childhood again. He imagined he didn’t have to worry about who didn’t (or did) want touching him. He imagined someone would wake him, in the morning, and tell him what he should do. He imagined they would tell him how to be happy.
The discovery of Saikasu had been an accident. A seasonal priestess on her way to Bhin, sailing on the mapped way she’d used for a decade—Lotus, Queen’s Tattoo, Threecorn—found her route interrupted by a body in the stars she’d never seen before.
"I told you, I'm not a priestess." Shardae shot up, every bone in her fist pronounced black and rattling with dark magic. Arsemia dissipated lazily into ashes, eddying outwards.
Workers hauled ashore cages of feathered game and trunks of malachite ore, lined in synchronized, silent pairs.
The bushes overflowed with every shade of color, but in particular crimson. It was Shiori’s favorite color, and arrogant red flowers spilled over the blues, purples, and pinks. The other woman servants grumbled about it to each other every now and again--that many in the same soil, they shouldn’t grow like that.
Umi folded the summer curtains while Shiori sat watching. The winter drapes were long overdue; the windowpanes were gray with fog in the morning and had been every morning since Umi had arrived.
The yard behind the atrium was empty of the harem children and their carers. Only half of the parakeet cages swung outside, empty of birds. The only noise between the evening gusts was their metal hooks, clicking and creaking on their lines. A single white-robed woman stood in the yard’s center, standing on a block to pull the cages down.
“Ain't that the truth. So you’re training the patriarch’s boy, now?” Hanif wrestled playfully with his son's grip. “That’s a damned honor. Damned waste, too, if you ask me. Like five cats in one dog, that young man is. Think you’d be willing to give this little beast of wrath some lessons?”
Shardae kept her mouth shut. If she said Siskin, they would surely send her back. A life of holy discipline must be better than slavery, but somehow Shardae still felt like she hadn’t run far enough.
Why the sixteenth patriarch of Regnor had invited him to his residence was still unclear to Umi.