Truce and Trust | An Inheritance Proclamation Story

The world outside Kat’s window was covered in white. She drew her blanket closer around herself, pretending it offered more warmth than it really did, and peered at the academy grounds until she felt her eyes stinging from the need to blink.

At home, she would have been burrowed under her favorite blankets near the fire and watching the wind dust snow from the trees. She’d try to pick out her parents’ footprints where they had already ventured outside, and think of ways to convince them to let her join them.

Or she would have done so a long time ago. Now she was much too old for playing in the snow.

She tucked the curtain back over her window to keep out the chill, went to her wardrobe, and dressed for the day in the warm layers of her winter uniform. The fabrics were cold against her skin.

After combing and braiding her hair, Kat tidied her small room, returned her blanket to the bed, and grabbed her heavy black cloak from its hook on the back of her door.

Nothing to do now but face the cold if she wanted something to eat.

The dormitory corridor was quiet, so she took the stairs slowly. In the sitting room downstairs, a fire was already going, but she didn’t linger in its warmth.

The sharp air ached in her lungs as she breathed it in and started across the snow toward the dining hall. Already she could make out the places where others had walked—trails from the dormitories to the dining hall, and other steps leading to or from the mentor residences and the main hall. She’d never been in the mentors’ dormitories, but she imagined they were much nicer than hers.

By the time she reached the dining hall, the heat from the large fireplace almost hurt. The tables were already crowded for the morning meal. Some students sat in clusters close to the fire talking; others silent; and others seated alone. Not a single one was Ed.

Kat acquired her food and drink and found an empty seat at a table a little farther from the fire. Wisps of steam rose from the bowl and mug in front of her. Some thick concoction of berries and clumps of cooked dough filled the bowl; it tasted a little tart but the heat of it warmed her insides with each mouthful. The peppermint tea in her mug cooled too quickly, but it reminded her of the candies her mother used to make.

She used to send those candies back to the academy with Kat when the students were still allowed to go home to visit. All Kat had now were her letters, and she wasn’t foolish enough to dismiss the truth that the replies from her mother and sister were growing shorter and rarer.

How many others were still writing letters home? How many still received any sort of reply?

Ed did neither of those things—and never seemed to mind it. He’d teased her endlessly about her own letters over the years, and at some point the teasing, she suspected, had become less about teasing and more about distracting her from the lack of letters. Not that he’d ever admit to it, of course.

When she finished her meal, Kat braced herself for the sharp air and ducked through the doors—

Damp cold burst between her shoulders.

A few heartbeats passed before she could regain her stolen breath.

Laughter gave Ed away.

Kat shook her cloak to get rid of some of the snow, and continued down the last step as Ed backed away.

He’d always been just a bit taller than she was, but over the past few months he’d gotten more than a little taller. She was always having to look up at him now, and keeping up with him when he ran was almost a laughable thing.

So instead of chasing, she gathered snow in her hands, packed it as tightly as she could, and gave it a hard throw across the distance between them.

The snowball turned to powder as it grazed the side of his right boot and set him just a little off balance. He recovered with surprising grace, and whirled around to look at her. She started toward him through the slushy trail of others’ steps.

“Truce?” he asked.

Kat kicked some of the snow at him and it disappeared in a puff of powder without really touching him.

“I’ll take that as a no.” He was wearing his own cloak that was identical to hers, though she could tell it was much shorter than it had been in the early months of spring. The hood had fallen back; his black hair was a mess of waves and curls around his head, and his cheeks were flushed from the cold.

“You started it.”

“In my defense, I thought you’d find it humorous too.”

She rolled her eyes and adjusted her own cloak’s hood. “Heard from Bayor this morning?”

“Not a word. Saw most of the mentors heading into the main hall on my way to breakfast though.” Ed started walking away from the buildings and toward the open area where the archery targets stood. Neither of them had their weaponry, but the walk was habit.

“Do you think…”

“No, I don’t.” He sounded so sure of the words, and it was a moment before he cleared his throat and lowered his voice to explain. “I mean, we’re not seventeen yet.”

He was saying it to comfort her, and she appreciated the effort.

“Maybe something changed.”

They completed the circle of the archery field, and made their way back to the buildings. They passed the girls’ dormitory, and Kat tried to pretend she didn’t notice the curious glances at Ed. There had been more looks like that lately, and though she was sure he noticed them, he never said anything.

He was far too focused on the future for any of those glances to need his attention, wasn’t he?



“Everything all right? You’re frowning.”

She was grateful her face was already flushed from the cold and that he wouldn’t be able to tell she was blushing. “Just thinking about things.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Absolutely not. There was nothing to talk about, and he’d only tease her if she said anything about his admirers.

They were moving away from the buildings now, wandering in the direction of the woods.

“We should wait for Bayor,” Kat said absently.

“Why? So he can tell us to stay inside all day? If there was anything important for us to do, he’d have told us by now. Anyway, if he needs us, he knows where to look.”

That was probably true…

“Race you to the bridge,” she said, setting off in a run before she’d even finished saying the words.

The bridge hadn’t really been a bridge for some time—only the moss-covered stones that had once been there still stood, remnants from when this land had been home to a small village, before the academy had claimed it.

Kat had reached the bridge first, though a few close calls on uncertain ground had made her regret the game, and now she and Ed stood catching their breath. The only other tracks beside their own were those of birds and small game, which created delicate, scattered patterns among the trees. Another reminder of just how still the day felt.

She didn’t trust the stillness.

“Did it snow often in Losrian?” She found herself asking the question before she’d considered it fully. She was used to talking about her past, the way things had been before training, but Ed was always quieter on the subject of his history.

“Often enough,” he replied. “Ma never cared for it.”

If he spoke little of the past, he spoke even less of her. Though he’d never told Kat everything, she knew his mother had died before he’d been brought here, and that it had only been the two of them in Losrian.

“And you?”

“Snow’s not so bad here.” He took a few steps forward and followed the slope down to the carved-out space that had once been a creek that ran under the bridge. These days it was mostly just the stones, dirt, and dead leaves, and today all of that lay hidden under the snow.

Kat followed, her steps careful as she sought out the less-steep places, and slid the last couple of feet. She shook away some of the snow from her clothes.

Ed was staring into the distance, his head tilted. Listening.

The only sounds Kat heard were the distant chirps of a bird, and her and Ed’s breaths as they misted before them in the cold.

Just as quietly, she knelt to pick up a handful of snow. No effort to pack it into a shape. She just dropped it on the back of Ed’s neck.

Kat—” More yelp than word, but there was laughter underneath it.

“It’s only fair,” she said, backing away from him as fast as she dared. “You’re the one who started it.”

“I thought we had a truce.” Ed batted at the snow lingering on his collar.

“Well, now we do. We’re matched.”

The grin he wore spoke of mischief, and Kat looked for escape. She could try climbing the slope, but then he’d catch her the first moment she slipped—

Her hesitation earned her a burst of snow across her face. “Ed!”

And then everything was a spray of powdery snow between them. Kat gave up the attempt to make proper snowballs and threw handfuls of snow at him whenever he got near enough. Ed’s method of attack wasn’t much different.

The once-pristine snow beneath them was now darkened and messy from their steps and mud seeping through, leaving trails where they’d circled each other.

Kat’s hands ached inside her gloves from the cold, and she lifted them in surrender.

“I’m not sure I trust you,” Ed said, one hand full of snow.

“I’ve no weapons. Wouldn’t be a fair fight.”

He glanced at her feet, where the snow was too trampled to be much good for an attempt to kick it at him. Slowly, he emptied the snow from his hand. “Truce?

“T—truce.” Kat held out her hand and Ed shook it. “Do you think they’ve noticed we’re gone yet?”

“If it mattered they’d have come looking.”

“Maybe we should be getting back soon anyway…” Kat started for the slope.

As expected, it was a harder climb up than down, and she felt the soft ground give under her footing.

“Whoa there…” Ed’s voice was just behind her.

She tried to right herself, to gain purchase and grab something to hold onto, but her boots kept sliding, and then she was slipping—

She could feel Ed attempt to catch her, but now they were both falling, twisting, landing half in the creek bed and half on the slope, with cold seeping into their clothes.

“Blast it,” Ed muttered. He still had one arm around her, pinned in place as he tried to untangle himself from their cloaks.

“Are you okay?” Kat pushed up from the ground. Her hands sank into the snow, but she’d managed to stop sliding toward the slush below.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Ed was mostly on the slope, half-crouched there as he tried to find his footing again. “You don’t play fair.”

“What—you think I made us fall on purpose?”

“Wouldn’t put it past you.” He was grinning again though, his gray eyes sharp against the brightness of the snow.

Kat rolled her eyes and moved closer to the bottom of the slope and found her footing, then attempted to dust some of the debris from her clothes. She held out her hand to him. “Call it even again?”

Ed eyed her offered hand before taking it, and she braced herself, half-expecting him to pull her back onto the ground with him.

He didn’t, but his first step off the slope was an uncertain one, and he slid more than stepped toward her.

“We should be getting back soon,” she said. “They won’t let us in the dining hall for the midday meal in this state.”

“Right,” Ed said slowly. He was still looking at her as if considering saying something. But he didn’t, and instead was the first to start moving, this time toward the bridge.

Kat watched him, and followed his lead as he found a better place to climb up. The tracks from their previous race were easy to spot among the tree roots, and they fell into step beside each other as they followed them back to the academy.

Not that they needed them to follow at all. They’d been making this walk nearly every day for almost nine years. But, as Bayor liked to tell them, one could never be too careful when wandering, especially in the cold.

They neared the edge of the woods, but Ed stopped suddenly and pulled her behind a cluster of close-set trees.

“What is it?” Kat whispered.

“A messenger, I think.”

Messengers were a common enough occurrence at the academy, but the arrival and departure of one always drew attention. Often, there would be some meeting called in the dining hall, or some apprentice or mentor would be called to the main hall to meet with the Heads, and then rumors would travel the academy in whispers.

Kat and Ed stayed in their hiding place, peering out just enough to watch the messenger pick their way through the woods. They were leaving the grounds, not traveling toward them.

“Wonder what the message was,” Kat ventured, when the messenger was well out of sight.

“Who knows. Best not to worry about it unless Bayor tells us to.”

But as they walked on in silence, Kat couldn’t shake the feeling of having lost her footing again somehow. Maybe it was just the cold making her feel strange. After all, the air was sharp and her clothes were still damp in places from snow melting into the cloth.

Little had changed since they’d left earlier in the day. A few more trails were cut across the landscape where people had walked among the buildings or wandered off to other parts of the grounds. Most of the trails seemed to head toward the dining hall, where spirals of smoke danced up from the chimneys.

Ed accompanied Kat to her dormitory, sweeping into a half-bow as soon as he realized they were being watched from one of the sitting room windows.

“You shouldn’t do that,” Kat said, trying not to laugh.


“Because it makes you look foolish.”

“Is that what the others think, or just you?” He threw a grin toward the windows and turned away, all ease and good posture and teasing.


Kat stood a moment just inside the door to embrace the warmth coming from the sitting room’s fire, then climbed the stairs to her room. She changed into clean clothes and used some of the hooks on the wall to hang her other clothes to dry. Then she climbed into bed and burrowed under her blankets; the crackle of parchment under her pillow reminded her of the letter she’d tucked there before she’d fallen asleep.

And thinking of the letter made her think of the messenger in the woods.

Messengers came and went often from the academy grounds, trading documents and words with the Heads and sometimes with the mentors. For a time, there had been many letters from and to students with them, but over the years those numbers had lessened. The number of letters arriving for her, though, was rarely equal to the number she sent home.

She’d read this one twice already in the days since it had arrived, and she told herself she wasn’t trying to make it mean more than it said.

Her mother’s handwriting was as neat and even as ever, with flourishes on certain letters or in the way she signed her name. But the tone was short and to the point, answering the questions Kat had asked and offering little else: She and Emmie were doing well; the arrival of winter was keeping everyone busy with preparations; there was nothing of consequence to tell.

The letter was not a comfort, but Kat couldn’t help wanting it to be.

As a child, she’d been close to her parents and sister, and when her father had died, she’d noticed a weariness in her mother that never seemed to completely fade. Sometimes, there had been moments where the burden seemed to lessen, but those moments were sparse. Now, with the distance between them, letters and visits hadn’t been enough to keep her mother and sister from feeling like strangers. Or rather, Kat felt she was the stranger. She was the one on the outside.

And there was little, if anything, within her power to change it.


Kat opened her eyes to the sound of something rattling against her window. She blinked away the remnants of sleep but stayed where she was until her mind caught up with the rest of her body. Her nest of blankets was too warm to leave without good reason.

Judging by the light through the curtain, it was late afternoon. A nap hadn’t been part of her plan, and she felt sluggish and disoriented and flustered that she’d lost so much of the day.

The sound came again—just loud enough to draw her attention.

She wrapped a blanket around herself and crept to the window, and peered out to see Ed standing below.

It was hardly the first time he’d summoned her by throwing pebbles at the window.

Kat checked her cloak—still damp—and sighed as she grabbed the lighter violet one from another hook.

Downstairs, the sitting room was empty and the fire was little more than embers.

Ed was waiting at the door when she opened it, still toying with one of the stones. “Finally,” he said. “I couldn’t convince anyone to let me in to fetch you.”

“I was asleep.”

“And now you aren’t.”

“What are you doing here?”

“We’re going to run away,” he said dryly. He tossed the stone aside and tucked his hands in his trouser pockets. The motion only then made her notice that he was shivering just a little, dressed in clothes not meant for standing out in the snow. “We’ve all been called for in the dining hall. Looks like some of the mentors have brought out instruments and are going to play. It’s too much to think the Heads won’t have something else in mind as well, but at least there will be food and dancing.”

Only the thought of food appealed to her, and she felt a sting of guilt for being the reason the furrowed line appeared on his forehead. “Ed, I don’t….”

“If you aren’t there, they’ll notice, Kat. So why not make it easy this time?”


“I know what you’re been doing lately, and we both know pretty blasted well that it won’t work.” The brightness left his gaze. “Go on up and get ready. I’ll wait here for you.”

“Fine,” she sighed. But only because Ed was asking it of her and she wanted to avoid the argument brewing between them.

Ed wore his formal uniform—a sharp black coat and trousers over a high-collared black waistcoat and maroon shirt—which meant she would be expected to do the same. If the Heads did have something in mind, they would expect the best appearances.

She left her trousers on for an extra layer of warmth, and exchanged her shirt for the black dress from the wardrobe. When she’d first been given it, it had almost brushed the floor when she walked; now it skimmed the middle of her boots, just below her ankles. She draped the violet cloak over her shoulders, rebraided her hair, and descended the stairs for the third time that day.

As promised, Ed waited for her, though she could see the narrow path he’d paced through the snow in the meantime. Being still was not easy for him in idle moments.

His gaze caught hers and softened. “May I request the first dance?”

“I’d rather sit by the fire.”

“They’d probably make you dance with Sel out of spite if you tried.”

Kat rolled her eyes.

“We’ve been working too blasted hard to displease them now.”

“I know.” And she did know, and she hated the knowing. All those hours and days and years of training, of doing what was expected…

But she’d never wanted any of it. Not then, and not now.

Ed offered his arm and she looped hers with it, and they walked with matching steps across the snow. As they neared the dining hall, the savory smell of cooking meat and spices welcomed them. And through the dining hall’s open front door, she could make out the shapes of the students already gathered inside.

She and Ed were the only apprentices who had always trained as a pair, and it had garnered them attention and more than a few spiteful glances over time. But watching their peers now, pairing off or gathering together in small groups, she couldn’t help wondering if any of them had developed friendship between them like she and Ed had.

Even though she knew as well as Ed how to take a life, there was no one she trusted more with her life than him. Could anyone else in this room say the same about each other?

Ed guided her to a table—three other students were already seated at one end, but paid them no mind—and draped their cloaks over two of the chairs. “Cider?”

“Yes, thank you.”

As she surveyed the room, Kat noticed the tables and chairs had been moved toward the sides of the main room, leaving much of the floor in the center open. It had been months since the last time the Heads had made them practice dancing. Those first years, when it had been a more common part of their training, it had been straightforward: knowing the steps was a useful skill not only for their future professions, but for etiquette. And once the Heads had seemed pleased with their progress, other lessons had been added, and they had been made to practice aliases and spycraft and awareness to match the steps and the music.

Kat hated the duality of it all. She’d never found the dancing easy—how could she when she was expected to match her steps to those around her, and try to find motives hiding behind every word and glance?

Ed returned with two mugs of cider.

“Bayor’s here,” he told her, perching on the chair beside her and resting his elbows on his knees. How he ever appeared so relaxed at times like this, she would never understand. “Apparently he and several of the other mentors were busy in meetings with Meril all day.”

“Did he tell you why?”

“No, despite my best efforts. Which means it must have been something worth knowing.”

Most of the time, Bayor told them the important things, but their mentor certainly was not above secrecy.

“He’ll tell us eventually. What’s another day or two?”

Ed was probably right, but she half-wished he’d said nothing at all. Sometimes the not knowing was better than knowing only enough to guess at the truth.

She was reaching for her mug for another sip of cider when Headmaster Meril walked into the dining hall. His sharp gaze took in the room as if he could hardly deign to be here at all. The heavy cloak he wore over his dark uniform was embroidered at the hem in sapphire thread—a striking symbol of his status under the Order’s command—and the ornamentation cut a sharp contrast against the dark gray cloth.

Kat set her mug down and joined everyone else in standing at attention. Beside her, Ed was tall and unmoving, though she glanced down at his hands to see if his fingers were tapping out rhythms at his sides.

They weren’t.

Headmaster Meril finished his observation of the room, then turned to face his audience. “To begin, I would like to congratulate all of you,” he said, his words clear and commanding and cold, despite the inflection of something that might have been meant to be warmth. “Your mentors and teachers have been making very good use of their time with you, and so tonight nothing is required of you but celebration. I have received reports of your progress so that I might relay it to the Order in Tedera, and they will be very pleased with what your mentors have had to tell me.

“But,” he paused long enough to gesture toward Bayor, who was standing close to the door, half-hidden in the crowd, and then to level his gaze at Kat and Ed, “there are two among you with exceptional marks. Edellion, Katira—a special recognition to the two of you, and your mentor.”

Kat wished she could look away, wished she could disappear from the room, as Meril lifted his hands in light applause and the others around them followed suit.

Beside her, Ed dipped his head in a half-bow. It was enough to spur her into following his lead.


Why did it feel like a threat?

There were more words, more applause that she forced herself to join, and then with a wave, Meril instructed the music to begin.

Kat felt herself being half-dragged toward the center of the room, her arm looped with Ed’s as it had been before, and then the softest brush of his hand as he left her standing in a line with the other girls and took his place opposite with the other boys.

The first dance was fast and dizzying, and she didn’t have time to think about what had just happened as she and Ed went through the motions and joined smaller circles with two other pairs of dancers through the more intricate parts of the dance. She focused on keeping up, tried not to think of the weight sitting in her chest like a stone tied to her lungs.

The music drew to a close. Bows and curtsies were exchanged.

Ed was watching her from his place a few feet away, his eyes narrowed as if trying to decipher something.

Kat retreated half a step.

Ed shook his head.

She couldn’t properly make out the words as one of the mentors spoke, calling out the next dance. Her pulse roared in her ears and her thoughts were trying to tangle again and—

Ed took a step forward, one hand held palm outward toward her for the beginning steps of the dance.

She made herself match her palm to his, made herself mirror his steps as she faced the opposite direction and stood shoulder to shoulder with him, walking in a slow circle.

His voice was low when he spoke. “No running away.”

Kat closed her eyes and took a breath. “Everyone—”

“Don’t worry about everyone else. Right now, this is just you and me, all right? Mind the turn.” He swept away from her, turned on his heel, and then returned to settle a hand on her waist and draw her toward him. “Being high in the ranks is a good thing.”

“Not when he’s just put a target on us such as that.”

“Then we be careful.”

She scoffed at that, but followed his lead as he guided them a few steps forward—for him, for her it was stepping backward—and moved in a half-circle.

“Do you remember what you said back in the summer? That we could make it if we ran?”

He closed his eyes. His jaw tensed a little, and he took a long moment to speak as he guided them through the next steps.

“It was never a serious thing to consider,” he said. His eyes opened and she thought she saw something like a storm hiding in them.

“It could be.”

“Don’t.” The word was a breath, spoken too close between them.

Kat pressed her lips together, more in an effort not to cry than not to speak, and continued the next steps: Drawing away from him almost to her original standing place, and then extending her hand out to his in the space between, at shoulder-height.

Was it her imagination, or did he hesitate before twining their hands between them?

Three steps forward, two steps backward, and then she was twirling toward him. On the last of the three spins, she settled her left hand on his right shoulder and her right hand in his left at their sides.

“It’s only a year,” he said, his gaze steady on hers and his voice nearly a whisper against the music.

Only a year. She’d known this, but hearing it made the crush of time suddenly real. “Not even a year. What if—

Ed didn’t hesitate to draw her attention back to him with her name on another whisper. “Either way, we do as we’re expected. We can’t afford anything less, especially now that we’ll be under even more scrutiny.”

“But I don’t want this. I never have.”

“Whether you want it or not doesn’t matter. The choice was made a long time ago. We are so close, Kat. So blasted close.” The hard set of his shoulders seemed to relax just a little. “We’ve always known this was coming. And we can use this to our advantage. We stay high in their rankings, keep our heads down, and after...” He let the sentence trail as the music ended and they split apart again. “I’m just asking you to trust me.”

Her hands felt cold outside of his.

“Of course I trust you.”

The music ended, pulling her thoughts back to the crowd around them. But they’d made it through two dances. Even with the added attention, no one could fault her for sitting out the next one, so she curtsied and turned away in search of fresh cider. She carried the drink over to the fireplace and lingered there, even though the warmth of the flames was doing little against the chill traveling along her spine.

Ed was right—this was a victory. They weren’t failing…

“You’re looking a bit pale.” Bayor’s words were not unkind, though the way he studied her didn’t ease Kat’s worry that he’d seen her weakness.

Kat turned to watch the dancers. Ed had moved to a different space in the lines, accompanying a dark-haired girl in a green dress for the next dance. “Have we angered them? Is that why—?”

“I’m not sure angered is the right word to use. The two of you have always had something to prove based on my decision to train you together. You exceeded their expectations, and that is a good thing, even if Meril is never one to enjoy being proven wrong.” He gestured to the nearest unoccupied table and drew out a chair for her, before taking another for himself, wincing.

“Your knees?”

“I don’t care for this blasted cold and neither do they.” He settled back in the chair and watched the fireplace. “You have a legacy to follow, Katira. The recognition only shows you’re doing the right thing.”

The right thing. Even thinking the words left a bitter taste in her mouth that the cider couldn’t overcome. How was holding someone else’s life in her hands the right thing?

That may have been the path her father had chosen, but her father was long dead and gone and she didn’t want the weight of his profession. Once she’d known what he was…

Her eyes burned and she shut them to press back the threatening tears.

“Hello, Bayor.”


Oh, blast it all.

When she felt brave enough to open her eyes, she found Sel standing a step away. Like Ed, he wore formal black, though his shirt was dark silvery-gray instead of maroon.

“May I have the pleasure of the next dance, Katira?” There was nothing openly hostile about the question, but she didn’t trust it. She didn’t trust Sel, and never had, and all the motives behind his asking her to dance could only be to her detriment.

A nudge from Bayor boot against her foot made the decision for her. “Of course,” she said, the words uncertain as she pushed her chair away and stood. Bayor cast her a stern look as she accepted Sel’s guidance toward the other dancers.

“That is quite the honor, coming from Headmaster Meril.”

The mentor leading the musicians called out the dance, and Kat flinched recalling that it was a more intimate style than the ones before it.

Sel bowed, all appearances of propriety and etiquette, and extended his hands so that she could take them.

Kat settled her hands in his but kept as much distance as she could as they began. Two turns in a wide circle, and then stepping close. Sel shifted his right hand to the middle of her back and she moved her left hand to his shoulder, their other hands still together to the side.

“You don’t care for the recognition?” Sel asked.

“But you would?”

“I find it interesting, that’s all.” He guided them in a broad, sweeping circle that placed them three couples down from their starting point. As much as she despised complimenting him for anything, she did have to give him credit for knowing the steps and making it look easy.

She stumbled once and caught his annoyed frown in the second before he masked it.

There, that was more like Sel.

“Sorry,” Kat said, half-meaning it.

“We both know you aren’t.” He recovered and fit them back into the rhythm as if they’d missed nothing.

“What do you really want?”

“To congratulate you.”


“I’m not lying,” he said, his tone even and level and only just betraying his annoyance. “But if you want the full truth: I don’t think you deserve that ranking.”

“I take it Idren wasn’t pleased with yours, then?”

His jaw tensed, and she knew her words had hit their mark. It was only fair that if he was going to start throwing knives at her, then she should have her own ready as well.

Sel led them in another wide spin, and she kept her focus on matching his steps out of spite.

At the final turn, they returned to open circles to mirror the dance’s beginning. Kat was grateful for the distance.

When it was time to bow and curtsey, they both pretended politeness.

And then Sel took a step toward hers and leaned close. “You should be careful, Katira.”

“Don’t threaten me,” she hissed.

His mouth turned up at one corner. “Thank you for the dance.”

Without looking back, she left the rows of dancers, moved past the others talking near the door, and emerged into the cold night with a shaky breath.

She was alone outside the dining hall doors, and went a little farther until she was standing under the lanterns. In the distance she could see figures standing outside the main hall, and a few others making their way to and from the dormitories.

Kat shut her eyes and sucked in the cold air until her lungs ached. Clenched her fists in handfuls of her skirt to hide their trembling.

She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t—

“Kat?” Ed was standing somewhere behind her. “Here.”

Most of the snow was melted where they stood, but she could hear his boots moving through the slush as he approached. The weight of her cloak fell on her shoulders, and she reached up to draw it tighter around her. “Thank you.”

“What did he do?”

“It was just Sel being stupid.”

Ed tucked his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. “Anything else?”

“It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

“You’re my friend, Kat. Of course I’m going to worry when you’re upset.” He ventured half a step closer, then stopped as if realizing that maybe being too close was a mistake.

“I think I just want to go back to my room and rest,” Kat said, changing the subject before he could ask anything else. Because really, it was nothing new for Sel to be an annoyance and to murmur threats. A small voice in the back of her mind whispered that he should be concerned about her, given the way their rankings stood.

But she didn’t like the way that voice sounded, the way it echoed with something bitter and dark.

So she pushed it away and thought instead of Ed guiding her through the dances and bringing her cloak out into the cold.

“I’ll walk you back then. Let me get my cloak.”

“No. No, I’ll be all right.”

His brow furrowed.

“Go back to your dancing. I’m sure you have someone waiting to be asked.”

“She can wait a bit longer.” He returned a moment later with his cloak slung over his shoulders.

When they were a few yards away, out of the listening ears of anyone close enough to hear them, Kat ventured to speak. “The rankings are good news,” she said. “In a year’s time…you could have the Order bowing at your feet.”

“I doubt that.” The words wisped in front of Ed’s face.

“Well, you shouldn’t. You’ll have every opportunity, and—”

“So will you.”

They reached her dormitory, but didn’t immediately move toward the door.

Ed shifted his weight from foot to foot, then finally turned to look at her evenly. “I know you don’t want this, but as long as we’re here we should make the most of it. Make them believe you want this as badly as someone like Sel does, Kat. We don’t have a chance otherwise.”

She stared at her feet, her boots shiny under a layer of melted snow-water.

Ed stepped closer and tilted her chin up with one finger. “Promise me you’ll do what you must to keep safe, Kat.”

He said it so earnestly, his eyes darkened with the sincerity of it. And blazes, she wanted to be able to give him her word and mean it.

“I can’t promise, Ed. I wish I could, but…” She stepped out of his reach. “I’m sorry.”

“Think about it, okay?” His shoulders rose and fell with a long, tired sigh. “We’re still a team, right?”

“I—do you think we’ll still be allowed to train together?”

He considered this. “Even if they don’t… I still trust you.”

For the first time since Meril’s announcement, Kat felt some of the weight in her chest lessen. “And I trust you. More than anyone.” It was the truth, the one promise she could give and never doubt that she meant it. “I trust you with my life.”

She turned toward the door, hesitating. From where she stood she could still hear the music from the dining hall, carrying through the clear night as a faint echo.

“Wait.” Ed held out his hand and offered a soft half-smile. “It’d be a shame if your last dance for the night was with Sel, wouldn’t it?”

Before Kat could think of a good reason to say no to another dance, she took his hand.




 T H E   I N H E R I T A N C E  P R O C L A M A T I O N


Seventeen-year-old Katira is an assassin’s apprentice on the verge of her first assignment. It’s not the life she would have chosen for herself, and when faced with new information regarding the past, Kat must choose between proving her loyalties in the life she’s trained for or setting off in search of answers she may never find.

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