1. Lady’s Veil

I awoke to unfamiliar luxury: clean sheets smelling of a flower that dots the Nirmathi countryside, which children call “Lady’s Veil.” The petals’ wistful scent was said to ease troubled sleep.

There was a folksong about a young man who met a maiden in a field and, overcome by her grace, clasped her close to pull back her veil. She changed shape six times, each form more deadly than the last until, in her seventh form, the edge of her veil sliced him open like a blade. She fled and he followed, his blood mingling with the flowers that bloomed beneath her feet, leaving the center of each pale blue blossom stained crimson. I’d heard young girls tell it as a tragic love story, and old men cite it as a parable about the glory and danger inherent in loving the divine. Personally, I thought it was a good warning for people who can’t keep their hands to themselves.

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Prologue: In Kassen’s Tomb

“All right. We got what we came for, so I think it’s time we left. As quickly as possible.” I forced my face to stay impassive. Looking hopefully at the door would undermine the firm tone I needed to use with my companions to get them to do anything sensible.

My classmates were examining one of the ornately carved sarcophagi in the middle of the tomb we should have been exiting. Lan looked up from the unconscious form of the woman we’d found collapsed next to the grave and nodded with enthusiasm. I knew his support of my common-sense suggestions came more from fear than anything else–his comfort zone was libraries and classrooms–but I had to take what I could get.

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