SHE WAS LYING ON A BURNING PYRE, HOT COALS BENEATH
her back. White sparks ﬂoated in her vision but the mercy of
unconsciousness wouldn’t come. Her throat was hoarse from screaming.
The smell of her own burning ﬂesh invaded her nostrils. Smoke stung her
eyes. Blisters burbled across her skin, and entire swaths of ﬂesh peeled
away, revealing raw tissue underneath.
The pain was relentless, the agony never ending. She pleaded
for death, but it never came.
She reached out with her good hand, trying to drag her body from
the ﬁre, but the bed of coals crushed and col- lapsed under her weight,
burying her, dragging her deeper into the embers and the smoke.
Through the haze she caught a glimpse of kind eyes. A warm
smile. A ﬁnger curled toward her. Come here, baby sister . . .
Levana gasped and jolted upward, limbs tangled in heavy
blankets. Her sheets were damp and cold from her sweat, but her
skin was still burning hot from the dream.
Her throat felt scratched raw. She struggled to swallow, but her saliva
tasted like smoke and made her cringe. She sat in the faint morning
light shuddering, trying to will away the nightmare. The same
nightmare that had plagued her for too many years, that she could
never seem to escape.
She rubbed her hands repeatedly over her arms and sides
until she was certain the ﬁre wasn’t real. She was not burning alive.
She was safe and alone in her chambers.
With a trembling breath, she scooted to the other side of the mattress,
away from the sweat-stained sheets, and lay back down. Afraid to close
her eyes, she stared up at the can- opy and practiced her slow breathing
until her heartbeat steadied.
She tried to distract herself by planning who she would be that day.
A thousand possibilities ﬂoated before her. She would be
beautiful, but there were many types of beauty. Skin tone, hair texture,
the shape of one’s eyes, the length of a neck, a well-placed freckle, a
certain grace in the way one walked.
Levana knew a great deal about beauty, just as she knew a great
deal about ugliness.
• 4 •
Then she remembered that today was the funeral.
She groaned at the thought. How exhausting it would be to hold a
glamour all day long, in front of so many. She didn’t
want to go, but she would have no choice.
It was an inconvenient day for her focus to be shaken by nightmares.
Perhaps it would be best to choose something familiar.
As the dream receded into her subconscious, Levana toyed
with the idea of being her mother that day. Not as Queen Jannali
had been when she died, but perhaps as a ﬁfteen-year-old version of
her. It would be a sort of homage to attend the funeral wearing her
mother’s cheekbones and the vivid violet eyes that everyone knew
were glamour- made, though no one would have dared say so aloud.
She spent a few minutes imagining what her mother might
have looked like at her age, and she let the glamour settle over her.
Moon-blonde hair sleekly pulled into a low knot. Skin as pale as a
sheet of ice. A little shorter than she would become full grown. Pale
pink lips, so as not to detract from the vibrancy of those eyes.
It calmed her, sinking into the glamour. But no sooner had she
tested the look than she felt the wrongness of it.
She did not want to go to her parents’ funeral in the garb of a girl-
• 5 •
A tap ﬂuttered at the door, interrupting her thoughts.
Levana sighed, and quickly fell into another costume that she’d
dreamed up days before. Olive skin, a graceful
slope to her nose, and raven-black hair cut adorably short. She shifted
through a few eye colors before landing on a striking gray-blue,
topped off with smoldering black lashes.
Before she could second-guess herself, she embedded a silver
jewel into the ﬂesh beneath her right eye.
A teardrop. To prove that she was in mourning.
“Come in,” she called, opening her eyes.
A servant entered carrying a breakfast tray. The girl curtsied
in the doorway, not lifting her gaze from the ﬂoor— which rendered
Levana’s glamour unnecessary—before approaching the bed.
“Good morning, Your Highness.”
Sitting up, Levana allowed the servant to set the tray across her
lap and tuck a cloth napkin around her. The ser- vant poured jasmine tea
into a hand-painted porcelain cup that had been imported from Earth
several generations ago, and garnished it with two small mint leaves and a
drizzle of honey. Levana said nothing as the servant uncovered a tray of
tiny cream-ﬁlled pastries, so that Levana could see what they looked like
whole, before using a silver knife to saw them into even tinier bite-
size pieces. While the servant worked, Levana eyed the dish of
bright-colored fruits: a
• 6 •
soft-fuzzed peach set into a halo of black and red berries, all dusted with
“Is there anything else I can bring for you, Your High-
“No, that will be all. But send the other one up in twenty minutes to
prepare my mourning dress.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” she answered, although they both knew
there was no other one. Every servant in the pal- ace was the other one.
It didn’t matter to Levana who the girl sent up, so long as whoever it
was could properly stitch her into the sleek gray gown the seamstress
had delivered the day before. Levana didn’t want to bother with
glamouring her dress today in addition to her face, not with so
many other thoughts in her head.
With another curtsy, the servant ducked out of the room, leaving
Levana to stare down at her breakfast tray. Only now did she realize
how very un-hungry she was. There was an ache in her stomach, perhaps
left over from the hor- rible dream. Or she supposed it could have been
sadness, but that was doubtful.
She felt no great loss at the death of her parents, who had been
gone now for half the long day. Eight artiﬁcial nights. Their deaths
were terribly gory. They were assassi- nated by a shell who used his
invincibility against the Lunar gift to sneak into the palace. The man
had shot two royal
• 7 •
guards in the head before making his way to her parents’ bedroom on
the third ﬂoor, killing three more guards, and slitting her mother’s throat
so deeply the knife severed part of her spine. He had then gone down the
hallway to where her father was lying with one of his mistresses and
stabbed him sixteen times in the chest.
The mistress was still screaming, blood spurts across her face,
when two royal guards found them.
The shell murderer was still stabbing.
Levana had not seen the bodies, but she had seen the bedrooms
the next morning, and her ﬁrst thought was that all that blood
would make for a very pretty rouge on her lips.