Today's Reading

CHAPTER ONE

EMILIE

My mother did not shackle me despite my last escape attempt. It didn't matter—the corset, layers of satin and silk, and summer heat were chains enough. I was certain I would be the first young noble lady of Demeine to arrive at finishing school under the watchful eyes of two armed guards. My mother made it seem so innocuous, talking of nothing but her perfect days looking down upon the quaint town of Bosquet while learning the correct topics of conversation, the exact ways to divine tomorrow's weather, and wonderful illusions to cover up everything from blood stains to whole castles. The illusionary arts, the first and simplest branch of the midnight arts, were my mother's specialty, something the perfect daughter should have appreciated. I had neither aptitude nor interest in illusions.

Illusions were, as far as I could tell, nothing but lies. My mother was a wonderful liar.

"I love you," she said, her expression that emotionless calm all ladies of Demeine were expected to possess, "but I am growing weary of your rebellion."

I peeked out the window. We had been traveling for days, bundled up in the carriage and only stopping to swap horses. It was the carriage Mother usually took to court: wonderfully impressive on the outside, with gold and silver gilding running through the ocean colors of our family's crest on the door, and frustratingly practical on the inside. I had been staring at the same black velvet and single lamp since we left. No amount of fiddling with the lock while she slept had freed me yet.

"Let us rejoice, then, that your education means no one will notice I exhaust you." I tapped the thin skin beneath my eyes where she had hidden my dark circles as she hid hers every day. "You said you would let me study the noonday arts. Mademoiselle Gardinier's school does not teach the noonday arts."

The ability to channel magic was rare, and it was rarer still for it to run so steadily in a family. Traditionally, noble sons with the ability studied the noonday arts and either specialized in the fighting or healing arts. They became chevaliers or physicians. They changed the world by sword or by scalpel.

Noble girls didn't change the world.

"I said I would let you study them, not that I would allow you to partake in such powerful magic, especially after that abomination you used on poor Edouard. You could have killed him." She folded her hands in her lap, the tight sleeves of her silver overdress rustling together like moth wings. "You are a daughter of Demeine. You will learn the midnight arts, you will—somehow—impress someone well enough for them to marry you, you will have children, you will serve our people as the midnight artist and comtesse they need, and one day, you will understand why I made you do all of this."

Edouard, one of our guards, had caught me during my last escape attempt and laughed when I had explained my plan to join the university as a boy. Even common boys were allowed to be physicians if they were good enough and could pay the tuition.

"Being a boy's not that easy," he had said, angry for the first time since I could remember. "I would know. And you'd be doing it for selfish reasons. You don't understand. Listen to me, Emilie..."

When it was clear he wasn't going to let me go, I had knocked him out by altering his body alchemistry with my abominable noonday arts.

I tugged at the high collar of my dress, sweat pooling in every wrinkle, and scowled. "I could better serve our people as a physician."

"The noonday arts would wear your body out in pursuit of such a dream, to the point of death or infertility." She slapped my hand away from my collar. "Be reasonable, and perhaps you will learn you enjoy the midnight arts and the life you are supposed to lead."

My mother was always reasonable, as a good lady of Demeine should be, and unlike me, she never wore her emotions on her face.
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