Chapter 4

"Shadows disappear in daylight. Holes can be searched. Hide in plain sight, and you will never be found." —Book of Zei

Hours later, Jia sat high atop Tong-Shi's temple again, with her back to Zei's frieze and her feet dangling in open air. Dawn was close. The Council Stronghold glittered with lantern light like a necklace at the throat of the dark Guozhi Mountains. The chimneys of the Buried Forge burned a deep crimson.

She wanted to leave. The Tenth was her family, but her brothers and sisters were—mostly—not children. They enjoyed this life, this constant battle. And she, when it came down to it, did not.

Jia knew she would die fighting a senseless war for the love of her family and the foolish loyalty she still felt for her father. She wanted to leave, but duty would keep her here.

"Hello, Granddaughter," Covetous Shen said, plopping down on the ledge beside her.

"Why did you do it?" Jia said.

"A child should know who her parents are," Shen said, swinging his feet in space. "How else can she know what not to become?"

"More jokes," Jia said, turning away.

"Am I joking?" Shen said sharply. "Your mother wants to rule this city unopposed, and takes steps to eradicate all of the Great Families. Your father knows that she will not stop at nine. Soon, their doomed love will not be enough, and this country will endure yet another civil war. Be wiser than they, Granddaughter."

Jia stared. The easy smiles were gone. In their place was more sorrow than a hundred lifetimes could bear.

"Should I also know who my grandfather is?" she said finally. Shen turned to consider the frieze of laughing Zei fleeing the wrath of the gods. In profile, both faces were exactly the same.

"What a handsome young man," Covetous Shen said, smiling slightly.

"What should I do?" Jia said after a moment's silence told her that Shen wasn't going to say anything else. "Try to make peace between my mother and father? Run and hide?"

"Do whatever you want," he said, brushing her cheek. "Life can be so very short."

"For mortals, you mean."

Shen said nothing at first.

"Look at all of this." He swept a hand across Zhou. "Once, it was grassland spotted with small tribes. There were flowers.

"Then the world changed. People told stories and watched the skies for directions from beings more powerful than themselves. The stories became laws and obligations, and the tribes grew and fought each other. They believed that they had no choice. And they waited for omens."

He casually pointed at the sky. A burning comet, a molten ball of twisting fire and trailing ash, exploded through the heavens. Cold with awe, Jia turned to Covetous Shen.

"That wasn't me," he said, eyes wide.

She laughed.

"Listen to me," he said, watching the star pass over their heads, falling southwest toward the distant lands beyond the island of Xiansai. "You have your father's heart and your mother's rage. I knew it from the moment I saw him carrying you home for the first time. I asked to hold you, of course. You pulled my beard most fiercely."

At last, Jia remembered: her tiny fingers tangled in his wispy beard ablaze with moonlight. She should have been too young to recall that night, but the memory was hers all the same.

"Now," Shen said, "you are a child of the Tenth Family, and my granddaughter. But you are not bound by our decisions, and not a soldier in our battles."

He took her chin gently and looked at her.

"No matter what anyone tells you, you are free," he said.

In the light of the falling star, Shen seemed immensely tired, incredibly old. She knew without asking that he would follow it. It meant something to him.

It meant nothing to her.

For a long time, they sat in companionable silence. Then Shen sniffed.

"Is that salted pepperfish?" he demanded, standing.

Jia raised her eyebrows.

"You'd better go see," she said. "They might run out."

"You are right," Shen said, nodding urgently. "Hold this for me. I am certain we will find each other again."

He dropped one of his innumerable pouches in her lap, pressed his lips to the crown of her head, and skidded down the temple's gutters in pursuit of the incredible smell.

Jia looked inside the bulging purse. On top of a number of flawless diamonds was a cracked and blackened gem. It was, Jia realized, a type of protective jewel, one meant to deflect magical attacks. Like the kind Uncle Hao had leveled at Shen earlier in the evening.

She waited until dawn burned on the horizon, and she rose, stretching her legs and tucking the pouch into her armor. She could return to the Shifting Estate for breakfast. She could apologize to her father. Or she could find passage on a ship and see lands she'd only read about.

She could go anywhere.

The Orphan and the Jeweler


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