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‘It means I’m going to die,’ Loricel says softly.
I suck in a breath and let it out slowly. Cormac watches me from the next chair, and I work to keep fear off my face. Without Loricel . . .Well, I don’t even want to consider what this place will be like then. Does she think I can stand up to him?
‘So you need a new Creweler?’ I ask after a long moment.
‘We need you,’ Cormac says.
I don’t answer him.
‘You’ll be studying under Loricel all working hours until . . .’
‘She dies.’ I finish his thought.
‘Yes, and it’s imperative that you’re prepared to assume responsibility when she passes.’
‘Especially since you’re already short a Creweler’s assistant.’
Cormac’s eyes narrow. ‘She wasn’t half the Spinster you are, Adelice.’
‘I’m half the person she was,’ I say with a shrug, barely keeping my voice steady. ‘So I guess it evens out.’
‘There are other Spinsters,’ Maela breaks in, but Cormac shoots her a look that shuts her up.
‘You needn’t worry yourself about Adelice,’ he says to her. ‘You’ve wasted enough time.’
‘That girl would have no training if it weren’t for me,’ she says, stabbing at the air in my direction.
‘That girl,’ Cormac says quietly, ‘would be dead if it were up to you. You are in danger of overstepping your bounds.’
‘And we know what happens to girls who overstep their bounds,’ I add.
No one laughs.
‘Adelice, you’ll report to Loricel’s studio in the morning. I’ll let her know when your evaluation is scheduled,’ Cormac says, rising from his seat and buttoning his tuxedo.
‘Cormac,’ Loricel says. ‘A word.’
She gestures for him to follow her, and soon I’m alone at the table with Maela.
‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ she says.
I stare at her. She can’t be serious.
‘No, really,’ Maela says. ‘We’ve had our differences—’
‘That’s one way to put it.’
‘But,’ she continues, ignoring me, ‘Enora was a good Spinster.’
‘Did Pryana tell you?’
Maela purses her lips. ‘Tell me what?’
‘About Enora.’
‘I was called as part of the emergency response.’
‘No, about Enora and Valery. In the hallway.’
‘No, she didn’t tell me, but there’s something you need to understand,’ she says. ‘If you think Pryana is a puppet of mine, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. She is a force all her own.’
‘Which you created—’
‘Which I propelled,’ she corrects. ‘I won’t lie, Adelice. I wanted you to be enemies, but Pryana was never going to be your friend.’
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘We were hitting it off.’
‘Pryana would stab her own sister in the back if it suited her.’
‘She seemed pretty upset when you ripped her sister.’
‘Listen,’ Maela says, standing and staring down at me. ‘I’d watch who you tell about your own little sister. Pryana’s not the forgiving type. Believe me, I did you a favour.’
‘Feel free to keep your favours to yourself in the future,’ I say.
Maela tosses a bored expression my way and exits. There’s no way I’m about to believe her fake sympathy or her sudden interest in me. Since I’m going to be the next Creweler, she’s just doing some repair work on the damage she’s inflicted.
‘Done?’ Erik asks, poking his head through the doorway.
‘Do I get an escort again?’
‘Cormac wants assurance that you’re safe at all times.’
‘Oh good,’ I say with a sigh. ‘Will you be camping out on my floor?’
‘Outside your door, as a matter of fact.’
I screw my face up. I guess I won’t be sneaking out to investigate the clinic tonight.
‘Don’t look so annoyed,’ he says, taking my arm. ‘This way you get to wake up and go to sleep to me.’
Despite my resentment for how he acted after our kiss, I laugh. He’s just so self-assured.
‘Every girl’s dream,’ I say, tipping my head to the side.
‘I am sorry,’ he says through gritted teeth.
‘Sure. It’s nothing.’
‘I know what she did to you.’
‘Drop it, Erik.’
‘You have to know that it would have been worse if I’d come to see you.’
‘Yeah, you’re probably right,’ I say, ‘but I guess we’ll never know.’
‘So that’s it, then?’
I sigh and pull my arm out from his. He’s not making this easy. ‘Erik, we kissed. I was a little drunk. I’m over it.’
‘And what if I’m not?’ he says, slowing his pace.
I walk faster, pulling him along with me. ‘It doesn’t matter how powerful I am – or will be after this promotion – it’s not going to happen.’
‘Promotion?’ he repeats.
‘I’m training to replace Loricel,’ I say with a shrug. ‘I assumed you knew.’
‘No, but I guess that explains Maela’s change of heart.’