Chapter 40: The Blue Fire's Fair

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On the first morning of the Blue Fire's Fair, I woke up to the sound of a woman singing a happy melody. I kept my eyes closed for a few moments, smiling at the sun's red reflection on the inside of my eyelids as memories of my childhood guided me back to the Monastery. The unfamiliar voice turned into Sister Trudy's, the best singing voice in the entire Order. A wave of nostalgia hit me like a smack in the face and forced my eyes open. A second later, the cheerful song was interrupted by a scream that sounded as if someone's throat was being slit.

The maid who had been arranging a long, black dress on a mannequin in the corner of my room—and who had probably been the source of the singing—widened her eyes until the irises were completely surrounded by white sclera. She backed away from the bed where I was lying, almost knocking over the mannequin. It was then that I realized I was the one shouting my lungs out.

The urge to crawl back under the covers and pretend that nothing had happened was overwhelming, but I merely swallowed and hid my trembling hands in my lap. "W-what in the Light's name are y-you doing in my room?" I stammered. Great, now I definitely looked like an idiot.

The maid, a plump woman with frizzy, brown hair and freckles that dotted her pale skin like splatters of blood, regained her composure and took a hesitant step forward. "My apologies, Miss. It was by no means my intention to startle you." As she fidgeted with the lace collar of her uniform, her gaze flitted around the room, focusing on everything but me. "Master Cain asked me to bring you this dress. He had it made for you so that you can wear it at the festival."

So that explained the dress's black color and the golden threads that accentuated the sleeves and heart-shaped neckline. Noticing my interest in the beautiful craftsmanship, the maid turned the mannequin around so that I could see the back. My mouth dropped open and I slipped out of bed to take a closer look. A large part of the bodice consisted of an image of a Dragon, sewn into the dress with that same golden thread which possessed a strange blue gloss in the sunlight. Almost like the color of the flame that forever burned at the top of this tower.

"It's ... It's magnificent," I whispered, my fingers roaming the soft, velvety fabric. Yet, it was cruel at the same time. The dress was a symbol; it would show the people of Vallinstra who I was and where I truly belonged, including the rebels. Sly move, Cain.

"Shall I help you put it on, Miss?" the maid asked, holding up a corset. I stifled a groan; I had only worn one of those monstrous pieces of underwear once before, when I had sneaked out of the Monastery to attend a dance party in Hymdarr, the town closest to the Monastery.

I had been fifteen at the time and puberty had been racing through my body at the speed of lightning. Life at the Monastery had seemed so incredibly dull all of a sudden that when a passing merchant dropped the news about the party, I begged him for more information. Sister Elma caught me hearing him out, but instead of rebuking me, she secretly rode to Hymdarr to buy me a dress and helped me put it on and sneak out of the Monastery. She had even arranged for a carriage to pick me up.

It had been one of the best nights of my life, until a boy with a pockmarked face tried to kiss me and a wave of panic drove me out of the room. On top of that, the driver of my carriage had long disappeared into a dark corner with a busty woman, so I had to walk home. Head Sister Ursula and Sister Clementine had already been waiting for me in the parlor, resulting in both Sister Elma and I scrubbing the floor for a week.

The memories distracted me from the searing pain that shot up my rib cage whilst the maid tightened the lacing of the corset. I had intended for the healers to take a look at the injury, but had forgotten about it in the commotion that had preceded the start of the festival. The air was forced out of my lungs as the corset packed my upper body in a prison of cloth, and I pushed back the claustrophobia that threatened to rush over me with the strength and violence of a tidal wave.

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