"All power has a cost," she said as the carriage slowed to a stop, "and you were born with power—your title, your wealth, your magic. This is your cost, Emilie des Marais, and it is your duty to pay it. Power demands sacrifice."
"This isn't fair."
She laughed, the apathetic mask she kept up at all times slipping. "Really? There will be girls at school who lack your name, your money, and your magic, and they will not treat you as kindly as I have. You are arrogant and stubborn. Mind your tongue, or you will have no friends, no happiness, and no future."
She had never called me a disappointment, but I could taste it in the silence between us. I was not the daughter she had always longed for. At least magic would never abandon me.
"You are my daughter, and I love you. I am pushing you to do this because I know Demeine will laugh you out of university. I do this because I love you." She ran her fingers through the strands of her silver necklaces, where she stored small lockets of power. Her illusion settled over me like snow, soft and cold and suffocating, and I knew no one would be able to tell how hot and miserable I looked. "Time to go."
We had stopped at a stable on the south side of town. The noises of Bosquet were louder now, and the shadows shorter, squat stains beneath our feet. The town had an open-air market and church at the center, and we had passed between storefronts and housing and orderly gravel paths shaded by linden trees with interlaced canopies. Our driver had already vanished inside the stable, and the guards lingered on the other side of the carriage. A crowd had gathered in the shade of the trees across from us. Behind them, a white poster with green ink had been stuck to the trunk of a tree.
At the edge of that crowd was a girl, who despite her flax dress dusted with dirt, despite her white skin spotted with sunburn and old bruises, and despite her brown hair in desperate need of styling, looked like me. I might have mistaken her for some unknown half-sister if either of my parents had ever been inclined to such affairs.
Perhaps Lord Sun had finally answered my prayers.
"Wait," I said quickly, grabbing my mother's wrist before she could leave the carriage. "Give me a moment to prepare myself, please."
I did not let go of her immediately as I usually did, and her gaze dropped to my fingers. She took my hand in hers and nodded.
"What do you think that crowd is?" I asked.
Her eyes didn't leave our hands. "Mademoiselle Charron is in town to inspect the artists in your class. I am sure she's providing free scrying and divinations to those who need them. All of her writings are in green for some ill-graced reason, but so goes the odd trends of youth, I suppose."
"That's nice of her." I moved my other hand, palm up and burning in a sliver of sunlight, out of her sight. "Can we wait until there are fewer people? You knotted me up in new clothes and shoes, and I have no desire for an audience."
She laughed, a sound I hadn't heard in ages, and nodded. "Very well."
"Thank you." I channeled the power I had gathered in my free hand to the one holding hers.
It slipped under her skin with the soft sizzle of heat against flesh. Her head jerked up, but I held tight, the magic slithering through the nerves of her arms to the dark little spaces of her mind, until the inner workings of her body shone with my power like a layer of gold silk. We were all nothing but lightning in a bloody bottle. I deleted the alchemical components in her mind that controlled wakefulness. These last moments would be like a dream.
My mother slumped in her seat, asleep, and I stepped out of the carriage. My own body would pay the price for this; I would not be able to sleep for a day or two at least. I had five minutes at most, and no idea if this would work. It was arrogant to think I would get away with it.
But arrogance and magic were all I had.
Even a chance was worth it.