After a magical eruption devastates the kingdom of Belwar, royal heir Adraa is falsely accused of masterminding the destruction and forced to stand trial in front of her people, who see her as a monster. Adraa's punishment? Imprisonment in the Dome, an impenetrable, magic-infused fortress filled with Belwar’s nastiest criminals—many of whom Adraa put there herself. And they want her to pay.
Jatin, the royal heir to Naupure, has been Adraa’s betrothed, nemesis, and fellow masked vigilante . . . but now he’s just a boy waiting to ask her the biggest question of their lives. First, though, he’s going to have to do the impossible: break Adraa out of the Dome. And he won’t be able to do it without help from the unlikeliest of sources—a girl from his past with a secret that could put them all at risk.
Time is running out, and the horrors Adraa faces in the Dome are second only to the plot to destabilize and destroy their kingdoms. But Adraa and Jatin have saved the world once already. . . . Now, can they save themselves?
"I was hooked from beginning to end!"—Kathryn Purdie, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Bone Crier’s Moon
"Fans of Serpent & Dove’s smart-alecky Lou and The Wrath and the Dawn’s cunning Shazi should prepare themselves to fall head over heels for the fiery Adraa."—Kelly Coon, author of the Gravemaidens duology
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I Meet Up with the Love of My Life and Almost Throw Him off a Roof
The sky crackles with color. Magic jets into the air and explodes in mist and sizzling lights. The festival is in full swing. It’s loud. It’s blinding. And it’s the best thing I’ve seen in the past two months.
Booths and stalls have popped up overnight. Ornate silk banners in the nine colors of magic are draped and fastened to every frame, making the brocade ones dedicated to the recent fallen scarce for once. The streets flow like a river as currents of wizards and witches hunt for the best food stall or for a good spot to shoot some of their magic in the air and add to the glazed smoke screen of color. Children and the Untouched who can’t cast throw powders instead and splash their friends in the face. Although the real Festival of Color isn’t for months, this impromptu celebration radiates joy.
It feels like forever since I’ve seen the populace let loose like this. But if I were to drop from my shadowed rooftop, their happiness would melt. And by all nine gods, that’s the last thing I want. For weeks Belwar has been repairing and rebuilding the city, and tonight we celebrate the new western flying station, the reconstructed homes, the life still thriving in this small coastal country. If there is anything my people deserve right now, it’s one night of peace, of safety. So I stay nestled in my hiding spot, my eyes on the streams of color bursting in the sky, but my attention drifts to the bloodred magic in my hands condensing into my mask and then disintegrating into smoke over and over again. I know I’m saying the words, pulling the magic from the intricate design of my Touch to create the spell that blurs my face and makes me the Red Woman, and yet I don’t quit my muttering.
It settles the heartache.
As do the squeals of kids’ laughter below me, sounding bright and full of life. I didn’t realize how much I was depending on the festival to showcase how my people might be able to keep going. After my magic was used to cause Mount Gandhak to erupt, killing one hundred twenty-nine people, my country has trudged through grief, repaired the city, and, most achingly, accepted the suspicion that I, Adraa Belwar, did this to them.
I’ve been living behind my vigilante persona for weeks, and I have to stop myself from plastering the thing to my face once again, right now, and become . . . become anything but the villain the city thinks I am. But I’m trying. I’m trying to feel okay with being just Adraa Belwar for a solid minute and a half as my country celebrates its color and diversity and strength to live on after destruction.
Luckily, no matter what they think of me, I’m still here. Every night I slip past my added security and watch for any sign the Red Woman is needed. That I am needed.
A thud echoes behind me. Footsteps. I whip around, mask adhering to my face instinctively and the bloodred of my magic smoking in my palms as I ready a ramming spell to throw the intruder off the roof.
“Hey. Don’t kill me. I brought you food,” a familiar voice says.
The lights from the street below illuminate Jatin Naupure, my boyfriend. Boyfriend. It’s strange thinking of him that way, considering he was my fiancé first, then a weird mix of rival, partner, and crush, though we were hiding our identities from each other for months. And now, he’s just . . . my person.
My defense vanishes and my magic evaporates. “Okay. I guess I’ll let you sit next to me.”
“Don’t act like you didn’t save this spot for me, Smoke.”
I smile at the truth of it. I even kept the shingles warm with some red magic. When Jatin sits a second later, I can tell he notices the heat, but he only smiles and hands over my bowl. Roasted silken fish sitting on a bed of rice and smothered in a spicy red curry wafts into my nose. I take the bowl greedily.
“How’s our favorite sociopath?” Jatin asks, scooting closer to me.
I glance down at Nightcaster, who’s buying a witch a lamb chop on a stick. It would be somewhat endearing, watching him try to impress her, if I didn’t know the true Nightcaster. A cage-casting wizard from the Underground who couldn’t open his mouth without saying something revolting. We’ve been following him for weeks hoping he will lead us back to some scrap of evidence that we can use to prove a group of criminals called the Vencrin and the ruler of the country north of us, Maharaja Moolek, are working together. Or at least that they worked together to try to utterly destroy our cities when Mount Gandhak erupted.
“He hasn’t been punched in the face today.”
“The night is still young.” Jatin pauses. “And he hasn’t seen us yet.”
Down below, Nightcaster pulls his bicep into a curl. Even from here I can make out the tattoos that run up his upper arm, mimicking the swirled designs of the gods’ Touch.
“Gods,” I sigh. “It’s sad just watching it.” A breeze draws the scent of roasted silken fish back to me and I dig in. “Have I told you this is my favorite?”
Jatin takes a bite from his own bowl and smiles. “I think it was in one of your letters once.”
I frown. “I don’t remember writing that to you.” Maybe it was when I was really young and the letters I sent to Jatin still felt like something my parents were forcing me to do. At the time I couldn’t fathom accepting an arranged marriage with the most arrogant boy I’d ever met. When love felt like an absurd question and marriage a horrifying inevitability.
“No, I mean the parchment was stained with it.”
I knock against his shoulder as he laughs. “Stop lying.”
“I could show you. I kept them all.”
I side-eye him, my gaze tracing his strong jaw and thick black hair. “You kept them all?”
“What? You didn’t?”
“Well, yeah, I did. But you know that post in the Belwar courtyard where we train? I pinned them there as motivation to beat you. Can’t say they were well taken care of.”
“Even the love letters? I’m hurt, Smoke.”
“No”I soak the rice in the curry and take a big bite“those I burned.”
“I don’t believe you,” Jatin says, so casually my lie loses its footing.
I open my mouth to joke he’s not the only one, but it rings too close to reality. For the past few weeks we’ve been patrolling the streets, responding to the signal that Jatin created and saving people. We’ve even made a competition out of it. But that’s what I’ve been doing underneath starlight. In blazing daylight it’s councils upon councils with my father and the five rajas of Belwar as they accuse me and call for a truth-spelling trial to determine my crimes.
“Adraa?” Jatin whispers, sensing like always when I’ve started to spiral and tangle in my own thoughts.
I shake my head as if to clear it. “Hey, thanks for responding to the signal yesterday. I couldn’t manage to get out of the meeting.”
Jatin pauses. “They still want the hearing?”
I can hear my heart hammer. “My parents are still trying to convince the rajas it’s not necessary.”
“They’ll get through to them. And soon it will be behind us.”
His words hit home. That’s all I wantfor this nightmare to be behind us. But even the roof we’re sitting on now has ash embedded between the shingles. The air is saturated with the smell of soot instead of sea salt.
Jatin goes back to his food, scooping up the rice with his fingers. “I saved seven people, by the way.”
I drop a piece of roasted silken fish. “What?”
He ignores me, but a smile plays at the corner of his mouth. “And you know what that means.”
I shake my head, reconfiguring the tally. It’s been hard to keep track after two hundred. “I still think I’m up by two.”
“Nope, down two.” He smiles full-on.
It melts me even though my inner competitor huffs in irritation. “Don’t say it.”
He leans in, close enough for me to feel his breath. “Winnin”
I turn my head quickly to kiss him, interrupting his taunt. I taste the spice of festival food, and, as always, kissing Jatin fills me with happiness and a sense of wholeness. The food is forgotten. His hand roams over my jawline where the Goddess Erif extended and stained my Touch burgundy, like tendrils of lashing fire.
“You know, I’ve figured out that you kiss me to stop my teasing. It’s not a good way to train me.”
“Are you admitting that you are trainable?” I joke, kissing him again.
He smiles, but something across the alley catches his attention. I follow his gaze. A woman is lighting a candle in her attic. The flame seems to totter against the night, as if one hard blow might light up the curtains.
I sigh, the ache returning. “That’s a house fire waiting to happen.”
“Adraa, you should know, that signal yesterday?” Jatin waits a beat. “It led me to a house fire.”
A lump forms in my throat. Two months ago, house fires were a thing of the past because my invention, firelight, brought sustainable light to every household in Belwar.
I know I was the one to do it, to take my people’s firelight back to stop Mount Gandhak when Maharaja Moolek infused the volcano with my magic, but the candles still punch me in the gut. I could make more firelight. Easily. But the spell I invented has been labeled evil, an abomination everyone believes I created not to help but to control my people.
I think I could live with thatthe vicious misconceptions, my ruined reputation. But house fires? People in danger? I will myself to not cast my mask onto my face, blur out my features, and let Adraa Belwar disappear. Because my other self, the Red Woman? Belwar accepts her, has cheered her on ever since Jatin and I started patrolling in disguise. Belwar loves me when I wear my mask.
Jatin reaches over and clasps my right handthe one not covered with my Toucha gesture that I have come to define as not only comfort but also acceptance. Love. “Thank you, Jatin. For being there for my people.”
He squeezes again. “I’m here for you too.” His expression grows earnest. “I wanted to talk to you about something. . . .”
“As long as it doesn’t involve the hearing, my reputation, or the fact that people still think I bewitched you into trusting me.”
“It’s none of those things. Though that last one is still open to debate if you ask me.”
“Jatin,” I chastise. “What is it?”
He turns serious again, glancing down at our entwined hands. “I . . .” He’s practically stammering.
“Why do you look so nervous?”
He rubs the back of his neck. “Well”
A light vaults into the sky, red and white twisted together that can only mean one thing: a call to Night and the Red Woman. The glowing blaze is Jatin’s invention, a device infused with both of our magic for people to signal us when they are in trouble. It’s close. So close that it distorts the colors of the festival, washing away the residue of fun and piercing me with surprise.
Jatin and I only have to glance at each other, and then we’re clambering to our feet and running. I reach for my belt and yank out my skyglider, Hubris the Fourth. “Vitahtrae,” I cast, and red streams of magic seep into the sturdy wood. As its handle extends and its kited tail unfolds, I throw myself onto it, letting the yellow magic buffer my weight. Someone picked the wrong night to mess with my city.
Being engaged since the age of nine has some advantages, the main one being never having to propose. In the last ten years I don’t think I ever processed how lucky or spoiled I was in the art of romance. But, by the Gods, it’s bad. Three days ago, I got down on one knee after Adraa beat me in our weekly rainbow tournament, and she thought I had stumbled. She doesn’t seem to mind my awkwardness, but she also has no idea that I’ve been trying to get us officially reattached for weeks.
I wouldn’t say it’s entirely my fault. We’ve been busy, the Red Woman and I. Every time my invention sings into the air, we fly into action. And it sings often. I’ve lost count of how many times it has conspired against me. My best friend, Kalyan, keeps a tally, though.
But then again, Adraa and I are doing what we do best. So here I am, slipping on shingles and unhitching my skyglider so we can dive into danger. Adraa is two steps ahead of me, already bringing Hubris to life. I cast my own extension and levitation spells, ghost-white clouds pulsing into the wood. A roof isn’t the best spot for taking off, but that doesn’t stop Adraa. Heck, months ago she jumped from a second-story window to chase a criminal. So I follow suit, hitching a leg over my skyglider and shooting into the chilly air.
The source of the signal comes from the East Village. Which could mean a lot of things, but given the Vencrin’s ties to the docks near Belwar Bay, it’s highly suspicious. Adraa must feel the same because she looks over at me. “Night, do you think”
An ambush? Yes. I’ve been awaiting the day the Vencrin use our signal against us. “Signaling for the others now.” I cup my hands to my mouth and a blur of white magic gathers there until three beams of light explode upward. But as I watch my signal impale the sky along with all the other bursts of magic from the celebration, my mistake becomes apparent.
“They won’t see.”
“Then it’s just you and me. Like the good old days.” I raise my forearm, waiting.
Adraa drops closer and bumps her forearm against mine. “Good old days? You mean three weeks ago?”
I mean every single day I get to spend with her. “What? They weren’t good for you?”
She laughs. “I could have done without the one wizard who signaled us to get that monkey out of his yard.”
There are some aspects of the signal I hadn’t quite accounted for. “Monkeys are no laughing matter, Red.”