I followed her across a corridor to another set of enormous double doors. This pair had been carved to look like the cover of an old book, and when Genya pulled them open, I gasped.
The library was two stories high, its walls lined from floor to ceiling with books. A balcony ran around the second story, and its dome was made entirely of glass so that the whole room glowed with morning light. A few reading chairs and small tables were set by the walls. At the room’s center, directly beneath the sparkling glass dome, was a round table ringed by a circular bench.
“You’ll have to come here for history and theory,” Genya said, leading me around the table and across the room. “I finished with all that years ago. So boring.” Then she laughed. “Close your mouth. You look like a trout.”
I snapped my mouth shut, but that didn’t stop me from looking around in awe. The Duke’s library had seemed so grand to me, but compared to this place it was a hovel. All of Keramzin seemed shabby and faded viewed beside the beauty of the Little Palace, but somehow it made me sad to think of it that way. I wondered what Mal’s eyes would see.
My steps slowed. Were the Grisha allowed guests? Could Mal come visit me in Os Alta? He had his duties with his regiment, but if he could get leave … The thought filled me with excitement. The Little Palace didn’t seem quite so intimidating when I thought of walking its corridors with my best friend.
We left the library through another set of double doors and passed into a dark hallway. Genya turned left, but I glanced down the hall to the right and saw two Corporalki emerge from a large set of red-lacquered doors. They gave us unfriendly looks before they disappeared into the shadows.
“Come on,” Genya whispered, grabbing hold of my arm and pulling me in the opposite direction.
“Where do those doors lead?” I asked.
“To the anatomy rooms.”
A chill rippled through me. The Corporalki. Healers … and Heartrenders. They had to practice somewhere, but I hated to think what that practice might entail. I quickened my steps to catch up with Genya. I didn’t want to get caught by myself anywhere near those red doors.
At the end of the hallway, we stopped at a set of doors made of light wood, exquisitely carved with birds and blooming flowers. The flowers had yellow diamonds at their centers, and the birds had what looked like amethyst eyes. The door handles were wrought to look like two perfect hands. Genya took hold of one and pushed the door open.
The Fabrikators’ workshops had been positioned to make the most of the clear eastern light, and the walls were made up almost entirely of windows. The brightly lit rooms reminded me a bit of a Documents Tent, but instead of atlases, stacks of paper, and bottles of ink, the large worktables were laden with bolts of fabric, chunks of glass, thin skeins of gold and steel, and strangely twisted hunks of rock. In one corner, terrariums held exotic flowers, insects, and—I saw with a shudder—snakes.
The Materialki in their dark purple kefta sat hunched over their work, but looked up to stare their fill at me as we passed. At one table, two female Fabrikators were working a molten lump of what I thought might become Grisha steel, their table scattered with bits of diamond and jars full of silkworms. At another table, a Fabrikator with a cloth tied over his nose and mouth was measuring out a thick black liquid that stank of tar. Genya led me past all of them to where a Fabrikator hunched over a set of tiny glass discs. He was pale, reed-thin, and in dire need of a haircut.
“Hello, David,” said Genya.
David looked up, blinked, gave a curt nod, and bent back to his work.
Genya sighed. “David, this is Alina.”
David gave a grunt.
“The Sun Summoner,” Genya added.
“These are for you,” he said without looking up.
I looked at the disks. “Oh, um … thank you?”
I wasn’t sure what else to say, but when I looked at Genya, she just shrugged and rolled her eyes.
“Goodbye, David,” she said deliberately. David grunted. Genya took my arm and led me outside onto an arched wooden arcade that overlooked a rolling green lawn. “Don’t take it personally,” she said. “David is a great metalworker. He can fold a blade so sharp it will cut through flesh like water. But if you’re not made of metal or glass, he isn’t interested.”
Genya’s voice was light, but it had a funny little edge to it, and when I glanced at her, I saw that there were bright spots of color on her perfect cheekbones. I looked back through the windows to where I could still see David’s bony shoulders and messy brown hair. I smiled. If a creature as gorgeous as Genya could fall for a skinny, studious Fabrikator, there might be hope for me yet.
“What?” she said, noticing my smile.
Genya squinted suspiciously at me, but I kept my mouth shut. We followed the arcade along the eastern wall of the Little Palace, past more windows that looked into the Fabrikators’ workshops. Then we turned a corner and the windows stopped. Genya quickened her pace.
“Why aren’t there any windows?” I asked.
Genya glanced nervously at the solid walls. They were the only parts of the Little Palace I’d seen that weren’t covered in carvings. “We’re on the other side of the Corporalki anatomy rooms.”
“Don’t they need light to … do their work?”
“Skylights,” she said. “In the roof, like the library dome. They prefer it that way. It keeps them and their secrets safe.”
“But what do they do in there?” I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to hear the answer.
“Only the Corporalki know. But there are rumors that they’ve been working with the Fabrikators on new … experiments.”
I shivered and was relieved when we turned another corner and the windows began again. Through them I saw bedrooms like my own, and I realized I was seeing the downstairs dormitories. I was grateful that I’d been given a room on the third floor. I could have done without all those stairs to climb, but now that I had my own room for the first time, I was glad that people couldn’t just walk by my window.
Genya pointed to the lake I’d seen from my room. “That’s where we’re going,” she said, pointing to the little white structures dotting the shore. “To the Summoners’ pavilions.”
“All the way out there?”
“It’s the safest place for you sort to practice. All we need is some overexcited Inferni to burn the whole palace down around us.”
“Ah,” I said. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“That’s nothing. The Fabrikators have another place all the way outside the city where they work on blast powders. I can arrange for you to have a tour there, too,” she said with a wicked grin.
We descended a set of steps to a gravel path and made our way to the lake. As we approached it, another building became visible on the far shore. To my surprise, I saw groups of children running and shouting around it. Children in red, blue, and purple. A bell rang, and they left off their playing and streamed inside.
“A school?” I asked.
Genya nodded. “When a Grisha’s talent is discovered, the child is brought here for training. It’s where nearly all of us learned the Small Science.”
Again I thought of those three figures looming over me in the sitting room at Keramzin. Why hadn’t the Grisha Examiners discovered my abilities all those years ago? It was hard to imagine what my life might have been like if they had. I would have been catered to by servants instead of working side by side with them at chores. I never would have become a cartographer or even learned to draw a map. And what might it have meant for Ravka? If I’d learned to use my power, the Shadow Fold might already be a thing of the past. Mal and I would never have had to fight the volcra. In fact, Mal and I would probably have long forgotten each other.
I looked back across the water to the school. “What happens when they finish?”
“They become members of the Second Army. Many are sent to the great houses to serve with noble families, or they’re sent to serve with the First Army on the northern or southern front, or near the Fold. The best are chosen to remain at the Little Palace, to finish their education and join the Darkling’s service.”
“What about their families?” I asked.
“They’re compensated handsomely. A Grisha’s family never wants.”
“That’s not what I meant. Don’t you ever go home to visit?”
Genya shrugged. “I haven’t seen my parents since I was five. This is my home.”
Looking at Genya in her white and gold kefta, I wasn’t quite convinced. I’d lived at Keramzin for most of my life, but I’d never felt I belonged there. And even after a year, the same had been true for the King’s Army. The only place I’d ever felt I belonged was with Mal, and even that hadn’t lasted. For all her beauty, maybe Genya and I weren’t so different after all.
When we reached the lakeshore, we strolled past the stone pavilions, but Genya didn’t stop until we reached a path that wound from the shore into the woods.
“Here we are,” she said.
I peered up the path. Hidden in the shadows, I could just make out a small stone hut, obscured by trees. “There?”
“I can’t go with you. Not that I’d want to.”
I looked back up the path and a little shiver ran up my spine.
Genya gave me a pitying look. “Baghra’s not so bad once you get used to her. But you don’t want to be late.”
“Right,” I said hastily, and scurried up the path.
“Good luck!” Genya called after me.
The stone hut was round and, I noted apprehensively, didn’t seem to have any windows. I walked up the few steps to the door and knocked. When no one answered, I knocked again and waited. I wasn’t sure what to do. I looked back up the path, but Genya was long gone. I knocked once more, then screwed up my courage and opened the door.
The heat hit me like a blast, and I instantly began to sweat in my new clothes. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I could just make out a narrow bed, a basin, and a stove with a kettle on it. At the center of the room were two chairs and a fire roaring in a large tile oven.
“You’re late,” said a harsh voice.
I looked around but didn’t see anyone in the tiny room. Then one of the shadows moved. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Shut the door, girl. You’re letting the heat out.”
I closed the door.
“Good, let’s have a look at you.”
I wanted to turn and run in the other direction, but I told myself to stop being stupid. I forced myself to walk over to the fire. The shadow emerged from behind the oven to peer at me in the firelight.
My first impression was of an impossibly ancient woman, but when I looked closer, I wasn’t sure why I’d thought that at all. Baghra’s skin was smooth and taut over the sharp angles of her face. Her back was straight, her body wiry like a Suli acrobat, her coal-black hair untouched by gray. And yet the firelight made her features eerily skull-like, all jutting bones and deep hollows. She wore an old kefta of indeterminate color, and with one skeletal hand she gripped a flat-headed cane that looked like it had been hewn from silvery, petrified wood.