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Cehrazad

Figures play before the shimmering curtain, and in Cehrazad’s eyes their limbs are fluid: swords, then tentacles, then the crested heads of birds.

Shimmering. Curtain. Fire. She wakes in a choking cough. Her sisters are screaming, but they’re moving: she gets them outside and barely remembers to throw on Dunyazad’s mask.

Guards in black move grimly through the bucket-line. Cehrazad needs no help composing her face in terror, but even keeping her eyes on the blaze she can see them converging. No. No. How?

Idiot, she thinks, you’re wearing the only sootless face, and then their hands are on her.

Cehrazad

Dunyazad’s face was rounder than Cehrazad’s, cheekbones higher, eyes set more deeply. The carefully repaired glass mask doesn’t fit.

“Pity,” murmurs the King, handing it to an attendant. “There’s some resemblance. Have you other daughters, Lord Loong?”

“To be honest, Your Majesty, I’ve never bothered counting the children,” says Cehrazad’s father. “I have wives for that. But no one in my house would hide from you; feel free to search.”

Cehrazad is holding her sister’s face hard, but it flickers there. When the King glances back for a sharp moment, she feels she must be shimmering, like a hot summer road.

Cehrazad

Cehrazad’s grandmother had three daughters, and all three married the same man; when the third wedding was over, she disappeared. Cehrazad’s father is so important in the city’s administration that he wears his official mask, Loong, even at home. None of the children have ever seen his underface. Nor do they know precisely which mother gave birth to whom.

Dunyazad wouldn’t admit it, but Cehrazad knows she’s gone to find their grandmother. She doesn’t understand. They have plenty of parents; why seek a woman they never met?

Cehrazad’s mothers never knew their father, or fathers. In Memorare, that’s almost the norm.

Cehrazad

“I’m going now, tonight,” Dunyazad says. Her voice is quiet and careful; Cehrazad–twelve to her eleven–is the one crying. “Cehrie, Cehrazad, shhh.”

“I can’t, I can’t live here alone–”

“There are nine children in our wing,” Dunyazad says drily. “And the mothers, and the slaves, and even Father.”

“You know what I mean!”

“You won’t be alone. I’ll be here in your mirror, in your mind, when you need me. Are you ready?”

Cehrazad scrubs her eyes closed. Dunyazad kisses her, and whispers a word in no language, and presses her face to Cehrazad’s fingers; and then she’s gone.

Cehrazad

Cehrazad has six masks, not counting her underface. Columbina is her commedienne. Lafayette is a gold domino on a stick for daring nights. Calcutta, carved of mahogany, she wears for grief and bridesmaid duties; Semiot, a blue bauta, for market days. Blind is a white cord, wrapped six times around her eyes. Cehrazad wore Blind once for pleasure and once in desperation; she does not intend to do so again.

The sixth covers her from eyes to ankles, and there are very few people–not even her parents–who know that Dunyazad is not truly Cehrazad’s sister. Sometimes, Cehrazad forgets herself.

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