"Rose!" Laura pushes her way past a few adoring admirers, her wavy blonde hair trailing behind her like a flag. She clamps a hand over my arm, dragging me out of the flow of traffic. "What is going on? Is it true?"
I look down, then back up at her. I was hoping to put off this conversation until later. "We both knew I wouldn't be able to stay in Lord Tallor's kitchens forever. A new, experienced cook would have been found soon enough anyway."
Her mouth pulls into a frown. "That's an excuse. Why would you volunteer for a Death Vigil? Why? Nothing good comes from that. Only those with magic survive such things!"
I sigh, pulling her into the mouth of an alleyway, away from interested ears. "I didn't have a choice, Laura. Not really. And don't worry so much. I know what I'm doing."
I couldn't tell her about the Death Vigils I'd sat as a child with my mother.
For a moment, she looked incredulous, then her face turned stormy. "Allory. He finally pushed his limits, didn't he?"
The memory of his cold mouth forcing against mine made me shudder. Laura's gaze sharpened, and she grabbed my hands, squeezing tight. "Did he..."
I shook my head. "I hit him with a rolling pin. He threatened to have me arrested for assault."
Laura snorted. "He wouldn't. Everyone knows what he's like. We'll go to the magistrate and talk to him."
"The word of Rose Heather, the daughter of a madman and a gypsy? We both know how far that would have gotten me."
Laura's fair skin was flushed, and tears glistened in her eyes. "But a Death Vigil? Rose there are better things to try. And the closest place would be Lantern Tower!"
"There are no other options for me. And I'm not going to Lantern Tower," I draw a breath. "I'm going to Crow's Crossing."
Laura's mouth dropped open. "Four Vigil Keepers have already died there. They say demons want that soul and then some."
I can't keep a short, humorless laugh from escaping. "I have plenty of practice dealing with demons. I'll be okay."
My friend stared at me, then tilted her head. "You're either very brave or very stupid. But either way, I think you believe that, and I'm not sure if I should be impressed or scared."
"Maybe both," I sighed. "There are a great many things about me you don't know. That no one knows anymore."
Laura squeezed me in a hug. "I've always known you had secrets, Rose. But you must promise me something."
"Try to come back alive, whole, and yourself."
"I can't promise you that. But I can't promise I won't come back different."
Laura gave me a sad smile. "By the time you come back, we'll both be different."