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Chapter no 22

We Free the Stars (Sands of Arawiya, 2)

It was dark when the Lion returned, triumph carving a smile that glittered like the night. Joy in his gaze that tripped Altair’s heart for the barest of beats before he at once felt a deep, numbing nothingness and a bursting, tumultuous everything.

From the folds of his robes, the Lion pulled free the Jawarat with a delicate hand. Green with tattered pages and a fiery mane embossed in its center.

Not only had the zumra—with their ancient safin, shadow- wielding prince, and dum sihr—not found Altair, but they had been careless.

The Lion watched him carefully, but what was there to see? Altair’s disappointment at their incompetence? Altair’s contentment at a plan gone right?

“Unlock his chains,” his considerate father said, and an ifrit came forth with a key.

A tiny, insignificant bit of molded iron that would grant his freedom. The Jawarat, memories of the Sisters of Old incarnate, for his freedom.

So that he would never be forgotten.

Neither father nor son spoke until the chains were detached.

“I don’t suppose you can remove the shackles, too?” Altair ventured, a little hoarse, his gaze fixed on the book.

The Lion smiled. It was quite something, to be the cause of another’s joy. To be the pride of someone’s eye, if only for a fleeting moment.

Altair matched it. “Akhh, I knew it was too much to ask.”

“You have done me a service, Altair. For that, you are free to roam the house as you would like.”

Some freedom.

“Ah, Baba. Quite the weight off my shoulders—er, arms,” Altair drawled, flexing his muscles. He dallied a beat before he said, “What do you plan to do with it?”

“Learn it,” the Lion said simply. “I’m never one to shy away from the thralls of a book.”

Altair considered that. “The Great Library would kill you, then.”

The Lion laughed, low and thoughtful. “I would not put it past the place. There is nothing quite like entering a door that promises to open onto the infinite.”

They were in a different house now, one that had belonged to a safi with a skill set that would be sorely missed by many.

“How were they?” Altair asked before he could stop himself. He found his limbs seizing in anticipation of the answer.

The Lion paused. It was eerie, for he had no pulse, even as he buzzed with excitement. “Alive. Well. They seemed to be in no hurry. It is for the best, is it not? I’m beginning to savor our alliance, Altair.”

Altair dropped his gaze to the shackles around his wrists, suppressing his power, endlessly chafing his skin. What more did he need to unveil for them to be gone?

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