Chapter One

Once Upon a Time

"One step forward, two to the right and a crown dip. It’s the fleurette, a strategic flapgammon move that precedes a staggering victory—and I’ve seen plenty. But when your finest winger pawn pivots, gives three steps back and anchors . . . Well, that’s the déculottée. And if it happens to you during your match, then you better raise your culottes from your seat and tip your halo.

Holy wings, a déculottée . . . I hadn’t seen one in ages. I should’ve known there was something more to it, and I should’ve seen it coming. For let me tell you this: I always see things coming, even the tiniest.

But as I numbed the itch with a sip of comfort tea and a whiff of my peace pipe, the only thing I could think of was buffing the shame off my feathers. Yet had I used them to soar into the Luxernarium instead to watch the cosmos, then maybe, just maybe, Grandangel Suma Cum Loving Genesio Patris of the Custos-Lux would still be around. And Maternia of the Legit-Librum, his beloved apprentice, would’ve followed her dream of becoming Anglusia’s High Priestess of Angelic Creation, instead of vanishing from the Sanctorum with his chunky gold ring and that mysterious, newborn humangeling no one ever saw again."