Amira stood and glared at the palace on the horizon. The sight winded her like a punch to the gut. Like most of the children in her village, Amira had been raised on stories of the royal palace, of its towering buttresses and gleaming stone walls hewn from the mountainside. And the stories had crawled into her mind and taken root. For years, she had stoked the memories, letting them dance around her mind like the flickering flames of a campfire, rising to an inferno as she dreamed of running through the palace with a ball gown billowing around her. But the Seed Shortage had cast icy water over those dreams. Being forced to buy seeds online, scrambling for scraps of internet connection amongst the muck and dirt of the Hollows — it was certainly no way to live.
“Do you truly think we can do it?” Ro asked from beside her.
Amira scowled, running her fingers gently along a blade of grass. “The palace walls have never been breached before.”
Ro scoffed. “So what?” She shifted under the weight of the rose she’d strung across her back. It was the size of her forearm and bristly with thorns; a perfect imitation of the blood red roses the palace guards used as weapons. “We can’t keep living off those standard garden roses for sale in the Hollow markets. It’ll never be good enough, and you know it.”Amira nodded absentmindedly. When Xylia had first presented the idea for the heist, Amira had readily accepted. It was a chance to leave the Hollows, to see the world’s gardens beyond the brown soil walls that had encased her entire childhood. But now, squinting at the hulking fortress of the palace, she couldn’t help but wonder what kind of job this would be. Amira didn’t know anything about espionage, but why should stealing the seed compendium from the palace be any different to swiping handfuls of soil from market stalls? The most well-protected building in the world, she reminded herself. What she needed was a strong, specialised team, but all she had was Ro.