I, meanwhile, have no purpose at all other than to wait.
"No sneaking around outside the forge." Musa's said it a dozen times. "The Jaduna I spoke of report to the king. If they see you, you'll find yourself back in prison, and I don't fancy having to rescue you again."
If Musa has information for me, he doesn't share it. Nor do we have any news from the outside world. With every day that goes by, I am more mistrustful. Does the Scholar man truly intend to help me? Or are his promises to aid me a ploy to get Darin to make weapons?
A week flies past. Then another. The Grain Moon is a mere eight weeks away, and I am spending my time testing blades that keep breaking. One morning, while Musa is out, I sneak into his quarters, hoping to find something--anything--about his past, the Resistance, or his information network. But all I discover is that he has a taste for candied almonds, which I find tucked away in drawers, beneath the bed, and most bizarrely, in a set of old boots.
On most evenings, Musa introduces me to other Scholars he knows and trusts. Some are refugees, like me, but many are Adisan Scholars. Every time, I have to tell my story again. Every time, Musa refuses to explain his plan for resurrecting the Resistance.
What were you thinking, Shaeva? Why did you send me to this man?
News finally arrives in the form of a scroll that appears in Musa's hand one day, in the middle of dinner. Darin and Zella are deep in conversation, Taure is telling me the story of a girl she's fallen for in the camps, and I'm staring daggers at Musa, who is placidly stuffing his face as if the fate of the world doesn't hinge on his ability to get me information.
My fixed glare is the only reason I even see the scroll appear. One second, it's not there, the next, he's unrolling it.
"The Nightbringer," he says, "is in Navium with the Commandant, the Paters of the city, the Blood Shrike, and her men. He hasn't left there in weeks. There is some infighting between the Commandant and the Blood Shrike, apparently--"
I groan. "That doesn't help me at all. I need to know whom he's seeing. Whom he's talking to--"
"Apparently, he's spent a great deal of time in his chambers, recovering from sinking the Martial fleet," Musa says. "Must take a lot of energy, murdering a few thousand souls and sending their vessels to the bottom of the sea."
"I need more," I say. "He has to be doing something beyond sitting in his quarters. Are there any fey creatures around him? Are they getting stronger? How fare the Tribes?"
But Musa has nothing more to offer--not yet, anyway.
Which means I have to take matters into my own hands. I need to get out into the city. Jaduna or not, I need to at least learn what's happening elsewhere in the Empire. After dinner, as Darin, Taure, and Zella discuss the different clays used for cooling a blade, I yawn and excuse myself. Musa has long since retired, and I pause outside his room. Snores rumble within. Moments later, I am invisible and cutting my way west, toward Adisa's central markets.
Though I was only in the refugee camp for moments, the difference between it and the Mariner city is stark. The camp was dingy tents and sucking mud. Adisa's cobbled streets are lined with houses of azure and violet, more alive at night than during the day. The camp was full of young Scholars with jutting collarbones and swollen bellies. Here, I don't see a single starving child.
What kind of king would allow this? Is there no space in this massive city for the Scholar souls freezing beyond its gates?
Maybe it's not the king. Maybe it's his ghul-infested daughter. The creatures flit through the market too, a seething blight lurking on the fringes of the crowds.
In the city's center, brightly dressed Mariners haggle and joke and trade. Silk kites sail like ships overhead, and I stop to ogle clay vessels with entire books painted on their sides. An Ankanese seer from the far south rasps out fortunes, and a kohl-eyed Jaduna watches him, the gold coins strung across her forehead catching the light. Recalling Musa's warning, I head away from the woman.
All around me, Mariners walk the streets with a surety I fear I will never possess. The freedom of this place, the ease of it--it feels like none of it is for me or my people. All this belongs to others, to those who do not abide at the crossroads of uncertainty and despair. It belongs to people so used to living free that they cannot imagine a world in which they are not.
"--do you expect? The Tribes won't lie down and take it like the Scholars. They won't allow their people to be enslaved."
Two Mariner cooks argue loudly over the pop of frying pastries, and I inch closer.
"I understand their anger," one of them says. "But to target innocent villagers--"
Someone jostles me, and I just manage to hold on to my invisibility. The crowds here are too thick, so I leave them behind, not stopping until I spot a group of children gathered in a doorway.
"--she burned Blackcliff to a crisp and killed a Mask--"
A few are Adisan Scholars, full-cheeked and finely dressed. Others are Mariners. All cluster around wanted signs featuring me, Darin, and--I'm surprised to see--Musa.
"--I heard she stabbed Kauf's warden in the face--"
"--I think she'll save us from the wraiths--"
All I need from you is a story, Musa had said. It is strange to hear that story now, altered into something else entirely.
"--Uncle Musa says she's got magic, like the Lioness--"
"--My da says Uncle Musa is a liar. He says the Lioness was a fool and a murderess--"
"--My ama says the Lioness killed children--"
My heart twists. I know their words shouldn't bother me. They are only children. But I want to show myself anyway. She was funny and clever, I want to say. She could shoot a sparrow on a branch from a hundred paces. She only ever wanted true freedom for us--for you. She only ever wanted better.
Another child appears in the alley. "Kehanni! Kehanni!" she yells. The children race away to a nearby courtyard where a deep voice rises and trembles and swoops--a Kehanni spinning a tale. I follow them, to find the yard bursting with an audience collectively holding its breath.
The Kehanni has silver hair and a face that has seen a thousand tales. She wears a heavily embroidered, calf-length dress over wide, mirror-hemmed pants that catch the lamplight. Her voice is throaty, and though I should move on, I find an empty spot against a wall to listen.
"The ghuls surrounded the child, drawn by his sadness." She speaks Serran, and her accent is heavy. "And though he wished to help his ailing sister, the fey creatures whispered poison into his ears, until his heart became as twisted as the roots of an old jinn tree."
As the Kehanni sings her story, I realize there is truth within this tale--a history of sorts. Hadn't I just witnessed exactly what she described, only with Princess Nikla?
The Kehannis' stories, I realize, have as much history in them as any book in the Great Library. More, perhaps, for there is no skepticism in the old tales that might occlude the truth. The more I consider it, the more excited I get. Elias learned to destroy efrits from a song Mamie Rila sang him. What if the stories could help me understand the Nightbringer? What if they could tell me how to stop him? My excitement has me moving away from the wall, toward the Kehanni. Finally, I have a chance to learn something useful about the jinn.
Laia . . .
The whisper brushes against my ear and I jump, jostling the man next to me, who yelps, looking about for whoever bumped him.
Quick as I can, I weave my way through the still-rapt audience and out of the courtyard. Something is watching me. I feel it. And whatever it is, I don't want it making trouble among those listening to the Kehanni.
I shove back through the crowded market, looking over my shoulder repeatedly. Black scraps of shadow flit just out of my vision. Ghuls? Or something worse? I speed my gait, exiting the market and entering a quiet side street. I look back once more.
The past shall burn, and none will slow it.
I recognize the whisper, the way it grates like rotted claws across my mind. Nightbringer! I am too frightene
d even to cry out. All I can do is stand there, useless.
I spin, trying to pick him out of the shadows.
"Show yourself." My voice is barely above a whisper. "Show yourself, you monster."
You dare to judge me, Laia of Serra? How can you, when you know not the darkness that lives within your own heart?
"I'm not afraid of you."
The words are a lie, and he chuckles in response. I blink--an instant of darkness, nothing at all--and when I open my eyes, I sense I am alone again. The Nightbringer is gone.
By the time I return to the forge, my body trembles. The place is dark--everyone has turned in. But I don't drop my invisibility until I'm alone in my room.
The moment I do, my vision goes black. I am standing in a room--a cell, I realize. I can just make out a woman in the darkness. She is singing.
A star she came
Into my home
And lit it bright with glo-ry
The song floats all around me, though the words grow muffled. A strange sound splits the song, like the branch of a tree breaking. When I open my eyes, the vision is gone, as is the singing. The house is quiet, other than Darin murmuring in his sleep from next door.
What in the skies was that?
Is it the magic affecting me? Or the Nightbringer? Is this him--is he toying with my mind? I sit up quickly, glancing about my darkened room. Elias's armlet is warm in my hand. I imagine his voice. The shadows are just shadows, Laia. The Nightbringer can't hurt you.
But he can. He has. He'll do so again.
I retreat to my bed, refusing to release the armlet, trying to keep Elias's soothing baritone in my mind. But I keep seeing the Nightbringer's face. Hearing his voice. And sleep does not come.