Harper's low oath tells me that I will soon have a great deal of explaining to do. But I can worry about that later. My body is exhausted, but when the Nightbringer releases me, I make myself sit up.

"Wait," I whisper. "Will you tell her of this?" He knows of whom I speak.

"Why would I tell her? So that she can attempt to kill you again? I am not her servant, Blood Shrike. She is mine. She attacked you against my orders. I have no patience for defiance, thus I have thwarted her."

"I don't understand. Why would you help me? What do you want from me?"

"I am not helping you, Blood Shrike." He stands and gathers his robes. "I am helping myself."

* * *

When I wake, night has fallen, and the rafters shudder with reverberations of catapult projectiles. The Barbarians must have recommenced their bombardment of Navium.

I am alone in my room, but my armor is hung neatly from the wall. A curse slips through my lips as I rise. My wound has gone from deadly to irritatingly painful. Stop whinging. Get your armor on. I limp to the wall, every joint as stiff as an old woman's in deep winter. I hope a few minutes on my feet will warm up my body enough that I can at least ride.

"Off to get yourself killed again so soon?" The familiar rasp is so unexpected that I don't believe I'm hearing it at first. "Your mother would be appalled."

Cook perches in the window as usual, and even with the hood, even though I've seen her scars before, the violence of her mangled face is jarring enough that I look away. Her cloak is ripped, her shock of white hair a bird's nest. The yellow stains on her fingers tell me immediately who has been leaving clay statues in the Commandant's quarters.

"I heard you got stabbed." The Cooks drops into the room. "Thought I'd come yell at you for allowing it to happen." She shakes her head. "You're a fool. You should know better than to walk alone at night within a hundred miles of the Bitch of Blackcliff."

"And leave you to kill her?" I snort. "Hasn't worked out well for you, has it? All you've done is left a few disturbing statues in her quarters."

Cook grins, an eerie thing. "I'm not trying to kill her." She does not elaborate. Her gaze drops to my stomach. "You haven't thanked me for murdering the other assassins who were coming for you. Or for telling Harper to stop squinting at reports so he could drag your carcass to safety."

"Thank you," I say.

"I trust you know that sun-eyed bastard wants something from you?"

I don't waste time asking how she knows the Nightbringer healed me. "I don't trust him," I tell her. "I'm not a fool."

"Then why did you let him help you? He's planning a war, did you know? And he's likely got a part in it for you. You just don't know what it is yet."

"A war." I sit up. "The war with the Karkauns?"

Cook hisses, snatches a candle off a table near the door, and throws it at my head. "Not that war, stupid! The war. The one that's been brewing since the day my idiot people decided it would be wise to attack and destroy the jinn. That's what this is all about, girl. That's what the Commandant is up to. It's not just the Karkauns she wants to defeat."

"Explain yourself," I say. "What are you--"

"Get out of here," she says. "Get far away from the Commandant. She's set on taking you down, and she'll have her way. Go to your sister. Keep her safe. Keep that emperor of yours in check. And when the war does come, be ready for it."

"I must take down the Commandant first," I say. "This war you speak of--" A step sounds in the hallway beyond the door. Cook leaps into the window, one hand coiled around the frame. I notice something strange about that hand. The skin is smooth--not young like mine, but not the skin of a white-haired granny either.

Those dark blue eyes pin me. "You want to take down the Bitch of Blackcliff? You want to destroy her? You have to become her first. And you don't have it in you, girl."

XXVI: Laia

I am fuzzy-headed and confused when I pull on my boots. I've slept all day--such strange dreams I had. Wonderful, and yet--

"Laia!" Musa's voice is a low hiss at the door. "Bleeding hells, are you all right? Laia!"

The door bursts open before I can get a word out, and Musa takes two steps in and grabs my shoulders, as if to make sure I am real.

"Get your things." He scans the windows and beneath the bed. "We need to get the hells out of here."

"What's happened?" I say. My thoughts immediately go to the Nightbringer. To his minions. "Is it--is he--"

"Wraiths." Musa's face has paled to the color of an unpolished scim. "They attacked Tribe Sulud, and they might be coming for us."

Oh no. No. "The Kehanni--"

"I don't know if she's alive," he says. "And we can't risk finding out. Come on."

We race down the back stairs of the inn and out to the stables as silently as possible. It is late enough that most of the village is in bed, and waking anyone would only bring about questions--and a delay.

"The wraiths killed everyone silently," Musa says. "I wouldn't have known anything was wrong if the wights hadn't woken me up."

I pause as I throw a saddle onto my horse. "We should find out if there are any survivors."

Musa swings up onto his mount. "If we go into that camp, skies know what we'll find."

"I've faced a wraith before." I finish with my horse. "There were nearly fifty Tribespeople in that camp, Musa. If even one of them is alive--"

Musa shakes his head. "Most of them left early. Only a few wagons stayed with the Kehanni to keep watch over her until she was ready to leave. And she stayed because--"

"Because of us," I say. "Which is why we owe it to her to make sure neither she nor any of her kinsmen needs help."

He groans in protest but follows me as I leave the stables and head for the camp. I expect it to be silent, but the steady drizzle of rain pings off the wagon roofs, making it difficult for us to hear our own footsteps.

The first body is sprawled at the entrance to the encampment. It is wrong, broken in a dozen different ways. A lump rises in my throat. I recognize the man--one of the Tribesmen who welcomed us. Three more of his family members lie a few yards from him. I know instantly that they too are dead.

But we do not see the Kehanni. A quiet chitter near Musa's ear tells me that the wights have noticed her absence too. Musa nods to the Kehanni's wagon. When I make for it, Musa puts an arm in front of me.

"Aapan." The strain on his face matches the foreboding in my heart. "Maybe I should go first. In case."

"I saw the inside of Kauf Prison, Musa

." I slip past him. "It can't be any worse."

The back door opens silently, and I find the Kehanni crumpled against the far wall. She looks so much smaller than she did just hours ago, an old woman whose last story was stolen from her. The wraiths did not cut her--in fact, I do not see a single open wound. But the odd angles of her limbs tell me exactly how she died. I clap my hand against my mouth to hold back my sick. Skies, she must have been in so much pain.

A moan comes from her, and both Musa and I jump.

"Oh bleeding hells." I am by her side in two steps. "Musa, go to the horses. Look in the right saddlebag--"

"No." The Kehanni's sunken eyes gleam with faint, failing light. "Listen." Musa and I both fall silent. We can barely hear her over the rain.

"Seek out the Augurs' words," she whispers. "Prophecy. The Great Library--"

"Augurs?" I don't understand. "What do the Augurs have to do with the Nightbringer? Are they allies?"

"Of a kind," the Kehanni whispers. "Of a kind."

Her eyelids droop. She's gone. From the wagon door, a loud, panicked chitter sounds.

"Let's go," Musa hisses. "The wraiths are circling back. They know we're here."

With the panic of the wights spurring us, we race through the rain at a pace that drives the horses into a frothing sweat. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I think the words over and over, but I don't know to whom I speak. My horse, for making it suffer? The Kehanni, for asking her a question that killed her? The Tribesmen who died trying to protect her?

"The Augurs' prophecies," Musa says when we finally slow our horses for a rest. "The only place we'll find them is the Great Library. She--she was trying to tell us. But it's impossible to get in."

"Nothing is impossible." Elias's words come back to me. "We'll get in. We must. But first we have to make it back."

Again, we push through the night, but this time, Musa needs no urging. I spend half the ride looking over my shoulder and the other half plotting ways to get into the Great Library. The skies clear, but the roads are still treacherous with mud. The wights remain near us, their wings occasionally flashing in the dark, their presence offering a strange comfort.

When the walls of Adisa come into view in the deepest hour of the night, I want to sob in relief. Until the hazy glow of flame materializes.