But this loneliness is different. Devouring. The loneliness of a girl responsible for the breaking of the world.
The world must be broken before it can be remade, or else the balance will never be restored.
Elias spoke so to me, months ago, outside this very forest. The world must be broken before it can be remade.
Before it can be remade.
“Rehmat,” I say. “You said you were his chains.”
It is what I saw, long ago in my visions. But he is gone now, Laia. Lost in the Sea of Suffering. I failed you. Forgive me, but I failed you. I did not see his intent until it was too late.
“I should have trusted you, Rehmat.” I walk to the edge of the plateau. “Because you’ve been with me my whole life. Because you’re a part of me. I trust you now. But you must trust me as well. It was a jinn and a human who began this madness a thousand years ago. A jinn and a human must stop it. I must go to him.”
Let me go with you.
“When I am ready,” I tell her as she steps out of me, “I will call you. Will you come, Rehmat of the Sher Jinnaat?”
“I will, Laia of Serra.”
I turn toward the raging cyclone and summon it with a word.
It shifts toward me, enraged and hungry, lured by my pain. I wait until it has reached the promontory, until it is close enough to touch.
Then I cast myself into the dark.
LXV: The Soul Catcher
The Martial man who walks beside me through Blackcliff’s halls is familiar, though I’ve never met him. He has deep brown skin and black hair that falls in waves down his shoulders. It is held back by a dozen thin braids, wrapped in the way of the northern Gens.
His eyes are the color of spring’s first shoots, and despite his height, which nears my own, and the imposing breadth of his shoulders, there is a kindness in his face that makes me feel immediately at ease. Though in life he was a Mask, he does not wear one now.
“Hail, my son,” he says softly. “It is good to see your face.” His eyes travel over me. “You’re tall like your grandfather. You have his cheekbones too. My hair, though. My face. A bit of my skin. And . . .” He meets my gaze.
“Her eyes,” I say. “You’re Arius Harper.” My father, I do not add.
He inclines his head.
I’m wary of him. All I know about my father is what Avitas told me: Arius Harper loved the snow and never got used to the warm Serran summers. His smile made you feel like the sun had just come out after a long, cold winter. His hands were big and gentle when teaching a young boy to hold a slingshot.
Yet months ago in a dungeon beneath Blackcliff, Keris Veturia spoke one line that has stayed with me.
I wasn’t about to let the son kill me after the father had failed.
“You were married when you met my mother.”
He nods, and we pass from one of Blackcliff’s dim halls into another. “Renatia and I married young,” he says. “Too young, like most Martials. The marriage was arranged, as is common with the northern Gens. We . . . understood each other. When she fell in love with another, I told her to follow her heart. And she did the same for me.”
“But you and Keris—did you—” Bleeding hells. How do you ask your father if he forced himself on your mother?
“Keris was not always as she is now,” my father says. “She was a Skull when I met her. Nineteen. I was a combat Centurion here.” He glances at the oppressive brick walls around us. “She fell in love with me. And I with her.”
“The Commandant—” Is not capable of love, I want to say. But clearly, that was not always true.
“The Illustrians who killed me made her watch.” My father says the words as if he speaks of someone else. “They told her that as a Plebeian, I was not worthy of her. She tried to stop them, but there were too many. It destroyed her. She gave in to her pain.”
My father and I leave the dimly lit halls of Blackcliff and step out into the belltower courtyard. I suppress a shudder. My blood irrigated these stones. Mine, and so many others.
“Mauth demanded I give up my emotions before he let me use his magic,” I say. “After I did, he helped me suppress them. Washed them away. And I wanted that. Because it let me forget all of the terrible things I’ve done.”
“You cannot forget,” my father says. “You must not forget. Mauth erred when he took love from you. When he took anger and joy and regret and sadness and passion.”
“He did it because Cain’s greed and the Meherya’s love led to ruin,” I tell my father. “But now Mauth wants the balance restored. He wants the jinn returned. And they will not listen to me.”
“Why would they? You cannot convince them unless you first open yourself to all of the joy—” My father touches my shoulder. I see Mamie sing a story, feel Laia’s lips on mine, hear the Blood Shrike’s joyful laugh.
“And all the suffering,” my father adds, and now I see Cain wrench me from Tribe Saif. I scream at the pain of my first whipping, weep as I stab a young man—my first kill.
I want the death to end. It does not. Demetrius and Leander die by my hand. Laia and I escape Serra and I execute soldier after soldier. Kauf burns, and prisoners die in the ensuing havoc. The ghosts escape the Waiting Place and kill thousands.
Murderer! The cave efrit in the Serran catacombs points and screams. Killer! Death himself! Reaper walking!
I feel sick. For though I know my sins, I have not faced them. Every time they came to the forefront of my mind, Mauth eased them away.
“How do I go on?” I ask my father. “When I’ve wrought such devastation? When all I have to give is death?”
I wish for Mauth then, for that quiet rush of calm and distance that his presence gives me. But it is not there. Nothing exists between me and the memories of what I’ve done but naked horror.
“Steady now, my son,” my father says. “What did your grandfather tell you just after the Second Trial?”
“He—he said I’d be trailing ghosts.”
“You trail suffering now too,” my father says. “Like the Nightbringer. Like your mother.”
“Suffering is the cup from which they both drink.” I quote Talis as I meet my father’s gaze. “It is the language they both speak. And it is the weapon they both wield.”
“Yes,” he says. “But you do not have to be like them. You have suffered. You have created suffering. You have killed. But you have also paid. With your life, twice over now, and with your heart, with your mind. You have guided thousands of lost souls. You have saved thousands of lives. You have done good in this world. Which will define you? The good? Or the suffering?”