He places a hand on my chest, and I witness what it would have been like to have had him as a father. It is a life so different from my experience that it could only exist in the after. Keris—my mother—holds me, her sweet smile a revelation. My father takes me from her and swings me onto his shoulders. Avitas runs past us, green eyes sparkling as he pulls me down, and I chase him. My parents speak, and though I cannot hear their words, their language is that of love.

Seeing it is a scim to my soul, for I want so much for it to be real. For this to be a memory and not a wish. I want for suffering to have never touched any of us.

“Ah, my boy.” My father takes me in his arms. “It was not to be.”

He holds me to him for long minutes, and I close my eyes and let myself grieve.

“What if I don’t go back.” I pull away. “I could stay here. With you. Though—” I glance around, for a mist has rolled in, thick and cool, and Blackcliff’s stark walls fade. “Where is here? And how are you here? You died years ago.”

“I live in your blood, my son. I live in your soul.”

“So I’m dead too.”

“No,” he says. “When the Sea of Suffering broke through the barrier, it took you, but before it could consume you, Mauth snatched you away. You are in between. Walking a scim’s edge, as you have for so much of your life. You could fall into the Sea of Suffering and lose yourself in your pain. Or you could return to the world, for you are Soul Catcher still, and you have a duty. The balance must be restored.”

“The jinn.” Your duty is to the dead, even to the breaking of the world. “But the world is—” Broken, I was about to say, before I remember my words to Laia months ago. The world must be broken before it can be remade.

“Will you help remake the world, my son?” my father asks me.

“I—I begged the jinn already,” I say. “I told them the balance couldn’t be restored without them. They didn’t listen.”

“Because it was the Soul Catcher who asked them.” My father takes me by the shoulders, and his strength flows into me. “But that is not all of you. Tell me, who are you?”

“I am the Banu al-Mauth.” I do not understand him. “I pass the ghosts—”

“Who are you, son of mine?”

“I—” I had a name. What was my name? Laia said it. Over and over she said it. But I cannot recall it anymore.

“Who are you?”

“I am—I—” Who am I? “I am born of Keris Veturia,” I say. “Son to the Kehanni who told the Tale. Beloved to Laia of Serra. Friend to the Blood Shrike. I am brother to Avitas Harper and Shan An-Saif. Grandson to Quin Veturius. I am—”

Two words echo in my head, the last words Cain spoke to me before dying. Words that stir my blood, words that my grandfather taught me when I was a boy of six and he gave me my name. Words that were burned into me at Blackcliff.

“Always victorious.”

Some door bursts open inside me, and Blackcliff fades. The great maelstrom drags at me, as if the conversation with my father had never happened, as if there were only seconds between when the Sea of Suffering took me and now.

I fight my way out, toward a light coruscating distantly. The Sea is so close that I feel it dragging at my feet, but I battle my way up to the world of the living, screaming those two words over and over.

Always victorious.

Always victorious.

Always victorious.

LXVI: Keris Veturia


The Blood Shrike will die as her sisters died. As her parents died. Throat slit, a slow enough death that she will walk into the hereafter knowing I defeated her.

Part of me rages against how easily she fell. All she had to do was not love. If she hadn’t loved, she’d have been a worthy foe. I’d never have been able to hurt her, no matter who I killed.

Far away, a deep, earth-shuddering growl resounds. I ignore it.

The Shrike clutches her side as I approach, and she is a small, broken thing. A version of myself, if I had allowed defeat to enter my veins like a poison. Me, if I’d let myself love or care.

Give me a foe who challenges me, I shout in my mind. A foe who makes my body scream, who forces me to think faster, to fight harder.

“You sad creature,” I say. “Look at you. On your knees in the mud. Your army dies around you, and not one of them is brave enough to come to your aid. You weak, broken bird, mourning a man who was dead the moment he called out your name. You are a fool, Helene Aquilla. I thought I trained you better.”

She gazes up at me with fading blue eyes, her crown braid dark with blood and mud.


The word is a whisper, a breath from the Shrike’s mouth. My fingers go numb, and my belly twists as if crawling with snakes. I do not recognize the feeling. Not fear, certainly.

How did she learn that name?

“That’s what she called you.” The Shrike clutches her side ineffectually. If I do not kill her now, she will simply bleed to death.

Suddenly, I do not want her dead. Not yet.

I close the distance between us and crouch to grab her throat.

“Who told you that name?” I hiss. “A Scholar? A Martial—”

“No one living,” the Shrike whispers. “A ghost told me. Karinna Veturia. She waits here in the Forest of Dusk, Keris. She has waited for more than thirty years.”

As I stare down at the Shrike, the battle still raging beyond us, memories rise, a dark miasma I put to rest a lifetime ago. Blonde hair and eyes as blue as a Serran summer sky. A barge traveling along the River Rei, north, toward Serra. Long hours with her inside a cabin brightly lit with multifaceted Tribal lamps and strewn with pillows of a thousand colors. The comforting thunk-thunk-thunk of my father’s men keeping guard on the decks.

A green string that danced in her hands, transforming into a broom and cat’s whiskers, a pointed hat, a ladder, a man with oysters on his back.

How do you do it? I remember asking.

Magic, little lovey, she said.

Show me, Mama.

Then strange sounds above us. The ominous steps of heavy boots. Shouts and smoke. Fire and unfamiliar faces pouring through the door, grabbing me. Grabbing my mother.

“You were a child.” The Blood Shrike brings me back to the killing field. To the battle. “It’s not your fault the Resistance took your mother. It’s not your fault they hurt her.”

I release the Shrike and stagger back. Yes, I was a child. A child who did nothing but watch as Scholar rebels killed off our guards and the barge captain. A child who was struck dumb even as my mother and I were kidnapped and taken to a grimy mountain lair. A child who wept and wailed as, in the room next to mine, those rebels tortured my mother.