The first day after he finds me, I try walking beside him—talking to him. He bolts so far ahead I can barely see him. For the rest of the day, I walk alone, missing Darin, Musa, Tas—even the Blood Shrike. At one point, I call out to Rehmat, thinking I can finally ask it questions about its origin. But it does not respond.
Later that night, when I pull out a meal of desiccated dates and flatbread, Elias disappears, returning a quarter hour later with a steaming bun stuffed with minced fowl, raisins, and almonds.
“Did you steal this?”
At his shrug, I bristle. “This is someone’s hard-earned labor, Elias.”
“Soul Catcher, please.”
I ignore that. “I will not eat it if you stole it.”
“You wouldn’t, would you?” His glance is fleeting and I cannot tell if he is mocking me or making an observation. “I always leave a gold mark,” he says flatly. “Bakers are less likely to lock their doors that way.”
I am about to respond when I notice the stiffness of his shoulders. How he clenches his fists.
When Elias and I traveled through the Serran Range after escaping Raider’s Roost, I did not wish to talk, for I had taken my first life—a Tribesman who tried to kill us both.
Elias was so careful with me then. He spoke to me—but he did not rush me. He gave me time. Perhaps, with his mind so deeply entwined with Mauth, I must do the same.
The next day, I do not speak and he relaxes a touch. In the evening, when we’ve stopped, I break my silence.
“I saw your mother, you know,” I tell him. “She’s as charming as ever.”
He pokes at the fire with a stick.
“She tried to kill me,” I go on. “But then her master and my former lover showed up. The Nightbringer—you remember him. He was in full Keenan regalia. Red hair, brown eyes, those freckles . . .”
I sneak a look at Elias. But other than a slight tightening of his infuriatingly square jaw, he does not react.
“Do you ever think of Keris as your mother?” I ask him. “Or will she always be the Commandant? Some days, I cannot believe Cook and my mother were the same person. I miss her. Father and Lis too.”
I yearn to speak of my family, I realize. To share my sadness with someone.
“I dream of them,” I say. “Always the same nightmare. Mother singing that song and the sound of their necks br-breaking—”
He says nothing, only rises and melts into the night. The space he leaves is vast, that gnawing loneliness of showing your heart to someone only to find they never wanted to see it. The next day, he is silent. And the next. Until three days have passed. Then ten.
I talk about everything under the sun—even Rehmat—and still he says nothing. Skies, but I have never known a man so stubborn.
After a fortnight, we make camp early, and Elias disappears. Usually when he leaves, he windwalks and I cannot follow. But this time, he stalks into the forest and I find him in a clearing, lifting a small boulder above his head—then slamming it down. Lifting it, slamming it down.
“Easy,” I say. “What did that poor rock do to you?”
He does not appear surprised by my presence, even though he was engrossed in his strange ritual.
“It helps when—” He gestures to his head and lifts the rock again. This time, when he drops it, I sit on it.
“You need a pet, Elias,” I say, “if you are turning to rocks for company.”
“I don’t need a pet.” He leans down, grabs me by the waist, and throws me over his shoulder.
I yelp. “Elias Veturius, you—you put me down—”
He drops me at the edge of the clearing—not ungently—and goes back to his boulder.
“You do need a pet.” I settle my breath, which has gone a bit shallow, and circle him, considering. “Not a cat. Too solitary. Maybe a horse, though with your windwalking you would not have much use for one. An Ankanese jumping spider, perhaps? Or a ferret?”
“Ferret?” He looks almost offended. “A dog. A dog would be fine.”
“A small one.” I nod. “One that barks incessantly so that you have to pay attention to it.”
“No, no, a big one,” he says, “Strong. Loyal. A Tiborum shepherd dog, maybe, or a—”
He stops short, realizing that he is engaging in actual conversation. I smile at him. But he makes me pay for my victory, stepping into a windwalk and vanishing, muttering about seeing to the ghosts.
“Why?” I mutter to the trees hours later, unable to sleep. “Why did I have to fall in love first with a vengeance-obsessed fire creature, and then with a noble idiot who, who—”
Who gave up his freedom and future so Darin and I could live. Who chained himself to an eternity alone because of a vow he made.
“What do I do?” I mutter. “Darin—what would you do?”
“Why do you ask the night, child? The night will not answer.”
Rehmat’s voice is a whisper, its form a scant shadow limned in gold.
“I thought I’d imagined you.” I offer it a smile, for imperious as the creature is, its presence leavens my loneliness. “Where have you been?”
“Unimportant. You wish to speak to your brother. Yet you do not. Why?”
“He is hundreds of miles away.”
“You are kedim jadu. He is kedim jadu. And he is your blood. If you wish to speak to him, speak to him. Still your mind. Reach.”
“How—” I stop myself from asking and consider. Rehmat was right about my disappearing. Perhaps it is right about this too.
I close my eyes and imagine a deep, quiet lake. Pop did this with patients sometimes, children whose bellies ached for reasons we could not see, or men and women unable to sleep for days. Breathe in. Let the air nourish you. Breathe out. Expel your fears.
I sink into the stillness. Then I call out, imagining my voice stretching across the miles.
“Darin. Are you there?”
At first, there is only silence. I begin to feel foolish. Then—
“Yes!” I nearly leap up in my excitement. “Yes, it’s me.”
Laia, what is this? Are you all right?
“I’m fine,” I say. “I—I am in the Waiting Place.”
Is Elias with you? Is he still being an idiot?
“He is not an idiot!”
Figured you’d say that. I wanted to make sure it was really you. Are you sure you’re all right? You sound—