He nods. “Dawn.”



When the Warden enters my cell, his mouth is turned downward, his brow furrowed, as if he’s encountered a problem that none of his experiments can solve.

After pacing back and forth a few times, he speaks. “You will answer my questions completely and in detail.” He lifts his white-blue eyes to me. “Or I will cut off your fingers one by one.”

His threats are usually far less blunt—one of the reasons he enjoys extracting secrets is the games he plays as he does so. Whatever he wants of me, he must want it badly.

“I know that Darin’s sister and Laia of Serra are one and the same. Tell me: Why did you travel with her? Who is she to you? Why do you care for her?”

I keep the emotion from my face, but my heart thuds uncomfortably fast. Why do you want to know? I want to scream. What do you want with her?

When I don’t immediately answer, the Warden takes a knife from his fatigues and spreads my fingers flat against the wall.

“I have an offer for you,” I say quickly.

He raises his eyebrows, the knife inches from my forefinger. “If you examine the facts, Elias, you’ll see that you are in no position to make offers.”

“I won’t need fingers or toes or anything else for much longer,” I say. “I’m dying. So a deal: I’ll answer any question you put to me honestly if you do the same.”

The Warden appears genuinely mystified. “What information could you possibly use at death’s door, Elias? Oh.” He grimaces. “Skies, don’t tell me. You want to know who your father is?”

“I don’t care who my father is,” I say. “In any case, I’m certain you don’t know.”

The Warden shakes his head. “How little faith you have in me. Very well, Elias. Let us play your game. A slight adjustment to the rules, however: I ask all my questions first, and if I’m satisfied with your answers, you may ask me one—and only one—question.”

It’s a terrible deal, but I have no other options. If Keenan plans to double-cross Laia on the Warden’s behalf, I must know why.

The Warden leans out the cell door and barks at a slave to bring him a chair. A Scholar child carries it in, her gaze flitting to me with brief curiosity. I wonder if it’s Bee, Tas’s friend.

At the Warden’s prompting, I tell him about how Laia saved me from execution and about how I vowed to help her. When he presses, I tell him that I came to care for her after seeing her at Blackcliff.

“But why? Does she possess some peculiar knowledge? Is she, perhaps, gifted with power that is beyond human ken? What specifically makes you value her?”

I’d filed away Darin’s observations about the Warden, but now they come back to me: He was frustrated. It was as if he wasn’t quite sure what to ask. As if the questions weren’t his to begin with.

Or, I realize, as if the Warden has no idea why he’s even asking the questions.

“I’ve only known the girl for a few months,” I say. “She’s smart, brave—”

The Warden sighs and waves a dismissive hand at me. “I do not care for moon-eyed blathering,” he says. “Think with your rational mind, Elias. Is there anything unusual about her?”

“She’s survived the Commandant,” I say, impatient now. “For a Scholar, that’s quite unusual.”

The Warden leans back, stroking his chin, gaze far away. “Indeed,” he says. “How did she survive? Marcus was supposed to have killed her.” He fixes me with an appraising stare. The freezing cell suddenly feels colder. “Tell me about the Trial. Exactly what happened in the amphitheater?”

It’s not the question I expected, but I relate what happened. When I describe Marcus’s attack on Laia, he stops me.

“But she survived,” he says. “How? Hundreds of people saw her die.”

“The Augurs tricked us,” I say. “One of them took the hit meant for Laia. Cain named Marcus victor. In the chaos, his brethren took Laia away.”

“And then?” the Warden says. “Tell me the rest. Leave nothing out.”

I hesitate, because something about this seems wrong. The Warden stands, flings open the cell door, and calls for Tas. Footsteps patter, and a second later, he yanks Tas in by the scruff of his neck and puts his knife to the boy’s throat.

“You are correct when you say that you will soon die,” the Warden says. “This boy, however, is young and relatively healthy. Lie to me, Elias, and I show you his insides while he still lives. Now, I’ll say it again: Tell me everything that happened with the girl after the Fourth Trial.”

Forgive me, Laia, if I give away your secrets. I swear it’s not for nothing. I watch the Warden carefully as I speak about Laia’s destruction of Blackcliff, our escape from Serra, and all that happened after.

I wait to see if he reacts to my mention of Keenan, but the old man gives no sign that he knows any more about the rebel than what I’m telling him. My gut tells me his disinterest is genuine. What the bleeding hells? Perhaps Keenan isn’t working for the Warden. And yet from what Darin told me, it’s obvious that they are somehow communicating. Could they both be reporting to someone else?

The old man shoves Tas away, and the child cowers on the floor, waiting to be dismissed. But the Warden is deep in thought, methodically filing away relevant facts from the information I’ve given him. Sensing my gaze, he pulls himself from his musings.