“You had a question, Elias?”

An interrogator can learn as much from a statement as from a question. My mother’s words coming to aid me when I least expect it.

“The questions you asked Darin about Laia,” I say. “You don’t know their purpose. Someone else is pulling your strings.” I watch the Warden’s mouth, for that is where he hides his truths, in twitches of those dry, too-thin lips. As I speak, his mouth tightens almost imperceptibly. Got you. “Who is it, Warden?”

The Warden stands so quickly that he knocks his chair over. Tas quickly lugs it out of the cell. My chains loosen when the Warden yanks down the lever on the wall.

“I answered everything you asked of me,” I say. Ten hells, why am I even trying? I was a fool to think he’d honor his vow. “You’re not upholding your end of the bargain.”

The Warden pauses at the cell’s threshold, his face half-turned toward me, unsmiling. The torchlight in the hallway deepens the grooves in his cheeks and jaw. For a moment, it’s as if I can see the stark outline of his skull beneath.

“That’s because you asked who it is, Elias,” the Warden says. “Instead of what.”



Like so many nights before this one, rest is elusive. Keenan sleeps beside me, arm thrown across my hip, his forehead tipped down against my shoulder. His quiet breathing almost lulls me into dreams, but every time I get close, I jerk awake and fret anew.

Does Darin live? If so, and if I can save him, how will we make it to Marinn? Will Spiro be waiting there, as he promised? Will Darin even want to make weapons for the Scholars?

What of Elias? Helene might already have him. Or he might be dead, destroyed by the poison coursing through his body. If he does live, I do not know if Keenan will help me save him.

But I must save him. And I cannot leave the other Scholars either. I cannot abandon them to be executed in the Commandant’s purge.

They’ll begin tomorrow evening. At sundown, Keenan said of the executions. A bloody gloaming then, and bloodier still as twilight fades to night.

I ease Keenan’s arm away and roll to my feet, pulling on my cloak and boots and slipping out into the cold night.

A nagging dread steals over me. Keenan’s plan is as unknowable as the inside of Kauf itself. His confidence offers some reassurance, but not enough to make me feel like we will succeed. Something about all of this just feels wrong. Rushed.

“Laia?” Keenan emerges from the cave, his red hair mussed, making him look younger. He offers his hand, and I wind my fingers through his, taking comfort from his touch. What a change a few months has wrought in him. I could not have imagined such a smile from the dark-visaged fighter I first met in Serra.

Keenan looks at me and frowns.

“You’re nervous?”

I sigh. “I cannot leave Elias.” Skies, I hope I’m not wrong again. I hope that pushing this, fighting for it, doesn’t lead to some other disaster. An image of Keenan lying dead floats through my mind, and I fight back a shudder. Elias would do it for you. And going into Kauf is a terrible risk no matter what. “I will not leave him.”

The rebel tilts his head, his eyes on the snow. I hold my breath.

“Then we must find a way to get him out,” he says. “Though it will take longer—”

“Thank you.” I lean into him, breathing in wind and fire and warmth. “It’s the right thing to do. I know it is.”

I feel the familiar pattern of my armlet against my palm and realize that, as ever, my hand has drifted to it for comfort.

Keenan watches me, his eyes strange. Lonely.

“What is it like to have something of your family’s?”

“It makes me feel close to them,” I say. “It gives me strength.”

He reaches out, almost touching the armlet but then self-consciously dropping his hand. “It’s good to remember those who are lost. To have a reminder in the dark times.” His voice is soft. “It’s good to know that you were … are … loved.”

My eyes fill. Keenan has never spoken of his family other than to tell me that they are gone. At least I had a family. He has had nothing and no one.

My fingers tighten on my armlet, and on impulse, I pull it off. At first, it is as if it doesn’t want to come off, but I give it a good yank, and it releases.

“I’ll be your family now,” I whisper, opening Keenan’s hands and placing the armlet on his palm. I close his fingers around it. “Not a mother, father, brother, or sister, perhaps, but family nonetheless.”

He breathes in sharply, staring down at the armlet. His brown eyes are opaque, and I wish I knew what he felt. But I allow him his silence. He pulls the armlet onto his wrist with slow reverence.

A chasm opens up inside me, as if the last bit of my family is gone. But I take comfort from the way Keenan looks at the armlet, as if it’s the most precious thing he’s ever been given. He turns to me and rests his hands on my waist, closing his eyes, leaning his head against mine.

“Why?” he whispers. “Why did you give it to me?”

“Because you are loved,” I say. “You’re not alone. And you deserve to know that.”

“Look at me,” he murmurs.

When I do, I flinch, pained to see his eyes so anguished—haunted—like he’s seeing something he doesn’t wish to accept. But a moment later, his expression changes. Hardens. His hands, gentle a moment ago, tighten and grow warm.