But one day, my mother arrives at the Resistance encampment without the armlet. The Nightbringer has failed. I feel his fury, overlaid by that yawning sadness. He arrives in a torch-lit barracks and speaks to a familiar silver-faced woman. Keris Veturia.
He tells Keris where she can find my parents. He tells her what they will be doing.
Traitor! You led them to their deaths! I rage at him, forcing myself further into his mind. Why? Why the armlet?
I fly with him deep into the past, streaming along the winds to the far-flung Forest of Dusk. I feel his desperation and panic for his people. They face a grave danger at the hands of a Scholar coven bent on stealing their power, and he cannot get to them fast enough. Too late, he howls in the memory. I am too late. He cries out the names of his kin as a shock wave ripples out from the center of the Forest, throwing him into darkness.
An explosion of pure silver—a Star, the Scholars’ weapon—used to imprison the jinn. I expect it to disintegrate—I know the story. But it does not. Instead, it shatters into hundreds of shards flung across the land. Shards that are picked up by Mariners and Scholars, Martials and Tribesmen. Fashioned into necklaces and armlets, spearheads and blades.
The Nightbringer’s rage steals my breath. For he cannot simply take back these pieces. Each time he finds one, he must ensure that it is offered freely, in absolute love and trust. For that is the only way he can reassemble the weapon that imprisoned his people, so he might set them free again.
My stomach churns as I hurtle through his memories, watching as he transforms himself into husband or lover, son or brother, friend or confidant—whatever is necessary to get the lost shards. He becomes whomever he transforms into. He creates them—he is them. He feels what a human would feel. Including love.
And then I watch as he discovers me.
I see myself through his eyes: a nobody, a naïve little girl come to beg the Resistance for aid. I watch as he realizes who I am and what I possess.
It is torture to witness how he deceived me. How he used information stolen from my brother to win me over, to get me to trust him, to care for him. In Serra, he’d been close—so close—to getting me to fall for him. But then I gave Izzi the freedom he’d offered me, and I disappeared with Elias. And his carefully wrought plan fell to pieces.
And all the while, he had to keep his cover among the Resistance in order to carry out a plan months in the making: persuading the rebels to kill the Emperor and rise up in the Scholar revolution.
Two actions that allowed the Commandant to unleash an unchecked genocide upon my people. It was the Nightbringer’s revenge for what the Scholars did to his kin centuries before.
A hundred little things suddenly make sense: How cold he was when he first met me. How well he seemed to know me, even when I hadn’t told him about myself. How he used his voice to soothe me. How strange the weather was when Elias and I first set out from Serra. How the attacks on us by supernatural creatures stopped after he arrived with Izzi.
No, no, you liar, you monster—
As soon as I think it, I sense something deep within him that underlies every memory and shakes me to my core: a sea of regret he strives to hide, stirred into madness as if by some great tempest. I see my own face, then Lis’s face. I see a child with brown braids and an ancient silver necklace. I see a smiling, crook-backed Mariner holding a silver-topped cane.
Haunted. It is the only word to describe what I see. The Nightbringer is haunted.
As the full weight of what this creature is rolls over me, I gasp, and he casts me from his mind—and his body. I fly back a dozen feet, slamming into a tree and sinking to the ground, breathless.
My armlet glimmers on his tenebrous wrist. The silver—tarnished black for most of my life—gleams now, as if made of starlight.
“What in the skies are you?” he hisses. The words trigger a memory: the efrit back in Serra, asking me the same thing. You say what am I, but what are you?
A frosty night wind blows into the clearing, and the Nightbringer rises up on it. His eyes are still fixed on me, hostile and curious. Then the wind whooshes past, taking him with it.
The woods are silent. The skies above are still. My heart thuds as madly as a Martial war drum. I close my eyes and open them, waiting to wake up from this nightmare. I reach for my armlet, needing the comfort it offers, the reminder of who I am, what I am.
But it is gone. I am alone.
“You’re getting close, Elias.”
When I fall into the Waiting Place, Shaeva stares at me. There is a crispness to her—to the trees and the sky—that makes it seem as if this is my reality and the waking world is the dream.
I look around curiously—I have only ever woken up amid the thick trunks of the Forest. But this time, I stand atop a rocky bluff that overlooks the trees. The River Dusk surges below, blue and white beneath the bright winter sky.
“The poison is nearly to your heart,” Shaeva says.
Death so soon. “Not yet,” I make myself say through numb lips, squelching the fear that threatens. “I need to ask you something. I beg you, Shaeva, hear me out.” Pull it together, Elias. Make her understand how important this is. “Because if I die before I’m ready, I will haunt these damn trees forever. You’ll never be rid of me.”
Something crosses her face, a flicker of disquiet that fades in less than a second.
“Very well,” she says. “Ask.”