I consider all that the Warden told me. Who, he’d said. Not what.

No human controls the Warden. It must be one of the fey. But I cannot imagine a wraith or efrit manipulating the Warden. Such weak creatures could not best him in a battle of wits—and he spits upon those he perceives to have a weaker intellect than him.

But then, not all fey creatures are wraiths or efrits.

“Why would the Nightbringer be interested in a seventeen-year-old girl traveling to Kauf to break her brother out of prison?”

The color drains from the Soul Catcher’s face. Her hand flutters at her side, as if she is trying to catch herself on a bulwark that doesn’t exist.

“Why would you ask such a thing?”

“Just answer.”

“Because—because she has something he wants,” the Soul Catcher sputters. “But he cannot possibly know she has it. It has been hidden for years. And he has been dormant.”

“Not as dormant as you’d like. He’s in league with my mother,” I say. “And the Warden. The old man has been passing information about Laia to someone traveling with us. A Scholar rebel.”

Shaeva’s eyes widen fearfully, and she steps forward, reaching out.

“Take my hands, Elias,” she says. “And close your eyes.”

Despite the urgency of her tone, I hesitate. At my obvious wariness, the Soul Catcher’s mouth hardens, and she springs forward to grab me. I yank my hands back, but her fey reflexes are swifter.

When she takes hold, the earth beneath me twitches. I stumble as a thousand doors in my mind fly open: Laia telling me her story in the desert outside Serra; Darin speaking of the Warden; Keenan’s oddities, the fact that he tracked me when he shouldn’t have been able to; the rope between Laia and me that came apart in the desert …

The Soul Catcher fixes her black eyes on me and opens her own mind. Her thoughts pour into my head in a white-water rush, and when she is done, she takes my memories and her knowledge and lays the fruit of that union at my feet.

“Bleeding, burning hells.” I stumble back from her and catch myself on a boulder, finally understanding. Laia’s armlet—the Star. “It’s him—Keenan. He’s the Nightbringer.”

“Do you see it, Elias?” the Soul Catcher asks. “Do you see the web he spun to ensure his revenge?”

“Why the games?” I push up from the boulder and pace across the bluff. “Why not just kill Laia and take the armlet?”

“The Star is bound by unbreakable laws. The knowledge that led to its creation was given in love—in trust.” She looks away, shame in her eyes. “It is an old magic meant to limit any evil the Star might be used for.” She sighs. “Much good it has done.”

“The jinn living within your grove of trees,” I say. “He wants to free them.”

Shaeva’s eyes are troubled as she stares down into the river below. “They should not be free, Elias. The jinn were creatures of light once. But as with any living thing that is jailed for too long, their imprisonment has driven them mad. I have tried to tell this to the Nightbringer. Of all the jinn, he and I are the only two who still walk this land. But he does not listen to me.”

“We have to do something,” I say. “When he gets the armlet, he’ll kill Laia—”

“He cannot kill her. All who have been given the Star, even if only for a few moments, are protected from him by its power. He can’t kill you either.”

“But I never …” Touched it, I was going to say, until I realize that I asked Laia if I could see it months ago, in the Serran Range.

“The Nightbringer must have ordered the Warden to kill you,” Shaeva says. “But his human slaves are not as obedient, perhaps, as he would like.”

“The Warden didn’t care about Laia,” I realize. “He wanted to understand the Nightbringer better.”

“My king confides in no one.” The Soul Catcher shivers at the crisp air. For a moment, she looks barely older than me. “The Commandant and the Warden are likely his only allies—he does not trust humans. He will have told them nothing of the armlet or the Star, lest they find a way to turn the knowledge against him.”

“What if Laia had died some other way?” I ask. “What would have happened to her armlet?”

“Those who bear pieces of the Star do not die easily,” Shaeva says. “It protects them, and he knows that. But if she had, the armlet would have evanesced into nothingness. The Star’s power would have weakened. It has happened before.”

She puts her head in her hands. “No one understands how deep his hatred for humans runs, Elias. If he frees our brethren, they will search out the Scholars and annihilate them. They will turn on the rest of humanity. Their bloodlust will know no reason.”

“Then we stop him,” I say. “We get Laia away before he can take the armlet.”

“I cannot stop him.” Shaeva’s voice rises in impatience. “He will not let me. I cannot leave my lands—”


A tremor rolls through the Forest, and Shaeva twists around. “They know,” she hisses. “They’ll punish me.”

“You can’t just leave. I have to find out if Laia’s all right. You could help me—”

“No!” Shaeva rears back. “I can have nothing to do with this. Nothing. Don’t you see? He—” She reaches for her throat and grimaces. “The last time I crossed him, he killed me, Elias. He forced me to suffer the torture of a slow death, and then he brought me back. He released the sorry creature that had ruled the land of death before me, and he chained me to this place as punishment for what I did. I live, yes, but I am a slave to the Waiting Place. That is his doing. If I cross him again, skies know what he will inflict upon me. I am sorry—more sorry than you can know. But I have no power over him.”