“Girl.” She adjusts her scarf and clears her throat quietly. “Your brother. He … might not be what he was. I had a cousin sent to Kauf once,” she adds. “When he came back, he was different. Be prepared.”

The Tribeswoman edges to the shore of the river and flits away into the darkness. Don’t die, I think, before turning my attention to the monstrous building behind me.

The invisibility still feels strange, like a new cloak that doesn’t quite fit. Though I’ve practiced for days, I do not understand how the magic works, and the Scholar in me itches to learn more, to find books about it, to speak to others who know how to control it. Later, Laia. If you survive.

When I’m certain I’m not going to reappear at the first sign of trouble, I find a path leading up to Kauf and carefully step in footprints larger than mine. My invisibility doesn’t guarantee silence, nor does it hide signs of my passage.

Kauf’s studded, spiked portcullis is flung wide open. I see no wagons making their way into the prison—it is too late in the season for traders. When I hear a whip crack, I finally understand why the gates aren’t shut. A cry breaks the quiet of the morning, and I see several bent, gaunt figures shuffling out of the gate under the unforgiving eye of a Mask. My hands go for my dagger, though I know I can do nothing with it. Afya and I watched from the woods as pits were dug outside the prison. We watched as the Martials filled those pits with dead Scholars.

If I want the rest of the Scholars in the prison to escape, I cannot reveal my position. But still, I force myself to watch. To bear witness. To remember this image so that these lives are not forgotten.

When the Scholars disappear around the eastern edge of Kauf’s wall, I slide through the gates. This path is not unfamiliar to me. Elias and I have exchanged messages for days through Tas, and I’ve come this way every time. Still, I stiffen as I pass the eight legionnaires who stand watch at the base of Kauf’s entry gate. The space between my shoulder blades twinges, and I look up at the battlements, where archers patrol.

As I cross the garishly lit prison yard, I try to avoid looking to the right at the two giant wooden pens where the Martials keep the Scholar prisoners.

But in the end, I cannot help but stare. Two wagons, each half-filled with the dead, are parked beside the closest pen. A group of younger, maskless Martials—Fivers—load in more dead Scholars, those who haven’t survived the cold.

Bee and many of the others can get them weapons, Tas had said. Hidden in slop buckets and rags. Not knives or scims, but spearheads, broken arrows, brass beaters.

Though the Martials have already killed hundreds of my people, a thousand Scholars still sit in those pens, awaiting death. They are ill, starved, and half-frozen from the cold. Even if everything goes as planned, I do not know if they have enough strength to take on the prison guards when the time comes, especially with such crude weaponry.

Then again, it’s not as if we have many other choices.

At this hour, there are few soldiers wandering the blindingly bright halls of Kauf. Still, I sneak along the walls and steer clear of the few guards on duty. My eyes flit briefly to the entrances that lead to the Scholar pits. I passed them the first day I came here, when they were still occupied. Moments after, I had to run to find a place to retch.

I make my way down the entry hall, through the rotunda and past the staircase that, according to Helene Aquilla, leads up to Masks’ quarters and the Warden’s office. Time for you soon enough. A great steel door looms ominously on one side of the rotunda wall. The interrogation block. Darin is down there. Right now. Yards away.

Kauf’s drums thud out the time: half past five in the morning. The hallway that leads to the Martial barracks, kitchen, and storage closets is far busier than the rest of the prison. Talk and laughter drifts from the mess hall. I smell eggs, grease, and burned bread. A legionnaire veers out of a room just ahead of me, and I stifle a gasp as he passes within a hair’s breadth. He must hear me, because his hand falls to his scim and he looks around.

I don’t dare to breathe until he moves on. Too close, Laia.

Go past the kitchens, Helene Aquilla told me. The oil storage is at the very end of the hall. The torch-lighters are always coming and going, so whatever you’re planning, you’ll have to move quickly.

When I find the closet, I am forced to wait as a sullen-faced aux wrestles out a barrel of pitch and rolls it down the hall. He leaves the door cracked open, and I eye the closet’s contents. Drums of pitch line its base like a row of stout soldiers. Above them sit cans the length of my forearm and the width of my hand. Blue-fire oil, the translucent yellow substance the Empire imports from Marinn. It reeks of rotted leaves and sulfur, but it will be more difficult to spot than pitch when I dribble it all over the prison.

It takes me nearly a half hour to empty out a dozen canisters in the back hallways and the rotunda. I stuff each can back in the closet when it is empty, hoping no one notices until it’s too late. Then I pack three more cans into my now bulging bag and enter the kitchen. A Plebeian lords over the stoves, bellowing orders at Scholar slave children. The children whiz around, their speed driven by fear. They are, presumably, exempt from the culling going on outside. My mouth twists in disgust. The Warden needs at least a few drudges to continue doing the chores around here.

I spot Bee, her thin arms shaking beneath a tray of dirty dishes from the mess hall. I sidle toward her, stopping often to avoid the scurrying bodies around me. She jumps when I speak in her ear, but covers her surprise swiftly.