Seconds later, we burst out of the prison and into the yard. The cold is like a knife in the face after the stifling heat of the prison.
The yard, though crowded, is devoid of chaos. Prisoners emerging from Kauf are immediately escorted away. Kauf’s guards, many of them coughing, ash-faced, or burned, are ushered into a line, where another soldier assesses them for injuries before assigning them to a task. One of the legionnaires in charge spots Elias and calls out to him.
“You!” he says. “You there!”
“Let me dump this body,” Elias grumbles, the perfect impression of a sullen aux. He pulls his cloak closer and edges away as another group of soldiers tumbles out of Kauf’s inferno.
“Go, Laia,” he whispers under his breath. “Quickly!”
Tas and I bolt toward the Scholar pens, far to our left. Behind us echo the voices of thousands of prisoners: Martials, Tribesmen, Mariners—even Wildmen and Barbarians. The Martials have gathered them into one enormous circle and formed a cordon of spearmen two guards thick around them.
“There, Laia.” Tas shoves the keys he stole into my hands and nods to the north side of the pen. “I will warn the Skiritae!” He veers away, staying close to the edges of the pen and whispering through the wide spaces between its wooden slats.
I spot the door—which is guarded by six legionnaires. The racket of the prison yard is loud enough that they could not possibly hear me approach, but I tread carefully anyway. When I am within three feet of the door, and just inches from the closest legionnaire, he shifts, putting a hand on his sword, and I freeze. I can smell the leather of his armor, the steel tips of the arrows across his back. Just one more step, Laia. He can’t see you. He has no idea you’re here.
As if handling an angry snake, I remove the key ring from my pocket, holding on to it tightly so it doesn’t jangle. I wait until one of the legionnaires turns to say something to the rest before I put the key in the lock.
I wiggle the key, first gently and then a bit harder. One of the soldiers turns toward the door. I look at him, right at his eyes, but he shrugs and turns back.
Patience, Laia. I take a deep breath and lift the lock. Because it’s attached to something that is grounded in the earth, it does not disappear. I hope no one is looking at this door right now—they’d see a lock floating inches from where it should be, and even the most dimwitted aux would know that’s unnatural. Again, I twist the key. Almost—
Just then, something fastens on to my arm—a long hand that curls like a feeler around my bicep.
“Ah, Laia of Serra,” someone breathes into my ear. “What a talented girl you are. I am very interested in examining your skill further.”
My invisibility falters, and the keys fall to the icy stones with a clatter. I look up to find myself staring into a pointed face with large, watery eyes.
Shaeva warned me that the Waiting Place would pull at me. As I make my way across the freezing prison yard to the pens, I feel it, a yank in my chest, like an invisible hook.
I’m coming, I shout in my head. The more you bully me, the slower I’ll be, so stop it.
The pull lessens slightly, as if the Waiting Place has heard. Fifteen yards to the pens … thirteen … ten …
Then I hear footsteps. The soldier from Kauf’s entrance has caught up with me. From his cautious gait, I can tell that my uniform and the scims across my back haven’t fooled him. Ten hells. Ah well. This was always a stretch, as far as disguises go.
He attacks. I try to sidestep him, but Darin’s body has me off balance, and the soldier clips me, knocking me down and sending Darin rolling away.
The legionnaire’s eyes widen when my hood falls back. “Prisoner loose,” he bellows. “Pris—” I snatch a knife from his belt and plunge it into his side.
Too late. The legionnaires at Kauf’s entrance have heard his cry. Four of the spearmen guarding the prisoners break away. Auxes.
I smile. Not enough to take me down.
I draw my scims as the first soldier approaches, duck under his spear, and slice his wrist. He screams and releases the weapon. I drop him with a blow across the temple, then pivot and halve the spear of the next soldier, felling him with a blade through the stomach.
My blood rises now, my warrior’s instincts at full tilt. I sweep up the fallen soldier’s spear and send it flying into the shoulder of the third aux. The fourth hesitates, and I take him down with a shoulder to his gut. His head cracks against the cobblestones, and he does not move again.
A spear whizzes by my ear, and pain explodes in my head. It’s not enough to stop me.
A dozen spearmen break from the prisoners. They know now that I am more than just an escaped prisoner.
“Run!” I roar at the gaping prisoners, pointing at the gap in the cordon. “Escape! Run!”
Two Martials bolt through the cordon and make for Kauf’s portcullis. For a moment, it seems as if the entire yard watches them, holding its breath. Then a guard shouts, the spell is broken, and all at once, dozens of inmates surge out, not caring if they are impaling their fellows on spears. The Martial spearmen attempt to fill the gap, but there are thousands of prisoners, and they’ve caught the scent of freedom.
The soldiers running toward me slow at the shouts of their comrades. I heave Darin up and race for the Scholar pens. Why in the ten hells aren’t they open yet? There should be Scholars flooding the yard.