“No one has heard from him since his escape in Serra.”

“I know where to find him,” I say. “Pull a team together. Make sure Dex is on it. We’ll leave in two days. Dismissed.”

Harper nods, and I turn back to my work. When he doesn’t leave, I raise my eyebrows. “Do you require something, Harper?”

“No, Shrike. Only …” He looks more uncomfortable than I’ve ever seen him—enough to actually alarm me. Since the execution, he and Dex have been invaluable. They supported my reshuffling of the Black Guard—Lieutenant Sergius is now posted on Isle South—and unwaveringly backed me when some of the Black Guard attempted to rebel.

“If we’re going after the Commandant, Shrike, then I know something that might be of use.”

“Go on.”

“Back in Nur, the day before the riot, I saw Elias. But I never told you.”

I lean back in my seat, sensing that I’m about to learn more about Avitas Harper than the previous Blood Shrike ever did.

“What I have to say,” Avitas goes on, “is about why I never told you. It’s about why the Commandant kept an eye out for me in Blackcliff and got me into the Black Guard. It’s about Elias. And”—he takes a deep breath—“about our father.”

Our father.

Our father. His and Elias’s.

It takes a moment for the words to sink in. Then I order him to sit, and I lean forward.

“I’m listening.”


After Harper leaves, I brave the slush and muck of the streets to head to the courier’s office, where two packages have arrived from the Aquilla villa in Serra. The first is my midwinter gift for Livia. After checking to make sure it’s intact, I open the second package.

I catch my breath at the glimmer of Elias’s mask in my hand. According to a Kauf courier, Elias and a few hundred Scholar fugitives disappeared into the Forest of Dusk shortly after breaking out of the prison. A dozen Empire soldiers tried to follow, but their mangled bodies were found on the Forest’s borders the next morning.

No one has seen or heard from the fugitives since.

Perhaps the Nightweed killed my friend, or perhaps the Forest did. Or perhaps, somehow, he found some other way to evade death. Like his grandfather and mother, Elias has always had an uncanny skill at surviving what would kill anyone else.

It doesn’t matter. He’s gone, and the part of my heart where he lived is dead now. I tuck the mask in my pocket—I’ll find a place for it in my quarters.

I head for the palace, Livvy’s gift nestled under my arm, mulling over what Avitas told me: The Commandant kept an eye on me in Blackcliff because it was my father’s last request. At least, that’s my suspicion. She’s never acknowledged it.

I asked the Commandant to give me the mission to shadow you because I wanted to learn about Elias through you. I didn’t know any more about our father than what my mother told me. Her name was Renatia, and she said my father never fit the mold that Blackcliff tried to force him into. She said he was kind. Good. For a long time, I thought she was lying. I’ve never been those things, so it couldn’t be true. But perhaps I just didn’t inherit my father’s better traits. Perhaps they went to a different son.

I berated him, of course—he should have said something long ago—but after my anger and incredulity settled, I understood the information for what it was: a crack in the Commandant’s armor. A weapon I can use against her.

The guards of the palace let me pass into the imperial wing with only nervous glances at each other. I have begun rooting out the enemies of the Empire—and I started here. Marcus can burn in the hells for all I care, but Livvy’s marriage to him puts her in danger. His enemies will be hers, and I will not lose her.

Laia of Serra had the same type of love for her sibling. For the first time since meeting her, I understand her.

I find my sister sitting out on a balcony that overlooks her private garden. Faris and another Black Guard stand in the shadows a dozen feet away. I told my friend that he didn’t need to take the posting. Guarding an eighteen-year-old girl is certainly not a coveted position for a member of the Blood Shrike’s force.

If I’m going to kill, he’d said, I’d rather do it while protecting someone.

He nods a greeting to me, and my sister looks up.

“Blood Shrike.” She stands but doesn’t hug me or kiss me the way she once would have, though I can tell she wants to. I nod to her room curtly. I want privacy.

My sister turns to the six girls who sit near her, three of whom are dark-skinned and yellow-eyed. When she first wrote to Marcus’s mother, requesting that the woman send three girls from Marcus’s extended family to serve as her ladies-in-waiting, I was stunned, as was every Illustrian family that had been passed over. The Plebeians, however, still talk about it.

The girls and their Illustrian counterparts disappear at Livia’s gently given order. Faris and the other Black Guard move to follow us, but I wave them off. My sister and I enter her bedchamber, and I lay her midwinter gift on the bed and watch as she tears it open.

She gasps when the light shines off the ornate silver edges of my old mirror.

“But this is yours,” Livia says. “Mother—”

“—would want you to have it. There’s no place for it in the Blood Shrike’s quarters.”

“It is beautiful. Will you hang it up for me?”

I summon a servant to bring me a hammer and nails, and when he returns, I remove Livvy’s old mirror and plug the spy hole behind it. Marcus will just have his spies cut a new one. But for now, at least, my sister and I can speak in private.