Right. “I need to get out of here.”

“Do you enjoy it?” Her voice is soft. “The hurt you cause? The pain? I can see it.” Her eyes trace the air about my head, my shoulders. “You carry it with you. Why? Does it bring you happiness?”

“No.” I recoil from the thought. “I don’t mean to—I don’t want to hurt people.”

“Yet you destroy all those who get close to you. Your friends. Your grandfather. Helene Aquilla. You hurt them.” She pauses as the horrible truth of her words sinks in. “I don’t watch those on the other side,” she says. “But you are different.”

“I’m not supposed to be here,” I say. “I’m not dead.”

She regards me for a long time before cocking her head like a curious bird. “But you are dead,” she says. “You just don’t know it yet.”


My eyes jolt open to a sky covered in clouds. It’s mid-morning, and I’m slumped forward, my head jouncing in the space between Laia’s neck and shoulder. Low hills rise and fall around us, dotted with Jack trees, tumbleweeds, and little else. Laia moves the horse southeast at a trot, straight toward Raider’s Roost. At my movement, she twists around.

“Elias!” She slows the horse. “You’ve been blacked out for hours. I—I thought you might not wake up.”

“Don’t stop the horse.” I possess none of the strength I felt in my hallucination, but I force myself to sit up. Dizziness sweeps over me, and my tongue is heavy in my mouth. Stay, Elias, I tell myself. Don’t let the Soul Catcher pull you back. “Keep us moving—the soldiers—”

“We rode through the night. I saw soldiers, but they were far away and heading south.” Shadows have settled beneath her eyes, and her hands shake. She’s exhausted. I take the reins from her, and she sags back against me, closing her eyes.

“Where did you go, Elias? Can you remember? Because I’ve seen seizures before. They can knock someone out for a few minutes, even an hour. But you were unconscious for far longer.”

“Strange place. A for-forest—”

“Don’t you dare fade out on me again, Elias Veturius.” Laia spins and shakes my shoulders, and I snap my eyes open. “I can’t do this without you. Look at the horizon. What do you see?”

I force myself to look up. “C-clouds. Storm coming. Big one. We need shelter.”

Laia nods. “I could smell it. The storm.” She glances back. “Reminds me of you.”

I try to work out whether this is a compliment or not but then give up. Ten hells, I’m so tired.

“Elias.” She puts a hand against my face and forces me to meet her gold eyes, as hypnotizing as a lioness’s. “Stay with me. You had a foster brother—tell me about him.”

Voices call me—the Waiting Place pulling me back with hungry claws.

“Shan,” I gasp out. “His—his name is Shan. Bossy, just like Mamie Rila. He’s nineteen—a year younger.” I blather on, trying to force away the cold grasp of the Waiting Place. As I speak, Laia shoves water into my hands, urging me to drink.

“Stay.” She keeps saying it, and I hold on to the word like it’s driftwood in an open ocean. “Don’t go back. I need you.”

Hours later, the storm hits, and though riding in it is miserable, the wet forces me further awake. I guide the horse to a low-lying ravine littered with boulders. The storm is too heavy for us to see more than a few feet—which means that the Empire’s men will be just as blind.

I dismount and spend long minutes trying to tend to the stallion, but my hands refuse to function properly. An unfamiliar emotion grips me: fear. I crush it. You’ll fight the poison, Elias. If it were going to kill you, you’d already be dead.

“Elias?” Laia is beside me, concern etched on her face. She’s strung a tarp between two boulders, and when I finish with the horse, she guides me there and makes me sit.

“She told me I hurt people,” I blurt out as we huddle together. “I let them get hurt.”

“Who told you that?”

“I’m going to hurt you,” I say. “I hurt everyone.”

“Stop, Elias.” Laia takes my hands. “I freed you because you didn’t hurt me.” She pauses, and the rain is a chilly curtain around us. “Try to stay, Elias. You were gone for so long last time, and I need you to stay.”

We’re so close that I can see the indent in the center of her lower lip. A ringlet of hair has come loose from her bun and spills down her long, golden neck. I’d give so much to be this close to her and not be poisoned or hunted, injured or haunted.

“Tell me another story,” she murmurs. “I hear the Fivers see the southern islands. Are they beautiful?” At my nod, she prods me. “What do they look like? Is the water clear?”

“Water’s blue.” I try to fight the slur in my voice, because she’s right: I need to stay. I need to get us to the Roost. I need to get the Tellis.

“But not—not dark blue. It’s a thousand blues. And greens. Like—like someone took Hel’s eyes and turned them into the ocean.”

My body trembles. No—not again. Laia takes my cheeks in her hands, her touch sending a bolt of desire through me.

“Stay with me,” she says. Her fingers are cool on my fevered skin. Lightning cracks, illuminating her face, making her gold eyes darker, giving her an otherworldly feel. “Tell me another memory,” she demands. “Something good.”