Two Veturia soldiers stand at the window. The Commandant is at Marcus’s side, pointing to a map on the desk before them. As she leans forward, I catch a glimmer of silver beneath her uniform.

The bitch is wearing the shirt she stole from me.

“As I was saying, my lord.” The Commandant nods in greeting, before picking up the thread of the conversation. “Warden Sisellius of Kauf must be dealt with. He was cousin to the old Shrike and shared intelligence from Kauf’s prisoner interrogations with him. It was the reason the Shrike was able to keep such a tight rein on internal dissent.”

“I can’t look for your traitorous son, fight the rats’ revolution, bend the Illustrian Gens to my will, deal with border attacks, and take on one of the most powerful men in the Empire, Commandant.” Marcus has taken to his authority naturally. As if he’s been waiting for it. “Do you know how many secrets the Warden knows? He could raise an army with a few words. Until we have the rest of the Empire sorted, we leave the Warden be. You’re dismissed. Pater Aquillus.” Marcus glances at my father. “Go with the Commandant. She will handle the details of our … arrangement.”

Arrangement. The terms of my release. Father still has not told me what they were.

But I can’t ask now. Father follows the Commandant and the two Veturia soldiers out. The study door slams behind them. Marcus and I are alone.

He turns to regard me. I can’t meet his glance. Every time I stare into his yellow eyes, I see my nightmares. I expect him to revel in my weakness. To whisper in my ear about the dark things we both see, the way he’s been doing for weeks. I wait for his approach, for his attack. I know what he is. I know what he’s been threatening me with for months.

But he clenches his jaw and half lifts his hand, like he’s about to wave away a mosquito. Then he exerts control over himself, a vein popping at his temple.

“It appears, Aquilla, that you and I are stuck with each other, as Emperor and Shrike.” He spits the words at me. “Until one of us is dead, anyway.”

I am surprised at the bitterness in his voice. His cat eyes are fixed in the distance. Without Zak beside him, he doesn’t seem fully present—half a person instead of a whole. He was … younger around Zak. Still cruel, still horrible, but relaxed. Now he seems older and harder and, perhaps most terrifyingly, wiser.

“Then why didn’t you just kill me in the prison?” I say.

“Because I enjoyed watching your father beg.” Marcus grins, a flash of his old self. The smile fades. “And because the Augurs seem to have a soft spot for you. Cain paid me a visit. Insisted that killing you would lead to my own doom.” The Snake shrugs. “To be honest, I’m tempted to slit your throat just to see what happens. Perhaps I still will. But for now, I have a mission for you.”

Control, Aquilla. “I’m yours to command, my lord.”

“The Black Guard—your men now—have thus far failed to locate and secure the rebel Elias Veturius.”


“You know him. You know how he thinks. You will hunt him down and bring him back in chains. Then you will torture him and execute him. Publicly.”

Hunt. Torture. Execute.

“My lord.” I can’t do it. I can’t. “I am Blood Shrike. I should be quelling the revolution—”

“The revolution is quelled,” Marcus says. “Your assistance is unnecessary.”

I knew this would happen. I knew he’d send me after Elias. I knew it because I dreamt it. But I didn’t think it would be so soon.

“I’ve just become leader of the Black Guard,” I say. “I need to get to know my men. My duties.”

“But first you must be an example to them. What better example than catching the Empire’s greatest traitor? Don’t worry about the rest of the Black Guard. They’ll take orders from me while you’re on this mission.”

“Why not send the Commandant?” I try to suppress the desperation in my voice. The more it shows, the more he’ll revel in it.

“Because I need someone ruthless to crush the revolution,” Marcus says.

“You mean you need an ally at your side.”

“Don’t be stupid, Aquilla.” He shakes his head in disgust and begins pacing. “I don’t have allies. I have people who owe me things and people who want things and people who use me and people whom I use. In the Commandant’s case, the wanting and the using is mutual, so she will remain. She suggested that you hunt down Elias as a test of loyalty. I agreed with her suggestion.”

The Snake stops his pacing.

“You swore to be my Shrike, the sword that executes my will. Now is your chance to prove your loyalty. The vultures circle, Aquilla. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m too stupid to see it. Veturius’s escape is my first failure as Emperor, and the Illustrians already use it against me. I need him dead.” He meets my eyes and leans forward, knuckles bloodless as he clenches the desk. “And I want you to be the one who kills him. I want you to watch the light die in his eyes. I want him to know it’s the person he cares for most in the world who shoved a blade through his heart. I want it to haunt you for all of your days.”

There is more than just hatred in Marcus’s eyes. For a fleeting, indiscernible moment, there is guilt.

He wants me to be like him. He wants Elias to be like Zak.

The name of Marcus’s twin hovers between us, a ghost that will come to life if we only say the word. We both know what happened on the battlefield of the Third Trial. Everyone does. Zacharias Farrar was killed—stabbed in the heart by the man standing before me.