Bleeding skies. I want to forget about the strange, life-draining power I used on Elias and Laia.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The Mask within takes over.

“It will destroy you if you’re not careful.”

“And how would you know?” Who is this man—if he’s even a man?

The figure lifts a gloved hand to my shoulder and sings one note, high, like birdsong. So unexpected, considering the gravelly depths of his voice. Fire lances through my body, and I grit my teeth together to keep from screaming.

But when the pain fades, my body aches less, and the man gestures at the mirror on a far wall. The bruises on my face are not gone, but they are considerably lighter.

“I would know.” The creature ignores my slack-jawed shock. “You should find a teacher.”

“Are you volunteering?” I must be insane to say it, but the thing makes a queer sound that might be a laugh.

“I am not.” He sniffs again, as if considering. “Perhaps … one day.”

“What—who are you?”

“I’m the Reaper, girl. And I go to collect what is mine.”

At this, I dare to look into the man’s face. A mistake, for in place of eyes he has stars blazing out like the fires of the hells. As he meets my gaze, a bolt of loneliness rolls through me. And yet to call it loneliness is not enough. I feel bereft. Destroyed. As if everyone and everything I care about has been ripped from my arms and cast into the ether.

The creature’s gaze is a writhing abyss, and as my sight goes red and I stagger back into the wall, I realize I am not staring into his eyes. I am staring into my future.

I see it for a moment. Pain. Suffering. Horror. All that I love, all that matters to me, awash in blood.



Raider’s Roost juts into the air like a colossal fist. It blots out the horizon, its shadow deepening the gloom of the mist-cloaked desert. From here, it looks still and abandoned. But the sun has long since set, and I cannot trust my eyes. Deep in the labyrinthine cracks of that great rock, the Roost teems with the dregs of the Empire.

I glance at Elias to see his hood has slipped back. When I pull it up, he does not stir, and worry twists in my belly. He has been in and out for the past three days, but his last seizure was especially violent. The bout of unconsciousness that followed lasted for more than a day—the longest stretch yet. I do not understand as much as Pop about healing, but even I know that this is bad.

Before, Elias at least muttered, as if he was fighting the poison. But he hasn’t spoken a word for hours. I’d be happy if he said anything. Even if it was more about Helene Aquilla and her ocean-colored eyes—a comment I found unexpectedly irritating.

He’s slipping away. And I cannot let it happen.

“Laia.” At Elias’s voice, I nearly fall off the horse in surprise.

“Thank the skies.” I look back to find his warm skin is gray and drawn, his pale eyes burning with fever.

He looks up at the Roost and then at me. “I knew you’d get us here.” For a moment, he’s his old self: warm, full of life. He peers over my shoulder at my fingers—chafed from four days of clutching the reins—and takes the leather straps from me.

For an awkward few seconds, he holds his arms away from me, as if I might take umbrage at his closeness. So I lean back against his chest, feeling safer than I have in days, like I’ve suddenly acquired a layer of armor. He relaxes, dropping his forearms to my hips, and the weight of them sends a flutter up my spine.

“You must be exhausted,” he murmurs.

“I’m all right. Heavy as you are, dragging you on and off this horse was ten times easier than dealing with the Commandant.”

His chuckle is weak, but still, something inside me relaxes at the sound of it. He angles the horse north and kicks it into a canter until the trail ahead rises.

“We’re close,” he says. “We’ll head for the rocks just north of the Roost—lots of places for you to hide while I go in for the Tellis.”

I frown at him over my shoulder. “Elias, you could black out at any moment.”

“I can fight off the seizures. I only need a few minutes in the market,” he says. “It’s right in the heart of the Roost. Has everything. Should be able to find an apothecary.”

He grimaces, his arms going rigid. “Go away,” he mutters—though clearly not at me. When I look askance at him, he pretends he’s fine and starts asking me about the last few days.

But as the horse climbs the rocky terrain north of the Roost, Elias’s body jerks, as if yanked by a puppeteer, and he pitches wildly to the left.

I grab the reins, thanking the skies that I’ve roped him on so that he can’t fall. I wrap my arm around him awkwardly, twisting in the saddle, trying to keep him steady so he doesn’t frighten the horse.

“It’s all right.” My voice shakes. I can barely hold him, but I channel Pop’s unflappable healer’s calm as the convulsions grow worse. “We’ll get the extract, and everything will be fine.” His pulse skitters frantically, and I lay a hand against his heart, fearing it will burst. It cannot take much more of this.

“Laia.” He can barely speak, and his eyes are wild and unfocused. “I have to get it. Don’t go in there alone. Too dangerous. I’ll do it myself. You’ll get hurt—I always—hurt—”

He slumps over, his breath shallow. He’s out. Who knows for how long this time? Panic rises like bile in my throat, but I force it down.