Outside the cave, I hear the hoot of an owl, a bird that has no business being out in weather like this. I edge to the entrance.

Nothing moves in the rocks beyond, but a gust of wind blows the stink of sweat and horse toward me. Apparently Shikaat wasn’t lying about having a hundred men waiting beyond the cave.

To the south, at our backs, is solid rock. Serra lies to the west. The cave faces north, opening out onto a narrow trail that winds down into the desert and toward the passes that would take us safely through the Serran Range. To the east, the trail plunges into the Jutts, a half mile of sheer fingers of rock that are death in the best of weather, let alone when it’s pissing rain. The eastern wall of the Serran Range rises beyond the Jutts. No trails, no passes, just wild mountains that eventually drop away into the Tribal desert.

Ten hells.

“Elias.” Laia is a nervous presence beside me. “We should get out of here. Before the Tribesman wakes up.”

“One problem.” I nod out to the darkness. “We’re surrounded.”

Five minutes later, I’ve roped Laia to me and moved Shikaat’s lackey, still bound, to the entrance of the cave. I secure Shikaat’s body to the horse, removing his cloak so his men will recognize him. Laia pointedly doesn’t look at the body.

“Goodbye, nag.” Laia rubs the horse between his ears. “Thank you for carrying me. I’m sad to lose you.”

“I’ll steal you another,” I say dryly. “Ready?”

She nods, and I move to the back of the cave, laying flint to tinder. I nurse a flame, feeding it the few pieces of brush and wood I could find, much of it wet. Thick white smoke billows up, filling the cave quickly.

“Now, Laia.”

Laia slaps the horse’s rump with all her might, sending him and Shikaat thundering out of the cave and toward the Tribesmen waiting to the north. The men hiding behind the freestanding rocks to the west emerge, bellowing at the sight of the smoke, at their dead leader.

Which means they’re not looking at Laia and me. We slip out of the cave, hoods pulled low, masked by smoke and rain and darkness. I pull Laia onto my back, check the rope I’ve tied to an unobtrusive and half-hidden finger of rock, and then swing down into the Jutts silently, going hand below hand until I’ve reached a rain-slicked rock ten feet below. Laia hops down from my back with a slight scrape that I hope the Tribesmen won’t hear. I tug on the rope to release it.

Above, the Tribesmen cough as they enter the smoky cave. I hear them curse as they pull their friend free.

Follow, I mouth to Laia. We move slowly, the sounds of our passage covered by the thudding boots and shouts of the Tribesmen. The rocks of the Jutts are sharp and slippery, the jagged edges digging into our boots, catching on our clothes.

My mind goes back six years, to when Helene and I camped out at the Roost for a season.

All Fivers come to the Roost to spy on the Raiders for a couple of months. The Raiders hated it; getting caught by them meant a long, slow death—one of the reasons the Commandant sent students here in the first place.

Helene and I were stationed together—the bastard and the girl, the two outcasts. The Commandant must have gloated at a pairing she thought would get one of us killed. But friendship made Hel and me stronger, not weaker.

We skipped over the Jutts as a game, light as gazelles, daring each other to make crazier and crazier jumps. She matched my leaps with such ease that you’d never guess she feared heights. Ten hells, we were stupid. So certain we wouldn’t fall. So sure death couldn’t find us.

Now I know better.

You’re dead. You just don’t know it yet.

The rain thins as we move across the rock field. Laia remains silent, her lips pressed together. She’s troubled. I feel it. Thinking of Shikaat, no doubt. Still, she keeps up with me, hesitating only once, when I leap across a gap five feet wide, with a two-hundred-foot chasm beneath.

I make the jump first, clearing the gap easily. When I look back, her face is blanched.

“I’ll catch you,” I say.

She stares at me with her gold eyes, fear and determination warring. Without warning, she leaps, and the force of her body knocks me back. My hands are filled with her—waist, hips, that cloud of sugar-scented hair. Her full lips part like she’s going to say something. Not that I’ll respond intelligently. Not with so much of her pressing against so much of me.

I push her away. She stumbles, hurt flickering across her face. I don’t even know why I do it, except that getting close to her feels wrong somehow. Unfair.

“Almost there,” I say to distract her. “Stay with me now.”

As we get closer to the mountains and farther from the Roost, the rain thins out, replaced by thick mist.

The rock field levels and flattens into uneven terraces, the shelves interspersed with trees and scrub. I stop Laia and listen for sounds of pursuit. Nothing. The mist lays thick on the Jutts like a blanket, drifting through the trees around us and lending them an eeriness that makes Laia draw closer.

“Elias,” she whispers. “Will we turn north from here? Or circle back to the foothills?”

“We don’t have the gear to climb the mountains north of us,” I say. “And Shikaat’s men are probably crawling all over the foothills. They’ll be looking for us.”

Laia’s face pales. “Then how do we get to Kauf? If we take a ship from the south, the delay—”

“We go east,” I say. “Into the Tribal lands.”