An hour later, I’m scrubbed raw and dressed in clean, if damp, clothes. My mouth waters at the smell of roasting rabbit. I expect Elias to get up the second I appear. If we’re not walking or eating, he leaves on patrol. But today, he nods at me, and I settle in beside him—as close to the fire as possible—and comb the snarls from my hair.

He points to my armlet. “It’s beautiful.”

“My mother gave it to me. Just before she died.”

“The pattern. I feel like I’ve seen it before.” Elias tilts his head. “May I?”

I reach up to take off the armlet but stop, a peculiar reluctance coming over me. Don’t be ridiculous, Laia. He’s going to give it right back.

“Just … just for a minute, all right?” I hand the armlet over, edgy as he turns it in his hands, examining the pattern barely visible beneath the tarnish.

“Silver,” he says. “Do you think the fey could sense it? The efrit and the wraiths kept asking for silver.”

“No idea.” I take it quickly when he hands it back, my whole body relaxing as I put it on. “But I’d die before I gave this up. It was the last thing my mother gave me. Do--do you have anything of your father’s?”

“Nothing.” Elias doesn’t sound bitter. “Not even a name. Just as well. Whoever he was, I don’t think he was a good person.”

“Why? You’re good. And you didn’t get it from the Commandant.”

Elias’s smile is sad. “Just a hunch.” He pokes the fire with a stick. “Laia,” he says gently. “We should talk about it.”

Oh skies. “Talk about what?”

“Whatever it is that’s bothering you. I can take a guess, but it might be better if you tell me.”

“You want to talk now? After weeks of not even looking at me?”

“I look at you.” His response is swift, his voice low. “Even when I shouldn’t.”

“Then why won’t you say anything? Do you think I’m—I’m horrible? For what happened with Shikaat? I didn’t want to—” I choke back the rest of my words. Elias drops the stick and inches closer. I feel his fingers on my chin and make myself look at him.

“Laia, I am the last person who will judge you for killing in your own defense. Look at what I am. Look at my life. I left you alone because I thought you might find comfort in solitude. As for not … looking at you, I don’t want to hurt you. I’m dead in a few months. About five, if I’m lucky. It’s best if I keep my distance. We both know that.”

“So much death,” I say. “It’s everywhere. What’s the point then of living? Will I ever escape it? In a few months you’ll …” I can’t say the words. “And Shikaat. He was going to kill me—and then … then he was dead. His blood was so warm, and he looked alive, but—” I suppress a shudder and straighten my back. “Never mind. I’m letting this get the best of me. I—”

“Your emotions make you human,” Elias says. “Even the unpleasant ones have a purpose. Don’t lock them away. If you ignore them, they just get louder and angrier.”

A lump rises in my throat, insistent and clawing, like a howl that’s been trapped inside me.

Elias pulls me into a hug, and as I lean into his shoulder, the sound lurking within emerges, something between a scream and a sob. Something animal and strange. Frustration and fear at what is to come. Rage at how I always feel as if I’m thwarted. Terror that I will never see my brother again.

After a long time, I pull back. Elias’s face is somber when I look up at him. He wipes my tears away. His scent rolls over me. I breathe it in.

The open expression on his face fades. I can practically see him fling up a wall. He drops his arms and moves back.

“Why do you do that?” I try to rein in my exasperation and fail. “You close yourself up. You shut me out because you don’t want me to get close. What about what I want? You won’t hurt me, Elias.”

“I will,” he says. “Trust me.”

“I don’t trust you. Not about this.”

Defiantly, I edge closer to him. He clenches his jaw but doesn’t move. Without looking away, I bring a tentative hand to his mouth. Those lips, curved like they’re always smiling, even when his eyes are lit with desire, as they are now.

“This is a bad idea,” he murmurs. We’re so close that I can see a long eyelash that’s landed on his cheek. I can see the hints of blue in his hair.

“Then why aren’t you stopping it?”

“Because I’m a fool.” We breathe each other’s breath, and as his body relaxes, as his hands finally slide around my back, I close my eyes.

Then he freezes. My eyes snap open. Elias’s attention is fixed on the tree line. A second later, he stands and draws his scims in one fluid motion. I scramble to my feet.

“Laia.” He steps around me. “Our tail has caught up. Hide in the boulders. And”—his voice takes on a sudden note of command as he meets my eyes—“if anyone gets near you, fight with all you’ve got.”

I draw my knife and dart behind him, trying to see what he sees, to hear what he hears. The forest around us is silent.


An arrow flies through the trees, straight at Elias’s heart. He blocks it with a twitch of a scim.

Another missile hurtles out. Zing—and another, and another. Elias blocks them all, until a small forest of broken arrows sits at his feet.