I wrench the door open, undo the knot binding me to Izzi, and push her inside. Keenan bounds up after her, and I half lift, half shove Laia in last. I swiftly untie the rope between us, but as I untangle the knot, I notice that the rope has no frayed ends. The place where it broke apart is smooth.
As if it were cut.
Izzi? No, she was next to me. And Laia wouldn’t do it. Keenan? Was he that desperate to get Laia away from me? My vision fades, and I wag my head. When I look back at the rope, it’s as frayed as an aging trawler’s hawser.
Hallucinations. Get to an apothecary, Elias. Now.
“Tend to Izzi,” I shout at Laia. “Wash out her eye—she’s sand blind. I’ll bring something from the apothecary to help.”
I slam the wagon door shut and turn back into the storm. A tremor takes me. I can almost hear the Soul Catcher. Come back, Elias.
The thick-walled buildings of Nur block enough of the sand that I can make out the street signs. I move carefully, keeping an eye out for soldiers. Tribesmen aren’t crazy enough to be out in such a storm, but Martials will patrol no matter what the weather.
As I turn a corner, I notice a poster on one of the walls. When I get closer, I curse.
BY ORDER OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY
EMPEROR MARCUS FARRAR
MURDERER, RESISTANCE COLLABORATOR,
TRAITOR TO THE EMPIRE
REWARD: 60,000 MARKS
TRAVELING EAST THROUGH THE EMPIRE
IN THE COMPANY OF LAIA OF SERRA,
RESISTANCE REBEL AND SPY
I tear the sign down, crumple it, and release it into the wind—only to see another a few feet away—and another. I step back. The entire bleeding wall is papered with them, as is the wall at my back. They’re everywhere.
Get the Tellis.
I stumble away like a Fiver after his first kill. It takes twenty minutes to find an apothecary, an agonizingly clumsy five minutes to pick the lock on the door. I light a lamp with shaking hands and thank the skies when I see that this particular apothecary has alphabetized his remedies. I’m panting like a water-starved animal by the time I find the Tellis extract, but as soon as I gulp it down, relief sweeps through me.
As does clarity. Everything rushes in—the storm, Izzi’s sand blindness, the wagon where I left the others. And the posters. Bleeding hells, the “wanted” posters. My face, Laia’s face, everywhere. If there were dozens on one wall, then who knows how many there are throughout the city?
Their existence means one thing: The Empire suspects we’re here. So the Martial presence in Nur will be far greater than what I expected. Damn it all to the hells.
By now Laia will be frantic, but she and the others will have to wait. I swipe the apothecary’s entire stock of Tellis, along with an unguent that will ease Izzi’s eye pain. In minutes I am back in Nur’s sand-scoured streets, recalling the time I spent here as a Fiver, spying on the Tribesmen and reporting my findings at the Martial garrison.
I take to the roofs to get to the garrison, wincing against the onslaught of the storm. It is still powerful enough to keep sane people inside but not nearly as bad as when we arrived in the city.
The Martial stronghold, built of black stone, is horribly out of place among the sand-colored structures of Nur. As I approach, I slink along the edges of a rooftop balcony across the street from it.
It’s clear from the blazing lights and the soldiers entering and leaving that the building is packed. And not just with auxes and legionnaires. In the hour that I spend watching, I count at least a dozen Masks, including one wearing pure black armor.
The Black Guard. Those are Helene’s men, now that she’s Blood Shrike. What are they doing here?
Another black-armored Mask emerges from the garrison. He is huge with pale, messy hair. Faris. I’d recognize that cowlick anywhere.
He calls out to a legionnaire saddling a horse.
“—runners to every single Tribe,” I overhear. “Anyone who shelters him is dead. Make that very clear, soldier.”
Another Black Guard emerges. The skin of his hands and chin is darker, but I can make out nothing more than that from here. “We need a cordon around Tribe Saif,” he says to Faris. “In case he seeks them out.”
Faris shakes his head. “That’s the last place El—Veturius would go. He wouldn’t put them at risk.”
Ten burning hells. They know I’m here. And I think I know how. A few minutes later, my suspicions are confirmed.
“Harper.” Helene’s voice is steel, and I start at the sound of it. She strides out of the barracks, seemingly unaffected by the storm. Her armor gleams darkly, her pale hair a beacon in the night. Of course. If anyone could puzzle out what I’d do, where I’d go, it’s her.
I sink a little lower, certain she’ll sense me—that she’ll know, in her bones, I’m nearby.
“Talk to the runners yourself. I want diplomatic men,” she says to the Black Guard named Harper. “They should seek out the Tribal chiefs—the Zaldars or the Kehannis, the storytellers. Tell them not to talk to the children—the Tribes are protective of them. And for skies’ sake, make sure none of them so much as think about looking at the women. I don’t want a bleeding war on my hands because some idiot aux couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Faris, get that cordon up around Tribe Saif. And keep a tail on Mamie Rila.”
Both Faris and Harper leave to carry out Hel’s orders. I expect her to go back into the garrison, to get out of the wind. Instead she takes two steps out into the storm, one hand on her scim. Her eyes are hooded, her mouth an angry slash.