“We need to get to your friend,” I say, “so we can leave with the rest of the Tribes. How do we do it?”

“I was going to suggest we wait for night again and then use disguises. But that’s what Aquilla would expect. So we do the opposite. We hide in plain sight.”

“How are we supposed to hide a Scholar rebel, two former slaves, and a fugitive in plain sight?” Keenan asks.

Elias reaches into his bag and pulls out a set of manacles. “I have an idea,” he says. “But you’re not going to like it.”


“Your ideas,” I hiss at Elias as I trail him through the stiflingly packed streets of Nur, “are almost as deadly as mine.”

“Quiet, slave.” He nods at a squad of Martials marching lockstep through an adjacent street.

I press my lips together, and the manacles weighing down my ankles and wrists clink. Elias was wrong. I don’t just dislike this plan. I hate it.

He wears a red slaver’s shirt and holds a chain that connects to an iron collar around my neck. My hair hangs in my face, mussed and tangled. Izzi, her eye still bandaged, trails me. Three feet of chain stretch between us, and she relies on my whispered directions to keep from tripping. Keenan follows her, sweat beading on his face. I know how he feels: as if we’re actually being led to auction.

We follow Elias in an obedient row, heads down, bodies defeated, as Scholar slaves are expected to look. Memories of the Commandant flood my head: her pale eyes as she carved her initial into my chest with such sadistic care; the blows she delivered as casually as if casting pennies to beggars.

“Keep it together.” Elias glances back at me, perhaps sensing my rising panic. “We’ve still got to get across the city.”

Like the dozens of other slavers we’ve seen here in Nur, Elias leads us with a confident disdain, barking out the occasional order. He mutters at the dust in the air and looks down on the Tribesmen as if they are cockroaches.

With a scarf covering the lower half of his face, I can see only his eyes, almost colorless in the morning light. His slaver’s shirt fits more loosely than it would have a few weeks ago. The battle against the Commandant’s poison has stripped him of his bulk, and he is all edges and angles now. The sharpness heightens his beauty, but it seems almost like I’m looking at his shadow instead of the real Elias.

Nur’s dusty streets are packed with people going from encampment to encampment. Chaotic as it is, there is a strange order to it. Each camp flies its own Tribal colors, with tents to the left, merchant stalls to the right, and the traditional Tribal wagons forming a perimeter.

“Ugh, Laia,” Izzi whispers from behind me. “I can smell the Martials. Steel and leather and horse. It feels like they are everywhere.”

“That’s because they are,” I whisper through the side of my mouth.

Legionnaires search shops and wagons. Masks bark orders and enter houses with no warning. Our progress is slow, as Elias takes a circuitous route through the streets in an attempt to avoid the patrols. My heart is in my throat the entire time.

I search in vain for free Scholars, hoping that some have escaped the Empire’s butchery. But the only Scholars I see are in chains. News of what’s happening in the Empire is scarce, but finally amid the incomprehensible snatches of Sadhese, I hear two Mercators speaking in Serran.

“—not even sparing the children.” The Mercator trader looks over his shoulder as he speaks. “I hear the streets of Silas and Serra run red with Scholar blood.”

“Tribesmen are next,” his companion, a leather-clad woman, says. “Then they’ll come for Marinn.”

“They’ll try,” the man says. “I’d like to see those pale-eyed bastards get through the Forest—”

Then we are past them, and their conversation fades, but I feel like retching. The streets of Silas and Serra run red with Scholar blood. Skies, how many of my old neighbors and acquaintances have died? How many of Pop’s patients?

“That’s why we’re doing this.” Elias glances back at me, and I realize he heard the Mercators too. “It’s why we need your brother. So stay focused.”

As we make our way through a particularly crowded thoroughfare, a patrol led by a Mask in black armor turns into the street just yards ahead.

“Patrol,” I hiss at Izzi. “Head down!” Immediately, she and Keenan stare at their feet. Elias’s shoulders stiffen, but he ambles forward in an almost leisurely manner. A muscle in his jaw jumps.

The Mask is young, his skin is the same golden-brown as mine. He’s as lean as Elias but shorter, with green eyes that angle up like a cat’s and cheekbones that jut as sharply as the hard planes of his armor.

I’ve never seen him before, but it doesn’t matter. He’s a Mask, and as his eyes pass over me, I find that I cannot breathe. Fear pounds through me, and all I can see is the Commandant. All I can feel is the lash of her whip on my back and the cold grasp of her hand on my throat. I can’t move.

Izzi runs into my back, and Keenan into hers.

“Go on!” Izzi says frantically. People nearby turn to watch. Why now, Laia? For skies’ sake, get hold of yourself. But my body won’t listen. The manacles, the collar around my neck, the sounds of the chains—they overwhelm me, and though my mind screams at me to keep moving, my body only remembers the Commandant.

The chain attached to my collar jerks, and Elias swears at me with an insouciant brutality that is uniquely Martial. I know he is playing a part. But I cringe anyway, reacting with a terror that I thought I had buried.