“Ah, my boy.” Mamie sighs, and I’m certain I’ve put more lines on her face. “My Elias—”

“Ilyaas,” I say. “For you, I’m Ilyaas.”

She shakes her head. “Ilyaas is the boy you were,” she says. “Elias is the man you have become. Tell me: Why must you help this girl? Why not let her go with the rebel, while you remain here, with your family? Do you think we cannot protect you from the Martials? None in our Tribe would dare betray you. You are my son, and your uncle is the Zaldar.”

“You’ve heard the rumors of a Scholar who can forge Serric steel?” Mamie nods warily. “Those stories are true,” I say. “The Scholar is Laia’s brother. If I can break him out of Kauf, think of what it could mean for the Scholars—for Marinn, for the Tribes. Ten hells, you could finally fight the Empire—”

The tent flap bursts open, and Afya enters, Laia trailing and heavily hooded.

“Forgive me, Kehanni,” she says. “But it’s time to move. Someone told the Martials you entered the camp, and they wish to speak with you. They’ll likely intercept you on the way out. I don’t know if—”

“They will ask questions and release me.” Mamie Rila stands, shaking out her robes, her chin high. “I will not allow a delay.” She closes on Afya until inches separate them. Afya rocks very slightly on her heels.

“Afya Ara-Nur,” Mamie says softly. “You will hold your vow. Tribe Saif has promised to do its part in assisting you. But if you betray my son for the bounty, or if any of your people do, we will consider it an act of war, and we will curse the blood of seven generations before our vengeance is spent.”

Afya’s eyes widen at the depth of the threat, but she merely nods. Mamie turns to me, rises on her tiptoes, and kisses my forehead. Will I see her again? Feel the warmth of her hands, find comfort I don’t deserve in the forgiveness of her eyes? I will.

Though there won’t be much to see if, in trying to save me, she incurs the Martials’ wrath.

“Don’t do this, Mamie,” I plead with her. “Whatever it is you’re planning, don’t. Think of Shan and Tribe Saif. You are their Kehanni. They can’t lose you. I don’t want—”

“We had you for six years, Elias,” Mamie says. “We played with you, held you, watched your first steps, and heard your first words. We loved you. And then they took you from us. They hurt you. Made you suffer. Made you kill. I don’t care what your blood is. You were a boy of the Tribes—and you were taken. And we did nothing. Tribe Saif must do this. I must do this. I have waited fourteen years to do this. Neither you nor anyone else will take it from me.”

Mamie sweeps out, and as she does, Afya jerks her head toward the back of her tent. “Move,” she says. “And keep your faces hidden, even from my Tribe. Only Mamie, Gibran, and I know who you are, and that’s how it needs to stay until we’re out of the city. You and Laia will stay with me. Gibran has already taken Keenan and Izzi.”

“Where?” I say. “Where are we going?”

“The storytellers’ stage, Veturius.” Afya arches a brow at me. “The Kehanni is going to save you with a story.”



The city of Nur feels like a damned powder keg. It’s as if every Martial soldier I’ve released into the streets is a charge waiting to be lit.

Despite threats to the men of public whippings and reductions in rank, they’ve had a dozen altercations with the Tribesmen already. No doubt more are coming.

The Tribesmen’s objection to our presence is ridiculous. They were happy enough to have Empire support in battling Barbarian pirate frigates along the coast. But come into a Tribal city looking for a criminal and it’s as if we’ve unleashed a jinn horde upon them.

I pace the rooftop balcony of the Martial garrison on the western side of the city, looking down at the teeming market below. Elias could be bleeding anywhere.

If he’s here at all.

The possibility that I’m wrong—that Elias has slipped south while I’ve been wasting time in Nur—offers a strange sort of relief. If he’s not here, I can’t catch him or kill him.

He’s here. And you must find him.

But since arriving at the garrison at Atella’s Gap, everything has gone wrong. The outpost was undermanned. I had to scrape reserve soldiers from surrounding guard posts in order to muster a force large enough to search Nur. When I arrived at the oasis, I found the force here depleted as well, with no information about where the rest of the men were sent.

All told, I have a thousand men, mostly auxes, and a dozen Masks. It’s not nearly enough to search a city swollen to a hundred thousand. It’s all I can do to maintain a cordon around the oasis so no wagon leaves without a search.

“Blood Shrike.” Faris’s blond head pops up from the stairwell leading into the garrison. “We’ve got her. She’s in a cell.”

I suppress my dread as Faris and I head down a narrow flight of stairs to the dungeon. When I last saw Mamie Rila, I was a gangly, maskless fourteen-year-old. Elias and I stayed with Tribe Saif for two weeks on our way back to Blackcliff after finishing out our years as Fivers. And though, as a Fiver, I was essentially a Martial spy, Mamie’d only ever treated me with kindness.

And I’m about to repay her with an interrogation.

“She entered the Nur encampment three hours ago,” Faris says. “Dex nabbed her on the way out. The Fiver assigned to follow her says she visited a dozen Tribes today.”