As Mamie’s story takes a surprising turn, the crowd gasps, and Elias looks pained. To have one’s life story told to so many would be strange enough, but a story with so much suffering, so much death? I take his hand, and he tenses, as if to pull away, but then relaxes.
“Don’t listen,” I say. “Look at me instead.”
Reluctantly, he lifts his eyes. The intensity of his pale gaze makes my heart stutter, but I don’t let myself look away. There’s a loneliness to him that makes me ache. He’s dying. He knows it. Perhaps life does not get more lonely than that.
Right now, all I want is for that loneliness to fade—even if it’s for a moment. So I do what Darin used to when he wanted to cheer me up, and I make an absurd face.
Elias stares at me in surprise before cracking a grin that lights him up—and then he makes a ridiculous face of his own. I snicker and am about to challenge him when I spot Keenan watching us, his eyes flat with suppressed fury.
Elias follows my gaze. “I don’t think he likes me.”
“He doesn’t like anyone at first,” I say. “When he met me, he threatened to kill me and stuff me in a crypt.”
“He changed. Quite a lot, actually. I would have thought it impossible, but—” I wince as Afya elbows me.
Elias’s smile fades as, around us, the Tribesmen begin to whisper. He eyes the Martials stationed at the theater exits nearest us. Most have hands on their weapons, and they watch the crowd dubiously, as if it will rise up and devour them.
Mamie’s gestures grow expansive and violent. The crowd bristles and seems to expand, pushing against the walls of the theater. Tension fills the air, spreads, an invisible flame that transforms all who come into contact with it. In seconds, whispers become angry mutters.
Mamie points to the crowd, the conviction in her voice raising goose bumps on my arms.
“Kisaneh kithiya ke jeehani deka?”
Elias leans toward me, his words quiet in my ear. “Who has suffered the tyranny of the Empire?” he translates.
“Kisaneh bichaya ke gima baza?”
“Who has seen children torn from their parents’ arms?”
A few rows down from us, a man rises and gestures at a knot of Martials I didn’t notice. One of them has pale skin and a crown of blonde braids: Helene Aquilla. The man bellows something at them.
Across the bowl, a Tribeswoman stands and shouts those same words. Another woman rises to her feet at the base of the theater. She is soon joined by a deep voice yards away from us.
Suddenly, the two words echo back and forth from every mouth, and the crowd transforms from spellbound to violent as quick as a pitch-soaked torch catching flame.
“Thieves,” Elias translates, his voice flat. “Monsters.”
Tribe Nur rises to their feet around Elias and me, shouting abuse at the Martials, raising their voices to join thousands of other Tribesmen doing the same.
I think back to the Martials tearing through the Tribal marketplace yesterday. And I understand, finally, that this explosive rage is not just about Elias. It has been present in Nur all along. Mamie just harnessed it.
I always thought the Tribesmen were allied with the Martials, however reluctantly. Perhaps I was wrong.
“Stay with me now.” Afya rises, her eyes darting from entrance to entrance. We follow, straining to hear her voice above the baying crowd. “When first blood is shed, we head for the nearest exit. Nur’s wagons wait in the depot. A dozen other Tribes will leave at the same time, and that should trigger the rest of the Tribes into leaving too.”
“How will we know when—”
A bloodcurdling howl cracks the air. I stand on tiptoe to see that at one of the exits far below us, a Martial soldier has cut down a Tribesman who got too close. The Tribesman’s blood seeps into the sands of the theater, and the shriek comes again, from an older woman kneeling over him, her body shuddering.
Afya wastes no time. As one, Tribe Nur rushes to the closest exit. Quite suddenly, I cannot breathe. The crowd presses in close—surging, pushing, going in too many directions. I lose sight of Afya and spin toward Elias. He grabs my hand and pulls me near, but there are too many people, and we are wrenched apart. I spot a gap in the crowd and try to elbow my way toward it, but I can’t penetrate the mass of bodies around me.
Make yourself small. Tiny. Disappear. If you disappear, you can breathe. My skin prickles, and I push forward again. The Tribesmen I shove past look around, strangely bewildered. I’m able to get through them easily.
“Elias, come on!”
“Laia?” He swivels, staring into the crowd, pushing in the wrong direction.
He swings toward me but doesn’t seem to see me, and he grabs his head. Skies—the poison again? He scrambles for his pocket and takes a swig of the Tellis.
I push back through the Tribesmen until I am right beside him. “Elias, I’m right here,” I take his arm, and he practically jumps out of his skin.
He wags his head like he did when he was first poisoned and looks me over. “Of course you are,” he says. “Afya—where’s Afya?” He cuts through the crowd, trying to catch up to the Tribeswoman, whom I can’t see anywhere.