“What in the skies are you two doing?” Afya appears beside us and grabs my arm. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Stay with me! We have to get out of here!”

I follow her, but Elias’s attention jerks to something farther down in the bowl, and he stops short, staring over the surging crowd.

“Afya!” he says. “Where’s the Nur caravan?”

“North section of the depot,” she says. “A couple of caravans over from Tribe Saif.”

“Laia, can you stay with Afya?”

“Of course but—”

“She’s seen me.” He releases me, and as he pushes into the crowd, Aquilla’s familiar silver-blonde crown braid flashes in the sun a few dozen yards away.

“I’ll distract her,” Elias says. “Get to the caravan. I’ll meet you there.”

“Elias, damn it—”

But he’s already gone.



When my eyes meet Helene’s across the crowd—when I see the shock roll across her silver face as she recognizes me—I don’t think, nor do I question. I just move, delivering Laia into Afya’s arms and then cutting through the crowd, away from them and toward Hel. I need to draw her attention from Afya and Tribe Nur. If she identifies them as the Tribe that’s taken Laia and me in, a thousand riots won’t stop her from eventually hunting us down.

I’ll distract her. Then I’ll disappear into the crowd. I think of her face back in my quarters at Blackcliff, fighting to hold in her hurt as she met my eyes. After this, I belong to him. Remember, Elias. After this, we’re enemies.

The chaos of the riot is deafening, but within that cacophony, I witness a strange, hidden order. For all the shouting, yelling, and screaming, I see no abandoned children, no trampled bodies, no quickly deserted belongings—none of the hallmarks of true chaos.

Mamie and Afya have this riot planned down to the minute.

Distantly, the drums of the Martial garrison thud, calling for backup. Hel must have sent a message to the drum tower. But if she wants soldiers here to quell the riot, then she can’t maintain the cordon around the city.

Which was, I now understand, Afya and Mamie’s plan all along.

Once the cordon around the wagons is lifted, Afya can get us safely hidden and out of the city. Our caravan will be one of hundreds leaving Nur.

Helene entered the theater near the stage and has now pressed halfway toward me. But she is alone, an armored, silver-faced island in a roiling sea of human rage. Dex has disappeared, and the other Mask who entered the amphitheater with her—Harper—heads out one of the exits.

The fact that she’s alone doesn’t deter Helene. She makes for me with a single-minded determination that is as familiar to me as my own skin. She shoves forward, her body gathering an inexorable force that propels her through the Tribesmen like a shark toward bloodied prey. But the crowd closes in. Fingers grasp at her cloak, her neck. Someone puts a hand on her shoulder, and she pivots, grabs it, and snaps it in one breath. I can almost hear her logic: It’s faster to to keep going than to fight them all.

Her movement is hampered, slowed, stopped. It is only then that I hear the hiss of her scims whipping out of their scabbards. She is the Blood Shrike now, a grim-faced knight of the Empire, her blades carving a path forward in sprays of blood.

I glance over my shoulder and catch Laia and Afya pushing through one of the gates and out of the theater. When I look back at Helene, her scims fly—but not fast enough. Multiple Tribesmen attack—dozens—too many for her to counter at once. The crowd has taken on a life of its own and does not fear her blades. I see the moment she realizes it—the moment she knows that no matter how swift she is, there are too many for her to fight.

She meets my stare, her fury blazing. Then she drops, pulled down by those around her.

Again, my body moves before my mind knows what I am doing. I pull a cloak off a woman in the crowd—she doesn’t even notice its absence—and muscle my way through, my only thought to get to Helene, to pull her out, to keep her from being beaten or trampled to death. Why, Elias? She’s your enemy now.

The thought sickens me. She was my best friend. I can’t just throw that away.

I drop, lunge forward through robes, legs, and weaponry, and pull the cloak around Helene. One arm goes around her waist, and I use the other to cut the straps on her scims and her brace of throwing knives. Her weapons drop, and when she coughs, blood spatters her armor. I bear her weight as her legs fight to find their strength. We are through one ring of Tribesmen, then another, until we are moving quickly away from where the rioters are still howling for her blood.

Leave her, Elias. Get her clear and leave her. Distraction complete. You’re done.

But if I leave her now, and any other Tribesmen attack while she’s hardly able to walk, then I might as well not have pulled her out.

I keep walking, holding her up until she gets her feet. She coughs and shakes, and I know that all of her instincts are ordering her to draw breath, to calm her heartbeat—to survive. Which is perhaps why she doesn’t resist me until we are through one of the theater’s gates and halfway down an empty, dusty alley beyond.

She finally shoves me away and rips the cloak off. A hundred emotions flash across her face as she casts the cloak on the ground, things no one else would ever see or know but me. That alone extinguishes the days and weeks and miles dividing us. Her hands shake, and I notice the ring on her finger.