Kennels first.

The Kennel Master visits his domain once a day, at second bell. Three Fivers trade shifts around the clock, but there is only one on duty at a time. Every few hours, one of a series of aux soldiers emerges from the prison to muck out the stalls, feed and exercise the animals, and tend to repairs on the sleds and reins.

At the shadowy end of the structure, I stop beside a pen, where three dogs bark at me as if I’m the Nightbringer himself. The legs of my fatigues and the back of my cloak shred easily—they are already worn through. I hold my breath and use a stick to soil my other pant leg with dung.

I pull up the hood on my cloak. “Oi!” I bellow, hoping the shadows are deep enough to hide my clothing, which is clearly not a Kauf uniform. The Fiver jerks awake and spins, his eyes wild. He spots me and gibbers a defense, dropping his eyes out of respect and fear. I cut him off.

“You’re asleep on the bleeding job,” I roar at him. Auxes, particularly Plebeians, are spat on by everyone else at Kauf. Most tend to be extra nasty to the Fivers and the prisoners—the only people at Kauf they can boss. “I should report you to the Kennel Master.”

“Sir, please—”

“Stop yipping. Had enough of that from the dogs. One of the bitches attacked when I tried to take her out. Ripped my clothes straight through. Bring me another uniform. A cloak and boots too—mine are covered with dog scat. I’m twice your size, so make sure it fits. And don’t bleeding tell the Kennel Master. Last thing I need is that bastard cutting my rations.”

“Yes, sir, right away, sir!”

He darts out of the kennel, so frightened that I’ll turn him in for sleeping on duty that he doesn’t look twice at me. While he’s gone, I feed the dogs and muck out the pens. An aux showing up earlier than usual is strange but not noteworthy, considering the Kennel Master’s lack of organization. An aux showing up and then not performing his assigned task would set off alarm bells.

When the Fiver returns, I’m stripped to my breeches, and I order him to leave the uniform and wait outside. I toss my old clothes and shoes in the fire, shout at the poor boy again for good measure, and turn north, to Kauf.

Half of the prison is rooted inside the darkness of the mountain behind it. The other half erupts from the rock like a diseased growth. A wide road snakes down from the enormous front gate, running like a rivulet of black blood along the River Dusk.

The prison walls, twice as high as Blackcliff’s, are almost ornate, with friezes, columns, and gargoyles hewn from the pale gray rock. Aux archers patrol the crenellated ramparts, and legionnaires man four lookout towers, making the prison difficult to break into and impossible to break out of.

Unless one is a Mask who has spent weeks planning it.

Above, the cold sky is lit green and purple by undulating ribbons of light. The Northern Dancers, they’re called—the spirits of the dead battling for eternity in the skies—at least according to Martial lore.

I wonder what Shaeva would say about it. Maybe you can ask her in a fortnight, when you’re dead. I feel for the store of Tellis in my pocket—a two-week supply. Just enough to get me to Rathana.

Other than the Tellis, a lock pick, and the throwing knives across my chest, my belongings, including my Teluman scims, are hidden in the cave where I plan to stow Darin. The place was smaller than I remembered, half-collapsed and covered in debris from mudslides. But no predators had claimed it, and it is large enough to camp in. Darin and I should be able to lie low there until Laia arrives.

I narrow my focus to Kauf’s yawning portcullis. Supply wagons snake up the road leading to the prison, bringing winter foodstuffs before the passes are snowed in. But with the sun not yet up and a guard change imminent, the deliveries are chaotic and the guard sergeant isn’t paying attention to who is coming and going from the kennels.

I approach the caravan from the main road and sidle in among the other gate guards searching the wagons for contraband.

As I peer into a crate of gourds, a truncheon slams into my arm. “Already checked this one, you dolt,” a voice says behind me, and I turn to face a surly, bearded legionnaire.

“Apologies, sir,” I bark out, quickly bolting to the next wagon. Don’t follow. Don’t ask my name. Don’t ask my squad number.

“What’s your name, soldier? I haven’t seen you before—”


For once, I’m bleeding thrilled to hear the drums, which signal the guard change. The legionnaire turns, distracted for a moment, and I dart into the crowd of auxes heading into the prison. When I look back, the legionnaire has turned to the next wagon.

Too close, Elias.

I keep slightly behind the aux squad, my hood up and scarf wrapped close. If the men notice an extra soldier among them, I’m dead.

I fight to ease the tension in my body, to keep my gait steady and exhausted. You’re one of them, Elias. Bone tired after the graveyard shift, ready for grog and bed. I pass through the snow-dusted prison yard, twice the size of Blackcliff’s training field. Torches—blue fire and pitch—illuminate every inch of the space. The prison’s innards, I know, are similarly lit; the Warden employs two dozen auxes whose sole job is to make sure those torches never go out. No prisoner of Kauf can ever claim the shadows as allies.

Though I risk being called out by the men I’m with, I work my way to the middle of the group as we approach the main prison entrance and the two Masks flanking it.

The Masks cast their eyes over the men entering, and my fingers twitch toward my weapons. I force myself to listen to the low conversation of the auxes.