A hooded figure hunches at the window, her glittering eyes hard as sapphires. I throw back my shoulders and lift the blade. Her scarred mouth twists into a nasty smirk.

“That window is thirty feet off the ground, and I locked it,” I say. A Mask could get through, certainly. But a Scholar granny?

She ignores my unspoken question. “You should have found him by now,” she says. “Unless you don’t want to find him.”

“He’s a bleeding Mask,” I say. “He’s trained to throw people off his scent. I need you to tell me about the girl.”

“Forget the girl,” Cook snarls, dropping heavily into my room. “Find him. You should have done it weeks ago, so that you could be back here, keeping an eye on her. Or are you too stupid to see that the Bitch of Blackcliff is planning something? It’s big this time, girl. Bigger than her going after Taius.”

“The Commandant?” I snort. “Went after the Emperor?”

“Don’t tell me you think the Resistance thought of that on their own?”

“They’re working with her?”

“They don’t know it’s her, now do they?” The derision in the Cook’s voice slices as sharply as any scim. “Tell me why you want to know about the girl.”

“Elias isn’t making rational decisions, and the only thing I can think is that she—”

“You don’t want to know more about her.” Cook almost sounds relieved. “You just want to know where he’s going.”

“Yes, but—”

“I can tell you where he’s going. For a price.”

I raise my blade. “How’s this for a trade: You tell me, and I don’t gut you.”

A sharp bark from the Cook makes me thinks she’s having some sort of fit—until I realize this is her version of a laugh.

“Someone beat you to it.” She pulls up her shirt. Her skin, disfigured from some long-ago torment, is further marred by an enormous, rotting wound. The smell of it hits like a fist, and I gag.

“Bleeding hells.”

“Certainly smells like it, doesn’t it? Got it from an old friend—just before I killed him. Never tended to it. Heal me, Little Singer, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“When did this happen?”

“Do you want to catch Elias before you sisters go splat, or do you want a bedtime story? Hurry. Sun’s almost up.”

“I haven’t healed anyone since Laia,” I say. “I don’t know how I’ll—”

“Then I’m wasting my time.” She reaches the window with one step and pulls herself up with a grunt.

I step forward and grab her shoulder. Slowly, she comes back down.

“All your weapons on the desk,” I say. “And don’t you dare hide anything, because I will search you.”

She does as I ask, and when I’ve ensured that she’s doesn’t have any nasty surprises tucked away, I reach for her hand. She snatches it away.

“I have to touch you, you mad old bat,” I snap. “It won’t work otherwise.”

She curls her lip in a snarl and offers me her hand reluctantly. To my surprise, it trembles.

“It won’t hurt too much.” My voice is kinder than I expected. Bleeding skies, why am I reassuring her? She’s a murderess and a blackmailer. Brusquely, I hold her steady and close my eyes.

Fear curls up in my belly. I want this to work—and I don’t want it to work. It’s the same feeling I had when I healed Laia. Now that I’ve seen the wound and Cook’s asked for help, it feels necessary to fix it, like a tic I can’t stop. The lack of control, the way my whole body yearns toward this, frightens me. It is not me. It is nothing I’ve ever trained for or wanted.

If you wish to find Elias, do it.

A sound fills my ears: humming—my own. I don’t know when it began.

I look into Cook’s eyes and dive into that blue darkness. I have to understand her all the way through to her core if I wish to remake bones and skin and flesh.

Elias felt like silver, a bolt of adrenaline beneath a cold, clear dawn. Laia was different. She made me think of sorrow and a green-gold sweetness.

But the Cook … her insides slither like eels. I flinch away from them. Somewhere behind the roiling blackness, I catch a glimpse of what she once was, and I reach for it. But in doing so, my hum becomes suddenly discordant. That goodness within her—it’s a memory. Now the eels take the place of her heart, writhing with mad vengeance.

I change the melody to catch hold of this truth at her core. A door springs open inside her. I go through, walk down a long corridor that is strangely familiar. The floor sucks at my feet, and when I look down, I half expect to see the tentacles of a squid wrapped around me.

But there is only darkness.

I cannot bear to sing Cook’s truth out loud, so instead I scream the words in my head, looking into her eyes all the while. To her credit, she doesn’t look away. When the healing begins, when I’ve captured her essence and her body begins to knit itself back to health, she doesn’t even twitch.

Pain grows in my side. Blood drips down into the waist of my fatigues. I ignore it until I’m gasping, when I finally force myself to release Cook. I feel the injury I’ve taken on from her. It’s much smaller than the old woman’s, but it still hurts like hell.

Cook’s wound is a bit bloodied and raw, but the only sign of infection is the lingering smell of death.