“Laia,” Keenan says. “She’s heading to Kauf next.”
My head jerks up. “Skies, what if Elias hasn’t gotten Darin out? If the Commandant starts killing the Scholars up there—”
“Elias left six weeks ago,” Keenan says. “And he seemed damned confident. Perhaps he’s already broken Darin out. They might be waiting for us in the cave.”
Keenan reaches into his bulging pack. He pulls out a loaf of bread, still steaming, and half a chicken. Skies know what he did to get it. Still, I can’t bring myself to eat.
“Do you ever think about those people in the wagons?” I whisper. “Do you ever wonder what happened to them? Do—do you care?”
“I joined the Resistance, did I not? But I can’t dwell, Laia. It accomplishes nothing.”
But it’s not dwelling, I think. It’s remembering. And remembering is not nothing.
A week ago, I’d have said the words out loud. But since Keenan took the yoke of leadership from me, I’ve felt weaker. Diminished. As if I grow smaller by the day.
I should be thankful to him. Despite the Martial-infested countryside, Keenan has safely avoided every patrol and scouting party, every outpost and watchtower.
“You must be freezing.” His words are soft, but they pull me from my thoughts. I look down in surprise. I still wear the thick black cloak that Elias gave me a lifetime ago in Serra.
I pull the cloak closer. “I’m all right.”
The rebel rummages around in his bag and eventually pulls out a heavy, fur-lined winter cloak. He leans forward and gently unhooks my cloak, letting it fall. Then he drapes the other over my shoulders and secures it.
He doesn’t mean ill. I know that. Though I’ve pulled away from him over the past few days, he’s been solicitous as ever.
But a part of me wants to fling the cloak off and put Elias’s back on. I know I’m acting the fool, but somehow Elias’s cloak made me feel good. Perhaps because more than reminding me of him, it reminded me of who I was around him. Braver. Stronger. Flawed, certainly, but unafraid.
I miss that girl. That Laia. That version of myself that burned brightest when Elias Veturius was near.
The Laia who made mistakes. The Laia whose mistakes led to needless death.
How could I forget? I thank Keenan quietly and stuff the old cloak in my bag. Then I pull the new one closer and tell myself that it’s warmer.
The night silence of Kauf Prison is chilling. For it is not a silence of sleep, but of death, of men giving up, letting their lives slip away, of finally allowing the pain to wash over them until they fade to nothingness. At dawn, the children of Kauf will lug out the bodies of those who haven’t lasted the night.
In the quiet, I find myself thinking of Darin. He was always a ghost to me, a figure we strained toward for so long that though I never met him, I feel tied to him. Now that he’s dead, his absence is palpable, like a phantom limb. When I remember that he’s gone, hopelessness washes over me anew.
My wrists bleed from my manacles, and I cannot feel my shoulders; my arms have been outstretched all night. But the pain is a sear, not a conflagration. I’ve dealt with worse. Still, when the blackness of a seizure falls over me like a shroud, it is a relief.
But it is short-lived, for when I wake in the Waiting Place, my ears are filled with the panicked whispers of spirits—hundreds—thousands—too many.
The Soul Catcher offers me a hand up, her face drawn.
“I told you what would happen in that place.” My wounds aren’t visible here, but she winces when she looks at me, as if she can see them anyway. “Why didn’t you listen to me? Look at you.”
“I didn’t expect to get caught.” Spirits whirl around us, like flotsam spinning about in a gale. “Shaeva, what in the ten hells is going on?”
“You shouldn’t be here.” Her words are not hostile, as they would have been weeks ago. But they are firm. “I thought I wouldn’t see you until your death. Go back, Elias.”
I feel the familiar pull in my belly but fight it. “Are the spirits restless?”
“More than usual.” She slumps. “There are too many. Scholars, mostly.”
It takes me a moment to understand. I feel sick when I do. The whispers I hear—thousands upon thousands—are Scholars murdered by Martials.
“Many move on without my aid. But some are so anguished. Their cries upset the jinn.” Shaeva puts her hand to her head. “I have never felt so old, Elias. So helpless. In a thousand years as Soul Catcher, I have seen war before. I watched the fall of the Scholars, the rise of the Martials. Still, I have not seen anything like this. Look.” She points to the sky, visible through a space in the Forest canopy.
“The archer and the shield maiden fade.” She points out the constellations. “The executioner and the traitor arise. The stars always know, Elias. Of late, they whisper only of the approaching darkness.”
Shadows gather, Elias, and their gathering cannot be stopped. Cain spoke those words—and worse—to me just months ago, in Blackcliff.
“The Nightbringer,” Shaeva whispers. Fear rolls over her, and the strong, seemingly impervious creature I’ve become accustomed to vanishes. In her place is a frightened child.
In the distance, the trees glow red. The jinn grove.
“He seeks a way to free his brethren,” Shaeva says. “He seeks the scattered pieces of the weapon that locked them away here so long ago. Every day he gets closer. I—I sense it, but I cannot see him. I can only feel his malice, like the chill shadow of a Nevennes gale.”