The light of the torches stings my eyes, and I squint. My cell is at the end of a short hallway that branches out from the main hallway of the block. This hall has only three cells, and I’m certain that the one next to me is empty. Which leaves only one other cell to check.
My fingers are useless from the torture, and I grit my teeth at the long seconds it takes to paw through the keys. Hurry, Elias, hurry.
Finally I find the right key, and moments later, I unlock the door. It squeals wildly, and I turn sideways to squeeze through. It squeals again when I close it, and I curse softly.
Though I was only in the torchlight for a moment, it takes my eyes a bit to adjust to the darkness. At first, I cannot see the drawings. When I do, my breath catches. Tas was right. They do look as if they’ll come to life.
The cell is silent. Darin must be sleeping—or unconscious. I take a step toward the emaciated form in the corner. Then I hear the rattle of chains, the pant of harsh breath. A ravaged specter leaps from the darkness, his face inches from my own, bony fingers around my neck. His light hair is missing in chunks from his head, his bruised face is criss-crossed with scars. Two of his fingers are stubs, and his torso is covered in burns. Ten hells.
“Who in the bleeding skies,” the specter says, “are you?”
I remove his hands easily from my neck, but for a second, I can’t speak. It’s him. I know it instantly. Not because he resembles Laia. Even in the dim cell, I can see his eyes are blue, his skin pale. But the fire in his gaze—I’ve only ever seen that in one other person. And though I expect his eyes to be mad, judging from the sounds I’ve heard, they appear completely sane.
“Darin of Serra,” I say. “I’m a friend.”
He responds with a dark chuckle. “A Martial as a friend? I think not.”
I look over my shoulder at the door. We have no time. “I know your sister, Laia,” I say. “I’m here to break you out at her request. We need to go—now—”
“You’re a liar,” he hisses.
The echo of a footstep outside, then silence. We don’t have time for this. “I can prove it to you,” I say. “Ask me about her. I can tell you—”
“You can tell me what I told the Warden, which is bleeding everything about her. No stone unturned, he said.” Darin glares at me with a searing hatred. He must be exaggerating his pain during interrogations so that the Warden believes he is weak, because from that look, it’s obvious he’s no pushover. Normally I’d approve. But right now, it’s damned inconvenient.
“Listen to me.” I keep my voice low but sharp enough to cut through his suspicion. “I’m not one of them, or else I wouldn’t be dressed like this and with wounds of my own.” I bare my arms, marked with cuts from the Warden’s latest interrogation. “I’m a prisoner. I broke in to get you out, but I was caught. Now I have to break us both out.”
“What does he want with her?” Darin snarls at me. “Tell me what he wants with my sister and maybe I’ll believe you.”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Likely he wants to get into your head. Get to know you by asking about her. If you’re not answering his questions about the weapons—”
“He hasn’t asked any questions about the bleeding weapons.” Darin runs a claw across his scalp. “All he’s asked about is her.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I say. “You were captured because of the weapons. Because of what Spiro taught you about Serric steel.”
Darin goes still. “How the hells do you know that?”
“I told you—”
“I’ve never told any of them that,” he says. “As far as they know, I’m a Resistance spy. Skies, do you have Spiro too?”
“Wait.” I hold up a hand, baffled. “He’s never questioned you about the weapons? Only about Laia?”
Darin juts his chin out and snorts. “He must be even more desperate for information than I thought. Did he really think you could convince me that you were a friend of Laia’s? Tell him one other thing about her, from me. Laia would never ask a Martial for help.”
Footsteps pass in the main hallway. We need to get the hell out of here.
“Did you tell them how your sister sleeps with her hand on your mother’s armlet?” I ask. “Or that up close, her eyes are gold and brown and green and silver. Or that since the day you told her to run, all she has felt is guilt, and all she has thought about is somehow getting to you? Or that she has a fire inside her that’s more than a match for any Mask, if only she’s willing to believe in it?”
Darin’s mouth gapes open. “Who are you?”
“I told you,” I say. “I’m a friend. And right now, I need to get us out of here. Can you stand?”
Darin nods, limping forward. I put his arm around my shoulders. We shuffle to the door, and I hear the approaching footsteps of a guard. I can tell from the gait that it’s a legionnaire—they’re always louder than the Masks. I wait impatiently for him to pass.
“What did the Warden ask about your sister?” I say as we wait.
“He wanted to know everything,” Darin says darkly. “But he felt around for the information. He was frustrated. It was as if he wasn’t quite sure what to ask. As if the questions weren’t his to begin with. I tried to lie at first. But he always knew.”