I miss him. When I think of what will happen to him at Helene’s hands, my blood boils in rage. If I were the one dying of Nightweed poisoning, the one chained in a prison, the one facing torture and death, Elias would not acquiesce. He would find a way to save me.
The scims go back into their scabbards, the scabbards back into their hiding place. I drop into my bedroll with no intention of sleeping. One more time, I think to myself. If it doesn’t work, I’ll leave it, like Keenan asked. But I owe Elias at least this.
As I close my eyes and try to forget myself, I think about Izzi. About how she would blend into the Commandant’s house like a chameleon, unseen, unheard. She was soft-footed and soft-spoken and she heard and saw everything. Perhaps this is not just about a state of mind but about my body. About finding the quiet version of myself. The Izzi-like version of myself.
Disappear. Smoke into cold air and Izzi with her hair in front of her eyes and a Mask moving stealthily through the night. Quiet mind, quiet body. I keep each word distinct, even when my mind begins to tire.
And then I feel it, a tingling, first at the tip of my finger. Inhale. Exhale. Don’t let it go. The tingling spreads to my arms, my torso, my legs, my head.
I open my eyes, look down and nearly whoop for joy. Because it’s worked. I’ve done it. I’ve disappeared.
When Keenan returns to the cave hours later, a bundle tucked under his arm, I jump to my feet and he sighs. “No rest then, I assume,” he says. “I have good news and bad.”
“I knew you’d say that.” He sets his bundle down and begins to unwrap it. “Bad news: The Commandant has arrived. Kauf’s auxes have started digging graves. From what I heard, not a single Scholar prisoner will be spared.”
My elation at being able to disappear evaporates. “Skies,” I say. “All of those people …” We should try to save them. It’s such a mad idea that I know better than to speak it aloud to Keenan.
“They’ll begin tomorrow evening,” he says. “At sundown.”
“Is going to be fine. Because we’re going to get him out before then. I know a way in. And I stole these.” He lifts a pile of black cloth from the bundle. Kauf uniforms.
“Burgled them from a storage outbuilding. We won’t fool anyone up close,” he says. “But if we can keep far enough away from prying eyes, we can use them to get in.”
“How will we know where Darin is?” I ask. “The prison is enormous. And once we’re inside, how will we move around?”
He pulls another pile of cloth from the bundle. This one dingier. I hear the clink of slaves’ cuffs. “We change,” he says.
“My face is all over the Empire,” I say. “What if I’m recognized? Or what if—”
“Laia,” Keenan says patiently. “You have to trust me.”
“Maybe …” I hesitate, wondering if he’ll be upset. Don’t be stupid, Laia. “Maybe we won’t need the uniforms. I know you said not to, but I tried the disappearing again. And I’ve got it.” I pause for his reaction, but he only waits for me to go on. “I figured it out,” I clarify. “I can disappear. I can hold it.”
I frown, having expected … something from him. Perhaps anger or excitement. But then, he hasn’t seen what I can do—he’s only seen my failure. I close my eyes and keep my inner voice clear and calm.
But yet again, I fail.
Ten minutes after I begin, I open my eyes. Keenan, waiting calmly, simply shrugs.
“I don’t doubt that it works some of the time.” The kindness in his voice only frustrates me. “But it’s not reliable. We can’t stake Darin’s life on it. Once Darin is free, toy with it all you want. For now, leave it alone.”
“Think about the past few weeks.” Keenan fidgets but doesn’t pull his gaze away. Whatever he’s about to say, he’s steeled himself for it. “If we’d broken away from Elias and Izzi, like I’d suggested, Elias’s Tribe would have been safe. And just before the raid on Afya’s camp—it’s not that I didn’t want to help the Scholars. I did. But we should have thought about what would happen as a result. We didn’t, and Izzi died.”
He says we. I know he means you. My face feels hot. How dare he throw my failures in my face as if I’m a schoolchild to be reprimanded?
But he’s not wrong, is he? Every time I needed to make a decision, I chose wrong. Disaster after disaster. My hand goes to my armlet, but it feels cold—hollow.
“Laia, I haven’t cared about anyone in a very long time.” Keenan puts his hands on my arms. “I don’t have family like you do. I don’t have anyone or anything.” He traces a finger along my armlet, and a sudden weariness suffuses his movements. “You’re all I have. Please, my intent is not to be cruel. I simply don’t want anything to happen to you, or to the people who care for you.”
He must be wrong. The disappearing is at my fingertips—I can feel it. If only I could figure out what’s blocking me. If I could remove that one obstacle, it would change everything.
I force myself to nod and repeat the words he’s said to me before, when he’s given in.
“Your will, then.” I look at the uniforms he’s brought, at the resolve in his eyes. “Dawn?” I ask.