A Torch Against the Night

Page 120


Sergius escorts Livia away. The courtiers file out silently. As I stare at the ground in front of me, at the spreading pool of blood, Marcus approaches.
He stands behind me and runs one finger along the back of my neck. I shudder in disgust, but a second later, Marcus jerks his body away.
“Shut up,” he hisses, and when I glance up, I find he’s not addressing me. Instead, he’s looking over his shoulder—at empty air. “Stop.”
I watch with a dull sort of fascination as he growls and shakes his shoulders, like he’s shaking off someone’s grasp. A moment later, he turns back to me—but keeps his hands to himself.
“You stupid girl.” His voice is a soft hiss. “I told you: Never presume that you know more than me. I was well aware of Keris’s little plot. I warned you not to defy me pubicly, and still you barged in, screaming of a coup, making me look weak. If you’d kept your damned mouth shut, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Bleeding skies. “You—you knew—”
“I always know.” He digs his hand into my hair, yanking my head up and away from the sight of the blood. “I will always win. And now I possess the last living member of your family. If you ever disobey an order again, if you fail me, speak against me, or double-cross me, I swear to the skies that I will make her suffer more than you can possibly imagine.”
He releases me violently. His boots are silent as he leaves the throne room.
I am alone, but for ghosts.
I stumble away from the flames, my invisibility gone. No! Skies, no!
Darin, Elias, little Tas—they cannot be dead in the inferno. Not after everything. I find that I am sobbing, that my invisibility has fallen. And I don’t care.
“You there! Scholar!” Bootsteps thunder toward me, and I slide back across the polished stone of the rotunda, trying to avoid the grasping hand of a legionnaire who clearly thinks I’m an escaped prisoner. His eyes narrow, and he lunges forward, his fingers fastening onto my cloak, ripping it off. He casts it to the ground as I scramble away, then he hurtles his big body into mine.
“Oof!” The breath leaves my lungs as I hit the bottom steps of the staircase. The soldier tries to flip me on my stomach, to capture my hands.
“Get off!”
“Did you escape the pens? Arrrg!” He jerks when I knee him in the groin. I unsheathe my dagger, drive it into his thigh, and twist. He bellows, and a second later, his weight is yanked off me and he goes flying into the staircase, my blade still embedded in his leg.
A shadow fills the space where he stood, familiar and utterly changed at the same time. “E-Elias?”
“I’m here.” He hauls me to my feet. He is lean as a rail, and his eyes appear to almost glow in the thickening smoke. “Your brother is here. Tas is here. We’re alive. We’re all right. And that was beautifully done.” He nods to the soldier, who has ripped the dagger out of his thigh and is now crawling away. “He’ll be limping for months.”
I leap up and pull him into a hug, something between a sob and a cry erupting from my chest. We are both injured and exhausted and heart-sore, but when I feel his arms around me, when I realize that he is real and here and alive, I believe, for the first time, that we have a chance at surviving.
“Where’s Darin?” I pull away from Elias, looking around, expecting my brother to appear out of the smoke. Soldiers rush past us, desperate to escape the fire engulfing the Martial section of the prison. “Here, take your scims.” I shrug out of the cross-body scabbard, and Elias pulls them on. Darin does not appear.
“Elias?” I say, worried now. “Where—” As I speak, Elias kneels, pulling something from the floor onto his shoulder. I think, at first, that it is a filthy bag of sticks.
Then I see the hands. Darin’s hands. His skin is scarred, and he’s missing a pinky and a middle finger. Still, I’d know those hands anywhere.
“Skies.” I try to see Darin’s face, but it’s obscured by hanks of long, filthy hair. My brother was never particularly heavy, but he seems so small suddenly—a depleted, nightmare version of himself. He might not be what he was, Afya had warned.
“He’s alive,” Elias reminds me when he sees my face. “He got a knock on the head is all. He’s going to be all right.”
A small figure appears behind Elias, my bloody dagger in hand. He gives it to me, then takes my fingers. “You must not be seen, Laia,” he says. “Hide yourself!”
Tas pulls me down the hall, and I let my invisibility fall over me. Elias starts at my sudden disappearance. I squeeze his hand so he knows I am close. Ahead of us, the prison doors are flung open. A knot of soldiers teems outside.
“You have to open the Scholar pens,” Elias says. “I can’t do it while carrying Darin. The guards would be on me in a second.”
Skies! I was to set more fires in the prison yard to add to the mayhem.
“We’ll have to do without the extra distraction,” Elias says. “I’ll pretend I’m delivering Darin to the pens. I’ll be right behind you. Tas, stay with Laia—watch her back. I’ll find you.”
“One thing, Elias.” I don’t want to worry him, but he should know. “The Warden might know I’m here. I lost my invisibility upstairs for a moment. I got it back, but he could have seen the change.”
“Then stay away from him,” Elias says. “He’s wily, and from the way he interrogated Darin and me, I’m certain he’d love to get his hands on you.”