A Torch Against the Night

Page 56


“But you’ll get him out yourself? There will be no need for Tribe Nur’s assistance?”
“No,” I say. “There’s a cave in the hills south of the prison. It’s about a day’s hike from the main gate. I’ll draw you a map. Get them there safely. If all goes well, Darin will be waiting there when you arrive in two months. If not—”
“I won’t just abandon them in the mountains, Elias.” Afya bristles, offended. “They have taken water and salt at my table, for skies’ sake.” She gives me an appraising look, and I don’t like the sharpness in her eyes, like she’ll cut the truth of why I’m doing this out of me if she has to.
“Why the change of heart?”
“Laia wanted us to do this together. So it never occurred to me to do it alone.” That part, at least, is true, and I let Afya see that in my face. “I’ll need you to give Laia something from me. She’ll put up a fight if I tell her.”
“She will indeed.” Afya hands me parchment and a quill. “And not just because she wants to do this herself, though you both might tell yourselves that.”
I choose not to dwell on that particular comment. A few minutes later, I’ve finished the letter and drawn a detailed map of the prison and of the cave where I plan to stow Darin.
“You’re sure about this?” Afya crosses her arms as she stands. “You shouldn’t just disappear, Elias. You should ask Laia what she wants. It’s her brother, after all.” Her eyes narrow. “You’re not planning to leave the girl high and dry, are you? I’d hate if the man to whom I made my vow was without honor himself.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“Then take Trera, Riz’s bay. He’s headstrong but swift and cunning as a north wind. And try not to fail, Elias. I have no desire to break into that prison myself.”
Silently, I make my way from her wagon to Riz’s, whispering to Trera in soothing tones to keep him quiet. I snatch flatbread, fruit, nuts, and cheese from Vana’s wagon and lead the horse well beyond the camp.
“You’re trying to get him out on your own, then?”
Keenan materializes out of the darkness like a bleeding wraith, and I jump. I didn’t hear him—didn’t even sense him.
“I don’t need to hear your reasons.” He keeps his distance, I notice. “I know what it is to do things that you don’t want to for a greater good.”
On the surface, the words are almost sympathetic. But his eyes are as flat as polished stones, and my neck prickles unpleasantly, as if the second I turn around, he’ll stab me in the back.
“Good luck.” He offers a hand. Warily I shake it, my other hand drifting to my knives almost unconsciously.
Keenan sees, and his half smile doesn’t reach his eyes. He lets go of my hand quickly and fades back into the dark. I shake off the uneasiness that has stolen over me. You just don’t like him, Elias.
I glance up at the sky. The stars still sparkle above, but dawn approaches, and I need to be well away before then. But what about Laia? Am I really going to leave with only a note to say goodbye?
On cat feet, I make my way to Gibran’s wagon and open the back door. Izzi snores on one bench, her hands folded beneath her cheek. Laia is curled in a ball on the other, one hand on her armlet, fast asleep.
“You are my temple,” I murmur as I kneel beside her. “You are my priest. You are my prayer. You are my release.” Grandfather would scowl at me for sullying his beloved mantra so. But I prefer it this way.
I leave and head toward Trera, waiting at the edge of the camp. As I climb up into the saddle, he snorts.
“Ready to fly, boy?” He flicks his ears, and I take it as a yes. Without another look back at the camp, I turn toward the north.
He escaped. He escaped. He escaped.
I pace a groove into the stone floor of the garrison’s main room, trying to block out the rasp of Faris sharpening his scims, the low murmur of Dex giving orders to a group of legionnaires, the tapping of Harper’s fingers on his armor as he watches me.
There must be some way to track Elias. Think. He’s one man. I have the might of the entire Empire behind me. Send out more soldiers. Call in more Masks. Members of the Black Guard—you’re their commander. Send them out after the Tribes Mamie visited.
It won’t be enough. Thousands of wagons poured out of the city while I put down a staged riot after letting Elias walk away from me. He could be on any of those wagons.
I close my eyes, wanting desperately to break something. You’re such an idiot, Helene Aquilla. Mamie Rila played a tune, and I tossed my arms up and danced to it like a mindless marionette. She wanted me at the storytelling theater. She wanted me to know Elias was there, to see the riot, to call for reinforcements, to weaken the cordon. I was too stupid to realize it until it was too late.
Harper, at least, kept his head. He ordered two squads of soldiers assigned to quell the riot to instead surround Tribe Saif’s wagons. The prisoners he took—including Mamie Rila—are the only hope we have of finding Elias.
I had him. Damn it all. I had him. And then I let him go. Because I don’t want him to die. Because he’s my friend and I love him.
Because I am a damned fool.
All the times I lay awake at night, telling myself that when the time came, I needed to be strong. I needed to take him. It was nothing in the face of seeing him again. Of hearing his voice and feeling his hands on my skin.