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Page 16

The cavern we’re in is so dark, it’s hard to tell how big it is. Blue fire lanterns, usually found in the finest Illustrian neighborhoods, glow here and there, with pitch torches flickering between them. Clean night air flows through a constellation of gaps in the rock ceiling, and I can barely make out the stars. I must have been in the catacombs for nearly a day.

“It’s drafty.” Sana pulls off her cloak, and her short, dark hair tufts out like a disgruntled bird’s. “But it’s home.”

“Sana. You’re back.” A stocky, brown-haired man approaches, looking at me curiously.

“Tariq,” Sana greets him. “We ran into a patrol. Picked up someone on the way. Grab her some food, would you?” Tariq disappears, and Sana gestures for me to sit on a nearby bench, ignoring the stares coming our way from the dozens of people moving about the cavern.

There are an equal number of men and women here, most in dark, close-fitting clothing and nearly all dripping with knives and scims, as if expecting an Empire raid any moment. Some sharpen weapons, others watch over cook fires. A few older men smoke pipes. The bunks along the cavern wall are filled with sleeping bodies.

As I look around, I push a hank of hair out of my face. Sana’s eyes narrow when she takes in my features. “You look...familiar,” she says.

I allow my hair to fall forward again. Sana’s old enough to have been in the Resistance for quite some time. Old enough to have known my parents.

“I used to sell Nan’s jams at market.”

“Right.” She’s still staring. “You live in the Quarter? Why were you—”

“Why is she still here?” Keenan, who’s been busy with a group of fighters in the corner, approaches, pulling back his hood. He’s far younger than I expected, closer to my age than Sana’s—which might explain why she bristles at his tone. Flame-red hair spills over his forehead and into his eyes, so dark at the roots it’s almost black. He is only a few inches taller than me, but lean and strong, with a Scholar’s even, fine features. A hint of ginger stubble shadows his jaw, and freckles spatter his nose. Like the other fighters, he wears nearly as many weapons as a Mask.

I realize I’m staring and glance away, heat rising in my cheeks. Suddenly, the looks he’s been getting from the younger women in the cavern make sense.

“She can’t stay,” he says. “Get her out of here, Sana. Now.”

Tariq returns and, overhearing Keenan, slams a plate of food onto the table behind me. “You don’t tell her what to do. Sana’s not some besotted recruit, she’s the head of our faction, and you—”

“Tariq.” Sana puts a hand on the man’s arm, but the look she gives Keenan could wither stone. “I was giving the girl some food. I wanted to find out what she was doing in the tunnels.”

“I was looking for you,” I say. “For the Resistance. I need your help. My brother was taken in a raid yesterday—”

“We can’t help,” Keenan says. “We’re stretched thin as it is.”

“But—”

“We. Can’t. Help.” He speaks slowly, as if I’m a child. Maybe before the raid, the chill in his eyes would have silenced me. But not now. Not when Darin needs me.

“You don’t lead the Resistance,” I say.

“I’m second-in-command.”

He’s higher up than I expected. But not high enough. I shake my hair out of my face and stand.

“Then it’s not up to you, whether I stay or not. It’s up to your leader.” I try to sound brave, although if Keenan disagrees, I don’t know what I’ll do. Start begging, maybe.

Sana’s smile is sharp as a knife. “Girl’s got a point.”

Keenan moves toward me until he’s standing uncomfortably close. He smells of lemon and wind and something smoky, like cedar. He takes me in from head to toe, and the look would be shameless if it wasn’t for the slight puzzlement in his face, like he’s seeing something he doesn’t quite understand. His eyes are a dark secret, black or brown or blue—I can’t tell. It feels as if they can see right through me to my weak, cowardly soul. I cross my arms and look away, embarrassed of my tattered shift, of the dirt, the cuts, the damage.

“That’s an unusual armlet.” He reaches out a hand to touch it. The tip of his finger grazes my arm, sending a spark skittering across my skin, and I jerk away. He doesn’t react. “So tarnished, I might not have noticed it. It’s silver, isn’t it?”

“I didn’t steal it, all right?” My body aches and my head spins, but I bunch my fists, afraid and angry all at once. “And if you want it, you’ll—you’ll have to kill me to get it.”

He meets my eyes coolly, and I hope he doesn’t call my bluff. He and I both know that killing me wouldn’t be particularly difficult.

“I expect I would,” he says. “What’s your name?”

“Laia.” He doesn’t ask for a family name—Scholars rarely take them.

Sana looks between us, bemused. “I’ll go get Maz—”

“No.” Keenan’s already walking away. “I’ll find him.”

I sit back down, and Sana keeps glancing at my face, trying to puzzle out why I look familiar. If she’d seen Darin, she’d have known right away. He’s the spitting image of our mother—and no one could forget Mother. Father was different—always in the background, drawing, planning, thinking. He gave me his unruly midnight hair and gold eyes, his high cheekbones and full, unsmiling lips.

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