“How long will I be in the school?”
Keenan shrugs and finishes bandaging my hands. “We know next to nothing about the Trials,” he says. “But I can’t imagine it will take more than a few weeks—a month, at most.”
“Do you—do you think Darin will last that long?”
Keenan doesn’t answer.
Hours later, in the early evening, I find myself in a house in the Foreign Quarter with Keenan and Sana, standing before an elderly Tribesman. He’s clad in the loose robes of his people and looks more like a kindly old uncle than a Resistance operative.
When Sana explains what she wants of him, he takes one look at me and folds his arms across his chest.
“Absolutely not,” he says in heavily accented Serran. “The Commandant will eat her alive.”
Keenan throws Sana a pointed look, as if to say, What did you expect?
“With respect,” Sana says to the Tribesman, “can we...” She gestures to a lattice-screen doorway leading to another room. They disappear behind the lattice. Sana’s speaking too softly for me to hear, but whatever she’s saying must not be working, because even through the screen, I can see the Tribesman shaking his head.
“He won’t do it,” I say.
Beside me, Keenan leans against the wall, unconcerned. “Sana can convince him. She’s not leader of her faction for nothing.”
“I wish I could do something.”
“Try looking a little braver.”
“What, like you?” I arrange my face so it’s blank as slate, slump against the wall, and look off into the distance. Keenan actually smiles for a fraction of a second. It takes years off his face.
I rub a bare foot across the hypnotic swirls of the thick Tribal rug on the floor. Pillows embroidered with tiny mirrors are strewn across it, and lamps of colored glass hang from the roof, catching the last rays of sunlight.
“Darin and I came to a house like this to sell Nan’s jams once.” I reach up to touch one of the lamps. “I asked him why Tribesmen have mirrors everywhere, and he said—” The memory is clear and sharp in my mind, and an ache for my brother, for my grandparents, pulses in my chest with such violence that I clamp my mouth shut.
Tribesman think the mirrors ward off evil, Darin said that day. He took out his sketchbook while we waited for the Tribal trader and started drawing, capturing the intricacy of the lattice screens and lanterns with small, quick strokes of charcoal. Jinn and wraiths can’t stand the sight of themselves, apparently.
After that, he’d answered a dozen more of my questions with his usual quiet confidence. At the time, I’d wondered how he knew so much. Only now do I understand—Darin always listened more than he spoke, watching, learning. In that way, he was like Pop.
The ache in my chest expands, and my eyes are suddenly hot.
“It will get better,” Keenan says. I look up to see sadness flicker across his face, almost instantly replaced by that now-familiar chill. “You’ll never forget them, not even after years. But one day, you’ll go a whole minute without feeling the pain. Then an hour. A day. That’s all you can ask for, really.” His voice drops. “You’ll heal. I promise.”
He looks away, distant again, but I’m grateful to him anyway, because for the first time since the raid, I feel less alone. A second later, Sana and the Tribesman come around the screen.
“You’re sure this is what you want?” the Tribesman asks me.
I nod, not trusting my voice.
He sighs. “Very well.” He turns to Sana and Keenan. “Say your goodbyes. If I take her now, I can still get her into the school by dark.”
“You’ll be all right.” Sana hugs me tightly, and I wonder if she’s trying to convince me or herself. “You’re the Lioness’s daughter. And the Lioness was a survivor.”
Until she wasn’t. I lower my gaze so Sana doesn’t see my doubt. She heads out the door, and then Keenan is before me. I cross my arms, not wanting him to think I need a hug from him too.
But he doesn’t touch me. Just cocks his head and lifts his fist to his heart—
the Resistance salute.
“Death before tyranny,” he says. Then he, too, is gone.
A half-hour later, dusk drops over the city of Serra, and I am following the Tribesman swiftly through the Mercator Quarter, home to the wealthiest members of the Martial merchant class. We stop before the ornate iron gate of a slaver’s home, and the Tribesman checks my manacles, his tan robes swishing softly as he moves around me. I clasp my bandaged hands together to stop them from shaking, but the Tribesman gently pries my fingers apart.
“Slavers catch lies the way spiders catch flies,” he says. “Your fear is good. It makes your story real. Remember: Do not speak.”
I nod vigorously. Even if I wanted to say something, I’m too frightened.
The slaver is Blackcliff’s sole supplier, Keenan had explained while walking me to the Tribesman’s house. It’s taken months for our operative to gain his trust. If he doesn’t pick you for the Commandant, your mission’s dead before it begins.
We’re escorted through the gates, and moments later, the slaver is circling me, sweating in the heat. He’s as tall as the Tribesman but twice as broad, with a paunch that strains the buttons of his gold brocade shirt.
“Not bad.” The slaver snaps his fingers, and a slave-girl appears from the recesses of his mansion bearing a tray of drinks. The slaver slurps one down, pointedly not offering anything to the Tribesman. “The brothels will pay well for her.”