“Death before tyranny.” I take his hand, aware of every muscle in his fingers.
No one has touched me for the past ten days except to hurt me. How I miss being touched—Nan stroking my hair, Darin arm-wrestling me and pretending to lose, Pop squeezing my shoulder good night.
I don’t want Keenan to let go. As if he understands, he holds on a moment longer. But then he turns and walks away, leaving me alone on an empty street with fingers still tingling.
After delivering the Commandant’s first letter to the courier’s office, I head to the smoke-choked streets near the river docks. Serran summers are always blistering, but the heat in the Weapons Quarter takes on an animal esurience.
The district is a hive of movement and sound, busier on a regular day than most markets are on festival days. Sparks fly from hammers as big as my head, forge fires glow a red deeper than blood, and cottony plumes of steam erupt every few feet from freshly quenched swords. Blacksmiths shout orders as apprentices jostle to follow them. And above it all, the strain and pump of hundreds of bellows, creaking like a fleet of ships in a storm.
Within seconds of entering the district, I am stopped by a platoon of legionnaires demanding to know my business. I offer them the Commandant’s remaining letter only to find myself arguing with them over its authenticity for ten minutes. Finally, grudgingly, they send me on my way.
It makes me wonder yet again how Darin managed to get into the district not just once, but day after day.
They’ve been at him, Keenan said. How long can Darin hold out against his torturers? Longer than me, certainly. When Darin was fifteen, he fell from a tree while trying to draw Scholars working a Martial orchard. He arrived home with bone jutting out of his wrist, and I screamed and nearly fainted at the sight. It’s all right, he said to me. Pop will set it. Find him and then go back for my sketchbook. I dropped it, and I don’t want someone to take it.
My brother has Mother’s iron will. If anyone can survive a Martial interrogation, it’s him.
As I walk, I feel a tug on my skirt and glance down, expecting to find it caught beneath someone’s boot. Instead, I catch a glimpse of a slit-eyed shadow slipping quickly across the cobbles. A tingle runs up my spine at the sight, and I hear a low, cruel cackle. My skin prickles—that laugh was directed at me. I’m certain of it.
Unsettled, I quicken my pace, eventually persuading an elderly Plebeian man to direct me to Teluman’s forge. I find it just off the main street, marked only by an ornate iron T hammered into the door.
Unlike the other forges, this one is utterly silent. I knock, but no one answers. Now what? Do I open the door and risk angering the smith by barging in, or do I go back to the Commandant without a response when she specifically demanded one?
It’s not a difficult choice.
The front door opens to an antechamber. A dust-coated counter splits the room, backed by dozens of glass display cases and another, narrower door.
The forge itself sits in a larger room to my right, cold and empty, its bellows still. A hammer lies on an anvil, but the other tools hang neatly from pegs on the walls. Something strikes me about the room. It reminds me of another I’ve seen, but I can’t place it.
Light filters in weakly through a bank of high windows, illuminating the dust I kicked up when entering. The place has an abandoned feel to it, and I feel my frustration building. How am I supposed to take back a response if the smith isn’t here?
Sunlight glints off the row of glass cases, and my gaze is drawn to the weapons within. They are gracefully wrought, each one worked with the same intricate, almost obsessive detail, from hilt to crossbar to minutely etched blade.
Intrigued by their beauty, I move closer. The blades remind me of something, as the whole shop does—something important, something I should be able to put my finger on.
And then I understand. The Commandant’s letter falls from my suddenly numb hand, and I know. Darin drew these weapons. He drew this forge. He drew that hammer and that anvil. I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out how to save my brother that I’d nearly forgotten the drawings that had gotten him into trouble in the first place. And here is their source, before my eyes.
“Something the matter, girl?”
A Martial man comes through the narrow back door, looking more like a river pirate than a blacksmith. His head is shaved, and he drips with piercings—six through each ear, one in his nose, his eyebrows, his lips. Multicolored tattoos—of eight-pointed stars, lush-leafed vines, a hammer and anvil, a bird, a woman’s eyes, scales—run from his wrists up his arms and into a black leather jerkin. He can’t be more than fifteen years older than me. Like most Martials, he’s tall and muscled, but lanky, without the brawn I’d expect of a blacksmith.
Is this the man Darin was spying on?
“Who are you?” I’m so thrown off that I forget he’s a Martial.
The man lifts his eyebrows as if to say, Me? Who in the ten hells are you?
“This is my shop,” he says. “I’m Spiro Teluman.”
Of course he is, Laia, you idiot. I scramble for the note from the Commandant, hoping the smith thinks my comment is the result of being a dim-witted Scholar rat. He reads the note but says nothing.
“She—she requested a response. Sir.”
“Not interested.” He looks up. “Tell her I’m not interested.” Then he returns to the back room.
I stare after Teluman uncertainly. Does he know my brother was taken to prison for spying on his shop? Has the smith seen what Darin drew? Is his shop always abandoned? Is that how Darin got so close? I’m still trying to piece it all together when an unsettling feeling creeps up my neck, like the greedy touch of a ghost’s fingers.