Chapter no 26 – Laia

A Reaper at the Gates

I am fuzzy-headed and confused when I pull on my boots. I’ve slept all day—such strange dreams I had. Wonderful, and yet—

“Laia!” Musa’s voice is a low hiss at the door. “Bleeding hells, are you all right? Laia!”

The door bursts open before I can get a word out, and Musa takes two steps in and grabs my shoulders, as if to make sure I am real.

“Get your things.” He scans the windows and beneath the bed. “We need to get the hells out of here.”

“What’s happened?” I say. My thoughts immediately go to the Nightbringer. To his minions. “Is it—is he—”

“Wraiths.” Musa’s face has paled to the color of an unpolished scim. “They attacked Tribe Sulud, and they might be coming for us.”

Oh no. No. “The Kehanni—”

“I don’t know if she’s alive,” he says. “And we can’t risk finding out.

Come on.”

We race down the back stairs of the inn and out to the stables as silently as possible. It is late enough that most of the village is in bed, and waking anyone would only bring about questions—and a delay.

“The wraiths killed everyone silently,” Musa says. “I wouldn’t have known anything was wrong if the wights hadn’t woken me up.”

I pause as I throw a saddle onto my horse. “We should find out if there are any survivors.”

Musa swings up onto his mount. “If we go into that camp, skies know what we’ll find.”

“I’ve faced a wraith before.” I finish with my horse. “There were nearly fifty Tribespeople in that camp, Musa. If even one of them is alive


Musa shakes his head. “Most of them left early. Only a few wagons stayed with the Kehanni to keep watch over her until she was ready to leave. And she stayed because—”

“Because of us,” I say. “Which is why we owe it to her to make sure neither she nor any of her kinsmen needs help.”

He groans in protest but follows me as I leave the stables and head for the camp. I expect it to be silent, but the steady drizzle of rain pings off the wagon roofs, making it difficult for us to hear our own footsteps.

The first body is sprawled at the entrance to the encampment. It is wrong, broken in a dozen different ways. A lump rises in my throat. I recognize the man—one of the Tribesmen who welcomed us. Three more of his family members lie a few yards from him. I know instantly that they too are dead.

But we do not see the Kehanni. A quiet chitter near Musa’s ear tells me that the wights have noticed her absence too. Musa nods to the Kehanni‘s wagon. When I make for it, Musa puts an arm in front of me.

“Aapan.” The strain on his face matches the foreboding in my heart. “Maybe I should go first. In case.”

“I saw the inside of Kauf Prison, Musa.” I slip past him. “It can’t be any worse.”

The back door opens silently, and I find the Kehanni crumpled against the far wall. She looks so much smaller than she did just hours ago, an old woman whose last story was stolen from her. The wraiths did not cut her—in fact, I do not see a single open wound. But the odd angles of her limbs tell me exactly how she died. I clap my hand against my mouth to hold back my sick. Skies, she must have been in so much pain.

A moan comes from her, and both Musa and I jump.

“Oh bleeding hells.” I am by her side in two steps. “Musa, go to the horses. Look in the right saddlebag—”

“No.” The Kehanni‘s sunken eyes gleam with faint, failing light. “Listen.” Musa and I both fall silent. We can barely hear her over the rain.

“Seek out the Augurs’ words,” she whispers. “Prophecy. The Great Library—”

“Augurs?” I don’t understand. “What do the Augurs have to do with the Nightbringer? Are they allies?”

“Of a kind,” the Kehanni whispers. “Of a kind.”

Her eyelids droop. She’s gone. From the wagon door, a loud, panicked chitter sounds.

“Let’s go,” Musa hisses. “The wraiths are circling back. They know we’re here.”

With the panic of the wights spurring us, we race through the rain at a pace that drives the horses into a frothing sweat. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I think the words over and over, but I don’t know to whom I speak. My

horse, for making it suffer? The Kehanni, for asking her a question that killed her? The Tribesmen who died trying to protect her?

“The Augurs’ prophecies,” Musa says when we finally slow our horses for a rest. “The only place we’ll find them is the Great Library. She—she was trying to tell us. But it’s impossible to get in.”

“Nothing is impossible.” Elias’s words come back to me. “We’ll get in. We must. But first we have to make it back.”

Again, we push through the night, but this time, Musa needs no urging. I spend half the ride looking over my shoulder and the other half plotting ways to get into the Great Library. The skies clear, but the roads are still treacherous with mud. The wights remain near us, their wings occasionally flashing in the dark, their presence offering a strange comfort.

When the walls of Adisa come into view in the deepest hour of the night, I want to sob in relief. Until the hazy glow of flame materializes.

“The refugee camp.” Musa urges his horse on. “They’re burning the tents.”

“What the hells happened?”

But Musa has no answer. The camp is in such chaos when we reach it that the Mariners, frantically evacuating the Scholars, do not notice two more faces amid the hundreds running through the narrow, ash-filled lanes. Musa disappears to speak to one of the Mariners before finding me again.

“I don’t think the Mariners did this,” Musa shouts over the roar of the flames. “Otherwise why would they be helping? And how could the fire have spread so quickly? One of the soldiers I spoke with said they caught wind of it only an hour ago.”

We plunge into the smoke-choked streets, tearing open tents, pulling out those who are sleeping, who remained unaware, shooing children to the outskirts of the camp. We do whatever we can, however we can, with the frantic anguish of those who know that nothing will be enough.

Screams rise around us from those who are trapped. From those who cannot find their family members. From those who have found their family members injured or dead.

Always us. My eyes burn from smoke; my face is wet. Always my people.

Musa and I go back again and again, carrying out those who cannot walk themselves, pulling to safety as many Scholars as we can. A Mariner soldier hands us water to drink, to give to the survivors. I freeze when she looks up. It is Captain Eleiba, her eyes red-rimmed, hands

trembling. She meets my gaze but only shakes her head and turns back to her own tasks.

You’ll be all right. All is well. You’ll be fine. I speak nonsense to those who are burned, who cough blood from all the smoke. Of course we’ll find your mother. Your daughter. Your grandson. Your sister. Lies. So many lies. I hate myself for telling them. But the truth is crueler.

Hundreds are still trapped in the camp when I notice something strange through the smoke and haze. A red glow rises from the city of AdisaMy throat is parched, burned from inhaling so much smoke, but suddenly it goes even more dry. Has the fire from the camp spread? But no—it couldn’t have. Not over the massive city wall.

I back away from the refugee camp, hoping I can see better from outside it. Dread spreads slowly through my body. The same feeling I’ve had when something terrible has happened and I wake up having forgotten. And then I remember.

Cries rise up all around me, like ill spirits let loose. I am not the only one who has noticed the glow from Adisa.

“Musa.” The Scholar man lurches back toward the camp, desperate to save even one more person. “Look—”

I pull him around to face the city. A warm wind off the ocean parts the fug of smoke over the camp for a moment. That’s when we see it.

To call the fire enormous would be like calling the Commandant unkind. It is immense, an inferno that transforms the sky into a lurid nightmare. The thick cloud of smoke is illuminated by the flames, impossibly high, as if shooting from the depths of the earth to the very heavens.

“Laia.” Musa’s voice is weak. “It’s—it’s—”

But he doesn’t have to say it. I knew as soon as I saw the height of the flames. No other building in Adisa is so tall.

The Great Library. The Great Library is on fire.

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