Chapter no 51 – Laia

A Reaper at the Gates

The ring does not evanesce.

I do not allow myself to look at it until I am outside the Black Guard barracks, tucked in an alcove near the stables, safely away from Emperor Marcus. The baby is strong, and the Blood Shrike’s sister is as well. I whispered to her to keep herself clean, to take care of herself to prevent infection. But she saw my face when Marcus entered. She knew.

“Go,” she whispered. “Take the towels, as if you are changing them.”

I did as she said. Swiping the rings at the same time was only a moment’s work. No one even looked my way.

I took both, not knowing which was the Shrike’s ring and which was the ring of her family. Now I stand with them in the madness of Antium’s streets, staring. Hoping.

Only the Ghost may stand against the onslaught. Should the Lioness’s heir claim the Butcher’s pride, it will evanesce, and the blood of seven generations shall pass from the earth before the King may seek vengeance again.

The ring should be gone. Why did it not happen? I put it on my finger, pull it off. But there’s something wrong with it. It does not feel like my armlet. It just feels like a normal hunk of metal.

I rack my brain trying to remember if I missed something in the prophecy. Perhaps I have to do something to it. Burn it, or break it with Serric steel. I cast about for a weapon—something a soldier might have dropped.

Which is when my neck prickles, and I know instantly that someone watches me. It is a feeling that has become unsettlingly familiar in the past few months.

But this time, he shows himself. “Forgive me, Laia of Serra.” The Nightbringer speaks quietly, but the violence latent in his voice still cuts through the shrieks of missiles flying and men dying painfully. “I wished to see your face when you realized that all your work, all your hope, was for nothing.”

“It is not for nothing,” I say. It cannot be.

“It was.” He saunters toward me. “Because what you hold is not the Star.”

“You lie.”

“Do I?” He closes the distance between us and snatches the rings from my hand. I cry out, but he closes his hand around them and, before my eyes, crushes them to powder. No. Impossible.

The curiosity that emanates from him is somehow worse than if he simply gloated.

“What is it like, Laia of Serra,” he says, “to know that no matter what you do, nothing will stop the war that is coming? The war that will annihilate your people.”

He’s toying with me. “Why did you save me,” I snarl at him, “when the blast hit?”

For a moment, he is still. And then his shoulders ripple, like a great cat shaking itself.

“Run to your brother, Laia of Serra,” he says. “Find a ship to take you far away. You do not wish to witness what is to come.”

“You know what it means to destroy an entire race. How could you want it when you have survived it?”

“The Scholars deserve destruction.”

“You have already destroyed us,” I shout. I fight to keep from hitting him—not because I am afraid, but because I know it will do no good. “Look at what the Scholars are. Look at what we have become. We are nothing. We are dust. Look”—my voice is ragged now—“look at what you did to me. Look at how you betrayed me. Is it not enough?”

“It is never enough.” He is angry now, my words poking at something tender that he does not wish to touch. “Do as I say, Laia of Serra. Run.

You heard Shaeva’s prophecy. The library burned. The dead escaped and marauded. The Child will be bathed in blood but alive. I believe you had a hand in that. The Pearl will crack, the cold will enter.” He lifts his hands at the chaos around us.

Of course. Antium is referred to as the Pearl of the Empire.

“Jinn prophecies are truth,” he says. “I will free my brethren. And we will have our vengeance.”

I step back from him. “I will stop you,” I say. “I will find some way


“You failed.” He brushes a scorching, flame-veined hand across my face, and though all that is visible of him are those burning suns beneath his hood, I know he’s smiling. “Now go, child.” He shoves my face away. “Run.”

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