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Page 28

"You must have a guard with you at all times, Blood Shrike," Avitas says. "Not because you are incapable, but because the Blood Shrike must show her strength. There is strength in numbers."

"There is strength in winning," I say. "To win, I need men I trust to carry out my orders." Avitas's jaw tenses, and he wheels his horse away.

By midnight, the bombardment has stopped. The Black Guard barracks are full of those who have escaped the Southeast Quarter, and Manor Aquilla and Manor Atria are bursting with the injured.

As I walk among the ill at Manor Aquilla, my body is drawn toward those suffering the most. The need to heal is overpowering. Dozens of songs fill my head at the sight of so much pain.

"They're Plebeians." Dex, who has rejoined me, shakes his head. "Every last one."

"Blood Shrike." A white-smocked man appears, his sharp-featured face paling at the sight of me. "I am Lieutenant Silvius. Sit, please--"

"I'm fine." The winter in my voice has him standing taller. "Tell me what you require, Lieutenant."

"Medicines, teas, bandages, spirits," Silvius says. "And more hands."

"Dex," I say, "help the lieutenant. I'll deal with them." I nod to an angry crowd gathering outside the infirmary.

When I emerge, the crowd goes silent, their respect for the Blood Shrike so deeply ingrained that even in the face of their suffering, they hold their tongues--all but one woman, who shoves through until she's inches from my face.

"My baby boy is in there," she whispers. "I don't know if he's alive, if he's hurting or--"

"Your families are being cared for," I say. "But you must let the physicians work."

"Why aren't we fighting back?" An aux soldier limps forward, uniform ripped, forehead leaking blood. "My entire family, they--" He shakes his head. "Why aren't we fighting?"

"I don't know," I say. "But we will stop the Barbarians. They won't set foot on Navium's shores. I vow it, by blood and by bone." The tenor of the crowd shifts--a weight has been lifted.

As the throng dissipates, I feel the tug of my healing again. Hope is stronger than fear. What if I was able to give these people a greater measure of hope?

A quick glance tells me that Lieutenant Silvius is deep in conversation with Dex. I slip across the back courtyard to the children's wing. The nurse nods a greeting but leaves me be.

While her attention is elsewhere, I cross the room and drop beside a dark-haired child. His eyelashes curl the way mine never will, his cheeks round and ashen. I take his small, cold hand in mine and search out his song.

Sails like birds on the sea, the laugh of his father, watching for dolphins on the water--

It is pure, a shaft of sunlight falling onto a glittering ocean. I do not hum his song aloud. Instead, I sing it in my head, as I did long ago, for Cook. One bar, two, three, until weakness fills me. When I open my eyes, his face has lost its unnatural gray hue, and I move on. With each child, I do just enough to ease their pain and bring them back from the edge.

My body grows fatigued, but there are dozens of injured left. One by one, I sing them well, until I can hardly walk. I need to leave. I need to rest.

But then a whimper breaks the quiet--a little boy in the back of the infirmary, dark-haired and gray-eyed. The wound on his chest weeps into his bandage. I stumble the few steps to his bed. He is awake.

"I'm afraid," he whispers.

"The pain will soon be gone."

"No," he says. "Of them."

It takes me a moment to understand. "The Karkauns."

"They'll come back. They'll kill us."

I look around. A wooden tray sits nearby, thick enough to prove my point.

"See, lad, if I open my hand and try to break this wood"--I smack the tray--"nothing happens. But if I make a fist . . ." I punch through the wood easily, startling the nurse.

"We are Martials, child. We are the fist. Our enemies are the wood. And we shall break them."

After I find his song and he falls into slumber, I head for the door. When I emerge into the courtyard, I'm stunned to see that dawn is only an hour or two away. The infirmary is much quieter now. On the other side of the yard, Dex stands with Silvius, his head bent thoughtfully as the physician speaks. Remembering Harper's comment about strength in numbers, and concerned at the depth of my fatigue, I almost call out to my friend.

But I stop myself. There is a charge in the air between Dex and Silvius that makes me smile, the first time I've felt anything other than rage or exhaustion all day.

I head for the courtyard gate without Dex. It's a short enough walk to the barracks.

My senses are dulled as I walk, my legs growing weaker. A platoon of soldiers patrols nearby, saluting when I pass, and I am barely able to acknowledge them. I wish then that I'd asked Dex to accompany me. I hope to the skies there's no Karkaun assault. Right now, I couldn't fight off a fly.

Exhausted as I am, the part of me that raged and screamed at my own impotence in the face of Grimarr's attacks has quieted. I will sleep tonight. Maybe I'll even dream.

A step behind me.

Dex? No. The street is empty. I squint, trying to see into the darkness. A furtive scrape ahead of me this time--someone trying to remain unobserved.

My senses prickle. I didn't spend a decade and a half at Blackcliff only to get accosted by some idiot a few blocks from my own barracks.

I draw my scim and summon my Shrike's voice. "You'd be a fool to try it," I say. "But by all means, entertain me."

When the first dart comes flying out of the dark, I whip it out of the air by force of habit. I spent hundreds of hours deflecting missiles as a Yearling. A knife follows the dart.

"Show yourself!" I snarl. A shadow moves to my right, and I fling a throwing knife at it. The figure thuds to the ground only a dozen yards from me, clutching at his neck.

I make for him, aiming to unhood him. Filthy, traitorous coward--

But my legs will not move. Pain explodes along my side, sudden and white-hot. I look down. There's blood everywhere.

From the infirmary? No. It's my blood.

Walk, Shrike. Move. Get out of here.

But I cannot. I have no strength at all. I drop to my knees, able to do nothing more than watch as my life drains out of me.

XXIII: Laia

When Musa and I set out from Adisa, the sun blazes high, burning away the morning mist that has rolled in off the sea. But we do not clear the walls until early evening, as the guards are carefully watching all who leave as well as all who enter.

Musa's disguise--that of an old man with a piebald donkey--is frighteningly effective, and the guards don't look at him twice. Still, he waits until it is completely dark before bagging his tattersall cloak and raggedy wig. In a copse of trees, he pulls the Serric steel scims from a high pile of sticks on the donkey's back and sends the creature off with a slap to the rump.

"My sources tell me Tribe Sulud left late last night, which means we'll find their camp in one of the coastal villages to the south," Musa says. I nod a response, peering over my shoulder. The shadows of the night billow and contract. Though summer is in full bloom, I shiver and move swiftly across the marshy grasses.

"Will you stop looking back like that?" Musa says, immune as ever to my magic. "You're making me nervous."

"I just wish we could go faster," I say. "I feel strange. Like there's something back there." The Nightbringer disappeared so swiftly last night that I questioned whether he was even in Adisa. But since then, I haven't been able to shake the sense that something watches me.

"I have mounts hidden down the road. Once we get to them, we can move more quickly." Musa laughs at my obvious impatience. "What, you don't want to pass the time in conversation with me?" he says. "I'm hurt."

"I just want to get to the Kehanni," I mumble, though this is not the only reason I chafe at the delay. Musa regards me thoughtfully, and I lengthen my stride. He doesn't believe that I should offer to supply weapons to the Tribes, even if it means gaining information on

the Nightbringer. Not when those weapons might be used to kill innocent Martial civilians in the south.

But he doesn't stop me, though he easily could with that eerie magic of his. Instead, he accompanies me, his distaste palpable.

His disappointment gnaws at me. It is part of the reason I do not speak to him. I do not want his judgment. But there's more to my silence.

Speaking to him would mean learning about him. Understanding him. Maybe befriending him. I know what it is to travel with someone, to break bread and laugh and grow close to them.

And though perhaps it's foolish, that frightens me. Because I also know the pain of losing friends. Family. Mother. Father. Lis. Nan. Pop. Izzi. Elias. Too many lost. Too much pain.

I shake off my invisibility. "It's not as if you'll actually answer any of my questions. Anyway, I do want to talk to you, it's just--"

Dizziness sweeps over me. I recognize the feeling. No, not now, not when I need to get to the Kehanni. Though inside I scream with frustration, I cannot stop the vision: the dank room, the shape of a woman. Her hair is light. Her face is in shadow. And that voice again, so familiar.

A star she came

Into my home

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