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473 pages, Kindle Edition
First published June 12, 2018
“There are worse things than death,” I say. “Shall we learn about them together?”
I will sing you such a story—a story that was long untold. The story of a name and its meaning. Of how that name matters more than any other single word in existence. But I must prepare myself, for such stories are dragons drawn from a deep well in a dark place. Does one summon a dragon? No. One may only invite it and hope it emerges.
The field of battle is my temple. The swordpoint is my priest.
The dance of death is my prayer. The killing blow is my release.
"Pain is a choice. Succumb to it and fail. Or defy it and Triumph.”
“Strange how monsters can reach from beyond the grave, as potent in death as they were in life.”
"Mercy, Blood Shrike. That is my order. I do not deserve it. I do not even wish it. But you'll give it to me anyway. Because you're good."
“Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”
“Love. I sigh. Love is joy coupled with misery, elation bound to despair. It is a fire that beckons me gently and then burns when I get too close. I hate love. I yearn for it. And it drives me mad.”
Love cannot live here.
I wonder what he has become in the months we’ve been apart. Has he changed? Is he eating? Taking care of himself? Skies, I hope he has not grown a beard. I hated his beard.
But even knowing what the Masks would have done, I do not wish to kill. I do not wish to belong to this world of blood and violence and vengeance. I do not wish to be a Mask.
I’ll go to them as Mask Veturius, dread Martial, soldier of the Empire. I’ll go to them as the estranged, murderous son of the Bitch of Blackcliff, as the monster who killed his friends and assassinated the Empire’s enemies as a child and who watched stonily as Yearlings were whipped to death before his eyes.
This time, I will not ask the jinn for help.
I will take it.
“Don’t you belittle me. I am the daughter of the Lioness. I destroyed Blackcliff. I saved the life of Elias Veturius. I survived Commandment Keris Veturia. I survived the betrayals of the Resistance and the Nightbringer. I crossed the Empire and broke into Kauf Prison. I rescued my brother and hundreds of other Scholars. I am not nothing.”
“You are cruel, Elias,” she whispers against my mouth. “To give a girl all she desires only to tear it away.”
She looks like I feel: broken. I need to let her go. Fight the Nightbringer, I should say. Win. Find joy. Remember me. For why should she come back here? Her future is in the world of the living.
The first time I killed, I was eleven. I saw my enemy’s face for days after he was gone. I heard his voice. And then I killed again. And again. And again. And again. Too soon, I stopped seeing their faces. I stopped wondering what their names were, or who they left behind. I killed because I was ordered to, and then, once free of Blackcliff, I killed because I had to, to stay alive.
“…One day soon, you will be tested, child. All that you cherish will burn. You will have no friends that day. No allies. No comrades in arms. On that day, your trust in me will be your only weapon.”
I know I can die as Soul Catcher. But by the skies, I won’t die by the hand of a ghost-possessed Tribesman choking the life out of me while gibbering in my ear.
"All things have a price, Elias Veturius. The price of saving her will haunt you for all your days. Will you pay it?"
”Curse this world for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”