I’m halfway to the back wall when a hiss sounds in my ear. Did I imagine that?

The hiss sounds again.

My eyes are beginning to adjust to the darkness. I can see my hands when I raise them to guard my face. As I stand there try­ing to make sense of what I hear, the shadowy shape of a giant scorpion materializes right in front of my eyes.

Neju’s sword. I stumble back and collide with the shelf behind me. Crates crash down, a few cracking ominously as they hit the ground. As hisses fill the air, I realize that these aren’t supply crates I’ve knocked over. They’re cages, and I’m pretty sure the creatures they hold aren’t the type I want roaming free.

They call Monyar “Death’s Antechamber,” and for good reason. This land is packed with snakes, scorpions, and spiders. Lethal bites are so common that the local healers raise the crea­tures and milk them for antivenom.

Looks like I’ve stumbled upon someone’s private collection.

As the racket dies down, the sound of footsteps drifts in from outside. I swallow another curse.

“Hello?” It’s a woman—probably the healer. At least it’s not the soldiers. Still, I reach for my dagger and step carefully toward the door.

“Is anyone here?” The footsteps stop outside. I raise my knife.

The door opens to reveal a woman holding a candle. As her eyes lock on me, I grab her by the collar and pull her in. The door shuts behind us, and I push her against the wall.

“One scream from you and I cut your throat.”

Miraculously, she keeps her grip on the candle. Though the flame sputters, its light reflects off my blade.

She’s scared. I can tell by the rapid rise and fall of her chest. But when she replies, she speaks with a low, steady whisper. “I’m rosemarked, stranger. Spill my blood, and you’ll follow me into death.”


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