მთავარი Siege and Storm
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Excellent book. Well written. Read all 3 in a weekend.
26 May 2021 (03:23)
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CONTENTS Title Page Copyright Notice Dedication Map The Grisha Before Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 After Acknowledgments Copyright THE GRISHA SOLDIERS OF THE SECOND ARMY MASTERS OF THE SMALL SCIENCE CORPORALKI (THE ORDER OF THE LIVING AND THE DEAD) Heartrenders Healers ETHEREALKI (THE ORDER OF SUMMONERS) Squallers Inferni Tidemakers MATERIALKI (THE ORDER OF FABRIKATORS) Durasts Alkemi BEFORE THE BOY AND THE GIRL had once dreamed of ships, long ago, before they’d ever seen the True Sea. They were the vessels of stories, magic ships with masts hewn from sweet cedar and sails spun by maidens from thread of pure gold. Their crews were white mice who sang songs and scrubbed the decks with their pink tails. The Verrhader was not a magic ship. It was a Kerch trader, its hold bursting with millet and molasses. It stank of unwashed bodies and the raw onions the sailors claimed would prevent scurvy. Its crew spat and swore and gambled for rum rations. The bread the boy and the girl were given spilled weevils, and their cabin was a cramped closet they were forced to share with two other passengers and a barrel of salt cod. They didn’t mind. They grew used to the clang of bells sounding the hour, the cry of the gulls, the unintelligible gabble of Kerch. The ship was their kingdom, and the sea a vast moat that kept their enemies at bay. The boy took to l; ife aboard ship as easily as he took to everything else. He learned to tie knots and mend sails, and as his wounds healed, he worked the lines beside the crew. He abandoned his shoes and climbed barefoot and fearless in the rigging. The sailors marveled at the way he spotted dolphins, schools of rays, bright striped tigerfish, the way he sensed the place a whale would breach the moment before its broad, pebbled back broke the waves. They claimed they’d be rich if they just had a bit of his luck. The girl made them nervous. Three days out to sea, the captain asked her to remain belowdecks as much as possible. He blamed it on the crew’s superstition, claimed that they thought women aboard ship would bring ill winds. This was true, but the sailors might have welcomed a laughing, happy girl, a girl who told jokes or tried her hand at the tin whistle. This girl stood quiet and unmoving by the rail, clutching her scarf around her neck, frozen like a figurehead carved from white wood. This girl screamed in her sleep and woke the men dozing in the foretop. So the girl spent her days haunting the dark belly of the ship. She counted barrels of molasses, studied the captain’s charts. At night, she slipped into the shelter of the boy’s arms as they stood together on deck, picking out constellations from the vast spill of stars: the Hunter, the Scholar, the Three Foolish Sons, the bright spokes of the Spinning Wheel, the Southern Palace with its six crooked spires. She kept him there as long as she could, telling stories, asking questions. Because she knew when she slept, she would dream. Sometimes she dreamed of broken skiffs with black sails and decks slick with blood, of people crying out in the darkness. But worse were the dreams of a pale prince who pressed his lips to her neck, who placed his hands on the collar that circled her throat and called forth her power in a blaze of bright sunlight. When she dreamed of him, she woke shaking, the echo of her power still vibrating through her, the feeling of the light still warm on her skin. The boy held her tighter, murmured soft words to lull her to sleep. “It’s only a nightmare,” he whispered. “The dreams will stop.” He didn’t understand. The dreams were the only place it was safe to use her power now, and she longed for them. * * * ON THE DAY the Verrhader made land, the boy and girl stood at the rail together, watching as the coast of Novyi Zem drew closer. They drifted into harbor through an orchard of weathered masts and bound sails. There were sleek sloops and little junks from the rocky coasts of the Shu Han, armed warships and pleasure schooners, fat merchantmen and Fjerdan whalers. A bloated prison galley bound for the southern colonies flew the red-tipped banner that warned there were murderers aboard. As they floated by, the girl could have sworn she heard the clink of chains. The Verrhader found its berth. The gangway was lowered. The dockworkers and crew shouted their greetings, tied off ropes, prepared the cargo. The boy and the girl scanned the docks, searching the crowd for a flash of Heartrender crimson or Summoner blue, for the glint of sunlight off Ravkan guns. It was time. The boy slid his hand into hers. His palm was rough and calloused from the days he’d spent working the lines. When their feet hit the planks of the quay, the ground seemed to buck and roll beneath them. The sailors laughed. “Vaarwel, fentomen!” they cried. The boy and girl walked forward, and took their first rolling steps in the new world. Please, the girl prayed silently to any Saints who might be listening, let us be safe here. Let us be home. CHAPTER 1 TWO WEEKS WE’D been in Cofton, and I was still getting lost. The town lay inland, west of the Novyi Zem coast, miles from the harbor where we’d landed. Soon we would go farther, deep into the wilds of the Zemeni frontier. Maybe then we’d begin to feel safe. I checked the little map I’d drawn for myself and retraced my steps. Mal and I met every day after work to walk back to the boardinghouse together, but today I’d gotten completely turned around when I’d detoured to buy our dinner. The calf and collard pies were stuffed into my satchel and giving off a very peculiar smell. The shopkeeper had claimed they were a Zemeni delicacy, but I had my doubts. It didn’t much matter. Everything tasted like ashes to me lately. Mal and I had come to Cofton to find work that would finance our trip west. It was the center of the jurda trade, surrounded by fields of the little orange flowers that people chewed by the bushel. The stimulant was considered a luxury in Ravka, but some of the sailors aboard the Verrhader had used it to stay awake on long watches. Zemeni men liked to tuck the dried blooms between lip and gum, and even the women carried them in embroidered pouches that dangled from their wrists. Each store window I passed advertised different brands: Brightleaf, Shade, Dhoka, the Burly. I saw a beautifully dressed girl in petticoats lean over and spit a stream of rust-colored juice right into one of the brass spittoons that sat outside every shop door. I stifled a gag. That was one Zemeni custom I didn’t think I could get used to. With a sigh of relief, I turned onto the city’s main thoroughfare. At least now I knew where I was. Cofton still didn’t feel quite real to me. There was something raw and unfinished about it. Most of the streets were unpaved, and I always felt like the flat-roofed buildings with their flimsy wooden walls might tip over at any minute. And yet they all had glass windows. The women dressed in velvet and lace. The shop displays overflowed with sweets and baubles and all manner of finery instead of rifles, knives, and tin cookpots. Here, even the beggars wore shoes. This was what a country looked like when it wasn’t under siege. As I passed a gin shop, I caught a flash of crimson out of the corner of my eye. Corporalki. Instantly, I drew back, pressing myself into the shadowy space between two buildings, heart hammering, my hand already reaching for the pistol at my hip. Dagger first, I reminded myself, sliding the blade from my sleeve. Try not to draw attention. Pistol if you must. Power as a last resort. Not for the first time, I missed the Fabrikator-made gloves that I’d had to leave behind in Ravka. They’d been lined with mirrors that gave me an easy way to blind opponents in a hand-to-hand fight—and a nice alternative to slicing someone in half with the Cut. But if I’d been spotted by a Corporalnik Heartrender, I might not have a choice in the matter. They were the Darkling’s favored soldiers and could stop my heart or crush my lungs without ever landing a blow. I waited, my grip slippery on the dagger’s handle, then finally dared to peek around the wall. I saw a cart piled high with barrels. The driver had stopped to talk to a woman whose daughter danced impatiently beside her, fluttering and twirling in her dark red skirt. Just a little girl. Not a Corporalnik in sight. I sank back against the building and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. It won’t always be this way, I told myself. The longer you’re free, the easier it will get. One day I would wake from a sleep free of nightmares, walk down a street unafraid. Until then, I kept my flimsy dagger close and wished for the sure heft of Grisha steel in my palm. I pushed my way back into the bustling street and clutched at the scarf around my neck, drawing it tighter. It had become a nervous habit. Beneath it lay Morozova’s collar, the most powerful amplifier ever known, as well as the only way of identifying me. Without it, I was just another dirty, underfed Ravkan refugee. I wasn’t sure what I would do when the weather turned. I couldn’t very well walk around in scarves and high-necked coats when summer came. But by then, hopefully, Mal and I would be far from crowded towns and unwanted questions. We’d be on our own for the first time since we’d fled Ravka. The thought sent a nervous flutter through me. I crossed the street, dodging wagons and horses, still scanning the crowd, sure that at any moment I would see a troop of Grisha or oprichniki descending on me. Or maybe it would be Shu Han mercenaries, or Fjerdan assassins, or the soldiers of the Ravkan King, or even the Darkling himself. So many people might be hunting us. Hunting me, I amended. If it weren’t for me, Mal would still be a tracker in the First Army, not a deserter running for his life. A memory rose unbidden in my mind: black hair, slate eyes, the Darkling’s face exultant in victory as he unleashed the power of the Fold. Before I’d snatched that victory away. News was easy to come by in Novyi Zem, but none of it was good. Rumors had surfaced that the Darkling had somehow survived the battle on the Fold, that he had gone to ground to gather his forces before making another attempt on the Ravkan throne. I didn’t want to believe it was possible, but I knew better than to underestimate him. The other stories were just as disturbing: that the Fold had begun to overflow its shores, driving refugees east and west; that a cult had risen up around a Saint who could summon the sun. I didn’t want to think about it. Mal and I had a new life now. We’d left Ravka behind. I hurried my steps, and soon I was in the square where Mal and I met every evening. I spotted him leaning against the lip of a fountain, talking with a Zemeni friend he’d met working at the warehouse. I couldn’t remember his name … Jep, maybe? Jef? Fed by four huge spigots, the fountain was less decorative than useful, a large basin where girls and house servants came to wash clothes. None of the washerwomen were paying much attention to the laundry, though. They were all gawking at Mal. It was hard not to. His hair had grown out of its short military cut and was starting to curl at the nape of his neck. The spray from the fountain had left his shirt damp, and it clung to skin bronzed by long days at sea. He threw his head back, laughing at something his friend had said, seemingly oblivious to the sly smiles thrown his way. He’s probably so used to it, he doesn’t even notice anymore, I thought irritably. When he caught sight of me, his face broke into a grin and he waved. The washerwomen turned to look and then exchanged glances of disbelief. I knew what they saw: a scrawny girl with stringy, dull brown hair and sallow cheeks, fingers stained orange from packing jurda. I’d never been much to look at, and weeks of not using my power had taken their toll. I wasn’t eating or sleeping well, and the nightmares didn’t help. The women’s faces all said the same thing: What was a boy like Mal doing with a girl like me? I straightened my spine and tried to ignore them as Mal threw his arm around me and drew me close. “Where were you?” he asked. “I was getting worried.” “I was waylaid by a gang of angry bears,” I murmured into his shoulder. “You got lost again?” “I don’t know where you get these ideas.” “You remember Jes, right?” he said, nodding to his friend. “How do you go?” Jes asked in broken Ravkan, offering me his hand. His expression seemed unduly grave. “Very well, thank you,” I replied in Zemeni. He didn’t return my smile, but gently patted my hand. Jes was definitely an odd one. We chatted a short while longer, but I knew Mal could see I was getting anxious. I didn’t like to be out in the open for too long. We said our goodbyes, and before Jes left, he shot me another grim look and leaned in to whisper something to Mal. “What did he say?” I asked as we watched him stroll away across the square. “Hmm? Oh, nothing. Did you know you have pollen in your brows?” He reached out to gently brush it away. “Maybe I wanted it there.” “My mistake.” As we pushed off from the fountain, one of the washerwomen leaned forward, practically spilling out of her dress. “If you ever get tired of skin and bones,” she called to Mal, “I’ve got something to tempt you.” I stiffened. Mal glanced over his shoulder. Slowly, he looked her up and down. “No,” he said flatly. “You don’t.” The girl’s face flushed an ugly red as the others jeered and cackled, splashing her with water. I tried for a haughtily arched brow, but it was hard to restrain the goofy grin pulling at the corners of my mouth. “Thanks,” I mumbled as we crossed the square, heading toward our boardinghouse. “For what?” I rolled my eyes. “For defending my honor, you dullard.” He yanked me beneath a shadowed awning. I had a moment’s panic when I thought he’d spotted trouble, but then his arms were around me and his lips were pressed to mine. When he finally drew back, my cheeks were warm and my legs had gone wobbly. “Just to be clear,” he said, “I’m not really interested in defending your honor.” “Understood,” I managed, hoping I didn’t sound too ridiculously breathless. “Besides,” he said, “I need to steal every minute I can before we’re back at the Pit.” The Pit was what Mal called our boardinghouse. It was crowded and filthy and afforded us no privacy at all, but it was cheap. He grinned, cocky as ever, and pulled me back into the flow of people on the street. Despite my exhaustion, my steps felt decidedly lighter. I still wasn’t used to the idea of us together. Another flutter passed through me. On the frontier there would be no curious boarders or unwanted interruptions. My pulse gave a little jump—whether from nerves or excitement, I wasn’t sure. “So what did Jes say?” I asked again, when my brain felt a bit less scrambled. “He said I should take good care of you.” “That’s all?” Mal cleared his throat. “And … he said he would pray to the God of Work to heal your affliction.” “My what?” “I may have told him that you have a goiter.” I stumbled. “I beg your pardon?” “Well, I had to explain why you were always clinging to that scarf.” I dropped my hand. I’d been doing it again without even realizing. “So you told him I had a goiter?” I whispered incredulously. “I had to say something. And it makes you quite a tragic figure. Pretty girl, giant growth, you know.” I punched him hard in the arm. “Ow! Hey, in some countries, goiters are considered very fashionable.” “Do they like eunuchs, too? Because I can arrange that.” “So bloodthirsty!” “My goiter makes me cranky.” Mal laughed, but I noticed that he kept his hand on his pistol. The Pit was located in one of the less savory parts of Cofton, and we were carrying a lot of coin, the wages we’d saved for the start of our new life. Just a few more days, and we’d have enough to leave Cofton behind—the noise, the pollen-filled air, the constant fear. We’d be safe in a place where nobody cared what happened to Ravka, where Grisha were scarce and no one had ever heard of a Sun Summoner. And no one has any use for one. The thought soured my mood, but it had come to me more and more lately. What was I good for in this strange country? Mal could hunt, track, handle a gun. The only thing I’d ever been good at was being a Grisha. I missed summoning light, and each day I didn’t use my power, I grew more weak and sickly. Just walking beside Mal left me winded, and I struggled beneath the weight of my satchel. I was so frail and clumsy that I’d barely managed to keep my job packing jurda at one of the fieldhouses. It brought in mere pennies, but I’d insisted on working, on trying to help. I felt like I had when we were kids: capable Mal and useless Alina. I pushed the thought away. I might not be the Sun Summoner anymore, but I wasn’t that sad little girl either. I’d find a way to be useful. The sight of our boardinghouse didn’t exactly lift my spirits. It was two stories high and in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. The sign in the window advertised hot baths and tick-free beds in five different languages. Having sampled the bathtub and the bed, I knew the sign lied no matter how you translated it. Still, with Mal beside me, it didn’t seem so bad. We climbed the steps of the sagging porch and entered the tavern that took up most of the lower floor of the house. It was cool and quiet after the dusty clamor of the street. At this hour, there were usually a few workers at the pockmarked tables drinking off their day’s wages, but today it was empty save for the surly-looking landlord standing behind the bar. He was a Kerch immigrant, and I’d gotten the distinct feeling he didn’t like Ravkans. Or maybe he just thought we were thieves. We’d shown up two weeks ago, ragged and grubby, with no baggage and no way to pay for lodging except a single golden hairpin that he probably thought we’d stolen. But that hadn’t stopped him from snapping it up in exchange for a narrow bed in a room that we shared with six other boarders. As we approached the bar, he slapped the room key on the counter and shoved it across to us without being asked. It was tied to a carved piece of chicken bone. Another charming touch. In the stilted Kerch he’d picked up aboard the Verrhader, Mal requested a pitcher of hot water for washing. “Extra,” the landlord grunted. He was a heavyset man with thinning hair and the orange-stained teeth that came from chewing jurda. He was sweating, I noticed. Though the day wasn’t particularly warm, beads of perspiration had broken out over his upper lip. I glanced back at him as we headed for the staircase on the other side of the deserted tavern. He was still watching us, his arms crossed over his chest, his beady eyes narrowed. There was something about his expression that set my nerves jangling. I hesitated at the base of the steps. “That guy really doesn’t like us,” I said. Mal was already headed up the stairs. “No, but he likes our money just fine. And we’ll be out of here in a few days.” I shook off my nervousness. I’d been jumpy all afternoon. “Fine,” I grumbled as I followed after Mal. “But just so I’m prepared, how do you say ‘you’re an ass’ in Kerch?” “Jer ven azel.” “Really?” Mal laughed. “The first thing sailors teach you is how to swear.” The second story of the boardinghouse was in considerably worse shape than the public rooms below. The carpet was faded and threadbare, and the dim hallway stank of cabbage and tobacco. The doors to the private rooms were all closed, and not a sound came from behind them as we passed. The quiet was eerie. Maybe everyone was out for the day. The only light came from a single grimy window at the end of the hall. As Mal fumbled with the key, I looked down through the smudged glass to the carts and carriages rumbling by below. Across the street, a man stood beneath a balcony, peering up at the boardinghouse. He pulled at his collar and his sleeves, as if his clothes were new and didn’t quite fit right. His eyes met mine through the window, then darted quickly away. I felt a sudden pang of fear. “Mal,” I whispered, reaching out to him. But it was too late. The door flew open. “No!” I shouted. I threw up my hands and light burst through the hallway in a blinding cascade. Then rough hands seized me, yanking my arms behind my back. I was dragged inside the room, kicking and thrashing. “Easy now,” said a cool voice from somewhere in the corner. “I’d hate to have to gut your friend so soon.” Time seemed to slow. I saw the shabby, low-ceilinged room, the cracked washbasin sitting on the battered table, dust motes swirling in a slender beam of sunlight, the bright edge of the blade pressed to Mal’s throat. The man holding him wore a familiar sneer. Ivan. There were others, men and women. All wore the fitted coats and breeches of Zemeni merchants and laborers, but I recognized some of their faces from my time with the Second Army. They were Grisha. Behind them, shrouded in shadow, lounging in a rickety chair as if it were a throne, was the Darkling. For a moment, everything in the room was silent and still. I could hear Mal’s breathing, the shuffle of feet. I heard a man calling a hello down on the street. I couldn’t seem to stop staring at the Darkling’s hands—his long white fingers resting casually on the arms of the chair. I had the foolish thought that I’d never seen him in ordinary clothes. Then reality crashed in on me. This was how it ended? Without a fight? Without so much as a shot fired or a voice raised? A sob of pure rage and frustration tore free from my chest. “Take her pistol, and search her for other weapons,” the Darkling said softly. I felt the comforting weight of my firearm lifted from my hip, the dagger pulled from its sheath at my wrist. “I’m going to tell them to let you go,” he said when they were done, “with the knowledge that if you so much as raise your hands, Ivan will end the tracker. Show me that you understand.” I gave a single stiff nod. He raised a finger, and the men holding me let go. I stumbled forward and then stood frozen in the center of the room, my hands balled into fists. I could cut the Darkling in two with my power. I could crack this whole saintsforsaken building right down the middle. But not before Ivan opened Mal’s throat. “How did you find us?” I rasped. “You leave a very expensive trail,” he said, and lazily tossed something onto the table. It landed with a plink beside the washbasin. I recognized one of the golden pins Genya had woven into my hair so many weeks ago. We’d used them to pay for passage across the True Sea, the wagon to Cofton, our miserable, not-quite-tick-free bed. The Darkling rose, and a strange trepidation crackled through the room. It was as if every Grisha had taken a breath and was holding it, waiting. I could feel the fear coming off them, and that sent a spike of alarm through me. The Darkling’s underlings had always treated him with awe and respect, but this was something new. Even Ivan looked a little ill. The Darkling stepped into the light, and I saw a faint tracery of scars over his face. They’d been healed by a Corporalnik, but they were still visible. So the volcra had left their mark. Good, I thought with petty satisfaction. It was small comfort, but at least he wasn’t quite as perfect as he had been. He paused, studying me. “How are you finding life in hiding, Alina? You don’t look well.” “Neither do you,” I said. It wasn’t just the scars. He wore his weariness like an elegant cloak, but it was still there. Faint smudges showed beneath his eyes, and the hollows of his sharp cheekbones cut a little deeper. “A small price to pay,” he said, his lips quirking in a half smile. A chill snaked up my spine. For what? He reached out, and it took everything in me not to flinch backward. But all he did was take hold of one end of my scarf. He tugged gently, and the rough wool slipped free, gliding over my neck and fluttering to the ground. “Back to pretending to be less than you are, I see. The sham doesn’t suit you.” A twinge of unease passed through me. Hadn’t I had a similar thought just minutes ago? “Thanks for your concern,” I muttered. He let his fingers trail over the collar. “It’s mine as much as yours, Alina.” I batted his hand away, and an anxious rustle rose from the Grisha. “Then you shouldn’t have put it around my neck,” I snapped. “What do you want?” Of course, I already knew. He wanted everything—Ravka, the world, the power of the Fold. His answer didn’t matter. I just needed to keep him talking. I’d known this moment might come, and I’d prepared for it. I wasn’t going to let him take me again. I glanced at Mal, hoping he understood what I intended. “I want to thank you,” the Darkling said. Now, that I hadn’t expected. “Thank me?” “For the gift you gave me.” My eyes flicked to the scars on his pale cheek. “No,” he said with a small smile, “not these. But they do make a good reminder.” “Of what?” I asked, curious despite myself. His gaze was gray flint. “That all men can be made fools. No, Alina, the gift you’ve given me is so much greater.” He turned away. I darted another glance at Mal. “Unlike you,” the Darkling said, “I understand gratitude, and I wish to express it.” He raised his hands. Darkness tumbled through the room. “Now!” I shouted. Mal drove his elbow into Ivan’s side. At the same moment, I threw up my hands and light blazed out, blinding the men around us. I focused my power, honing it to a scythe of pure light. I had only one goal. I wasn’t going to leave the Darkling standing. I peered into the seething blackness, trying to find my target. But something was wrong. I’d seen the Darkling use his power countless times before. This was different. The shadows whirled and skittered around the circle of my light, spinning faster, a writhing cloud that clicked and whirred like a fog of hungry insects. I pushed against them with my power, but they twisted and wriggled, drawing ever nearer. Mal was beside me. Somehow he’d gotten hold of Ivan’s knife. “Stay close,” I said. Better to take my chances and open a hole in the floor than to just stand there doing nothing. I concentrated and felt the power of the Cut vibrate through me. I raised my arm … and something stepped out of the darkness. It’s a trick, I thought as the thing came toward us. It has to be some kind of illusion. It was a creature wrought from shadow, its face blank and devoid of features. Its body seemed to tremble and blur, then form again: arms, legs, long hands ending in the dim suggestion of claws, a broad back crested by wings that roiled and shifted as they unfurled like a black stain. It was almost like a volcra, but its shape was more human. And it did not fear the light. It did not fear me. It’s a trick, my panicked mind insisted. It isn’t possible. It was a violation of everything I knew about Grisha power. We couldn’t make matter. We couldn’t create life. But the creature was coming toward us, and the Darkling’s Grisha were cringing up against the walls in very real terror. This was what had so frightened them. I pushed down my horror and refocused my power. I swung my arm, bringing it down in a shining, unforgiving arc. The light sliced through the creature. For a moment, I thought it might just keep coming. Then it wavered, glowing like a cloud lit by lightning, and blew apart into nothing. I had time for the barest surge of relief before the Darkling lifted his hand and another monster took its place, followed by another, and another. “This is the gift you gave me,” said the Darkling. “The gift I earned on the Fold.” His face was alive with power and a kind of terrible joy. But I could see strain there, too. Whatever he was doing, it was costing him. Mal and I backed toward the door as the creatures stalked closer. Suddenly, one of them shot forward with astonishing speed. Mal slashed out with his knife. The thing paused, wavered slightly, then grabbed hold of him and tossed him aside like a child’s doll. This was no illusion. “Mal!” I cried. I lashed out with the Cut and the creature burned away to nothing, but the next monster was on me in seconds. It seized me, and revulsion shuddered through my body. Its grip was like a thousand crawling insects swarming over my arms. It lifted me off my feet, and I saw how very wrong I’d been. It did have a mouth, a yawning, twisting hole that spread open to reveal row upon row of teeth. I felt them all as the thing bit deeply into my shoulder. The pain was like nothing I’d ever known. It echoed inside me, multiplying on itself, cracking me open and scraping at the bone. From a distance, I heard Mal call my name. I heard myself scream. The creature released me. I dropped to the floor in a limp heap. I was on my back, the pain still reverberating through me in endless waves. I could see the water-stained ceiling, the shadow creature looming high above, Mal’s pale face as he knelt beside me. I saw his lips form the shape of my name, but I couldn’t hear him. I was already slipping away. The last thing I heard was the Darkling’s voice—so clear, like he was lying right next to me, his lips pressed against my ear, whispering so that only I could hear: Thank you. CHAPTER 2 DARKNESS AGAIN. Something seething inside me. I look for the light, but it’s out of my reach. “Drink.” I open my eyes. Ivan’s scowling face comes into focus. “You do it,” he grumbles to someone. Then Genya leans over me, more beautiful than ever, even in a bedraggled red kefta. Am I dreaming? She presses something against my lips. “Drink, Alina.” I try to knock the cup away, but I can’t move my hands. My nose is pinched shut, my mouth forced open. Some kind of broth slides down my throat. I cough and sputter. “Where am I?” I try to say. Another voice, cold and pure: “Put her back under.” * * * I AM IN THE PONY CART, riding back from the village with Ana Kuya. Her bony elbow jabs into my rib as we jounce up the road that will take us home to Keramzin. Mal is on her other side, laughing and pointing at everything we see. The fat little pony plods along, twitching its shaggy mane as we climb the last hill. Halfway up, we pass a man and a woman on the side of the road. He is whistling as they go, waving his walking stick in time with the music. The woman trudges along, head bent, a block of salt strapped to her back. “Are they very poor?” I ask Ana Kuya. “Not so poor as others.” “Then why doesn’t he buy a donkey?” “He doesn’t need a donkey,” says Ana Kuya. “He has a wife.” “I’m going to marry Alina,” Mal says. The cart rolls past. The man doffs his cap and calls a jolly greeting. Mal shouts back gleefully, waving and smiling, nearly bouncing from his seat. I look back over my shoulder, craning my neck to watch the woman slogging along behind her husband. She’s just a girl, really, but her eyes are old and worn. Ana Kuya misses nothing. “That’s what happens to peasant girls who do not have the benefit of the Duke’s kindness. That is why you must be grateful and keep him every night in your prayers.” * * * THE CLINK OF CHAINS. Genya’s worried face. “It isn’t safe to keep doing this to her.” “Don’t tell me how to do my job,” Ivan snaps. The Darkling, in black, standing in the shadows. The rhythm of the sea beneath me. The realization hits me like a blow: We’re on a ship. Please let me be dreaming. * * * I’M ON THE ROAD to Keramzin again, watching the pony’s bent neck as he labors up the hill. When I look back, the girl struggling beneath the weight of the salt block has my face. Baghra sits beside me in the cart, “The ox feels the yoke,” she says, “but does the bird feel the weight of its wings?” Her eyes are black jet. Be grateful, they say. Be grateful. She snaps the reins. * * * “DRINK.” MORE BROTH. I don’t fight it now. I don’t want to choke again. I fall back, let my lids drop, drifting away, too weak to struggle. A hand on my cheek. “Mal,” I manage to croak. The hand is withdrawn. Nothingness. * * * “WAKE UP.” THIS TIME, I don’t recognize the voice. “Bring her out of it.” My lids flutter open. Am I still dreaming? A boy leans over me: ruddy hair, a broken nose. He reminds me of the too-clever fox, another of Ana Kuya’s stories, smart enough to get out of one trap, but too foolish to realize he won’t escape a second. There’s another boy standing behind him, but this one is a giant, one of the largest people I’ve ever seen. His golden eyes have the Shu tilt. “Alina,” says the fox. How does he know my name? The door opens, and I see another stranger’s face, a girl with short dark hair and the same golden gaze as the giant. “They’re coming,” she says. The fox curses. “Put her back down.” The giant comes closer. Darkness bleeds back in. “No, please—” It’s too late. The dark has me. * * * I AM A GIRL, trudging up a hill. My boots squelch in the mud and my back aches from the weight of the salt upon it. When I think I cannot take another step, I feel myself lifted off the ground. The salt slips from my shoulders, and I watch it shatter on the road. I float higher, higher. Below me, I can see a pony cart, the three passengers looking up at me, their mouths open in surprise. I can see my shadow pass over them, pass over the road and the barren winter fields, the black shape of a girl, borne high by her own unfurling wings. * * * THE FIRST THING I knew was real was the rocking of the ship—the creak of the rigging, the slap of water on the hull. When I tried to turn over, a shard of pain sliced through my shoulder. I gasped and jolted upright, my eyes flying open, heart racing, fully awake. A wave of nausea rolled through me, and I had to blink back the stars that floated across my vision. I was in a tidy ship’s cabin, lying on a narrow bunk. Daylight spilled through the sidescuttle. Genya sat at the edge of my bed. So I hadn’t dreamed her. Or was I dreaming now? I tried to shake the cobwebs from my mind and was rewarded with another surge of nausea. The unpleasant smell in the air wasn’t helping to settle my stomach. I forced myself to take a long, shaky breath. Genya wore a red kefta embroidered in blue, a combination I’d never seen on any other Grisha. The garment was dirty and a bit worn, but her hair was arranged in flawless curls, and she looked more lovely than any queen. She held a tin cup to my lips. “Drink,” she said. “What is it?” I asked warily. “Just water.” I tried to take the cup from her and realized my wrists were in irons. I lifted my hands awkwardly. The water had a flat metallic tang, but I was parched. I sipped, coughed, then drank greedily. “Slowly,” she said, her hand smoothing the hair back from my face, “or you’ll make yourself sick.” “How long?” I asked, glancing at Ivan, who leaned against the door watching me. “How long have I been out?” “A little over a week,” Genya said. “A week?” Panic seized me. A week of Ivan slowing my heart rate to keep me unconscious. I shoved to my feet and blood rushed to my head. I would have fallen if Genya hadn’t reached out to steady me. I willed the dizziness away, shook her off, then stumbled to the sidescuttle and peered through the foggy circle of glass. Nothing. Nothing but blue sea. No harbor. No coast. Novyi Zem was long gone. I fought the tears that rose behind my eyes. “Where’s Mal?” I asked. When no one answered, I turned around. “Where’s Mal?” I demanded of Ivan. “The Darkling wants to see you,” he said. “Are you strong enough to walk, or do I have to carry you?” “Give her a minute,” said Genya. “Let her eat, wash her face at least.” “No. Take me to him.” Genya frowned. “I’m fine,” I insisted. Actually, I felt weak and woozy and terrified. But I wasn’t about to lie back down on that bunk, and I needed answers, not food. As we left the cabin, we were engulfed in a wall of stench—not the usual ship smells of bilge and fish and bodies that I remembered from our voyage aboard the Verrhader, but something far worse. I gagged and clamped my mouth shut. I was suddenly glad I hadn’t eaten. “What is that?” “Blood, bone, rendered blubber,” said Ivan. We were aboard a whaler. “You get used to it,” he said. “You get used to it,” retorted Genya, wrinkling her nose. They brought me to a hatch that led to the deck above. Ivan clambered up the ladder, and I scrambled hastily after him, eager to be out of the dark bowels of the ship and free of that rotting stench. It was hard climbing with my hands in irons, and Ivan quickly lost patience. He hooked my wrists to haul me up the last few feet. I took in great gulps of cold air and blinked in the bright light. The whaler was lumbering along at full sail, driven forward by three Grisha Squallers who stood by the masts with arms raised, their blue kefta flapping around their legs. Etherealki, the Order of Summoners. Just a few short months ago, I’d been one of them. The ship’s crew wore roughspun, and many were barefoot, the better to grip the ship’s slippery deck. No uniforms, I noted. So they weren’t military, and the ship flew no colors that I could see. The rest of the Darkling’s Grisha were easy to pick out among the crew, not just because of their brightly colored kefta, but because they stood idly at the railings, gazing out at the sea or talking while the regular sailors worked. I even saw a Fabrikator in her purple kefta, propped up against a coil of rope, reading. As we passed by two massive cast-iron kettles set into the deck, I got a fierce whiff of the stink that had been so powerful below. “The try-pots,” Genya said. “Where they render the oil. They haven’t been used on this voyage, but the smell never fades.” Grisha and crewmen alike turned to stare as we walked the length of the ship. When we passed beneath the mizzenmast, I looked up and saw the dark-haired boy and girl from my dream perched high above us. They hung from the rigging like two birds of prey, watching us with matching golden eyes. So it hadn’t been a dream at all. They’d been in my cabin. Ivan led me to the prow of the ship, where the Darkling was waiting. He stood with his back to us, staring out over the bowsprit to the blue horizon beyond, his black kefta billowing around him like an inky banner of war. Genya and Ivan made their bows and left us. “Where’s Mal?” I rasped, my throat still rusty. The Darkling didn’t turn, but shook his head and said, “You’re predictable, at least.” “Sorry to bore you. Where is he?” “How do you know he isn’t dead?” My stomach lurched. “Because I know you,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “And if he were? Would you throw yourself into the sea?” “Not unless I could take you with me. Where is he?” “Look behind you.” I whirled. Far down the stretch of the main deck, through the tangle of rope and rigging, I saw Mal. He was flanked by Corporalki guards, but his focus was trained on me. He’d been watching, waiting for me to turn. I stepped forward. The Darkling seized my arm. “No farther,” he said. “Let me talk to him,” I begged. I hated the desperation in my voice. “Not a chance. You two have a bad habit of acting like fools and calling it heroic.” The Darkling lifted his hand, and Mal’s guards started to lead him away. “Alina!” he yelled, and then grunted as a guard cuffed him hard across the face. “Mal!” I shouted as they dragged him, struggling, belowdecks. “Mal!” I flinched out of the Darkling’s grip, my throat choked with rage. “If you hurt him—” “I’m not going to hurt him,” he said. “At least not while he can be of use to me.” “I don’t want him harmed.” “He’s safe for now, Alina. But don’t test me. If one of you steps out of line, the other will suffer. I’ve told him the same.” I shut my eyes, trying to push back the fury and hopelessness I felt. We were right back where we’d started. I nodded once. Again, the Darkling shook his head. “You two make it so easy. I prick him, you bleed.” “And you can’t begin to understand that, can you?” He reached out and tapped Morozova’s collar, letting his fingers graze the skin of my throat. Even that faint touch opened the connection between us, and a rush of power vibrated through me like a bell being struck. “I understand enough,” he said softly. “I want to see him,” I managed. “Every day. I want to know he’s safe.” “Of course. I’m not cruel, Alina. Just cautious.” I almost laughed. “Is that why you had one of your monsters bite me?” “That’s not why,” he said, his gaze steady. He glanced at my shoulder. “Does it hurt?” “No,” I lied. The barest hint of a smile touched his lips. “It will get better,” he said. “But the wound can never be fully healed. Not even by Grisha.” “Those creatures—” “The nichevo’ya.” Nothings. I shuddered, remembering the skittering, clicking sounds they’d made, the gaping holes of their mouths. My shoulder throbbed. “What are they?” His lips tilted. The faint tracery of scars on his face was barely visible, like the ghost of a map. One ran perilously close to his right eye. He’d almost lost it. He cupped my cheek with his hand, and when he spoke, his voice was almost tender. “They’re just the beginning,” he whispered. He left me standing on the foredeck, my skin still alive with the touch of his fingers, my head swimming with questions. Before I could begin to sort through them, Ivan appeared and began yanking me back across the main deck. “Slow down,” I protested, but he just gave another jerk on my sleeve. I lost my footing and pitched forward. My knees banged painfully on the deck, and I barely had time to put up my shackled palms to break my fall. I winced as a splinter dug into my flesh. “Move,” Ivan ordered. I struggled to my knees. He nudged me with the toe of his boot, and my knee slipped out from beneath me, sending me back down to the deck with a loud thud. “I said move.” Then a large hand scooped me up and gently set me on my feet. When I turned, I was surprised to see the giant and the dark-haired girl. “Are you all right?” she asked. “This is none of your concern,” Ivan said angrily. “She’s Sturmhond’s prisoner,” replied the girl. “She should be treated accordingly.” Sturmhond. The name was familiar. Was this his ship, then? And his crew? There’d been talk of him aboard the Verrhader. He was a Ravkan privateer and a smuggler, infamous for breaking the Fjerdan blockade and for the fortune he’d made capturing enemy ships. But he wasn’t flying the double eagle flag. “She’s the Darkling’s prisoner,” said Ivan, “and a traitor.” “Maybe on land,” the girl shot back. Ivan gabbled something in Shu that I didn’t understand. The giant just laughed. “You speak Shu like a tourist,” he said. “And we don’t take orders from you in any language,” the girl added. Ivan smirked. “Don’t you?” His hand twitched, and the girl grabbed at her chest, buckling to one knee. Before I could blink, the giant had a wickedly curved blade in his hand and was lunging at Ivan. Lazily, Ivan flicked his other hand out, and the giant grimaced. Still, he kept coming. “Leave them alone,” I protested, tugging helplessly at my irons. I could summon light with my wrists bound, but I had no way to focus it. Ivan ignored me. His hand tightened into a fist. The giant stopped in his tracks, and the sword fell from his fingers. Sweat broke out on his brow as Ivan squeezed the life from his heart. “Let’s not get out of line, ye zho,” Ivan chided. “You’re killing him!” I said, panicked now. I rammed my shoulder into Ivan’s side, trying to knock him down. At that moment, a loud double click sounded. Ivan froze, his smirk evaporating. Behind him stood a tall boy around my age, maybe a few years older—ruddy hair, a broken nose. The too-clever fox. He had a cocked pistol in his hand, the barrel pressed against Ivan’s neck. “I’m a gracious host, bloodletter. But every house has rules.” Host. So this must be Sturmhond. He looked too young to be a captain of anything. Ivan dropped his hands. The giant sucked in air. The girl rose to her feet, still clutching her chest. They were both breathing hard, and their eyes burned with hate. “That’s a good fellow,” Sturmhond said to Ivan. “Now, I’ll take the prisoner back to her quarters, and you can run off and do … whatever it is you do when everyone else is working.” Ivan scowled. “I don’t think—” “Clearly. Why start now?” Ivan’s face flushed in anger. “You don’t—” Sturmhond leaned in close, the laughter gone from his voice, his easy demeanor replaced by something with a sword’s edge. “I don’t care who you are on land. On this ship, you’re nothing but ballast. Unless I put you over the side, in which case you’re shark bait. I like shark. Cooks up tough, but it makes for a little variety. Remember that the next time you have a mind to threaten anyone aboard this vessel.” He stepped back, his jolly manner restored. “Go on now, shark bait. Scurry back to your master.” “I won’t forget this, Sturmhond,” Ivan spat. The captain rolled his eyes. “That’s the idea.” Ivan turned on his heel and stomped off. Sturmhond holstered his weapon and smiled pleasantly. “Amazing how quickly a ship feels crowded, no?” He reached out and gave the giant and the girl each a pat on the shoulder. “You did well,” he said quietly. Their attention was still on Ivan. The girl’s fists were clenched. “I don’t want trouble,” the captain warned. “Understood?” They exchanged a glance, then nodded grudgingly. “Good,” said Sturmhond. “Get back to work. I’ll take her belowdecks.” They nodded again. Then, to my surprise, they each sketched a quick bow to me before they departed. “Are they related?” I asked, watching them go. “Twins,” he said. “Tolya and Tamar.” “And you’re Sturmhond.” “On my good days,” he replied. He wore leather breeches, a brace of pistols at his hips, and a bright teal frock coat with gaudy gold buttons and enormous cuffs. It belonged in a ballroom or on an opera stage, not on the deck of a ship. “What’s a pirate doing on a whaler?” I asked. “Privateer,” he corrected. “I have several ships. The Darkling wanted a whaler, so I got him one.” “You mean you stole it.” “Acquired it.” “You were in my cabin.” “Many women dream of me,” he said lightly as he steered me down the deck. “I saw you when I woke up,” I insisted. “I need—” He held up a hand. “Don’t waste your breath, lovely.” “But you don’t even know what I was going to say.” “You were about to plead your case, tell me you need my help, you can’t pay me but your heart is true, the usual thing.” I blinked. That was exactly what I’d been about to do. “But—” “Waste of breath, waste of time, waste of a fine afternoon,” he said. “I don’t like to see prisoners mistreated, but that’s as far as my interest goes.” “You—” He shook his head. “And I’m notoriously immune to tales of woe. So unless your story involves a talking dog, I don’t want to hear it. Does it?” “Does it what?” “Involve a talking dog.” “No,” I snapped. “It involves the future of a kingdom and everyone in it.” “A pity,” he said, and took me by the arm, leading me to the aft hatch. “I thought you worked for Ravka,” I said angrily. “I work for the fattest purse.” “So you’d sell your country to the Darkling for a little gold?” “No, for a lot of gold,” he said. “I assure you, I don’t come cheap.” He gestured to the hatch. “After you.” With Sturmhond’s help, I made it back down to my cabin, where two Grisha guards were waiting to lock me inside. The captain bowed and left me without another word. I sat down on my bunk, resting my head in my hands. Sturmhond could play the fool all he wanted. I knew he’d been in my cabin, and there had to be a reason. Or maybe I was just grasping at any little bit of hope. When Genya brought me my dinner tray, she found me curled up on my bunk, facing the wall. “You should eat,” she said. “Leave me alone.” “Sulking gives you wrinkles.” “Well, lying gives you warts,” I said sourly. She laughed, then entered and set down the tray. She crossed to the sidescuttle and glanced at her reflection in the glass. “Maybe I should go blond,” she said. “Corporalki red clashes horribly with my hair.” I cast a glance over my shoulder. “You know you could wear baked mud and outshine every girl on two continents.” “True,” she said with a grin. I didn’t return her smile. She sighed and studied the toes of her boots. “I missed you,” she said. I was surprised at how much those words hurt. I’d missed her, too. And I’d felt like a fool for it. “Were you ever my friend?” I asked. She sat down at the edge of the bunk. “Would it make a difference?” “I like to know just how stupid I’ve been.” “I loved being your friend, Alina. But I’m not sorry for what I did.” “And what the Darkling did? Are you sorry for that?” “I know you think he’s a monster, but he’s trying to do what’s right for Ravka, for all of us.” I shoved up to my elbows. I’d lived with the knowledge of the Darkling’s lies so long that it was easy to forget how few people knew what he really was. “Genya, he created the Fold.” “The Black Heretic—” “There is no Black Heretic,” I said, revealing the truth that Baghra had laid out before me months ago at the Little Palace. “He blamed his ancestor for the Fold, but there’s only ever been one Darkling, and all he cares about is power.” “That’s impossible. The Darkling has spent his life trying to free Ravka from the Fold.” “How can you say that after what he did to Novokribirsk?” The Darkling had used the power of the Unsea to destroy an entire town, a show of strength meant to cow his enemies and mark the start of his rule. And I’d made it possible. “I know there was … an incident.” “An incident? He killed hundreds of people, maybe thousands.” “And what about the people on the skiff?” she said quietly. I drew in a sharp breath and lay back. For a long moment, I studied the planks above me. I didn’t want to ask, but I knew I was going to. The question had haunted me over long weeks and miles of ocean. “Were there … were there other survivors?” “Besides Ivan and the Darkling?” I nodded, waiting. “Two Inferni who helped them escape,” she said. “A few soldiers from the First Army made it back, and a Squaller named Nathalia got out, but she died of her injuries a few days later.” I closed my eyes. How many people had been aboard that sandskiff? Thirty? Forty? I felt sick. I could hear the screams, the howls of the volcra. I could smell the gunpowder and blood. I’d sacrificed those people for Mal’s life, for my freedom, and in the end, they’d died for nothing. We were back in the Darkling’s grasp, and he was more powerful than ever. Genya laid her hand over mine. “You did what you had to, Alina.” I let out a harsh bark of laughter and yanked my hand away. “Is that what the Darkling tells you, Genya? Does that make it easier?” “Not really, no.” She looked down at her lap, pleating and unpleating the folds of her kefta. “He freed me, Alina,” she said. “What am I supposed to do? Run back to the palace? Back to the King?” She gave a fierce shake of her head. “No. I made my choice.” “What about the other Grisha?” I asked. “They can’t all have sided with the Darkling. How many of them stayed in Ravka?” Genya stiffened. “I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about that with you.” “Genya—” “Eat, Alina. Try to get some rest. We’ll be in the ice soon.” The ice. Then we weren’t headed back to Ravka. We must be traveling north. She stood up and brushed the dust off her kefta. She might joke about the color, but I knew how much it meant to her. It proved she was really a Grisha—protected, favored, a servant no more. I remembered the mysterious illness that had weakened the King just before the Darkling’s coup. Genya had been one of the few Grisha with access to the royal family. She’d used that access to earn the right to wear red. “Genya,” I said as she reached the door. “One more question.” She paused, her hand on the latch. It seemed so unimportant, so silly to mention it after all this time. But it was something that had bothered me for a long while. “The letters I wrote to Mal back at the Little Palace. He said he never got them.” She didn’t turn back to me, but I saw her shoulders sag. “They were never sent,” she whispered. “The Darkling said you needed to leave your old life behind.” She closed the door, and I heard the bolt click home. All those hours spent talking and laughing with Genya, drinking tea and trying on dresses. She’d been lying to me the whole time. The worst part about it was that the Darkling had been right. If I’d kept clinging to Mal and the memory of the love I had for him, I might never have mastered my power. But Genya didn’t know that. She had just followed orders and let my heart break. I didn’t know what that was, but it wasn’t friendship. I turned onto my side, feeling the gentle roll of the ship beneath me. Was this what it was like to be rocked to sleep in a mother’s arms? I couldn’t remember. Ana Kuya used to hum sometimes, under her breath, as she went about turning down the lamps and closing up the dormitories at Keramzin for the night. That was the closest Mal and I had ever come to a lullaby. Somewhere above, I heard a sailor shout something over the wind. The bell rang to signal the change of the watch. We’re alive, I reminded myself. We escaped from him before. We can do it again. But it was no good, and finally, I gave in and let the tears come. Sturmhond was bought and paid for. Genya had chosen the Darkling. Mal and I were alone as we’d always been, without friends or allies, surrounded by nothing but pitiless sea. This time, even if we escaped, there was nowhere to run. CHAPTER 3 LESS THAN A WEEK LATER, I spotted the first ice floes. We were far north, where the sea darkened and ice bloomed from its depths in perilous spikes. Though it was early summer, the wind bit into our skin. In the morning, the ropes were hard with frost. I spent hours pacing my cabin and staring out at the endless sea. Each morning, I was brought above deck, where I was given a chance to stretch my legs and see Mal from afar. Always, the Darkling stood by the railing, scanning the horizon, searching for something. Sturmhond and his crew kept their distance. On the seventh day, we passed between two slate stone islands that I recognized from my time as a mapmaker: Jelka and Vilki, the Fork and Knife. We had entered the Bone Road, the long stretch of black water where countless ships had wrecked on the nameless islands that appeared and disappeared in its mists. On maps, it was marked by sailors’ skulls, wide-mouthed monsters, mermaids with ice-white hair and the deep black eyes of seals. Only the most experienced Fjerdan hunters came here, seeking skins and furs, chancing death to claim rich prizes. But what prize did we seek? Sturmhond ordered the sails trimmed, and our pace slowed as we drifted through the mist. An uneasy silence blanketed the ship. I studied the whaler’s longboats, the racks of harpoons tipped in Grisha steel. It wasn’t hard to guess what they were for. The Darkling was after some kind of amplifier. I surveyed the ranks of Grisha and wondered who might be singled out for another of the Darkling’s “gifts.” But a terrible suspicion had taken root inside me. It’s madness, I told myself. He wouldn’t dare attempt it. The thought brought me little comfort. He always dared. * * * THE NEXT DAY, the Darkling ordered me brought to him. “Who is it for?” I asked as Ivan deposited me by the starboard rail. The Darkling just stared out into the waves. I considered shoving him over the railing. Sure, he was hundreds of years old, but could he swim? “Tell me you’re not contemplating what I think you are,” I said. “Tell me the amplifier is for some other stupid, gullible girl.” “Someone less stubborn? Less selfish? Less hungry for the life of a mouse? Believe me,” he said, “I wish I could.” I felt sick. “A Grisha can have only one amplifier. You told me that yourself.” “Morozova’s amplifiers are different.” I gaped at him. “There’s another like the stag?” “They were meant to be used together, Alina. They are unique, just as we are.” I thought of the books I’d read on Grisha theory. Every one of them had said the same thing: Grisha power was not meant to be limitless; it had to be held in check. “No,” I said. “I don’t want this. I want—” “You want,” the Darkling mocked. “I want to watch your tracker die slowly with my knife in his heart. I want to let the sea swallow you both. But our fates are entwined now, Alina, and there’s nothing either of us can do about that.” “You’re mad.” “I know it pleases you to think so,” he said. “But the amplifiers must be brought together. If we have any hope of controlling the Fold—” “You can’t control the Fold. It has to be destroyed.” “Careful, Alina,” he said with a slight smile. “I’ve had the same thought about you.” He gestured to Ivan, who was waiting a respectful distance away. “Bring me the boy.” My heart leapt into my throat. “Wait,” I said. “You told me you wouldn’t hurt him.” He ignored me. Like a fool, I looked around. As if anyone on this saintsforsaken ship would hear my appeal. Sturmhond stood by the wheel, watching us, his face impassive. I snatched at the Darkling’s sleeve. “We had a deal. I haven’t done anything. You said—” The Darkling looked at me with cool quartz eyes, and the words died on my lips. A moment later, Ivan appeared with Mal in tow and steered him over to the rail. He stood before us, squinting in the sunlight, hands bound. It was the closest we’d been in weeks. Though he looked tired and pale, he appeared unharmed. I saw the question in his wary expression, but I had no answer. “All right, tracker,” the Darkling said. “Track.” Mal glanced from the Darkling to me and back again. “Track what? We’re in the middle of the ocean.” “Alina once told me that you could make rabbits out of rocks. I questioned the crew of the Verrhader myself, and they claim that you’re just as capable at sea. They seemed to think you could make some lucky captain very rich with your expertise.” Mal frowned. “You want me to hunt whales?” “No,” said the Darkling. “I want you to hunt the sea whip.” We stared at him in shock. I almost laughed. “You’re looking for a dragon?” Mal said incredulously. “The ice dragon,” said the Darkling. “Rusalye.” Rusalye. In the stories, the sea whip was a cursed prince, forced to take the form of a sea serpent and guard the frigid waters of the Bone Road. That was Morozova’s second amplifier? “It’s a fairy tale,” Mal said, voicing my own thoughts. “A children’s story. It doesn’t actually exist.” “There have been sightings of the sea whip in these waters for years,” said the Darkling. “Along with mermaids and white selkies. It’s a myth.” The Darkling arched a brow. “Like the stag?” Mal glanced at me. I gave an infinitesimal shake of my head. Whatever the Darkling was doing, we weren’t going to help. Mal peered out at the waves. “I wouldn’t even know where to start.” “For her sake, I hope that’s not true.” The Darkling pulled a slender knife from the folds of his kefta. “Because every day we don’t find the sea whip, I’ll peel away a piece of her skin. Slowly. Then Ivan will heal her, and the next day, we’ll do it all over again.” I felt the blood drain from my face. “You won’t hurt her,” Mal said, but I could hear the fear in his voice. “I don’t want to hurt her,” said the Darkling. “I want you to do as I ask.” “It took me months to find the stag,” Mal said desperately. “I still don’t know how we did it.” Sturmhond stepped forward. I’d been so focused on Mal and the Darkling, I’d nearly forgotten him. “I won’t have a girl tortured on my ship,” he said. The Darkling turned his cold gaze on the privateer. “You work for me, Sturmhond. You’ll do your job or getting paid will be the least of your worries.” An ugly ripple of disquiet passed over the ship. Sturmhond’s crew were sizing up the Grisha, and their expressions were not friendly. Genya had a hand pressed over her mouth, but she did not say a word. “Give the tracker some time,” Sturmhond said quietly. “A week. At least a few days.” The Darkling slid his fingers up my arm, pushing back my sleeve to reveal bare white flesh. “Shall I start with her arm?” he asked. He dropped the sleeve, then brushed his knuckles over my cheek. “Or with her face?” He nodded to Ivan. “Hold her.” Ivan clasped the back of my head. The Darkling lifted the knife. I saw it glittering from the corner of my eye. I tried to cringe back, but Ivan held me in place. The blade met my cheek. I sucked in a frightened breath. “Stop!” Mal shouted. The Darkling waited. “I … I can do it.” “Mal, no,” I said with more courage than I felt. Mal swallowed and said, “Tack southwest. Back the way we came.” I stayed very still. Had he seen something? Or was he just trying to keep me from getting hurt? The Darkling cocked his head to one side and studied him. “I think you know better than to play games with me, tracker.” Mal gave a sharp nod. “I can do it. I can find it. Just … just give me time.” The Darkling sheathed his knife. I exhaled slowly and tried to suppress a shiver. “You have a week,” he said, turning away and disappearing into the hatch. “Bring her,” he called to Ivan. “Mal—” I began as Ivan grasped my arm. Mal lifted his bound hands, reaching for me. His fingers grazed mine briefly, then Ivan was hauling me back toward the hatch. My mind was racing as we descended into the dank belly of the ship. I stumbled along behind Ivan, trying to make sense of everything that had just happened. The Darkling had said that he wouldn’t harm Mal as long as he needed him. I’d assumed he just meant to use him to keep me in line, but now it was clear there was more to it than that. Did Mal really think he could find the sea whip, or was he stalling for time? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be true. I didn’t savor the idea of being tortured, but what if we did find the ice dragon? What would a second amplifier mean? Ivan pulled me into a spacious cabin that looked like the captain’s quarters. Sturmhond must have been squeezed in with the rest of his crew. A bed was pushed into one corner, and the deeply curved aft wall was studded with a row of thick-paned windows. They shed watery light on a desk behind which the Darkling seated himself. Ivan bowed and darted from the room, closing the door behind him. “He can’t wait to get away from you,” I said, hovering by the door. “He’s afraid of what you’ve become. They all are.” “Do you fear me, Alina?” “That’s what you want, isn’t it?” The Darkling shrugged. “Fear is a powerful ally,” he said. “And loyal.” He was watching me in that cold, assessing way that always made me feel as if he were reading me like words on a page, his fingers moving over the text, gleaning some secret knowledge that I could only guess at. I tried not to fidget, but the irons at my wrists chafed. “I’d like to free you,” he said quietly. “Free me, flay me. So many options.” I could still feel the press of his knife at my cheek. He sighed. “It was a threat, Alina. It accomplished what it needed to.” “So you wouldn’t have cut me?” “I didn’t say that.” His voice was pleasant and matter-of-fact, as always. He might have been threatening to carve me up or ordering his dinner. In the dim light, I could just make out the fine traces of his scars. I knew I should stay quiet, force him to speak first, but my curiosity was too great. “How did you survive?” He ran his hand over the sharp line of his jaw. “It seems the volcra did not care for the taste of my flesh,” he said, almost idly. “Have you ever noticed that they do not feed on each other?” I shuddered. They were his creations, just like the thing that had buried its teeth in my shoulder. The skin there still pulsed. “Like calls to like.” “It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat. I’ve had my fill of the volcra’s mercy. And yours.” I crossed the room, coming to stand before the desk. “Then why give me a second amplifier?” I asked desperately, grasping for an argument that would somehow make him see sense. “In case you’ve forgotten, I tried to kill you.” “And failed.” “Here’s to second chances. Why make me stronger?” Again, he shrugged. “Without Morozova’s amplifiers, Ravka is lost. You were meant to have them, just as I was meant to rule. It can be no other way.” “How convenient for you.” He leaned back and folded his arms. “You have been anything but convenient, Alina.” “You can’t combine amplifiers. All the books say the same thing—” “Not all the books.” I wanted to scream in frustration. “Baghra warned me. She said you were arrogant, blinded by ambition.” “Did she now?” His voice was ice. “And what other treason did she whisper in your ear?” “That she loved you,” I said angrily. “That she believed you could be redeemed.” He looked away then, but not before I saw the flash of pain on his face. What had he done to her? And what had it cost him? “Redemption,” he murmured. “Salvation. Penance. My mother’s quaint ideas. Perhaps I should have paid closer attention.” He reached into the desk and drew out a slender red volume. As he held it up, light glinted off the gold lettering on its cover: Istorii Sankt’ya. “Do you know what this is?” I frowned. The Lives of Saints. A dim memory came back to me. The Apparat had given me a copy months ago at the Little Palace. I’d thrown it in the drawer of my dressing table and never spared it another thought. “It’s a children’s book,” I said. “Have you read it?” “No,” I admitted, suddenly wishing I had. The Darkling was watching me too closely. What could be so important about an old collection of religious drawings? “Superstition,” he said glancing down at the cover. “Peasant propaganda. Or so I thought. Morozova was a strange man. He was a bit like you, drawn to the ordinary and the weak.” “Mal isn’t weak.” “He’s gifted, I grant you, but no Grisha. He can never be your equal.” “He’s my equal and more,” I spat. The Darkling shook his head. If I hadn’t known better, I might have mistaken the look on his face for pity. “You think you’ve found a family with him. You think you’ve found a future. But you will grow powerful, and he will grow old. He will live his short otkazat’sya life, and you will watch him die.” “Shut up.” He smiled. “Go on, stamp your foot, fight your true nature. All the while, your country suffers.” “Because of you!” “Because I put my trust in a girl who cannot stand the thought of her own potential.” He rose and rounded the desk. Despite my anger, I took a step back, banging into the chair behind me. “I know what you feel when you’re with the tracker,” he said. “I doubt that.” He gave a dismissive wave. “No, not the absurd pining you’ve yet to outgrow. I know the truth in your heart. The loneliness. The growing knowledge of your own difference.” He leaned in closer. “The ache of it.” I tried to hide the shock of recognition that went through me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, but the words sounded false to my ears. “It will never fade, Alina. It will only grow worse, no matter how many scarves you hide behind or what lies you tell, no matter how far or how fast you run.” I tried to turn away, but he reached out and took hold of my chin, forcing me to look at him. He was so close I could feel his breath. “There are no others like us, Alina,” he whispered. “And there never will be.” I lurched away from him, knocking the chair over, nearly losing my balance. I pounded on the door with my iron-bound fists, calling out to Ivan as the Darkling looked on. He didn’t come until the Darkling gave the order. Dimly, I registered Ivan’s hand at my back, the stench of the corridor, a sailor letting us pass, then the quiet of my narrow cabin, the door locking behind me, the bunk, the scratch of rough fabric as I pressed my face into the covers, trembling, trying to drive the Darkling’s words from my head. Mal’s death. The long life before me. The pain of otherness that would never ease. Each fear sank into me, a barbed talon burrowing deep into my heart. I knew he was a practiced liar. He could fake any emotion, play on any human failing. But I couldn’t deny what I’d felt in Novyi Zem or the truth of what the Darkling had shown me: my own sadness, my own longing, reflected back to me in his bleak gray eyes. * * * THE MOOD HAD changed aboard the whaler. The crew had grown restless and watchful, the slight to their captain still fresh in their minds. The Grisha muttered amongst themselves, their nerves worn thin by our slow progress through the waters of the Bone Road. Each day, the Darkling had me brought above deck to stand beside him at the prow. Mal was kept well guarded at the other end of the ship. Sometimes, I heard him call out bearings to Sturmhond or saw him gesture to what looked like deep scratches just above the waterline on the large ice shelves we passed. I peered at the rough grooves. They might be claw marks. They might be nothing at all. Still, I’d seen what Mal was capable of in Tsibeya. When we were tracking the stag, he had shown me broken branches, trampled grass, signs that seemed obvious once he pointed them out but that had been invisible moments before. The crewmen seemed skeptical. The Grisha were outright contemptuous. At dusk, when another day had come and gone, the Darkling would parade me across the deck and down through the hatch directly in front of Mal. We weren’t permitted to speak. I tried to hold his gaze, to tell him silently that I was all right, but I could see his fury and desperation growing, and I was powerless to reassure him. Once, when I stumbled by the hatch, the Darkling caught me up against himself. He might have let me go, but he lingered, and before I could pull away, he let his hand graze the small of my back. Mal surged forward, and it was only the grip of his Grisha guards that kept him from charging the Darkling. “Three more days, tracker.” “Leave her alone,” Mal snarled. “I’ve kept my end of the bargain. She’s still unharmed. But perhaps that isn’t what you fear?” Mal looked frayed to the point of snapping. His face was pale, his mouth a taut line, the muscles of his forearms knotted as he strained against his bonds. I couldn’t bear it. “I’m fine,” I said softly, risking the Darkling’s knife. “He can’t hurt me.” It was a lie, but it felt good on my lips. The Darkling looked from me to Mal, and I glimpsed that bleak, yawning fissure within him. “Don’t worry, tracker. You’ll know when our deal is up.” He shoved me belowdecks, but not before I heard his parting words to Mal—“I’ll be certain you hear it when I make her scream.” * * * THE WEEK WORE ON, and on the sixth day, Genya woke me early. As I gathered my wits, I realized it was barely dawn. Fear sliced through me. Maybe the Darkling had decided to cut short my reprieve and make good on this threats. But Genya was beaming. “He found something!” she crowed, bouncing on the soles of her feet, practically dancing as she helped me from the bunk. “The tracker says we’re close!” “His name is Mal,” I muttered, pulling away from her. I ignored her stricken look. Can it be true? I wondered as Genya led me above. Or did Mal simply hope to buy me more time? We emerged into the dim gray light of early morning. The deck was crowded with Grisha gazing out at the water while the Squallers worked the winds, and Sturmhond’s crew managed the sails above. The mist was heavier than the day before. It clung thick against the water and crawled in damp tendrils over the ship’s hull. The silence was broken only by Mal’s directions and the orders Sturmhond called. When we entered a wide, open stretch of sea, Mal turned to the Darkling and said, “I think we’re close.” “You think?” Mal gave a single nod. The Darkling considered. If Mal was stalling, his efforts were doomed to be short-lived, and the price would be high. After what felt like an eternity, the Darkling nodded to Sturmhond. “Trim the sails,” commanded the privateer, and the topmen moved to obey. Ivan tapped the Darkling’s shoulder and gestured to the southern horizon. “A ship, moi soverenyi.” I squinted at the tiny smudge. “Are they flying colors?” the Darkling asked Sturmhond. “Probably fishermen,” Sturmhond said. “But we’ll keep an eye on her just in case.” He signaled to one of his crewmen, who went scurrying up the main royal with a long glass in hand. The longboats were prepared and, in minutes, they were being lowered over the starboard side, loaded with Sturmhond’s men and bristling with harpoons. The Darkling’s Grisha crowded by the rail to view the boats’ progress. The mist seemed to magnify the steady slap of the oars against the waves. I took a step toward Mal. Everyone’s attention was focused on the men in the water. Only Genya was watching me. She hesitated, then deliberately turned and joined the others at the railing. Mal and I faced forward, but we were close enough that our shoulders touched. “Tell me you’re all right,” he murmured, his voice raw. I nodded, swallowing the lump in my throat. “I’m fine,” I said softly. “Is it out there?” “I don’t know. Maybe. There were times when I was tracking the stag that I thought we were close and … Alina, if I’m wrong—” I turned then, not caring who saw us or what punishment I might receive. The mist was rising off the water now, creeping along the deck. I looked up at him, taking in every detail of his face: the bright blue of his irises, the curve of his lip, the scar that ran the length of his jaw. Behind him, I glimpsed Tamar scampering up the rigging, a lantern in her hands. “None of this is your fault, Mal. None of it.” He lowered his head, setting his forehead against mine. “I won’t let him hurt you.” We both knew he was powerless to stop it, but the truth of that was too painful, so I just said, “I know.” “You’re humoring me,” he said with the hint of a grin. “You require a lot of coddling.” He pressed his lips to the top of my head. “We’ll find a way out of this, Alina. We always do.” I rested my ironbound hands against his chest and closed my eyes. We were alone on an icy sea, prisoners of a man who could literally make monsters, and yet somehow I believed. I leaned into him, and for the first time in days, I let myself hope. A cry rang out: “Two points off the starboard bow!” As one, our heads turned, and I stilled. Something was moving in the mist, a shimmering, undulating white shape. “Saints,” Mal breathed. At that moment, the creature’s back breached the waves, its body cutting through the water in a sinuous arch, rainbows sparking off the iridescent scales on its back. Rusalye. CHAPTER 4 RUSALYE WAS A folk story, a fairy tale, a creature of dreams that lived on the edges of maps. But there could be no doubt. The ice dragon was real, and Mal had found it, just as he had found the stag. It felt wrong, like everything was happening too quickly, as if we were rushing toward something we didn’t understand. A shout from the longboats drew my attention. A man on the boat nearest the sea whip stood up, a harpoon in his hand, taking aim. But the dragon’s white tail lashed through the sea, split the waves, and came down with a slap, sending a rolling wall of water up against the boat’s hull. The man with the harpoon sat down hard as the longboat tipped precariously, then righted itself at the last moment. Good, I thought. Fight them. Then the other boat let fly their harpoons. The first went wide and splashed harmlessly in the water. The second lodged in the sea whip’s hide. It bucked, tail whipping back and forth, then reared up like a snake, hurling its body out of the water. For a moment, it hung suspended in the air: translucent winglike fins, gleaming scales, and wrathful red eyes. Beads of water flew from its mane and its massive jaws opened, revealing a pink tongue and rows of gleaming teeth. It came down on the nearest boat with a loud crash of splintering wood. The slender craft split in two, and men poured into the sea. The dragon’s maw snapped closed over a sailor’s legs and he vanished, screaming, beneath the waves. With furious strokes, the rest of the crewmen swam through the bloodstained water, making for the remaining longboat, where they were hauled over the side. I glanced back up to the whaler’s rigging. The tops of the masts were shrouded in mist now, but I could still make out the light of Tamar’s lantern burning steadily atop the main royal. Another harpoon found its target and the sea whip began to sing, a sound more lovely than anything I’d ever heard, a choir of voices lifted in a plaintive, wordless song. No, I realized, not a song. The sea whip was crying out, writhing and rolling in the waves as the longboats gave chase, struggling to shake the hooked tips of the harpoons free. Fight, I pleaded silently. Once he has you, he’ll never let you go. But I could already see the dragon slowing, its movements growing sluggish as its cries wavered, mournful now, their music bleak and fading. Part of me wished the Darkling would just end it. Why didn’t he? Why not use the Cut on the sea whip and bind me to him as he had done with the stag? “Nets!” shouted Sturmhond. But the mist had grown so thick that I couldn’t quite tell where his voice was coming from. I heard a series of thunks from somewhere near the starboard rail. “Clear the mist,” ordered the Darkling. “We’re losing the longboat.” I heard the Grisha calling to one another and then felt the billow of Squaller winds tugging at the hem of my coat. The mist lifted, and my jaw dropped. The Darkling and his Grisha still stood on the starboard side, attention focused on the longboat that now seemed to be rowing away from the whaler. But on the port side, another ship had appeared as if from nowhere, a sleek schooner with gleaming masts and colors flying: a red dog on a teal field—and below it, in pale blue and gold, the Ravkan double eagle. I heard another series of thunks and saw steel claws studding the whaler’s portside rail. Grappling hooks, I realized. And then everything seemed to happen at once. A howl went up from somewhere, like a wolf baying at the moon. Men swarmed over the rail onto the whaler’s deck, pistols strapped to their chests, cutlasses in their hands, yowling and barking like a pack of wild dogs. I saw the Darkling turn, confusion and rage on his face. “What the hell is going on?” Mal said, stepping in front of me as we edged toward the meager protection of the mizzenmast. “I don’t know,” I replied. “Something very good or something very, very bad.” We stood back-to-back, my hands still trapped in irons, his still bound, powerless to defend ourselves as the deck erupted into fighting. Pistol shots rang out. The air came alive with Inferni fire. “To me, hounds!” Sturmhond shouted, and plunged into the action, a saber in his hands. Barking, yipping, snarling men were descending on the Darkling’s Grisha from all sides—not just from the railing of the schooner but from the rigging of the whaler as well. Sturmhond’s men. Sturmhond was turning against the Darkling. The privateer had clearly lost his mind. Yes, the Grisha were outnumbered, but numbers didn’t matter in a fight with the Darkling. “Look!” Mal shouted. Down in the water, the men in the remaining longboat had the struggling sea whip in tow. They had raised a sail, and a brisk wind was driving them, not toward the whaler but directly toward the schooner instead. The stiff breeze that carried them seemed to come from nowhere. I looked closer. A crewman was standing in the longboat, arms raised. There was no mistaking it: Sturmhond had a Squaller working for him. Suddenly, an arm seized me around the waist and I was lifted off my feet. The world seemed to upend itself, and I shrieked as I was thrown over a huge shoulder. I lifted my head, struggling against the arm that held me like a steel band, and saw Tamar rushing toward Mal, a knife gleaming in her hands. “No!” I screamed. “Mal!” He put up his hands to defend himself, but all she did was slice through his bonds. “Go!” she shouted, tossing him the knife and drawing a sword from the scabbard at her hip. Tolya clutched me tighter as he sprinted over the deck. Tamar and Mal were close behind. “What are you doing?” I squawked, my head jouncing against the giant’s back. “Just run!” Tamar replied, slashing at a Corporalnik who threw himself into her path. “I can’t run,” I shouted back. “Your idiot brother has me slung over his shoulder like a ham!” “Do you want to be rescued or not?” I didn’t have time to answer. “Hold tight,” Tolya said. “We’re going over.” I squeezed my eyes shut, preparing to tumble into the icy water. But Tolya hadn’t gone more than a few steps when he gave a sudden grunt and fell to one knee, losing his grip on me. I toppled to the deck and rolled clumsily onto my side. When I looked up, I saw Ivan and a blue-robed Inferni standing over us. Ivan’s hand was outstretched. He was crushing Tolya’s heart, and this time, Sturmhond wasn’t there to stop him. The Inferni advanced on Tamar and Mal, flint in hand, arm already moving in an arc of flame. Over before it began, I thought miserably. But in the next moment, the Inferni stopped and gasped. His flames died on the air. “What are you waiting for?” Ivan snarled. The Inferni’s only response was a choked hiss. His eyes bulged. He clawed at his throat. Tamar held her sword in her right hand, but her left fist was clenched. “Good trick,” she said, swatting away the paralyzed Inferni’s flint. “I know a good trick, too.” She raised her blade, and as the Inferni stood helpless, desperate for air, she ran him through with one vicious thrust. The Inferni crumpled to the deck. Ivan stared in confusion at Tamar standing over the lifeless body, her sword dripping blood. His concentration must have wavered, because in that moment, Tolya came up from his knee with a terrifying roar. Ivan clenched his fist, refocusing his efforts. Tolya grimaced, but he did not fall. Then the giant’s hand shot out, and Ivan’s face spasmed in pain and bewilderment. I looked from Tolya to Tamar, realization dawning. They were Grisha. Heartrenders. “Do you like that, little man?” Tolya asked as he stalked toward Ivan. Desperately, Ivan cast out another hand. He was shaking, and I could see he was struggling for breath. Tolya bobbled slightly but kept coming. “Now we learn who has the stronger heart,” he growled. He strode slowly forward, like he was walking against a hard wind, his face beaded with sweat, his teeth bared in feral glee. I wondered if he and Ivan would both just fall down dead. Then the fingers of Tolya’s outstretched hand curled into a fist. Ivan convulsed. His eyes rolled up in his head. A bubble of blood blossomed and burst on his lips. He collapsed onto the deck. Dimly, I was aware of the chaos raging around me. Tamar was struggling with a Squaller. Two other Grisha had leapt onto Tolya. I heard a gunshot and realized Mal had gotten hold of a pistol. But all I could see was Ivan’s lifeless body. He was dead. The Darkling’s right hand. One of the most powerful Heartrenders in the Second Army. He’d survived the Fold and the volcra, and now he was dead. A tiny sob drew me out of my reverie. Genya stood gazing down at Ivan, her hands over her mouth. “Genya—” I said. “Stop them!” The shout came from across the deck. I turned and saw the Darkling grappling with an armed sailor. Genya was shaking. She reached into the pocket of her kefta and drew out a pistol. Tolya lunged toward her. “No!” I said, stepping between them. I wasn’t going to watch him kill Genya. The heavy pistol trembled in her hand. “Genya,” I said quietly, “are you really going to shoot me?” She looked around wildly, unsure of where to aim. I laid a hand on her sleeve. She flinched and turned the barrel on me. A crack like thunder rent the air, and I knew the Darkling had gotten free. I looked back and saw a wave of darkness tumbling toward us. It’s over, I thought. We’re done for. But in the next instant, I glimpsed a bright flash and a shot rang out. The swell of darkness blew away to nothing, and I saw the Darkling clutching his arm, his face contorted in fury and pain. In disbelief, I realized he’d been shot. Sturmhond was racing toward us, pistols in hand. “Run!” he shouted. “Come on, Alina!” Mal cried, reaching for my arm. “Genya,” I said desperately, “come with us.” Her hand was shaking so badly I thought the pistol might fly from her grip. Tears spilled over her cheeks. “I can’t,” she sobbed brokenly. She lowered her weapon. “Go, Alina,” she said. “Just go.” In the next instant, Tolya had tossed me over his shoulder again. I beat futilely at his broad back. “No!” I yelled. “Wait!” But no one paid me any mind. Tolya took a running leap and vaulted over the railing. I screamed as we plummeted toward the icy water, bracing for the impact. Instead, we were scooped up by what could only have been a Squaller wind and deposited on the attacking schooner’s deck with a bone-jarring thud. Tamar and Mal followed, with Sturmhond close behind. “Give the signal,” Sturmhond shouted, springing to his feet. A piercing whistle blew. “Privyet,” he called to a crewman I didn’t recognize, “how many do we have?” “Eight men down,” replied Privyet. “Four remaining on the whaler. Cargo on its way up.” “Saints,” Sturmhond swore. He looked back to the whaler, struggling with himself. “Musketeers!” he shouted to the men on the schooner’s maintop. “Lend them cover!” The musketeers began firing their rifles down onto the deck of the whaler. Tolya tossed Mal a rifle, then slung another over his back. He leapt into the rigging and began to climb. Tamar drew a pistol from her hip. I was still sprawled on the deck in an undignified tangle, my hands held useless in irons. “Sea whip is secured, kapitan!” shouted Privyet. Two more of Sturmhond’s men hurdled over the whaler’s railing and flew through the air, arms pinwheeling wildly, to crash in a heap on the schooner’s deck. One was bleeding badly from a wound to his arm. Then it came again, the boom of thunder. “He’s up!” called Tamar. Blackness tumbled toward us, engulfing the schooner, blotting out everything in its path. “Free me!” I pleaded. “Let me help!” Sturmhond threw Tamar the keys and shouted, “Do it!” Tamar reached for my wrists, fumbling with the key as darkness rolled over us. We were blind. I heard someone scream. Then the lock clicked free. The irons fell from my wrists and hit the deck with a dull clang. I raised my hands, and light blazed through the dark, pushing the blackness back over the whaler. A cheer went up from Sturmhond’s crew, but it withered on their lips as another sound filled the air—a grating shriek, piercing in its wrongness, the creak of a door swinging open, a door that should have remained forever shut. The wound in my shoulder gave a sharp throb. Nichevo’ya. I turned to Sturmhond. “We have to get out of here,” I said. “Now.” He hesitated, battling himself. Two of his men were still aboard the whaler. His expression hardened. “Topmen make sail!” he shouted. “Squallers due east!” I saw a row of sailors standing by the masts raise their arms and heard a whump as the canvas above us swelled with a hard-driving wind. Just how many Grisha did the privateer have in his crew? But the Darkling’s Squallers had arranged themselves on the whaler’s deck and were sending their own winds to buffet us. The schooner rocked unsteadily. “Portside guns!” roared Sturmhond. “Rolling broadside. On my signal!” I heard two shrill whistle blasts. A deafening boom shook the ship, then another and another, as the schooner’s guns opened up a gaping hole in the whaler’s hull. A panicked shout went up from the Darkling’s ship. Sturmhond’s Squallers seized the advantage, and the schooner surged free. As the smoke from the cannons cleared, I saw a figure in black step up to the railing of the disabled whaler. Another wave of darkness rushed toward us, but this one was different. It writhed over the water as if it were clawing its way forward, and with it came the eerie clicking of a thousand angry insects. The darkness frothed and foamed, like a wave breaking over a boulder, and began to separate itself into shapes. Beside me, Mal muttered a prayer and lifted his rifle to his shoulder. I focused my power and slashed out with the Cut, burning through the black cloud, trying to destroy the nichevo’ya before they could take their full form. But I couldn’t stop them all. They came on in a moaning horde of black teeth and claws. Sturmhond’s crew opened fire. The nichevo’ya reached the masts of the schooner, whirling around the sails, plucking sailors from the rigging like fruit. Then they were skittering down onto the deck. Mal fired again and again as the crewmen drew their sabers, but bullets and blades seemed only to slow the monsters. Their shadow bodies wavered and re-formed, and they just kept coming. The schooner was still moving ahead, widening the distance between itself and the whaler. Not fast enough. I heard that shrieking moan, and another wave of shifting, slithering dark was headed toward us, already separating into winged bodies, reinforcements for the shadow soldiers. Sturmhond saw it, too. He pointed to one of the Squallers still summoning wind to the sails. “Lightning,” he shouted. I flinched. He couldn’t mean it. Squallers were never permitted to draw lightning. It was too unpredictable, too dangerous—and on open seas? With wooden ships? But Sturmhond’s Grisha didn’t hesitate. The Squallers clapped their hands together, rubbing their palms back and forth. My ears popped as the pressure plummeted. The air crackled with current. We had just enough time to hurl ourselves to the deck as jagged bolts of lightning zigzagged across the sky. The new wave of nichevo’ya scattered in momentary confusion. “Go!” Sturmhond bellowed. “Squallers at full!” Mal and I were thrown against the railing as the schooner shot forward. The sleek ship seemed to fly over the waves. I saw another black swell billow out from the side of the whaler. I lurched to my feet and braced myself, gathering my strength for another onslaught. But it did not come. It seemed there was a limit to the Darkling’s power. We’d edged out of his range. I leaned over the railing. The wind and sea spray stung my skin as the Darkling’s ship and his monsters disappeared from view. Something between a laugh and a sob racked my chest. Mal threw his arms around me, and I held tight, feeling the wet press of his shirt against my cheek, listening to the pounding of his heart, clinging to the unbelievable truth that we were still alive. Then, despite the blood they’d shed and the friends they’d lost, the schooner’s crew broke into cheers. They whooped and hollered and barked and growled. In the rigging, Tolya lifted his rifle with one hand and threw his head back, releasing a howl of triumph that lifted the hair on my arms. Mal and I drew apart, gazing at the crewmen yipping and laughing around us. I knew we were both thinking the same thing: Just what had we gotten ourselves into? CHAPTER 5 WE SLUMPED BACK against the railing and scooted down until we were seated beside each other, exhausted and dazed. We’d escaped the Darkling, but we were on a strange ship, surrounded by a bunch of crazed Grisha dressed as sailors and howling like mad dogs. “You all right?” Mal asked. I nodded. The wound in my shoulder felt like it was on fire, but I was unhurt and my whole body was thrumming from using my power again. “You?” I asked. “Not a scratch on me,” Mal said in disbelief. The ship rode the waves at seemingly impossible speed, driven forward by Squallers and what I realized were Tidemakers. As the terror and thrill of the battle receded, I noticed I was soaked. My teeth began to chatter. Mal put his arm around me, and at some point, one of the crew dropped a blanket over us. Finally, Sturmhond called a halt and ordered the sails trimmed. The Squallers and Tidemakers dropped their arms and fell against each other, completely spent. Their power had left their faces glowing, their eyes alight. The schooner slowed until it rocked gently in what suddenly seemed like an overwhelming silence. “Keep a watch,” Sturmhond commanded, and Privyet sent a sailor up into the shrouds with a long glass. Mal and I slowly got to our feet. Sturmhond walked down the row of exhausted Etherealki, clapping Squallers and Tidemakers on the back and saying quiet words to a few of them. I saw him directing injured sailors belowdecks, where I assumed they’d be seen by a ship’s surgeon or maybe a Corporalki Healer. The privateer seemed to have every kind of Grisha in his employ. Then Sturmhond strode toward me, pulling a knife from his belt. My hands went up, and Mal stepped in front of me, leveling his rifle at Sturmhond’s chest. Instantly, I heard swords being drawn and pistols cocking all around us as the crew drew their weapons. “Easy, Oretsev,” Sturmhond said, his steps slowing. “I’ve just gone to a lot of trouble and expense to put you on my ship. Be a shame to fill you full of holes now.” He flipped the knife over, offering the hilt to me. “This is for the beast.” The sea whip. In the excitement of the battle, I’d almost forgotten. Mal hesitated, then cautiously lowered his rifle. “Stand down,” Sturmhond instructed his crew. They holstered their pistols and put up their swords. Sturmhond nodded to Tamar. “Haul it in.” On Tamar’s orders, a group of sailors leaned over the starboard rail and unlashed a complex webbing of ropes. They heaved, and slowly raised the sea whip’s body over the schooner’s side. It thumped to the deck, still struggling weakly in the silvery confines of the net. It gave a vicious thrash, its huge teeth snapping. We all jumped back. “As I understand it, you have to be the one,” said Sturmhond, holding the knife out to me once more. I eyed the privateer, wondering how much he might know about amplifiers, and this amplifier in particular. “Go on,” he said. “We need to get moving. The Darkling’s ship is disabled, but it won’t stay that way.” The blade in Sturmhond’s hand gleamed dully in the sun. Grisha steel. Somehow I wasn’t surprised. Still, I hesitated. “I just lost thirteen good men,” Sturmhond said quietly. “Don’t tell me it was all for nothing.” I looked at the sea whip. It lay twitching on the deck, air fluttering through its gills, its red eyes cloudy, but still full of rage. I remembered the stag’s dark, steady gaze, the quiet panic of its final moments. The stag had lived so long in my imagination that, when it had finally stepped from the trees and into the snowy glade, it had been almost familiar to me, known. The sea whip was a stranger, more myth than reality, despite the sad and solid truth of its broken body. “Either way, it won’t survive,” the privateer said. I grasped the knife’s hilt. It felt heavy in my hand. Is this mercy? It certainly wasn’t the same mercy I had shown Morozova’s stag. Rusalye. The cursed prince, guardian of the Bone Road. In the stories, he lured lonely maidens onto his back and carried them, laughing, over the waves, until they were too far from shore to cry for help. Then he dove down, dragging them beneath the surface to his underwater palace. The girls wasted away, for there was nothing to eat there but coral and pearls. Rusalye wept and sang his mournful song over their bodies, then returned to the surface to claim another queen. Just stories, I told myself. It’s not a prince, just an animal in pain. The sea whip’s sides heaved. It snapped its jaws uselessly in the air. Two harpoons extended from its back, watery blood trickling from the wounds. I held up the knife, unsure of what to do, where to put the blade. My arms shook. The sea whip gave a wheezing, pitiful sigh, a weak echo of that magical choir. Mal strode forward. “End it, Alina,” he said hoarsely. “For Saints’ sake.” He pulled the knife from my grip and dropped it to the deck. He took hold of my hands and closed them over the shaft of one of the harpoons. With one clean thrust, we drove it home. The sea whip shuddered and then went still, its blood pooling on the deck. Mal looked down at his hands, then wiped them on his torn shirt and turned away. Tolya and Tamar came forward. My stomach churned. I knew what had to come next. That isn’t true, said a voice in my head. You can walk away. Leave it be. Again, I had the sense that things were moving too fast. But I couldn’t just throw an amplifier like this back into the sea. The dragon had already given up its life. And taking the amplifier didn’t necessarily mean that I would use it. The sea whip’s scales were an iridescent white that shimmered with soft rainbows, except for a single strip that began between its large eyes and ran over the ridge of its skull into its soft mane—those were edged in gold. Tamar slid a dagger from her belt and, with Tolya’s help, worked the scales free. I didn’t let myself look away. When they were done, they handed me seven perfect scales, still wet with blood. “Let us bow our heads for the men lost today,” Sturmhond said. “Good sailors. Good soldiers. Let the sea carry them to safe harbor, and may the Saints receive them on a brighter shore.” He repeated the Sailor’s Prayer in Kerch, then Tamar murmured the words in Shu. For a moment, we stood on the rocking ship, heads bent. A lump rose in my throat. More men dead and another magical, ancient creature gone, its body desecrated by Grisha steel. I laid my hand on the sea whip’s shimmering hide. It was cool and slick beneath my fingers. Its red eyes were cloudy and blank. I gripped the golden scales in my palm, feeling their edges dig into my flesh. What Saints waited for creatures like this? A long minute passed and then Sturmhond murmured, “Saints receive them.” “Saints receive them,” replied the crew. “We need to move,” Sturmhond said quietly. “The whaler’s hull was cracked, but the Darkling has Squallers and a Fabrikator or two, and for all I know, those monsters of his can be trained to use a hammer and nails. Let’s not take any chances.” He turned to Privyet. “Give the Squallers a few minutes to rest and get me a damage report, then make sail.” “Da, kapitan,” Privyet responded crisply. He hesitated. “Kapitan … could be people will pay good money for dragon scales, no matter the color.” Sturmhond frowned, but then gave a terse nod. “Take what you want, then clear the deck and get us moving. You have our coordinates.” Several of the crew fell on the sea whip’s body to cut away its scales. This I couldn’t watch. I turned my back on them, my gut in knots. Sturmhond came up beside me. “Don’t judge them too harshly,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. “It’s not them I’m judging,” I said. “You’re the captain.” “And they have purses to fill, parents and siblings to feed. We just lost nearly half our crew and took no rich prize to ease the sting. Not that you aren’t fetching.” “What am I doing here?” I asked. “Why did you help us?” “Are you so sure I have?” “Answer the question, Sturmhond,” said Mal, joining us. “Why hunt the sea whip if you only meant to turn it over to Alina?” “I wasn’t hunting the sea whip. I was hunting you.” “That’s why you raised a mutiny against the Darkling?” I asked. “To get at me?” “You can’t very well mutiny on your own ship.” “Call it what you like,” I said, exasperated. “Just explain yourself.” Sturmhond leaned back and rested his elbows on the rail, surveying the deck. “As I would have explained to the Darkling had he bothered to ask—which, thankfully, he didn’t—the problem with hiring a man who sells his honor is that you can always be outbid.” I gaped at him. “You betrayed the Darkling for money?” “‘Betrayed’ seems a strong word. I hardly know the fellow.” “You’re mad,” I said. “You know what he can do. No prize is worth that.” Sturmhond grinned. “That remains to be seen.” “The Darkling will hunt you for the rest of your days.” “Then you and I will have something in common, won’t we? Besides, I like to have powerful enemies. Makes me feel important.” Mal crossed his arms and considered the privateer. “I can’t decide if you’re crazy or stupid.” “I have so many good qualities,” Sturmhond said. “It can be hard to choose.” I shook my head. The privateer was out of his mind. “If the Darkling was outbid, then who hired you? Where are you taking us?” “First answer a question for me,” Sturmhond said, reaching into his frock coat. He drew a little red volume from his pocket and tossed it to me. “Why was the Darkling carrying this around with him? He doesn’t strike me as the religious type.” I caught it and turned it over, but I already knew what it was. Its gold lettering sparkled in the sun. “You stole it?” I asked. “And a number of other documents from his cabin. Although, again, since it was technically my cabin, I’m not sure you can call it theft.” “Technically,” I observed in irritation, “the cabin belongs to the whaling captain you stole the ship from.” “Fair enough,” admitted Sturmhond. “If this whole Sun Summoner th