He studied me for a long moment. He had always watched me this way, as if I were an equation that didn’t quite tally.
“I want you to know my name,” he said. “The name I was given, not the title I took for myself. Will you have it, Alina?”
I could feel the weight of Nikolai’s ring in my palm back at the Spinning Wheel. I didn’t have to stand here in the Darkling’s arms. I could vanish from his grip, slide back into consciousness and the safety of a stone room hidden in a mountaintop. But I didn’t want to go. Despite everything, I wanted this whispered confidence.
“Yes,” I breathed.
After a long moment, he said, “Aleksander.”
A little laugh escaped me. He arched a brow, a smile tugging at his lips. “What?”
“It’s just so … common.” Such an ordinary name, held by kings and peasants alike. I’d known two Aleksanders at Keramzin alone, three in the First Army. One of them had died on the Fold.
His smile deepened and he cocked his head to the side. It almost hurt to see him this way. “Will you say it?” he asked.
I hesitated, feeling danger crowd in on me.
“Aleksander,” I whispered.
His grin faded, and his gray eyes seemed to flicker.
“Again,” he said.
He leaned in. I felt his breath against my neck, then the press of his mouth against my skin just above the collar, almost a sigh.
“Don’t,” I said. I drew back, but he held me tighter. His hand went to the nape of my neck, long fingers twining in my hair, easing my head back. I closed my eyes.
“Let me,” he murmured against my throat. His heel hooked around my leg, bringing me closer. I felt the heat of his tongue, the flex of hard muscle beneath bare skin as he guided my hands around his waist. “It isn’t real,” he said. “Let me.”
I felt that rush of hunger, the steady, longing beat of desire that neither of us wanted, but that gripped us anyway. We were alone in the world, unique. We were bound together and always would be.
And it didn’t matter.
I couldn’t forget what he’d done, and I wouldn’t forgive what he was: a murderer. A monster. A man who had tortured my friends and slaughtered the people I’d tried to protect.
I shoved away from him. “It’s real enough.”
His eyes narrowed. “I grow weary of this game, Alina.”
I was surprised at the anger that surged to life in me. “Weary? You’ve toyed with me at every turn. You haven’t tired of the game. You’re just sorry I’m not so easily played.”
“Clever Alina,” he bit out. “The apt pupil. I’m glad you came tonight. I want to share my news.” He yanked his bloody shirt on over his head. “I’m going to enter the Fold.”
“Go ahead,” I said. “The volcra deserve another piece of you.”
“They will not have it.”
“You hope to find their appetites changed? Or is this just more madness?”
“I am not mad. Ask David what secrets he left for me to discover at the palace.”
“Another clever one,” said the Darkling. “I’ll be taking him back too, when this is all over. Such an able mind.”
“You’re bluffing,” I said.
The Darkling smiled, but this time the turn of his lips was cold. He shoved off the table and stalked toward me.
“I will enter the Fold, Alina, and I will show West Ravka what I can do, even without the Sun Summoner. And when I have crushed Lantsov’s only ally, I will hunt you like an animal. You will find no sanctuary. You will have no peace.” He loomed over me, his gray eyes glinting. “Fly back home to your otkazat’sya,” he snarled. “Hold him tight. The rules of this game are about to change.”
The Darkling raised his hand, and the Cut tore through me. I shattered, and gusted back into my body with an icy jolt.
I clutched at my torso, heart hammering in my chest, still feeling the slice of shadow through it, but I was whole and unmarked. I stumbled out of bed, trying to find the lantern, then gave up and fumbled around until I found my coat and boots.
Tamar was standing guard outside my room.
“Where is David lodged?” I asked.
“Just down the corridor with Adrik and Harshaw.”
“Are Mal and Tolya sleeping?”
“Wake them up.”
She slipped into the guards’ room, and Mal and Tolya were outside with us seconds later, awake instantly in the way of soldiers, and already pulling on their boots. Mal had his pistol.
“You won’t need that,” I said. “At least, I don’t think you will.”
I considered sending someone to get Nikolai, but I wanted to know what we were dealing with first.
We strode down the hall, and when we got to David’s room, Tamar rapped once at the door before pushing in.
Apparently, Adrik and Harshaw had been evicted for the night. A very bleary Genya and David blinked up at us from beneath the covers of a single narrow cot.
I pointed at David. “Get dressed,” I said. “You have two minutes.”
“What’s—” Genya began.
“Just do it.”
We slipped back out the door to wait.
Mal gave a little cough. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”
Tamar snorted. “After his little speech in the war room, even I considered pouncing on him.”
Moments later, the door cracked open and a disheveled, barefoot David ushered us in. Genya was seated cross-legged on the cot, her red curls going every which way.
“What is it?” said David. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve received information that the Darkling intends to use the Fold against West Ravka.”
“Did Nikolai—” Tamar began.
I held up a hand. “I need to know if it’s possible.”
David shook his head. “He can’t without you. He needs to enter the Unsea to expand it.”
“He claims he can. He claims you left secrets at the Little Palace.”
“Wait a minute,” said Genya. “Where is this information coming from?”
“Sources,” I said curtly. “David, what did he mean?” I didn’t want to believe David would betray us, at least not deliberately.
David frowned. “When we fled Os Alta, I left my old notebooks behind, but they’re hardly dangerous.”
“What was in them?” asked Tamar.
“All kinds of things,” he said, his nimble fingers pleating and unpleating the fabric of his trousers. “The designs for the mirrored dishes, a lens to filter different waves of the spectrum, nothing he could use to enter the Fold. But…” He paled slightly.
“It was just an idea—”
“There was a plan for a glass skiff that Nikolai and I came up with.”
I frowned and glanced at Mal, then at the others. They all looked as puzzled as I did. “Why would he want a glass skiff?”
“The frame is made to hold lumiya.”
I made an impatient gesture. “What’s lumiya?”
“A variation on liquid fire.”
Saints. “Oh, David. You didn’t.” Liquid fire was one of Morozova’s creations. It was sticky, flammable, and created a blaze that was almost impossible to extinguish. It was so dangerous that Morozova had destroyed the formula only hours after he’d created it.
“No!” David held his hands up defensively. “No, no. This is better, safer. The reaction only creates light, not heat. I came up with it when we were trying to find ways to improve the flash bombs for fighting the nichevo’ya. It wasn’t applicable, but I liked the idea so I kept it for … for later.” He shrugged helplessly.
“It burns without heat?”
“It’s just a source of artificial sunlight.”
“Enough to keep the volcra at bay?”
“Yes, but it’s useless to the Darkling. It has a limited burn life, and you n
eed sunlight to activate it.”