“Always the same question.”
“When I asked you if Morozova could have left the amplifiers unfinished, you said it wasn’t his way. Did you know him?”
“We’re done here, girl,” she said, turning back to the fire. “You’ve wasted your morning.”
“You told me once that you hoped for redemption for your son. This may be my last chance to stop him.”
“Ah, so you hope to save my son now? How forgiving of you.”
I took a deep breath.
“Aleksander,” I whispered. She stilled. “His true name is Aleksander. And if he takes this step, he’ll be lost forever. We may all be.”
“That name…” Baghra leaned back in her chair. “Only he could have told you. When?”
I’d never spoken of the visions to Baghra, and I didn’t think I wanted to now. Instead, I repeated my question. “Baghra, did you know Morozova?”
She was quiet for a long time, the only sound the crackle of the fire. Finally, she said, “As well as anyone did.”
Though I’d suspected as much, the fact was hard to believe. I’d seen Morozova’s writings, I wore his amplifiers, but he had never seemed real. He was a Saint with a gilded halo, more legend than man to me.
“There’s a bottle of kvas on a shelf in the corner,” she said, “out of Misha’s reach. Bring it and a glass.”
It was early for kvas, but I wasn’t going to argue. I brought down the bottle and poured for her.
She took a long sip and smacked her lips together. “The new King doesn’t stint, does he?” She sighed and settled back. “All right, little Saint, since you want to know about Morozova and his precious amplifiers, I’ll tell you a story—one I used to tell a little boy with dark hair, a silent boy who rarely laughed, who listened more closely than I realized. A boy who had a name and not a title.”
In the firelight, the shadowy pools of her eyes seemed to flicker and shift.
“Morozova was the Bonesmith, one of the greatest Fabrikators who ever lived, and a man who tested the very boundaries of Grisha power, but he was also just a man with a wife. She was otkazat’sya, and though she loved him, she did not understand him.”
I thought of the way the Darkling talked about otkazat’sya, the predictions he’d made about Mal and the way I’d be treated by Ravka’s people. Had he learned those lessons from Baghra?
“I should tell you that he loved her too,” she continued. “At least, I think he did. But it was never enough to make him stop his work. It couldn’t temper the need that drove him. This is the curse of Grisha power. You know the way of it, little Saint.
“They spent over a year hunting the stag in Tsibeya, two years sailing the Bone Road in search of the sea whip. Great successes for the Bonesmith. The first two phases of his grand scheme. But when his wife became pregnant, they settled in a small town, a place where he could continue his experiments and hatch his plans for which creature would become the third amplifier.
“They had little money. When he could be pulled away from his studies, he made his living as a woodworker, and the villagers occasionally came to him with wounds and ailments—”
“He was a Healer?” I asked. “I thought he was a Fabrikator.”
“Morozova did not draw those distinctions. Few Grisha did in those days. He believed if the science was small enough, anything was possible. And for him, it often was.” Are we not all things?
“The townspeople viewed Morozova and his family with a combination of pity and distrust. His wife wore rags, and his child … his child was rarely seen. Her mother kept her to the house and the fields around it. You see, this little girl had started to show her power early, and it was like nothing ever known.” Baghra took another sip of kvas. “She could summon darkness.”
The words hung in the heated air, their meaning settling over me. “You?” I breathed. “Then the Darkling—”
“I am Morozova’s daughter, and the Darkling is the last of Morozova’s line.” She emptied her glass. “My mother was terrified of me. She was sure that my power was some kind of abomination, the result of my father’s experiments. And she may well have been right. To dabble in merzost, well, the results are never quite what one would hope. She hated to hold me, could hardly bear to be in the same room with me. It was only when her second child was born that she came back to herself at all. Another little girl, this one normal like her, powerless and pretty. How my mother doted on her!”
Years had passed, hundreds, maybe a thousand. But I recognized the hurt in her voice, the sting of always feeling underfoot and unwanted.
“My father was readying to leave to hunt the firebird. I was just a little girl, but I begged him to take me along. I tried to make myself useful, but all I did was annoy him, and eventually he banned me from his workshop.”
She tapped the table, and I filled her glass once more.
“And then one day, Morozova had to leave his workbench. He was drawn to the pasture behind his home by the sound of my mother’s screams. I had been playing dolls and my sister had whined and howled and stamped her little feet until my mother insisted that I give over my favorite toy, a wooden swan carved by our father in one of the rare moments that he’d paid me any attention. It had wings so detailed they felt nearly downy and perfect webbed feet that kept it balanced in water. My sister had it in her hand less than a minute before she snapped its slender neck. Remember, if you can, that I was just a child, a lonely child, with so few treasures of my own.” She lifted her glass but did not drink. “I lashed out at my sister. With the Cut. I tore her in two.”
I tried not to picture it, but the image rose up sharp in my mind, a muddy field, a dark-haired little girl, her favorite toy in pieces. She’d thrown a tantrum, as children do. But she’d been no ordinary child.
“What happened?” I finally whispered.
“The villagers came running. They held my mother back so that she could not get at me. They couldn’t make sense of what she was saying. How could a little girl have done such a thing? The priest was already praying over my sister’s body when my father arrived. Without a word, Morozova knelt down beside her and began to work. The townspeople didn’t understand what was happening, but they sensed power gathering.”
“Did he save her?”
“Yes,” said Baghra simply. “He was a great Healer, and he used every bit of his skill to bring her back—weak, wheezing, and scarred, but alive.”
I’d read countless versions of Sankt Ilya’s martyrdom. The details of the story had been distorted over time: He’d healed his child, not a stranger’s. A girl, not a boy. But I suspected one thing that hadn’t changed was the ending, and I shivered at the thought of what came next.
“It was too much,” Baghra said. “The villagers knew what death looked like—that child should have died. And maybe they were resentful too. How many loved ones had they lost to illness or injury since Morozova had come to their town? How many could he have saved? Maybe it was not just horror or righteousness that drove them, but anger as well. They put him in chains—and my sister, a child who should have had the sense to stay dead. There was no one to defend my father, no one to speak on my sister’s behalf. We had lived on the outskirts of their lives and made no friends. They marched him to the river. My sister had to be carried. She had only just learned to walk and couldn’t manage it with the chains.”
I clenched my fists in my lap. I didn’t want to hear the rest.
“As my mother wailed and pleaded, as I cried and fought to get free from some barely known neighbor’s arms, they shoved Morozova and his youngest daughter off the bridge, and we watched them disappear beneath the water, dragged under by the weight of their iron chains.” Baghra emptied her glass and turned it over on the table. “I never saw my father or my sister again.”
We sat in silence as I tried to piece together the implications of what she’d said. I saw no tears on Baghra’s cheeks. Her grief is old, I reminded myself. And yet I didn’t think pain like that ever
faded entirely. Grief had its own life, took its own sustenance.
“Baghra,” I said, pushing on, ruthless in my own way, “if Morozova died—”
“I never said he died. That was the last I ever saw of him. But he was a Grisha of immense power. He might well have survived the fall.”
“He was the greatest Fabrikator who ever lived. It would take more than otkazat’sya steel to hold him.”
“And you believe he went on to create the third amplifier?”
“His work was his life,” she said, and the bitterness of that neglected child edged her words. “If he’d had breath in his body, he would not have stopped searching for the firebird. Would you?”
“No,” I admitted. The firebird had become my own obsession, a thread of compulsion that linked me to Morozova across centuries. Could he have survived? Baghra seemed so certain that he had. And what about her sister? If Morozova had managed to save himself, might he have rescued his child from the grasp of the river and used his skill to revive her once more? The thought shook me. I wanted to clutch it tightly, turn it over in my hands, but there was still more I needed to know. “What did the villagers do to you?”