Ruin and Rising (The Grisha 3) - Page 54

Tamar sobbed. Tolya swore. And there it was again: the thready, miraculous sound of Mal drawing breath.



THEY TOOK US OUT of the Fold in one of the Darkling’s skiffs. Zoya appropriated the battered glass vessel with effortless command, then kept the curious Soldat Sol distracted as Tolya and Tamar loaded us onto the deck, hidden beneath heavy coats and folded kefta. The Darkling’s body was wrapped in the blue robes of one of his fallen Inferni. I’d made him a promise, and I intended to keep it.

The Squallers—Zoya, Nadia, and Adrik, all of them alive and as whole as they’d been when the battle began—filled the black sails and carried us over the dead sands as fast as their power would allow.

I lay next to Mal. He was still in terrible pain, drifting in and out of consciousness. Tolya continued to work on him, checking his pulse and his breathing.

Somewhere on the skiff, I heard Nikolai talking, his voice husky and damaged by whatever dark thing had used him. I wanted to go to him, see his face, make sure he was all right. He must have broken bones after that fall. But I’d lost a lot of blood, and I found myself slipping away, my weary mind eager for oblivion. As my eyes began to slide shut, I grabbed Tolya’s hand.

“I died here. Do you understand?” He frowned. He thought I was delirious, but I needed to make him hear. “This was my martyrdom, Tolya. I died here today.”

“Sankta Alina,” he said softly, and pressed a kiss to my knuckles, a courtly gesture, like a gentleman at a dance. I prayed to all the real Saints that he understood.

* * *

IN THE END, my friends did a good job of my death, and an even better job of Nikolai’s resurrection.

They got us back to Tomikyana and stashed us in the barn, tucked away with the cider presses in case the Soldat Sol returned. They got Nikolai cleaned up, cut his hair, filled him with sugary tea and stale bread. Genya even found him a First Army uniform. Within hours, he was headed to Kribirsk, flanked by the twins, along with Nadia and Zoya, dressed in blue kefta stolen from the dead.

The story they concocted was simple: He’d been the Darkling’s prisoner, slated for execution on the Fold, but he’d escaped and, with the Sun Summoner’s help, managed to vanquish the Darkling. Few people knew the truth of what had happened. The battle had been a confusion of violence waged in near darkness, and I suspected the Darkling’s Grisha and oprichniki would be too busy running or begging for royal pardons to dispute this new version of events. It was a good story with a tragic ending—the Sun Summoner had given her life to save Ravka and its new King.

Most of my hours back at Tomikyana were a blur: The smell of apples. The rustle of pigeons in the eaves. The rise and fall of Mal’s breath beside me. At some point, Genya came to look in on us, and I thought I must be dreaming. The scars on her face were still there, but most of the black ridges were gone.

“Your shoulder too,” she said with a smile. “Scarred, but not nearly so frightening.”

“Your eye?” I asked.

“Gone for good. But I’ve grown rather fond of my patch. I think it lends me a certain rakishness.”

I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew, Misha was standing in front of me with flour on his hands.

“What were you baking?” I asked, my words blurry at the edges.

“Ginger cake.”

“Not apple?”

“I’m sick of apples. Do you want to stir the icing?”

I remembered nodding, then fell back asleep.

* * *

IT WASN’T UNTIL late that night that Zoya and Tamar came to check on us, bringing news from Kribirsk. It seemed that the power of the amplifiers had reached all the way to the drydocks. The explosion had knocked Grisha and dockworkers from their feet, and mayhem had erupted as light started to pour from every otkazat’sya within range.

As the Fold began to disintegrate, they’d dared to step past its shores and join in the destruction. Some of them had picked up guns and started hunting volcra, rounding them up in the few remaining scraps of the Fold and putting them to death. It was said some of the monsters had escaped, braving the light to seek deep shadows elsewhere. Now, between the dockworkers, the Soldat Sol, and the oprichniki who had not fled, all that remained of the Unsea were a few dark wisps that hung in the air or trailed over the ground like lost creatures separated from the herd.

When rumors of the Darkling’s death had reached Kribirsk, the military camp had descended into chaos—and in strode Nikolai Lantsov. He installed himself in the royal quarters, began assembling First Army captains and Grisha commanders, and simply started giving orders. He’d mobilized all the remaining units of the army to secure the borders, sent messages to the coast to rally Sturmhond’s fleet, and had apparently managed it all on no sleep and two fractured ribs. No one else would have had the ability, let alone the nerve—certainly not a younger son and rumored bastard. But Nikolai had been training for this his entire life, and I knew he had a gift for the impossible.

“How is he?” I asked Tamar.

She paused, then said, “Haunted. There’s a difference in him, though I’m not sure anyone else would notice.”

“Maybe,” objected Zoya. “But I’ve never seen anything like it. If he gets any more charming, men and women may start lying down in the street for the privilege of being stepped on by the new Ravkan King. However did you resist him?”

“Good question,” Mal murmured from beside me.

“Turns out I don’t care for emeralds,” I said.

Zoya rolled her eyes. “Or royal blood, blinding charisma, tremendous wealth—”

“You can stop now,” said Mal.

I leaned my head against his shoulder. “Those are all nice enough, but my real passion is lost causes.” Or just one really. Beznako. My lost cause, found again.

“I am surrounded by fools,” Zoya said, but she was smiling.

Before Tamar and Zoya returned to the main house, Tamar checked our injuries. Mal was weak, but given what he’d been through, that was to be expected. Tamar had healed the bullet wound in my shoulder, and aside from being a bit shaky and sore, I felt good as new. At least, that was what I told them. I could feel the ache of absence where my power had been like a phantom limb.

I dozed on the mattress they’d dragged into the barn, and when I woke, Mal was lying on his side, watching me. He was pale, and his blue eyes seemed almost too bright. I reached out and traced the scar that ran along his jaw, the one he’d gotten in Fjerda when he’d first been hunting the stag.

“What did you see?” I asked. “When—”

“When I died?”

I gave him a gentle shove, and he winced.

“I saw Ilya Morozova on the back of a unicorn, playing a balalaika.”

“Very funny.”

He eased back and carefully tucked his arm under his head. “I didn’t see anything. All I remember is pain. The knife felt like it was on fire, like it was carving my heart from my chest. Then nothing. Just darkness.”

“You were gone,” I said with a shiver. “And then my power—” My voice broke.

He put out his arm, and I laid my head against his shoulder, careful not to disturb the bandages on his chest. “I’m sorry,” he said. “There were times … there were times I wished your power away. But I never wanted this.”

“I’m grateful to be alive,” I said. “The Fold is gone. You’re safe. It just … hurts.” I felt petty. Harshaw was dead, and so were half of the Soldat Sol, including Ruby. Then there were the others: Sergei, Marie, Paja, Fedyor, Botkin. Baghra. So many lost to this war. The list stretched on and on.

“Loss is loss,” Mal said. “You have the right to grieve.”

I stared up at the barn’s wooden beams. Even the shred of darkness I’d commanded had abandoned me. That power had belonged to the Darkling, and it had left this world with him.

“I feel empty.”

Mal was quiet for a long moment, then said, “I feel

it too.” I pushed up on my elbow. His gaze was faraway. “I won’t know until I try to track, but I feel different. I used to just know things. Even lying here, I could have sensed deer in the field, a bird resting on a branch, maybe a mouse burrowing in the wall. I never thought about it, but now there’s this kind of … silence.”

Loss. I’d wondered how Tolya and Tamar had brought Mal back. I’d been willing to simply call it a miracle. Now I thought I understood. Mal had possessed two lives, but only one was rightfully his. The other was stolen, an inheritance wrought from merzost, snatched from the making at the heart of the world. It was the force that had animated Morozova’s daughter when her human life had gone, the power that had reverberated through Mal’s bones. His blood had been thick with it, and that purloined bit of creation was what had made him such a remarkable tracker. It had bound him to every living thing. Like calls to like.

Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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