“Where’s my brother?” yelled Nadia.
“He’s here with me and Tamar,” Tolya replied.
“Sergei and Stigg?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
We waited for another boom, for the rest of the tunnel to come down on top of us. When nothing happened, we started scrabbling toward Tolya’s voice as he and Tamar dug from the other side. In a matter of moments, we saw their hands, then their dirty faces staring back at us. They scooted into our section of the tunnel. As soon as Adrik dropped his hands, the ceiling above where he and the twins had been standing collapsed in a billow of dust and rock. He was shaking badly.
“You held the cave?” Zoya asked.
Tolya nodded. “He made a bubble as soon as we heard that last boom.”
“Huh,” Zoya said to Adrik. “I’m impressed.”
At the elation that burst over his face, she groaned. “Never mind. I’m downgrading that to grudging approval.”
“Sergei?” I called. “Stigg?”
Silence, the shift of gravel.
“Let me try something,” said Zoya. She raised her hands. I heard a crackling in my ears, and the air seemed to grow damp. “Sergei?” she said. Her voice sounded weirdly distant.
Then I heard Sergei’s voice, weak and trembling, but clear, as if he were speaking right beside me. “Here,” he panted.
Zoya flexed her fingers, making adjustments, and called to Sergei again.
This time, when he replied, David said, “It sounds like it’s coming from below us.”
“Maybe not,” Zoya replied. “The acoustics can be misleading.”
Mal moved farther down the passage. “No, he’s right. The floor in their segment of the tunnel must have collapsed.”
It took us nearly two hours to find them and dig them out—Tolya hefting soil, Mal calling directions, the Squallers stabilizing the sides of the tunnel with air as I maintained a dim illumination, the others forming a line to move rocks and sand.
When we found Stigg and Sergei, they were covered in mud and nearly comatose.
“Lowered our pulses,” Sergei mumbled groggily. “Slow respiration. Use less air.”
Tolya and Tamar brought them back, raising their heart rates and flushing their lungs with oxygen.
“Didn’t think you’d come,” slurred a still-bleary Stigg.
“Why?” cried Genya, gently brushing the dirt from around his eyes.
“He wasn’t sure that you’d care,” said Harshaw from behind me.
There were mumbled protests and some guilty looks. I did think of Stigg and Harshaw as outsiders. And Sergei … well … Sergei had been lost for a while now. None of us had done a very good job of reaching out to them.
When Sergei and Stigg could walk, we headed back to the more intact part of the tunnel. One by one, the Squallers released their power, as we waited to see if the ceiling would hold so they could rest. We brushed the dust and grime off one another’s faces and clothes as best we could, then passed a flask of kvas around. Stigg clung to it like a baby with a bottle.
“Everyone okay?” Mal asked.
“Never better,” said Genya shakily.
David raised his hand. “I’ve been better.”
We all started laughing.
“What?” he said.
“How did you even do that?” Nadia asked Zoya. “That trick with the sound?”
“It’s just a way of creating an acoustical anomaly. We used to play with it back in school so we could eavesdrop on people in other rooms.”
Genya snorted. “Of course you did.”
“Could you show us how to do it?” asked Adrik.
“If I’m ever bored enough.”
“Squallers,” Mal said, “are you ready to move again?”
They all nodded. Their faces had the gleam that came with using Grisha power, but I knew they must already be approaching their limits. They’d been keeping tons of rock off us for half a mile, and they’d need more than a few minutes of rest to restore themselves.
“Then let’s get the hell out of here,” Mal said.
I lit the way, still wary of what surprises might be waiting for us. We moved cautiously, Squallers on alert, twisting through tunnels and passages until I had no sense of which way we’d gone. We were well off the map that David and Mal had created.
Every sound seemed magnified. Every fall of pebbles made us pause, frozen, waiting for the worst. I tried to think of anything but the weight of the soil above us. If the earth came down and the Squallers’ power failed, we would be crushed and no one would ever know, wildflowers pressed between the pages of a book and forgotten.
Eventually, I became aware that my legs were working harder and realized the grade of the floor had turned steep. I heard relieved sighs, a few quiet cheers, and less than an hour later, we found ourselves crowded into some kind of basement room, looking up at the bottom of a trapdoor.
The ground was wet here, pocked by little puddles—signs that we must be close to the river cities. By the light from my palms, I could see that the stone walls were cracked, but whether the damage was old or the result of the recent explosions, I couldn’t tell.
“How did you do it?” I asked Mal.
He shrugged. “Same as always. There’s game on the surface. I just treated it like a hunt.”
Tolya pulled David’s old watch from the pocket of his coat. I wasn’t sure when he’d acquired it. “If this thing is keeping time right, we’re well past sunset.”
“You have to wind it every day,” said David.
“I know that.”
“Well, did you?”
“Then it’s keeping time right.”
I wondered if I should remind David that Tolya’s fist was roughly the circumference of his head.
Zoya sniffed. “With our luck, someone will be setting up for midnight mass.”
Many of the entrances and exits to the tunnels were found in holy places—but not all of them. We might emerge in the apse of a church or the courtyard of a monastery or we might poke our heads out of the floor of a brothel. And good day to you, sir. I pushed down a crazed giggle. Exhaustion and fear were making me giddy.
What if someone was waiting for us up there? What if the Apparat had switched sides yet again and set the Darkling on our trail? I wasn’t thinking straight. Mal believed the explosions had been a random attack on the tunnels, and that was the only thing that made sense. The Apparat couldn’t know where we’d be or when. And even if the Darkling had somehow found out that we were headed for Ryevost, why bother using bombs to drive us to the surface?
He could just wait for us to turn up there.
“Let’s go,” I said. “I feel like I’m suffocating.”
Mal signaled for Tolya and Tamar to flank me.
“Be ready,” he said to them. “Any sign of trouble, you get her out of here. Take the tunnels due west as far as you can.”
It was only after he’d started climbing the ladder that I realized we’d all hung back, waiting for him to go first. Tolya and Tamar were both more experienced fighters, and Mal was the only otkazat’sya among us. So why was he the one taking the brunt of the risk? I wanted to call him back, tell him to be careful, but it would just sound absurd. “Careful” wasn’t something we did anymore.
At the top of the ladder, he gestured down at me, and I released the light, pitching us into darkness. I heard a thump, the sound of hinges straining, then a soft grunt and a creak as the trapdoor opened. No light flooded down, no shouts, no gunfire.
My heart was pounding in my chest. I followed the sounds of Mal levering himself up, his footfalls above us. Finally, I heard the scrape of a match, and light bloomed through the trapdoor. Mal whistled twice—the all clear.
One by one, we ascended the ladder. When I stuck my head through the trapdoor, a chill slid over my spine. The room was hexagonal, its walls carved from what looked like blue lapis, each studded with wooden panels painted with a different Saint, their golden halos glinting in the lamplight. The corners were thick with milky cobwebs. Mal’s lantern rested on a stone sarcophagus. We were in a crypt.
“Perfect,” said Zoya. “From a tunnel to a tomb. What’s next, an outing to a slaughterhouse?”
“Mezle,” David said, pointing to one of the names carved into the wall. “They were an old Grisha family. There was even one of them at the Little Palace before—”
“Before everyone died?” put in Genya helpfully.
“Ziva Mezle,” Nadia said quietly. “She was a Squaller.”
“Can we host this salon somewhere else?” Zoya asked. “I want to get out of here.”
I rubbed my arms. She had a point.
The door looked like heavy iron. Tolya and Mal braced their shoulders against it as we arrayed ourselves behind them, hands raised, Inferni with their flints ready. I took my position in back, prepared to wield the Cut, if necessary.