Ruin and Rising (The Grisha 3) - Page 15

Tamar wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “If I stab the puppeteer, will that draw too much attention?”

“Not if you’re quiet about it,” replied Nadia.

Her cheeks pinked as we all turned to look at her. I’d never heard Nadia crack a joke. She’d mostly been an audience to Marie.

Tamar slipped a dagger from her wrist and twirled it, balancing its point on one fingertip. “I can be quiet,” she said, “and merciful. I may let the puppets live.” She took another gulp of water. “I heard some news too. Big news. West Ravka has declared for Nikolai.”

That got our attention.

“They’re blocking off the western shore of the Fold,” she continued. “So if the Darkling wants weapons or ammunition—”

“He’ll have to go through Fjerda,” finished Zoya.

But it was bigger than that. This meant the Darkling had lost West Ravka’s coastline, its navy, the already tenuous access Ravka had to trade.

“West Ravka now,” Tolya said. “Maybe the Shu Han next.”

“Or Kerch,” put in Zoya.

“Or both!” crowed Adrik.

I could almost see the tendril of hope twisting its way through our ranks.

“So now what?” Sergei asked, tugging anxiously at his sleeve.

“Let’s wait one more day,” Nadia said.

“I don’t know,” said Tamar. “I don’t mind going back. But there were oprichniki in the square today.”

Not a good sign. The oprichniki were the Darkling’s personal soldiers. If they were prowling the area, we had good reason to move on as soon as possible.

“I’m going to go talk to Mal,” I said. “Don’t get too comfortable. We may need to be ready to leave in the morning.”

The others dispersed while Tamar and Nadia walked off to dig through the rations. Tamar kept bouncing and spinning her knife—definitely showing off, but Nadia didn’t seem to mind.

I picked my way toward the sound of the water, trying to sort through my thoughts. If West Ravka had declared for Nikolai, that was a very good sign that he was alive and well and making more trouble for the Darkling than anyone in the White Cathedral had realized. I was relieved, but I wasn’t certain what our next move should be.

When I reached the creek, Mal was crouching in the shallows, barefoot and bare-chested, his trousers rolled up to his knees. He was watching the water, his expression focused, but at the sound of my approach, he shot to his feet, already lunging for his rifle.

“Just me,” I said, stepping out of the woods.

He relaxed and dropped back down, eyes returning to the creek. “What are you doing out here?”

For a moment I just watched him. He stayed perfectly still, then suddenly, his hands plunged into the stream and emerged with a wriggling fish. He tossed it back. No point holding on to it when we couldn’t risk making a fire to cook it.

I’d seen him catch fish this way at Keramzin, even in winter, when Trivka’s pond froze over. He knew just where to break the ice, just where to drop his line or the moment to make his grab. I’d waited on the banks, keeping him company, trying to spot places in the trees where the birds made their nests.

It was different now, the water reflecting spangles of light over the planes of his face, the smooth play of muscle beneath his skin. I realized I was staring and gave myself a little shake. I’d seen him without a shirt before. There was no reason to be an idiot about it.

“Tamar’s back,” I said.

He stood, all interest in the fish lost. “And?”

“No sign of Nikolai’s men.”

Mal sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Damn it.”

“We could wait another day,” I offered, though I already knew what he would say.

“We’ve wasted enough time. I don’t know how long it will take us to get south or to find the firebird. All we need is to get stuck in the mountains when the snow comes. And we have to find a safe house for the others.”

“Tamar says West Ravka has declared for Nikolai. What if we took them there?”

He considered. “That’s a long journey, Alina. We’d lose a lot of time.”

“I know, but it’s safer than anywhere this side of the Fold. And it’s another chance to find Nikolai.”

“Might be less dangerous trekking south on that side too.” He nodded. “All right. We need to get the others ready. I want to leave tonight.”


“No point waiting around.” He waded out of the water, bare toes curling on the rocks.

He didn’t actually say “dismissed,” but he might as well have. What else was there to talk about?

I started toward camp, then remembered I hadn’t told him about the oprichniki. I stomped back to the creek. “Mal…,” I began, but the words died on my lips.

He had bent to pick up the canteens. His back was to me.

“What is that?” I said angrily.

He whirled, twisting himself around, but it was too late. He opened his mouth.

Before he could get a word out, I snapped, “If you say ‘nothing,’ I will knock you senseless.”

His mouth clamped shut.

“Turn around,” I ordered.

For a moment, he just stood there. Then he sighed and turned.

A tattoo stretched across his broad back—something like a compass rose, but much more like a sun, the points reaching from shoulder to shoulder and down his spine.


I asked. “Why would you do this?”

He shrugged and his muscles flexed beneath the intricate design.

“Mal, why would you mark yourself this way?”

“I have a lot of scars,” he said finally. “This is one I chose.”

I looked closer. There were letters worked into the design. E’ya sta rezku. I frowned. It looked like ancient Ravkan.

“What does this mean?”

He said nothing.


“It’s embarrassing.”

And sure enough, I could see a flush spreading over his neck.

“Tell me.”

He hesitated, then cleared his throat and muttered, “I am become a blade.”

I am become a blade. Was that what he was? This boy whom the Grisha had followed without argument, whose voice stayed steady when the earth caved in around us, who’d told me I would be a queen? I wasn’t sure I recognized him anymore.

I brushed my fingertips over the letters. He tensed. His skin was still damp from the river.

“Could be worse,” I said. “I mean, if it said ‘Let’s cuddle’ or ‘I am become ginger pudding,’ that would be embarrassing.”

He released a surprised bark of laughter, then hissed in a breath as I let my fingertips trail the length of his spine. His fists clenched at his sides. I knew I should step away, but I didn’t want to.

“Who did it?”

“Tolya,” he rasped.

“Did it hurt?”

“Less than it should have.”

I reached the farthest point of the sunburst, right at the base of his spine. I paused, then dragged my fingers back up. He snapped around, capturing my hand in a hard grip.

“Don’t,” he said fiercely.


“I can’t do this. Not if you make me laugh, not if you touch me like that.”


Suddenly his head jerked up and he put a finger to his lips.

“Hands above your heads.” The voice came from the shadows of the trees. Mal dove for his rifle and had it at his shoulder in seconds, but three people were already emerging from the woods—two men and a woman with her hair in a topknot—the muzzles of their weapons trained on us. I thought I recognized them from the convoy we’d seen on the road.

Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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