Ruin and Rising (The Grisha 3) - Page 9

“No easy task, but we’ll manage it.” He moved toward the door. “I’ll be back in a half hour to take you to the main cavern.”

“Mal,” I said, “why did you step between me and the Priestguards?”

He shrugged. “Those

aren’t the first men I’ve killed. They won’t be the last.”

“You kept me from using the Cut on them.”

He didn’t look at me when he said, “You’re going to be a queen someday, Alina. The less blood on your hands, the better.”

The word queen came so easily to his lips. “You seem certain we’ll find Nikolai.”

“I’m certain we’ll find the firebird.”

“I need an army. The firebird may not be enough.” I rubbed a hand over my eyes. “Nikolai may not even be in Ravka.”

“The reports coming out of the north—”

“Could be lies spread by the Darkling. ‘The Prince of the Air’ might be a myth created to draw us out of hiding. Nikolai might never have made it out of the Grand Palace.” It hurt me to say it, but I forced myself to speak the words. “He could be dead.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I don’t know.”

“If anyone could make that escape, it’s Nikolai.”

The too-clever fox. Even once he’d abandoned his disguise as Sturmhond, that’s who Nikolai had been to me, always thinking, always scheming. But he hadn’t predicted his brother’s betrayal. He hadn’t seen the Darkling coming.

“All right,” I said, embarrassed by the quaver in my voice. “You haven’t asked about the shadows.”

“Should I?”

I couldn’t resist. Maybe I wanted to see how he would react. I curled my fingers, and shadows unspooled from the corners.

Mal’s eyes followed their progress. What did I expect to see in him? Fear? Anger?

“Can you do more with it?” he asked.

“No. It’s just some kind of remnant of what I did in the chapel.”

“You mean saving all our lives?”

I let the shadows fall and pinched the bridge of my nose with my fingers, trying to stave off a rush of dizziness. “I mean using merzost. This isn’t real power. It’s just a carnival trick.”

“It’s something you took from him,” he said. I didn’t think I imagined the satisfaction in his voice. “I won’t say a word, but you shouldn’t hide it from the others.”

I could worry about that later. “What if Nikolai’s men aren’t in Ryevost?”

“You think I can track a giant mythic bird, but I can’t locate one loudmouthed prince?”

“A prince who’s managed to evade the Darkling for months.”

Mal studied me.

“Alina, do you know how I made that shot? Back in the Kettle?”

“If you say it’s because you’re just that good, I’m going to take off my boot and beat you with it.”

“Well, I am that good,” he said with a faint grin. “But I had David put a beetle in the pouch.”


“To make aiming easier. All I had to do was track it.”

My brows rose. “Now, that’s an impressive trick.”

He shrugged. “It’s the only one I know. If Nikolai’s alive, we’ll find him.” He paused, then added, “I won’t fail you again.” He turned to go, but before he shut the door, he said, “Try to rest. I’ll be outside if you need me.”

I stood there for a long moment. I wanted to tell him that he hadn’t failed me, but that wasn’t quite true. I’d lied to him about the visions that plagued me. He’d pushed me away when I’d needed him most. Maybe we’d both asked each other to give up too much. Fair or not, I felt like Mal had turned his back on me, and some part of me resented him for it.

I glanced around the empty room. It had been disconcerting to see so many people crammed in here. How well did I know any of them? Harshaw and Stigg were a few years older than the others, Grisha who had made their way to the Little Palace after they’d heard the Sun Summoner had returned. They were practically strangers to me. The twins believed I was blessed by divine power. Zoya followed me only grudgingly. Sergei was falling apart, and I knew he probably blamed me for Marie’s death. Nadia might too. She’d grieved more quietly, but they’d been best friends.

And Mal. I supposed we’d made a kind of peace, but it wasn’t an easy one. Or maybe we had just accepted what I would become, that our paths would inevitably diverge. You’re going to be a queen someday, Alina.

I knew I should at least try to sleep for a few minutes, but my mind wouldn’t slow down. My body was thrumming with the power I’d used and eager for more.

I glanced at the door, wishing it had a lock. There was something I wanted to try. I’d attempted it a few times and never managed anything more than a headache. It was dangerous, probably stupid, but now that my power had returned, I wanted to try again.

I kicked off my boots and lay back on the narrow bed. I closed my eyes, felt the collar at my throat, the scales at my wrist, the presence of my power inside me like the beat of my heart. I felt the wound at my shoulder, the dark knot of scars made by the Darkling’s nichevo’ya. It had strengthened the bond between us, giving him access to my mind as the collar had given him access to my power. In the chapel, I had used that connection against him and almost destroyed both of us in the process. I was foolish to test it now. Still, I was tempted. If the Darkling had access to that power, why shouldn’t I? It was a chance to glean information, to understand the way the bond between us functioned.

It won’t work, I reassured myself. You’ll try, you’ll fail, you’ll have a little nap.

I slowed my breathing, letting power course through me. I thought of the Darkling, of the shadows I could bend to my fingers, of the collar around my neck that he had placed there, the fetter at my wrist that had separated me irrevocably from any other Grisha and truly set me on this path.

Nothing happened. I was lying on my back in a bed in the White Cathedral. I hadn’t gone anywhere. I was alone in a vacant room. I blinked up at the damp ceiling. It was better that way. At the Little Palace, my isolation had nearly destroyed me, but that was because I had hungered for something else, for the sense of belonging I’d been chasing my whole life. I’d buried that need in the ruins of a chapel. Now I would think in terms of alliance instead of affection, of who and what would make me strong enough for this fight.

I’d contemplated killing the Apparat today; I’d burned my mark into Vladim’s flesh. I’d told myself I had to, but the girl I’d been never would have considered such things. I hated the Darkling for what he’d done to Baghra and Genya, but was I so different? And when the third amplifier was around my wrist, would I be different at all?

Maybe not, I conceded, and with that admission came the barest tremor—a vibration moving over the connection between us, an answering echo at the other end of an invisible tether.

It called to me through the collar at my neck and the bite at my shoulder, amplified by the fetter at my wrist, a bond forged by merzost and the dark poison in my blood. You called to me, and I answered. I felt myself drawn upward, out of myself, speeding toward him. Maybe this was what Mal felt when he tracked—the distant pull of the other, a presence that demanded attention even if it couldn’t be seen or touched.

One moment I was floating in the darkness of my closed eyes, and the next I was standing in a brightly lit room. Everything around me was blurry, but I recognized this place just the same: I was in the throne room at the Grand Palace. People were talking. It was as if they were underwater. I heard noise but not words.

I knew the moment the Darkling saw me. He came into sharp focus, though the room around him remained a murky blur.

His self-control was so great that no one near him would have noticed the fleeting look of shock that passed over his perfect features. But I saw his gray eyes widen, his chest lock as his breath caught. His fingers clenched the arms of his chair—no, his throne. Then he relaxed, nodding along to whatever the person before him was saying.

I waited, watching. He’d fought for that throne, endured hundreds of years of battle and servitude to claim it. I had to admit it suited him well. Some petty part of me had hoped I’d find him weakened, his black hair turned to white like

mine. But whatever damage I’d done to him that night in the chapel, he’d recovered better than I had.

When the murmur of the supplicant’s voice cut off, the Darkling rose. The throne faded into the background, and I realized that the things closest to him looked the clearest, as if he were the lens through which I was seeing the world.

“I will take it under advisement,” he said, voice cool as cut glass, so familiar. “Now leave me.” He gave a brusque wave. “All of you.”

Did his lackeys exchange baffled glances or simply bow and depart? I couldn’t tell. He was already moving down the stairs, his gaze fastened on me. My heart clenched, and a single clear word reverberated in my mind: run. I’d been mad to attempt this, to seek him out. But I didn’t move. I didn’t release the tether.

Someone approached him, and when he was just inches from the Darkling, he came into clearer focus—red Grisha robes, a face I didn’t recognize. I could even make out his words: “… the matter of signatures for…” Then the Darkling cut him off.

“Later,” he said sharply, and the Corporalnik skittered away.

The room emptied of sound and movement, and all the while, the Darkling kept his eyes on me. He crossed the parquet floor. With each step, the polished wood came into focus beneath his boot, then faded away again.

I had the strange sensation of lying on my bed in the White Cathedral and being here, in the throne room, standing in a warm square of sunlight.

He stopped before me, his eyes studying my face. What did he see there? He had come to me unscarred in my visions. Did he see me healthy and whole, my hair brown, my eyes bright? Or did he see the little mushroom girl, pale and gray, battered by our fight in the chapel, weakened by life underground?

“If only I’d known you’d prove such an apt pupil.” His voice was genuinely admiring, almost surprised. To my horror, I found that pathetic orphaned part of me taking pleasure in his praise. “Why come to me now?” he asked. “Has it taken you this long to recover from our skirmish?”

If that had been a mere skirmish, then we really were lost. No, I told myself. He’d chosen that word deliberately, to intimidate me.

I ignored his question and said, “I didn’t expect compliments.”

Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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