At the last second, some sliver of sanity pierced the buzzing haze of my anger. No, I thought in terror as I realized what I was about to do. My panicked mind reeled. I swerved and threw the Cut high.
A resounding crack shook the room. The Grisha screamed and backed away, crowding against the walls.
Daylight poured in through a jagged fissure above us. I’d split the golden dome open like a giant egg.
A deep silence followed as every Grisha turned to me in terrified disbelief. I swallowed, astonished by what I’d done, horrified by what I’d almost done. I thought of Nikolai’s advice and hardened my heart. They mustn’t see my fear.
“You think the Darkling is powerful?” I asked, startled by the icy clarity of my voice. “You have no idea what he is capable of. Only I have seen what he can do. Only I have faced him and lived to tell about it.”
I sounded like a stranger to my own ears, but I felt the echo of my power vibrating through me, and I pushed on. I turned slowly, meeting each stunned gaze.
“I don’t care if you think I’m a Saint or a fool or the Darkling’s whore. If you want to remain at the Little Palace, you will follow me. And if you don’t like it, you will be gone by tonight, or I will have you in chains. I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have.”
I strode across the room and threw open the doors to the Darkling’s chambers, giving silent thanks that they weren’t locked.
I walked blindly down the hall, unsure of where I was going, but eager to get far from the domed hall before anyone saw that I was shaking.
By luck, I found my way to the war room. Mal entered behind me, and before he shut the door, I saw Tolya and Tamar taking up their posts. Fedyor and the others must have remained behind. Hopefully, they’d make their own peace with the rest of the Grisha. Or maybe they’d all just kill each other.
I paced back and forth in front of the ancient map of Ravka that ran the length of the far wall.
Mal cleared his throat. “I thought that went well.”
A hysterical hiccup of laughter escaped my lips.
“Unless you intended to bring the whole ceiling down on our heads,” he said. “Then I guess it was just a partial success.”
I nibbled my thumb and continued pacing. “I had to get their attention.”
“So you meant to do that?”
I almost killed someone. I wanted to kill someone. It was the dome or Sergei, and Sergei would have been a lot tougher to patch up.
“Not exactly,” I admitted.
Suddenly, all the energy went out of me. I collapsed into a chair by the long table and rested my head in my hands. “They’re all going to leave,” I moaned.
“Maybe,” Mal said, “but I doubt it.”
I buried my face in my arms. “Who am I kidding? I can’t do this. This is like some kind of bad joke.”
“I didn’t hear anyone laughing,” Mal said. “For someone who has no idea what she’s doing, I’d say you’re managing pretty well.”
I peered up at him. He was leaning against the table, arms crossed, the ghost of a smile playing over his lips.
“Mal, I put a hole in the ceiling.”
“A very dramatic hole.”
I let out a huff somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “What are we going to do when it rains?”
“What we always do,” he said. “Keep dry.”
A knock came at the door, and Tamar poked her head in. “One of the servants wants to know if you’ll be sleeping in the Darkling’s chambers.”
I knew I would have to. I just wasn’t looking forward to it. I rubbed my hands over my face and heaved myself out of the chair. Less than an hour at the Little Palace, and I was already exhausted. “Let’s go take a look.”
The Darkling’s quarters were just down the hall from the war room. A charcoal-clad servant led us into a large and rather formal common room furnished with a long table and a few uncomfortable-looking chairs. Each wall was set with a pair of double doors.
“These lead to a passage that will take you out of the Little Palace, moi soverenyi,” the servant said, gesturing to the right. She pointed to the doors on the left and said, “Those lead to the guards’ quarters.”
The doors directly across from us needed no explanation. They stretched from floor to ceiling, and their ebony wood was carved with the Darkling’s symbol, the sun in eclipse.
I didn’t feel quite ready to face that, so I ambled over to the guards’ quarters and peeked inside. Their common room was considerably cozier. It had a round table for playing cards, and several overstuffed chairs were set around a small tile oven for keeping warm in the winter. Through another door, I glimpsed rows of bunk beds.
“I guess the Darkling had more guards,” said Tamar.
“Lots more,” I replied.
“We could bring on some others.”
“I thought about it,” said Mal. “But I don’t know that it’s necessary, and I’m not sure who we can trust.”
I had to agree. I’d put a certain amount of faith in Tolya and Tamar, but the only person I really felt sure of was Mal.
“Maybe we should consider drawing from the pilgrims,” suggested Tamar. “Some of them are former military. There must be a few good fighters among them, and they’d certainly lay down their lives for you.”
“Not a chance,” I replied. “The King would hear one whispered ‘Sankta Alina’ and have my neck in a noose. Besides, I’m not sure I want to put my life in the hands of someone who thinks I can rise from the dead.”
“We’ll make do,” said Mal.
I nodded. “All right. And … can someone see about having the roof fixed?”
Matching grins broke out on Tolya’s and Tamar’s faces. “Can’t we leave it that way for just a few days?”
“No,” I laughed. “I don’t want the whole thing caving in on us. Talk to the Fabrikators. They should know what to do.” I ran my thumb over the raised ridge of flesh that ran the length of my palm. “But don’t let them make it too perfect,” I added. Scars made good reminders.
I returned to the main common room and addressed the servant hovering in the doorway. “We’ll eat here tonight,” I said. “Will you see about trays?”
The servant raised her brows, then bowed and scurried off. I winced. I was supposed to issue commands, not ask questions.
I left Mal and the twins discussing a schedule for the watch, and crossed to the ebony doors. The handles were two thin slivers of crescent moon made of what looked like bone. When I took hold of them and pulled, there was no creak or scrape of hinges. The doors slid open without a sound.
A servant had lit the lamps in the Darkling’s chamber. I surveyed the room and let out a long breath. What had I been expecting? A dungeon? A pit? That the Darkling slept suspended from the branches of a tree?
The chamber was hexagonal, its dark wood walls carved into the illusion of a forest crowded with slender trees. Above the huge canopied bed, the domed ceiling was wrought in smooth black obsidian and spangled with chips of mother-of-pearl laid out in constellations. It was an unusual room and certainly luxurious, but it was still just a bedroom.
The shelves were empty of books. The desk and dressing table were bare. All his possessions must have been taken away, probably burned or smashed to bits. I supposed I should have been glad the King hadn’t torn the entire Little Palace down.
I walked to the side of the bed and smoothed my hand over the cool fabric of the pillow. It was good to know that some part of him was still human, that he laid his head down to rest at night like everyone else. But could I really sleep in his bed, beneath his roof?
With a start, I realized that the room smelled like him. I had never even noticed that he had a scent. I shut my eyes and breathed deeply. What was it? The crisp edge of a winter wind. Bare branches. The smell of absence, the smell of night.
The wound at my shoulder prickled, and I opened my eyes. The doors to the chamber were shut. I hadn’t heard them close.
I whirled. The Darkling was standing on the other side of the bed.
I clapped my hands over my mouth to stop my scream.
This isn’t real, I told myself. It’s just another hallucination. Just like on the Fold.
“My Alina,” he said softly. His face was beautiful, unscarred. Perfect.
I will not scream, because this isn’t real, and when they come running, there will be nothing to see.
He walked slowly around the bed. His footsteps made no sound.
I closed my eyes, pressed my palms against them, counted to three. But when I opened them again, he was standing right before me. I will not scream.
I took a step backward, felt the press of the wall behind me. A choked sound squeaked free of my throat.
I will not scream.
He reached out. He can’t touch me, I told myself. His hand will just pass through me like a ghost. It’s not real.
“You cannot run from me,” he whispered.
His fingers brushed my cheek. Solid. Real. I felt them.
Terror shot through me. I threw up my hands, and light blazed over the room in a brilliant wave that shimmered with heat. The Darkling vanished.
Footsteps clattered in the room outside. The doors were thrown open. Mal and the twins charged in, weapons in hand.
“What happened?” Tamar asked, scanning the empty room.
“Nothing,” I said, forcing the word past my lips, hoping my voice sounded normal. I buried my hands in the folds of my kefta to hide their trembling. “Why?”
“We saw the light and—”
“Just a bit gloomy in here,” I said. “All the black.”
They stared at me for a long moment. Then Tamar looked around. “It is pretty grim. You may want to think about redecorating.”
“Definitely on my list.”
The twins took another glance around the room and then headed out the door, Tolya already grumbling to his sister about dinner. Mal stood in the doorway, waiting.
“You’re shaking,” he said.
I knew he wouldn’t ask me to explain this time. He shouldn’t have had to. I should have offered him the truth without having to be asked. But what could I say? That I was seeing things? That I was mad? That we would never be safe, no matter how far we ran? That I was as broken as the Golden Dome, but something far worse than daylight had crept inside of me?
I stayed silent.
Mal gave a single shake of his head, then simply walked away.
I stood alone in the center of the Darkling’s empty rooms.
Call to him, I thought desperately. Tell him something. Tell him everything.
Mal was just a few feet away, on the other side of that wall. I could say his name, bring him back, and tell it all—what had happened on the Fold, what I’d almost done to Sergei, what I’d seen just moments before. I opened my mouth, but the same words came to me again and again.
I will not scream. I will not scream. I will not scream.
I WOKE THE NEXT DAY to the sound of angry voices. For a moment, I had no idea where I was. The darkness was near perfect, broken only by a thin crack of light from beneath the door.