Ruin and Rising

Ruin and Rising

Page 20

The Darkling raised his hand, and the Cut tore through me. I shattered, and gusted back into my body with an icy jolt.

I clutched at my torso, heart hammering in my chest, still feeling the slice of shadow through it, but I was whole and unmarked. I stumbled out of bed, trying to find the lantern, then gave up and fumbled around until I found my coat and boots.

Tamar was standing guard outside my room.

“Where is David lodged?” I asked.

“Just down the corridor with Adrik and Harshaw.”

“Are Mal and Tolya sleeping?”

She nodded.

“Wake them up.”

She slipped into the guards’ room, and Mal and Tolya were outside with us seconds later, awake instantly in the way of soldiers, and already pulling on their boots. Mal had his pistol.

“You won’t need that,” I said. “At least, I don’t think you will.”

I considered sending someone to get Nikolai, but I wanted to know what we were dealing with first.

We strode down the hall, and when we got to David’s room, Tamar rapped once at the door before pushing in.

Apparently, Adrik and Harshaw had been evicted for the night. A very bleary Genya and David blinked up at us from beneath the covers of a single narrow cot.

I pointed at David. “Get dressed,” I said. “You have two minutes.”

“What’s—” Genya began.

“Just do it.”

We slipped back out the door to wait.

Mal gave a little cough. “Can’t say I’m surprised.”

Tamar snorted. “After his little speech in the war room, even I considered pouncing on him.”

Moments later, the door cracked open and a disheveled, barefoot David ushered us in. Genya was seated cross-legged on the cot, her red curls going every which way.

“What is it?” said David. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve received information that the Darkling intends to use the Fold against West Ravka.”

“Did Nikolai—” Tamar began.

I held up a hand. “I need to know if it’s possible.”

David shook his head. “He can’t without you. He needs to enter the Unsea to expand it.”

“He claims he can. He claims you left secrets at the Little Palace.”

“Wait a minute,” said Genya. “Where is this information coming from?”

“Sources,” I said curtly. “David, what did he mean?” I didn’t want to believe David would betray us, at least not deliberately.

David frowned. “When we fled Os Alta, I left my old notebooks behind, but they’re hardly dangerous.”

“What was in them?” asked Tamar.

“All kinds of things,” he said, his nimble fingers pleating and unpleating the fabric of his trousers. “The designs for the mirrored dishes, a lens to filter different waves of the spectrum, nothing he could use to enter the Fold. But…” He paled slightly.

“What else?”

“It was just an idea—”

“What else?”

“There was a plan for a glass skiff that Nikolai and I came up with.”

I frowned and glanced at Mal, then at the others. They all looked as puzzled as I did. “Why would he want a glass skiff?”

“The frame is made to hold lumiya.”

I made an impatient gesture. “What’s lumiya?”

“A variation on liquid fire.”

Saints. “Oh, David. You didn’t.” Liquid fire was one of Morozova’s creations. It was sticky, flammable, and created a blaze that was almost impossible to extinguish. It was so dangerous that Morozova had destroyed the formula only hours after he’d created it.

“No!” David held his hands up defensively. “No, no. This is better, safer. The reaction only creates light, not heat. I came up with it when we were trying to find ways to improve the flash bombs for fighting the nichevo’ya. It wasn’t applicable, but I liked the idea so I kept it for … for later.” He shrugged helplessly.

“It burns without heat?”

“It’s just a source of artificial sunlight.”

“Enough to keep the volcra at bay?”

“Yes, but it’s useless to the Darkling. It has a limited burn life, and you need sunlight to activate it.”

“How much?”

“Very little, that was the point. It was just another way of magnifying your power, like the dishes. But there isn’t any light in the Fold, so—”

I held out my hands and shadows spilled over the walls.

Genya cried out, and David shrank back against the bed. Tolya and Tamar reached for their weapons.

I dropped my arms, and the shadows returned to their ordinary forms. Everyone gaped at me.

“You have his power?” whispered Genya.

“No. Just a scrap of it.” Mal thought I’d taken it from the Darkling. Maybe the Darkling had taken something from me too.

“That’s how you made the shadows jump when we were in the Kettle,” said Tolya.

I nodded.

Tamar jabbed a finger at Mal. “You lied to us.”

“I kept her secrets,” Mal said. “You would have done the same.”

She crossed her arms. Tolya laid a big hand on her shoulder. They all looked upset, but not as scared as they might have.

“You see what this means,” I said. “If the Darkling has even a remnant of my power—”

“Would it be enough to hold off the volcra?” asked Genya.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.” I’d needed an amplifier before I was able to command enough light to safely enter the Fold. Of course, there was no guarantee that the Darkling hadn’t taken more of my power when we’d faced each other in the chapel. And yet, if he’d been able to truly wield light, he would have acted before this.

“It doesn’t matter,” said David miserably. “He only needs enough sunlight to activate the lumiya once he’s in the Fold.”

“Plenty of light for protection,” said Mal. “A well-armed skiff of Grisha and soldiers…”

Tamar shook her head. “Even for the Darkling, that seems risky.”

But Tolya answered her with my own thoughts. “You’re forgetting the nichevo’ya.”

“Shadow soldiers fighting volcra?” Genya said in horror.

“Saints,” swore Tamar. “Who do you root for?”

“The problem was always containment,” said David. “Lumiya eats through everything. The only thing that worked was glass, but that presents its own engineering problems. Nikolai and I never resolved them. It was just … just for fun.”

If the Darkling hadn’t solved those problems already, he would.

You will find no sanctuary. You will have no peace.

I put my head in my hands. “He’s going to break West Ravka.”

And after that, no country would dare to stand with me or Nikolai.

Chapter 10

A HALF HOUR LATER, we were seated at the end of a table in the galley, empty glasses of tea in front of us. Genya had made herself scarce, but David was there, his head bent over a pile of drafting paper as he tried to re-create the plans for the glass skiff and the formula for lumiya from memory. For better or worse, I didn’t believe he’d aided the Darkling intentionally. David’s crime was hunger for knowledge, not power.

The rest of the Spinning Wheel was empty and silent, most of the soldiers and rogue Grisha still asleep. Despite being hauled out of bed in the middle of the night, Nikolai managed to look put together, even with his olive drab coat thrown over his nightshirt and trousers. It hadn’t taken long to update him on all I had learned, and I wasn’t surprised by the first question out of his mouth.

“How long have you known this?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“An hour, maybe less. I only waited to confirm the information with David.”

“That’s impossible—”

“Improbable,” I corrected gently. “Nikolai…” My gut clenched. I glanced at Mal. I hadn’t forgotten the way he’d reacted when I’d finally told him I was seeing visions of the Darkling. And this was far worse, because I’d gone looking for him. “I heard it from the Darkling’s lips himself. He told me.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I can visit him, like a kind of vision. I … I sought him out.”

There was a long beat. “You can spy on him?”

“Not exactly.” I tried to explain the way the rooms appeared to me, how he appeared. “I can’t hear other people or really even see them if they aren’t immediately next to him or in contact with him. It’s as if he’s the only real, material thing.”

Nikolai’s fingers were drumming on the tabletop. “But we could try to probe for information,” he said, his voice excited, “maybe even feed him false intelligence.” I blinked. That quickly, Nikolai was strategizing. I should have been used to it by now. “Can you do this with other Grisha? Maybe try to get in their heads?”

“I don’t think so. The Darkling and I are … connected. We probably always will be.”

“I have to warn West Ravka,” he said. “They’ll need to evacuate the area along the shore of the Fold.” Nikolai rubbed a hand over his face. It was the first crack I’d seen in his confidence.

“They won’t keep to the alliance, will they?” Mal asked.

“I doubt it. The blockade was a gesture West Ravka was willing to make when they thought they were safe from reprisal.”

“If they capitulate,” said Tamar, “will the Darkling still march?”

“This isn’t just about the blockade,” I said. “It’s about isolating us, making sure we don’t have anywhere to turn. And it’s about power. He wants to use the Fold. He always has.” I restrained the urge to touch my bare wrist. “It’s a compulsion.”

“What kind of numbers can you raise?” Mal asked Nikolai.

“All told? We could probably rally a force of roughly five thousand. They’re spread throughout cells in the northwest, so the problem is mobilizing, but I think it can be done. We also have reason to suspect some of the militias may be loyal to us. There have been massive desertions from the base at Poliznaya and the northern and southern fronts.”

“What about the Soldat Sol?” asked Tolya. “They’ll fight. I know they would lay down their lives for Alina. They’ve done it before.” I rubbed my arms, thinking of more lives lost, of Ruby’s fiercely cheerful face marked by the sunburst tattoo.

Nikolai frowned. “But can we rely on the Apparat?” The priest had been instrumental in the coup that had almost brought down Nikolai’s father, and unlike Genya, he hadn’t been a vulnerable servant victimized by the King. He’d been a trusted adviser. “What exactly does he want?”

“I think he wants to survive,” I said. “I doubt he’ll risk a head-on confrontation with the Darkling unless he’s sure of the outcome.”

“We could use the additional numbers,” Nikolai admitted.

A dull ache was forming near my right temple. “I don’t like this,” I said. “Any of it. You’re talking about throwing a lot of bodies at the nichevo’ya. The casualties will be unheard of.”

“You know I’ll be right out there with them,” said Nikolai.

“All that means is that I can add your number to the dead.”

“If the Darkling uses the Fold to sever us from any possible allies, then Ravka is his. He’ll only get stronger, consolidate his forces. I won’t just give up.”

“You saw what those monsters did at the Little Palace—”

“You said it yourself—he won’t stop. He needs to use his power, and the more he uses it, the more he’ll crave. This may be our last opportunity to bring him down. Besides, rumor has it Oretsev here is quite the tracker. If he finds the firebird, we may just stand a chance.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

Nikolai shrugged. “We put on our best clothes and die like heroes.”

*   *   *

DAWN WAS BREAKING by the time we finished hashing out the specifics of what we intended to do next. The Kingfisher had returned, and Nikolai sent it right back out again with a refreshed crew and a warning addressed to West Ravka’s merchant council that the Darkling might be planning an attack.

They also carried an invitation to meet with him and the Sun Summoner in neutral Kerch. It was too dangerous for Nikolai and me to risk getting caught in what might soon be enemy territory. The Pelican was back in the hangar and would soon depart for Keramzin without us. I wasn’t sure if I was sorry or relieved that I wouldn’t be able to travel with them to the orphanage, but there just wasn’t time for a detour. Mal and his team would leave for the Sikurzoi tomorrow aboard the Bittern, and I would meet up with them a week later. We would keep to our plan and hope the Darkling didn’t act before then.

There was more to discuss, but Nikolai had letters to write, and I needed to talk to Baghra. The time for lessons was over.

I found her in her darkened lair, the fire already stoked, the room unbearably warm. Misha had just brought in her breakfast tray. I waited as she ate her buckwheat kasha and sipped bitter black tea. When she was done, Misha opened the book to begin his reading, but Baghra silenced him quickly.

“Take the tray up,” she said. “The little Saint has something on her mind. If we make her wait any longer, she may jump out of her seat and shake me.”

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