Ruin and Rising (The Grisha 3) - Page 3

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“Why is that?” asked the Apparat.

Mal’s eyes darted to me for the briefest second. “You learn more by losing.” He shrugged. “At least Tolya’s around to keep kicking my ass.”

“Mind your tongue,” the Apparat snapped.

Mal ignored him. Abruptly, he put two fingers to his lips and gave a sharp whistle. “Ruby, you’re leaving yourself open!”

Too late. Her braid was on fire. Another young soldier ran at her with a bucket of water and tossed it over her head.

I winced. “Try not to get them too crispy.”

Mal bowed. “Moi soverenyi.” He jogged back to the troops.

That title. He said it without any of the rancor he had seemed to carry at Os Alta, but it still hit me like a punch to the gut.

“He should not address you so,” complained the Apparat.

“Why not?”

“It was the Darkling’s title and is unfitting for a Saint.”

“Then what should he call me?”

“He should not address you directly at all.”

I sighed. “Next time he has something to say, I’ll have him write me a letter.”

The Apparat pursed his lips. “You’re restless today. I think an extra hour in the solace of the archives will do you good.”

His tone was chiding, as if I were a cranky child who had stayed up past her bedtime. I made myself think of the promise of the Kettle and forced a smile. “I’m sure you’re right.” Distract, disarm, disable.

As we turned down the passage that would take us to the archives, I looked over my shoulder. Zoya had flipped a soldier on his back and was spinning him like a turtle, her hand making lazy circles in the air. Ruby was talking to Mal, her smile broad, her expression avid. But Mal was watching me. In the ghostly light of the cavern, his eyes were a deep and steady blue, the color at the center of a flame.

I turned away and followed the Apparat, hurrying my steps, trying to temper the wheeze of my lungs. I thought of Ruby’s smile, her singed braid. A nice girl. A normal girl. That was what Mal needed. If he hadn’t taken up with someone new already, eventually he would. And someday I’d be a good enough person to wish him well. Just not today.

* * *

WE CAUGHT DAVID on his way into the archives. As usual, he was a mess—hair going every direction, sleeves blotted with ink. He had a glass of hot tea in one hand and a piece of toast tucked into his pocket.

His eyes flickered from the Apparat to the Priestguards.

“More salve?” he asked.

The Apparat curled his lip slightly at this. The salve was David’s concoction for Genya. Along with her own efforts, it had helped to fade some of the worst of her scarring, but wounds from the nichevo’ya never healed completely.

“Sankta Alina has come to spend her morning in study,” the Apparat declared with great solemnity.

David gave a twitch that vaguely resembled a shrug as he ducked through the doorway. “But you’re going to the Kettle later?”

“I will have guards sent to escort you in two hours,” said the Apparat. “Genya Safin will be waiting for you.” His eyes scanned my haggard face. “See that she gives better attention to her work.”

He bowed deeply and vanished down the tunnel. I looked around the room and blew out a long, dejected breath. The archives should have been the kind of place I loved, full of the smell of ink on paper, the soft crackle of quills. But this was the Priestguards’ den—a dimly lit maze of arches and columns carved from white rock. The closest I’d come to seeing David lose his temper had been the first time he’d laid eyes on these little domed niches, some of them caved in, all of them lined with ancient books and manuscripts, their pages black with rot, their spines bloated with moisture. The caves were damp enough that puddles had seeped up through the floors. “You can’t … you can’t have kept Morozova’s journals in here,” he’d practically shrieked. “It’s a bog.”

Now David spent his days and most of his nights in the archives, poring over Morozova’s writings, jotting down theories and sketches in a notebook of his own. Like most other Grisha, he’d believed that Morozova’s journals had been destroyed after the creation of the Fold. But the Darkling would never have let knowledge like that go. He’d hidden the journals away, and though I’d never been able to get a straight answer from the Apparat, I suspected the priest had somehow discovered them in the Little Palace and then stolen them when the Darkling had been forced to flee Ravka.

I slumped down on a stool across from David. He had dragged a chair and a table into the driest of the caves, and stocked one of the shelves with extra oil for his lanterns and the herbs and unguents he used to make Genya’s salve. Usually, he hunched over some formula or bit of tinkering and didn’t look up for hours, but today he couldn’t seem to settle, fussing with his inks, fidgeting with the pocket watch he’d propped up on the table.

I thumbed listlessly through one of Morozova’s journals. I’d come to loathe the sight of them—useless, confusing, and most importantly, incomplete. He described his hypotheses regarding amplifiers, his tracking of the stag, his two-year journey aboard a whaler seeking the sea whip, his theories on the firebird, and then … nothing. Either there were journals missing or Morozova had left his work unfinished.

The prospect of finding and using the firebird was daunting enough. But the idea that it might not exist, that I might have to face the Darkling again without it? The thought was too terrifying to contemplate, so I simply shoved it away.

I made myself turn the pages. The only means I had of keeping track of time was David’s watch. I didn’t know where he’d found it, how he’d gotten it working, or if the time he’d set it to had any correlation to time on the surface, but I glared at its face and willed the minute hand to move faster.

The Priestguards came and went, always watching or bent to their texts. They were meant to be illuminating manuscripts, studying holy word, but I doubted that was the bulk of their work. The Apparat’s network of spies reached throughout Ravka, and these men considered it their calling to maintain it, deciphering messages, gathering intelligence, building the cult of a new Saint. It was hard not to compare them to my Soldat Sol, most of them young and illiterate, locked out of the old mysteries these men guarded.

When I couldn’t bear any more of Morozova’s ramblings, I twisted in my seat, trying to release a crick from my back. Then I pulled down an old collection of what were mostly debates on prayer, but that turned out to also contain a version of Sankt Ilya’s martyrdom.

In this one, Ilya was a mason, and the neighbor boy was crushed beneath a horse—that was new. Usually, the boy was cut down by a plow blade. But the story ended as all the tellings did: Ilya brought the child back from the brink of death, and for his trouble, the villagers threw him into the river, bound by iron chains. Some t

ales claimed he never sank but floated out to sea. Others vowed his body had emerged days later on a sandbank miles away, perfectly preserved and smelling of roses. I knew them all, and none of them said a word about the firebird or indicated that Dva Stolba was the right place to start looking for it.

All our hope for finding the firebird resided in an old illustration: Sankt Ilya in Chains, surrounded by the stag, the sea whip, and the firebird. Mountains could be glimpsed behind him, along with a road and an arch. That arch had long since fallen, but I thought the ruins could be found at Dva Stolba, not far from the settlements where Mal and I had been born. At least, that’s what I believed on my good days. Today, I felt less sure that Ilya Morozova and Sankt Ilya were the same man. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the copies of the Istorii Sankt’ya anymore. They lay in a moldy stack in a forgotten corner, seeming less like portents of some grand destiny than children’s books that had fallen out of fashion.

David picked up his watch, put it down, reached for it again, knocked over a bottle of ink then righted it with fumbling fingers.

“What’s with you today?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said sharply.

I blinked at him. “Your lip is bleeding.”

He wiped his palm across it, and the blood beaded up again. He must have bitten it. Hard.

“David—”

He rapped his knuckles against his desk, and I nearly jumped. There were two guards behind me. Punctual and creepy as always.

“Here,” David said, handing me a small tin. Before I could take it, a guard had snatched it up.

“What are you doing?” I asked angrily. But I knew. Nothing passed between me and the other Grisha without being thoroughly inspected. For my safety, of course.

The Priestguard ignored me. He ran his fingers over the top and bottom of the tin, opened it, smelled the contents, investigated the lid, then closed it and handed it back without a word. I plucked it from his hand.

“Thanks,” I said sourly. “And thank you, David.”

He had already bent back over his notebook, seemingly lost in whatever he was reading. But he gripped his pen so hard I thought it might snap.


Tags: Leigh Bardugo The Grisha Fantasy
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