And now it was gone. The life stolen by Morozova and given to his daughter had reached its end. The life Mal had been born with—fragile, mortal, temporary—was his alone. Loss. This was the price the world had demanded for balance. But Morozova couldn’t have known that the person to unlock the secrets of his amplifiers wouldn’t be some ancient Grisha who had lived a thousand years and grown weary of his power. He couldn’t have known that it would all come down to two orphans from Keramzin.
Mal took my hand, curling his fingers in mine, and pressed it to his chest. “Do you think you could be happy?” he asked. “With a used-up tracker?”
I smiled at that. Cocky Mal, charming, brave, and dangerous. Was that doubt in his voice? I kissed him once, gently. “If you can be happy with someone who stuck a knife in your chest.”
“I helped. And I told you I can handle a bad mood.”
I didn’t know what came next or who I was supposed to be. I owned nothing, not even the borrowed clothes on my back. And yet, lying there, I realized I wasn’t afraid. After all I’d been through, there was no fear left in me—sadness, gratitude, maybe even hope, but the fear had been eaten up by pain and challenge. The Saint was gone. The Summoner too. I was just a girl again, but this girl didn’t owe her strength to fate or chance or a grand destiny. I’d been born with my power; the rest I’d earned.
“Mal, you’ll have to be careful. The story of the amplifiers could leak out. People might still think you have power.”
He shook his head. “Malyen Oretsev died with you,” he said, his words echoing my thoughts closely enough to raise the hair on my arms. “That life is over. Maybe I’ll be smarter in the next one.”
I snorted. “We’ll see. We’re going to have to choose new names, you know.”
“Misha is already making a list of suggestions.”
“You have nothing to complain about. Apparently I am to be Dmitri Dumkin.”
“I should warn you that I’m keeping a tab of all of your insults so that I can reward you when I’m healed.”
“Easy with the threats, Dumkin. Maybe I’ll tell the Apparat all about your miraculous recovery, and he’ll turn you into a Saint too.”
“He can try,” said Mal. “I don’t intend to waste my days in holy pursuits.”
“No,” he said as he drew me closer. “I have to spend the rest of my life finding ways to deserve a certain white-haired girl. She’s very prickly, occasionally puts goose droppings in my shoes or tries to kill me.”
“Sounds fatiguing,” I managed as his lips met mine.
“She’s worth it. And one day maybe she’ll let me chase her into a chapel.”
I shuddered. “I don’t like chapels.”
“I did tell Ana Kuya I would marry you.”
I laughed. “You remember that?”
“Alina,” he said and kissed the scar on my palm, “I remember everything.”
* * *
IT WAS TIME to leave Tomikyana behind. We’d had only one night to recover, but news of the destruction of the Fold was spreading fast, and soon the farm’s owners might return. And even if I was no longer the Sun Summoner, there were still things I needed to do before I could bury Sankta Alina forever.
Genya brought us clean clothes. Mal limped behind the cider presses to change while she helped me put on a simple blouse and the sarafan that went over it. They were peasant clothes, not even military.
She’d once woven gold through my hair at the Little Palace, but now a more radical change was necessary. She used a pot of hematite and a clutch of shiny rooster feathers to temporarily alter its distinctive white color, then tied a kerchief around my head for good measure.
Mal returned wearing a tunic and trousers and a simple coat. He had on a black wool cap with a narrow brim. Genya wrinkled her nose. “You look like a farmer.”
“I’ve looked worse.” He peered at me. “Is your hair red?”
“And she’s almost pulling it off,” Genya added, and sailed from the barn. The effects would fade in a few days without her assistance.
Genya and David would travel separately to meet with Grisha gathering at the military camp in Kribirsk. They’d offered to bring Misha with them, but he’d elected to go with me and Mal. He claimed we needed looking after. We made sure that his golden sunburst was safely hidden away and that his pockets were stuffed with cheese for Oncat. Then we headed into the gray sands of what had once been the Fold.
It was easy to blend in with the crowds crossing to and from Ravka. There were families, groups of soldiers, nobles, and peasants. Children climbed over the ruins of sandskiffs. People gathered in spontaneous parties. They kissed and hugged, handed around bottles of kvas and fried bread stuffed with raisins. They greeted each other with shouts of “Yunejhost!” Unity.
Amid the celebrations, there were pockets of grief. Silence reigned in the crumbling remains of what had been Novokribirsk. Most of the buildings had slumped into dust. There were only dim suggestions of spaces where the streets had been, and everything had been bleached a nearly colorless gray. The round stone fountain that had stood at the center of the town looked like a crescent moon, eaten away wherever the Fold’s dark power had touched it. Old men poked at the odd ruins and muttered to each other. Even beyond the fallen town’s edges, mourners laid flowers on the wrecks of skiffs, and built little altars in their hulls.
Everywhere, I saw people wearing the double eagle, carrying banners, and waving Ravkan flags. Girls wore pale blue and gold ribbons in their hair, and I heard whispers of the tortures the brave young prince had endured at the Darkling’s hands.
I heard my name too. Pilgrims were already flooding into the Fold to see the miracle that had occurred and to offer up prayers to Sankta Alina. Once again, vendors had begun setting up carts littered with what they claimed were my finger bones, and my face stared back at me from the painted surfaces of wooden icons. It wasn’t quite me, though. This was a prettier girl, with round cheeks and serene brown eyes, the antlers of Morozova’s collar resting on her slender neck. Alina of the Fold.
No one spared us a second glance. We weren’t nobles. We weren’t Second Army. We weren’t this strange new class of Summoner soldier. We were anonymous. We were tourists.
In Kribirsk, the party was in full swing. The drydocks were ablaze with colored lanterns. People sang and drank aboard the sandskiffs. They crowded on the steps of the barracks and raided the mess tent for food. I glimpsed the yellow flag of the Documents Tent, and though some part of me ached to return there, to take in the old familiar smells of ink and paper, I couldn’t risk the possibility that one of the cartographers would recognize me.
The brothels and taverns in town were doing a booming business. An impromptu dance was being held in the central square, though just down the street a crowd had gathered at the old church to read the names written on its walls and light candles for the dead. I paused to light one for Harshaw, then another, and another. He would have liked the flames.
; Tamar had found a room for us at one of the more respectable inns. I left Mal and Misha there with promises to return that night. The news coming out of Os Alta was still a tangle, and we hadn’t had word of Misha’s mother yet. I knew he must be hopeful, but he hadn’t said a word about it, just solemnly vowed to watch over Mal in my absence.
“Read him religious parables,” I whispered to Misha. “He loves that.”
I barely dodged the pillow Mal threw across the room.
* * *
I DIDN’T GO directly to the royal barracks, but took a route that led me past where the Darkling’s silk pavilion had once stood. I’d assumed that he would rebuild it, but the field was empty, and when I reached the Lantsov quarters, I quickly understood why. The Darkling had taken up residence there. He’d hung black banners from the windows and the carving of the double eagle above the doors had been replaced with a sun in eclipse. Now workmen were pulling down the black silks and replacing them with Ravkan blue and gold. An awning had been set up to catch plaster as a soldier took a massive hammer to the stone symbol above the door, shattering it to dust. A cheer went up from the crowd. I couldn’t share in their excitement. For all his crimes, the Darkling had loved Ravka, and he’d wanted its love in return.
I found a guard near the entry and asked after Tamar Kir-Bataar. He looked down his nose at me, seeing nothing but a scrawny peasant girl, and for a moment, I heard the Darkling say, You’re nothing now. The girl I’d once been would have believed him. The girl I’d become wasn’t in the mood.
“What exactly are you waiting for?” I snapped. The soldier blinked and jumped to attention. A few minutes later, Tamar and Tolya were jogging down the steps to me.
Tolya swept me up in his huge arms.
“Our sister,” he explained to the curious guard.
“Our sister?” hissed Tamar as we entered the royal barracks. “She doesn’t look anything like us. Remind me never to let you work intelligence.”
“I have better things to do than trade in whispers,” he said with dignity. “Besides, she is our sister.”