I paused in the doorway. I could just make him out in the dark, the light from the hallway glinting off his damp cheeks. “I’m sorry about Genya. About everything.”
I remembered the way Marie and Sergei used to jab at each other, thought of them sitting arm in arm, laughing over a shared cup of tea. “Me too,” I whispered.
When I emerged into the hall, I was startled to see Baghra waiting with Misha.
“What are you doing out here?”
“We came to find you. What’s the matter with that boy?”
“He’s had a hard time of it,” I said, leading them away from the tank room.
“He saw the girl he loved gutted by your son and held her while she died.”
“Suffering is cheap as clay and twice as common. What matters is what each man makes of it. Now,” she said with a rap of her stick, “lessons.”
I was so stunned that it took me a moment to understand her meaning. Lessons? Baghra had refused to teach me since I’d returned to the Little Palace with the second amplifier. I gathered my wits and followed her down the hall. I was probably a fool for asking, but I couldn’t stop myself. “What changed your mind?”
“I had a chat with our new King.”
My steps slowed when I saw where Misha was leading her. “You ride in the iron box?”
“Of course,” she snapped. “I should drag my body up all those stairs?”
I glanced at Misha, who looked placidly back at me, hand resting on the wooden practice sword at his hip. I edged into the horrible contraption.
Misha slammed the grate closed and pulled the lever. I shut my eyes as we hurtled upward, then jolted to a stop.
“What did Nikolai say?” I asked shakily as we stepped out into the Spinning Wheel.
Baghra gave a wave of her hand. “I warned him that once you had the power of the amplifiers, you might be as dangerous as my son.”
“Thanks,” I said drily. She was right and I knew it, but it didn’t mean I wanted Nikolai worrying about it.
“I made him swear that if that happened, he’d put a bullet in you.”
“And?” I asked, even as I dreaded hearing it.
“He gave me his word. Whatever that’s worth.”
I happened to know Nikolai’s word was good. He might mourn me. He might never forgive himself. But Nikolai’s first love was Ravka. He would never tolerate a threat to his country.
“Why don’t you do it now and save him the trouble?” I muttered.
“I think about it daily,” she snapped back. “Especially when you run your mouth.”
Baghra murmured instructions to Misha, and he led us to the southern terrace. The door was hidden in the hem of the Shorn Maiden’s brass skirts, and there were coats and hats hung on hooks along her boot. Baghra was already so bundled up I could barely see her face, but I grabbed a fur hat for myself and buttoned Misha into a thick wool coat before we stepped out into the biting cold.
The end of the long terrace ended in a point, almost like the prow of a ship, and the cloud bank lay like a frozen sea before us. Occasionally the mist parted, offering glimpses of the snow-covered peaks and gray rock far below. I shuddered. Too big. Too high. Sergei wasn’t wrong. Only the tallest peaks of the Elbjen were visible above the clouds, and again I was reminded of an island chain stretching south.
“Tell me what you see,” said Baghra.
“Mostly clouds,” I said, “sky, a few mountain peaks.”
“How far to the closest one?”
I tried to gauge the distance. “At least a mile, maybe two?”
“Good,” she said. “Take its head off.”
“You’ve used the Cut before.”
“It’s a mountain,” I said. “A really big mountain.”
“And you’re the first Grisha to wear two amplifiers. Do it.”
“It’s miles away!”
“Are you hoping I’ll grow old and die while you complain?”
“What if someone sees—”
“The range is uninhabited this far north. Stop making excuses.”
I heaved a frustrated sigh. I’d worn the amplifiers for months. I had a good sense of the limits of my power.
I held up my gloved hands, and the light came to me in a welcome rush, shimmering over the cloud bank. I focused it, narrowing it to a blade. Then, feeling like an idiot, I struck out in the direction of the nearest peak.
Not even close. The light burned through the clouds at least a few hundred yards short of the mountain, briefly revealing the peaks below and leaving shreds of mist in its wake.
“How did she do?” Baghra asked Misha.
I scowled at him. Little traitor. Someone snickered behind me.
I turned. We’d drawn a crowd of soldiers and Grisha. It was easy to pick out the red crest of Harshaw’s hair. He had Oncat curled round his neck like an orange scarf, and Zoya was smirking beside him. Perfect. Nothing like a little humiliation on an empty stomach.
“Again,” said Baghra.
“It’s too far,” I grumbled. “And it’s huge.” Couldn’t we have started smaller? Say, with a house?
“It is not too far,” she sneered. “You are as much there as you are here. The same things that make the mountain make you. It has no lungs, so let it breathe with you. It has no pulse, so give it your heartbeat. That is the essence of the Small Science.” She thumped me with her stick. “Stop huffing like a wild boar. Breathe the way I taught you—contained, even.”
I felt my cheeks redden, and I slowed my breathing.
Snippets of Grisha theory filled my head. Odinakovost. Thisness. Etovost. Thatness. It was all a muddle. But the words that came back to me most strongly were Morozova’s fevered scrawl: Are we not all things?
I closed my eyes. This time, instead of drawing the light to me, I went to it. I felt myself scatter, reflecting off the terrace, the snow, the glass behind me.
I lashed out with the Cut. It struck the side of the mountain, sending a sheet of ice and rock tumbling with a dull roar.
A cheer went up from the crowd at my back.
“Hmph,” said Baghra. “They’d clap for a dancing monkey.”
“All depends on the monkey,” said Nikolai from the edge of the terrace. “And the dance.”
Great. More company.
“Better?” Baghra asked Misha.
“A little,” he said grudgingly.
“A lot!” I protested. “I hit it, didn’t I?”
“I didn’t ask you to hit it,” said Baghra. “I told you to take its head off. Again.”