“Please,” I sobbed. “Bring him back to me.”
Tamar opened Mal’s mouth, attempting to force air into his lungs. Tolya placed one hand on Mal’s chest, applying pressure to the wound and trying to restore the beat of his heart.
“We need more light,” he said.
A choked laugh escaped me. I held up my hands, pleading with the light and with any Saint who had ever lived. It was no good. The gesture felt false. It was a pantomime. There was nothing there.
“I don’t understand,” I cried as I pressed my wet cheek to Mal’s. His skin was already cooling.
Baghra had warned me: You may not be able to survive the sacrifice that merzost requires. But what was the point of this sacrifice? Had we lived only to be a lesson in the price of greed? Was that the truth of Morozova’s madness, some kind of cruel equation that took all our love and loss and added them up to nothing?
It was too much. The hate and pain and grief overwhelmed me. If I’d had my power back for even a second, I would have burned the world to a cinder.
Then I saw it—a light in the distance, a gleaming blade that pierced the dark.
Before I could make sense of it, another appeared—a bright point that became two broad beams, sweeping high and wild above me.
A torrent of light burst from the darkness just a few feet from me. As my eyes adjusted I saw Vladim, his mouth open in shock and confusion as light poured from his palms.
I turned my head and saw them sparking to life, one by one across the Fold, like stars appearing in a twilight sky, Soldat Sol and oprichniki, their weapons forgotten, their faces baffled, awed, terrified, and bathed in light.
The Darkling’s words came back to me, spoken on a ship that sailed the icy waters of the Bone Road. Morozova was a strange man. He was a bit like you, drawn to the ordinary and the weak.
He’d had an otkazat’sya wife.
He’d nearly lost an otkazat’sya child.
He’d thought himself alone in the world, alone in his power.
Now I understood. I saw what he had done. This was the gift of the three amplifiers: power multiplied a thousand times, but not in one person. How many new Summoners had just been created? How far had Morozova’s power reached?
The arcs and cascades of light blossomed around me, a bright garden growing in this unnatural night. The beams met, and where they crossed, the darkness burned away.
The shrieks of the volcra erupted around me as the Fold began to unravel. It was a miracle.
And I didn’t care. The Saints could keep their miracles. The Grisha could keep their long lives and their lessons. Mal was dead.
I looked up. The Darkling stood behind us, stunned, taking in the impossible sight of the Fold coming apart around us. “This can’t be. Not without the firebird. The third—” He stopped short as his eyes settled on Mal’s body, the blood on my hands. “It can’t be,” he repeated.
Even now, as the world we knew was remade in bursts and flashes of light, he couldn’t comprehend what Mal truly was. He wouldn’t.
“What power is this?” he demanded. The Darkling stalked toward us, shadows pooling in his palms, his creatures swirling around him.
The twins drew their weapons. Without thinking, I lifted my hands, reaching for the light. Nothing happened.
The Darkling stared. He dropped his arms. The skeins of darkness faded.
“No,” he said, bewildered, shaking his head. “No. This isn’t— What have you done?”
“Keep working,” I ordered the twins.
“Bring him back to me,” I repeated. I wasn’t making sense. I knew that. They didn’t have Morozova’s power. But Mal could make rabbits out of rocks. He could find true north standing on his head. He would find his way back to me again.
I lurched to my feet, and the Darkling strode toward me.
His hands went to my throat. “No,” he whispered.
Only then did I realize the collar had fallen away. I looked down. It lay in pieces beside Mal’s body. My wrist was bare; the fetter had broken too.
“This isn’t right,” he said, and in his voice I heard desperation, a new and unfamiliar anguish. His fingers skimmed my neck, cupped my face. I felt no surge of surety. No light stirred within me to answer his call. His gray eyes searched mine—confused, nearly frightened. “You were meant to be like me. You were meant … You’re nothing now.”
He dropped his hands. I saw the realization strike him. He was truly alone. And he always would be.
I saw the emptiness enter his eyes, felt the yawning void inside him stretch wider, an infinite wasteland. The calm left him, all that cool certainty. He cried out in his rage.
He spread his arms wide, calling the darkness. The nichevo’ya scattered like a flock of birds flushed from a hedge and turned on Soldat Sol and oprichniki alike, cutting them down, snuffing out the beams of light that blazed from their bodies. I knew there was no bottom to the Darkling’s pain. He would just keep falling and falling.
Mercy. Had I ever really understood it? Had I actually believed I knew what it was to suffer? To forgive? Mercy, I thought. For the stag, for the Darkling, for us all.
If we’d still been bound by that tether, he might have sensed what I was about to do. My fingers twitched in the sleeve of my coat, curling a scrap of shadow around the blade of my knife—the knife I had plucked from the sands, wet with Mal’s blood. This was the only power that was left to me, one that had never really been mine. An echo, a joke, a carnival trick. It’s something you took from him.
“I don’t need to be Grisha,” I whispered, “to wield Grisha steel.”
With one swift movement, I drove the shadow-wrapped blade deep into the Darkling’s heart.
He made a soft sound, little more than an exhalation. He looked down at the hilt protruding from his chest, then back up at me. He frowned, took a step, tottered slightly. He righted himself.
A single laugh burst from his lips, and a fine spray of blood settled over his chin. “Like this?”
His legs faltered. He tried to stop his descent, but his arm gave way and he crumpled, rolling to his back. It’s simple enough. Like calls to like. The Darkling’s own power. Morozova’s own blood.
“Blue sky,” he said. I looked. In the distance I saw it, a pale glimmer, almost completely obscured by the black mist of the Fold. The volcra were swooping away from it, looking for someplace to hide. “Alina,” he breathed.
I knelt beside him. The nichevo’ya had left off their attacks. They circled and clattered above us, unsure of what to do. I thought I glimpsed Nikolai among them, arcing toward that patch of blue.
“Alina,” the Darkling repeated, his fingers seeking mine. I was surprised to find fresh tears filling my eyes.
He reached up and brushed his knuckles over the wetness on my cheek. The smallest smile touched his bloodstained lips. “Someone to mourn me.” He dropped his hand, as if the weight were too much. “No grave,” he gasped, his hand tightening on mine, “for them to desecrate.”
“All right,” I said. The tears came harder. There will be nothing lef
He shuddered. His eyelids drooped.
“Once more,” he said. “Speak my name once more.”
He was ancient, I knew that. But in this moment he was just a boy—brilliant, blessed with too much power, burdened by eternity.
His eyes fluttered shut. “Don’t let me be alone,” he murmured. And then he was gone.
A sound like a great sigh rushed over us, lifting my hair.
The nichevo’ya blew apart, scattering like ashes in wind, leaving startled soldiers and Grisha staring at the places where they’d been. I heard a wrenching cry and looked up in time to see Nikolai’s wings dissolve, darkness spilling from him in black wisps as he plummeted to the gray sand. Zoya ran to him, trying to slow his fall with an updraft.
I knew I should move. I should do something. But I couldn’t seem to make my legs work. I slumped between Mal and the Darkling, the last of Morozova’s line. I was bleeding from my bullet wound. I touched the bare skin at my neck. It felt naked.
Dimly, I was aware of the Darkling’s Grisha retreating. Some of the oprichniki went too, the light still flowing from them in uncontrollable fits and starts. I didn’t know where they were going. Maybe back to Kribirsk to warn their compatriots that their master had fallen. Maybe they were just running. I didn’t care.
I heard Tolya and Tamar whispering back and forth. I couldn’t make out the words, but the resignation in their voices was clear enough.
“Nothing left,” I said softly, feeling the emptiness inside me, the emptiness everywhere.
The Soldat Sol were cheering, letting light blaze around them in glorious arcs as they burned the Fold away. Some of them had climbed up on the Darkling’s glass skiffs. Others had formed a line, bringing the beams of light together, sending a cascade of sunlight speeding through the thinning scraps of darkness, unraveling the Fold in a rippling wave.
They were crying, laughing, joyous in their triumph, so loud that I almost didn’t hear it—a soft rasp, fragile, impossible. I tried to keep it out, but hope came at me hard, a longing so acute I knew its end would break me.