logo
Share this:

Page 74

Something makes me put it in my pocket instead. I try to turn back to the ghosts, to my work. But I am perturbed, and eventually I find myself at the base of a tree near the spring not far from the ruins of Shaeva's cabin, staring out at the water. A memory rises in my mind.

Soon you will learn the cost of your vow, my brother. I hope you do not think too ill of me.

Is that what this feeling is inside? Anger at Shaeva?

It is not anger, child, Mauth says gently. It is simply that you feel your mortality. But you have no mortality anymore. You will live as long as you can serve.

"It's not mortality I feel," I say, "though it is something uniquely mortal."

Sadness?

"A type of sadness," I say, "called loneliness."

There is a long silence, so long that I think he has left me. Then I feel the earth shift around me. The tree's roots rumble, curving, softening, until they fashion themselves around me, into a sort of seat. Vines grow, and flowers burst from them.

You are not alone, Banu al-Mauth. I am here with you.

A ghost drifts close to me, flitting about in agitation. Searching, always searching. I know her. The Wisp.

"Hello, young one." Her hand drifts across my face. "Have you seen my lovey?"

"I have not," I say, but this time I give her all of my attention. "Can you tell me her name?"

"Lovey."

I nod, feeling none of the impatience I felt before. "Lovey," I say. "What about you? What is your name?"

"My name," she whispers. "My name? She called me Ama. But I had another name." I sense her agitation and try to soothe her. I seek a way into her memories, but I cannot find one. She has built a wall around herself. When she tilts her head, her profile manifests briefly. The curves of her face strike a deep and visceral chord. I feel like I'm catching a glimpse of someone I've always known.

"Karinna." She sits down next to me. "That was my name. Before I was Ama, I was Karinna."

Karinna. I recognize the name, though it takes me a moment to realize why. Karinna was my grandmother's name. Quin's wife.

But it couldn't be . . .

I open my mouth to ask her more, but her head whips around, as if she's heard something. Immediately, she is back in the air, vanishing into the trees. Something has spooked her.

I run my mind along the borders of the Forest. The wall is strong. No ghosts lurk near it.

Then I feel it. For the second time this day, someone from the outside world enters the Waiting Place. But this time, it is not a trespasser.

This time, it is someone returning home.

LIX: The Nightbringer

In the deep shade of the Waiting Place, the ghosts sigh their song of regret instead of screaming it. The spirits are quelled; the Banu al-Mauth has finally learned what it means to be the Chosen of Death.

Shadows emerge from behind me, fourteen in number. I know them and I hate them, for they are the wellsprings of all my sorrows.

The Augurs.

Do they still hear the screams of the jinn children who were slaughtered with cold steel and summer rain? Do they recall how my people begged for mercy even as they were sealed into the jinn grove?

"You cannot stop me," I say to the Augurs. "My vengeance is written."

"We are here to witness." Cain speaks. He is a far cry from the power-obsessed Scholar king of a millennium ago. Strange to think that this withered creature is the same man who betrayed the jinn, promising peace while plotting destruction. "Those who ignited the blaze must suffer its wrath," he says.

"What do you think will happen to you when all the magic you stole from my people is restored to them?" I ask. "The magic that has sustained you in your pitiful forms for all these years?"

"We will die."

"You wish to die. Immortality was a more painful burden than you anticipated, was it not, snake?" I fashion my magic into a thick, iridescent chain and lash the Augurs to me. They do not fight it. They cannot, for I am home, and here amid the trees of my birth, my magic is at its most powerful. "Fear no more, Your Majesty. You will die. Your pain will end. But first, you will watch as I destroy everything you hoped to save, so that you may know what your greed and violence have wrought."

Cain only smiles, a vestige of his old conceit.

"The jinn will be freed," he says. "The balance between worlds restored. But the humans are ready for you, Nightbringer. They will prevail."

"You poor fool." I seize him, and when he unleashes his power to throw me off, the air shimmers briefly before I shake the attack away like a human would a mosquito.

"Look into my eyes, you wretch of a man," I whisper. "See the darkest moments of your future. Witness the devastation I will unleash."

Cain stiffens as he looks, as he sees in my gaze field upon field of the dead. Villages, towns, cities aflame. His people, his precious Scholars obliterated at the hands of my brethren, ground down until even their name is no longer remembered. The Mariners, the Tribes, the Martials all under the bloody, iron-fisted rule of Keris Veturia.

And his champions, those three flames in which he placed all his hopes--Laia of Serra, Helene Aquilla, and Elias Veturius--I smother those flames. For I have taken the Blood Shrike's soul. The Waiting Place has taken the Soul Catcher's humanity. And I will crush Laia of Serra's heart.

The Augur tries to turn away from the nightmare images. I do not let him.

"Still so arrogant," I say. "So assured that you knew what was best. Your foretellings showed you a way to free yourselves and release the jinn while protecting humanity. But you never understood the magic. Above all else, it is changeable. Your dreams of the future only bloom if they have a firm hand to nurture them to life. Otherwise, they wither before they ever take root."

I turn to the jinn grove, dragging the struggling Augurs with me. They push at me with their stolen magic, desperate to escape now that they know what is to come. I wrap them tighter. They will be free soon enough.

When I arrive among the haunted trees, the suffering of my brethren washes over me. I want to scream.

I drive the Star into the ground. Now complete, it bears no sign of its splintering and stands as tall as I do, the four-pointed diamond harkening to the symbol of Blackcliff. The Augurs adopted the shape to remind themselves of their sins. A pathetic, human notion--that by drowning in guilt and regret, one can atone for any crime, no matter how despicable.

When I place my hands on the Star, the earth stills. I close my eyes. A thousand years of loneliness. A thousand years of deceit. A thousand years of plotting and planning and atonement. All for this moment.

Dozens of faces flood my mind, all those who possessed the Star. All those I loved. Father-mother-brother-daughter-friend-lover.

Release the jinn. The Star groans in response to my command, the magic within its metal twisting, warping, pouring into me and drawing from me, both at once. It is alive, its consciousness simple but thrumming with power. I seize that power, and make it mine.

The Augurs shudder, and I bind them tighter--all but Cain. I weave a shield from my magic, protecting him from what is to come.

Though he will not thank me for it.

Release the jinn. The trees moan awake, and the Star fights me, its ancient sorcery sluggish and unwilling to bend. You have held them long enough. Release them.

A crack echoes through the grove, loud as summer thunder. Deep in the Waiting Place, the soughs of the spirits transform into screams as one of the trees splits, then another. Flames pour from those great gouges, bursting forth as if the gates to all of the hells have been breached. My flames. My family. My jinn.

Leave a comment

We will not publish your email address. Required fields are marked*