Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2)(6)

“Mal!” I cried.

I lashed out with the Cut and the creature burned away to nothing, but the next monster was on me in seconds. It seized me, and revulsion shuddered through my body. Its grip was like a thousand crawling insects swarming over my arms.

It lifted me off my feet, and I saw how very wrong I’d been. It did have a mouth, a yawning, twisting hole that spread open to reveal row upon row of teeth. I felt them all as the thing bit deeply into my shoulder.

The pain was like nothing I’d ever known. It echoed inside me, multiplying on itself, cracking me open and scraping at the bone. From a distance, I heard Mal call my name. I heard myself scream.

The creature released me. I dropped to the floor in a limp heap. I was on my back, the pain still reverberating through me in endless waves. I could see the water-stained ceiling, the shadow creature looming high above, Mal’s pale face as he knelt beside me. I saw his lips form the shape of my name, but I couldn’t hear him. I was already slipping away.

The last thing I heard was the Darkling’s voice—so clear, like he was lying right next to me, his lips pressed against my ear, whispering so that only I could hear: Thank you.



DARKNESS AGAIN. Something seething inside me. I look for the light, but it’s out of my reach.


I open my eyes. Ivan’s scowling face comes into focus. “You do it,” he grumbles to someone.

Then Genya leans over me, more beautiful than ever, even in a bedraggled red kefta. Am I dreaming?

She presses something against my lips. “Drink, Alina.”

I try to knock the cup away, but I can’t move my hands.

My nose is pinched shut, my mouth forced open. Some kind of broth slides down my throat. I cough and sputter.

“Where am I?” I try to say.

Another voice, cold and pure: “Put her back under.”


I AM IN THE PONY CART, riding back from the village with Ana Kuya. Her bony elbow jabs into my rib as we jounce up the road that will take us home to Keramzin. Mal is on her other side, laughing and pointing at everything we see.

The fat little pony plods along, twitching its shaggy mane as we climb the last hill. Halfway up, we pass a man and a woman on the side of the road. He is whistling as they go, waving his walking stick in time with the music. The woman trudges along, head bent, a block of salt strapped to her back.

“Are they very poor?” I ask Ana Kuya.

“Not so poor as others.”

“Then why doesn’t he buy a donkey?”

“He doesn’t need a donkey,” says Ana Kuya. “He has a wife.”

“I’m going to marry Alina,” Mal says.

The cart rolls past. The man doffs his cap and calls a jolly greeting.

Mal shouts back gleefully, waving and smiling, nearly bouncing from his seat.

I look back over my shoulder, craning my neck to watch the woman slogging along behind her husband. She’s just a girl, really, but her eyes are old and worn.

Ana Kuya misses nothing. “That’s what happens to peasant girls who do not have the benefit of the Duke’s kindness. That is why you must be grateful and keep him every night in your prayers.”



Genya’s worried face. “It isn’t safe to keep doing this to her.”

“Don’t tell me how to do my job,” Ivan snaps.

The Darkling, in black, standing in the shadows. The rhythm of the sea beneath me. The realization hits me like a blow: We’re on a ship.

Please let me be dreaming.


I’M ON THE ROAD to Keramzin again, watching the pony’s bent neck as he labors up the hill. When I look back, the girl struggling beneath the weight of the salt block has my face. Baghra sits beside me in the cart, “The ox feels the yoke,” she says, “but does the bird feel the weight of its wings?”

Her eyes are black jet. Be grateful, they say. Be grateful. She snaps the reins.


“DRINK.” MORE BROTH. I don’t fight it now. I don’t want to choke again. I fall back, let my lids drop, drifting away, too weak to struggle.

A hand on my cheek.

“Mal,” I manage to croak.

The hand is withdrawn.



“WAKE UP.” THIS TIME, I don’t recognize the voice. “Bring her out of it.”

My lids flutter open. Am I still dreaming? A boy leans over me: ruddy hair, a broken nose. He reminds me of the too-clever fox, another of Ana Kuya’s stories, smart enough to get out of one trap, but too foolish to realize he won’t escape a second. There’s another boy standing behind him, but this one is a giant, one of the largest people I’ve ever seen. His golden eyes have the Shu tilt.

“Alina,” says the fox. How does he know my name?

The door opens, and I see another stranger’s face, a girl with short dark hair and the same golden gaze as the giant.

“They’re coming,” she says.

The fox curses. “Put her back down.” The giant comes closer. Darkness bleeds back in.

“No, please—”

It’s too late. The dark has me.


I AM A GIRL, trudging up a hill. My boots squelch in the mud and my back aches from the weight of the salt upon it. When I think I cannot take another step, I feel myself lifted off the ground. The salt slips from my shoulders, and I watch it shatter on the road. I float higher, higher. Below me, I can see a pony cart, the three passengers looking up at me, their mouths open in surprise. I can see my shadow pass over them, pass over the road and the barren winter fields, the black shape of a girl, borne high by her own unfurling wings.

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