Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone #2)(8)

My stomach lurched. “Because I know you,” I said with more confidence than I felt.

“And if he were? Would you throw yourself into the sea?”

“Not unless I could take you with me. Where is he?”

“Look behind you.”

I whirled. Far down the stretch of the main deck, through the tangle of rope and rigging, I saw Mal. He was flanked by Corporalki guards, but his focus was trained on me. He’d been watching, waiting for me to turn. I stepped forward. The Darkling seized my arm.

“No farther,” he said.

“Let me talk to him,” I begged. I hated the desperation in my voice.

“Not a chance. You two have a bad habit of acting like fools and calling it heroic.”

The Darkling lifted his hand, and Mal’s guards started to lead him away. “Alina!” he yelled, and then grunted as a guard cuffed him hard across the face.

“Mal!” I shouted as they dragged him, struggling, belowdecks. “Mal!”

I flinched out of the Darkling’s grip, my throat choked with rage. “If you hurt him—”

“I’m not going to hurt him,” he said. “At least not while he can be of use to me.”

“I don’t want him harmed.”

“He’s safe for now, Alina. But don’t test me. If one of you steps out of line, the other will suffer. I’ve told him the same.”

I shut my eyes, trying to push back the fury and hopelessness I felt. We were right back where we’d started. I nodded once.

Again, the Darkling shook his head. “You two make it so easy. I prick him, you bleed.”

“And you can’t begin to understand that, can you?”

He reached out and tapped Morozova’s collar, letting his fingers graze the skin of my throat. Even that faint touch opened the connection between us, and a rush of power vibrated through me like a bell being struck.

“I understand enough,” he said softly.

“I want to see him,” I managed. “Every day. I want to know he’s safe.”

“Of course. I’m not cruel, Alina. Just cautious.”

I almost laughed. “Is that why you had one of your monsters bite me?”

“That’s not why,” he said, his gaze steady. He glanced at my shoulder. “Does it hurt?”

“No,” I lied.

The barest hint of a smile touched his lips. “It will get better,” he said. “But the wound can never be fully healed. Not even by Grisha.”

“Those creatures—”

“The nichevo’ya.”

Nothings. I shuddered, remembering the skittering, clicking sounds they’d made, the gaping holes of their mouths. My shoulder throbbed. “What are they?”

His lips tilted. The faint tracery of scars on his face was barely visible, like the ghost of a map. One ran perilously close to his right eye. He’d almost lost it. He cupped my cheek with his hand, and when he spoke, his voice was almost tender.

“They’re just the beginning,” he whispered.

He left me standing on the foredeck, my skin still alive with the touch of his fingers, my head swimming with questions.

Before I could begin to sort through them, Ivan appeared and began yanking me back across the main deck. “Slow down,” I protested, but he just gave another jerk on my sleeve. I lost my footing and pitched forward. My knees banged painfully on the deck, and I barely had time to put up my shackled palms to break my fall. I winced as a splinter dug into my flesh.

“Move,” Ivan ordered. I struggled to my knees. He nudged me with the toe of his boot, and my knee slipped out from beneath me, sending me back down to the deck with a loud thud. “I said move.”

Then a large hand scooped me up and gently set me on my feet. When I turned, I was surprised to see the giant and the dark-haired girl.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“This is none of your concern,” Ivan said angrily.

“She’s Sturmhond’s prisoner,” replied the girl. “She should be treated accordingly.”

Sturmhond. The name was familiar. Was this his ship, then? And his crew? There’d been talk of him aboard the Verrhader. He was a Ravkan privateer and a smuggler, infamous for breaking the Fjerdan blockade and for the fortune he’d made capturing enemy ships. But he wasn’t flying the double eagle flag.

“She’s the Darkling’s prisoner,” said Ivan, “and a traitor.”

“Maybe on land,” the girl shot back.

Ivan gabbled something in Shu that I didn’t understand. The giant just laughed.

“You speak Shu like a tourist,” he said.

“And we don’t take orders from you in any language,” the girl added.

Ivan smirked. “Don’t you?” His hand twitched, and the girl grabbed at her chest, buckling to one knee.

Before I could blink, the giant had a wickedly curved blade in his hand and was lunging at Ivan. Lazily, Ivan flicked his other hand out, and the giant grimaced. Still, he kept coming.

“Leave them alone,” I protested, tugging helplessly at my irons. I could summon light with my wrists bound, but I had no way to focus it.

Ivan ignored me. His hand tightened into a fist. The giant stopped in his tracks, and the sword fell from his fingers. Sweat broke out on his brow as Ivan squeezed the life from his heart.

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