A new set of Threads flickered into Iseult’s awareness. A bright, living set that shoveled through Iseult’s sickness. She knew these Threads—that particular shade of determined green and worried beige.
Evrane. The monk was right outside the window.
In a heartbeat, Iseult was out of the cupboard. She couldn’t let Evrane die too. She leapt through the shattered window. Glass grabbed at her cloak, but its buckle held fast. Then she was pounding down the narrow street—aiming right, in the direction she sensed Evrane’s Threads.
Rain cut her, burning the wound on her face. The storm was getting worse—the sky had come alive. It all roiled and tossed in a single direction: toward the wharf.
Through the rain, Iseult glimpsed white. She pushed her legs faster, screaming, “Evrane!”
The white paused. Materialized into Evrane’s shape and silver head. She glanced back, her face a mask of surprise but her Threads blue with relief.
Black moved along a rooftop. Streaked from a shadowy storefront.
“Behind you!” Iseult shrieked, heaving out her cutlass.
She was too late. The Cleaved converged on Evrane, and the monk vanished beneath a horde of death.
Iseult burned up the road as fast as she could, screaming and slashing the entire way. Her blades severed necks, sliced through legs. Pustules burst and acid hissed on the walls. On Iseult’s cloak.
Yet she swung and heaved and chopped, screaming Evrane’s name all the while.
Soon enough, there was no one left to kill. The Cleaved were running … and where Evrane had fallen, there was nothing but a wide stain of red.
Iseult spun, frantically searching doorways and shadows.
But the monk was as gone as the Cleaved.
So Iseult squeezed her eyes against the storm and reached for Threads. There. On the other side of the nearest alley was a set of frightened white Threads, swirling with gray pain. A lot of gray pain.
Iseult pushed into the wind and hugged Aeduan’s cloak tight. He had told her the truth: the Cleaved didn’t seem to smell her.
She reached an intersection of narrow row houses. Blood dragged along the ground, already splashing away with the rain.
Iseult picked up her pace and followed Evrane’s trail as long as she could, but the downpour quickly washed away the blood. Even straining to sense the monk’s Threads, she soon lost sight of them too. They moved so fast. Much faster than Iseult could travel in this storm.
When Iseult shoved onto a familiar narrow street, she caught sight of the wave-beaten harbor several blocks ahead. She was on the western edge of town where she’d first come in. Sand and sea-spray bore down on her, and the storm surged out. Wood cracked; buildings crumbled.
With an arm thrust up to protect her face, Iseult frantically searched for signs of Evrane. A flash of white in the storm or a flicker of the monk’s Threads. But Iseult saw nothing. The storm devoured everything. Iseult could barely sense the Cleaved anymore—in fact, they seemed to be fleeing the city and racing north.
Lightning exploded. Iseult’s eyes shuttered against the light, the heat. Magic crashed over her, shivered on her skin and in her lungs. She tumbled against the nearest wall and shrank within the cloak.
For half of a seemingly endless breath, Iseult was crippled by her guilt. By how much she hated herself and her magic and the Puppeteer.
But then the storm withdrew. The noise and the pressure and the mauling rain pulled back …
And Threads scissored into Iseult’s awareness. Living Threads nearby. She lurched upright, tossing back the cloak to find the cyclone leaving. It spiraled over the sea like a writhing black snake.
Iseult limped into a demolished alley, searching for the living Threads. Her feet crunched through glass until at last she found the Prince of Nubrevna, bruised, bleeding, and trapped beneath a fallen building.
Yet he was still alive, and Iseult was still alive to save him.
* * *
A laugh writhed in Safi’s throat as she stared blearily at Vaness. Of course, it would be the Empress of Marstok. Who else would have the balls to fight with a flail? Or be insane enough to come after Safi herself?
Rain fell. Wind charged—strong as an ox and growing stronger—and waves threatened to cover the entire street. A hurricane roared at the other end of the city, but Safi never looked away from Empress Vaness. If the woman cleaved …
But gods below, could she kill an Empress?
Safi’s eyes flicked to the flail, an arm’s length from Vaness and all but forgotten. If the Empress was cleaving, that weapon was Safi’s only option …
Vaness stilled. She stopped scratching her arms, stopped moving at all. Her gaze was pinned behind Safi.
“Twelve protect me,” she said.
If she’s speaking, then she isn’t cleaving, Safi thought. Whatever corrupt magic had surged through Vaness, the Empress hadn’t succumbed.
But then Safi made the mistake of following Vaness’s gaze. The storm was leaving, a single figure at its center. Lightning sizzled down its black form as it curved and twisted and charged out to sea.
Oh gods. Safi swayed, but forced her head to stay up so she could search the street. She saw no sign of Merik. Surely he had not been killed. Yet before Safi could propel herself that way, Vaness shouted, “Give up, Truthwitch.”
Shit. Ever so slowly, Safi turned back to Vaness, who stood with her flail ready.
Safi wet her lips. They tasted like blood and salt. Maybe if she could distract Vaness, she could bolt away. “Why you?” she asked. “Why not send your soldiers to kill me? Why risk yourself?”