Aeduan turned to face the Firewitch, still wearing that cursed smile. Gloating and gleeful.
So this is how I will die. Aeduan had never thought it would be flames. A beheading, perhaps. Old age, more likely. But not fire—not since he’d escaped that death all those years ago.
The world shivered and smeared before him. Still, his training took over. With his free hand, he checked that his baldric was still in place. The knives ready for the grabbing.
Then he readied his stance, for though blood might burn, Aeduan’s soul would not.
The Firewitch lifted his hands for a final blaze. Even with the smoke, Aeduan smelled the attack gathering on the man’s blood. Aeduan’s muscles tensed, waiting for the perfect moment to charge. He’d have to go directly into the flames if he wanted to reach the man’s neck.
The attack never came, though. As Aeduan stood there, bracing and ready, shadows crept over the fire. At first, he’d thought clouds—a rainstorm—except the longer he stared, the more he realized the shadows came from the Firewitch.
Lines ran over the man’s body, rivulets of darkness. He started convulsing, screaming. He clutched at his blackening, bubbling arms. He scratched, he clawed.
Cleaving, Aeduan realized, and as that thought flickered through his mind, the Firewitch stilled. His eyes turned pure black. His fires snuffed out one by one around him.
A figure in white coalesced behind the Firewitch. She walked stiffly, her hands extended and her eyes rolled back in her head. The salamander cloak’s fire-flap covered half her face. Ash coated her brow.
Aeduan didn’t know how the Threadwitch was here. He didn’t know why either. He only knew he couldn’t look away.
The Threadwitch walked, each step evenly spaced, to the Firewitch. He was a monster fully cleaved now, yet when he wriggled and snarled at Iseult, she showed no fear. No reaction at all.
Instead, she lowered the fire-flap on the salamander cloak, then with her mouth stretched wide … she snapped her teeth at the air.
The Firewitch collapsed. Dead.
Vivia launched herself to the water’s surface halfway down the water-bridge. Here, the seafire had stopped. Here, no ships sailed, and she rode atop a tide of her own making.
Even through the wildness of her waters, Vivia recognized her Fox warship ahead.
Heat erupted in her chest at the thought of Baedyed pirates onboard. A blistering thing that pressed against her veins, her skin, her lungs.
The Nihar rage.
Finally, it came to her. Finally, she could tap into the wild anger of her father’s line, she could embrace the berserking strength that consumed all fear.
Vivia shot up from the water, enough violence scorching through her to carry her high. Sailors saw Vivia. They pointed, their mouths bursting wide as other sailors scrambled to defend.
But they were too slow and Vivia too enraged. She rocketed onto the ship’s main deck. Midair, she punched her fists, punched her waves. Men crashed back. Into each other, into the river, and one man, directly onto a saber he’d tried—too late—to unsheathe.
Then Vivia hit the deck, wood splintering under her knees as she crunched down. A sling of her left hand, and a tide whipped up to yank more men overboard. A slice of her right, and shards of water cut through flesh. Tore open necks.
Blood, hot and glorious, splattered across Vivia’s skin.
She barely noticed, her attention already locking on the hose at the stern. She’d never seen seafire before this day, but she could recognize its source. A massive leather tube, the width of an oak, pumped resin from belowdecks. Its spout was a modified cannon that could be spun around and aimed.
A sword swung at Vivia’s head. She ducked. Too slow. Steel clipped her left shoulder, taking skin and cloth and blood. Heat—distant and meaningless—gathered up her arm. But Vivia was at the hose, and there was nothing these sailors could do. With her left arm, spurting, she yanked it around and aimed for the main deck. Then she hauled at the spout’s crank—
“Stop! Stop!” A figure hobbled toward her, hands flailing and robes flipping.
Vivia stopped, shock staying her hand. Here was her culprit tucked somewhere in Nubrevna, here was where the jumbled mess from her spies would ultimately lead. Linday was the one working with the Baedyeds, the one working with the Nines—and he had tried to kill Merik.
Vivia didn’t know how, she didn’t know why, but she couldn’t deny what stood before her. Everything really did lead back to Serrit Linday.
“Stay where you are,” Vivia ordered.
Linday halted. His robe was torn, his face smeared with black. Ash, Vivia assumed, except that the darkness seemed to move. To circle and twine.
“If you release that seafire,” Linday called, “you will ignite a thousand firepots belowdecks. I will die, and you will die too.”
Vivia couldn’t resist. She laughed. A hollow, rusty sound. “Why are you here, Serrit? Betraying us to the Purists wasn’t enough for you?”
His face constricted. The darkness pulsed against his skin. For several moments, his throat wobbled like he might gag.
Through it all, the ship still coasted onward toward the dam. The misty valley below, still so green and alive, slid by.
Then finally Linday squeaked, “I did not want to betray Nubrevna. Ragnor promised me your throne.” His voice snapped off. He doubled over. Hacking.
Black tar flowed from his mouth. The shadows on his skin swirled faster. Bubbled faintly, like a Cleaved.
Vivia stepped away from the hose and stalked three steps toward her least favorite vizer. The sailors collectively lunged as if to attack, but Linday growled through bursts of black tar, “Stand down.”