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Chapter Two

“Oh, my lord, what have they done to you?”

Gavin knew that voice. He opened his eye, tried to turn, but he was bound to a table, arms extended, nothing beneath them, as if on a raft over an ocean that was no longer there. His tongue was thick and parched, and a bandage covered his left eye.

Marissia came hovering into view above him. She put her hand over her mouth in horror.

“Wa… water,” Gavin rasped.

But the first thing she did was unbind his arms and legs. Marissia had been his room slave for more than a decade. She knew how he hated to be bound, how even the encumbrance of blankets twisted around his legs in bed made him panic and flail. Marissia, here? But where was here?

He remembered now. He must be at Amalu and Adini’s, the chirurgeons on Big Jasper. He must have been panicking, delirious. It had all been nightmares. Marissia was here. Everything was going to be fine.

Karris had pulled him out of the hippodrome where they’d put out his eye, and he must have come down with a fever. He’d only dreamed he was in that blue hell he’d made for his brother. He’d only dreamed that his father knew everything. Fever dreams. Impossible dreams.

Oh, thank Orholam.

Marissia put a wet cloth in his mouth, and he sucked weakly. She wet it again and repeated theprocess, until he motioned that he’d had enough. She wiped the crusted spit from the corners of his mouth.

Only then did he try to speak. “Marissia, where’s Karris?”

“Your lady wife is safe, my lord. She’s been made the White.” It was oddly formal for Marissia, but Gavin hadn’t yet sorted out the blurred boundaries between his room slave and his new wife. Doubtless Marissia was upset that he had married, and who knew how Karris had been treating her? With Gavin’s absence, he was lucky Marissia was even still employed in his household. A more jealous wife would have sold off the room slave who’d been so close to her husband.

But Gavin didn’t have time to worry about a slave’s feelings with all the problems facing him.

The White?” he asked. “You didn’t just say…”

“Orea Pullawr has passed into the light, my lord. My lady Karris Guile has ascended to serve as thenew White.”

“I thought that old crone was going to live forever,” Gavin said. But he felt an intense surge of pride at his wife’s accomplishment. The White!

In retrospect, though, maybe Orea had been preparing Karris for that all along.

Orholam’s balls, the other families were going to lose their minds. Andross Guile as Promachos, Karris Guile as the White, and Gavin Guile as the Prism?

Well, that brought up a host of other problems. But Gavin was back, and with Karris beside him, there were few things he– ” Marissia, is there something odd about the sound in here?”

“My lord.” There was a dread monotone to her voice.

With difficulty, Gavin sat up. His bed was the kind of palanquin on which nobles were carried when injured, with drapes on all sides for privacy, but small and light so that slaves could navigate corners and narrow streets.

A wall was not far behind Marissia. It curved.

“Oh, Marissia, no.”

That gray wall curved like a teardrop or a squashed ball. Gavin tore back the palanquin’s other curtains. Everywhere, the one curving wall, sparkling quietly with inner light. Gavin couldn’t see theblue of it, but he could see all he needed to know from that winking crystalline luxin. He was in theblue hell. His gaoler had somehow brought Marissia here to care for Gavin’s wounds. To keep him alive. For punishment.

“How are you here?” he asked.

“I was kidnapped. By Order assassins who were contracted by your father.”


“My lord, I have secrets I would tell you. I don’t know how long I have.”

“You expect them to kill you.” He could see it in the tight calm of her face, like an improperly tanned hide stretched too far over a drum.

“I was allowed to see my kidnappers’ faces. And High Lord Guile’s. Your father brought me here himself. Alone.”

Gavin’s arm shook from the mere effort of holding himself seated. He fell back on the palanquin. “Of course he did,” he said. “He couldn’t let anyone know about this place. But someone had to care for me. And he guessed that you would know about these cells after so many years with me, so he accomplished numerous tasks at once. That’s my father. May Orholam damn him.”

It was very much Andross Guile to discard the slave after she’d served her purpose, too.

He wouldn’t even guess that Gavin would be put out by it. To Andross, he wasn’t murdering Gavin’s lover; he was destroying a piece of Gavin’s property. Gavin could always buy another room slave, one prettier and younger, even. This one had to be more than thirty years old, after all.

“Marissia, I’m–”

He could see on her face that she knew it too. “I don’t know how much time we have, my lord. Please don’t. My courage is leaking away by the moment. Please treat me like a scout or a captain in your armies, so I can think of myself as a warrior, because I can’t bear…” Her throat clenched as she lost her words to fear, the thief.

Gavin hesitated, and then gathered himself. “Water. The cup this time.” He didn’t try to sit up. With a trembling hand, she gave him water. He took it, clumsily, with his left hand missing the third and fourth fingers.

“Report,” he said when he was done, and though he lay on his back, his voice was all command.

“What I have to say is quite sensitive, my lord. What do we do about eavesdroppers?”

He thought about it. “If my father brought you here, it means he isn’t trusting even his closest spies to know about this place. So he would have to be eavesdropping himself. He knows I may sleep for another few days, so I doubt he’d gamble his time that way. Just sitting here, waiting for me to wake, doing nothing else while he doubtless needs to do much? No. Speaking is a risk, but it’s a risk I’ll take.”

She took a deep breath, bracing herself. She looked away from his eye. “I am–that is, I was Orea Pullawr’s spy mistress.”

Gavin felt like he’d been punched in the gut.

“At first, I just met with a few of her contacts, but I did well. She kept expanding my role until, in thelast few years when she was losing mobility, I took over everything.”

Gavin couldn’t look at her. He stared straight up. Furious, he tore off the palanquin’s roof. Marissia fell silent.

The action left him exhausted, aware again of how sick he’d been. He could only stare up–up theanus of the blue hell, from which bread was shat down to the poor souls within. He would be eating Andross Guile’s shit for as long as he chose to live. “And how exactly did that fit with our arrangement, Marissia?”

“I did my best to make it fit, my lord.”

He half laughed. “You did your best?”

“I never betrayed you.”

“What did she have over you? I was here! You’re mine!” he spat. “What could she threaten you with that I could not protect you from? I’m nothing now, but I was… I was indomitable. Do you not remember what I did for you? Do you not remember the Seaborns?”

“I remember, my l–”

“People think I killed that young asshole in a rage as a wild overreaction because he’d damaged my property. I did it so no one would ever harass you again. I killed a man and ended up having to kill his entire family–for you. For a slave. And for that–for that!–I get no loyalty? From you who shared my chambers and my bed. From you, whom I trusted more than I trusted even my own mother.”

“My lord…” She was weakening, losing whatever courage she’d gathered to tell him this.

“What did you tell the White?” he asked, voice dangerous.

“I told her nothing that we hadn’t agreed on. I swear. I swear.”

Marissia had been the White’s gift to Gavin. A young, pretty, smart virgin to be his room slave, untainted by the politics of Big Jasper or loyalties to any other family, she’d been shipped directly from the Floating City. She was a rich gift indeed, and an unusual one. She had a passing resemblance–more pronounced in those early years–to Karris. The White had obviously thought Gavin had a type.

As a young, single Prism, he could have easily had many room slaves. Wealthy subjects were always giving gifts, looking for favor, and looking to place spies near him.

A procession of room slaves wouldn’t have been problem if not for one thing.

The food chute to his brother’s prison was in his own room. Regardless of whether a room slave’s duties were purely sexual or as more of a chief slave, as Marissia had been, a room slave was inone’s room constantly. So rather than trust that a hundred searching eyes would all miss one hidden secret, Gavin had decided to turn one enemy to his own side. He’d been certain that theyoung Marissia had been ordered by the White to spy on him. But who was the White to command more loyalty than Gavin in his proud prime?

The White had asked him to kindly give the girl a few weeks to adjust to her life. It would be bewildering for a young slave from the reaches of the Seven Satrapies to adjust to life here, she said. Give her time.

With his mother’s guidance, Gavin had gone further than that. He had plotted how to take full possession of his newest acquisition as a general might plot a military campaign. He had seduced her as if she were a princess. It was not a hard labor, and not entirely a deceitful one, either. He’d been immediately attracted to Marissia’s obvious intelligence, beauty, and–no less important to theyoung arrogant man he’d been–her desire to please.

In that first year when Karris had left and he’d been so heartbroken and believed he would never see her again, Gavin had even thought that he was in love with Marissia.

As if one could love a slave the way one loves a woman.

Such a thing was the kind of scandal of which there were songs and stories. An entire sequence of comedies was devoted to the dullard Old Giles, the henpecked lord who left his wife for his slave, left all his lands and titles to marry her, and had adventures as he cluelessly attempted the very basic labors of farmers, or millers, or thatchers, or bakers, always failing and always then having to try another occupation in the next story. Usually in another city. Usually because his lady wife had shown up at his place of business.

Other tales of masters and slaves in love were darker and not sung much in front of lords or ladies. Those were tales of the too-pretty room slave whose jealous mistress sold her off to the silver mines, or the brothels, or murdered her outright. Like every good gift, beauty was a blessing for therich, but sometimes a curse for the poor.

The frisson of danger for a lord, who might be mocked by his friends for being an Old Giles, didn’t compare to what a room slave had to feel, fearing on the one hand to please her master too little, and fearing on the other hand to be seen pleasing him too much.

Gavin had decided many times that instead of love-love, he loved Marissia as a master loves a favored hound. You could love a hound. A hound could love you. But loving a hound as one loves a woman? Disgusting. Unnatural. Perverse.

Whatever his few qualms, he had won over Marissia’s heart along with his ownership of her body, and eventually, when he was sure she cared for him more than anything in the world, he’d confronted her with evidence of her spying for the White, as if he felt betrayed by what he knew had been the point all along.

It had, of course, been unfair. Really, how could Marissia have said no to the White herself–her owner–when she hadn’t yet even met Gavin? But his scheme had worked. After shaming and terrifying her, Gavin had made his accommodation: Marissia would continue to spy for the White, but she would ask Gavin what she could share first. There would be certain secrets the White could never know.

And then, by degrees, Gavin had let her learn secrets and false secrets, always watching the White to see what she knew, always testing Marissia’s faithfulness. And faithful she had been, until Gavin had even trusted her with the bread. He hadn’t told her it was for his brother below, but she’d understood it was some awful secret, and that Orea had never learned of it.

And now the White, Orea Pullawr, was dead, and she hadn’t used whatever Marissia had told her to destroy him. So what kind of betrayal was this?

“Marissia,” Gavin said. “Why would you do this? What loyalty did you owe her?”

Marissia straightened her back, and looked him in the eye. “My name is Marissia Pullawr. The White was my grandmother. You were my assignment. I was never a slave.”

Chapter One

Teia lowered the silk noose toward her damnation. Rope spooled out from careful fingers toward the anxious woman quietly working at the desk below. The target was perhaps thirty, wearing a slave’s dress, her copper-colored hair pulled up in a simple ponytail. As Teia watched, the woman folded a piece of luxin-imbued flash paper that all her spies used. She paused and took a sip of an expensive whisky.

Don’t look up! Please don’t look up.

The woman was Prism Gavin Guile’s room slave. She was the White’s hidden spy mistress. She was Teia‘s former superior and her mentor. Marissia put down her whisky and as she sealed the note, she said, “Orholam, forgive me.”

Teia was using the shimmercloak that Murder Sharp had given her, but clinging to theironwork on the ceiling like this, it hung away from her body, and it didn’t hide the dangling noose at all.

But Marissia didn’t look up. She put the note aside, and pulled out another sheet of thin paper.

As her mentor leaned forward, Teia dexterously flipped the noose over Marissia’s head and then dropped from the ceiling, holding the rope. Draped over a beam above, the noose jerked tight around Marissia’s throat and hauled her to her feet. The sharp movement flung her chair backward just as Teia, holding the other end, swung down and forward. The falling chair cracked across Teia‘s shins a moment before she crashed into Marissia.

Somehow, Teia kept from releasing the rope, and she didn’t cry out. Marissia was choking, grabbing at her neck, scrambling to get her feet under her.

Amazing how pain shuts down your thinking. If Teia hadn’t just gotten her shins destroyed, there were a dozen things she would have done. Instead, she clung stupidly to the rope, gasping, tears springing from her eyes, face to face with her old superior.

As Marissia regained her feet, Teia saw the problem:  she wasn’t as heavy as Marissia. Marissia noticed it too. Though gagging, she grabbed the rope above her head and pulled down with all of her strength.

Something shimmered in the corner of Teia‘s eye, and Murder Sharp became visible as he took quick steps across the carpet. He buried a fist in Marissia’s stomach.

Marissia’s strangled cough blew spit across Teia‘s face. The slave woman went slack. In quick motions, Sharp took the noose from Teia, threw a sack over Marissia’s head, and bound Marissia’s hands behind her back in such a way that any move she made to escape would tighten the noose around her neck.

Master Sharp was gifted with knots.

He forced Marissia to her knees and checked once more that she could breathe–all the fight had gone out of her.

“Not good,” Master Sharp said, turning back to Teia. “Not very good at all.” He was a lean man with sharp features, orangey-red hair, and a short beard the color of fire. His most remarkable features, though, were his teeth and his too-big, too-frequent smile, which he flashed now joylessly, by mere habit. Usually, the teeth he revealed with that smile were too-white and too-perfect. On most hunts, he wore dentures made of predators’ teeth. But today, perhaps because his mission wasn’t to kill anyone, he wore dentures of beaver teeth–a full disconcerting mouth of big, wide, flat incisors. They barely fit in his mouth.

“But you kept her from destroying any of the papers,” he continued, “So I’ll accept it.”

“You were here the whole time?” Teia asked. She set the chair back upright to give herself a moment of not looking at the monster who was now her master. She massaged her aching shins. Orholam have mercy, those beaver teeth made her skin crawl.

“This is too important for me to let you bungle it. She was some kind of secretary for the Prism. Who knows what she has access to?”

Secretary? So the Order didn’t know what Marissia really was. Why then were they kidnapping her?

And why kidnapping? Teia had thought that the Order only killed people.

Not that they wouldn’t murder Marissia after whatever they had planned here.

Handing Teia the noose, Murder Sharp strode to the window to look down at the islands. Even from where she was, Teia could see a thick curl of black smoke rising to greet the morning sun.

Earlier this morning, their trainer Tremblefist had blown the black powder stores beneath the cannon tower so Kip and the rest of the Mighty could escape by sea. He’d probably given his life doing it. The squad had gotten away while Teia had chosen to stay here. And now she was doing this. She was a fool.

“We’re lucky,” Sharp said. “The few Blackguards who weren’t already on the parade route have abandoned their posts to get down to that tower. Still, no time to waste. You watch her. Break her neck if she screams.”

He shook his head at that last part. He’d said that for Marissia’s benefit. He made a fist and mimed hitting her stomach. Knock the wind out of her if she screams, he meant.

Why he hadn’t just gagged her? Teia didn’t know, but she didn’t ask. She’d learned not to push themercurial assassin. Sometimes he had deeper plans. Sometimes he didn’t think of the obvious. But he never liked being questioned. And there was no up side in Teia appearing too smart.

Sharp scooped all the papers off the table and into a sack. He opened drawers and grabbed every paper with writing on it, and thumbed through all the blank pages to make sure nothing was hidden from him.

Then he was off, searching the rest of the room.

Marissia gave two sharp, little tugs on the rope in Teia‘s hand.

“Shhh,” Teia said.

Marissia waited a few seconds and tugged again. She wanted to say something.

What was Teia going to tell her? She hadn’t known Marissia outside of their work, but she’d felt a kinship and deep respect for the woman. They had both been slaves. Both were spies, and Marissia had risen as high as any slave or spy could.

Marissia had once told Teia that the Order would make her do something terrible. “Let it be on my head–but do it,” she’d said.

But there was no way she could have guessed that the something terrible would be her own kidnapping and likely murder.

Another tug. Master Sharp had ducked into the slave’s closet off the main room, out of sight and earshot. “He’s gone. Only for a moment,” Teia whispered.

“Third drawer, left side,” Marissia whispered. “Halfway back, straight up. Push hard. Quick!”

Master Sharp had left the drawer open, so Teia only had to take one step and stoop. The surface felt flat, but as Teia pushed hard on the surface, she felt something snap with a slight chalky scent of broken blue luxin, and a tiny section of the wood sank in. A folded piece of parchment dropped into her hand.

Teia stepped back into place, stashing the parchment in a pocket. “Got it,” she whispered.

“Tug when you need me–”

Master Sharp stepped back in. “What’s she saying?”

“Um? What?” Teia said. For one terrifying moment, her mind went blank. “Oh, she’s trying to bribe me.” Teia said it like she was bored.

Staring at her hard, Master Sharp ran a freakishly long pink tongue over those horrid wide teeth. “I took a bribe…” He smacked his lips. “Once. Had no plan to let the man go of course, and killed him as soon as I got the coin.” Sharp tucked a package of documents tied with red or green ribbon into his sack. Teia was colorblind, so she could only tell it was one or the other. “No harm, right? TheOld Man… disagreed. Emphatically.”

He smiled, too broadly. Something about those teeth twisted Teia‘s stomach more than when he’d worn a full set of wolves’ fangs.

“How much did she offer?” he asked.

Teia froze. There was a hook in that question. Marissia the Prism’s room slave might have squirreled away a small fortune. Marissia the spy would have saved a lot more, and with her life on the line, would she not offer a large bribe? But maybe not too large, a spy mistress would be smart enough to start small–

Too long, T, don’t take too long!

Teia said, “She hadn’t mentioned any figures. And I wasn’t listening, anyway. I’m not in this for coin.” Change the subject, change the subject.

“Why are you, then?” Master Sharp asked.

“Are we really going to have this conversation in front of her?” Teia asked. “Now? You said we needed to–”

“We don’t need to worry about her.” His voice lowered dangerously, “And don’t question me.”

Orholam have mercy. That cemented it. Whoever they were giving Marissia to was going to kill her. “I’m here for revenge.”

“Revenge? On who?”

Teia cocked her head as if it were an odd question. “On all of ’em.”

He grinned, this time for real. “You’ll get plenty of that. And you’ll come to the Crimson Path eventually.” The true friendliness should have made him less scary, but any comfort she might have felt was ground to paste between those inhumanly wide teeth.

He walked over to Marissia, still on her knees. “How much would you give us?”

Tremulously, she said, “As much as you want, I swear. I can get access to the Prism’s account if we act fast. Please, sir, please.” She broke off as if terrified. It twisted Teia‘s guts because she couldn’t tell which was true: Marissia’s earlier bravery or her current terror. Maybe both.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Master Sharp said. “If she yells, kill her.” Had he forgotten he’d already threatened that?

Or did he actually mean it this time?

Marissia collapsed, sobbing quietly.

Master Sharp nodded to Teia. “I need to check the White’s room and make a distraction. Be ready to go quick. If I’m not back in five, untie her, throw her off the balcony as if she suicided, and make your way out the same way we got in.” He threw his hood over his head and pulled the laces through the grommets quickly, cinching the mask tight over his nose and mouth, leaving only his eyes clear, and those shadowed under the hood. He turned and began shimmering.

On the back of his gray cloak, the image of a tufted gray owl appeared with its wings spread and talons extended to strike. The image shimmered out of phase with the rest of the cloak, and disappeared last.

The door opened, showing a hallway marked with smoke and pools of blood and scratches and divots in the stone walls from arrows and bullets from the Mighty’s battle with the Lightguards earlier. That felt like a lifetime ago. Then the door shut quietly.

Teia instantly shot a wave of paryl gas in an arc where Murder Sharp had been standing to make sure he was really gone. He was.

“Quickly,” Teia said, “What do you want me to do?”

Marissia got up on her knees. Her voice was breathy with controlled fear. “Did he take the papers from my desk? Package. All tied together in red ribbon.”


Teia could hear the heavy sigh expelled into the hood over Marissia’s head. The spy mistress said, “Teia, you have to get those papers. I was to deliver them to Karris.”

“What are they?”

“They’re the White’s instructions for her successor. They have everything Karris needs to know how to rule. Secrets. Plans. There are things in there Karris can’t learn any other way.”

Oh, hell no. How was Teia to steal papers from Murder Sharp? “We weren’t sent for the papers, Marissia. We were sent for you. I think Sharp’s just grabbing whatever is lying about.”

Marissia sagged. “Any other day. Any other hour, and all those papers would be locked away safe… No matter. No time.” She bent for a moment. “He’ll take it all to the Old Man’s office anyway. That parchment you grabbed from my desk. It’s a code. Crack it. It’s the combination or key word to theOld Man of the Desert’s office. Teia, that office is here, in the Chromeria. Maybe in this very tower. That means he–or she, we don’t even know for sure that the Old Man of the Desert is a man–is here. But if you open the office without using the code, it’ll wash the room in fire. Everything in it will be destroyed. You can’t let that happen. Not least because the White’s papers will be destroyed too.”

“I’ll find it, I swear. But what–” Teia cut off at the sound of steps outside the room. She tapped Marissia’s shoulder to tell her to be silent, and drafted, disappearing with her own borrowed shimmercloak.

But whoever it was walked past, and Teia heard the banging of the door to the roof. She and thesquad had had quite the fight up there, only hours ago, but only a single Blackguard was standing watch now. Master Sharp said the commanders of the Blackguard would isolate the area until they could examine it to try to figure out what had happened.

“What about you?” Teia asked. “How do we save you?”

A pause. Teia wished she could see Marissia’s face, but the bag stayed perfectly still, giving no hint of her fear or her bravery or her hatred or her desperation.

“We don’t,” Marissia said quietly.

“You’ve seen Sharp’s face. They’re going to kill you.”

Marissia’s head bowed. “Just… pray for me,” she said, and there was her fear again.

“At least let me give you a knife.”

“And what happens to you when this assassin finds your knife on me?” Marissia asked.

Before Teia could protest further, the door opened and closed. Master Sharp was speaking before he was even fully visible. “Give me that cloak.”

“My shimmercloak?” Teia asked.

“It’s not yours. It’s the Order’s, and don’t forget it.”

“I’m the one who stole it! I risked everything to–”


Teia unclasped the choker and handed Master Sharp the burnt-hemmed shimmercloak. He loweredhis own hood, threw Teia‘s cloak on over his own cloak, attaching the choker awkwardly. He pulled his hood back up, but couldn’t lace it properly. He swore.

“What are you doing?” Teia asked.

He swore again, and said to Marissia. “You do other than what I say, and you die now, and not easy. Understand?”

Her head bobbed, the sack trembling as she wept. He slashed the rope between her neck and her wrists, and slung her over his shoulder. “Teia, help me with the cloak.”

Teia spread out the second, bunched cloaked over Marissia’s body. Given that Marissia was slung over his shoulder, it covered her fully, if awkwardly.

“I have to sneak out without a cloak?” Teia asked.

“You go out the way we came in. Outside. Collect the climbing crescents as you go. Be quick. You won’t have long before people start looking up here.” He poked Marissia. “You, when I tell you, you scream that there’s a fire in the White’s quarters. Because there is.”

Oh, that was why he hadn’t gagged Marissia. The Blackguards would recognize her voice.

Still holding Marissia over his shoulder, Master Sharp stooped to pick up the bag full of papers he’d stolen.

“You want me to take the bag?” Teia asked.

He almost handed it to her, then paused. Anxiety hammered great blows against her mask of nonchalance. He said, “Better not. Get climbing.”

“I could bring it to–”

“Now,” he said, and there was quiet menace in his voice. Without waiting, he turned his back, and far more slowly than usual, the cloaks began shimmering, the fox emblem on Teia‘s burnt cloak showing dark gray against the gray and then fading.

The door opened, and Teia smelled smoke.

“Fire! Fire in the White’s quarters!” Marissia shouted. “Fire!”

And then the door closed behind them.

The obvious course was to hurry up and climb down the wall. Once the smoke started billowing out of the White’s windows, eyes would turn toward the Prism’s Tower. Teia couldn’t be clinging to thewalls in full view when that happened.

But Teia had a card to play that Master Sharp didn’t know.

She had her own cloak, the master cloak. She pulled it out of her pack, the material thin and weightless as liquid light. She put it on. Drew the choker around her neck. Pulled up the hood, snapped it closed over her face. She could follow Sharp unseen.

But after extinguishing the fire, the Blackguards would search the tower exhaustively. If Teiafollowed Sharp, the Blackguards would find the climbing crescents stuck to the outside of thetower. The Order had spies in the Blackguard, so they would learn of it, and they would know Teiahad disobeyed.

It wouldn’t be proof that Teia was a spy, but the Order didn’t need proof. They would kill her.

But if she didn’t follow Sharp, they would kill Marissia.

Marissia had ordered Teia to let her die. The old Teiathe slave Teia, would have accepted that order and shrugged off responsibility for what happened next. Teia wasn’t that Teia anymore.

This was war, and Teia was behind enemy lines, alone. She had to make her own decisions and live with the consequences. Like a warrior. Like an adult. Like a free woman.

In the unholy calculus of war, Teia was somehow suddenly worth more than a woman older, wiser, smarter, and better connected than she was. Teia was starting to suspect that the Order was a greater threat to the Chromeria than even the Color Prince. Saving Marissia–even if Teia could figure out how–would jeopardize the Chromeria’s best chance ever to destroy the Order. And only Teia knew now about the Old Man’s office. Only she had the code.

It’s war, T. Friends die.

Jaw clenched, heart leaden, Teia went out onto the balcony, closed the door behind her, and stepped onto the climbing crescents. She descended, taking away the evidence of Marissia’s murder with each step.

It’s war, T. The innocent die. And their friends get vengeance. Later.

Chapter One

Azoth squatted in the alley, cold mud squishing through his bare toes. He stared at the narrow space beneath the wall, trying to get his nerve up. The sun wouldn’t come up for hours, and the tavern was empty. Most taverns in the city had dirt floors, but this part of the Warrens had been built over marshland, and not even drunks wanted to drink standing ankle-deep in mud, so the tavern had been raised a few inches on stilts and floored with stout bamboo poles.

Coins sometimes dropped through the gaps in the bamboo, and the crawlspace was too small for most people to go after them. The guild’s bigs were too big and the littles were too scared to squeeze into the suffocating darkness shared with spiders and cockroaches and rats and the wicked half-wild tomcat the owner kept. Worst was the pressure of the bamboo against your back, flattening you every time a patron walked overhead. It had been Azoth’s favorite spot for a year, but he wasn’t as small as he used to be. Last time, he got stuck and spent hours panicking until it rained and the ground softened beneath him enough that he could dig himself out.

It was muddy now, and there would be no patrons, and Azoth had seen the tomcat leave. It should be fine. Besides, Rat was collecting guild dues tomorrow, and Azoth didn’t have four coppers. He didn’t even have one, so there wasn’t much choice. Rat wasn’t understanding, and he didn’t know his own strength. Littles had died from his beatings.

Pushing aside mounds of mud, Azoth lay on his stomach. The dank earth soaked his thin, filthy tunic instantly. He’d have to work fast. He was skinny, and if he caught a chill, the odds of getting better weren’t good.

Scooting through the darkness, he began searching for the telltale metallic gleam. A couple of lamps were still burning in the tavern, so light filtered through the gaps, illuminating the mud and standing water in strange rectangles. Heavy marsh mist climbed the shafts of light only to fall over and over again. Spider webs draped across Azoth’s face and broke, and he felt a tingle on the back of his neck.

He froze. No, it was his imagination. He exhaled slowly. Something glimmered and he grabbed his first copper. He slithered to the unfinished pine beam he had gotten stuck under last time and shoveled mud away until water filled the depression. The gap was still so narrow that he had to turn his head sideways to squeeze underneath it. Holding
his breath and pushing his face into the slimy water, he began the slow crawl.

His head and shoulders made it through, but then a stub of a branch caught the back of his tunic, tearing the cloth and jabbing his back. He almost cried out and was instantly glad he hadn’t. Through a wide space between bamboo poles, Azoth saw a man seated at the bar, still drinking. In the Warrens, you had to judge people quickly. Even if you had quick hands like Azoth did, when you stole every day, you were bound to get caught eventually. All merchants hit the guild rats who stole from them. If they wanted to have any goods left to sell, they had to. The trick was picking the ones who’d smack you so you didn’t try their booth next time; there were others who’d beat you so badly you never had a next time. Azoth thought he saw something kind and sad and lonely in this lanky figure. He was perhaps thirty, with a scraggly blond beard and a huge sword on his hip.

“How could you abandon me?” the man whispered so quietly Azoth could barely distinguish the words. He held a flagon in his left hand and cradled something Azoth couldn’t see in his right. “After all the years I’ve served you, how could you abandon me now? Is it because of Vonda?”

There was an itch on Azoth’s calf. He ignored it. It was just his imagination again. He reached behind his back to free his tunic. He needed to find his coins and get out of here.

Something heavy dropped onto the floor above Azoth and slammed his face into the water, driving the breath from his lungs. He gasped and nearly inhaled water.

“Why Durzo Blint, you never fail to surprise,” the weight above Azoth said. Nothing was visible of the man through the gaps except a drawn dagger. He must have dropped from the rafters. “Hey, I’m all for calling a bluff, but you should have seen Vonda when she figured out you weren’t going to save her. Made me damn near bawl my eyes out.”

The lanky man turned. His voice was slow, broken. “I killed six men tonight. Are you sure you want to make it seven?”

Azoth slowly caught up with what they’d been saying. The lanky man was the wetboy Durzo Blint. A wetboy was like an assassin—in the way a tiger is like a kitten. Among wetboys, Durzo Blint was indisputably the best. Or, as the head of Azoth’s guild said, at least the disputes didn’t last long.And I thought Durzo Blint looked kind?

The itch on Azoth’s calf itched again. It wasn’t his imagination. There was something crawling up the inside of his trousers. It felt big, but not as big as a cockroach. Azoth’s fear identified the weight: a white wolf spider. Its poison liquefied flesh in a slowly spreading circle. If it bit, even with a healer the best an adult could hope for was to lose a limb. A guild rat wouldn’t be so lucky.

“Blint, you’ll be lucky if you don’t cut your head off after all you’ve been drinking. Just in the time I’ve been watching, you’ve had—”

“Eight flagons. And I had four before that.”

Azoth didn’t move. If he jerked his legs together to kill the spider, the water would splash and the men would know he was there. Even if Durzo Blint had looked kind, that was an awful big sword, and Azoth knew better than to trust grown-ups.

“You’re bluffing,” the man said, but there was fear in his voice.

“I don’t bluff,” Durzo Blint said. “Why don’t you invite your friends in?”

The spider crawled up to Azoth’s inner thigh. Trembling, he pulled his tunic up in back and stretched the waist of his trousers, making a gap and praying the spider would crawl for it.

Above him, the assassin reached two fingers up to his lips and whistled. Azoth didn’t see Durzo move, but the whistle ended in a gurgle and a moment later, the assassin’s body tumbled to the floor. There were yells as the front and back doors burst open. The boards flexed and jumped. Concentrating on not jostling the spider, Azoth didn’t move, even when another dropping body pushed his face briefly under water.

The spider crawled across Azoth’s butt and then onto his thumb. Slowly, Azoth drew his hand around so he could see it. His fears were right. It was a white wolf spider, its legs as long as Azoth’s thumb. He flung it away convulsively and rubbed his fingers, making sure he hadn’t been bitten.

He reached for the splintered branch holding his tunic and broke it off. The sound was magnified in the sudden silence above. Azoth couldn’t see anyone through the gaps. A few feet away, something was dripping from the boards into a puddle. It was too dark to see what it was, but it didn’t take much imagination to guess.

The silence was eerie. If any of the men walked across the floor, groaning boards and flexing bamboo would have announced it. The entire fight had lasted maybe twenty seconds, and Azoth was sure no one had left the tavern. Had they all killed each other?

He was chilled, and not just from the water. Death was no stranger in the Warrens, but Azoth had never seen so many people die so fast and so easily.

Even taking extra care to look out for the spider, in a few minutes, Azoth had gathered six coppers. If he were braver, he would have looted the bodies in the tavern, but Azoth couldn’t believe Durzo Blint was dead. Maybe he was a demon, like the other guild rats said. Maybe he was standing outside, waiting to kill Azoth for spying on him.

Chest tight with fear, Azoth turned and scooted toward his hole. Six coppers was good. Dues were only four, so he could buy bread tomorrow to share with Jarl and Doll Girl.

He was a foot from the opening when something bright flashed in front of his nose. It was so close, it took a moment to come into focus. It was Durzo Blint’s huge sword, and it was stuck through the floor all the way into the mud, barring Azoth’s escape.

Just above Azoth on the other side of the floor, Durzo Blint whispered, “Never speak of this. Understand? I’ve done worse than kill children.”

The sword disappeared, and Azoth scrambled out into the night. He didn’t stop running for miles.

Chapter Two

Gavin Guile’s palms bled a warm, thick gray around the slick oar in his hands. He’d thought he had respectable calluses for a man who worked mainly with words, but nothing prepared you for ten hours a day on the oar.

“Strap!” Number Seven said, raising his voice for the foreman. “More bandages for His Holiness.”

That elicited a few pale grins, but the galley slaves didn’t slow. The big calfskin drums were thumping out a cetaceous pulse. It was a pace the experienced men could maintain all day, though with difficulty. Each bench held three men, and two could keep this pace for long enough to allow their oarmate to drink or eat or use the bucket.

Strap came over with a roll of cloth. She motioned for Gavin to present his hands. Strap was the burliest woman Gavin had ever seen, and he had known every female Blackguard for the last twenty years. He pulled his bloody claws off the oars. He couldn’t open or close his fingers, and it wasn’t even noon yet. They would row until dark; five more hours, this time of year. She unrolled the cloth. It seemed crusty.

Gavin supposed there were worse things to worry about than infection. But as she wrapped his hands with efficient motions, albeit without gentleness, he smelled something vibrant, resin overlaid with something like cloves, and heard the tiny shivering splintering of breaking superviolet luxin.

For a moment, the old Gavin was back, his mind reaching for how he could take advantage of their foolishness. It was difficult to draft directly from luxin breaking down, but difficult was nothing for Gavin Guile. He was the Prism; there was nothing he couldn’t–

There was nothing he could do. Not now. Now, he was blind to colors. He couldn’t draft anything. In the threadbare light of the slowly swinging lanterns, the world swam in shades of gray.

Strap finished tying the knots at the back of his hands and growled. Gavin lifted weary arms back to the oar.

“F-f-fights infection,” said one of his oarmates, Number Eight, but some of the men called him Fukkelot. Gavin had no idea why. There was a loose community here with their own slang and inside jokes, and he wasn’t part of it.. “Down here in the belly, infection’ll kill you quick as a kick.”

Superviolet luxin fighting infection? The Chromeria didn’t teach that, but that didn’t make it wrong. There was plenty they didn’t know. But he thought instead about his brother, Dazen, who had slashed his own chest open. How had Dazen not succumbed to infection down in the hell Gavin had made him?

Had the madness that had convinced Gavin there was no way he could let his brother out not been madness at all, but only a fever?

Not that it mattered now. He remembered again the blood and brains blowing out of Dazen’s skull, painting the wall of his cell after Gavin had shot him.

Gavin put his bandaged hands back on the well-worn oar, the grip lacquered with sweat and blood and the oil of many hands.

“Back straight, Six,” Number Eight said. “The lumbago’ll kill ya if you do it all with your back.” Now that many words with no cursing was just a miracle.

Eight had somehow adopted Gavin. Gavin knew it wasn’t pure charity that led the wiry Angari to help him. Gavin was the third man on their oar. The less work Gavin did, the more Seven and Eight would have to do to keep time, and Captain Gunner wasn’t taking it easy on the speed. He wasn’t keen on staying close to the site of The Fall of Ru.

In another week, the Chromeria would have pirate hunters out: privateers given writs to hunt the slave takers who’d swept in upon the wrecks of the invasion fleet, saving men in order to pressgang them. They’d look to ransom those who had relatives with means, but many would doubtless head straight back to the great slave yards of Ilyta, where they could offload their human cargo with impunity. Others would seek out nearer slave markets, where unscrupulous officials would forge the documents saying these slaves were taken legally in far distant ports. Many a slave would lose his tongue so he couldn’t tell the tale.

This is what I led my people to.

Gavin had killed a god, and still lost the battle. When the bane had risen from the depths, it had smashed the Chromeria’s fleet, their hopes thrown overboard like so much jetsam.

If I had been declared promachos, it wouldn’t have happened.

The truth was, Gavin hadn’t been too hard; he’d been too soft. He shouldn’t have only killed his brother; he should have killed his father, too. Even up to the end, if he’d helped Kip stab Andross Guile instead of trying to separate them, Andross would be dead, and Gavin would be secure and in his wife’s arms right now.

“You ever think that you weren’t hard enough?” Gavin asked Seven.

The man rowed three big sweeps before he finally answered. “You know what they call me?”

“Guess I heard someone call you Orholam? Because you’re seat number seven?” As six was the number of man, so was seven Orholam’s number.

“That ain’t why.”

Friendly sort. “Why then?”

“You don’t get answers to your questions because you don’t wait for ’em,” Orholam said.

“I’ve done my share of waiting, old man,” Gavin said.

Two more long sweeps, and Orholam said, “No. To all three. That’s three times no. Some men pay attention when things come in threes.”

Not me. Go to hell, Orholam. And the one you’re named after, too.

Gavin grimaced against the familiar agony of rowing and settled back into the tempo, walking through the two and a half paces that the sweeps covered at his end of the oar. The Bitter Cob had a hundred and fifty rowers, eighty men in this deck and seventy above. Their oars interlaced at big outriggers that minimized the fouling, and openings between decks allowed the sound of drums and shouted orders to pass between the upper and lower galley decks.

But not only sound passed between the upper and lower decks. Gavin had thought his sense of smell was deadened after a few days, but there always seemed some new scent to assail him. The Angari fancied themselves a clean people, and maybe they were–Gavin hadn’t seen any signs of dysentery or sweating sickness among the galley slaves, and each night, buckets made the rounds of the slaves, the first full of soapy water for them to slop on themselves and the second full of clean sea water to rinse. Whatever slopped free, of course, dribbled down on the slaves in the lower hold and, dirtied further, into the bilge. The decks were always slippery, the hold hot and damp, the sweat constant, the portholes providing inadequate ventilation unless the wind was high, the dribbles of liquid from the deck above that dripped onto Gavin’s head and back suspiciously malodorous.

Footsteps pattered down the stairs, the light step of a veteran sailor. Fingers snapped near Gavin, but he didn’t even look over. He was a slave now; he needed to act the part or be beaten for his insolence. But he didn’t need to cower. On the other hand, he did still need to row, and that took all his strength.

Strap took Gavin’s hands off the oar, unlocked the manacles, whistled to Number Two. Numbers One and Two were at the top of the fluid slave hierarchy, allowed to sit up front and rest, running errands without chains on and only required to row when another slave got sick or fainted from exhaustion.

After Strap manacled his hands behind his back, Gavin looked at Captain Gunner, standing at the top of the stairs out of the hold. Gunner was Ilytian, with midnight black skin, a wild curly beard, a fine brocaded doublet worn open over his naked torso, loose sailor’s pants. He had the handsome intensity of madmen and prophets. He talked to himself. He talked to the sea. He admitted no equal on heaven or earth–and in the firing of guns of any size, he was justified in that. Not long ago, Gunner had been jumping off a ship Gavin had just lit on fire and poked full of holes. Gavin had spared Gunner’s life on a whim.

The good you do is what kills you.

“Come on up, little Guile,” Captain Gunner said. “I’m running out of reasons to keep you alive.”

Chapter One

The two Blackguards approached the White’s door, the younger rhythmically cracking the knuckles of his right fist nervously. The Greyling brothers stopped in front of the door, hesitated. Pop, pop, pop. Pop, pop, pop.

The elder brother, Gill, looked at his little brother, as if trying to emulate their commander’s sledge-gaze. Gavin hated it when Gill did that, but he quit popping his knuckles.

“We gain nothing by waiting,” Gill said. “Put that fist to use.”

It was early morning. The White usually didn’t emerge from her chambers for at least another two hours. With her declining health, the Blackguard were doing all they could to make the old woman’s last months easy.

“How come it’s always me who—” Gavin asked. At nineteen, Gill was two years older, but they were the same rank, and they’d been elevated to full Blackguard status at the same time.

“If you make her miss it because you’re arguing with me . . .” Gill let the threat hang. “Fist,” he said. It was an order.

Scowling, Gavin Greyling knocked on the door. After waiting the customary five seconds, he opened the door. The brothers stepped inside.

The White wasn’t in her bed. She and her room slave were praying, prostrate on the floor despite their age, facing the rising sun through the open doors to the balcony. Cold wind blew in around the two old women.

“High Mistress,” Gill said. “Your pardon. There’s something you must see.”

She looked at them, recognizing them immediately. Some of the nobles and luxlords didn’t treat the youngest of the full Blackguards seriously. It was a judgment that cut because it was partly deserved. Gavin knew that even a year ago, he wouldn’t have been promoted to full Blackguard at seventeen. But the White never treated him like he was beneath anyone. He would gladly die for her, even if someone told him that she’d die the next day of old age.

She broke off her prayers, and they helped her into her wheeled chair, but when the old room slave waddled over to close the balcony doors on bad hips, Gill stopped her.

“She needs to look from the balcony, caleen,” Gavin said.

Gavin wrapped the White in her blankets gently but efficiently. They’d learned exactly how much delicacy her pride would stand, and how much pain her body could. He pushed her out onto the balcony. She didn’t complain that she could do it herself. She would have, not long ago.

“In the bay,” Gill said.

Little Jasper Bay was resplendent below them. Today was the Feast of Light and Darkness, the equinox, and it was turning into one of those autumn days one hopes for: the air chilly, but the sky blindingly blue, the waters calm instead of their normal chop. The bay itself was conspicuously underpopulated. The fleet was still gone to fight the Color Prince at Ru and stop his advance. Gavin should have been there. Instead, he and three others had been sent back by skimmer on the eve of battle to report the fleet’s disposition and plans.

Surely by now, the battle had taken place, and all that remained was to wait to hear whether they should rejoice in their victory or brace for a war that would tear the Seven Satrapies apart. Thus the White’s prayers, Gavin supposed. Can you pray about the outcome of an event after the fact? Do they do anything then?

Do they do anything, ever?

The White waited silently, staring at the bay. Staring at nothing, Gavin was afraid. Had they interrupted her too late? But the White trusted them; she asked nothing, simply waited as the minutes stretched out.

And then, finally, a shape came around the bend of Big Jasper. At first, it was hard to get a sense of the size of the thing. It surfaced a hundred paces from the high walls ringing the entirety of Big Jasper, which were lined with people jostling one another to see. The sea demon was visible at first only by the wake it left, plowing waters to the left and the right.

As the sea demon came closer, it sped up. Its cruciform mouth, half open, swallowing the seas with its ring-​shaped maw and jetting them out through its gills along the whole of its body, now opened full. With each big gulping pulse, its mouth opening wide now, water splashed out to the sides and back in great fans every fifty or so paces, then as the massive muscles contracted, the water behind it hissed with churned air and water.

The sea demon was approaching the seawall that protected West Bay. One galley was making a run for a gap in the seawall, trying to get out. With how fast the sea demon moved, the captain couldn’t have known it was precisely the wrong direction to go.

“The poor fool,” Gill muttered.

“Depends on if this is a coincidence or an attack,” the White said, eerily calm. “If it gets inside the seawall, they might be the only ones to escape.”

The galley slaves lifted their oars out of the water as one, trying to make as little disturbance on the seas as possible. Sea demons were territorial, but not predators.

The sea demon passed the galley and kept going. Gavin Greyling expelled a relieved breath and heard the others do the same. But then the sea demon dove, disappearing in a sudden cloud of mist.

When it reappeared, it was red-​hot. The waters were boiling around it. It veered out to sea.

There was nothing they could do. The sea demon went out to sea, then it doubled back, accelerating. It aimed directly at the prow of the galley, as if it wanted the head‑to‑head collision with this challenger.

Someone swore under their breath.

The sea demon rammed the galley with tremendous speed. Several sailors flew off the deck: some into the sea, one flying until he crunched against the sea demon’s knobby, spiky head.

For an instant it looked like the ship would somehow hold together, and then the prow crumpled. Wood exploded in shards to every side. The masts snapped.

The entire galley—the half of it that was left—was pushed backward, ten paces, twenty, thirty, slapping huge fans of spray into the air. The sea demon’s forward progress was only briefly slowed. Then the galley was pushed down into the waves as that great hammerhead rose even higher out of the water and kept pushing. Abruptly, the ship’s fire-​hardened wood hull shattered like a clay pot thrown against a wall.

The sea demon dove, and attached to that great spiky head by a hundred lines, the wreckage was dragged down with it.

A hundred paces away, a huge bubble of air surfaced as the last of the decks gave way underwater. But the ship never rose. Flotsam was all that remained, and not nearly as much of that as one would expect. The ship was simply gone. Perhaps half a dozen men out of a crew of hundreds were flailing in the waves. Most of them couldn’t swim. Gavin Greyling had learned to swim as part of his Blackguard training, and that most sailors couldn’t had always struck him as insanity.

“There,” Gill said, pointing. “You can see the trail of bubbles.”

The sea demon hadn’t gotten trapped inside the seawall, thank Orholam. But what it seemed to be heading for was worse.

“High Mistress,” a voice broke in behind them. It was Luxlord Carver Black, the man responsible for all the mundane details of running the Chromeria that didn’t fall under the White’s purview. He was a tall balding man in Ilytian hose and doublet, with olive skin. What remained of his long dark hair was streaked liberally with white. Gavin hadn’t noticed him. A Blackguard, and he hadn’t noticed. “Your pardon, I knocked but got no response. The beast has been circling the Jaspers, five times now. I’ve given orders for the guns on Cannon Island not to fire unless it attacked. They want to know if they should consider this an attack.” The defense of Little Jasper was technically in his portfolio, but Luxlord Black was a cautious administrator, and he liked to avoid blame wherever possible.

What could a cannonball do against such a beast?

“Tell them to wait,” she said.

“You heard her!” the Black bellowed, cupping a hand adorned with many rings to his mouth. There was a secretary on the roof, one floor above the White’s balcony, holding a polished mirror a pace wide, leaning out over the edge to listen.

“Yes, High Lord!” The man hurried to flash the signal, and a younger woman replaced him at the edge, trying to listen without appearing to be listening to the wrong things.

The sea demon was now hugging the coast, swimming through waters so shallow its back was visible. It rammed through the portmaster’s dock without even appearing to notice it. Then it reached the far northern tip of Big Jasper.

“Oh shit.” The thought was everyone’s, but the voice was the White’s. The White? Cursing? Gavin Greyling hadn’t thought she even knew curses.

The people on the Lily’s Stem had lost sight of the beast as it had come in close to Big Jasper, and the sea demon was bearing down on the bridge before any of them could react.

The bridge floated at exactly the height of the waves. Without supports, the yellow and blue luxin formed a lattice that looked green. It had withstood battering seas for hundreds of years, the chromaturgy required to make such a thing now beyond perhaps even Gavin Guile himself. More than once it had served as a wavebreak for ships trapped outside the seawalls during storms and had saved hundreds of lives. The sea demon’s first, incidental contact with the bridge rocked the entire structure. It threw hundreds of people off their feet.

The vast shape slid along the smooth luxin for ten, twenty paces, then slowed, seeming confused by the contact. Its confusion lasted only an instant, though, as fresh billows of steam rose around it. The sea demon’s head plunged into the waves and it sped out to sea, its vast tail slapping the water beside the Lily’s Stem and sending geysers over almost the whole length.

Then, out at sea, it turned back again.

“Tell Cannon Island to fire!” the White shouted.

Cannon Island sat in the bay on the opposite the Lily’s Stem. The likelihood of the gunners there making the shot was remote.

But a slim chance at distraction was better than none.

The first culverin fired immediately; the men must have been waiting for the order. The shot was at least a thousand paces, though. They missed by at least a hundred. The island’s other five guns facing the right way each spoke in turn, the sound of their fire lagging behind the bright flash of it, the roar reaching the tower at about the same time they saw the splash. Each missed. The closest splash was more than fifty paces off target. None deterred the sea demon.

The crews began reloading with the speed and efficiency that could be only imparted with relentless training. But they wouldn’t get off another volley in time. The sea demon was simply too fast.

The Lily’s Stem had become chaos. A team of horses had fallen, panicked, and turned sideways with their cart within the confines of the bridge itself, blocking all but a trickle of men and women from getting out onto Big Jasper. People were climbing over and under the flailing, biting horses.

A stampede flowed out of the other side of the bridge, people falling, being trampled. Some few would make it in time.

“Carver,” the White said, her voice clipped. “Go now and organize care for the dead and wounded. You’re faster than I, and I need to see how this ends.”

Luxlord Black was out the door before she was done speaking.

Four hundred paces out. Three hundred.

The White reached a hand out, as if she could ward off the sea demon by will alone. She was whispering prayers urgently under her breath.

Two hundred paces. One hundred.

A second dark shape suddenly streaked under the bridge from the opposite side, and a colossal collision with the sea demon sent jets of water a hundred feet into the air. The sea demon was launched into the air, bent sideways. A black shape, massive itself but dwarfed by the sea demon, had hit it from below. Both crashed back into the water, not twenty paces from the Lily’s Stem.

The sea demon’s superior mass carried its body all the way into the bridge itself, shooting a wall of water at the tube and over it. The whole edifice was rocked by the force of the wave—but not shattered.

In a spray of water and expelled breath, flukes and a black tail surfaced. That tail smashed down on the sea demon’s body, and then the whale darted into Little Jasper Bay. Out, away from the bridge.

“A whale,” the White breathed. “Was that . . .”

“A sperm whale, High Mistress,” Gill said. He’d loved stories of the sea’s pugilists. “A black giant. At least thirty paces long, head like a battering ram. I’ve never heard of one that big.”

“There haven’t been sperm whales in the Cerulean Sea for—”

“Four hundred years. Since the Everdark Gates closed. Though some persisted for another hundred or—Your pardon,” Gill said.

She didn’t notice. They were all too engrossed. The sea demon was obviously stunned. Its red-hot body had turned blue and sunk beneath the waves, but even as the sea calmed from the aftershocks of the collision, they could see the red glow begin again. The waters hissed.

A swell of that big body underneath the waves, and it turned and began to move—chasing after the whale.

The White said, “That kind of whale is supposed to be quite aggress—”

Four hundred paces out from shore, another eruption of water as the two leviathans collided again.

Sperm whales had been the only natural enemies of sea demons in the Cerulean Sea. But the sea demons had killed them all, long ago. Supposedly.

They watched, and again the giants collided, this time farther out. They watched, in silence, while the rescue operations below worked to clear the Lily’s Stem.

“I thought those whales were usually . . . blue?” the White asked Gill, not turning from the sea.

“Dark blue or gray. There are mentions of white ones, possibly mythical.”

“This one looked black, did it not? Or is that my failing eyes?”

The brothers looked at each other.

“Black,” Gill said.

“Definitely black,” Gavin said.

“Bilhah,” the White said, addressing her room slave by name for the first time that Gavin remembered. “What day is today?”

“’Tis the Feast of Light and Darkness, Mistress. The day when light and dark war over who will own the sky.”

The White still didn’t turn. Quietly, she said, “And on this equinox, when we know the light must die, when there is no victory possible, we’re saved—not by a white whale, but by a black one.”

The others nodded sagely, and Gavin felt like a significant moment was passing him by. He looked from one to another. “Well?” he asked. “What does it mean?”

Gill slapped the back of his head. “Well, that’s the question, ain’t it?”

Chapter Three

Gavin sucked in light to start making his rowing apparatus. Unthinking, he tried to draft blue. While fragile, blue’s stiff, slick, smooth structure made it ideal for parts that didn’t undergo sideways stresses. For a futile moment, Gavin tried to force it, again. He was a Prism made flesh; alone out of all drafters, he could split light within himself. The blue was there—he knew it was there, and maybe knowing it was there, even though he couldn’t see might be enough.

For Orholam’s sake, if you could find your chamber pot in everdark blackness of the middle of night and, despite that you couldn’t see it, the damned thing was still there, why the hell couldn’t this be the same?

Nothing. No rush of harmonious logic, no cool rationality, no stained blue skin, no drafting whatsoever. For the first time since he was a boy, he felt helpless. Like a natural man. Like a peasant.

Gavin screamed at his helplessness. It was too late for the oars, anyway. That son of a bitch was swimming too fast.

He drafted the scoops and the tubes. Blue worked better to make the jets for a skimmer, but naturally flexible green could serve if he made it thick enough. The rough green luxin was heavier and created more drag against the water, so he was slower, but he didn’t have the time or attention to make it from yellow. Precious seconds passed while he prepared his skimmer.

Then the scoops were in hand and he began throwing luxin down into the jets, blasting air and water out the back of his little craft and propelling himself forward. He leaned far forward, shoulders knotting with the effort, then, as he picked up speed, the effort eased. Soon, his craft was hissing across the waves.

The fleet arose in the distance, the sails of the tallest ships first. But at Gavin’s speed, it wasn’t long before he could see all of them. There were almost a hundred ships: from sailing dinghies to galleasses to the square-rigged three-mast ship of the line with forty-eight guns that Gavin had taken from the Rathguri governor to be his flagship. Last, he saw the great luxin barges. Barely seaworthy, he himself had created those four great open boats to hold as many refugees as possible. If he hadn’t, thousands of people would have died.

And now they were all in jeopardy if Gavin didn’t turn the sea demon.

As Gavin sped closer, he caught sight of the sea demon again, a hump cresting, six feet out of the water. Its skin was still placidly luminous, and by some good fortune, it wasn’t actually cutting straight toward the fleet. Its path would take it perhaps a thousand paces in front of the lead ship.

Of course, the ships themselves were plowing slow furrows forward, closing that gap, but the sea demon was moving so quickly, it wouldn’t matter. Gavin had no idea how keen the sea demon’s senses were, but if it kept going the direction it was going, they might well escape disaster.

Gavin couldn’t take his hands away from the skimmer’s jets without losing precious speed, and he didn’t know how he would deliver a signal that said, Don’t Do Anything Stupid to the whole fleet at once even if he did. He followed directly behind the sea demon, closer now.

He was wrong: the sea demon was going to cut perhaps five hundred paces from the lead ship. A mistaken estimate, or was the creature turning toward the fleet?

Gavin could see lookouts in the crow’s-nests waving their hands violently to those on the decks below them. Doubtless shouting, though Gavin was too far away to hear them. He sped closer, saw men running on the decks.

The emergency was on the fleet faster than any of them could have expected. Enemies could appear on the horizon and give chase. Storms could blow out of nowhere in half an hour—but this had happened in minutes, and some ships were only seeing the twin wonders now—a man traveling faster across the waves than anyone had ever seen in their lives, and the huge dark shadow in front of him that could only be a sea demon.

Be smart, Orholam damn you, be smart or be too terrified to do anything at all. Please!

Cannons took time to load and couldn’t be left armed because the powder would go bad. Some idiot might shoot a musket at the passing form, but that should be too small a disturbance for the monster to notice.

The sea demon bulled through the waters four hundred paces in front of the fleet and kept going straight.

Gavin could hear the shouts from the ships now. The man in the crow’s-nest of Gavin’s flagship was holding his hands to his head, mind blown, but no one did anything stupid.

Orholam, just one more minute. Just—

A signal mortar cracked the morning, and Gavin’s hopes splattered on the floor. Gavin swore all the shouting on every ship in the fleet stopped at once. And then began again a moment later, as the experienced sailors screamed in disbelief at the one terrified idiot captain who’d probably just killed them.

Gavin had eyes only for the sea demon. Its wake went straight, hissing bubbles and great undulations, another hundred paces. Another hundred. Maybe it hadn’t heard. Maybe—

Then his skimmer jetted right past the entire beast as the sea demon doubled back on itself faster than Gavin would have believed was possible.

As it completed its turn, its tail broke the surface of the water. It moved too fast for Gavin to make out details. Only that it was burning red-hot the color of iron angry from the forge and when that span—surely thirty paces long—hit the water, the concussion made the signal mortar’s report sound tinny and small.

Giant swells rolled out from the spot its tail had hit. From his dead stop, Gavin was barely able to turn his skimmer before the waves reached him. He dipped deep into the first one and hurriedly threw green luxin forward, making the front of his craft wider and longer. He was shot upward by the next swell and flung into the air.

The skimmer’s prow hit the next giant swell at too great of an angle and went straight into it. Gavin was ripped off the skimmer and plunged into the waves.

The Cerulean Sea was a warm, wet mouth. It took Gavin in whole, chomped his breath out of him, rolled him over with its tongue, disorienting him, made a play at swallowing him, and when he fought, finally spat him up.

Gavin surfaced and quickly found the fleet. He didn’t have time to draft an entire new skimmer; he was going to have to swim for it. If swim was the term. He drafted smaller scoops around his arms, sucked in as much light as he could hold, threw his arms down to his sides, and pointed his head toward the sea demon. He threw luxin down and it threw him forward.

The pressure of the waves was incredible. It obliterated sight, blotted out sound, but Gavin didn’t slow. With a body made hard by years of working a skimmer so he could cross the sea in a day, and a will made implacable by years of being Prism and forcing the world to conform to his wishes, he pushed.

He felt himself slide into the sea demon’s slipstream as the pressure suddenly eased and his speed doubled. Using his legs to aim, Gavin turned himself deeper into the water, then jetted toward the surface.

Not a moment too soon. Gavin shot into the air.

He shouldn’t have been able to see much of anything, gasping in air and light, water streaming off his entire body. But the tableau froze and he saw everything. An instant cut off from time. The sea demon’s head was halfway out of water, its cruciform mouth drawn shut so its knobby, spiky hammerhead could smash the flagship to kindling. Its body was at least twenty paces across, and only fifty paces now from the ship.

Men were standing on port rail, matchlocks in hand. Black smoke billowed thick from a few. Others flared as the matches ignited powder in the pans in that instant before they fired. On the gun deck, Gavin saw men tamping powder into the cannons for shots they would never get off in time.

The other ships in the fleet were crowding around like kids around a fistfight, men perched on gunwales, mouths agape, all too few even loading their muskets.

Dozens of men were turning from looking at the monster approaching to look at what fresh horror this could be shooting into the air—and gaping, bewildered. A man in the crow’s-nest was pointing at him, shouting.

And Gavin hung in midair, disaster and mutilation only seconds away from his compatriots—and he threw all he had at the sea demon.

A coruscating, twisting wall of multicolored light blew out of Gavin, streaking toward the sea demon.

Gavin didn’t see what it did when it struck the sea demon, or even if he hit it.

There was old Parian saying, When you hurl a mountain, the mountain hurls you back.

Time resumed, unpleasantly quickly. Gavin felt like he’d been walloped with a club bigger than his own body. He was launched backward, stars exploding in front of his eyes, clawing, trying to turn—and splashing in the water dozens of paces away with another jarring slap.

Light is life. Years of war had taught Gavin to never leave yourself unarmed; vulnerability is an invitation to death. Gavin found the surface and began drafting instantly. In the years he’d spent failing thousands of times while perfecting his skimmer, he’d also perfected methods of getting out of the water and creating a boat—not an easy task. Drafters were always terrified of falling in the water and not being able to get out again.

So within seconds, Gavin was standing on the deck of a new skimmer, already drafting the scoops as he tried to assess what had happened.

The flagship was still floating, one rail knocked off, huge scrapes across the wood of the port side. So the sea demon must have turned, must have barely glanced off the boat. It must have slapped its tail down again as it turned, though, because a few of the small sailing dinghies had been swamped nearby, and men were jumping into the water, other ships already heading toward them to pluck them from the sea’s jaws.

And where the hell was the sea demon?

Men were screaming on the decks—not shout of adulation, but alarm. They were pointing—

Oh shit.

Gavin began throwing light down the reeds as fast as possible. But the skimmer always started slow.

The giant steaming red-hot hammerhead surfaced not twenty paces away, coming fast. Gavin was accelerating and he caught the shockwave caused by such a massive, blunt shape pushing through the seas. The front of the head was a wall, a knobby, spiky wall.

But with the swell of the shockwave helping him, Gavin began to pull away.

And then the tetraform mouth opened, splitting that entire front hammerhead open in four directions. As the sea demon began sucking water in rather than pushing it in front of it, the shockwave disappeared abruptly. And Gavin’s skimmer lurched back into the mouth.

Fully into the mouth. The open mouth was easily two or three times as wide as Gavin was tall. Sea demons swallowed the seas entire. The body convulsed in rhythm, a circle that squeezed tighter and then opened wider, jetting water past gills and out the back almost the same way Gavin’s skimmer did.

Gavin’s arms were shaking, shoulders burning from the muscular effort of pushing his entire body, his entire boat across the seas. Harder. Dammit, harder!

The sea demon arched upward just as Gavin’s skimmer shot out of its mouth. Its tetraform jaws snapped shut and it launched itself into the air. He shut his eyes and screamed, pushing as hard as he could.

He shot a look over his shoulder and saw the impossible: the sea demon had breached entirely. Its massive body crashing back down into the water as like all seven towers of the Chromeria falling into the sea at once.

But Gavin was faster, up to full speed now.

The sea demon pursued him, furious, still burning red, moving even faster than before. But with the skimmer at full speed, Gavin was out of danger. He circled out to sea as the distant shapes of men cheered on the decks of every ship of the fleet, and the creature followed him.

Gavin led it three hours out to sea, then, circling wide in case it headed blindly in the last direction it had seen him go, he left it far behind.

As the sun set, exhausted and rung out emotionally, Gavin returned to his fleet. They’d lost two sailing dinghies, but not a single life. His people—for if they hadn’t been his before, he owned them heart and soul now—greeted him like a god.

Gavin accepted their adulation with a wan smile. He wished he too could rejoice. He wished he could get drunk and dance and bed the finest looking girl he could find. He wished he could find Karris somewhere in the fleet and fight or fuck or one and then the other. He wished he could tell the tale and hear it retold from a hundred lips and laugh at the death that had come so close to them all.

Instead, as his people celebrated, he went belowdecks. Alone. Waved Corvan away, shook his head at his wide-eyed son.

And finally, in his darkened cabin, alone, he wept. Not for what had been, but for what he must become.

Chapter Two

The trick with sharks is the nose. Not so different from a man. You bloody a bully’s nose, and he goes looking elsewhere.

I am Gunner, and Gunner ain’t no easy meat. The sea’s my mirror. Fickle as me. Crazy as me. Deep currents, monsters rise from her depths too. What others call sea spray, I call her spitting in my face, friendly like. Unlike most of this lot, I can swim. I just don’t like it. We do our admiring best at a short distance.

I must have pissed her off something fierce.

The shark she’s sent after me is a tiger shark. Good hunters. Fast. Curious as a crotch-sniffing hound. Mad as a starving lotus eater. Usually twice as long as a man is tall. But the sea’s shown me respect, as she ought. My shark’s bigger. Three times as long as I am tall, looks like. Hard to tell through the water of course. Don’t want to exaggerate. Hate exaggeraters. Fucking hate ’em.

I’m Gunner, and I give it straight.

The scraps and shrapnel lines and barrels of the shipwreck litter the cerulean waters everywhere, but that tiger’s coming back. Depending how tenacious she is, it’ll take me a few minutes to swim to an appropriately sized—

“Oy, Ceres!” I shout as a thought occurs to me. “I know why you’re mad!” Not many people know it, but the Cerulean Sea is named for Ceres. Not the color. Those tits and twits at the Chromeria think everything revolves around them.

The tiger shark is circling me, dorsal fin cutting beautiful arcs on the open water. I’m on the edge of the wreckage. I got out first, saw that the fires were headed for the powder magazine. But being on the edge means that shark doesn’t have to go through the distraction of all the other meat to get to me.

I turn constantly, keeping my face to the beastie. The cowards like to pull you down from behind. These big bastards float along with these tiny little moves, like soaring buzzards, making you think they’re ponderous, but when they strike, their speed is pants-drenching. The wedge-shaped head circles a bit closer, veers. And . . . now!

Gunner is the master of timing. None finer. Not even the sea, who stomps and rages like a toddler when you’ve drunk three skins of wine and want a little peace while the hammering in your head stops. I kick, stabbing one foot hardened to leather and bone by a life barefoot right at its nose. I see a flash of the milky membrane over its eyes as I’m thrown, almost lifted out of the water by the force of its strike.

But the shark shivers, stunned.

“Ceres! You think I did this? I didn’t! It was the Prism! Gavin Guile! That damn boy blew up the ship, not me. Go get him, for Orholam’s sake!” Ceres hates it when you dirty her face with exploded ship, and I’ve done that more than a time or three.

The shark recovers, darts away. For a second, I think I’m safe, that Ceres is going to be reasonable. Then it turns, starts swimming back.

“Ceres! Don’t do this! It’s on your head if you do.”

I’ve got a pistol still. Lost my musket when it blew up in my hands during our battle with the Prism and his Blackguards—which is infuriating, impossible, I’d never double-charge a musket. But that’s something to worry about later. The pistol might even still work, despite my plunge into the water. I’ve been working on making a pistol that’s proof against water for years. Nothing’s worked against a full plunge into water, though, and shooting into the water is a fool’s game anyway. Ceres protects her own too well. But I do pull my knife, its blade three hands long.

“Damn you, Ceres. Why’s it always got to get personal?”

The tiger shark comes straight at me. No subtlety, and I’ve got her timing down now.

She strikes, my heels colliding straight with her soft nose one more time. This time, I absorb some of the blow in my knees, still giving a good shock, but not letting myself be thrown far away. I stab for the eye, miss, bury the knife in its gills.

A mortal blow, but not a fast death. Damn.

The wound stains the water crimson in the high sun, and the tiger shark veers away. I swim as if a furious goddess is on my heels. I get to the dinghy just as some younger tiger sharks are arriving, shorter than Ceres’ hellhound, their stripes more pronounced.

It’s a miracle the dinghy survived—a miracle slightly tainted by the fact there’s no goddam oars. I stand up in the ship, see that there’s other men swimming for the dinghy. The first is a Parian with something shy of six teeth. His name’s Conner, and for good reason. The damned shovel head has got the oars. He doesn’t look pleased to see that I’m in the dinghy first.

“You look wet,” I say. I got no oars, but I’m not in the water with sharks.

“First mate,” he says. “You’re captain. And we need us a crew. Take it or leave it. The winds and waves aren’t like to blow you to shore from here.”

He’s quick. Always hated that about Conner. Dangerous one, he is. Still, how good of a conman can he be? He let himself get named Conner.

“Hand me the oars then, First Mate, so I can help you up,” I say.

“Go to hell,” he says.

“That was an order,” I say.

“Go to hell,” he says again.

I give in.

He insists on holding the oars as I pull him in—which is good. It keeps his hands busy while I stick my knife through his back, pinning him to the gunwale.

Even as the men watching from the water curse, surprised at my sudden move, I pry the oars from Conner’s fingers. He might be dead already, hands convulsed, locked tight. I have to use the butt of my pistol to smash his grip open and drop the oars into the dinghy.

I rip my knife free and Conner’s body drops into the sea. One more meal for Ceres the Insatiable.

I stand up, knife in one hand, pistol in the other, and address the swimming, desperate men who’ve just seen me murder Conner.

“I am Gunner!” I shout, more to Ceres than to the men in the water. “I have done what satraps and Prisms only dream. I am cannoneer of the legendary Aved Barayah! I am sea demon slayer! Shark killer! Pirate! Rogue! And now, I am captain. Captain Gunner is on the look for a crew,” I say, finally turning to the men swimming, surrounded by sharks. “Must be willing to take orders.”

Chapter One

THE BLINDING KNIFE is the second book in The Lightbringer Series. If you haven’t read THE BLACK PRISM, don’t read any further! The following excerpt contains spoilers.

Gavin Guile lay on his back on a narrow skimmer floating in the middle of the sea. It was a tiny craft with low sides. Lying on his back like this in the past, he would almost believe he was one with the sea. Now, the dome of the heavens above him was like a lid, and he a crab in the cauldron, heat rising.

Two hours before noon, here, thirty leagues from the Seers Isle, the Cerulean Sea should be a stunning deep blue-green. The sky above, cloudless, mist burned off, should be a peaceful, vibrant sapphire.

But he couldn’t see it. Since he’d lost the Battle of Garriston four days ago, wherever there was blue, he saw gray. He couldn’t even see that much unless he concentrated.

His fleet was waiting for him. Hard to relax when thousands of people are waiting, but he needed this measure of peace. He looked to the heavens, arms spread, touching the waves with his fingertips.

Lucidonius, were you here? Were you even real? Did this happen to you, too?

Something hissed in the water, a sound like a boat cutting through the waves.

Gavin sat up on his skimmer.

Fifty paces behind him, something disappeared under the waves, something big enough to cause its own swell. It could have been a whale.

Except whales surface to breathe. There was no spray hanging in the air, no whoosh of expelled air. And from fifty paces, for Gavin to have heard the hiss of a sea creature cutting through the water, it would have had to have been massive. His heart leapt to his throat.

He jumped to his feet and began sucking in light to draft his oar apparatus—and froze. Right beneath his tiny craft, something was moving through the water. It was like watching the landscape go by when you’re in a speeding carriage, but Gavin wasn’t moving. The rushing body was huge, many times the width of his craft, and it was undulating closer and closer to the surface, closer to his own little boat.

A sea demon.

And it glowed. A peaceful, warm radiance like the sun itself on this cool morning.

Gavin had never heard of such a thing. Sea demons were monsters, the purest, craziest form of fury known to mankind. They burned red, boiled the seas, left fires floating in their wakes. Not carnivores, so far as the old books guessed, but fiercely territorial—and any intruder on their territory was to be crushed. Intruders, like boats.

This light was different. A peaceful luminescence, the sea demon no vicious destroyer, but a giant traversing the seas and leaving barely a ripple to note his passing. The colors shimmered through the waves, grew brighter as the undulation brought the body close.

Unthinking, Gavin knelt as the creature’s back broke the surface of the water right underneath his boat. Before the boat slid away from the swell, he reached out and touched the sea demon’s skin. He expected a creature that slid through the waves to be slimy, but the skin was surprisingly rough, muscular, warm.

For one precious moment, Gavin was not. There was no Gavin Guile, no Lord Prism, no scraping sniveling dignitaries devoid of dignity, no lies, no satraps to be bullied, no Spectrum councillors to manipulate, no lovers, no bastards, no power except the power before his eyes. He felt small, staring into incomprehensible vastness.

Cooled by the gentle morning breeze, warmed by the twin suns, one in the sky, one beneath the waves, Gavin was serene.

It was the closest thing to a holy moment Gavin had ever experienced.

And then he realized the sea demon was swimming straight toward his fleet.

Chapter Three

Three thunks. Three hisses. Three gates between him and freedom. The chute spat a torn brick of bread at the prisoner’s face. He caught it, and the cheese that followed. He knew they were blue, the still blue of a deep lake in early morning, when night still hoards the sky and the air dares not caress the water’s skin. Unadulterated by any other color, drafting that blue was difficult. Worse, drafting it made the prisoner feel bored, passionless, at peace, in harmony with even this place. And he needed the fire of hatred today. Today, he would escape.

After all his years here, sometimes he couldn’t even see the color, like he had awoken to a world painted in grays. The first year had been the worst. His eyes, so accustomed to nuance, so adept at parsing every spectrum of light, had begun deceiving him. He’d hallucinated colors. He tried to draft those colors into the tools to break this prison. But imagination wasn’t enough to make magic, one needed light. Real light. He’d been the Prism, so almost any color would do, from those above violet to the ones below red. He’d gathered the very heat from his own body, soaked his eyes in those sub-reds and flung that against the tedious blue walls.

Of course, the walls were hardened against such pathetic amounts of heat. He’d drafted a blue dagger and sawn at his wrist. Where the blood dripped onto the stone floor, it was immediately leached of color. The next time, he’d held his own blood in his hands to try to draft red but he couldn’t get enough color given that the only light in the cell was blue. Of course. His jailer had thought of everything. But then, he always had.

The prisoner sat next to the drain and began eating. The dungeon was shaped like a flattened ball: the walls and ceiling a perfect sphere, the floor less steep but still sloping toward the middle. The walls were lit from within, every surface emitting the same color light. The only shadow in the dungeon was the prisoner himself. There were only two holes: the chute above, which released his food and one steady rivulet of water that he had to lick for his moisture, and the drain below for his waste.

He had no utensils, no tools except his hands and his will, always his will. With his will, he could draft anything from the blue that he wanted, though it would dissolve as soon as his will released it, leaving only dust and a faint mineral-and-resin odor.

But today was going to be the day his vengeance began, his first day of freedom. This attempt wouldn’t fail—he refused to even think of it as an “attempt”—and there was work to be done. Things had to be done in order. He couldn’t remember now if he had always been this way or if he’d soaked in blue for so long that the color had changed him fundamentally.

He knelt next to the only feature of the cell that his brother hadn’t created. A single, shallow depression in the floor, a bowl. First he rubbed the bowl with his bare hands, grinding the corrosive oils from his fingertips into the stone for as long as he dared. Scar tissue didn’t produce oil, so he had to stop before he rubbed his fingers raw. He scraped two fingernails along the crease between his nose and face, two others between his ears and head, gathering more oil. Anywhere he could collect oils from his body, he did, and rubbed it into the bowl. Not that there was any discernible change, but over the years, his bowl had become deep enough to cover his finger to the second joint. His jailer had bound the color-leaching hellstones into the floor in lines. Whatever spread far enough to cross one of those lines lost all color almost instantly. But hellstone was terribly expensive. How deep did they go?

If it only extended a few inches into the stone, his raw fingers might reach beyond it any day. Freedom wouldn’t be far behind. But if his jailer had used enough hellstone that the crosshatching lines ran a foot deep, then he’d been rubbing his fingers raw for five thousand days for nothing. He’d die here. Someday, his jailer would come down, see the little bowl—his only mark on the world—and laugh. With that laughter echoing in his ears, he felt a small spark of anger in his breast. He blew on that spark, basked in its warmth. It was fire enough to help him move, enough to counter the soothing, debilitating blue down here.

Finished, he urinated into the bowl. And watched.

For a moment, filtered through the yellow of his urine, the cursed blue light was sliced with green. His breath caught. Time stretched as the green stayed green… stayed green. By Orholam, he’d done it. He’d gone deep enough. He’d broken through the hellstone!

And then the green disappeared. In exactly the same two seconds it took every day. He screamed in frustration, but even his frustration was weak, his scream more to assure himself he could still hear than real fury.

The next part still drove him crazy. He knelt by the depression. His brother had turned him into an animal. A dog, playing with his own feces. But that emotion was too old, mined too many times to give him any real warmth. Five thousand days on, he was too debased to resent his debasement. Putting both hands into his urine, he scrubbed it around the bowl as he had scrubbed his oils. Even leached of all color, urine was still urine. It should still be acidic. It should corrode the hellstone faster than the skin oils alone would.

Or the urine might neutralize the oils from his hands. He might be pushing the day of his escape further and further away. He had no idea. That was what made him crazy, not immersing his fingers in his own warm urine. Not anymore.

He scooped the urine out of the bowl and dried it with a wad of blue rags: his clothes, his pillow, now stinking of urine. Stinking of urine for so long that the stench of urine didn’t offend him anymore. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that the bowl had to be dry by tomorrow so he could try again.

Another day, another failure. Tomorrow, he would try sub-red again. It had been a while. He’d recovered enough from his last attempt. He should be strong enough for it. If nothing else, his jailer had taught him how strong he really was. And maybe that was what made him hate Gavin more than anything. But it was a hatred as cold as his cell.

Chapter Two

Gavin Guile sleepily eyed the papers that slid under his door and wondered what Karris was punishing him for this time. His rooms occupied half of the top floor of the Chromeria, but the panoramic windows were blackened so that if he slept at all, he could sleep in. The seal on the letter pulsed so gently Gavin couldn’t tell what color had been drafted into it. He propped himself up in bed so he could get a better look and dilated his pupils to gather as much light as possible.

Superviolet. Oh, sonuva—

On every side, the floor-to-ceiling blackened windows dropped into the floor, bathing the room in full-spectrum light as the morning sun was revealed, climbing the horizon over the dual islands. With his eyes dilated so far, magic flooded Gavin. It was too much to hold.

Light exploded from him in every direction, passing through him in successive waves from superviolet down. The sub-red was last, rushing through his skin like a wave of flame. Gavin jumped out of bed, sweating instantly. But with all the windows open, cold summer morning winds blasted through his chambers, chilling him. He yelped, hopping back into the bed.

His yelp must have been loud enough for Karris to hear it and know that her rude awakening had been successful, because he heard her unmistakable laugh. She wasn’t a superviolet, so she must have had a friend help her with her little prank. A quick shot of superviolet luxin at the room’s controls threw the windows closed and set the filters to half. Gavin extended a hand to blast his door open, then stopped. He wasn’t going to give Karris the satisfaction. Karris’s assignment to be the White’s fetch-and-carry girl had ostensibly been intended to teach her humility and gravitas. So far that much had been a spectacular failure, though the White always played a deeper game. Still, Gavin couldn’t help grinning as he rose and swept the folded papers Karris had tucked under the door to his hand.

He walked to his door. On a small service table just outside, he found his breakfast on a platter. It was the same every morning: two squat bricks of bread and a wedge of cheese. The bread was made of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, unleavened. A man could live on that bread. In fact, a man was living on that bread. Just not Gavin. Indeed, the sight of it made Gavin’s stomach turn. He could order a different breakfast, of course, but he never did.

He brought it inside, setting the papers on the table next to the bread. One was odd, a plain note didn’t look like the White’s personal stationery, nor any official hard white stationery the Chromeria used. He turned it over. The Chromeria’s message office had marked as being received from “ST, Rekton”: Satrapy of Tyrea, town of Rekton. It sounded familiar, maybe one of those towns near Sundered Rock? But then, there had once been so many towns there. Probably someone begging an audience, though those were supposed to be screened out and dealt with separately.

Still, first things first. He tore open each loaf, checking that nothing had been concealed inside it, and broke open each wedge of cheese. Satisfied, he turned toward the morning sun. A pale, granite blue swirled in his eyes like smoke, passing from Gavin’s multicolored irises to the whites, and then disappearing deeper into his body. Wisps of that pale blue brushed the skin around his temples, then in his neck, before coming to rest in his right hand. Gavin drafted only enough magic to fill the fingers of his right hand. He held his hand up against the pale, granite blue sky of a painting he kept on the wall as his reference. Then he turned his hand over. There wasn’t much pigment in the backs of his tan fingers, but there was almost none in the front, and it was vital to get this exactly right, to adjust even for the reds that shone through his skin from his capillaries.

He did it perfectly, of course. He’d been doing this for five thousand mornings now. Almost sixteen years. A long time for a man only thirty-three years old. He drafted the blue into the bread, dyeing it the same color, same intensity, same saturation throughout. Then the cheese.

Gavin picked up the note.

“I’m dying, Gavin. It’s time you meet your son Kip. -Lina”

Son? I don’t have a—

Suddenly his throat clamped down, and his chest felt like his heart was seizing up, no matter that the chirugeons said. Just relax, they said. Young and strong as a warhorse, they said. They didn’t say grow a pair. You’ve got lots of friends, your enemies fear you, and you have no rivals. You’re the Prism. What are you afraid of? No one had talked to him that way in years. Sometimes he wished they would.

Orholam, the note hadn’t even been sealed.

Gavin walked out onto his glass balcony, subconsciously checking his drafting as he did every morning. He stared at his hand, splitting sunlight into its component colors as only he could do, filling each finger in turn with a color, from below the visible spectrum to above it: sub-red, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, superviolet. Had he felt a hitch there when he drafted blue? He double-checked it, glancing briefly toward the sun.

No, it was still easy to split light, still flawless. He released the luxin, each color sliding out and dissipating like smoke from beneath his fingernails, releasing the familiar bouquet of resinous scents.

He turned his face to the sun, its warmth like a mother’s caress. Gavin opened his eyes and sucked in a warm, soothing red. In and out, in time with his labored breaths, willing them to slow. Then he let the red go, and took in a deep icy blue. It felt like it was freezing his eyes. As ever, the blue brought clarity, peace, order. But not a plan, not with so little information. He let go of the colors. He was still fine. He still had at least five years left. Plenty of time. Five years, five great purposes.

Well, maybe not five great purposes.

Still, of his predecessors in the last four hundred years, aside from those who’d been assassinated or died of other causes, the rest had served for seven, fourteen, or twenty-one years after becoming Prism. Gavin had made it past fourteen. So, plenty of time. No reason to think he’d be the exception. Not many reasons, anyway.

He was still holding the White’s note. Cracking her white seal—the old crone sealed everything, though she shared the other half of this floor and Karris hand-delivered her messages. But everything had to be in its proper place, properly done. There was no mistaking that she’d risen from Blue.

The White’s note read: “Unless you would prefer to greet the students arriving late this morning, my dear Lord Prism, please attend me on the roof.”

Looking beyond the Chromeria’s buildings and the city, Gavin studied the merchant ships in the bay cupped in the lee of Big Jasper Island. A ragged-looking Atashian sloop small enough that it was maneuvering in to dock directly at a pier.

Greeting new students. Unbelievable. It wasn’t that he was too good to greet new students—well, actually, it was that. He, the White, and the Spectrum were supposed to balance each other. But though the Spectrum feared him the most, the reality was that the crone got her way more often than Gavin and the seven Colors combined. This morning, she had to be wanting to experiment on him again, and if he wanted to avoid something more onerous like teaching he’d better get to the top of the tower.

Gavin drafted his red hair into a tight ponytail, and dressed in the clothes his room slave had laid out for him: an ivory shirt and an well-cut pair of black wool pants with an oversize gem-studded belt, boots with silverwork and a black cloak with harsh old Ilytian runic designs embroidered in silver thread. The Prism belonged to all the satrapies, so Gavin did his best to honor the traditions of every land—even one that was mainly pirates and heretics.

He hesitated a moment, then pulled open a drawer and drew out his brace of Ilytian pistols. They were, typically for Ilytian work, the most advanced design Gavin had ever seen. The firing mechanism was far more reliable than a wheellock—they were calling it a flintlock. Each pistol had a long blade beneath the barrel, and even a belt-flange so that when he tucked them into his belt behind his back, they were held securely and at an angle so he didn’t skewer himself when he sat. The Ilytians thought of everything.

And, of course, the pistols made the White’s Blackguards nervous. Gavin grinned.

When he turned for the door and saw the painting again, his grin dropped.

Gavin walked back to the table with the blue bread and blue cheese. Grabbing one use-smoothened edge of the painting, he pulled. It swung open silently, revealing a narrow chute.

Nothing menacing about the chute. Too small for a man to climb up, even if he overcame everything else. It might have been a laundry chute. Yet to Gavin, it looked like the mouth of hell, the evernight itself opening wide for him. He tossed one of the bricks of bread and the cheese into it, then waited. There was a thunk as the bread hit the first lock, a small hiss as it opened, then closed, then a smaller thunk as it hit the next lock, and a few moments later, one last thunk. Each of the locks was still working. Everything was normal. Safe. There had been mistakes over the years, but no one had to die this time. No need for paranoia. He nearly snarled as he slammed the painting closed