King of Scars (King of Scars Duology #1)

“It’s me,” said Hanne. “I …” And then she remembered her uniform, her altered face. “I … I’m sorry.”

“Come on,” Nina said. “We need to move.” From her pocket, she drew the sedative Leoni had mixed. It was milky white, boiled from the stalks of jurda plants instead of the leaves.

“That doesn’t look like my dose,” said the girl by the lantern, frowning.

“It’s something new,” said Nina soothingly. “We’re taking all of you to a new base.”

“All of us?” one of the girls asked. “The babies too?”


“Does the new base have windows?” asked Sylvi.

“Yes,” said Hanne, her voice raw. “And fresh food and sea breezes. It will be a hard journey, but we’ll make it as comfortable as possible.” At least that much was true.

One by one they offered the girls their doses and began to lead them to the cart.

Adrik consulted his watch. “Get going.”

He raised his arm, and Nina’s ears popped as he dropped the pressure in the factory to create an acoustic blanket and mask their movements.

Nina knew the layout of the factory floor best, so she would take Leoni to set the explosives while Adrik and Hanne finished loading the prisoners and their infants. She helped Leoni stack the makeshift bombs in a basket beneath a pile of soiled linen and they crept deeper into the heart of the fort. It was blessedly silent, the day not yet beginning, and thanks to Adrik, their footsteps made no sound to break the quiet.

Nina dashed ahead to the main body of the factory and into the western wing, as close as she dared to the barracks and the kitchens. She didn’t want to risk running into any patrols. She set the small explosives along the wall as she headed back, all of them connected by a long fuse.

Nina had just planted the last of her bombs when she heard a cry. Leoni. She raced back to the main hall on silent feet. As she entered, she heard voices and shrank up against a dusty vat, peering around it.

Leoni stood with her back to Nina, arms raised. Jarl Brum had a pistol trained on her. Nina clung to the vat, staying as still as possible.

“Who sent you?” he demanded. “You will give me answers or I will bleed them out of you.”

“You disgust me,” Leoni said in Zemeni.

Their voices had a strange, muffled quality. Did Brum hear it? Did he know Grisha power was at work? Slowly, Nina crept down the row of machinery. If she could get behind Brum, she could disarm him.

“I don’t speak your ugly tongue,” he said. “And I know you understand more than you pretend to.”

Leoni smiled, the expression startling in its beauty. “And you understand less than you will ever know.”

“I knew you weren’t just traders. Where is your compatriot? And what about the guide, Mila Jandersdat? Does she know you’re spies?”

“You’re so very bald,” Leoni said, still in Zemeni. “That won’t be the worst thing Mila Jandersdat does to you.”

“Was she a part of this?” Brum growled in frustration.

“How many girls?” Leoni said, switching to clumsy Fjerdan. “How many did you hurt?”

“Those aren’t women,” Brum sneered. “They’re Grisha, and I’ll be happy to give you your first dose myself. The might of Fjerda is about to descend on you.”

He reached for a lever in the wall, and Nina knew an alarm was going to sound.

“Wait!” she shouted, unsure of what she intended—and at that moment Jarl Brum crumpled to the ground.

Hanne stood behind him holding a wrench and breathing heavily. “He knew,” she said brokenly. “He knew.” Then she fell to her knees beside him and cradled his bleeding head. “Papa,” she said, tears sliding down her cheeks. “How could you?”

“Come on,” said Nina. “We have to get the girls and get out of here.”

Hanne ran a sleeve over her eyes. “We can’t leave him to die.”

“You saw what he’s responsible for.”

“What the government is responsible for,” said Hanne. “My father is a soldier. You said it yourself, this country made him this way.”

Nina didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or scream. Jarl Brum was the commander of the drüskelle, the mind behind the torture of countless Grisha. He was not just a soldier. Save some mercy for my people.

“We need to go,” said Leoni. “If we don’t light the first fuse soon, the bombs won’t go off in time. Assuming they go off at all.”

“He’s my father,” said Hanne, her eyes full of that fierce determination Nina loved so much. “I won’t leave him.”

Nina threw up her hands in exasperation. “Fine, help me lift him.”

They hauled Brum’s body down the hall and through the ward. The man was enormous and Nina was tempted to drop him just for the satisfaction of it.

“So Commander Brum did not leave town?” asked Adrik, letting his arm fall to his side. Nina’s ears crackled and sound bled back into the ward.

“I guess he wanted to say goodbye,” she muttered as they dragged him into the back of the wagon. The girls looked at him with vague interest. The sedative had definitely set in.

“What about your sister?” said Hanne.

“She’s not here,” Nina said. “She must have been moved.”

“How can you be sure?”

“We need to go,” insisted Nina. She hopped down and ran back to the ward to set the fuses.

She lit the last of them and was about to join the others at the loading dock when a voice shouted, “Stop!”

Nina turned. The Wellmother was racing down the ward, flanked by soldiers armed with rifles. Of course Brum hadn’t been alone.

“You!” said the Wellmother, her face red with rage. “How dare you wear the attire of a Springmaiden? Where are the prisoners? Where is Commander Brum?”

“Gone,” Nina lied. “Beyond your reach.”

“Seize her!” said the Wellmother, but Nina was already raising her hands.

“I wouldn’t,” Nina said, and the soldiers hesitated, confused.

Around her, she felt the cold tide of the river, eddying in deep pools—the graves of the unnamed and abandoned, buried without ceremony, women and girls brought here in secret, who had suffered and died and been left to the dark with no one to mourn them.

Come to me, Nina commanded.

“She’s just one girl,” snapped the Wellmother. “What kind of cowards are you?”

“Not just one girl,” said Nina. The whispering rose in her. Fjerdan women. Fjerdan girls, crying for justice, screaming in the silence of the earth. She opened her mouth and let them speak.

“I am Petra Toft.” The words came from Nina’s lips, but she did not recognize her own voice. “You cut me open and took the child from my womb. You let me bleed to death as I pleaded for help.”

“I am Siv Engman. I told you I had miscarried, that I could not carry a child to term, but you made me conceive again and again. I held each stillborn in my arms. I gave each one of them a name.”

“I am Ellinor Berglund. I was your student, placed in your care. I trusted you. I called you Wellmother. I begged for your mercy when you discovered my powers. I died begging for another dose.”

“What is this?” said the Wellmother, her hands clasped against her heart. She was shaking, her eyes wide as moons.

Woman after woman, girl after girl, they spoke their names, and Nina called them on. Come to me. Up through the earth, clawing through the soil, they came, a mass of rotting limbs and broken bones. And some of them crawled.

The doors to the ward slammed open, and the dead poured through. They moved with impossible speed, silent horrors, snatching the rifles from the Fjerdan soldiers even as they tried to open fire. Some were nearly whole. Others were nothing but bones and rags.

The Wellmother backed away, her face a mask of terror. She stumbled on her pinafore and fell to the stone floor. An infant pulled itself toward her on all fours. Its chubby limbs were still intact despite its blue lips and vacant eyes.

The dead had made quick work of the guards, who lay bleeding in silent heaps. Now they advanced on the Wellmother. Nina turned to go.

“Don’t leave me,” the Wellmother begged as the baby seized hold of her skirts.

“I told you I would pray for you,” said Nina as she closed the door and issued her final command to her soldiers: Give her the mercy she deserves.

Nina turned her back on the Wellmother’s screams.

“Go!” commanded Nina as she clambered into the back of the wagon. The time for subtlety had passed. They burst through the eastern entrance and onto the road. When Nina turned to look, she expected to see the guards raising their rifles to fire at them. Instead, she saw two bloodied bodies in the snow and a trail of pawprints leading into the trees.

Trassel. Her mind said she was a fool to think so, but her heart knew better. Now she understood why he’d never taken the food she’d left out. Matthias’ wolf liked to hunt his prey. From somewhere up the mountain, she heard a long, mournful howl, and then a chorus of replies echoing over the valley. The gray wolves he had saved? Maybe Trassel would have to stay alone no longer. Maybe he’d finally said his goodbyes too.

Leoni was staring at Nina as they sped away from the factory. She had a baby clutched in her arms.