King of Scars (King of Scars Duology #1)

“Do you know what I learned in Ketterdam?” Nina asked, gazing at the tree of bones she had built. “No one is innocent. You turned the tide today, Adrik. You didn’t just hold back the waters—you changed the way these people see Grisha. You performed a miracle.”

“It wasn’t a miracle. It was skill and luck and a fancy prop you built out of body parts.”

Nina shrugged. “The Fjerdans won’t accept us as people, so maybe it’s time they saw us as Saints. And this is how we’ll do it, town by town, miracle by miracle. They’re already whispering your name here, just as they whisper Sankta Alina’s name. I guarantee tomorrow there will be shrines dedicated to you all along this road.” She raised a brow. “You might not like what they’re calling you, though.”

“I don’t like any of this,” he said, but then his curiosity got the better of him. “Tell me.”

“Sankta Leoni of the Waters.” She paused. “And Sankt Adrik the Uneven.”

Adrik rolled his eyes. “We need to go, Nina. Time is short.”

“There’s something else,” said Nina, though she knew Adrik would never forgive what she told him next. “I didn’t share all of the information in Brum’s letter.”

Adrik went very still. “What have you done, Nina?”

“There was talk of an assassination plan against the king.”

“By the Fjerdans?”

“It wasn’t clear. It only said that Lantsov wouldn’t be a problem for someone named Demidov. That their spies believed the situation would resolve itself without interference soon.”

Adrik cursed. “We have to get to Hjar as soon as possible. How could you keep a threat to the king’s life to yourself?”

What difference could it make? There were always threats to the king’s life. Nikolai had Tolya and Tamar to watch over him, and Adrik would have insisted on calling off the plan so they could travel to Hjar and locate a member of the network with access to a flyer who could get word to the capital. The king of Ravka had plenty of people to protect him. The girls on the mountaintop had only Nina.

“It was one day lost,” she said. “There’s time to get word to the king.”

“That was not your call to make. But I won’t debate it with you now. You can answer for what you’ve done back in Ravka.”

“I’m not going with you.”

“Nina—”

“I know what I need to do, Adrik, and I won’t get a chance like this again. Ravka made me a soldier. Ketterdam made me a spy. Hanne can help me become something else entirely.”

“Nina, you can’t mean to—”

“I do.”

“We’ll have no way to reach you there. You’ll be without allies, without resources. If things go wrong, you won’t have any way out.”

Nina glanced up at the smoldering wreckage of the factory. “Then I’ll just have to blow a hole in the wall.”





THE THORN WOOD WAS BLEEDING. The sap that flowed from its trunks was no longer gold but red, as if with Elizaveta’s death it had died too. Its stalks began to shrivel, its thorns wilting. Nikolai pulled himself free, and the blood from his hands and legs dripped onto the sand. His chest throbbed, and yet the only sign that he’d driven a spike through it was a star-shaped scar. One more to add to his collection.

In the distance, he could see the great palace crumbling, its spires collapsing. What will be left? he wondered And how were he and Zoya going to get free of this place?

He stumbled over to her. She lay on a wilted bed of thorn trees and red quince blossoms, her hair splayed around her face. Before her, a dark pile of dead bees was heaped amid the branches. Sankta Elizaveta. Only a few feet away, he saw a mound of bones, both bear and human, blowing away to ash. Would this whole world crumble to dust?

He knelt beside Zoya and checked her pulse. It was steady. He was surprised to see two fetters of black scales at her wrists.

“Zoya,” he said, shaking her gently. “Commander Nazyalensky.”

Her lashes fluttered and she looked up at him. Nikolai reared back. For a moment, he thought he’d seen … No, that was impossible. Zoya gazed at him with vibrant blue eyes.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Fine,” she replied.

“You’re sure?”

“Which one of us gets to kill the monk?”

“You’re fine.”

He helped her to her feet and they made their way to where Yuri lay buried up to his neck in sand. At some point the rat had fainted. Blood trickled from his nose.

Nikolai sighed. “I hate to say it, but we’re going to have to let him live. I need all the information we can garner on the Cult of the Starless and how the Saints brought us here. I think it may have been Elizaveta who unlocked my chains the night I got free from the palace.”

“How?”

“She said their power could extend beyond the Fold, but only where the people’s faith was strongest. Yuri was at the palace that night. Maybe Elizaveta used him to send her vines or her insects past my guards.”

Zoya snorted. “You’re the one who invited him in.”

“You can choose our next dinner guest. I want answers, so the monk lives. For now.”

“Perhaps some light torture, then? Or you could just let me kick him in the head for the next hour.”

“I’d like nothing better, but I’m not feeling my best, and I’d prefer not to die in these clothes. We need to see if we can find our way out of here.”

Zoya pulled the dunes away from Yuri, and they dragged him onto his back. They bound his hands with strips of fabric from Zoya’s kefta and gagged him for good measure.

“Nikolai,” Zoya said, laying a hand on his arm as she summoned a pallet of air on which to carry the monk. “Did it work at least? Are you free?”

Nikolai winked at her. “As free as I’ll ever be.”

He didn’t have the heart to tell her he could still feel the monster somewhere inside him—weakened, licking its wounds, but waiting for the opportunity to rise again.



Whatever power had bound them in permanent twilight had died with the Saints. Nikolai and Zoya had been walking less than an hour when they saw the first twinkle of stars.

They continued on, despite their wounds and their fatigue, until at last they saw lights in the distance, and eventually the dead gray sands of the Fold gave way to soft meadow. Though Nikolai would have liked nothing better than to foist himself on the hospitality of a farmer, they couldn’t risk discovery. They took shelter in an old equipment shed. It was damp and uncomfortable, but it was either that or rest beneath the branches of a plum orchard, and Nikolai had no desire to be anywhere near a tree.

It was a pleasure to close his eyes and feel sleep fall over him. He would never take it for granted again.

Zoya set out before dawn for Kribirsk and returned more quickly than expected with horses, a pack full of traveling clothes, and a young Grisha Healer to see to Nikolai’s wounds.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness,” the boy apologized as he sealed the punctures in Nikolai’s hands. “This will most likely leave a scar. I’m still training.”

“A roguish scar?” asked Nikolai.

“Well … a deep one?”

“Just as good.”

When he was done, Zoya sent him on his way. “Speak of this to anyone and I will consider it treason.” She trained her hard gaze on the boy and said, “That is a hanging offense.”

He stumbled backward through the doorway. “Yes, Commander. Of course, Commander.”

Zoya frowned and shook her head. “I swear they come through training softer and softer. One little glare and he was about to call for smelling salts.”

Nikolai said nothing. This time there’d been no mistaking it. When Zoya had glared at the boy, her eyes had flashed silver, and her pupils had turned to slits. For a moment, he had been looking into the eyes of the dragon. Just what had Zoya done to get them free? That question would have to wait until they were safely back at the palace.

They pushed through their exhaustion and rode hard the rest of the day. Occasionally, Nikolai felt a jab in his chest, as if the thorn were still lodged there. Yuri sat silent and shivering in his bindings, his hood pulled low over his face.

They soon learned that whatever had happened on the Unsea had been felt throughout Ravka, maybe beyond. Earthquakes had been reported as far north as Ulensk and as far south as Dva Stolba. Nikolai knew there would be other consequences. Three of the world’s most powerful Grisha had died, and the ritual had definitely not gone as planned.

Before they entered Os Alta, Zoya bound Nikolai’s hands and attached ropes to the bridles of his and Yuri’s horses so they would both look like prisoners as she led them through the lower town, across the great canal, and onto the broad boulevards that would take them up the gentle slope and through the golden gates to the palace. They saw no mourning banners, no flags flown at half-mast. No one was rioting in the streets. Either Nikolai was decidedly less popular than he’d hoped, or somehow Genya and David had managed to keep his disappearance a secret.