The Burning White: Book Five of Lightbringer (Lightbringer #5)

“ ‘White of yourn,’ thet ain’t right,” Gunner grumbled. “Whiting bit. Bidding white. Biding . . . shit!”

Waiting, waiting just a few more seconds, meant trusting the Order. Casting in her lot with them completely. It meant helping them. It meant doing evil, hoping that an evil man would do her some good.

How stupid do they think I am?

Stupid enough to get on this boat.

True. But I’m not stupid enough to stay.

“Biting wit!” Gunner crowed. “Ha!”

Drawing her paryl cloud around her, Teia jumped up on the handrail, running down it to the ship’s waist, stepping over Gunner’s hand and onto a finial as his bearded, bushy head swung under her as he began to climb.

She dropped to the deck and dodged between sailors, past the two men lifting the plank. With a heave, she leapt—

—and she wasn’t going to make it. Her feet were going to strike the dock’s side just short of the front edge.

She lifted her feet, tucking her knees as if in a deep squat, and barely cleared the gap, but the position left her nothing to absorb the shock of landing. She tumbled head over heels, barely having the wherewithal to swirl the cloak and cloud back over her body as she stopped.

One of the Order sailors lifting the plank paused, staring right at where she was. He lifted a hand to shade his eyes, and Teia saw that she had jumped right between him and the rising sun—which was either brilliant or the worst possible thing she could have done. Any part of her that had been exposed would have thrown a shadow over his face. On the other hand, he was now looking directly into the rising sun.

The sailor on the other side of the heavy plank looked over at the man, peeved he’d stopped. “You fookin’ gonna help me stow this fookin’ thing, ya beaver shite eater?”

The man cast his eye around the dock again, puzzled, but then he said, “Man can’t appreciate a sunrise for two fookin’ heartbeats? You and your dysent’ry gams, foulin’ a liminal moment.”

“It’ll be a subliminal moment if you don’t start helping, because I’mma knock you the fook out.”

“Take one deep breath through that poo pincher disfiguring your gob for a moment, won’tcha? It’s a sunrise.”

“It’s Orholam’s Eye coming up. Curse it like ya ought.”

“What kinda lead-souled, hieroproctical—”

“Lead-soled? You’re the one with heavy feet, you laggard son of a slattern mum—”

“Don’t you talk about our mum that way. If she’d been faithful to dad, you’d not be here. And I weren’t talking about that kind of soul, not that you’d be familiar . . .”

Teia lost the rest as another man came to the rail with a long pole to push the ship away from the dock far enough for the slaves belowdecks to get their oars out.

She watched as the gap between her and obedience grew until it was unbridgeable.

She was committed.

The Old Man’s command had been the kind of ultimatum on which a whole world turns: murder Gavin and become fully one of us and be given all you could want or hope for, or else.

I choose ‘or else.’

For no reason that Teia could understand, for no reason that made any sense at all, her heart suddenly soared.

She’d failed in her every single attempt against the Order so far. But she would not fail again.

She straightened her back and drew her powers about her. As far as the Old Man knew, she was gone for at least a month and a half, if not twice that.

The Order didn’t have their own skimmers yet, so that meant six weeks at least before anyone could return with word of her absence—and therefore, her disobedience.

She couldn’t tell the commander or even her friends that she lived, lest someone betray her, or let it slip to someone who would. So she must become a ghost, moving invisibly through the world of men, leaving nothing but terror and death.

In commissioning Teia to infiltrate the Order of the Broken Eye, Karris had wanted her to destroy the Order utterly, so they wouldn’t be able to enslave and blackmail and murder ever again. Teia had always understood her mission was necessary, but now it was personal.

She had six weeks.

Six weeks to find someone in the Order of the Broken Eye, to follow that thread to the leadership, and that would lead her to what she needed: their papers. Even if one leader could memorize a list of all the secret members of the Order, his underlings couldn’t be expected to. Codes had to change and adjustments be made. On top of that, there would be deeds and titles, lists of properties owned and the places they met. The membership lists would go to Karris so she could round up people for hanging or to go on Orholam’s Glare. But the papers would also give Teia places to search and Braxian cultists to interview—or torture, if necessary—to tell her where her father was being held.

Six weeks to find her father and free him. Six weeks to find those who would do him harm, and to end the threat forever.

Teia had never fantasized about being frightening, had only wanted to be a shield—a big, obvious guardian against the violence of others. But against these people? She felt something gloriously strong and ugly and beautiful rising in her heart, easing the worry on her brow, and turning her mouth to a smile.

The Order had made her. They were about to learn how well.

One of those masked Blackguards who’d saluted the Old Man of the Desert had moved with a bit of a limp. That was her thread to pull.

Let the haunting begin.

Chapter 7

“On the one hand, I couldn’t be more horrified,” Tisis Guile said, looking out the window in a flowing red summer dress accented with a vibrant green that perfectly matched the emerald luxin in her eyes.

The moment she’d stepped through the living white-oak doorway of the Palace of the Divines two days ago, Tisis had assumed the wardrobe of young royalty and a mien of measured grace and slow eloquence like a favorite pair of old boots. Strangely, the guise had endured without wrinkle or rumple, her cadences and tones and even accent seamless over the long, full days of affectation since they’d arrived.

It had taken Kip several days to realize the persona wasn’t a pretense. Though Tisis absolutely was trying to impress both the nobility and the servants, this was no false face. She had grown up in the corridors of power in Rath and Green Haven and the Chromeria, and only at the last had she had her retinue forcibly limited by Andross Guile.

Far from being a fa?ade, for the first time, Kip was seeing his wife in the full flower of her natural environment.

Thank Orholam he’d first seen her at her weakest. She’d intimidated the hell out of him then, when she’d been vulnerable, isolated, uncertain.

“On the other hand,” she said, letting the curtain fall, “I couldn’t be prouder.”

For this one thing, thank you, Grandpa Guile. You did me a good turn when—well, when you pretty much forced this stunning woman to marry me and made her think it was her own idea.

Kip was really going to have to tell her about that someday.

She noticed his smile slip, but before she could ask anything, Kip said, “Huh? What?”

He’d been staring at decrees and reports and budgets for so long he was drifting. She was horrified about something? Proud?

“What’s going on?” Big Leo asked Tisis, gesturing outside. “Something wrong out there with the queue?”

After word had gotten out about Kip’s magical restorations to Túsaíonn Domhan, everyone wanted to see the masterpiece ceiling functioning as it had been intended, so Kip had simply said whoever wanted to see it could.

That was how he and Tisis ended up sleeping in nondescript guest chambers: his permission had been taken as an order, and now there was a constant line out the door, out the Palace of the Divines, down the steps, and into the square below. People who had far better things to do in this wracked and wretched city were instead waiting hour upon hour to see Kip’s handiwork, even sleeping in line, watched by attentive guards. He and Tisis decided to move to another room rather than expel those who’d waited so long at the end of every day.

“Come see,” Tisis said, not to Kip, though.

The Mighty crowded around the windows, peeking carefully. Except for Winsen, who, with his typical subtlety, pulled the curtain fully back to stare down into the courtyard.

All of them were bored. Kip couldn’t blame them. While they all waited for their only paryl drafter to finish her quiet scans of the room, with her eyes midnight orbs against her true black skin, Kip had things to do. The rest of them didn’t.

Though Kip had never thought of him as the devious sort, Cruxer had been the one to initiate room searches. As it turned out, several other chambers in a row that had been provided for the Mighty’s meetings had been riddled with spy holes.

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