The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

The Heart Forger (The Bone Witch #2)

Rin Chupeco

This is for Momofuku Ando, the creator of instant ramen, which sustained me for many a long night as I struggled with both words and self-doubt. Nothing but respect for my president.

She wore the corpses for show. They trailed behind her, grotesque fabrics of writhing flesh and bone, spreading across the plain for miles around us. Those bereft of legs and feet used hands and elbows; those lacking jaws and tongues moaned from the hollows of their throats. Those onlookers who drew close grasped at the train of her gown until I was no longer certain where her dress ended and they began.

“Intimidation,” she told me, amused by my repulsion. “Men abandon battle when they see their own fates in these ruined faces.”

I could not argue with her results: resistance crumbled as soldiers disobeyed their commanders and ran rather than face her horrors.

She plundered every graveyard we found, no headstone left unturned, since entering Daanoris. Her strength had grown since leaving the Sea of Skulls. When she first resurrected her daeva, each summon had sapped such strength and life from her that by the time she had raised the last, she was nearly dead herself. Yet she brought back these unfortunate ghouls from their graves with relative ease.

Asha reached their limit after raising five or six corpses, I remembered. Even the strongest bone witches could not manage more than a dozen at best. I knew the girl’s immense power had everything to do with her heartsglass, as black as the darkest night when other ashas’ would shine silver.

I was appalled by her disrespect for these innocent dead, beseeched her not to interrupt their rest. To this, she only laughed. “The dead do not need rest,” she told me, “only the living believe the grave can bring you peace.”

There was no reason to raise these armies of undead, and she knew it. The daeva that surrounded her were enough to ruin kingdoms. Strangely docile, all seven plodded beside their mistress, each more terrifying than the next. In ages past, they had the reputation for violence, capable of supping on whole armies with little effort. Yet throughout our journey to Daanoris, they paid no heed to the men and women who fled from their approach. Stragglers were shown mercy and ignored.

I understood the people’s fear. For many nights, I had broken camp with these demons, wondering each time if I would live to see morning. Only the presence of the Deathseeker, Lord Kalen, calmed me, though he was no more alive than the throng of cadavers that followed his lover. His chest rose and fell like mine, his face bore none of the pallor associated with death, and his brown eyes were sharp with the spark of life, even if the absence of true breath in him disproved this.

“It is necessary that they flee,” he said quietly one night. “In time, you will understand.”

“Then tell me her intentions now,” I challenged him. “I promised to tell her story. Why leave me in the dark?”

“Conquer one fear at a time,” he responded with a pointed glance at the daeva frolicking with its master in the near darkness. “Accustom yourself to one type of fiend before we introduce you to another.”

The words filled me with foreboding. What did the asha intend when we reached Daanoris’s capital?

I watched them, the necromancer and her familiar. I watched her cast quick secret glances at Kalen when she thought he did not see.

“Am I distasteful now?” he asked without looking away from the fire. “Am I that much different?”

“Never,” she said quietly.

“How did you raise me? Silver heartsglass can’t…”

“I didn’t.” She looked down. Her hands trembled. “I was…so full of the Dark. I felt powerful enough to believe I could stop the sun. And so I did.”

He knelt before her then, taking her heart-shaped face in his large hands.

“Are you angry at me?”

For the first time, I saw her afraid.

“Do you resent me for bringing you back to this chaos?”

“I promised you with my dying breath, with my blood and your heart in my hands. I promised that I would crawl out of my grave and kill everything that stands between us.” He bent closer, kissed her hard.

She kissed him back, hungry, her hands stroking his neck. He drew her tightly against him, as if holding her could never be enough. I turned away.

There were faint marks on the bone witch’s neck when we left the next day, and her eyes were very bright. The Deathseeker sported no injuries, and his gaze was gentle whenever he looked at her.

The Daanorian capital, Santiang, lay before us. I took in its high walls and fortified towers. I saw the bobbing torches of the men who manned its garrisons. Even from this distance, I saw their fear rising, higher than any flag they could wave.

I watched the familiar reach forward to wrap her in his arms. I watched the Dark asha relax, leaning back against him with a vulnerability she rarely allowed herself to show.

“The Daanorians will not surrender easily, Tea,” Lord Kalen said.

“That will not matter. Their gates shall fall anyway. We rest here tonight and begin on the morrow. It will give them time to send their women and children away and the rest to put their affairs in order.”

“It is not too late. We can go—anywhere. They won’t find us.”

For a moment, I saw the temptation in her eyes, the longing his words sowed. “You know they will do the same to the next bone witch after me, and the next, and the next. You know this will never end.”

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