Tower of Dawn Page 107

Sartaq paused at the worktable, sorting through the weapons there. “Some of these are still sharp,” he observed, and Nesryn approached as he pulled a long dagger from its sheath. The watery sunlight caught in the blade, dancing along the markings carved down the center.

Nesryn reached for a short-sword, the leather scabbard nearly crumbling beneath her hand. She brushed away the ancient dirt from the hilt, revealing shining dark metal inlaid with swirls of gold, the cross-guard curving slightly at its ends.

The scabbard was indeed so old that it fell apart as she lifted the sword, its weight light despite its size, the balance perfect. More markings had been engraved down the fuller of the blade. A name or a prayer, perhaps.

“Only Fae blades could remain this sharp after a thousand years,” said Sartaq, setting down the knife he’d been inspecting. “Likely forged by the Fae smiths in Asterion, to the east of Doranelle—perhaps even before the first of the demon wars.”

A prince who had studied not only his own empire’s history, but that of many others.

History was certainly not her strongest subject, so she asked, “Asterion—like the horses?”

“One and the same. Great smiths and horse-breeders. Or so it once was—before borders closed and the world darkened.”

Nesryn studied the short-sword in her hand, the metal shining as if imbued with starlight, interrupted only by the carvings down the fuller. “I wonder what the markings say.”

Sartaq examined another blade, shards of light bouncing over the planes of his handsome face. “Likely spells against enemies; perhaps even against the—” He halted at the word.

Nesryn nodded all the same. The Valg. “Half of me hopes we never have to find out.” Leaving Sartaq to pick one for himself, she fastened the short-sword to her belt as she approached the far wall and the scribbled dark writing along the bottom.

She tested each block of stone on the floor, but found nothing.

At last, she peered at the script in flaking black letters. Not black, but—

“Blood,” Sartaq said, coming up beside her, an Asterion knife now at his side.

No sign of a body, or any lingering effects of whoever had written it, perhaps while they lay dying.

“It’s in the Fae tongue,” Nesryn said. “I don’t suppose your fancy tutors taught you the Old Language during your history lessons?”

A shake of the head.

She sighed. “We should find a way to write it down. Unless your memory is the sort that—”

“It’s not.” He swore, turning toward the stairs. “I have some paper and ink in Kadara’s saddlebags. I could—”

It wasn’t his cut-off words that made her whirl. But the way he went utterly still.

Nesryn slid that Fae blade free from where she’d tied it.

“There is no need to translate it,” said a light female voice in Halha. “It says, Look up. Pity you didn’t heed it.”

Nesryn indeed looked up at what emerged from the stairwell, crawling along the ceiling toward them, and swallowed her scream.

34

It was worse than Nesryn had ever dreamed.

The kharankui that slid from the ceiling and onto the floor was so much worse.

Bigger than a horse. Her skin was black and gray, mottled with splotches of white, her multiple eyes depthless pools of obsidian. And despite her bulk, she was slender and sleek—more black widow than wolf spider.

“Those Fae morsels forgot to look up when they built this place,” the spider said, her voice so lovely despite her utter monstrosity. Her long front legs clicked against the ancient stone. “To remember who they laid these traps for.”

Nesryn sized up the stairwell behind the spider, the light shafts, for any exits. Found none.

And this watchtower had now become a veritable web. Fool; utter fool for lingering—

The claws at the tops of the spider’s legs scraped over the rock.

Nesryn sheathed her sword again.

“Good,” the spider purred. “Good that you know how useless that Fae rubbish will be.”

Nesryn drew her bow, nocking an arrow.

The spider laughed. “If Fae archers did not halt me long ago, human, you will not now.”

Beside her, Sartaq’s sword lifted a fraction.

Dying here, now, had not occurred to her at breakfast while Borte braided her hair.

But there was nothing to do as the spider advanced, fangs slipping from her jaws.

“When I am done with you, rider, I shall make your bird scream.” Drops of liquid plopped from those fangs. Venom.

Then the spider lunged.

Nesryn fired an arrow, another aimed before her first found its mark. But the spider moved so swiftly that the blow intended for an eye hit the hard shell of her abdomen, barely embedding. The spider slammed into the stone torture table, as if she’d leap off to pounce on them—

Sartaq struck, a brutal slash toward the nearest clawed leg.

The spider shrieked, black blood spurting, and they hurtled for that distant doorway—

The kharankui intercepted them first. Slammed her legs between the wall and the stone table, blocking their path. So close, the reek of death leaking from those fangs—

“Human filth,” the spider spat, venom spraying onto the stones at their feet.

From the corner of her eye, Nesryn saw Sartaq fling an arm in her path, to shove her away, to leap in front of those deadly jaws—

She didn’t know what happened at first.

What the blur of motion was, what made the kharankui scream.

One heartbeat, she’d been ready to fight past Sartaq’s self-sacrificing idiocy, the next … the spider was crashing through the room, tumbling over and over.

Not Kadara, but something large, armed with claws and fangs—

A gray wolf. As large as a pony, and utterly ferocious.

Sartaq wasted no time, and neither did Nesryn. They sprinted for the archway and stairs beyond, not caring how many bolts or arrows shot from the walls as they outraced even the traps. Tearing up the stairs, leaping the gaps between them, they did not stop at the crashing and screeching below—

A canine yelp sounded, then silence.

Nesryn and Sartaq hit the top of the stairs, running for the trees beyond the open doorway. The prince had a hand on her back, shoving her along, both of them half turned toward the tower.

The spider exploded from the gloom, aiming not for the trees, but the upper stairs of the watchtower. As if she’d climb up to ambush the wolf when it chased after her.

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