Tower of Dawn Page 139

Nesryn heaved and heaved, her grip treacherously slippery with sweat and blood from both of them, but she clamped onto his wrist hard enough that she felt bones shift beneath—

“Go,” he whispered, straining to push through. “You run.”

Falkan was shifting in her pocket, trying to emerge. But with the rock pressing on her chest, the passage was too tight for even him to poke out his head—

“A pretty pair,” that female continued. “How her hair shines like a moonless night. We shall take you both back to our home, our honored guests.”

A sob clawed its way up Nesryn’s throat. “Please,” she begged, scanning the rock high above them, the lip into the upper reaches of the narrow pass, the curving horns of the peaks, tugging and tugging on Sartaq’s arm. “Please,” she begged them, begged anyone.

But Sartaq’s face went calm. So calm.

He stopped pushing, stopped trying to haul himself forward.

Nesryn shook her head, pulling on his arm.

He did not move. Not an inch.

His dark eyes met hers. There was no fear in them.

Sartaq said to her, clear and steady, “I heard the spies’ stories of you. The fearless Balruhni woman in Adarlan’s empire. Neith’s Arrow. And I knew …”

Nesryn sobbed, tugging and tugging.

Sartaq smiled at her—gently. Sweetly. In a way she had not yet seen.

“I loved you before I ever set eyes on you,” he said.

“Please,” Nesryn wept.

Sartaq’s hand tightened on hers. “I wish we’d had time.”

A hiss behind him, a rising bulk of shining black—

Then the prince was gone. Ripped from her hands.

As if he had never been.

Nesryn could barely see through her tears as she edged and squeezed along the pass. As she hurtled over rocks, arms straining, feet unfaltering.

Keep going. The words were a song in her blood, her bones as she plunged onward.

Keep going and get out; find help—

But the passage at last opened into a wider chamber. Nesryn staggered from the vise that had held her, panting, Sartaq’s blood still coating her palms, his face still swimming before her—

The path curved ahead, and she stumbled for it, hand flying to where Falkan now poked his head out. She sobbed at the sight of him, sobbed as the clicking and hissing again began to sound behind her, closing in once more.

It was over. It was done, and she had as good as killed him. She should have never left, should have never done any of it—

She sprinted toward the curve in the pass, chips of shale scattering from beneath her boots.

Take you both back to our home …

Alive. The spider had talked as if they would be taken alive to their lair. For a brief window before the feasting began. And if she had spoken true …

Nesryn slapped a hand over a wriggling Falkan, earning a squeak of outrage.

But she said, soft as the wind through the grass, “Not yet. Not yet, my friend.”

And as Nesryn slowed her steps, as she stopped entirely, she whispered her plan to him.

The kharankui did not try to hide their arrival.

Hissing and laughing, they skittered around the corner of the pass.

And halted when they beheld Nesryn panting on her knees, blood from slices in her arms, her collarbone, filling the tight air with her scent. She saw them note the sprayed shale around her, flecks of her blood on it.

As if she had taken a bad fall. As if she could no longer go on.

Clicking, chattering to one another, they surrounded her. A wall of ancient, reeking limbs and fangs and swollen, bulbous abdomens. And eyes. More eyes than she could count, her reflection in all of them.

Her trembling was not faked.

“Pity it did not give much sport,” one pouted.

“We shall have it later,” another replied.

Nesryn shook harder.

One sighed. “How fresh her blood smells. How clean.”

“P-please,” she begged.

The kharankui just laughed.

Then the one behind her pounced.

Pinning her to the shale, rock slicing her face, her hands, Nesryn screamed against the claws that dug into her back. Screamed as she managed to look over her shoulder to see those spinnerets hovering above her legs.

To see the silk that shot from them, ready to be woven. To wrap her tightly.

48

Nesryn awoke to sharp biting.

She jerked upright, a scream on her lips—

It died when she felt the little teeth biting at her neck, her ear. Nipping her awake.

Falkan. She winced, her head throbbing. Bile surged up her throat.

Not biting at her head. But the silk that bound her body, the thick strands reeking. And the cave she was in …

No, not cave. But a covered section of the pass. Dimly illuminated by the moon.

She scanned the dark to either side, the arch of stone above them no more than thirty feet wide, keeping her breathing steady—

There. Sprawled on the ground nearby, covered foot to neck with silk. His face crusted with blood, eyes closed—

Sartaq’s chest rose and fell.

Nesryn shuddered with the force of keeping her sob contained as Falkan slithered down her body, chewing at the strands with his vicious teeth.

She didn’t need to tell the shifter to hurry. She scanned the empty passage, scanned the dim stars beyond.

Wherever they were … It was different here.

The rock smooth. Polished. And carved. Countless carvings had been etched in the space, ancient and primitive.

Falkan chewed and chewed, the silk snapping strand by strand.

“Sartaq,” Nesryn dared to whisper. “Sartaq.” The prince did not stir.

Clicking sounded from beyond the archway. “Stop,” she murmured to Falkan. “Stop.”

The shifter halted his path down her back. Clung to her leathers as a shadow darker than the night emerged from around the corner behind them. Or ahead—she had no idea where true north lay. If they were still within the pass itself, or atop another peak.

The spider was slightly larger than the others. Her blackness deeper. As if the starlight itself was loath to touch her.

The kharankui halted as she noted Nesryn staring at her.

Nesryn controlled her breathing, rallying her mind to come up with something to buy them time, buy Sartaq and Falkan time …

“You are the ones who have been poking about in forgotten places,” the spider said in Halha, her voice beautiful, lyrical.

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