Queen of Fire

Page 153

“As you will, brother,” she said, stepping back.

He stared down at it, seeing the way the surface seemed to swallow the light, suddenly uncertain. You don’t know what this thing is! he had said. I looked into that world . . . and something looked back, something vast, and hungry. Touch it once and receive a gift . . .

He raised a hand, extending it to the stone, letting it hover over the surface, almost touching. What will it give me? Another song? The Ally’s gift?

“Alucius told me he loved me,” Alornis said, drawing his gaze. She held her blanket tight, blinking as the wind drove tears from her eyes, tracing across her pale skin like molten silver. “The freed slave came to me with a message, his last message. He said he loved me and begged forgiveness for not telling me sooner. He said he had done many things he regretted, but that was the worst. And he told me not to hate, Vaelin. He said there was sufficient hate in this world and he wanted to look at me from the Beyond and see at least one soul untouched by it. But I couldn’t . . . They killed him, and I hated them, and I burned them.”

“You did what we all did, sister,” he said. “You, the queen, Reva, Frentis . . . Alucius and Caenis . . . The woman I would have married. We won a war that needed winning.”

He looked down at the stone and withdrew his hand. His thoughts were full of many things as he raised the hammer, many faces, some gone, some still living, all changed or damaged. He thought of the battles he had fought and the brothers he had lost, and he thought of Dahrena. You are my Beyond now. For me to endure, so must you.

The first blow drove the central peg deep enough to split the stone down to its base. It fell apart, thumping heavily onto the deck. He raised the hammer and brought it down, again and again, heaving with tireless fury as a cloud of black dust rose around him. Some drifted away on the wind but for the most part it settled into a pile on the deck, glittering in the fast rising sun. When the last fragment had been pounded to powder he ordered it all gathered up in the canvas and cast over the side. The stain of it roiled their wake, lingering for only seconds before fading completely as they sailed on, carried home by the westerly winds.

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