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.The weather had been calm, but now it quieted to the point that all was still.The trees below did not sway.The clouds above did not drift.The whole world seemed caught in amber.Nikandr felt nervous, not only because of the odd quality of the weather, but because he could feel the changes through his hezhan.The spirit felt near—perhaps because of their proximity to the straits—but it also felt drawn, and drawn away, as if something momentous were calling it from afar.The havaqiram—including Anahid, who had some skill with the wind—reported something similar.They were forced to draw upon the winds more deeply than they had before.Despite all this, they made steady progress.Nikandr was watching the horizon for any signs of ships when he felt something different.It was far in the distance, a sense of discomfort in his chest not unlike what he’d felt when Nasim had darkened his soulstone.Except this…This felt…A column of flame shot up into the sky.Off the landward bow, it climbed hungrily and tore into the layer of clouds that hung high above the land.It burned brighter than the dying sun.It eclipsed the stars, a thread of roiling light cutting the sky in two.No one said a word.Everyone here save the men of Bolgravya knew what this was, and those that didn’t were too shocked to say anything.Nikandr could see wonder in the faces of his men and the Maharraht, both.There was worry as well, and a growing sense of desperation that did not bode well for the coming night.The third piece of the Atalayina had reached Muqallad, and he had now fused it to the other two.The stone was whole, giving him the power he so desperately sought.But there was more.Atiana had held one of the pieces.She’d been given it by Nasim.If it now lay in the hands of Muqallad…He held his soulstone and reached out to her.Hear me, he said, staring out beyond the forest, beyond the column of light toward Baressa.Hear me, Atiana.But his pleas went unanswered.“Be safe,” he whispered softly.Styophan glanced over, but made no mention of his words.Nearly an hour after the burning column appeared, it burned out.They were closer to the straits now, and Nikandr could tell that the base of the column had been positioned somewhere to the east of Vihrosh, Baressa’s sister city.Soroush’s skiff approached theirs, and he called across the gap.“We must go straight for the storehouse.”Nikandr already knew it would be so.They had planned on landing and stealing wagons to bring the barrels of gunpowder to the Spar, but now they had no choice but to transport the gunpowder by skiff.It would seem the quickest way to go about it, but it was dangerous to fly over the straits, especially in the channel where the winds were the most unpredictable.The winds were low, but something told Nikandr it wouldn’t last.As they neared Vihrosh, the boom of cannons could be heard in the distance.It must be Baressa, Nikandr thought, though who was fighting he couldn’t guess.The building was situated on a rise above the city.With the moon providing only a sliver of light, they landed their skiffs in a snow-swept field near a squat stone building.Beyond the building, limned in silver by the moonlight, was the bulk of Vihrosh, a sizable assortment of old stone buildings and half-timber houses, and beyond Vihrosh was the wide gap of the straits.The cliffs lay dark, making it look like a chasm that would swallow the city whole if given the chance.A light flashed somewhere in the streets of Baressa far beyond the straits.Moments later a boom came.More flashes followed like lightning in the distance, the thunder beating out a staccato rhythm that made it clear just how desperate the battle was becoming.As they slipped over the sides of their skiffs and moved silently toward the squat munitions building, Nikandr heard a wailing.It sent shivers down his spine.He’d heard that sound before, on Ghayavand and then again on Rafsuhan.It was the sound of the akhoz.The sound had come from the northeast, in the rough direction the column of fire had been in.Soroush stood nearby.He was unmoving, stiff, as if the mere sound of the akhoz terrified him.Another call came—more like the bleating of a goat than the cry of a child.It was higher pitched than the first, and the cry was longer, more desperate.Nikandr could only think that it had been released from the throat of a misshapen creature that had once been someone’s daughter.“Quickly,” Nikandr whispered.They moved.The building was not guarded, a bit of good fortune no doubt granted them by the battle that raged in the streets of Baressa.They broke in the doors and found the powder room at the back.The place was silent, eerily so, as if Vihrosh had been abandoned centuries ago and they were the first to return.Two men at a time rolled the barrels out of the building and toward the skiffs.As Nikandr was returning from loading the first barrel with Styophan, he heard the call of another akhoz, much louder now.It was followed by one that was closer yet, a long keening that sent shivers down Nikandr’s spine.He could see their dark forms against the white snow at the base of the hill.One of them reared back and cried out to the nighttime sky.The other did the same.It sounded like a warning.A call that the enemy had been found.Styophan slung his musket off his shoulder and sighted along the barrel.As the pan flashed, Nikandr looked away so he wouldn’t be blinded.When he looked back, slinging his own musket into position, he saw that the nearest of the two had been felled, but it was already up again, and now it was charging toward him, calling in a high-pitched squeal as it came.Nikandr had been in many battles, but something about the darkness and the sound of the creature staggering toward him made him shake, made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.“To me!” Nikandr called.With the two akhoz coming closer and closer, the men of the Grand Duchy rushed forward.Nikandr sighted carefully down the length of his musket and pulled the trigger.The musket bucked, and he saw the akhoz go down again [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]