Tower of Dawn Page 140

Nesryn swallowed once, twice, trying and failing to moisten her paper-dry tongue. She managed to rasp, “Yes.”

“What is it that you seek?”

Falkan pinched her back in warning—and order. Keep her distracted. While he chewed.

Nesryn blurted, “We were paid by a merchant, who traded with your sisters to the north, the stygian spiders—”

“Sisters!” The spider hissed. “Our blood kin they may be, but no true sisters of the soul. Gentlehearted fools, trading with mortals—trading, when we were born to devour you.”

Nesryn’s hands shook behind her back. “T-that is why he sent us. He was unimpressed by them. S-said they did not live up to the legend …” She had no idea what was spewing from her mouth. “So he wished to see you, see if you might t-t-trade.”

Falkan brushed against her arm in quiet comfort.

“Trade? We have nothing to trade, beyond the bones of your kin.”

“There is no Spidersilk here?”

“No. Though we delight in tasting your dreams, your years. Before we finish with you.”

Had they already done so for Sartaq? Was that why he did not stir? Nesryn forced herself to ask as the threads behind her snapped free so slowly, “Then—then what is it you do here?”

The spider took a step forward, and Nesryn braced herself. But the spider lifted a thin, clawed leg and pointed to one of the polished, carved walls. “We wait.”

And as her eyes at last adjusted to the dimness, Nesryn saw what the spider pointed to.

A carving of an archway—a gate.

And a cloaked figure standing within it.

She squinted, straining to make out who stood there. “W-who do you wait for?”

Houlun had said the Valg had once passed through here—

The spider brushed aside the dirt crusted over the figure. Revealing long, flowing hair etched there. And what she’d thought to be a cloak … It was a dress.

“Our queen,” the spider said. “We wait for Her Dark Majesty to return at last.”

“Not—not Erawan?” Servants to a dark crown, Houlun had said …

The spider spat, the venom landing near Sartaq’s covered feet. “Not him. Never him.”

“Then who—”

“We wait for the Queen of the Valg,” the spider purred, rubbing against the carving. “Who in this world calls herself Maeve.”

49

Queen of the Valg.

“Maeve is Queen of the Fae,” Nesryn countered carefully.

The spider chuckled, low and wicked. “So she has made them believe.”

Think, think, think. “What—what a mighty and powerful queen she must be,” Nesryn stammered. “To rule both.” Falkan furiously chewed, each strand slowly, so slowly, yielding. “Will you—will you tell me the tale?”

The spider studied her, those depthless eyes like pits of hell. “It will not buy you your life, mortal.”

“I—I know.” She shook further, the words tumbling out. “But stories … I have always loved stories—of these lands especially. Wind-seeker, my mother called me, because I was always drifting where the wind tugged me, always dreaming of those stories. And here … here the wind has taken me. So I would hear one last tale, if you allow it. Before I meet my end.”

The spider remained quiet for a heartbeat. Another. Then she settled herself beneath the carving of the archway—the Wyrdgate. “Consider it a gift—for your boldness in even asking.”

Nesryn said nothing, heart thundering through every part of her body.

“Long ago,” the spider said softly in that beautiful voice, “in another world, another lifetime, there existed a land of dark, and cold, and wind. Ruled by three kings, masters of shadow and pain. Brothers. The world had not always been that way, had not been born that way. But they waged a mighty war. A war to end all wars. And those three kings conquered it. Turned it into a wasteland, a paradise for those who had dwelled in darkness. For a thousand years, they ruled, equal in power, their sons and daughters spread throughout the land to ensure their continued dominion. Until a queen appeared—her power a new, dark song in the world. Such wondrous things she could do with her power, such horrible, wondrous things …”

The spider sighed. “They each desired her, those kings. Pursued her, wooed her. But she only deigned to ally with one, the strongest of them.”

“Erawan,” Nesryn murmured.

“No. Orcus, eldest of the Valg kings. They wed, but Maeve was not content. Restless, our queen spent long hours pondering the riddles of the world—of other worlds. And with her gifts, she found a way to look. To pierce the veil between worlds. To see realms of green, of light and song.” The spider spat, as if such a thing were abhorrent. “And one day, when Orcus was gone to see his brothers, she took a path between realms. Stepped beyond her world, and into the next.”

Nesryn’s blood went cold. “H-how?”

“She had watched. Had learned of such rips between worlds. A door that could open and close at random, or if one knew the right words.” The spider’s dark eyes gleamed. “We came with her—her beloved handmaidens. We stepped with her into this … place. To this very spot.”

Nesryn glanced at the polished stone. Even Falkan seemed to pause to do the same.

“She bade us stay—to guard the gate. Lest anyone should pursue her. For she had decided she did not wish to go back. To her husband, her world. So she went, and we only heard whisperings through our sisters and smaller kin, carried on the wind.” The spider fell silent.

Nesryn pushed, “What did you hear?”

“That Orcus arrived, his brothers in tow. That Orcus had learned of his wife’s leaving and discovered how she’d done it. Went beyond what she’d done, and found a way to control the gate between worlds. Made keys to do so, shared with his brothers. Three keys, for the three kings.

“They went from world to world, opening gates as they willed it, sweeping in their armies and laying waste to those realms as they hunted for her. Until they reached this world.”

Nesryn could barely draw breath to ask, “And they found her?”

“No,” the spider said, something like a smile in its voice. “For Her Dark Majesty had left these mountains, had found another land, and prepared herself well. She knew that one day she would be found. And planned to hide within plain sight. So she did. She came across a lovely, long-lived people—near-immortals themselves—ruled over by two sister-queens.”

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