Rookwar (Casting the Bones, #3) by Sunny Moraine - Read Online
Rookwar (Casting the Bones, #3)
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Summary

The act of power that opened the way for the Ravens to enter and take Lune has left Turn the Three-Faced broken and powerless to end the Rooks’ and Crows’ continuing siege of the city. Suspicion and hatred divide the tribes, but there only chance to survive the mysterious Moravici’s dark machinations is to stand together—and Turn, though she can no longer walk, must learn to fly . . . and cast the bones a final time.

Published: Masque Books on
ISBN: 9781607015123
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Rookwar (Casting the Bones, #3) - Sunny Moraine

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stand.

Chapter 1

In her dreams, Turn flew.

The Lune of her birth had been a beautiful city. It still was, even now. But in her waking hours she often looked out from the high tower of the Hall of Headship and saw darkness settling over the city—a deeper darkness than the comforting shadows of Nicht, poisonous and insidious. It had been barely a week, and already whatever victory the Ravens had won felt very distant. Far beyond the city walls, on the plains below were the fires of camps. Waiting fires. Rooks and Crows, not yet pressing in but holding their ground.

Lune was besieged.

But in her dreams Turn took leave of her paralyzed legs and flew over the towers and the humbler houses and the slums, the broken walls, beyond the army camps, back to the Shadowlands. They were empty of Ravens now, but they still felt like a lost home, to the extent that they had ever felt like a home at all. They stretched out below her, long snaking rivers of dark water, patches of bog with pale, skeletal trees that she knew could scream with their own voices. Rocks that whispered lies to pull the unwary into their immense hidden hands, ancient upon ancient. And very far, the Mountains of Madness, and if the noxious darkness that had settled over them came from any one place it came from from the void that lay beyond.

The Moravici were gathering their strength. Try as she might, through prayer and divination, through seeking divine insight and casting the bones, Turn couldn’t see where their next strike would fall.

In her dreams she traveled, looking for answers. There were none.

Now, she swooped and dipped and rose again, her wings strong and glossy black. She was never sure, if it was truly a dream when she assumed this form or if it was something more, but she had not consciously taken crow-form since Lune had fallen to the Ravens, and she had not returned to Sol.

She had tried. And failed. So these, the dreams that might not be dreams, were what she had.

There was a pale glow on the edge of the horizon. Soon the moon would rise, and she felt waking pulling at her. Reluctantly, she spun up and around and headed back toward the tower and the little light that shone there. Back to herself, to Ava sleeping beside her, and the new limitations of her body.

Waking held little in the way of pleasure for her, and sinking into the dimness that took her as soon as she alighted on the balcony’s railing was sinking of more than one sort.

She stirred. Ava’s was body against hers, familiar angles that fit so perfectly with her own softer curves. She was still getting used to sleeping with Ava with a new kind of closeness that exceeded—but did not replace—the closeness they had shared before.

She turned and faced them, their strange old-young face half in shadow, relaxed in sleep. She lifted a hand and touched Ava’s sharp cheekbone.

Ava murmured something and pressed a little closer.

Turn could stay. She could curl into Ava’s body and take the simple comfort that was always freely offered her. She could let the moon rise outside and forget, for a while, everything pressing down on her. She could forget the coming war, forget the encroaching darkness, and let love settle over her like sleep.

Instead she pulled away with a sigh, and—moving as gently as she could so as not to jostle Ava awake, she pulled back the covers and used the board that Mica had arranged for her to slide herself into her wheeled chair.

There were Crows who, for one reason or another, had lost the use of their legs, so obtaining the contraption had been easy enough. But it wasn’t something she had ever expected to need.

So it was with so many things.

Setting the board aside, she wheeled herself out of the sleeping alcove and into the larger hall that took up nearly the entire top of the tower. Once Renna’s luxurious quarters, and then Joran’s, Turn had taken them over almost absently, without any conscious assumption she would be the new Chief Minister of Lune. She wasn’t qualified, hadn’t had even the simplest training in governance, but the Ravens seemed to do the assuming for her, as had Joran. Defeated, mostly silent, he had returned to the rich apartments he had occupied as a Master Psychopomp. He had promised to help pacify the city, but hadn’t been seen since.

Turn gathered the Crows believed he was under constant guard. He was being watched, yes, but only by one Raven, who kept herself out of sight. He was free to come and go as he pleased—Turn had determined, through careful scrutiny, that he posed no immediate threat. He had chosen not to come or go at all.

Thankfully, he had left her free to concentrate her attention on other things.

The central room was as he had left it, which was essentially as Renna had left it: furnished with an elegant richness that managed at the same time to be spare and not in the least ostentatious. As with Renna, the room took full advantage of the power that had been hers for so long but without an overly intense focus on herself. Turn had spent days meditating on Renna’s nature after killing her, her strange conviction she had been doing the right thing, the despair that had gripped her when she had considered the Moravici. The same despair that had gripped the Raven Seyin and had led him into a similar betrayal.

This, Turn thought as she wheeled herself toward the tower’s grand balcony, seemed in many ways to be the worst and most treacherous power of the lost tribe of the Carrion Kind. To fill otherwise loyal Ravens and Crows with such terror that they would turn on their own people with the best of intentions. That they would do the Moravici’s ruinous work for them.

At the edge of the balcony she stopped and looked at the rising moon, the light pale and soft on her face, her hands clasped in her lap as if she was praying. It’s turning us against each other. It’s making us weaker.

And now here she was, occupying her own city as hostile territory.

There was no going back. The only course left was to push forward. She turned and reentered the hall, past the thick draperies and the plush couches, past the fireplace in which coals still glowed, to the room’s heavy door. Sliding her fingers into the appropriate hollows to open it, she rolled through it and into the slight downward-inclined spiral corridor circling the outside of the tower and ending in the grand foyer. It was still early and the corridor was deserted, but as the day wore on the building would remain mostly empty. The bare minimum of low-level administrators and clerks had been retained to keep the city functioning—kept under unhappy guard as they worked—everyone expendable had been sent home. The higher ministers had all fled, vanished into the shadows of the city, and though calls had been put out, offering meetings to discuss a truce and collaboration, no one had answered. Regarding those who remained, the occupiers were caught in a difficult situation—who to trust? Turn was sure they were all making mistakes.

She was also sure they would pay for them. It was only a matter of time.

The grand foyer was cavernous, more than it had been before the taking of the city and the siege—part of it was the emptiness, but part of it was also that her relationship to it had changed. What had happened there. On the dark marble floor near the huge doors was a stain, barely visible but unquestionably there: spilled blood. A great deal of it. She knew the stain continued outside the door to the steps and to the central plaza where the worst of the battle had been fought. They had cleaned it up as best as best they could, but the stain had proved stubborn, as if the city itself wanted to retain some reminder to stand in accusation of what they had been forced to do.

She continued to believe that. She had no other choice, if she was to continue.

Just as she was rolling over the stain, approaching the door, it opened with a long creak and in stepped a small, slender young man—really still a boy. He stopped in front of her as she halted and gave her a single nod, his face grave.

Sene, she said softly. Seeing him no longer hurt the way it once had. Do you have news?

Nothing concrete. He reached into the inner pocket of his cloak and handed over a folded sheet of paper. Mica wrote up a report. Nothing much has changed. Sol looks the same—though he didn’t go as far out as he might have. We’re still investigating other entry points, but  . . . 

Turn’s mouth tightened. The more senior Psychopomps would have been able to undertake a much longer journey of many days, to travel to the edges of what was known of the world of Sol, but all of them were too close to Joran, and none of them could be trusted.

In all my training they never explained why we used only the one entry point, she said quietly. It was just something assumed. So basic it wasn’t questioned. But lately she had begun to wonder why, after centuries, so little about traveling from one world to another was known. Why did the twin worlds of Sol and Nicht appear so small—no more than several thousand miles across, if that? Were they truly flat, as they seemed, or was there was other hidden truth to them. Half-formed wonderings, strange and unsettling. Most of them, she hadn’t gathered the courage to speak about to anyone.

Not even Ava.

I don’t know that what we would find would be much different even if we had them. Everything Mica and the others have seen suggests the worst. Sene shook his head. Sol is a world of the dead now.

Turn looked down, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose as if her head pained her. It did, a little. When she had last seen Sol, there had been a few of the living who hadn’t fled to some distant place hiding in their houses, praying they wouldn’t be discovered by the hordes of Moravici-possessed corpses roaming the streets, both singly and in packs. Praying they wouldn’t be taken, their bodies devoured and their souls torn from them and consumed as well—of course, they weren’t aware of that side of things. Of the true purpose of the creatures that hunted them.

Sometimes she envied them their ignorance. Ignorance required no action beyond blunt survival.

There’s no one left alive?

Not that they’ve been able to see. At least not in the city. And the dead haven’t confined themselves. They’re roaming the fields, the woods, the roads leading to other places. As far as Mica has flown, they’re there.

All right. There was nothing to be done, not now. There were too many and they were too powerful; even Ravens and the few Crows in their human forms wouldn’t be able to fight them back. If the Moravici were going to be defeated, it would almost certainly be in Nicht itself. Tell them to monitor it. They shouldn’t do anything but watch, but we need to know what’s happening there.

Sene nodded. I don’t think he’d want to stop if you asked him to. He’s . . . He’s hurt by it, Turn. More than he’s saying. I’m not even completely sure why, but it wounds him to see what’s happened to it. To the people.

He’s not just a Crow. Naturally he would feel it deeper than most. It was his blessing and his curse both at once, just as it was Turn’s. He’s Three-Faced. You know that. He feels the injury to the magic of the place as a Raven would, and as a Rook he feels the offense to the law. To the order Atropos set down.

I know, Sene said softly. I’m still trying to understand. He appeared to hesitate, then reached down and touched Turn’s hand. You as well. You feel it as he does, don’t you?

For a moment she didn’t answer. Of course Sene was right, and of course he would know; he wasn’t a fool, though so much of what he had done had been foolish, and he knew her.

For so long, that hadn’t been a comfort. Now it was again. Almost.

Yes. She met his gaze, steady and direct. I always will. I’ll live with it. I don’t have any other choice. It was her turn to hesitate. You have to help him. It’s lonely to be that way. You have to be with him as much as you can.

She still wasn’t sure how she felt about what had grown between Sene and Mica. It shouldn’t have been her place to care; whatever had been between her and Sene was surely dead now.

Except it wasn’t. Not completely.

Well, very likely he wasn’t sure how to feel about her and Ava.

I try. He looked away and seemed to be gathering himself. He had always been so open, but with her, even now, he was keeping part of himself separate. And she didn’t really wonder at it, not after what had happened between them—betrayal, threats of death—but it still made her sad. It still reminded her of what wasn’t there, what couldn’t be there any longer.

That’s all anyone could expect. Turn looked past him to the door. I’m going out.

Are you sure that’s wise? Things are tenser in the streets than they were yesterday. His mouth twisted uneasily. Someone hung an effigy of a Raven in one of the squares in the old district. We pulled it down, but  . . . 

She glanced sharply at him. Nothing like this had happened until now, but she had guessed sooner or later it would. Do we know who it was?

Dira is making inquiries. But I don’t think she’ll find much. Turn felt a degree of comfort at the name—Dira was a Raven capable of organization and control with minimal use of force, who had taken over much of the day-to-day control of the city’s captive populace. But Turn knew full well there was only so much that could be done. The Ravens and their few Crow allies could be cruel occupiers, or they could try to keep as much calm as possible with the least damage done. The latter seemed more advisable.

No, Turn said, one of her hands tightening on the wheel it guided. No, I didn’t expect she would. She sighed. Tell her to keep looking, but go easy on everyone. Unless I see her first.

So you’re still going out?

I’ve been cooped up in here for two days. And even when she had been outside the Hall, she hadn’t gone farther than the plaza surrounding it. Even outdoors, she had fought a strange claustrophobia. I need room. If I can’t fly—or walk—I should at least be able to roll.

Yavon still can’t do anything for you?

Again, she paused, looking back at Sene with faint surprise. So far, he had barely mentioned her injury, as well as their inability—as yet—to find a way to heal her. He was keenly aware of it, she could sense it in him, but he had remained largely silent about it. Perhaps he didn’t want to seem inconsiderate. Perhaps he didn’t know how to talk about it.

Both possibilities irritated her, and she was irritated at her own irritation.

She shook her head. She doesn’t know exactly what caused it. Unless she knows  . . .  She shrugged. It’s all right for now. I get along just fine.

Which was not true. In dreams she flew, only to wake with the frustration of not being able to walk. Stairs defeated her; almost everything was more difficult. Even bathing felt clumsy and awkward. But she wasn’t going to say that.

I can’t do it again, she said after a few more seconds of silence. It came out of her, hard and blunt. He hadn’t asked, but she had felt the question in him, forming, possibly to be asked or possibly never to emerge at all, and she didn’t want to wait to see which it would be. The act of power that had opened the way for the Ravens to come to Lune, to bypass the walls and hundreds of miles of Shadowlands. The hole in the world—in the worlds—had been a tiny version of the cataclysm that had killed Turn’s parents and nearly ruined Lune. The creation of the portal had almost killed her, she knew that now. It had killed a part of her. That part might never return to life.

And that power—that could break the siege, that could change the flow of power in what would likely become a war—had not returned to her either.

I wasn’t— he started, clearly uncomfortable.

She shook her head, allowing herself a tiny smile. Yes, you were. Maybe you wouldn’t have said it aloud, but you were. Everyone is. I know what it would mean, what it would allow us to do. But I can’t. I might never. We have to move on as if the possibility did not exist.

He nodded, his look of discomfort and uncertainty remaining. Should I come with you?

I’d rather go alone. She pushed herself passed him and to the open door. If you see them . . . Tell Ava I’ve gone out.

I will. Turn. He passed a hand over his face. He still loved her, she could see that much. She had always been able to see it. He loved her, and he would go on loving her, even if they never spoke about it again. She didn’t know if she felt the same—she had wondered more than once—did it make her callous, if she didn’t? Did it make her cold? But she had changed. She wasn’t who she had been.

Yes?

Be careful, he finished, looking profoundly dissatisfied with the words. But he was apparently willing to let them stand, because he turned away and headed into the shadows of the hall.

For a moment, Turn looked after where he had gone. Then she wheeled herself through the doors and out onto the steps leading to the plaza.

The moon was high enough to shine onto the stone, and here the stain was even darker and more pronounced, the pale moonlight turning it to smears of deep gray ink. The plaza itself was mostly unadorned but for long, low benches around the curving edges of the raised planting beds bounding its open center on three sides. The beds were full of plants and small trees both useful and lovely—nightshade, purple devil’s trumpet and similarly colored mandrake, belladonna, and young willows, their pale branches cascading downward like a static waterfall in the early moonlight. The planting beds were the only gaudy display in the otherwise austere space, but the plants were still small, and the soil in the beds had been freshly laid down.

The old plants been destroyed in the fighting. No one had directed the replanting. It had simply been done. Turn hadn’t asked, but intuition—and long familiarity—told her it had likely been one or more of the Ravens, turning to the resurrection of what life-magic they could reach.

There had been enough death. And the flowering herbs had had no part in it.

Turn rolled herself to the center of the plaza and halted, her hands loose in her lap.

In almost every respect—physical and not—this was the center of Lune. The center of its geography, the center of its power. Not only its governance, but its learning and its law—to her left rose the spire of the Hall of Avocation, where she had spent so many years in training to be a Psychopomp, a guide of dead souls, the keeper of the most sacred of trusts. To her right, the less graceful and more imposing Hall of Justice, not a singular spire resting on a high base as with the other two buildings but rather a great block topped with a series of five smaller towers in which the most senior ministers and adjudicators met. It was supposed to appear solid and powerful, but to Turn it was ugly, and not because she had spent time in its cells and had been shamed and sentenced to exile in one of its trial chambers.

It was ugly because, as she now understood, justice was rarely pretty.

In front of her—and behind, beyond the rear of the Hall of Headship—was the city itself. Across a wide boulevard on the other side of the plaza, there was a district of commerce and trade ringing all three towers, the buildings containing the stores and workshops low and even and also graceful, quite old, their stone exteriors decorated with carved vines and twisted trees and birds in flight. Beyond them were the residential districts, divided by class in a greater distinction than the Crows generally liked to admit. Turn knew the poorer, older areas well; she had lived in them, first in a tiny room with the help of her mentor Corvi, and then in a larger one with Sene—before all that was taken away.

And Corvi. Her blood had helped to make that stain on the paving stones.

Turn’s hands settled on the armrests of the chair and tightened. The miasma that had settled over the city was rage, and hers was part of it. She tried not to feel it, tried to smooth it over with meditation and Ava’s calm touch, but it was there. Everything she had lost. Everything that had been taken from her. From everyone—for who had not lost something? Someone? The world was slowly breaking apart, rotting from its heart. The Crows huddled in their houses, their city now occupied by a frightening, alien force. The camps surrounding Lune, wherein many Crows certainly feared for family or friends locked behind the city walls. All these people, bent on hurting each other, but all angry and afraid and hurting themselves.

Turn lifted one hand as if to catch something falling from the sky. Though there was nothing. Atropos, she whispered, and here, perhaps, the anger was greatest of all. Help us.

Now, as before, there was no reply, and at last Turn’s hand fell into her lap again and she was silent.

Chapter 2

Ava watched from the balcony. It was smaller than the grand one outside the alcove, meant only to serve the tower’s half-bedroom. Their clothes were loose and hastily donned, little more than a light robe thrown over their shoulders. They braced their slender hands on the balcony’s railing and looked down at the tiny figure in the center of the plaza below, a pale speck in a field of dark gray.

They watched in silence for a long time. Then the little figure glided forward across the stone toward the wide street and the other streets beyond. Ava frowned for a moment, then gathered their robe closer around themselves and turned to return inside.

They would have to speak to Mori. And that would be only the beginning. Waiting would no longer do. Waiting for the besiegers. Waiting for Atropos, in whom Ava had always held a strong, unshakable, and oddly practical belief, but with whom Ava also didn’t hesitate to feel intense impatience.

The Lady was a Goddess. But Goddesses could be irritating, and often more so than mere mortals.

Ava didn’t bother with shoes, and though they were naked beneath the robe, they also didn’t bother with more substantial clothing. Ava tended to disregard matters of appearance when other things seemed more pressing.

Ava threw open the tower’s door and stepped forward into the wide corridor, colliding head-on with Sene. Sene was the more flustered of the two. He stepped back, one hand smoothing over his loose tunic, while Ava stood looking at him.

I— he said, and then, Hello.

Ava only nodded. They didn’t particularly want to speak to Sene, and would just as soon continue on. It wasn’t that Ava didn’t like Sene. In truth, Ava wasn’t yet sure what to feel about Sene,, and was of the opinion they didn’t need to. Later, once there was time for less important things, it might be worth puzzling over, but there was no animosity. There was no reason for there to be. Sene wasn’t part of the general course of action tugging Ava forward.

Yet something half-sensed made them pause.

Were you coming to see me?

Sene gave them a faint smile. I suppose I was.

What about? Ava cocked their head. I have to see Mori.

I just wanted to ask you about Turn. Sene shifted from foot to foot, looking slightly uncomfortable. I met her on the way out to the plaza. I’m  . . .  He sighed. I’m worried about her.

Ava unbent a bit. Whatever else they might not know about Sene, it was clear how much the boy cared for Turn and Ava had never been much of one for jealousy. Although it was also true Ava had never been with anyone in quite this way. I think we’re all worried about her. Ever since we took the city.

Yes, but this is different. Sene pressed forward, more in tone and affect than in space, his slender body tense. She’s getting desperate. With waiting, with . . . with not being able to do anything. I don’t know what she might do, I know she’s not a fool, but she—

Desperation makes fools even of the wise. Or it can. Ava gave him a single nod. Yes. I’ve seen. I know. This is why you’ve come to me?

You’re closer to her than anyone now. He still sounded uncomfortable, but Ava sensed no resentment. He was navigating difficult waters, but he was doing so with good will. That was fortunate. Ava had seen, clearly enough, the potential for companion to turn on companion if things looked bleak enough, and old wounds could exacerbate such situations. I don’t know how to help her anymore. I can’t. I don’t know what the next few days will bring, I don’t know how this is going to end—much as I’d like to believe it’ll end well, logic tells me otherwise. But she needs to be strong. People look to her to lead. Even if she doesn’t want to, even if she doesn’t think she can.

Ava was quiet for a moment, letting the words sink in. Sometimes it was difficult to believe Turn was the same girl who they had rescued from the depths of the Shadowlands, feverish and starving. So weak and helpless—for a short, awful time—they had believed she might not survive. But there had been a core of strength beneath her weakness and fragility. That strength had dragged her back from the edge of death. That strength was with her now, even if she was weakened and lost in her own inner Shadowlands.

That strength that had first drawn Ava to Turn. That had sparked, if not desire in any fleshly sense, utter fascination. Affection. Protectiveness.

They folded their hands in front of them and let one corner of their mouth curve upward. "She’s difficult to help, Sene. Difficult, because she doesn’t always know how to let you help. I think right now she feels alone. No one can truly understand what it is to live life as she has. Blessed. Cursed. And now she has a new body in which she must learn to live."

Sene frowned. "A new body? I— No, she has a broken body. And Yavon is going to fix it. Yavon or someone else. It’s just a matter of time."

Ava tilted their head again, fighting back a vague wave of annoyance. Sene wasn’t a stupid boy, that much was clear, but like many of the young, he was stubborn, and like many of the Crows, set in one way of thinking. It was easy to forget. Mori would doubtless say one should be patient and not place any blame.

It had taken Turn some time to understand who Ava was. Or to accept she would never entirely understand, and that such understanding was unnecessary.

That love would provide all that was needed.

She may feel her body is broken. No one should deny her that. I would never tell her she’s wrong for feeling so. And what has happened to her may be injury, albeit injury we don’t yet understand. But the fact remains, it’s the body she has. It may be the body she has for the rest of her time here. She can fight against it, perhaps fruitlessly, or she can learn to work within its limitations. She might even find it hides its own strengths. So it is among the Ravens when there’s such a change.

Sene shook his head again. The expression on his face was a mix of confusion and deep resistance. Ava knew minds were changed slowly, if at all.

It’s not your body, Ava continued, feeling resigned now. Nor is it mine. I love it, I love her, and that will remain a truth no matter what. I will help her however I can. Worry if you must, but worry is limited in its utility. You’re an intelligent chick. Surely you know that.

Sene coughed a laugh. "Chick? I am no longer so young."

To me, in my age, you’re a chick. So is she, if it comes to that.

Sene looked at them curiously. "How old are you?"

Older than you. Age was age, but there was also something secret about age, or at least Ava felt it was so, something intimate if it could not be easily determined at a glance. Turn knew. Ava’s people knew. That was enough. Let that suffice. They reached out and laid a hand on Sene’s shoulder, pushing him gently aside. I must speak to Mori now.

Is it about the siege? Sene went willingly enough, but he turned as Ava passed, sudden urgency on his face. Something has to happen. We can’t just keep waiting.

Ava paused. As yet, there was nothing to say. But the boy was clearly distraught, and anything offered might soothe him. And there was no real harm in it. Ava trusted him to keep silence.

Yes. Nothing certain as yet. But he and I will discuss where matters stand. Ava inclined their head. Please don’t relay this to anyone. Keep it secret for now. There will be more to tell when the time for telling comes.

Sene nodded without hesitation. Ava returned the nod and turned to go.

Thank you, Sene said, and though Ava didn’t look back, they smiled to themselves. Regardless of anything else, here was a good ally. A very good one, in more than one way.

They were glad of him.

Ava followed Turn’s path down to the front hall, but from there they diverged and moved down a narrower corridor, past large austere meeting rooms and empty offices until they reached the rear of the building. Here the formal grandeur marking the rest of the Hall of Headship was mostly absent, and appropriately so: not long ago, it had been where the servants of the ministers and clerks had made their homes, or at least, the ones who preferred to stay close to their work and take the no-cost housing the government of Lune offered them in exchange for their service. The living quarters were comprised of a series of small dormitories of four bunks to a room, a larger room for cooking and meals, and a room for bathing. Unlike most of the other offices