Harrow the Ninth Page 1

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb #2)

Tamsyn Muir

One for the Emperor, first of us all; One for his Lyctors, who answered the call; One for his Saints, who were chosen of old; One for his Hands, and the swords that they hold.

Two is for discipline, heedless of trial; Three for the gleam of a jewel or a smile; Four for fidelity, facing ahead;

Five for tradition and debts to the dead;

Six for the truth over solace in lies;

Seven for beauty that blossoms and dies;

Eight for salvation no matter the cost;

Nine for the Tomb, and for all that was lost.



YOUR ROOM HAD LONG AGO plunged into near-complete darkness, leaving no distraction from the great rocking thump—thump—thump of body after body flinging itself onto the great mass already coating the hull. There was nothing to see—the shutters were down—but you could feel the terrible vibration, hear the groan of chitin on metal, the cataclysmic rending of steel by fungous claw.

It was very cold. A fine shimmer of frost now coated your cheeks, your hair, your eyelashes. In that smothering dark, your breath emerged as wisps of wet grey smoke. Sometimes you screamed a little, which no longer embarrassed you. You understood your body’s reaction to the proximity. Screaming was the least of what might happen.

God’s voice came very calmly over the comm:

“Ten minutes until breach. We’ve got half an hour of air-con left … after that, you’ll be working in the oven. Doors down until the pressure equalizes. Conserve your temp, everyone. Harrow, I’m leaving yours closed as long as possible.”

You staggered to your feet, limpid skirts gathered in both hands, and picked your way over to the comm button. Scanning for something damning and intellectual to say, you snapped: “I can take care of myself.”

“Harrowhark, we need you in the River, and while you are in the River your necromancy will not work.”

“I am a Lyctor, Lord,” you heard yourself say. “I am your saint. I am your fingers and gestures. If you wanted a Hand who needed a door to hide behind—even now—then I have misjudged you.”

From his far-off sanctum deep within the Mithraeum, you heard him exhale. You imagined him sitting in his patchy, worn-out chair, all alone, worrying his right temple with the thumb he always worried his right temple with. After a brief pause, he said: “Harrow, please don’t be in such a hurry to die.”

“Do not underestimate me, Teacher,” you said. “I have always lived.”

You picked your way back through the concentric rings of ground acetabula you had laid, the fine gritty layers of femur, and you stood in the centre and breathed. Deep through the nose, deep out the mouth, just as you had been taught. The frost was already resolving into a fine dew misting your face and the back of your neck, and you were hot inside your robes. You sat down with your legs crossed and your hands laid helplessly in your lap. The basket hilt of the rapier nudged into your hip, like an animal that wanted feeding, and in a sudden fit of temper you considered unbuckling the damn thing and hurling it as hard as you possibly could to the other side of the room; only you worried how pitifully short it would fall. Outside, the hull shuddered as a few hundred more Heralds assembled on its surface. You imagined them crawling over one another, blue in the shadow of the asteroids, yellow in the light of the nearest star.

The doors to your quarters slid open with an antique exhalation of gas levers. But the intruder did not set off the traps of teeth you’d embedded in its frame, nor the gobbets of regenerating bone you had gummed onto the threshold. She stepped over the threshold with her cobwebby skirts rucked high on her thighs, teetering like a dancer. In the darkness her rapier was black, and the bones of her right arm gleamed an oily gold. You closed your eyes to her.

“I could protect you, if you’d only ask me to,” said Ianthe the First.

A tepid trickle of sweat ran down your ribs.

“I would rather have my tendons peeled from my body, one by one, and flossed to shreds over my broken bones,” you said. “I would rather be flayed alive and wrapped in salt. I would rather have my own digestive acid dripped into my eyes.”

“So what I’m hearing is … maybe,” said Ianthe. “Help me out here. Don’t be coy.”

“Do not pretend to me that you’re here for anything other than to look after an investment.”

She said, “I came to warn you.”

“You came to warn me?” Your voice sounded flat and affectless, even to you. “You came to warn me now?”

The other Lyctor approached. You did not open your eyes. You were surprised to hear her crunch through your metrical overlay of bone, to kneel without flinching on the grim and powdery carpet beneath her. You would never sense Ianthe’s thanergy, but the darkness seemed to give you an immense attunement to her fear. You felt the hairs rise on the back of her forearms; you heard the hammering of her wet and human heart, her scapulae drawing together as she tensed her shoulders. You smelled the reek of sweat and perfume: musk, rose, vetiver.

“Nonagesimus, nobody is coming to save you. Not God. Not Augustine. Nobody.” There was no mockery in her voice now, but there was something else: excitement, perhaps, or unease. “You’ll be dead within the first half hour. You’re a sitting duck. Unless there’s something in one of those letters I don’t know about, you’re out of tricks.”

“I have never been murdered before, and I truly don’t intend to start now.”

“It’s over for you, Nonagesimus. This is the end of the line.”

You were shocked into opening your eyes when you felt the girl opposite cup your chin in her hands—her fingers febrile compared to the chilly shock of her gilded metacarpal—and put her meat thumb at the corner of your jaw. For a moment you assumed that you were hallucinating, but that assumption was startled away by the cool nearness of her, of Ianthe Tridentarius on her knees before you in unmistakable supplication. Her pallid hair fell around her face like a veil, and her stolen eyes looked at you with half-beseeching, half-contemptuous despair: blue eyes with deep splotches of light brown, like agate.

Looking deep into the eyes of the cavalier she murdered, you realised, not for the first time, and not willingly, that Ianthe Tridentarius was beautiful.

“Turn around,” she breathed. “Harry, all you have to do is turn around. I know what you’ve done, and I know how to reverse it, if only you’d ask me to. Just ask; it’s that easy. Dying is for suckers. With you and me at full power, we could rip apart this Resurrection Beast and come away unscathed. We could save the galaxy. Save the Emperor. Let them talk back home of Ianthe and Harrowhark—let them weep to speak of us. The past is dead, and they’re both dead, but you and I are alive.

“What are they? What are they, other than one more corpse we’re dragging behind us?”

Ianthe’s lips were cracked and red. There was naked entreaty on her face. Excitement, then, not unease.

This was, as you understood it dimly, the psychological moment.

“Go fuck yourself,” you said.

The Heralds came plopping down onto the hull like rain. Ianthe’s face froze back into its white and mocking mask, and she dropped your jaw—untangled her restless fingers and her awful gold-shod bones.

“I didn’t think this was the time for dirty talk, but I can roll with it,” she said. “Choke me, Daddy.”

“Get out.”

“You always did think obstinacy the cardinal virtue,” she remarked, quite apropos of nothing. “I think now, perhaps, you should have died back at Canaan House.”

“You should have killed your sister,” you said. “Your eyes don’t match your face.”

Over the comm, the Emperor’s voice came, just as calm as before: “Four minutes until impact.” And, like a tutor chiding inattentive children: “Make sure you’re in place, girls.”

Ianthe turned away without violence. She stood and trailed her human fingers over the wall of your quarters—over the cool filigreed archway, over the polished metal panels and inlaid bone—and said, “Well, I tried, and therefore no one should criticize me,” before duck ing through the arch to the foyer beyond. You heard the door shut behind her. You were left profoundly alone.

The heat rose. The station must have been completely smothered: wrapped in a squirming shroud of thorax and wing, mandible and antenna, the dead couriers of a hungry stellar revenant. Your communicator crackled with static, but there was only silence at the other end. There was silence in the lovely passageways of the Mithraeum, and there was a hot and sweating silence in your soul. When you screamed, you screamed without sound, your throat muscles gulping mutely.

You thought about the flimsy envelope addressed to you that read, To open in case of your imminent death.

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