Home > The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence #6)

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence #6)
Author: Max Gladstone

Chapter One

LEY BUILT HER SANDCASTLE below the tide line.

Kai warned her, of course. What else was an older sister for? When Ley chose her spot and planted her flag, Kai said, “It will drown.” That last word tugged at her, as if it left a hook in her lip. She almost apologized, but stopped herself. “Drown” was the right word. You couldn’t avoid words just because they hurt.

When Ley sculpted the gaptoothed ramparts of her keep, like castles from the kind of Schwarzwald fairy-tale picture books where kids got eaten, Kai said: “You see, that’s the tide line up there, where the seaweed’s drying.” When Ley carved a curtain wall with a bright blue trowel, packing wet sand between her palms, Kai said: “Your wall’s too thin to keep the water out.”

“It’s not to keep the water out,” Ley said. “It’s to keep out our enemies.”

“You don’t have enemies.”

Ley shrugged, and dug her moat.

Mom wasn’t there to help. Today was a mourning day; she’d gone with her sisters to Kai’s father’s grave, to paint her face with ashes and sit naked, alone, until the tears came. She had grieved with her children, noble and sharp in mourning white, the day the bearers brought her husband home—she stood chin out, brow high, eyes bright and black, impassive as a Penitent on the outside. Each body holds multitudes, the old songs sang. As a mother, she helped her children mourn their shipwrecked father. As a wife, as a woman, as someone who had lost a friend, she needed time alone to break.

She left Kai in charge because Kai was older, and because Kai didn’t set things on fire just to see what color they burned. But Ley only had the vaguest grasp of the meaning of the phrase “in charge,” and Kai knew better than to test her younger sister on this point. She still had bruises from the last time she tried.

So Kai left Ley to work, and climbed the beach to build her own castle clear of the coming waves. The sand was drier here, and did not pack as well, so she brought a halved coconut shell to the surf, filled it with water, and carried it up the beach to moisten the sand. She built a spreading bay city like Kavekana, with a mountain behind it like Kavekana’ai, and studded the shoreline with pebble statue Penitents watching seaward for the return of long-gone gods. Heroes. Fathers.

Each time she went back to the ocean, her sister’s city had grown. Ley excavated alleys with her fingertips, and cut decorations on rooftops with a sliver of bamboo. From above, her city looked intricate as a Craftwork diagram or a work of high theology. Ley, kneeling, brooded in her swimsuit, brows low as if to cut off the half of the world that didn’t concern her: the beach, the volcano rising inland, her sister. She bit her lower lip as she worked.

“You have to do something,” Kai said. She chose her words carefully. That was the joy of words: you could control them when all else failed. “Or the whole thing will fall down.”

Up the beach, bigger kids shouted and screamed. A pale-skinned Iskari tourist girl dove to return a volleyball serve and fountained sand where she fell. The sea lay calm to the horizon, but no one swam. The red flag was up today, gallowglass swarming beneath the water with their long stinging tendrils, though they could not be seen from shore. White sails bellied on the bay. Cutters and dinghies and barques wheeled in defiance of the massive container ships moored near West Claw, at the deepwater port.

“You aren’t listening.”

Ley didn’t look up.

Fine. Let Ley build her doomed city. Kai marched back up the beach. She added houses to her island and dug its bay deep, for the tide, rolling in, to fill. Standing, she judged it good. Then she turned back.

Ley’s metropolis sprawled on the shore. She’d worked out in a spiral from that central keep, spread townhouses and factories, extended her lanes as she came round to them again. Kai knew the world she had built from sand—but she knew Ley’s world, too, though she had never seen it before. Those broad thoroughfares with divided roads and sidewalks were commercial streets—no, processional boulevards down which ancient emperors once marched in triumph, bookended by arches. There were palaces, there high temples, here a factory; to the north, alleys grew so narrow Ley could not have made them with her fingers, must have dredged them with her bamboo strip. She had found a dream city inside them both, and made it real.

And the tide rolled in.

Ley’s hands never stopped. The rest of her knelt rigid beside the districts she shaped, while her thin fingers carved and built and stroked sand smooth.

Kai grabbed her coconut shell, ran below Ley’s city, and started to build a wall.

She built artlessly, because art was not the point. She did not know why Ley ignored her, why she made this weird familiar city. She did not know why Ley left glittering traces of her soul in the ramparts beneath her fingers. But she suspected. She could have asked Ley, taken her by the shoulders and shaken her and screamed until she stopped and tried to explain. But Ley’s face reminded Kai of Mom’s in mourning white, and the words she might say if Kai forced her to speak were words Kai knew she could not bear to hear.

So she built the wall. With her hands, she built it, with her own surging shoulders and legs, with Mom’s thick fingers and Dad’s fierce grit. She gutted the sand with her coconut shell. The sun burned her eyes and warmed her skin and covered her with sweat.

“Boy!” a voice called to her in Iskari from up the beach: the volleyball girl, drunk, in a white bathing suit. “Boy, you can’t stop the tide.”

Kai ignored the girl, whose friends shushed her and tried to explain. Kai’s wall was more of a hill really, with a moat behind it as deep as Kai was tall. She judged the wall’s height against the tide line, and started to curve upslope, to guard the outer edges of Ley’s city. She sweat and trembled.

There wasn’t time. She could not close the eastern wall before the tide rolled in. She knew this, and did not let herself know, because if she knew she would have stopped trying. An audience gathered up the beach, tourists and other monsters drawn by the two girls striving in the sand. A skeleton in a flower-print shirt watched them, rolling a newspaper into a tighter and tighter cylinder between his fingerbones. Kai ignored them, and kept fighting.

The water rose as she built the east wall. Every wash of surf bore more sand from the wall back out into the deep. Kai wasn’t patting her sand down, now, just digging it, tossing it up, hoping. Behind her, a wave splashed into the moat. Wet sand stuck to Kai’s feet. She sank. The wall cracked. Salt rivers poured in and soaked Kai to her waist. The north wall sloughed into the water. Kai scrambled to shore it up, but the next rushing wave tore her feet out from under her. She went down in a tangle of limbs and foam.

Waves and crosscurrents tossed her, tumbled her, and she spilled from the moat onto the beach. She spat out salt water and sand, and when she recovered she looked back, expecting disaster.

But Ley’s city stood.

The waves covered it, and drained away through carved alleys that should have collapsed like Kai’s wall. Ley stared down through the water and the wash, and her city did not die.

Ley’s soul shimmered in the sand. She had built herself into this city, mixing soulstuff into the sand with water, and now she stood above this world she’d made and willed it real, against the waves. The sand held its shape. The city sank, but stayed. It would not break while she had breath.

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