Read An Excerpt

by Elizabeth Bear

Genre: General Fantasy, Fantasy

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Darkness. Deep darkness, and a musical sound. The Imogen lies half on her side, and feels where the blood has pooled in limbs unmoved for centuries. Awareness returns slowly.

What she hears is not music. It's water. Trickling. Echoing in a rocky and convoluted space that builds itself out of sound in her mind.

When she opens her eyes, she sees that the darkness is leavened by a dull glow. A red light, or the black-red below red. She sees by the reflected heat of her own body, and by that light she sees also that the space that drinks that heat is cold.

Not brutally cold. Not dangerously cold--well, dangerous for frailer things, enough cold to make a warm animal breath mist in the humidity, but not freeze to rime. But the Imogen has never met cold that could discomfort her, neither in this world nor the dead one.

She smells her brother in the dark, but the scent is old. Days gone, and soaked into the stone. She is alone. She has been a long time awakening.

Something twists inside her. The lenses of her eyes flex, alter, stretch wide. Her eyes enlarge, the sockets growing to encompass them. Now she sees clearly, as if in broad and detailed afternoon.

She rises up from a pallet of hard stone and steps out of her coffin, feeling the restless flex of pinions along her spine. The wings strain out, broad vanes made visible by the heat of blood within, and strike against the hard low stones overhead.

There was a fire here, but it has burned to char. Fire, Coals, Smoke. The smoke must have gone somewhere. Mustn't it? The scent of burning hangs on the air, coupled with an odor of bitter musk.

The smell of the brother.

She scoops a handful of charcoal and ash, brings them near her face. There is no heat left in them. The rock is wet, the ash saturated. When she wipes her hand on her thigh, pale caked streaks remain behind.

The sensitive hairs on her skin trace the ruffle of air movement. Upward, outward.

With the force of instinct, she knows what she must do.

Upward. Outward.

Or die.

She understands die. She does not prefer it.

The winding corridor twists and forks and forks again. But she feels the shape the echoes describe, smells the smoke, smells the darkness. Smells the path the brother took, and the cold remains of his second fire, and the meadow and the flowers beyond.

The Imogen moves into the air. It holds her, pushes back. Her feathers cup it, find resistance, row her forward on wingbeats silent as an owl's.

Echoes splinter off the falling water, but there is brightness beyond. The Imogen beats hard for speed, pinions feathering sand and stone, then folds her wings tight and arrows through the fall.