Chapter 3

Europa is colder than the void because the ice steals heat faster than raw vacuum. Locally made Ether tastes of ice and radiation, of metal and blood. Namrask realizes this is not a new Eliksni paradise; it is a very old one. And it always falls.

"Do something," Yriks begs him. "We will all die here if you do not."

"No," Namrask grunts, picking at his loom. He is afraid that if he goes near Eramis, he will accept her gift.

"Do something," Eoriks begs him. "Find us a protector. You must have known great warriors, when you were great."

"No," Namrask says again. He holds a hatchling to the heat lamp so it can bask in the warmth. He fears that anyone he calls to Europa will join with Eramis.

"Do something," Oeriks begs him. "Find a way off Iiropa. If what you say is true, then Eramis will damn us all. What are you afraid of?"

"Fine," he snaps. "Then I will find us a traitor."

For the first time, Namrask makes the long walk to Riis-Reborn. It is built in the ruins of an old Human city and the angular, crowded architecture makes him growl in fear and bloodlust. He remembers when the Eliksni broke the walls of the Not-Quite-Last City and took what was within.

Sniksis and Piksis guard Eramis's chamber. The twins make ireliis to him. "She will honor you if you honor her, O Great Akh—"

"Don't say it," he growls. Not that stolen name. "I'm not here for Eramis. Where is Variks?"

When Variks, the old judge, sees Namrask, he laughs. "I thought you would be in that hole forever."

"You put me there, didn't you?"

"Not I, sir." Variks claps two hands crosswise, one pair, then the other. "It was the day-Captain, who had no idea who you really are. Does it suit you to be forgotten, old Smokesword?"

Namrask grinds his teeth. Laboriously, he lowers himself on all four arms. "I come to beg a favor."

"No." Variks comes closer to whisper. "My judgment stands, woe-of-the-masses. You gave no mercy and you will get none."

"You make a habit of serving queens who will abandon you," Namrask whispers back. "Eramis is doomed, Variks. She is Whirlwind-touched. As I was, once."

"She knows what she risks. Why else would she have sent her mate and children to another star?"

"Athrys is gone?" Woeful news; she was Eramis's guiding glint. "You always have a way out. I want a part of it—"

"Now you run from battle?" The judge's voice is light, unmocking; a sincere question. "When Eramis could make you mighty again?"

"I survive now as a Drekh survives. I have hatchlings; I would see them spared."

"There were hatchlings on the ships you abandoned at Riis. Human infants in London—"

"I am no longer the killer I was then!"

"Yes, you are."

"But I do not want to be! When I was on the Reef, I—" Namrask struggles. "I saw the beast Fikrul. Before that, I saw the Devil Splicers. But this debasement of our form, this revenge—it must stop, Variks. Please. Help me."

"No favors," the judge pronounces. "Not for you. However…"

Variks's prosthetic hand scratches letters in the snow. It takes Namrask several blinks of his second eyes to understand that it is Human script: MITHRAX.

"I will make your name known to him." Variks wipes away the letters. "But this is not a favor." His metal hand touches the tattered blue banners around his waist. "In exchange, I want these redone in fresh bannercloth. I will send you the thread. You will weave for me, 'Namrask.'"

Namrask tries his best. But the bannerthread is too fine, the weave too dense, and he cannot complete his task before word comes that Variks has summoned the Guardians—the Machine-spawn—to Europa.