Chapter 4

He wasn't afraid of the Scorn at first.

Like anyone else who could spare the bullets, Crow had picked off a few dozen at distance when he found them in the open. Glint had told him they were related to Eliksni somehow, which made sense—they moved like Eliksni—but they just wouldn't stay dead.

When their raiding party hit one of the Baron's storehouses, he immediately sent Crow after them. He said the Scorn were "bad for business," but Crow could tell by his benefactor's wet wheezing he wanted revenge.

Crow was stealthy. Careful. But the Scorn could smell, or sense, or something. He was forced to move deeper into their territory, picking his way through welded-together ship husks as the creatures searched for him.

They had herded him into a kill box: a derelict ship with one way out. Then they started coming inside—and Crow found he much preferred fighting them from hundreds of yards away.

The Scorn were rotting flesh pressed tight beneath metal, their bodies webbed with scars and fields of boils, malformed flaps of muscle bolted crudely into place, clumps of brown cloth balled into weeping sockets.

Crow reloaded his revolver and dropped three of the smaller ones. Their helmets were thinner, or their bone structure softer—either way, one shot was all it took. The air was filled with the sour smell of wounds festering beneath brass.

Chains dragged against metal to his left and Crow spun. A hulking form was pulling its way through a gap in the ship's hull.

Crow fired. Some of the blue pustules that ringed the creature's shoulder burst open. A thin gas rose from the wound and released an acrid smell of cold solvent. He unloaded into the thing's body, corking the tunnel with its corpse.

Two Stalkers pressed through another gap and moved to flank him. He backpedaled and reloaded, fully aware he was being pushed farther into the corridors of the ship. He turned in time to catch sight of a flaming thurible and ducked, but it collided with the side of his head. His ears rang and his revolver clattered to the floor.

The Stalkers hooted in excitement as something tackled him. It was one of the big Raiders, its four ropy arms bound with filthy belts. He struggled and felt the leather straps along its forearms twist and crunch. They were caked with dried lymph.

The Raider was on top of him, mouth howling below its featureless metal faceplate, pinning him to the ground with its larger arms while the smaller two tried to bring its rifle up for a shot.

A jagged claw tore through Crow's cheek as he writhed and kicked in the Raider's grasp. He wrestled the rifle away from his chin and forced it in the direction of the two Stalkers. He groped blindly until his fingers found the trigger; the burst of fire hit the Stalkers and they fell in a screeching heap.

The Raider roared and twisted the rifle from Crow's grip and flung it away. Freed of the weapon, its frenzied subarms tore at Crow's stomach. He felt claws catch and tear his own leathers, and then they were through, and his waist was slick with blood.

Gibbering madly, it pulled him closer to its misshapen teeth. Thin mucus poured from somewhere under the metal faceplate. Down through the thing's lipless chittering mouth. Down into Crow's face.

And then he realized the creature was speaking.

There was a long moment of horror followed by one of pure revulsion. It was one thing to be torn apart by a mindless creature of madness, but this… this would not be allowed.

Crow felt the Light surrounding him more solidly than the arms of the Raider. He kicked off the creature as if underwater and felt his torn stomach lurch.

The Raider's arms closed on nothing. It looked up in rage as Crow's shifting form tumbled away.

With one hand down on the rusty deck of the craft, Crow steadied himself. The Light rose from his body like steam. Knife, he thought, and some of the dissipating energy became a blade in his hand.

He stood. The Raider charged forward, clawed hands clattering against the ground as it skittered toward him. Crow feinted left and pulled his arm across his body, then pivoted and dropped to a knee as he let the knife go.

The blade was in the creature's chest and the blade was Light and the creature became flame.

The smoke was pure, the ash clean.

The Light was Crow's weapon, and as he walked out of the ship, it was the Light that roared again and again and again from his hand.

It was the Light that drew Glint to Crow as he walked like a pillar of flame in the night.

And it was the Light that kept Crow from madness, even as the voice of the thing echoed through his mind: