Snow drifts over the windows of the ballroom. It looks cold outside, and all Alina wants to do is run out into the winter night and feel the snow fall on her face. It's a contrast to the warm and lively interior of the fete. Then again, it won't compare to her plush blankets and pillows back in her bedroom — where she should be like all the other young Grisha.
Except, well, Alina isn't like the other young Grisha.
"Would you care for a dance, solnyshka?"
Alina turns to face the invitation; only one person in Ravka calls her that. Sunshine. A smile brightens up on her face.
"Aleksander!" She greets him in a whisper with a laugh that blossomed from her smile. The Darkling returns that smile, though not as brightly. Perhaps he doesn't approve of her throwing his name around so casually. Perhaps it's just his age. The price you pay for being over a hundred years old. Besides, no one can match the brightness of a smile from a child, all the more if it's a smile from Ravka's Sun Summoner.
She didn't expect the Darkling to arrive in time for the winter fete, really. Her first winter fete too. She knows that Aleksander thinks the fete is a waste of Grisha time. It means much to a ten-year-old girl to have him there.
Alina runs up and tackles him with a hug, or as much as her dress will allow.
The Darkling chuckles. Alina wraps her small arms around his frame. "You've grown, Alina," he says in marvel. He places his palm on his torso where his fingers meet the edge of her jaw. "Weren't you only this tall when I last saw you? What have they been feeding you? You're not meant to be this tall."
Alina's eyes flare a little. "I'm gonna grow taller, you know."
"One day," he agrees, amusement twinkling in his gray eyes. "Maybe."
She almost kicks him in the shin. The dress gets in the way.
The Darkling clears his throat. "You still haven't answered me about that dance, solnyshka." He outstretches a palm for her and she takes it, as she's been taught to do. This is, after all, her first winter fete and she's damn well going to do it all right.
"I would be honored, moi soverennyi."
Her hands are too small in his, but they lead to the center of the ballroom. Her party kefta isn't as dazzling as those of the guests and nobles, what with their shining jewels and stunning embroidery, but Alina adores her kefta of Summoner's blue. It catches the light at every turn. The golden threads shimmer under the moonlight, though Alina might also be helping it along.
They dance for a while, but eventually they both drift away into the fete. They'll meet up again later, for the Grisha's demonstration. The demo is the only reason why she was allowed to entertain herself at the fete to begin with.
She dances in circles with the other older Grisha who lead her classes, or even the young children of the party guests. Her smile is ever constant throughout the night.
Alina finds herself gleefully laughing. (As young as she is, that isn't a particularly difficult task to accomplish really.)
Some Ravkan noble's young son is spinning her around by her elbow, while whispering little jokes about every one of the guests. She laughs herself silly dancing with him.
Her dance partner passes into another's hands and she yelps with joy and surprise as a Grisha woman in red lifts her up and spins her around.
Alina can do this forever. Everything seems positively alive, the snow glistening in the bright moonlight, making the palace garden look like a shining silver lake.
She feels warm and happy and just a little dizzy. Oh, how jealous the other children will be tomorrow once she recounts the tales of tonight to them. She stops to recollect herself. It's almost time for the demonstration.
Aleksander is present to deliver his usual showmanship and theatrics, and this time he has with him the little Sun Summoner to treat the guests with an even better show. Alina's presence will make this fete one to remember for the ages.
"Are you tired already, solnyshka?" The Darkling finds her by the frost-framed windows. She's only just retreated from mingling the crowd. "There's still the demonstration for the guests. You can't be tired already."
Alina's yawn betrays her.
His mouth presses into a thin smile. "After the demonstration, you'll be as energetic as ever." The Darkling offers his arm to lead her to the stage at the far wall of the ballroom. "It's why we never let the Grisha children take part of it. They'll be a trouble to put to sleep."
A noise from the outside startles them off their path. Not only Alina and Aleksander, but every guest and Grisha at the fete. Maybe even the Grisha in the Little Palace, if she can guess by the loudness of the sound.
It comes again, closer.
The noise surrounds them, coming from all sides with a steady pulse like a heartbeat. Is this how the Corporalki feel?
"Fjerdans!" someone yells, and the atmosphere dies in the ballroom. The softness in Aleksander's eyes quickly hardens to stone. His cold hands clasp Alina's tightly.
"Go to your room, solnyshka." It doesn't sound soft or affectionate, like it did earlier. This is not Aleksander anymore, but the true commander of the Second Army, the Darkling that Ravka knows.
It is not only Fjerdans who arrive, but a collection of people in Ravkan peasant roughspun. They might be Fjerdans in disguise, but somehow Alina knows it is more than that.
This is no invasion. This is a revolution.
The gatecrashers enter the room with ease. Were there no guards, or were they too easily overcome? Had they been lulled into incompetence by the usual presence of peasants at the gates?
At the Fjerdans' sides, massive hounds with smiling teeth.
Not just any type of Fjerdan. It could just be an army of port-side fishermen, for all Alina knew. Right now, she wishes they were an army of port-side fishermen.
Drüskelle, Alina realizes.
No, not just drüskelle¸ she thinks to herself. I have no fishermen, but Ravkan farmers instead.
The Fjerdans have been whispering into the ears of the people.
"Leave," the commander speaks in halted, accented Ravkan. "We are only here for the witches."
The guests don't need to be told twice it seems. More than half the crowd disperses out the doors, the only people allowed to pass. Alina doesn't know if any of the other guests tried to stay. It is the Grisha who stand their ground. A Summoner, an Inferni, tries to sneak past and blend in with the other guests in deep blue. A wolf snaps him back into the crowd, and that is the end of escape.
"Alina," Aleksander says in a whisper. "I told you to go."
His pale hands clap softly, though it sounds like thunder in Alina's ears. He casts a rippling pool of darkness, and she understands.
Go, he told her.
It all happens fast from there, or perhaps it had been happening already and Alina just wasn't paying attention. The darkness spreads and bleeds, and for once she does nothing to stop it.
Light may be her element, but the darkness is her friend.
She lets go of the Darkling's hand and dashes across the corridor. She knows the way back to the Little Palace. She has to know the way.
Her beautiful blue kefta flutters wildly around her as she rushes away from the havoc and the Grisha in the ballroom.
Alina thinks of what she sees before the darkness bleeds into the room. She won't have her light with her after all.
In the corner of her eye, the finest keftas and a show that never went on. Grisha. Some shackled, some not. She hears the sound of rifles and gunfire and the crumpling of bodies on the ground. Are they helpless or are there Grisha putting up a fight?
As for Alina, what can she do? She's a child. All she's done is nothing more than parlor tricks. She can't fight. Not yet.
"Go," she hears Aleksander's voice again — in her head, maybe. Where is he now? He blends into the darkness far too well.
An Inferni's fire flares in the dark.
"Run, Alina! As fast as you can." A voice yells somewhere, but she feels it resonate in her head. Is it her own voice? It very well could be. The voice tells her to run, so she does.
She runs in the darkness. She runs and trips, stumbles and goes. She runs as hard and as fast as her body would allow, heart beating fast as her feet thunders on the floor. Then her little heartbeat becomes louder and louder, and Alina realizes it is more than just her heart.
She presses her small body against the wall as the invisible march of soldiers passes her by, followed by the thundering patter of Ravkan feet. All she hears is the drone of her heart and the footsteps around her, and nothing more than the rushing of her blood in her ears.
Alina follows along the wall, the darkness weaning the further she gets from the ballroom. She needs to make it to the Little Palace. She needs to be invisible. She needs, she needs, she needs, she wants. She wants to be in her bedroom, snuggled into her quilted blankets, warm and sleeping soundly. She wants to be safe.
Truly her first winter fete has become a memorable one.
Alina keeps going. The weight on her foot shifts to the other and the Little Palace erupts in flames before her, shining away the shadows she'd used for cover.
Fire. The Little Palace is on fire. Fire shouldn't be a problem. The palace is Fabrikator-craft, and the Etherealki are all within their powers to put the fires out, but the fires don't go no matter how long Alina stares. Alina is frozen in place, watching it.
There's no more going to her bedroom, or snuggling under quilted blankets. No more safe... not in the Little Palace, not in Os Alta.
Aleksander told her to run. She runs, outside instead towards the now burning Little Palace. Her feet feel the cold the moment she steps outside to the snow. She curses herself softly for thinking to wear her finest shoes. She would give anything to get her winter boots from her bedroom in the Little Palace. She doesn't need the snuggling or the safety. Right now, she just wants to go her bedroom and get the warmest and comfiest clothes she has and go. She could escape the rioters, but it will be the cold that takes her if she isn't careful.
Alina holds her kefta tighter against her small body, its fur lining keeping her warm. She tries to summon a small web of light to warm herself up, but it's only starlight that answers her calls, fainter and colder than the sun. She hears yelling from behind her, fading the further she gets; Fjerdan, a language and a people she can't understand.
She makes for the gates, the slumped bodies of the guards against them. She never stops. She runs through the snow, in the cold of the night, putting as much distance between the ballroom and her as she can.
She runs through the rest of Os Alta, past a lake, and through another town, through a forest; nothing but running. She doesn't know where she's going, just as long as she runs. Just as long as it's away from the ballroom and the fires and the sound of heavy chains.
The cold night air whips at her as the snow tries to gnaw her kefta. She pushes through it all, the hunger, the cold, the pain. She's sure her ankle is twisted, and yet she still runs. Her body and mind are screaming, yelling, snapping at her resolve. They yell whispers in her head, to stop, to go, to turn back, to die with the other Grisha, to scream for help, to seek revenge. She would, perhaps one day, but for now there is only running.
Alina doesn't know how far she made it before she collapses. The last of her memories are only of running. It's almost dawn. She trips by the road, her ankle swelling, her feet aching, her head crashing to the hard to the ground.
Her brain slams against her skull and everything goes black.
The Sun Summoner is gone.