We Rule the Night – Claire Eliza Bartlett

Revna didn’t realize the war had come to them. Not until the factory stopped. She sat at her conveyor belt like a good citizen, oblivious to the oncoming storm from the west. The organized cacophony of industry filled her to the brim. Shining war beetle parts drifted past, twitching and trembling with fear and faint traces of magic. As the belt slowed, the voice of her supervisor emerged from the din. “Girls!” The hissing, ratcheting, and clanging died away. Revna’s fingers were half-buried in the oily bones of a leg that shivered and twisted of its own accord. She soothed the living metal, trying to keep the sudden spike in her heartbeat from infecting it with her own unease. In her three years working at the factory, she’d never heard the machines go still. She turned her wheelchair away from her workstation and pushed toward her supervisor’s voice. Machines towered around her like trees, frozen in the act of spitting out legs, carapaces, and antennae. Revna rounded the base of an enormous sheet press to find Mrs. Rodoya standing at the door to her office, hands clasped over her belly. Other factory girls crept out from behind conveyors and riveters, ducking under cranes.

They clustered together in front of the sheet press, gripping one another with slick fingers. Mrs. Rodoya took a deep breath. “We need to evacuate. Get your things.” God, Revna thought reflexively, even though Good Union Girls weren’t supposed to think about God anymore. They would evacuate for only one reason—the Elda. She imagined regiments of blueand-gray men marching through the smoke, bringing the hard mercies of conquest. But the Elda wouldn’t march into Tammin. They’d obliterate it from the sky with Dragons of steel and fire.

And when they came, they’d aim for the factories. Mrs. Rodoya sent them back to their workstations for their War Ministry–approved survival kits. Revna strapped her kit to the back of her chair, then wheeled over to the factory door. She could walk, but Mrs. Rodoya had doubted her ability to stand on prosthetics day after day, and Good Union Girls deferred to their supervisor’s judgment. The girls lined up in pairs at the door, clasping their survival kits in one hand and their partners’ hands in the other. Revna went to the end of the line. She had no hand to grab, no one to whisper that it would be all right. She wasn’t going to the shelter for good citizens, for Protectors of the Union, but to the alternate shelter for secondary citizens and nonworkers.

She’d sit in the dank cellar and play with her little sister, Lyfa, and try not to see the worry in every line of Mama’s face. Revna heard a low hum, like an enraged cloud of insects. Elda Weavecraft. Her heart jumped. The primary citizens’ shelter was a five-minute trip, but hers was ten, and Mama worked even farther away. Revna wanted nothing more than for Mama’s hand to be the hand that clasped hers now. Mama would find her in the shelter, she reminded herself. They’d be together there, and surely safer than out on the street with the Elda and their aircraft. Mrs. Rodoya opened the factory door and counted each pair with a bob of her head as they went through.

Then she grabbed the wooden handles of Revna’s chair and began to push without asking. Anger boiled up like an allergic reaction, mixing with Revna’s nerves and making her feel sick. She could get herself to work every morning—she could walk it, for that matter. Her living metal prosthetic legs had been called a work of art by Tammin’s factory doctors. But Mrs. Rodoya didn’t care what Revna or the doctors thought. “Now, now. We want speed over pride, don’t we?” she’d said in early practice raids. A different Revna would have punched her. But this Revna wanted to keep her job.

As long as Revna had a job, there was money to set aside and extra rations for Lyfa. “I’ll take you the first part of the way. But once the routes split I’ll have to look after the other girls. You’ll be on your own,” Mrs. Rodoya said. She’d said this every drill. But now her voice had an edge to it and climbed a little too high as she called out to the rest. “Quickly, now.” The factory girls began to move. Mrs.

Rodoya and Revna followed, lurching as the back wheel of Revna’s chair caught on a loose stone at the edge of the road. The factories of Tammin Reaching spat out legs, carapaces, rifles, helmets, all that was needed for the churning Union war machine. Oil and dirt coated everything—the brick walls, the windows, the streetlamps that never turned on anymore. Even the propaganda posters developed a coat of soot a few days after the papergirls plastered them to the sides of the factories. Revna rolled past image after image of Grusha the Good Union Girl, her patriotic red uniform already spattered with grease and mud. DON’T CHAT. GOSSIP WON’T HELP BUILD WAR MACHINES, said one, showing her scowling with a finger to her lips. NIGHT WON’T PREVENT US FROM WORKING, said another. PRACTICE MAKES PREPARED, declared a third. Revna found that laughable now.

She’d practiced her trip to the shelter so much that she could go there in her sleep. But real life had surprises. Real life had Dragons. The eternal lights of the factories flickered out around them and twilight deepened the cloudless sky above. The moon hung like a farmland apple, fat and ripening and surrounded by stars. A few palanquins scuttled from place to place, grim-faced officials perched at their fronts. There was no army waiting to protect Tammin, no squadron of war beetles assembled and ready. They’d have to wait out the attack in shelters and hope something was left when they emerged. The line of girls undulated as their unease grew. “Calm,” Mrs.

Rodoya said. Calm was easy during a practice raid. With the hum of aircraft resonating against the buildings, calm became a whole lot harder. Revna clenched her hands until she couldn’t feel them shake. Don’t be such a coward, she told herself. But she hadn’t been brave in a long time. Sometimes she thought when the doctors cut off her legs, they’d amputated her courage as well. Maybe the Elda would pass overhead, on the way to do reconnaissance or bomb another target. She knew how selfish it was, hoping that someone else would die so that she might live. But she wasn’t thinking only about herself.

Every quiet moment meant that Mama was closer to the shelter, too. They made it to the end of the street before the first explosion hit the edge of town. The ground trembled and a sound like thunder washed over them. Two girls screamed. Revna’s pulse throbbed in her ears, drowning out the whine of aircraft. The girls ahead quickened as the balance between order and panic began to destabilize. “Calm, girls.” Did Mrs. Rodoya have to keep saying that? “Left,” she called, and they turned, joining the current of workers who emerged from the factories and hurried, heads down, toward their designated shelters. Maybe PRACTICE MAKES PREPARED after all.

A few men and women sped ahead, carrying rifles. Every Protector of the Union took required rifle practice, and some were designated first responders, on guard for any opportunities to fire back during a bombardment. Mama had excelled with her rifle until Papa was arrested and their Protector of the Union status got revoked. Now their guns were in someone else’s hands. A crack split the sky and the ground shook again. The Elda were getting closer now. Smoke blotted out the twilight and Revna heard a faint buzzing, like a swarm. Her nose twitched as she smelled the sharp heat of burning metal. Open flame was the enemy of a factory town. The line stopped.

Someone at the front gasped. “Girls—” Mrs. Rodoya said. A man stood in the road. A man in a silver coat. Revna’s living metal prosthetics shook. His coat made him unmistakable, as did the blue star pinned below the collar. He was part of the Skarov unit, the Extraordinary Wartime Information Unit. The last time Revna had seen a Skarov up close was the last time she’d seen her father. In the years since, she’d wondered if they would come back for her, too.

The Information Unit was always in and out of Tammin, carrying messages and supplies. Occasionally carrying off people. The man’s eyes flicked over the group. “Get on with it,” he snapped. “You haven’t got all night.” Above them, the hum grew louder. Compared with a Skarov officer, the threat of the Dragon was less immediately terrifying, but direr in consequence. The girls in front took the risk and edged past him. When he did nothing but roll his eyes, the line began to speed up. For once it didn’t bother Revna so much when Mrs.

Rodoya pushed her chair. No two people agreed on what the Skarov could do. And since GOSSIP WON’T HELP BUILD WAR MACHINES, they discussed it only when their supervisors weren’t around. Even though the memory of her father’s arrest was a fresh scar in her mind, Revna couldn’t recall any proof of their alleged magic. She’d heard they could read minds, change shape, know a girl’s name by meeting her gaze. Revna didn’t believe all that. But when the Skarov’s eyes locked on her, she couldn’t look away. His eyes were a strange brown, almost tawny in the dying light. A thousand fears and confessions raced through her brain. The Skarov looked down to where her prosthetic feet poked out of the cuffs of her work trousers.

For a moment his lofty arrogance was replaced with a more familiar but no less unwelcome expression: pity. The chair rolled past. The humming around them grew higher, more urgent. The girls ahead broke into a run. “Don’t—” Mrs. Rodoya began. Revna didn’t see the Dragon. But for a terrible moment she heard its deep, haunting cry as its port opened and the bombs fell. It sounded like the mating call of some haughty creature. A creature that brought dust and fire.

The street next to them exploded. Revna threw her arms up as heat rolled over them. Mrs. Rodoya released the back of her chair and the world rocked, trying to shake them from its surface. A spray of gravel tore through her factory uniform and bit at the arm beneath. Someone gripped her shoulder and Revna opened her eyes. Mrs. Rodoya bent over her, lips moving soundlessly. “Revna,” she mouthed. A flurry of words poured out of her, lost in the haze and the high whine in Revna’s ears.

Then she turned and ran down the road after the others, disappearing into the smoke. Dust and panic lodged in Revna’s throat. Buildings leaned out over the road. Garbed in their peeling propaganda posters, they looked half-demolished already. She tried to take deep, slow breaths, but how could she with the wreckage of Tammin threatening from all sides? She pressed her hand over her mouth. She had to identify the problems, as Papa used to tell her. Clear thought led the way to real understanding. And you can’t overcome a problem if you don’t know what the problem is, he’d said. Problem: Mrs. Rodoya was gone.

If Revna wanted to get to the shelter, she’d have to move herself. Which had never been an issue before, when the skies were clear and the Dragons were a distant threat. She tried to push herself into the street, but her wheels caught on the rubble. Problem: If she didn’t get to the secondary citizens’ shelter soon, she’d be locked out. The city was silent for a breath. Maybe the Elda and their Dragon had already gone. Maybe they’d left a little greeting as they made their way to some other target. Or maybe she couldn’t hear them dipping through the smoke to come find her. In the gray half-light of the world, she could hear nothing, see no one. Which meant that no one would see her if she used the Weave.

The Weave sat like an extra sense in the back of her head. Invisible strings aligned the world, crisscrossing like crowded threads on a loom. Loose threads hung ragged where the bomb had torn them apart, though they already reached for one another, trying to smooth over the gap. Revna could feel the threads, even grasp them. They shivered with magical energy. She could make it to Mama if she used its power. But the Weave was illegal magic. While spark magic gave energy to the world, Weave magic distorted it. The Union declared it immoral and unlawful. Tonight, it might be the difference between life and death.

And what did it matter if using the Weave warped the fabric of the world? The world was a mess as it was. A better daughter of the Union, the good girl who took her cues from propaganda posters, wouldn’t even think about it. She would place her own life far below the well-being of the land, and not for dread of the Information Unit or of a long sentence on a prison island. She would do it for the love of the Union. But Revna didn’t love the Union. It had taken her father and worked her mother twelve hours a day. It had put her in a dirt-lined cellar for secondary citizens instead of one of the strong, concrete shelters built for the other factory girls. To the Union, she was a burden. Revna pushed herself out of her chair and started up the street. She picked her way around the debris scattered over the road with her hands extended, ready to grab the Weave if she lost her balance.

An explosion rumbled somewhere behind her, and she caught a high scream through the cotton feeling in her ears. Her heart pumped liquid terror. Mama might still be out here, fighting to reach the shelter through closed-off roads and Skarov checkpoints. The shelter would close soon. But if she made it there, and Mama didn’t— The world thrummed. The Dragon was making another pass. Ash fell on her upturned face like snow, the little flakes clinging to her sweat-soaked forehead. The old half-timber house next to her sagged, as if hundreds of years of standing upright had taken their toll at last. Fire bloomed behind its windows. Shingles tumbled from the roof.

Revna stopped, transfixed. A silver blur grabbed her by the arm and the Skarov officer began to haul. His fingers dug into her shoulders hard enough to leave a bruise. “Come,” he shouted. His voice seemed so far away. Revna stumbled after him, wheezing as ash filled her mouth, bitter and hot. She didn’t know whether to pull the Skarov closer or push him away. Her hands clawed at his coat. My mother, she tried to say, but when she opened her mouth nothing came out. Her ears filled with the sound of her heart.

The world began to darken. A massive shape dispelled the dust and ash—death streaming in for a final kiss. Certainty seized her like a vise, certainty that she was going to die. And it might be her fate —it might even be what the Union expected of her. But it wasn’t what she wanted. The cloud parted. The sky fell. She didn’t think about finesse or delicacy. She didn’t think about whether she’d be shot later. She wanted to live.

Revna reached for that sense at the back of her mind. She grabbed two threads with one hand and looped her arm around the Skarov’s waist. Then she pulled with everything she had. They shot forward. Revna clenched her fists until her knuckles pushed against her skin. The threads slid against her fingers, trying to break free and rejoin the Weave. She didn’t dare let go. She floated in her own thin universe of dust, of smoke, of destruction, and for that moment it was hard to tell whether she was living or dead. The Skarov yelled, digging his fingers into her arm. Living.

She was definitely living. The threads of the Weave slipped through her hand, and the world rushed up to meet them. She hit first, landing hard on a pile of rubble and rolling onto her back. Dust puffed up as the Skarov came down beside her. Loose pieces of brick and mortar bit into her spine. Pain shot through her calves and the bottom of her residual limbs. Her torso was agony. Her phantom feet burned. She blinked through her tears. Pain was good; pain meant her back hadn’t broken in the fall.

She tried to push herself off the rubble, but her hands only scraped on gravel and brick dust. Her prosthetics. Had they broken? She fumbled for the straps. A shape disturbed the smoke around her. The Skarov officer had gotten to his feet and was dusting off his coat. But his strange eyes never left her face. She should have known she couldn’t hide forever. Weave magicians were evil. How could she think that she was special, that she was different? What right did she have to ruin the world? It’s already ruined, she thought. Then she thought, I never meant for it to go this far.

I don’t want to die. God, I don’t want to die. But there was no God to beg. So said the laws of the Union. The Skarov stepped forward, bracing his back foot on the ground and leaning in to grab her by her prosthetics. She groaned as they twisted and scraped on her residual limbs. He’d break them if he wasn’t careful. “Stop,” she pleaded, coughing ash. His hands moved up, gripping her waist just under her rib cage. And then she stopped worrying that he might break her legs, and started worrying that he might break her.

I saved you, she tried to say. Please. But the words wouldn’t come. He pulled her to her feet. “Walk,” he said with iron in his voice. He gripped her shoulders, steering her. She could do nothing but obey. 2 I GIVE MY SON GLADLY Linné stood at attention outside her colonel’s office, cursing herself. Colonel Koslen’s voice cut through the thin walls, and she caught words such as honor, disgrace, and stupidity as he blasted the unlucky Lieutenant Tannov with the full force of his wrath. Linné’s blood sang.

She’d be trembling if she let herself relax. But that was her secret to being in the army: Never let your guard down. That had been her secret to being in the army. Then she’d been stupid and allowed her guard to slip. Now she was here. The few men who walked by shot her curious glances. She ignored them all, as she’d ignored the catcalls from those who thought the humiliating discovery of her sex was somehow hilarious. When she realized the game was up, she’d swiped some brandy from under Tannov’s bed, hoping to fortify herself. She’d taken only a swig or two, but now she couldn’t decide whether it was the brandy or the fear that turned her thoughts upside down. The slate sky gave way to a bleed of color with twilight, and the temperature was fast dropping toward night.

Clouds piled on the horizon, as they always did in early autumn, becoming darker and colder until they finally rushed in to unleash the first howling storms. The shouting ceased. Linné wished she’d had time for a rascidine cigarette. Maybe she should’ve taken the rest of Tannov’s bottle. The door creaked. Tannov’s voice came from over her shoulder. “The colonel wants to see you, Private—” He stopped. “Um, miss.” Miss. He said it like he didn’t even know her.

They’d served together for three years. Tannov had screamed at her, sworn at her, threatened her, punished her. She’d gotten him drunk the night before his promotion, and she’d shot the Elda by steadying her rifle on his shoulder. When she roared at a charging Elda soldier, he’d laughed and called her “little lion,” and everyone in the regiment followed suit. Once, they’d sworn they’d get their Hero of the Union medals together. Now he averted his eyes and stepped smartly to the side, leaving the door open for her. March, soldier, she told her feet. She could do that, at least, even with the cocktail of rage, nerves, and brandy inside her. Colonel Koslen’s office smelled of sweat, earth, and oil. Papers lay scattered across his desk, the aftermath of a bureaucratic war.

Koslen stood behind the desk, clenching and unclenching his ham hands as Linné came in. The colonel cut an impressive figure, tall and broad and with biceps the size of Linné’s head. Tannov and their friend Dostorov had joked that before the war, Koslen was a goatherd who liked the smell of goats better than the smell of women. Linné preferred to mock his glorious mustache, waxed to a curl. It twitched whenever he spoke, whenever he sighed, whenever he lost his temper, or whenever it seemed a particularly difficult thought was pushing itself through the sludge of his brain. After any ordinary disciplinary action, Linné would return to the barracks with her finger over her upper lip, wiggling it back and forth as she described Koslen’s temper. No one would laugh at the joke now. They’d laugh at her. Koslen studied her round face, her dark hair, her thin body, searching out the little touches that branded her as female. Linné pushed her shoulders back, daring him to say something.

They stood that way for several long moments. Then he sighed. “Please, take a seat.” He gestured toward his chair, the nice chair. “Would you like some tea?” Linné’s palms began to burn. For three years he’d treated her like a soldier. And suddenly she was a girl. A miss. She fought to keep her face neutral. If she took his offer, she’d be relegated to the status of a woman, an outsider, unfit to serve.

If she refused, he could claim that she was incapable of following orders. Koslen went over to a silver samovar, squeezed onto a side table next to the company’s hulking radio. Wasting precious metal had become a serious offense around two years ago, when the heads of the Union had realized just how bad the war was about to get. But officers always managed to squirrel something nice away. Linné slid into the hard chair reserved for the colonel’s subordinates, sitting rigid with her wrists propped on the desk. “Thank you, sir.” Koslen stopped midstep toward the chair she’d taken for herself. Then he turned and went to his own as though he’d meant to all along. He placed one cup of pale golden tea in front of her and took a sip from the other. “You’ve turned our little regiment quite upside down, miss.

” His tone was all exaggerated courtesy. A gentleman could never shout at a lady. “Have I, sir?” Koslen frowned. The mustache twitched as he inhaled, slowly and deliberately. He could smell the brandy on her. She should’ve left it alone. He was silent for a moment, and behind his eyes she saw some sort of argument raging. Then he seemed to make up his mind. “I’m not going to waste time. If you have no shame for your actions, perhaps you should consider how you have endangered the men of your company.

” Linné pressed her lips together. Arguing got a soldier latrine duty, or graveside duty, or watches for the witching hours. Perhaps he mistook her silence for contrition. “War is simply not women’s work, miss,” he said. Though apparently it is goatherds’ work , Linné thought. She couldn’t help herself. She imagined her next words running along an iron beam, strong and steady. If her voice shook, Koslen might think she was close to tears instead of holding back her rage. “I have served faithfully, sir. I have been loyal to the Union and the regiment.

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