“I kind of hope I do, actually,” said Karou, who no longer made the mistake of going out unarmed. She’d made a poor showing of herself in that fight, and cringed to think of the way she’d run away. If she were to see the angel again, she would stand her ground.
Where school was concerned, however, there was no ground to stand. She had no semester project to speak of and she couldn’t squeak by on her sketchbook and feverish last-minute catch-ups anymore, and as hard as it was to just let it go, she had bigger things to worry about.
After the fires, her first trip had been to Marrakesh. She kept remembering what Izîl had yelled to her: “You must get to Brimstone. Tell him the seraphim are here. They’ve gotten back in. You must warn him!”
He knew something. It was the whole point of his bruxis: knowledge. And while Karou had always wondered what he had learned, now she needed urgently to know. So she’d gone to find him, only to learn, to her great sadness, that he had thrown himself off the Koutoubia minaret later the same night she’d left him. Thrown himself? Not likely, she thought, vividly recalling the angel’s soul-dead countenance, the bite of his blade, and the scars he’d left her to remember him by.
Zuzana had actually screen-printed her a T-shirt on the press at school that read: I MET AN ANGEL IN MOROCCO AND ALL I GOT WERE THESE LOUSY SCARS. She’d made another one, too: I SAW AN ANGEL AND YOU DIDN’T. SUCK IT, RAPTURE-MONKEYS!
The sentiment was a response to the worldwide fervor in the wake of the angel sightings. Though accounts of the encounters were initially brushed off as the ravings of drunks and children, the evidence had become too intriguing to ignore. Grainy video and a few photographs had gone viral on the Web and even crossed over to the mainstream media, with headlines like ANGELS OF DEATH: HARBINGERS OR HOAX? announced in drippy prime-time voices. The best footage came from a carpet merchant’s phone and showed the attack on Karou, though she was, mercifully, just an unidentifiable silhouette in the background, blurred out by the heat shimmer of the angel’s wings.
A far as she could tell, that was the only time that the angels—and there had been more than the one—had revealed their wings, but a number of witnesses claimed to have seen them fly, or at least to have seen their winged shadows. A nun in India had a burn in the shape of a feather on her palm, which was drawing throngs of pilgrims from around the world, hoping to be blessed by her. Rapture cults had packed their suitcases and were massing together in great vigils, waiting for the end. Online message boards were daily filled with new angel sightings, none of which rang true to Karou.
“All bogus,” she’d told Zuzana. “Just crackpots waiting for the Apocalypse.”
“Because how fun, right?” Zuzana had rubbed her hands together in mock glee. “Oh, boy, the Apocalypse!”
“Right? I know. How much does your life have to suck to want the Apocalypse?”
And with that, they had spent an entire evening at Poison—with Mik, incidentally, Zuzana’s “violin boy” and now official boyfriend—drinking apple tea and playing the game How much would your life have to suck to want the Apocalypse?
“It would have to suck so much that your bunny slippers are your only friends.”
“It would have to suck so much that your dog wags its tail when you leave.”
“That you know all Celine Dion’s lyrics.”
“That you wish the entire world would end so you don’t have to wake up one more day in your crappy house—which, by the way, has no art in it whatsoever—feed your surly kids, and go to a mind-numbing job where someone is sure to have brought doughnuts to make your ass even fatter. That is how much your life has to suck to want the Apocalypse.”
That, for the win, was Zuzana.
Out in the wilderness of Idaho now, as Karou spent her first-ever gavriel in the fulfillment of a lifelong wish—the gavriel vanished, and she rose smoothly off the ground—her first thought was, Zuzana has got to see this.
She was floating. She gave a delighted hoot and put her arms out for balance, sculling at the air as if she were floating in the sea, but… it wasn’t the sea. It was the air. She was flying. Well, maybe not quite flying—yet—but floating at the threshold of the whole freaking sky. Which happened to wrap around the whole freaking world. Above her, night was huge and everywhere, full of stars and wild things—an infinitely deep, infinitely penetrable sphere, and she rose up higher and higher, claiming it.
She could see the roof of Bain’s cabin from over the treetops now. Breezes whispered in her ears, cold but playful, seeming to welcome her to the high places. She couldn’t help laughing. Once she started, she couldn’t stop. It was a helpless, incredulous stream of giggles that sounded a little nuts, but who wouldn’t sound a little nuts at a moment like this?
She was flying.
God, she wished there was someone here to share it with.
She would soon be sharing it with someone, but it was not, to say the least, the… er, individual… she would choose to share anything with, if all else were equal. But all else was not equal. There was only one individual in the entire world who could help her do what she needed to do, and that, unfortunately, was Razgut.
The thought of Izîl’s creature made Karou shudder, but her fate was now tied up with his.
In Marrakesh, after learning of Izîl’s death, she had wandered the lanes around the mosque in a desolation of disappointment. She’d been so sure Izîl would be able to tell her what was going on. She’d been counting on it with such intensity. She crumpled against a wall and gave in to tears that were a mixture of grief over the death of the poor, tortured man, and frustration for herself.
And then, echoing over the ground, came an unholy chuckle. Beneath a broken donkey cart something shifted, and Razgut dragged himself into the light. “Hello, lovely,” he purred, and it was a testament to Karou’s mental state that she was actually glad to see him.
“You survived the fall,” she said.
But not unscathed. Bereft of his human, he was splayed out over the ground. One arm had been crushed; he cradled it to his chest and dragged himself with the other, legs limp behind him. And his head, his awful purple head, was flattened at the temple, crusted with dried blood, and still embedded with rocks and broken glass.
He gave an impatient flick of the hand. “I’ve fallen farther.”
Karou was skeptical. The minaret towered overhead, the tallest structure in the city.
Seeing her glance up at it, Razgut chuckled again. It was a curdled sound: mingled misery and spite. “That’s nothing, blue lovely. A thousand years ago, I fell from heaven.”
“Heaven. There is no heaven.”
“Quibble, quibble. The sky, then, if you know so much. And I didn’t exactly fall. That makes me sound clumsy, doesn’t it? As though I tripped and fell into your world. No. I was thrown. Cast out. Exiled.”
And that was how Karou had learned of Razgut’s origin. It was hard to believe, looking at him and remembering the angel—that mythic, perfect being—that they were kin, but when she forced herself to really look at Razgut, she began to see it. And the splintered joints of his lost wings could not be denied. He was not a creature of this world.
She had also understood, finally, the twisted fulfillment of Izîl’s bruxis. In wishing for knowledge of the other world, he had gotten himself saddled with Razgut, who could tell him everything that Brimstone would not.
“What happened to Izîl?” she asked. “He didn’t really kill himself, did he? The angel—”
“Ah, well, you can blame him, he dragged us up the minaret, but the fool hunchback flung himself off, all to protect you.”
“My brother seraph was looking for you, lovely. Naughty boy, with all his questions. What does he want with you, I wonder.”
“I don’t know.” It gave Karou a chill. “Izîl didn’t tell him where I live?”
“Oh no, noble fool. He danced with the sky instead, and the sky dropped him like a rotten plum.”
“Oh god.” Karou slumped against the wall and hugged herself. “Poor Izîl.”
“Poor him? Don’t pity him, pity me. He’s gone free, but look at me! Do you think mules are so easy to come by? I haven’t even been able to trick a beggar.” Razgut pushed himself upright and used his good arm to drag his legs around in front of him. His face contorted with pain, but as soon as Karou began to feel the smallest hint of pity for him, his pain turned to a leer.
“You’ll help me, though, won’t you, sweet?” he asked her, smiling. His teeth were incongruously perfect. “Give me a ride?” He might have meant “a ride” such as Izîl had given him, but his tone caressed a lewder implication. “After all, this is your fault.”
“My fault? Whatever.”
Coaxing, he purred, “I’ll tell you secrets, like I told Izîl.”
“Ask for something else,” Karou snapped. “I will not carry you. Ever.”
“Oh, but I’ll keep you warm. I’ll braid your hair. You’ll never be lonely again.”
Lonely? Karou felt bare in that moment, to have this creature get at her substance like that. He went on, whispering: “All that beauty, it’s wrapped around loneliness. You think I didn’t taste it? You’re practically hollow. A piece of empty candy to lick, but oh, you taste so good.” His head fell back and he gave a groan, eyes half-lidded with remembered pleasure. Karou felt ill. “I could lick your neck forever, lovely,” he moaned. “Forever.”
Karou was a long, long way from desperate enough to strike that bargain. She pushed off the wall and began to walk away. “Nice chat. Good-bye.”
“Wait!” Razgut called after her. “Wait!”
And she wouldn’t have thought there was anything he could say that would make her stop. But then he called after her, “You want to see your Wishmonger again? I can take you there. I know a portal!”
She turned to look at him, suspicious.
His leer was gone, replaced by his singular sustaining emotion. It was one she recognized, and for the merest instant, she felt a link to the broken thing that he was. It was longing on his face. If her own substance was loneliness, Razgut’s was longing.
“The portal they pushed me through, a thousand years ago. I know where it is. I’ll show you, but you have to take me with you.” A hitch in his breathing, and he whispered, “I just want to go home.”
Karou’s heart hummed with excitement. Another portal. “So let’s go,” she said. “Right now.”
Razgut chuffed. “If it was that easy, do you think I’d still be here?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s in the sky, girl. We have to fly there.”
And now, thanks to two greasy gavriels pillaged from a hunter’s beard—one for her, and one for Razgut—they would.
Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. The river captures all the lights and teases them out, long and wavering, and the side-slashing rain blurs it all to a dream.
This was Akiva’s first sight of Prague; he hadn’t been the one to mark this portal. That had been Hazael, who had remarked on it after, back in their own world. He’d said that it was beautiful, and it was. Akiva imagined that Astrae might have looked something like this in its golden age, before it was razed by the beasts. City of a Hundred Spires, the seraph capital had been called—a tower for each of the godstars—and the chimaera had torn down every one.
Many a human city had been demolished in war, too, but Prague had been lucky. It stood lovely and ghostly, its chapped stone worn smooth by centuries of storms, millions of rivulets of rain. It was wet and cold, inhospitable, but that didn’t bother Akiva. He made his own heat. Moisture hissed on his invisible wings and vaporized, marking out the shape of them against the night in a diffuse halo. Nothing a glamour could do about that, any more than it could hide his wings from his shadow, but there was no one up here to see it.
He was perched on a rooftop in Old Town. The towers of Týn Church reared up like devil’s horns behind the row of buildings across the street, in one of which was Karou’s flat. Her window was dark. It had been dark, and her flat empty, for the two days since he’d found it.
Folded in his pocket, its creases worn smooth from much handling, was a page torn from a sketchbook—number ninety-two, as was printed on its spine. On the page, which had been the first in the book, a drawing showed Karou with her hands clasped in supplication, accompanied by the words: If found, please return to Krâlodvorskâ 59, no. 12, Prague. You will be rewarded with cosmic goodwill and hard cash. Thank you.
Akiva hadn’t brought the whole book with him, just this one page with its ragged edge. He wasn’t after cosmic goodwill or hard cash.
With the infinite patience of one who has learned to live broken, he awaited her return.
FLYING IS EASY
Flying, Karou discovered to her delight, was easy. Exhilaration chased away her weariness, and with it the apathy that had settled over her after too many encounters with Brimstone’s tooth-traders. She flew high, marveling at the stars and feeling as though she were among them. They were almost beyond belief. Give Bain that, at least. He might have no decorating sense, but he lived in the company of stars. The sky looked sugared.
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