And then: a flash of white and it was over. Thiago was between them, his back to Karou as he ordered Razor to stand down, and she didn’t have to kill anyone. The Heth obeyed, his restless tail upending chairs at every pace.

Lisseth and Nisk intercepted him and Karou stood there, poised between breaths, blades in her hands and blood thrumming up and down her arms, and for an instant she felt like Madrigal again—not the traitor but the soldier.

Just for an instant.

“Take her back to her room.”

That was Thiago to Ten, as if Karou were an escaped mental patient or something. Her smile vanished. “I’m not done eating,” she said.

“It looks like you are.” He glanced ruefully at the broken table and spilled food. “I’ll bring something up to you. You shouldn’t have to endure this.” His voice was kind, cloyingly so, and when he drew close to ask softly, “Are you all right?” Karou kind of wanted to scratch his face off.

“I’m fine. What do you think I am?”

“I think that you are our most valuable asset. And I think that you need to let me protect you.” He reached for her arm; she jerked it away, and he raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“I can protect myself,” she said, trying to recapture the brief vibration of power that had possessed her. I am Madrigal, she told herself, but faced with the White Wolf, all she could think was that Madrigal had been a victim, and she couldn’t hold on to the sensation of power. “Whatever you might think,” she said, “I’m not helpless.” But she sounded like she was trying to convince herself as much as him, and without even thinking about it, she wrapped her arms around her middle in a childish gesture of self-protection. She unwrapped them instantly, but that just made her look fidgety.

Thiago’s voice was soft. “I never said you were helpless. But Karou, if anything happened to you we’d be finished. I need you safe. It’s that simple.”

Safe. Not from the enemy but from her own kind—into whom she poured all her care, her health, her pain, day after night after day. Karou gave a hard laugh.

“They need time,” Thiago said. “That’s all. They’ll come to trust you. As I do.”

“Do you trust me?” she asked.

“Of course I do, Karou. Karou.” He looked sad. “I thought we were moving past all of that. There’s no room for petty grudges in these times. We need all of our focus, all of our energy, on the cause.”

Karou might have argued that her execution wasn’t exactly a petty grudge, but she didn’t, because she knew he was right. They did need all their energy on the cause, and she hated that he had had to remind her of it like she was some schoolgirl acting up, and even more, she hated the shaky feeling that was hitting her now that her adrenaline rush was drying up. As much as she resented being packed off to her room at Thiago’s command, it was her room that she wanted, its solitude and safety, so she put her crescent-moon blades back in their sheaths and, trying to act like it was her own idea, she turned and went. She held her head high, but she knew, every step of the way, that she wasn’t fooling anyone.



Ten escorted Karou to her room, and she must have taken Karou’s quiet for complaisance, because she chatted away, offering unwelcome critique on recent resurrections, and was caught completely off guard at the top of the stairs when Karou shut the door in her face and slammed down the crossbar.

A moment of stunned silence, and then the thumping began. “Karou! I’m supposed to help you. Let me in. Karou.”

“I love you, crossbar,” whispered Karou, and petted it.

Ten’s voice rose steadily, scolding, huffing. Unbuckling her knife belt, Karou ignored her. On her table lay a half-strung necklace, but she didn’t want to pick it up, and she didn’t want company—or babysitting. She wanted a pencil and a page, and to render the exact look on Razor’s face as he came at her, the V of the broken table and the blur of figures at the periphery who’d done nothing to help her. Drawing had always been how she processed things. Once they were on paper they were hers, and she could decide what power they would hold over her.

She took up her sketchbook and smoothed it open. In the margin she saw the ragged remnants of a torn-out page and recalled, as vividly as if she were looking at it, the sketch of Akiva that had been there. He’d been asleep in her flat. She had destroyed that sketch, of course. She had destroyed them all.

If only she could do the same with her memories.


Even the thought of the word brought on shame. How could she have done it: loved Akiva—or rather, thought she had? Because now, whatever there had been between them wore that pall of filth—angel-lover—and looked nothing like love. Lust, maybe. Youth, rebellion, self-destructiveness, perversity. She’d barely known him; how could she have thought it was love? But whatever it had been… could it ever be forgiven?

How many chimaera would Karou have to resurrect before they accepted her?

All of them. That was how many. Every last one who had died because of her. Hundreds of thousands. More.

Which was, of course, impossible. Those souls had evanesced, including the ones dearest to her. They were lost. Was that it, then? No possibility of redemption?

This was her life, and it was her nightmare, too, and sometimes the only way she could bear it was by telling herself it would end. If it was a nightmare, she would wake up and Brimstone would be alive; everyone would be alive. And if it wasn’t a nightmare? Well then, it would end in one of the very many ways that lives end. Sooner or later.

She drew, and captured Razor’s snarl with awful vitality.

You really want to know what I’m up to, Zuzana? Here it is. I’m trapped in a sandcastle with dead monsters, forced to resurrect them one after the next, all while trying to avoid getting eaten.

It sounded like a pitch for a Japanese game show, and Karou couldn’t help laughing again, though only for a second, because Ten heard from the other side of the door and let out a soft snarl. Great. The she-wolf probably thought she was laughing at her.

Enemy queue forms here, wrote Karou below her sketch.

Oh, Zuze.

She cast an eye over her tooth trays and damned them for being so full. She’d been too efficient on her collecting trip; it would be some time before she could plead the necessity of going out again. The faster she worked, though, the faster the time would come, and when it did, she would do more than e-mail Zuzana. She would find her. She would slouch down for tea and goulash with her and Mik at Poison Kitchen and tell them everything, then bask in their outrage on her behalf.

They would agree with her that ungrateful Heth bone priests did not deserve regal lion heads but perhaps hamster next time, or maybe Pekingese.

Or better yet, she imagined Zuzana saying in her sharp way, to hell with them all.

I’m not doing it for them, Karou would reply. It was a practiced thought, one she clung to. It’s for Brimstone. And for all the chimaera the angels haven’t yet managed to murder. She had only to remember Loramendi to feel the desperation of her duty. There was no one else to do this work but her.

From somewhere outside came the sentry’s call, a single short high whistle. Karou jumped up and was at the window in a stride. A patrol was returning, the first of the five. Unblinking, she leaned out her window and scanned the sky. There: from the direction of the mountains where the portal hung high and unseen in the thin air. They were still too distant to make out silhouettes and know which team it was, but, squinting, she could see that they were six. That was a reason to be glad; one team at least was intact.

Nearer, nearer, and then she saw him: tall and straight, his horns like a pair of pikes. Ziri. A knot loosened in her chest that she hadn’t known was there. Ziri was okay. She could make out the others now, and soon enough they were circling over the kasbah and dropping into the court, half on wings of her creation, no two the same in size or form but all alike in menace: armed to kill, leathers black with blood and ash. She was glad to see Balieros, too, but her relief was really for Ziri.

Ziri was Kirin; he was kin.

When Karou looked at him, her Madrigal memories grew bright, and she remembered the men of her tribe as she hadn’t seen them in so long. She had been only seven years old when she was orphaned by angels. She was away from home that day, a free child in a wild world, and had returned to the aftermath of the slave raid and the end of life as she knew it. Death and silence, blood and absence, and, deep in the caves, huddled together: a handful of elders who had managed to save the very smallest of the babies.

Ziri had been one of those babies, tiny and new as a kit with its eyes still shut. Karou had some small memories of him in Loramendi later: he used to follow her around blushing—her foster sister, Chiro, teased her that he had a crush on her. “Your little Kirin shadow,” she had called him.

“It’s not a crush,” Madrigal had argued. “It’s kinship. It’s longing for what he never had.”

She’d felt deeply for him, an orphan like her but with no memories of their home or their people to hold on to. There had been some elder Kirin left, and a few other orphans his age, but Madrigal was the only Kirin in her prime whom he had ever seen.

Funny, now the tables were turned, and it was her looking to him and seeing what she had lost. He was grown now, and tall even before the antelope horns that added several more feet. His legs were human tapering to antelope, as her own had once been, and, coupled with his vast bat wings, gave him the same buoyant gait all the Kirin had possessed—a lightness as if the earth underfoot were incidental and he might at any instant go airborne and rise leagues above it all.

Only there was no lightness in him now. His tread was heavy and his face grim, and as the patrol assembled in formation to await their general, he was the only one to give a glance up at Karou’s window. She half raised her hand to him, her bruised arm screaming at the simple gesture, which… he did not return. He lowered his head again as if she weren’t even there.

Stung, Karou let her hand fall.

Where were they coming from? What had they seen? What had they done?

Go down and find out, came a whisper in the back of her mind, but she didn’t heed it. Whatever went on in the ashfall landscape and blood-crusted world of war where her creations went forth to do violence, it wasn’t her concern. She conjured the bodies; that was all.

What more could she possibly do?



The Wolf was in the window right below Karou’s. As soon as Ziri lifted his eyes to look for her, he saw white and dropped his head again. It was barely enough time to register the look of half hope on her face as she raised her hand to him, tentative. Lonely.

And then he shunned her.

The Wolf had told him he must have no contact with her. He had told them all, but Ziri thought those pale eyes had lingered on him when he said it, and that he was the one Thiago watched most closely. Because he was Kirin? Did he think that fact alone would bond them, or did he remember Ziri as a child? At the Warlord’s ball?

At the execution.

He had tried to save her. It would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic—how he had crouched in the crawl space under the tourney stands, getting up his courage, gripping his edgeless training swords as though they might deliver her. The stands had been erected in the agora so the folk could better watch her die; it was a spectacle. Madrigal, so still and straight, so beautiful, had made the stamping masses seem like animals, and he, a skinny boy of twelve, had thought he could storm the scaffold and… what? Cut her pinion, her manacles? The city itself was a cage; she would have had nowhere to go.

It hadn’t mattered. He’d been laid out by the hilt of a soldier’s sword before his feet ever touched the platform. Madrigal never even saw his fool heroics. Her eyes had never left her lover.

That was another lifetime. Ziri hadn’t understood her treason then, or where it could lead. Where it had led. But he wasn’t a lovestruck little boy anymore, and Karou was nothing to him.

So why were his eyes drawn to her window? To her, on the rare occasions she came down?

Was it pity? A glance was all it took to see how alone she was. In the first days, in Eretz, she had been pale, trembling, mute—clearly in shock. It had been harder then, not to go to her or speak even a word. She must have seen it—how something in him leapt to answer her grief, her loneliness, and now she sought him out with that look of half-hope whenever she saw him, as if he might be a friend.

And he turned away from her. Thiago had been clear: The rebels needed her but couldn’t make the mistake of trusting her. She was treacherous and must be managed carefully—by him.

And here he was now, come down to greet the patrol.

“Well met,” said Thiago, striding out like the lord of the manor. Lord of the ruins, rather, but if this mud castle was a comedown for the great White Wolf, he claimed it as he had ever claimed anything—or everything: as his to do with as he wished until he seized the next and better thing. He would have the throne in Astrae before he was through, he claimed, and seraphim for slaves, and as ludicrous a claim as it seemed in light of their circumstances, Ziri would never underestimate the Wolf.

Thiago was a soldier’s soldier. His troops worshipped him, and would do anything for him. He ate, drank, and breathed battle, never more at home than in a campaign tent strewn with maps, hashing strategy with his captains or, better yet, hurling himself at angels with his teeth bared and bloody.

“Reckless,” the Warlord had fumed once, furious when his son had been killed and come back in a new body. “A general need not die at the front!” But Thiago had never been one to hang back in safety and send others forth to die. He led, and Ziri knew firsthand how his fearlessness spread like wildfire in the fray. It was what made him great.