The Caprine were one of the mildest of the chimaera tribes, so ill-suited to fighting that they were exempt from the army. The fact was that many chimaera tribes made poor soldiers: they were too small, or configured ill for holding weapons, or they were aquatic, or they were timid, or they were large but lumbering and slow. There were as many reasons as there were tribes, and it was why Brimstone had had to do what he had done for so long: too many of his people were simply not made for fighting at all, and certainly not for fighting seraphim.

The main might of the chimaera army had always been drawn from some dozen of the fiercer tribes, and it was with surprise that Akiva recognized one such in the center of this huddle. A Dashnag, among Caprine. A small one, not yet grown, but even a small Dashnag is a brutish thing, though this one was holding a slender deer centaur girl in his thick arms—her hand was clamped over her own mouth; it was she who had screamed, and her limpid deer eyes were impossibly huge in her sweet small face. Another deer girl was shrunk in fright against the boy’s side, and though Akiva couldn’t know precisely what had brought these folk together in this moment, the tableau was simple, and it painted in miniature what the angels had done to Eretz: Through terror, they had united it against them.

All this in an instant, and the Dashnag boy was setting the centaur girl aside, gently, and there was fear in his eyes, but he would defend these folk. Akiva’s swords were in his hands, but he didn’t want them.

This isn’t who we have to be, he thought. “Haz—” he started to say.

His brother turned to him. He looked puzzled, a squint drawing at his eyes. “That’s strange,” he said, cutting Akiva off. “I could have sworn I heard something down here.”

It took Akiva a beat to understand, and then a rush of relief—and reprieve, and gratitude—flooded through him. “Me, too,” he said, cautious, hoping he was reading his brother right. The Dashnag boy was watching them intently, every muscle poised to spring. All the Caprine and the two Dama girls were staring unblinking. A baby started to murmur—a baby—and its mother clutched it tighter. “Must have been a bird,” Akiva ventured.

“A bird,” Hazael agreed. And… he turned away from the fugitives. He took a few splashing steps in the creek, casual, even a little comical, and bent to pick one of the blooms that grew on reedy stalks at the water’s edge, tucking it into a notch in his mail. It was still there.

He took it out now, and presented it to Liraz. Akiva tensed, wondering if he was going to tell her that they had spared a whole village worth of chimaera today, and even a Dashnag who, though a boy, would certainly grow into a soldier. What would she think of that? But Hazael only said, “I brought you a present.”

Liraz took the flower, looked at it, and then at Hazael, expressionless. And then she ate it. She chewed the flower and swallowed it.

“Hmm,” said Hazael. “Not the usual response.”

“Oh, do you give flowers often?”

“Yes,” he said. He probably did. Hazael had a way of enjoying life in spite of the many restrictions they lived under, being soldiers, and worse, being Misbegotten. “I hope it wasn’t poisonous,” he said lightly.

Liraz just shrugged. “There are worse ways to die.”



“There you are,” said Ten, exasperated, catching up to Karou in her spying place.

“Here I am,” agreed Karou, eyeing the she-wolf. “Where are they going?”


“The sphinxes. Where did he send them? To do what?”

“I don’t know, Karou. To Eretz, to do what they do. Can we get back to work?”

Karou turned back to the court. The soldiers had gathered around Thiago in a knot, all watching the sky where the Shadows That Live had vanished. Go, she willed herself. Go ask. But she just couldn’t find it in herself to stroll over and feel all those eyes settle on her in that flat way they had, or to put forth her voice and breach their silent, watchful intensity.

So when Ten put a hand on her arm and said, “Come. Emylion, then Hvitha. We have an army to build,” Karou was almost relieved. Coward.

She let herself be led.

After two days of Nur’s ministrations, Sarazal could put weight on her leg again, though Rath mostly still carried her—now in a sling that they’d fashioned for his back—and Sveva felt the burden of her sister’s life lift from her own shoulders. Sarazal would be fine, and they’d find their tribe again, just… not right away. It was a hard thing, going in the wrong direction, but it was far too great a risk to go north. Too many seraphim lay between them and home.

We’re okay, Mama. We’re alive. Sveva kept sending her thoughts out over the land, imagining them to be squalls bearing notes that her mother could just unroll and read. She almost convinced herself of it; it was too hard to admit the truth: that their people must believe them lost. Angels spared us, she thought to her mother, still reeling from the miracle of it. Her life felt new: lost and found, both lighter and heavier at the same time.

If you meet an angel with eyes like fire, and another with a bog lily tucked in his armor, she thought to her mother, don’t kill them.

The herd moved south toward the mountains, with their rumors of safe haven. They met others along the way and urged them to get moving. A pair of Hartkind joined them, but they were careful not to let their convoy grow. It wasn’t safe to travel in large groups. Well, nothing was safe, but you did what you could. Unless they had dense tree cover, they moved only by night, when seraphim were easy to spot, their fiery wings painting light onto the darkness.

Lell rode on Sveva’s back, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world now to hoist her up there whenever they got moving, and fall into step behind Rath, where she could keep a good eye on Sarazal.

“I can’t wait to run again,” said her sister under her breath one morning as they plodded up a hillside at Caprine pace.

“I know,” Sveva said. And then, at the top of the hill, they got their first glimpse of the Hintermost: hazed by distance and impossibly huge, their snowy peaks merging with the clouds like some white country of the air. “But it’s good to be alive.”

The seraph patrols were having poor hunting. The land was too big and wild, its inhabitants scarce and getting scarcer.

“Someone is warning them,” said Kala one morning, when they had come upon another abandoned village. Villages were rare; more common were simple farms where small clans lived off the land, but these, too, they’d been finding deserted. In the evenings, around the fire, soldiers still cleaned their swords, but it was more of habit than necessity. The country seemed to empty ahead of them; they’d scarcely drawn blood in days. Whispers about ghosts persisted. Some blamed the slaves, though they all knew it would have been a remarkable feat—of both courage and logistics—for those few freed creatures to warn this whole vast land of the coming scourge.

The only logical conclusion, though there was no evidence to support it, was that it was the rebels.

“Why won’t they show themselves?” stormed a soldier of the Second Legion. “Cowards!”

Akiva wondered the same thing. Where were the rebels? He happened to know that it wasn’t rebels warning the folk.

It was him.

At night, while the camp slept, he cloaked himself in glamour and slipped from his tent. Wherever the next day’s sweep was to lead them, he went ahead, and when he found a village or farm or nomad’s camp, he let himself be seen, frightening off the folk and hoping they would have the good sense to stay gone.

It was something. It wasn’t enough, and his exhaustion was not sustainable, but he didn’t know what else to do. What can a soldier do when mercy is treason, and he is alone in it? It might have bought some of these southern folk time to reach the Hintermost, though. It should have.

But it didn’t.

Because overnight, on dark, silent wings, while Akiva was struggling to save the enemy one family at a time, the rebels were sending the Empire such a message that Joram’s response must blow away any hope he had of allaying the killing.

“Life is your master, or death is,” Brimstone had said, but in these days of blood, there was no luxury of choice.

Death ruled them all.

Once upon a time, the sky knew the weight of angel armies on the move,

and the wind blew infernal with the fire of their wings.



At the seraph garrison at Thisalene—not on some far shore or lonely sweep of beast-ranged wilderness, but hooked to the cliffs of the curved Mirea Coast in the heart of the Empire itself—a sentry watched from his tower as the sun rose over the sea and his comrades failed to stir. Not a rustle from the hundred soldiers trained to rise at first light, no sound at all. The barracks lay quiet in the dawn, and the silence was surreal and deeply wrong. Quiet was for night. There should have been clamor, cooksmoke, the early, desultory chime of blades on the practice ground.

He knew he should have been relieved of duty by now, but he couldn’t make himself leave his post. Terror held him where he was. Nothing moved but the sea, the sun. It was as if all living things in the world had frozen except for him. When the first blood daub circled, he finally unfroze, leapt from his tower, and flew down to discover bunk after bunk of sleeping comrades who would never wake.

A hundred throats opened neat as letters. A hundred red smiles, and on the wall, also in red, a new message:


It was an echo of the emperor’s own infamous words, so long thundered from the heights of the Tower of Conquest and drummed from infancy into every seraph’s consciousness, citizen or soldier: The beasts must die.

He should have deserted, that soldier. He must have known he would hang for his failure; it was unpardonable, even if it was true what he reported, stricken and babbling, when he reached the city, just north along the coast. Thisalene was the Empire’s main slave port, a mere half day’s journey overland from the capital—an hour at most on wing—and was heavily armed and fortified. Soldiers from his own regiment rotated in to patrol the seawalls, and he feared to find them dead, too, and gasped out, “Thank the godstars! You must triple the watches. They’re alive. They’re back and we are all killed!”

The commander was sent for, and by the time he arrived, the soldier’s shock had worn off. The first thing he said was, “I never fell asleep, sir, I swear it.”

“Who says you did? What happened, soldier? You’re covered in blood.”

“You have to believe me. I would never sleep at my post. They’re alive. I would have seen any natural thing—”

“Speak sense. Who’s killed? Who’s alive?”

“We are killed. Sir. I never closed my eyes! It was the Shadows That Live. It had to be. They’re back.”



Karou was good at a lot of things, but driving wasn’t one of them. She wasn’t actually old enough for a license, which struck her now as funny. She didn’t know about Morocco, but in Europe you had to be eighteen, which she wouldn’t be for another month—that is, unless you counted her two lives together. Should’ve asked for credit for that, she thought as she bounced and skidded off-road in the old blue truck she used for getting supplies to the kasbah.

A big bump kicked the truck up onto two tires, where it hung in suspension for a long moment before slamming back down with an impact that bounced Karou at least a foot off the driver’s seat. Oof. “Sorry!” she sang over her shoulder, sweetly, insincerely. Ten was in the back, hidden from view.

Karou aimed for another bump.

“If I didn’t want to be here, you know, I’d have left already,” she’d said to Thiago before setting out, she-wolf in tow, against her protestations. “I don’t need a prison guard.”

“She’s not a guard,” he’d replied. “Karou. Karou.” The intensity of his eyes was as unnerving as ever. “I just can’t stand to watch you go off alone. Humor me? If something were to happen to you, I’d be lost.” Not we would be lost. I would.


It could be worse, of course. Thiago could have come himself, and there had been a tense moment when she’d feared he might. But with the Shadows That Live due back from their mission, he’d chosen to wait at the kasbah.

“Get something for a celebration,” he’d told her. “If you can.”

The hairs on the back of her neck stood up at that. “What are we celebrating?”

In answer, Thiago only pointed up at his gonfalon and smiled. Victory and vengeance.


So, Karou wondered, what does one bring to a celebration of victory and vengeance? Booze? Hard to find in Morocco, and it was just as well. Booze was the last thing she needed to be giving the soldiers.

Well, okay, maybe not the last thing.

When she reached Agdz, with its long, dusty main street that looked more Wild West than Arabian Nights, she avoided the shop on the north end, the one she remembered had rifles in the window. She didn’t want to risk Ten seeing them from her hiding place and asking what they were.

Wouldn’t that make a nice treat for the celebration? No doubt about it.

Looming large in Karou’s mind, always, was the issue of guns. At the thought of them, her hand went to her stomach, where three small, shiny scars remembered the bullets that had torn through her once, in the hold of a ship in St. Petersburg where all around her girls and women had bled from toothless mouths and cried, and run.

Karou hated guns, but she knew what they could mean for the rebellion. A dozen times she’d considered telling Thiago about human killing technology, and a dozen times she’d stopped herself. She had a lot of reasons, starting with her personal feelings and the people she would have to deal with to procure arms—weren’t things bad enough without adding arms dealers to the mix? But she could have dealt with that if it weren’t for the bigger reason, the thing she always came back to.