Thiago’s brow furrowed. “A resurrection? Who?” He cast a glance into the room and saw only Zuzana and Mik. The open door concealed Issa, but Karou shoved it back, and when Thiago saw who was there, his eyes widened, then narrowed. Ten’s, too, before she turned a look of fierce suspicion on Karou.

Before either could speak, Karou said, in a tone of mild reproach, “You never told me Issa’s soul was in there.” She gestured to the pile of thuribles. “Do you know how much faster the resurrections would have been going if I’d had her helping me all along instead of Ten?”

She had the satisfaction of seeing the White Wolf speechless. He opened his mouth to reply and nothing came out. “It isn’t,” he said finally. “It couldn’t be.”

“It is,” said Karou. “As you see.”

There was, of course, no possible way that Issa’s soul could have been in that stash of thuribles, and they both knew it. Those were all soldiers who had been under Thiago’s command and died at the battle of Cape Armasin; Issa would never, could never have been among them. Yet here she was, and Karou watched Thiago’s expression flash from astonishment to confusion to frustration as he tried to come up with a way to account for it.

He settled on disbelief. “Whose soul is it really, and why have you wasted resources on such a body?”

It was Issa herself who answered him. “Such a body?” she asked, looking down at herself. “Since when have Naja been a waste of resources?” It was a fair question; Issa herself was not a warrior, but plenty of her kind were, like Nisk and Lisseth.

Thiago’s reply was curt. “Since we developed the pressing need to fly, and Naja have no wings.”

“And where are your wings?” Issa shot back. She turned to look Ten up and down. “And yours?”

More fair questions. Thiago didn’t answer her. “Who are you?” he demanded.

“I assure you, Thiago, it is as Karou says.” Unsteadily she took possession of her body, raising herself to rear up slowly on her serpent coil, which was banded muscle as thick around as a woman’s hips. Already, the tip of her tail twitched in the way Karou remembered. The marvel of creation struck her as it hadn’t in many weeks; she had gotten so worn down that she’d lost her amazement—for resurrection, for magic, for herself. She had remade Issa. She had done this.

Issa told Thiago, “I am Issa of the Naja, and for eighty-four years I served at Brimstone’s side. In that time how many bodies did he craft for you? The dauntless Wolf. No less than fifteen, surely. And you never once said thank you.” Her beautiful smile made it sound not like a scold, but almost a fond remembrance.

“Thank him? For what? He did his job, and I did mine.”

“Indeed, and you asked no thanks, either. Or adulation.”

There was no sarcasm in Issa’s voice. Her tone was as sweet as her smile, but anyone who knew Thiago at all would understand that she mocked him. Adulation was wine to the White Wolf; more: It was water and air. Whenever he would return to Loramendi from a successful campaign—the very hour of return, the moment—his gonfalon would unfurl from the palace facade. Trumpets would blast and he would stride out to the cheering of the city. Runners would have come before him to make the people ready. They didn’t resent it; for all that the cheers were arranged, they were real, and Thiago had reveled in them.

There was a tightness around his mouth now. “All right then, Issa of the Naja, tell me. How did your soul come to be here?”

Issa didn’t hem and haw, or shoot any furtive glances Karou’s way. She said, with perfect honesty, “My lord general, I do not know. I don’t even know where ‘here’ is.” Only then did she turn to Karou, eyebrows raised in question.

“We’re in the human world,” Karou told her, and Issa’s eyebrows climbed a little higher.

“Well, that’s strange news. I’m sure you have much to tell me.”

And you me, thought Karou. I hope. Now, if she could just get rid of the Wolf. And his spy.

“Where did she come from?” Thiago asked in a tone that cut straight to the lie. “Where did she come from really?”

He stared at Karou, and she didn’t flinch. “I told you,” she said, and pointed to the mountain of thuribles.

“That’s not possible.”

“And yet, here she is.”

He just stared at her, as if he could drill the truth from her with his eyes. Karou stared boldly back. You tell your lies, she thought. I’ll tell mine. “And the best part,” she said, “is that I won’t need Ten’s help anymore. I have Issa now. And I have my friends.” She gestured to Zuzana and Mik, who were watching everything from the deep well of the window.

“Well then, this is a happy day,” Thiago replied, his tone conveying anything but happiness.

Karou had known, of course, that he would be displeased—that she had blocked the door, performed a resurrection of her own choosing, introduced a mystery in the person of Issa, and was clearly lying to his face—but still, the look of malice he turned on her struck her as out of all proportion.

Malice. Glittering, poisonous malevolence.

Okay, now Karou flinched. She hadn’t seen that look in his eyes since… since she was Madrigal, and remember how that had turned out. “It is a happy day,” she said, feeling herself backpedaling. Not that she had forgotten that look, but seeing it again, she remembered the heat of the black rock under her cheek, the parting of the air as the blade fell. Issa reached for her hand, and she gripped it tight, so grateful for her presence. “I really will work much faster now,” she said. “Isn’t that what matters?”

That, and the fact that it was Akiva who brought the thurible, that he was here, right under your nose.

“As you say,” Thiago said, and Karou was sure she did not imagine, as he swept her room with a glance, that his head lifted in just the way it had when he had caught her scent across the court. The flare of his nostrils was subtle but unmistakable, and his eyes were narrowed with suspicion.

He would get nothing but incense here, she told herself. Nothing but the sting of brimstone.

At least, so she very much hoped.

“I’m sure I don’t have to remind you what’s at stake,” he told her, and she shook her head no, but as he turned to go, she wondered what he meant. The fate of their people? The success of the rebellion? She had defied him; she couldn’t help thinking he meant something more personal than that.

What was at stake? She felt balanced on a precipice and buffeted by gales. What wasn’t at stake?

And then, in her doorway, the Wolf shared a look with Ten that was so fraught with scheming—with thwarted schemes—that Karou had a flash of insight that chilled her and sent her mind racing back over the past days and weeks.

The constant watching, the questions, all the hints and omens. “You could be Kirin again,” Ten had told her. “I would resurrect you. You’d just need to show me how.”

The suggestion had been repellant: Put her soul in Ten’s hands? Even if the pit didn’t figure into the plan—and it did—it had felt so wrong. And now Karou understood why.

Ten was meant to replace her. Thiago didn’t want to help Karou. He wanted to not need her.

Karou felt as though she were opening her eyes and seeing the White Wolf clearly for the first time since he’d found her wandering in the ruins of Loramendi.

He still wants to kill me.

Heat was building in her chest and radiating out to her limbs, creeping up her neck as a flush. She wanted to scream. She wanted to get right in his face and scream as loud as she could, but even more than that, she wanted to laugh. Did he really think Ten could do this work? It had taken her years to learn it at Brimstone’s side, and even with his guidance, it was as much gift as practice. She would never forget her pride in the first “Well done” she’d earned, or the surprise and respect in Brimstone’s voice when he had seen, against all his expectation, that she had a sympathy for magic.

Ten could no more conjure a body than Virko could play a concerto on Mik’s violin.

Karou understood Thiago’s game now; it had failed, and he still needed her. So his game would have to change.

To what?



“Stop looking at her boobs.”

“What?” Mik turned to Zuzana, pink spots blooming on his fair cheeks. “I’m not!”

“Well, I am,” Zuzana declared, regarding Issa. “I can’t help myself. They’re perfect. Nice job, Karou, but couldn’t she maybe wear a T-shirt?”

“Seriously?” said Karou. “How many nude models have you drawn?”

“None,” said Mik.

“Well, okay. Maybe you haven’t, but I’m sure you’ve seen your share of boobs.”

“Not really.” His eyes drifted again toward Issa. “And, you know, never on a snake goddess.”

“She’s not a goddess,” Karou said fondly—though she did look like one. She was still marveling: Issa is alive. Issa is here. “She’s a Naja, and they don’t wear clothes.”

“Right,” said Zuzana. “They just wear snakes.”


The first thing Issa had wanted to do, after greeting the chimaera host—which had taken a good part of the morning—was go through the kasbah and summon snakes to her. Karou had followed behind, a little disturbed to realize that the serpents had been there all the time, including one highly venomous Egyptian cobra. Now, back up in her room, they were wreathed around Issa’s waist and neck, and one was twining through her hair. While Karou watched, a coil of its body slipped down over her brow to rest on the bridge of her nose. Laughing, Issa lifted it gently back up.

“They tell you anything interesting?” Karou asked her, switching from Czech to Chimaera. She was remembering Avigeth, and how the coral snake had told Issa how the hunter Bain hid his wishes in his beard. If not for that, Karou may never have made it to Eretz.

Issa’s laugh evaporated. Her face grew serious. “Yes,” she said. “They say it stinks of death since you came here.”

Karou felt chastened, like the snakes were tattling on her. “Yes, well,” she said. “We’ve done what we had to do.” Right away the “we” felt dirty, and she thought of Thiago telling her, “We are in this together.”

They weren’t, though. It was clear now that they were in this very, very separately.

She must have sounded defensive. Issa gave her a curious look. “Sweet girl, I have no doubt of that.” She paused. Even the snakes paused and ceased their twining. Karou knew they were attuned to Issa’s mind and emotions, that their stillness echoed hers, and that the time had come to talk. There had been too much going on earlier, too many chimaera crowding around. There was something about the mystery of Issa’s appearance—she was the only known survivor of Loramendi—that buoyed their spirits.

Zuzana and Mik had a buoying effect, too. At breakfast, Karou had watched with amazement as her friend, who did not even share a language with the chimaera, performed a mocking pantomime of Virko’s violin playing, complete with shrill sound effects and her own Munch’s Scream reaction, that drew roars of laughter from the stern-faced revenants, Virko included. Zuzana had managed to form more of a bond with these soldiers in one meal than she herself had in over a month.

Her shame had kept her from trying. She saw that now; she’d believed she deserved their contempt. Did she still believe it? Not all their contempt, anyway—not the part based on Thiago’s lies.

Ziri had been in the hall at breakfast, too, and though they hadn’t spoken, there had been a powerful connection in their shared look. A secret, and more? Karou had hoped Ziri would be a friend, and it seemed that now he was, and she realized she had Akiva to thank for that, too. The angel had saved Ziri’s life, and he had brought her Issa’s soul.


Issa was before her now, her snakes still but for the flicker of tongues, her own Madonna face quiet but watchful. Waiting. Waiting for Karou’s question?

All morning she’d fought asking it, afraid of what Issa would tell her. Now, though, she had to know. She took a deep breath. “Is he really gone?”

Issa’s lips trembled, and she knew. Karou felt a sharpness behind her eyes.

“He was still alive when he sent us away,” said Issa. “But he did not expect to remain so.”

“Sent you away?” Karou repeated. Of course, Akiva had found the thurible in the Kirin caves. Why had he been there? Home of her first childhood, it was also where they had planned to meet, once upon a time. Where they had planned to build their rebellion. Then the “us” struck her. “Yasri and Twiga, too?”

“He allowed Twiga to remain with him, but Yasri and I were to survive. For you, when you came. As he knew you would.”

“He did?” Karou was tentative. She fought back her tears with deep breaths. “He believed me?” She had told Brimstone that she wasn’t some butterfly to shoo out a window, and she’d meant it.

“Of course. He knew you, child.” A twist of a smile, so bittersweet. “Better than you knew yourself.”

Karou let out a little laugh, and an edge of sob escaped on it. “Well, that’s certainly true,” she said.

Issa’s eyes were wet-bright, but with an effort of will she kept the tears from spilling. Karou reached for her hands and clasped them tightly, and they held on to each other while they told their stories.