She understood his meaning, though, even if he didn’t use the word love. “Well, since she was too afraid to talk to him, she drew him a treasure map. She hid it in his violin case when he was performing—they worked at the same theater, but they’d never spoken—and she left early that night so she wouldn’t see him get it. In case he got all pained-looking or something, you know, and she just couldn’t take it. She’d already decided that if he didn’t follow the map to the treasure, she would just never go to work again and that would be the end of that.”

“What was the treasure?”

“She was.” Karou laughed. “That’s Zuze being shy. She won’t talk to him, but she’ll make herself the object of a treasure hunt. Right in the middle of the map was a drawing of her face.”

Ziri laughed, too. “So obviously he went. He followed it.”

“Mm-hmm. He went to the place and she wasn’t there, but there was another map, which led to another, and finally to her. And they fell in love and they’ve been like this ever since.”

At “like this” she gestured out the open door, to where Zuzana was now gingerly treading along the edge of the trough, holding Mik’s hand.

Ziri had never heard anything like that story of a trail of treasure maps. Except possibly the story of the angel who had come disguised into the cage city of the enemy to dance with his lady.

He liked Zuzana’s story better. “A luck thing,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Karou. She looked at him, and away again. “I think they both have to be lucky. It’s like, luck friction. One’s flint and one’s steel, striking together to make fire.” She hugged her arms tighter around herself. “It’s better when they tell the story themselves. They’re funnier than I am.”

“I’ll ask them,” he said. He was conscious that Thiago’s assembly would be starting, and that he needed to be there. “The way they’re learning Chimaera, it won’t be long before they can tell it.”

She didn’t say anything. The softness of good memories was gone. She looked over her shoulder, furtive, and then up at him, piercing. “Ziri,” she said in a hush, “I have to get them out of here.”

“What? Why?”

“Thiago’s threatened them. As long as they’re here, I have to do exactly what he says. And I really want to stop doing what he says.” She said the last part quietly, burningly, and Ziri had the impression of something shifting in her, a girding up, a gathering of breath and strength.

“Do Zuzana and Mik know?”

“No, and they won’t want to go. They like it here. They like being part of something magical.”

So did Ziri. He’d relished those hours spent in Karou’s room with her and Issa and Mik and Zuzana, even if he had been tithing. They had been lively and filled with laughter and warmth, with resurrection instead of killing. “I’ll help you. We’ll get them to safety.”

“Thank you.” She touched his hand and said again, “Thank you.”

Then Zuzana called something to her in their human language and came spinning through the door.

“Are you coming?” Ziri asked Karou. “Thiago’s assembly will have begun.”

“Not invited,” she said. “I’m not supposed to worry myself over such matters. Will you tell me what he says? What he’s planning?”

“I will,” Ziri promised.

“And I have something to tell you, too.” Again, that girding and gathering, and a keen new resolve. Gone was the trembling girl Thiago had found in the ruins.

“What is it?” Ziri asked, but the small human whirlwind reached them then.

“Later,” Karou said as Zuzana grabbed her hand and pulled her away with a distracted hello over her shoulder to Ziri.

He left his breakfast uneaten and went out the door. What did she want to tell him? He could still feel her touch on his hand.

Once, when he was a boy and she was Madrigal, she had kissed him. She had taken his face in her hands and kissed him lightly on the forehead, and it was ridiculous how many times he had thought of it since. But his moments of happiness were a sad, small lot, and the kiss hadn’t had much competition for best memory. Now it did.

Now he had the memory of Karou’s shoulder warm against his own as they slept side by side, and the memory of waking beside her. What would it be like to wake beside her every morning? To lie down with her every night? And… to fill, with her, the hours between. All the hours of night.

“A luck thing,” she had said.

Supposedly he was lucky. Lucky Ziri. Because he had his natural flesh? It was a claim none of his comrades could make, so he didn’t argue if they wanted to call him lucky, but he’d never felt it, growing up without a people, no life but war, and even less now that the war was over—whatever that meant, as the killing raged on.

Then he thought of the screams of the dying, the smoke of the corpses, and he was ashamed to question his own luck. He was alive; that was not nothing, and it couldn’t be like this forever.

Everyone was already in the court when he got there—except Ten, who came slinking in a moment after Ziri and sidled up to the Wolf to whisper in his ear. Thiago paused to listen, and then his glance slid, cool, to lock on Ziri. It made Ziri’s flesh crawl, and then the Wolf spoke.

“As you all know, we lost a team in our strikes the other night, our first casualties, but their safety did his duty and returned with all their souls. Ziri.” Thiago nodded to him. There were cheers in the assembly, and someone reached out a heavy hand to jostle Ziri’s shoulder. But Ziri didn’t for a moment believe this speech was headed anywhere good, and he braced himself, and was unsurprised by the rest.

“But you need a new team now. If Razor will have you?” Thiago turned to Razor.

No, thought Ziri, his jaw clenching. Anyone else.

“Your wish, my general,” came Razor’s hiss of a voice. “But I can’t promise he’ll play hide-in-safety on my team, or keep that pretty skin of his.”

“Hide-in-safety” was a slur used in stupid bravado by soldiers who couldn’t see the value of preserving the souls of the fallen. Ziri tensed at the implication that he would ever choose to hide, but then he thought of what they would certainly be doing, and there was no conviction in his outrage. He would rather hide. Better yet, he would rather prevent the slaughter from happening at all.

But of course, that wasn’t going to be an option. Ziri had been a soldier now more years than he hadn’t. He’d never loved the life, but he was good at it, and never, at least, while the Warlord was alive, had he abhorred it. He did now.

“There’s a string of towns on the Tane River, east of Balezir,” said Thiago. He smiled with the sick exaltation that Ziri knew heralded grievous harm, and said, “I want the angels to wake in Balezir tomorrow and wonder why the Tane runs red.”



Karou was bent over a necklace when Ten came to her doorway, but in truth, her thoughts were far away, in Loramendi. She could still barely get her mind around what Issa had told her. Both good and bad indeed. But good and bad were words for a child’s primer, and did not come close to representing the magnitude of tragedy on the one hand, and on the other… hope.

Head-clearing, shoulder-lifting, this-changes-everything hope. At least, it could change everything.

Or Thiago could crush it and carry on his campaign of terror until chimaera truly were beyond all reach of hope. It was up to Karou to persuade them. No big deal, she thought, staring at the teeth in her hand and staving off the wild laugh that wanted to burst from her. They love me here. I think I’ll call a meeting.

In the doorway, Ten cleared her throat.

Karou gave her a flat, sideward glance. “What do you want?”

“Hostile,” said Ten, entering uninvited. “I just came with a message.” She was so casual. Karou assumed the message was from Thiago, but she should have known something was amiss from the amusement in Ten’s voice. “He was sorry he couldn’t say good-bye to you himself.”

“Good-bye?” That was rich. “Where’s he going?” The days of Thiago leading missions were long over. He was as much a fixture of the kasbah as Karou was. More, because theoretically she could fly away any time she wanted to.

“To the Tane,” said the she-wolf.

The Tane was a river in the east of Azenov, the landmass that made up the heart of the Empire’s lands. Karou looked up sharply, but it was Issa who asked, with undisguised contempt, “Whose message is this, she-wolf?”

“It’s from your friend,” said Ten; she said it like it was an illicit word, a piquant naughtiness to speak behind one’s hand. “Why, whom did you think I meant?”

Karou went to the window, and there he was in the court with his new team. With Razor. Even as she watched, they gathered the air beneath them and took flight. This time, Ziri did look to her window, and across the distance she saw his face was rigid with anger, and his eyes, as he lifted his hand in farewell, were full of regret.

Her heart was pounding. It was because he’d helped her yesterday, or maybe because of this morning. Whatever the particulars, she hadn’t been careful enough.

“Where’s Ziri going?” asked Zuzana, leaning past her to watch the team’s departure.

“On a mission,” Karou heard herself say.

“With Razor?” Zuzana made a choking sound of disgust, which, being comical, missed the mark by a thousand miles. She had no idea. “What’s in that gross sack of his, anyway?”

I guess Ziri is going to find out, Karou thought, feeling sick. Razor was her fault. She had put that slick, wrong-feeling soul into that powerful body and awakened him. And now Ziri was at his mercy—to say nothing of all the seraphim who had fallen and would fall victim to him.

She had heard… that he ate them.

She didn’t want to believe it, but you had only to stand downwind of him to catch the abattoir reek of his mouth—rotting flesh in shreds caught between razor teeth. As for his sack of stains, she didn’t want to know. Ever. She just wanted it to end, but there he went, to make mayhem on the Tane.

“Seven’s one too many for a team, isn’t it,” remarked Ten. “Six is a nicer number.”

A nicer number? Karou understood, and whirled on her. “What? Say what you mean. That only six will return?”

“Anything could happen,” replied Ten with a shrug. “We always know that when we go into battle.”

Karou’s chest was rising and falling with her quickened breath. “You always know that, do you?” she spat back. “When was the last time you went into battle? You or your master?” Her hand flashed out; she snatched a knife off the table. It was the little one, barely bigger than a nail file; she used it for a hundred things, like slicing the incense cakes and prying teeth loose from jawbones, and pricking her fingertips for the small bursts of pain she sometimes needed at the end of a conjuring. “Come here, Ten,” she said, gripping it. “How about a little resurrection? No need to march all the way to the pit. I’ll just throw your body out the window.”

Ten laughed. At the little knife, and at her. It sounded like barking. “Really, Karou. Is that how you want to play?” She flung a hand in the direction of Zuzana and Mik. “And which of them dies first? The Wolf will probably let you choose.”

“Well, you’ll already be dead, so I guess you’ll miss it.”

Issa grabbed Karou’s arm and took the knife. “Sweet girl, stop this!”

Shaking with fury, Karou snarled, “Get out!” Still laughing, Ten did.

Karou turned to Mik and Zuzana, who were flat against the wall, holding hands, and wearing identical Um, what? expressions. She brushed past them, back to the window, and looked into the deep, empty sky. Ziri was gone, and down in the court, earthbound and easy to pick out from the milling troops of the small but ever-growing army, was Thiago. Looking up at her.

Karou slammed the shutters.

“What?” asked Zuzana, starting to flutter and hop. “What what what?”

Karou exhaled a long, shaky breath. Ziri was a soldier, and a Kirin, she told herself. He could take care of himself. At least, that was the surface of her thoughts. Underneath, in the sucking currents of her wild, fist-beating powerlessness, she knew… she knew that she would probably never see him again. “Tonight,” she said. “I’m getting you out of here.”

Zuzana started to argue.

Karou cut her off. “This is not a good place for you,” she said in a rasping whisper, as emphatic as she could make it. “Have you wondered how I died?”

“How you—? Uh. Battle? I assumed.”

“Wrong. I fell in love with Akiva, and Thiago had me beheaded.” Plain and brutal. Zuzana gasped. “So now you know,” said Karou. “Will you please let me get you to safety?”

“But what about you?”

“I have to take care of this. It has to be me. Zuze. Please.”

In as small a voice as Karou had ever heard her use, Zuzana said, “Okay.”

Mik asked, “Um… how?”

It was a good question. Karou was watched, that much was clear, and not just by Ten. She didn’t have Ziri to rely on now, and she couldn’t risk resurrecting Balieros’s patrol—it would be too transparent. There was no one else she could be sure of, but she did have one idea that didn’t involve any other chimaera.

She took another deep, uneven breath and considered Zuzana and Mik. They were emphatically not soldiers, and it wasn’t merely that they were human, but that they were supremely… first world, utterly unaccustomed to hardship of any kind. The hike here had almost done them in, and Zuzana had only been sort of joking when she said that losing at cakewalk was the worst day of her life. Could they handle the tithe? They would just have to.