She’d agreed to leave the kasbah, and here she was. Fine. She hadn’t said she would leave the country. She just couldn’t get over the feeling that if they went any farther away, the whole magical spell of the past week would evaporate and leave her with nothing but a crazy story to tell her grandkids about how, for a week, in a giant sandcastle at the edge of the Sahara desert, she had been a resurrectionist’s apprentice and built great winged soldiers for an otherworldly war.

And they’d make loopy crazy gestures behind her back because hell, it did sound completely insane.

And then? She’d have no choice but to blink invisible—because oh my god, she could do that now—and swat their ruffian hides with rolled-up newspaper as they ran screaming from her cabbagey old-lady kitchen.

“I’m going to be the scariest grandma in the world,” she muttered, grouchy and kind of looking forward to it.


“Nothing.” She flipped over and buried her face in her pillow. She screamed into it, got a mouthful of musty hotel pillow, and instantly wanted to bathe her tongue in running water. Of course the pillowcase had been washed since the last occupant, she told herself. Of course. That was why it tasted like stale stranger head.

Mik’s hand was on her back, making slow circles. She turned her face to him.

“I’m finger-painting with your sweat,” he informed her. “That was a heart.”

“A sweat heart. How romantic.”

“Oh, you want romantic? Okay. What does this spell?”

She felt his fingertip slide over her skin, and spoke each letter as it formed. “Z-U-Z-A-N-A. Zuzana. W-I-L-L. Will. Y-O-U.” She paused. “You.” She lay very still, listening with her skin for the next letter. “M.” Her voice dropped. She watched Mik’s face. He was smiling to himself, mischievous, his eyes on his work. Strawberry stubble covered his jaw. A beam of sunshine slipped through a broken slat in the shutter and glanced across his eyelashes; they looked dusted with light.

“A.” Zuzana said. Oh god. Zuzana will you M-A—

Her heart pounded. Could he feel it through her back? When they’d talked about marriage back in Prague she’d been dismissive. Well. She’d been embarrassed to have been caught thinking about it; that wasn’t who she was, some flit girl who dreamed of wedding gowns, and she was just way too young.

R, she felt. “R,” she whispered.

Mik’s hand fell still. “Wrong,” he said. “That was a K.”

“K? That’s not how you spell—” She cut herself off.

“How you spell what?” Mik’s voice was teasing. “I was writing Zuzana will you make me a sandwich? What did you think?”

She jerked her shirt down over her back. “Nothing,” she said, rolling off the bed.

Mik caught her around the waist and dragged her back. “You didn’t think—? Oh. How embarrassing for you.”

Her face was hot. He’d done it again. Jesus. Apparently she was a flit girl who dreamed of wedding gowns. “Let me go,” she said.

But he didn’t. He held her. “I can’t ask you that yet,” he whispered in her ear. “I still have two tasks left.”

“Very funny.”

“I’m not joking.” He sounded serious, and when she looked up at him, at his sweet, earnest face, he looked serious. “Were you?” he asked.

Well, yes, she had been joking about the three tasks. Seriously. She wasn’t a fairy-tale princess. Only, she kind of felt like one right now, and it wasn’t the worst feeling she’d ever had. “No,” she said; she stopped trying to get away. “I wasn’t joking, and here’s your second task. Get the air-conditioning back on, so you can cure my ennui.”



Karou was in her room. It was night. Again. A day had passed since the pit. Somehow.

The door was closed, but Mik’s planks were gone. They had taken them, and the shutter bolts, too, and her safety, which, it was now clear, had never been more than an illusion.

She pictured the moon’s racing swerve around the world, and the world’s hurtling course around the sun, and the glitter of the stars in their arcs—but… no. That was illusion, too, just as the rising and setting of the sun was a trick. It was the world that moved, not the stars, not the sun. The sky moved, panning across that vastness as it rolled through space, hurtling end over end, and that hurtling was what kept her pinned here. One of billions.

It doesn’t matter what happens to me, she told herself. I am one of billions. I am stardust gathered fleetingly into form. I will be ungathered. The stardust will go on to be other things someday and I will be free. As Brimstone is free.

Stardust. This was science, she had heard it and read it—all matter came from the explosions of stars—but it sounded like the humans’ own version of Eretz myths. A little drier, maybe: no ra**st sun, no weeping moon. No stabbing moon. That was the Kirin story: The sun had tried to take Ellai by force and she had stabbed him as Karou had stabbed Thiago. Nitid had wept, and her tears became chimaera. Children of regret.

Karou wondered: Had Ellai wept? Had she bathed in the sea and tried to feel clean again? That could have been part of the story: Her tears gave the seas their salt, and everything in the world was born of violence, betrayal, and grief.

Karou had bathed in the river. Her tears wouldn’t make it to the sea; they would water date palms in some oasis; they would become fruit and be eaten, and perhaps be wept again through other eyes.

That’s not how it works.

Yes, it is. Nothing is ever lost. Not even tears.

What about hope?

She was as clean as it was possible to be without hot water and soap. She had submerged herself in the rushing water until her arms and legs were numb, her bruised, torn skin scrubbed free of blood—her own blood and… not only her own blood. Not even mostly.

And not only Thiago’s, either.

She heard a sound and it was near and it was wings.

She jolted her mind from the memory like it was a face she could slap.

Think of something else.

Her pain. That would serve. Which pain, though? There were so many, and she had become too much a connoisseur of pain to let them blend into one haze. Each scrape, each contusion was its own entity, like stars in a constellation. A constellation called what? The Victim?

She looked like a victim. Raw. Brutalized. The right side of her face had been dragged over the scree. Her lip was split, her cheek purple, scraped and scabbing. Open blisters on her palms wept from the handle of the shovel. The shovel. Don’t think. Her earlobe. That was the pain she decided to focus on; she could do something about that. It was torn and swollen where the Wolf had bitten her; she might have mended it the way she had mended Ziri’s hands and cut smile, but she didn’t think she would be able to maintain the focus she would need, and anyway, she couldn’t bear the thought of the vises. Her whole body was ache and sting and scream.

“You make beautiful bruises,” Thiago had told her once. You don’t, she thought, looking at the ugly mottling that covered her arms, the splayed finger marks that told what he had done to her.

Tried to do, she reminded herself.

Had Ellai stabbed the sun in time, she wondered, or had the sun had his way? The story was unclear. Karou decided to believe that Ellai had protected herself, as she had. She held a curved upholstery needle over a candle flame to sterilize it. A hand mirror was propped on the table in front of her, and when she looked at it she zeroed in on her ear, avoiding any focus on her face. She didn’t want to see her face.

All those years of martial arts training, she thought as the needle began to glow. You’d think fighting could look like it does in movies: plenty of space to deliver elegant choreography, land clean kicks, and glare cool glares. Ha. There had been no space, only grappling and panic, and Thiago’s strength had counted for a hell of a lot more than her repertoire of fancy kicks.

Of course, she had killed him. She might look like a victim, but she wasn’t. She had stopped him.

If only that could have been the end of it.

A sound and it was near and it was wings.

It echoed in her head, the wingbeats, and the thud, the thumping sound dirt made when it was flung from the shovel. And the flies. How did flies find the dead so fast?

She felt like she was still at the edge of the pit, that fetid darkness threatening to drag her down. She jammed the needle through her earlobe, hard. It served to thrust the memory away again, but she knew the memory was like the flies—she might shoo it away, but nothing could keep it from coming back—and the piercing hurt. Her small sharp gasp was enough to wake Issa.

Issa. There was the night’s one blessing. She still had Issa.

“Sweet girl, what are you doing?” The serpent-woman uncoiled from her place in front of the door and gave a little hiss of exasperation when she saw the needle stuck through Karou’s earlobe like a fishhook. “Let me do that.”

Karou let her take the needle. What if she didn’t have Issa? If, after everything else, they had taken Issa from her, too? “I couldn’t sleep,” she whispered.

“No?” Issa’s voice was soft, and so were her hands. She eased the needle through Karou’s flesh and pulled the first stitch taut. “My poor child, it’s little wonder. I wish I had some dream tea to give you.”

“Or requiem tea,” said Karou.

Issa’s voice was not soft when she said, “Don’t say such things! You are alive. As long as you are alive, and he is…” She tapered off. He who? Whatever she was going to say, she rethought it. “As long as you are alive, there is still hope.” She took a breath, steadied her hand, and asked, “Ready?” before she put needle again to flesh.

Karou winced. She waited until the needle was through. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Was it…? Is that how you and Yasri…?”

“Yes,” said Issa. “It was peaceful, child, don’t be sad.” She sighed. “I wish she were here, though. She would know what to give you. She had a dozen tricks for helping Brimstone sleep.”

“We’ll get her,” Karou said, wondering when, wondering how, and wondering what the place looked like today. Thiago had put the temple to the torch and the requiem grove, too. It had been eighteen years; had the trees grown back? The grove had been ancient. She remembered arriving in the moonlight to the sight of the treetops, the glint of the temple roof showing through, and how her heart would race knowing Akiva was waiting for her below. Akiva, waiting to gather her out of the air. Akiva lying beside her, tracing her eyelids with his fingertip, his touch as soft as hummingbird-moths, as soft as the drift of requiem blossoms falling in the darkness.

She closed her eyes and clasped her arms, one hand over each forearm, and felt the tenderness of her bruises. Thiago, her ally; Akiva, her enemy. How twisted it was. What makes an enemy?

No. She couldn’t forget. She dug her fingers into her bruises to shake herself out of her memories. Ink lines inscribed on killing hands make an enemy. Ash palisades where cities once stood make an enemy.

Issa tied off another stitch and cut the thread. Karou thanked her and wondered What now?

The sun would rise; she couldn’t stay in her room forever. She would have to face the chimaera. She couldn’t wait for her bruises to fade. Would they even notice? They took her bruises for granted. How much did they know of what had happened at the pit?

Not all of it, that was certain, and—dear gods and stardust—they had better never find out.

A sound and it was near and it was—


A choked whisper. Karou blinked.

“Who’s there?” Issa’s voice was sharp, and Karou knew she hadn’t imagined the whisper. It came from the window, and this time it was not Bast.


The voice was disembodied, the word pulled long, and it was too low a whisper to ring with the richness of his voice, but Karou knew who it was. Her body flashed hot and cold. Why? Why would he come back here? She stood up fast and her chair smashed backward.

Issa stared at her. “Who is it, child?”

But Karou didn’t have time to answer. The bolts were gone from the shutters. The window came open. Issa startled, the heavy muscle of her serpent’s coil rippling in the candlelight, and Karou shrank from the intrusion—and from the heat—as Akiva simultaneously appeared, in the soft glimmer of a vanishing glamour, and crashed to the floor.



He wasn’t alone. Karou felt the presence of others even before the glamours fell away and revealed them. The two from the Charles Bridge. She knew them at once, though they looked so different now. The sister—Liraz—whose beautiful face had been so sharp and dangerous; it was transfigured by misery. She was gasping, and her eyes were red pits of grief—though nowhere near as red as Akiva’s, which looked as they had that long-ago day when Madrigal had worn a hijacked body to free him from his cell in Loramendi. The whites had gone bloodred from burst capillaries. What had done that? He looked waxen, ravaged by exhaustion.

But neither of them was so altered as their brother. Who was… dead.

They cradled his body between them, and neither seemed up to the task. As they lowered him to the floor, he slipped and landed heavily. A moan came from Liraz, who dropped to her knees and picked up his head with such gentleness.

Hazael, Karou remembered. His name was Hazael. His eyes were open and staring, his skin livid, neck and limbs already rigid. His wings had burnt out; his flame feathers were nothing but bare quills now, the barbs all turned to ash and fallen away. He had been dead for some time.