“Minya, please,” she said. “There’s been so much pain. This is a chance for a new beginning. We aren’t our parents. We don’t have to be monsters.” Her plea came out in a whisper. “Don’t make us monsters.”
Minya cocked her head. “Us, monsters? And you defend the father who tried to kill you in your cradle. The great Godslayer, butcher of babies. If that’s what it means to be a hero, Sarai—” She bared her little milk teeth and snarled, “I’d rather be a monster.”
Sarai shook her head. “I’m not defending him. This isn’t about him. It’s about us, and who we choose to be.”
“You don’t get to choose,” snapped Minya. “You’re dead. And I choose monster!”
Sarai’s hope failed her then. It hadn’t been strong to begin with. She knew Minya too well. Now that Sarai was a ghost, Minya could make her do what she had long refused to: kill her father, the God-slayer, Eril-Fane. And what then? Where would Minya’s vengeance lead them? How exactly would she pay back the Carnage? How many had to die to satisfy her?
Sarai turned to Lazlo. “Listen to me,” she told him quickly, afraid Minya would stop her voice. “You can’t do what she says. You don’t know what she’s like.” After all, it depended on him. Minya might choose monster, but without Lazlo’s power, she was no more a threat than she had ever been, trapped in the citadel, unable to reach her enemies. “You can stop her,” she whispered.
Lazlo heard her, but her words were like symbols waiting to be deciphered. There was too much to take in. She’d died. He’d held her broken body. It was lying right over there. In everything he ever knew of the world, that would have been the end. But she was here, too, standing right here. She was there and here, and though he knew it was her ghost he held, he couldn’t quite believe it. She felt so real. He smoothed his palm down her back. Fabric slipped just like silk over skin, and her flesh gave under his fingers, soft and supple and warm. “Sarai,” he said. “I have you now. I won’t let her let your soul go. I promise.”
“Don’t promise that! You mustn’t help her, Lazlo. Not for me, not for anything. Promise that.”
He blinked. Her words got through but he couldn’t accept them. Sarai was the goddess he’d met in his dreams and fallen with into the stars. He’d bought her the moon, and kissed her blue throat, and held her while she wept. She’d saved his life. She’d saved his life, and he had failed to save hers. It was unthinkable that he should fail her again. “What are you saying?” he asked, hoarse.
Sarai heard his anguish. His voice was extraordinary. It was so rough, and suffused with emotion. It affected her like texture, like the sweet stroke of a callused palm, and she wanted to lean into it and let it stroke her forever. Instead, she forced out bitter words. The terror of her unraveling still pulsed in her, but she meant it absolutely when she said, “I would sooner evanesce than be the ruin of you and the death of Weep.”
Ruin. Death. Those words were all wrong. Lazlo shook his head but he couldn’t shake them free. He had saved Weep. He could never harm it. But neither could he lose Sarai. Was that really the choice before him? “You can’t ask me not to save you.”
Minya chose to speak up then. “Really, Sarai, what do you think?” Her tone suggested sympathy for Lazlo’s plight—as though it were Sarai putting him in this impossible position, and not herself. “That he could just let you fade away, and have that on his conscience?”
“Don’t talk about his conscience,” cried Sarai, “when you would tear it in half without a second thought!”
Minya shrugged. “Two halves still make a whole.”
“No, they don’t,” Sarai said bitterly. “I should know.” Minya had made her what she was—the Muse of Nightmares—but years of immersion in human dreams had changed her. Hate used to be like armor, but she’d lost it, and without it, she’d found herself defenseless against the suffering of Weep. Her conscience had torn in half, and the rip was a wound. Two halves did not make a whole. They made two bloody, sundered halves: the part that was loyal to her godspawn family, and the part that understood the humans were victims, too.
“Poor you,” said Minya. “Is it my fault you all have such frail consciences?”
“It isn’t frail to choose peace over war.”
“It’s frail to run away,” snarled Minya. “And I won’t!”
“It’s not running away. It’s being free to leave—”
“We’re not free!” barked Minya, cutting her off. “How can we be free if justice isn’t done?” Her rage kindled. It was always there, always smoldering, and it didn’t take much to set it ablaze. The thought of the murderers going unpunished, of the Godslayer walking untroubled in the sun-washed streets of Weep, it lit a hellfire in her hearts, and she couldn’t fathom—would never fathom—why it failed to light one in Sarai’s. What was missing in her that the Carnage meant nothing? She said, seething, “You’re right about one thing, though. Everything has changed. We don’t have to wait for them to come to us now.” With a calculating look at the winged beast, Rasalas, she said, “We can go down to the city anytime we like.”
Down to the city.
Minya, in Weep.
Lazlo and Sarai were standing close together. His hand was warm on the small of her back, and she felt the jolt that went through him. It went through her, too, at the idea of Minya in Weep. She saw how it would be: a ragged little girl with beetle shell eyes, trailing an army of ghosts. She would set them on their own kith and kin, and every life they ended would be one more soldier for her army. Who could fight such a force? The Tizerkane were strong but few, and ghosts could not be hurt or killed.
“No,” choked Sarai. “Lazlo won’t take you there.”
“He will if he loves you.”
The word, which had been so sweet on Sarai’s lips just moments ago, was obscene on Minya’s. “Won’t you,” the little girl said, turning her dark eyes on Lazlo.
How could he answer? Either choice was unthinkable. When he shook his head, he didn’t mean it as a response. He was unmoored, spinning. He only shook his head to clear it, but Minya took it for an answer, and her eyes cut narrow.
She didn’t know where this stranger had come from, or how he was godspawn like them, but she knew one thing for certain: She had won. He had Skathis’s gift and she’d beaten him anyway. Didn’t they understand that? She had them, and yet they stood there arguing as though this were a discussion.
It was not a discussion.
Whenever Minya won at quell—and Minya always won at quell—she upended the game board and sent the pieces flying, so the loser had to crawl around on hands and knees and gather them up. It was important that losers understood what they were; sometimes you had to drive the point home. How, though?
Nothing easier. The stranger held Sarai as though she were his. She wasn’t his. He couldn’t hold her if Minya chose to take her.
And Minya did.
She snatched her away. Oh, she didn’t move a muscle. She simply compelled Sarai’s substance to obey. She could have made it seem as though Sarai were moving of her own accord, but where was the lesson in that? Instead, she seized her by her wrists, her hair, her being. And pulled.
War with the Impossible
Lazlo felt as though he were clinging to the edge of reason by his fingertips, and that the spinning world might at any moment shake him off and hurl him, as the blast had hurled him last night. That was surely part of it: He’d hit his head on the cobblestones. It throbbed. Dizziness came and went, and his ears still rang. They’d bled. The blood was dried on his neck, caked with the dust of the explosion, but that was the least of the blood on him. His arms and hands, his chest, they were dark with Sarai’s blood, and the reality of it—what was more real than blood?—stirred a war in him between grief and disbelief.
How could he make sense of all that had happened? In the most beautiful dream of his life, he’d shared his hearts with Sarai, kissed her, flown with her, and tipped over the edge of innocence with her into something hot and sweet and perfect, only to have her ripped from him with sudden waking—
—to find the alchemist Thyon Nero at his window, cold with accusations that had led Lazlo to the extraordinary discovery of who and what he was: no war orphan of Zosma, but the half-human son of a god, blessed with the power that had been Weep’s curse, just in time to save it.
But not Sarai.
He had saved everyone but her. He still couldn’t draw a full breath. He would be haunted forever by the sight of her body arched backward over the gate it had landed on, blood dripping from the ends of her long hair.
But the chain of wonders and horrors hadn’t ended with her death. This was not the world as Lazlo had known it, outside his books of fairy tales. This was a place where moths were magic and gods were real, and angels had burned demons on a pyre the size of a moon. Here, death was not the end. Sarai’s soul was safe and bound—oh wonder—but a grubby little girl dangled her fate like a toy on a string, plunging them both back into horror.
And now Minya snatched her away, and the bottom fell out of Lazlo’s despair, proving it an abyss, its depths unknown. He tried to hold her, but the tighter he gripped, the more she melted away. It was like trying to hold on to the reflection of the moon.
There was a word from a myth: sathaz. It was the desire to possess that which can never be yours. It meant senseless, hopeless yearning, the way a gutter child might dream of being king, and it came from the tale of the man who loved the moon. Lazlo used to like that story, but now he hated it. It was about making peace with the impossible, and he couldn’t do that anymore. As Sarai melted right out of his arms, he knew: He could only make war with it.
War with the impossible. War with the monstrous child before him. Nothing less than war.