When it had all started to go mad—the citadel coming alive— Thyon had considered, with admirable calm, that he might die. The whole city could topple. It had felt likely for a few minutes there. Or else the citadel might outright step on him. An image had popped into his mind of an elaborately carved headstone engraved with the words stepped on by an angel in the prime of his life. A hysterical laugh had escaped from his throat, drawing a glare from Calixte, who couldn’t imagine what was funny.
He hadn’t tried to explain.
Back in Zosma, months ago, he’d boasted to Strange, “Stories will be told about me.” It gave him chills of shame to remember his pompous airs, and he couldn’t help thinking that being stepped on by an angel made a fitting ending to that story. But he was glad he wasn’t dead.
And he was glad that Ruza and Tzara weren’t, either, and no one else, that he could see—if you didn’t count all those apparitions who had melted into the air. What had they been? Illusions? If so, how had their weapons rung out like that, clashing against the Tizerkane spears?
The sound alone had left him trembling, even up here. Ruza and Tzara had been in the thick of it, fighting that mystifying army, and Thyon had flinched with every blow that shuddered through his friend.
Friends, plural, he corrected himself. He hadn’t just watched Ruza, of course. As he bargained under his breath with imaginary deities, he’d made an excellent offer for Tzara’s safety, too. He wondered if he would have to pay up, now that the fighting was over and his friends were alive. Or maybe the debt would fall to Calixte. She had threatened rather than bargained, much louder than he, and with far more profanity.
“Isn’t that Lazlo’s girl?” she asked now. Since the mystical army had mystically vanished, they had a clear view of what and who the citadel had dropped here—and what and who had been the target of all the spears and arrows. It was rather egregious overkill, if you asked Thyon.
—Eril-Fane and Azareen, both looking weak in blood-smeared armor
—A thin little creature of a girl who wasn’t blue but gray
—Two young women and a young man, of whom two were blue, and one apparently human, with an arrow sticking out of her shoulder
—Strange’s girl, maybe. Thyon hadn’t gotten a good look at her the other day, but she’d had this same whip of red-brown hair.
“I thought she was dead,” he said.
“Maybe she is,” said Calixte. “This is Weep. You can’t expect things to make sense here.”
Thyon didn’t agree. “I expect they make perfect sense,” he said. “Just under a different set of rules.” It was a matter of learning the rules, like learning a new language. He felt doubly in the dark then, locked out of both rules and language, as a heated discussion broke out below, the little gray girl’s high voice vying with Eril-Fane’s deep one.
He wondered at her being gray. Having already deduced that the skin coloration was a reaction to touching mesarthium, and having seen Strange undergo the process, he supposed that she was midtransformation, either becoming blue, or the opposite. Which? Since she wasn’t touching mesarthium, he thought it must be the latter.
When he heard her say “mesarthium,” unmistakable in the flow of other words, he asked Calixte if she could understand what they were talking about.
She scrunched up her nose. “She’s talking really fast,” she said, and he gave her a half-lidded look.
“And this is your marvelous fluency.”
“Shut up, Nero. It’s harder to understand someone else’s conversation than when somebody’s speaking right to you. But I think she’s asking. .. well, demanding, she’s really bossy...that he let her have a silk sleigh?”
Thyon’s eyebrows went up. He hadn’t been expecting that. The citadel was gone, which was less mysterious than it would have been had he not already concluded that there was a portal in the sky above Weep. But why had it gone, and why had it left these refugees behind, and where in merry hell, to use Calixte’s words, was Strange? This morning he’d brought his guests up to the citadel astride marvelous metal beasts. Why, then, had they been dumped unceremoniously and the worse for wear?
Something was really wrong, he thought. “Let’s go closer,” he said, and they did.
. . .
Sarai looked on, speechless at the sight of Minya talking to Eril-Fane. All right, talking at him, and very rudely, but it was a far cry from trying to kill him. And if she was rude, he was all courtesy, listening without interruption, intent and responsive, immediately sending a Tizerkane running to the guildhall to fetch Soulzeren and Ozwin.
And he would have led them to the silk sleighs, and let them take one up into the sky, and maybe Soulzeren would have agreed to pilot it and maybe she wouldn’t, and maybe they would have found the portal up there in the fast-falling dark, and flown into the other world, and found the citadel and pulled up beside it and moored there so that Minya could lay her palms to the metal and turn blue again and not lose hold of Sarai. And then, while they were there, they could have rescued Lazlo and won back their home and lived happily ever after, just like in a storybook.
But it wasn’t going to happen.
There wasn’t time. Sarai knew it. The cold was in her. She could already feel herself leeching away.
Eril-Fane tried to lead them out of the amphitheater, and Minya was ready to follow, but Sarai shook her head. “Minya,” she said, and Minya looked at her and knew.
Sarai was softening around the edges, her outline blurring the way Wraith’s did right before it vanished. Minya saw and knew, but she refused to accept it. She put her own hands behind her back so she wouldn’t have to see their color.
Everyone else could see her, though. She already looked human, if a little ill perhaps, a lingering ashy cast to her newly brown skin.
“We have to get to the citadel!” she insisted. “I just have to touch it. We just have to get alongside it and touch it.”
Sarai knelt in front of her. “It means so much that you still want to save me,” she said, her eyes filling up with tears.
Minya’s eyes filled, too. She swiped at them with an angry hand, then wished she hadn’t, because she couldn’t help but see how human it looked. It couldn’t be her hand. Her hands were blue. She was blue. She was godspawn, not some useless human whelp who couldn’t keep her people safe.
Minya now held but a single tether—Sarai’s delicate starlight gossamer. Once upon a time, she’d held Sarai’s little toddler hand in a crushing grip. She’d saved her then, but there was no way to grip the gossamer tight enough to keep it. It was dissolving.
“We just need to go,” she said, still in denial.
“We’re out of time,” Sarai whispered. The world seemed to swoop around her, as though she were a top at the end of her spin, wobbling toward collapse. She swallowed hard and tried to find her center of gravity, her strength. She looked around at all the people she loved— all of them right here, except Lazlo. “I love you,” she told them.
Minya felt the tether melting away. In a panic, she reached out to grasp Sarai’s hand. But she couldn’t. It was only a shadow in the air.
. . .
The girl was transparent. It was the same thing that had happened to the army, and Thyon didn’t think she was an illusion. Everyone was so distraught it was as though she were dying.
“I thought she was dead,” he’d said to Calixte.
“Maybe she is. This is Weep,” she’d replied, and he’d mused that he just didn’t understand the rules. So what were they? What was she? What was happening? The little girl wasn’t even gray now. The more human she looked, the more the other girl vanished.
They’d wanted to fly to the citadel. The little girl had distinctly said “mesarthium.”
It was the source of their power, and Thyon knew well enough that there was no spare mesarthium in Weep, not even shavings or ingots. In the course of his own work, he’d had to walk to the anchor to test each batch of alkahest.
And the anchors were gone.
Understanding, like an electric shock, seared through his whole body, and he was in motion, stumbling forward, his hands numb with a flood of adrenaline, so that he could hardly feel his fingers as he groped in his pocket for the thing he had put there and all but forgotten. He grasped it, and tried to pull it out. It snagged on the edge of his pocket and he was tugging away like an idiot—like a raccoon that won’t just open its fist—and he took a deep breath and tried again, pushing the thing down to unsnag it first. And then he had it and he was holding it out. The little girl flinched as though it were a knife.
Strange had flinched the exact same way when Thyon showed it to him. Quickly, he shifted his grip, so that instead of wielding it, knifelike, it lay across his palms like an offering.
“Will this help?” he asked, breathless. “Is it...is it enough?”
It was the shard of mesarthium he’d cut from the north anchor using donated “spirit of librarian.” It was sharp and uneven and inelegant, and it had Lazlo’s fingerprints in it.
Yes. It was enough.
Peace and Pastries
Not long ago, Suheyla had prepared a welcome meal for a young faranji who was to be a guest in her home. It had been such a pleasure to have a young person to cook for again, and Lazlo had deepened every delight with his astonished appreciation of the bounty she set before him. Anyone coming out of the Elmuthaleth would be sick to death of journey food, but it was more than that: He was an orphan, and had never been cared for properly, or eaten food made specially for him. For the short time he’d been in her home, Suheyla had relished making up at least a small part of that lack.
Now she found herself with five orphans to feed—five orphans kept alive for years on “purgatory soup” and kimril loaf with carefully rationed salt—and she was in her element.
So, indeed, were they.
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