The barb struck but didn’t hurt. Thyon didn’t care what Calixte thought of him. “You say that as though I was an option.”
He meant, of course, that he—son of a duke, godson to a queen, and the most celebrated alchemist of the age—was above befriending a circus waif sprung from prison out of pity, but she turned his words against him. “No. You don’t have friends. I noticed that straightaway. It would have been wasted effort. Still, I’ve been known to exert valiant efforts when someone’s worth it.”
He gave her a wan smile. “If I’m not worth your efforts, why are you bothering me now?”
It was a fair question. She skewed her mouth to one side. “Because I have no one else to bother?”
“What about your girlfriend? Has she tired of you already?” Thyon might not have involved himself in the lives of the others—if that was what friendship was, being involved in the mess that was other people’s lives—but it hadn’t escaped his notice that Calixte had paired off with one of the warriors. The other delegates had gossiped about them like washerwomen, following them with hot eyes even as they called them unnatural and worse.
No one from Weep, Thyon had noted, had seemed in any way troubled by the pairing.
“It’s impossible to tire of me,” Calixte stated as simple fact. “Tzara’s busy.” She waved a hand toward the chaos to the south. The noise was only a low rumble here, in this abandoned quarter. “Preventing stampedes and such.” She spoke blithely, but worry lurked in the corners of her mouth and eyes—for Tzara, charged with keeping the peace; for Weep, whose worst fears stirred in the hated metal angel; and for Lazlo, who’d gone up there and hadn’t come back.
“Why stay, if you have no one to play with?” Thyon asked, still matching his tone to her scorn. He was irritated. This banter was beneath him; she was beneath him. In truth, he’d had little experience consorting with common people. He was baffled by their casualness, and stymied by their disrespect. Back home, someone like Calixte wouldn’t dare address him, let alone insult him. “You could still catch the carriages. I’m sure Tod would be happy to make space for you.”
Calixte mock-smiled her eyes to squints. She had not been well received by her fellow delegates, and her countryman Ebliz Tod was the worst of the lot. “Oh, he must be long gone by now,” she said. “He probably ran out of here first thing, using the heads of the populace as stepping-stones.”
In spite of himself, Thyon smiled. He could just picture it.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Calixte added with quiet intensity. She joined Thyon at the edge of the sinkhole and peered into it as intently as he had been. “I want to know what happened last night.”
“Which part? Nearly being crushed to death, or the metal coming alive, or—”
“Lazlo turned blue.”
Thyon had been about to say that, though he would have called him Strange, not Lazlo. But the way Calixte said it—intense, confused, and fascinated—brushed away the veil of casual banter. There was nothing casual here.
“That he did,” said Thyon.
They’d both seen it happen. They’d watched him run to the sinking anchor and brace it with his bare hands, as though with the strength of his body he could keep it from capsizing. And, impossibly, he had—though not, they both gathered, with the strength of his body. It was some other strength they couldn’t begin to fathom. They fell into a momentary silence, their mutual disdain muted in the presence of this mystery.
“How?” she wanted to know.
There were worlds in that word. Thyon had no doubt that both metal and gods had come from some other world, but he was an alchemist, not a mystic, and he only knew one thing for certain. “It was the metal,” he told her. “It’s a reaction to touching the metal.”
She squinted at him. “But I’ve touched it plenty, and I’m not blue.”
“No. Me either. It’s just him. It’s something about him.”
“But what does that mean? That he’s one of them? One of the gods who made that thing?”
Strange, a god? Through all his musing, Thyon had not allowed those words to scrape against each other. “That’s absurd,” he said tightly.
Calixte agreed, though for a different reason. Thyon objected to the notion that Lazlo could be divine, powerful. She objected on the grounds that the Mesarthim were evil. “No one’s less evil than Lazlo. And the girl, she didn’t look evil, either, poor thing.”
The girl. Thyon was assailed anew by the brew of feelings that had churned in him at the sight of Lazlo Strange cradling a girl to his chest. He’d hardly known how to interpret the image. It was so unexpected as to be incomprehensible. Strange with a girl. The details—that she was blue, that she was dead—had filtered in slowly, and he’d still been processing them after Strange carried her away. Into the air. On a statue brought to life. Indeed, he was still processing them now.
Strange had known a girl—a goddess, no less—and she had died, and he was grieving.
Thyon Nero was late awakening to the understanding that other people are living lives, too. He knew it, of course, intellectually, but it had never much impressed him. They had always been minor players in a drama about him, their stories mere subplots woven around his own, and it floored him to experience a sudden shift—as though a script had been shuffled and he’d been handed the wrong pages. He was the minor player now, standing in the settled dust, while Strange flew metal beasts and held dead goddesses in his arms.
Setting aside, for a moment, the question of how he had known a goddess, there was the more pertinent issue of: “Evil or not, how was she up there? Eril-Fane told us the citadel was empty.”
The Godslayer had assured the delegation that the gods were dead, the citadel empty, and they weren’t in any danger.
Calixte pursed her lips and looked up at the great hovering thing. “Apparently he was wrong.”
. . .
Eril-Fane and Azareen were positioned halfway between the amphitheater and the eastern gate, where a bottleneck of merging streets made a nasty tangle. They were mounted on their spectrals, side by side on a small bridge that arced over the city’s main thoroughfare. Below them, their people passed in graceless turmoil, too many at once, frustration and dread turning them volatile. Their presence, they hoped, would calm the boil to a simmer.
The newly revealed sun glared down on them. It felt like being watched.
“Why is it still here?” Azareen asked, flinging a hand upward, to where the citadel still hovered. “He said he could move it, so why hasn’t he? Why isn’t it gone, and the godspawn with it?”
“I don’t know,” said Eril-Fane. “Perhaps it isn’t so easily done. He may have to learn how to master it.” There was also the matter of grieving, he thought but didn’t say.
“He mastered it quickly enough last night. You saw the wings. Rasalas. If he can do that, he can move the citadel. Unless he has other plans.”
“What other plans?”
“We need to be ready, in case of attack.”
“Lazlo won’t attack,” said Eril-Fane, uneasy. “As for the others, if they could, why didn’t they before?”
“You can’t just assume we’re safe.”
“I assume nothing. We’ll make ready as best we can, though I don’t know how we could ever be ready for that.” To fight an army of their own dearly departed? It was the stuff of nightmares.
“And there could be more out there besides,” said Azareen, gesturing to the Cusp and beyond. They knew now that there were god-spawn in the citadel, but Lazlo’s transformation bespoke a new and unsettling possibility: that there were more out in the world, too, living in far-off countries, their flesh un-blue, their heritage a secret, perhaps even to them.
“There could be,” Eril-Fane agreed.
“They can pass as human,” said Azareen. “They can hide in plain sight, like he did.”
“He wasn’t hiding,” Eril-Fane replied. “He said he didn’t know.”
“And you believe him?”
He hesitated, then nodded. In the young faranji, Eril-Fane’s starved and stunted paternal feelings had found a place to fix. He was more than fond of the young man. He felt protective of him, and in spite of everything, he couldn’t help trusting him.
“You think it’s a coincidence that he studied Weep?” asked Azareen. “That he learned our language, our legends?” Now that she knew what he was, Lazlo’s fascination took on a sinister character.
“Not a coincidence, no,” said Eril-Fane. “I think there was something that called to him, something he didn’t understand.”
“How did he end up there, though, all the way in Zosma? Is he... one of ours?”
Eril-Fane turned to look at her—his wife, who’d been gotten with godspawn like so many other daughters of Weep. When she said “ours,” she was asking if some woman of the city had given birth to Lazlo up in the sterile room in the citadel the gods had used for that purpose.
“Let’s hope,” said Eril-Fane. “Because if not, then there could be more Mesarthim out there, maybe another citadel floating over another city, somewhere on Zeru.” It was a big world, much of it unmapped. In what distant places might bad gods reign? But Eril-Fane had a sense that Lazlo was tied to Weep, that all of it hinged on this city, this citadel, these gods and godspawn.
For fifteen years, the people of Weep had lived with the certainty that the monsters were dead, and Eril-Fane had lived with the burden of it: his the hands that had slain them, gods and their children alike—and his child, too, or so he’d believed. He had committed a crime as heinous as the gods’ own, and though he’d never tried to forgive himself, he had lived with it by telling himself there had been no choice, that it had been necessary to ensure that Weep would never again be forced to its knees, or its belly, or its back.