“Where did they come from?” Calixte asked.
Eril-Fane just shook his head. “We don’t know.”
“But you say they were gods?” asked Mouzaive, the natural philosopher, who was hard-pressed to believe in the divine.
“What is a god?” was Eril-Fane’s reply. “I don’t know the answer to that, but I can tell you this: The Mesarthim were powerful, but they were nothing holy.”
He sank into silence, and they waited to see if he would break it. There were so many questions they wanted to ask, but even Drave, the explosionist, felt the pathos of the moment and held his tongue. When Eril-Fane did speak, though, it was only to say, “It’s getting late. You’ll want to reach the city.”
“We’re going there?” some among them demanded, fear thick in their voices. “Right underneath that thing?”
“It’s safe,” the Godslayer assured them. “I promise you. It’s just a shell now. It’s been empty for fifteen years.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Thyon Nero asked. “Why exactly have you brought us here?”
Lazlo was surprised he hadn’t figured it out. He gazed at the dazzling behemoth and the darkness beneath it. “The shadow of our dark time still haunts us.” Eril-Fane might have slain the gods and freed his people from thrall, but that thing remained, blocking out the sun, and lording their long torment over them. “To get rid of it,” he told the alchemist, as sure as he had ever been of anything. “And give the city back its sky.”
Pattern of Light, Scribble of Darkness
Lazlo looked up: at the shining citadel of alien blue metal floating in the sky.
Sarai looked down: at the gleam of the Cusp, beyond which the sun was soon to sink, and at the fine thread winding down the valley toward Weep. It was the trail. Squinting, she could just make out a progress of specks against the white.
Lazlo was one of the specks.
Around them both, voices jangled and jarred—speculation, debate, alarm—but they heard them only as noise. Both were absorbed in their own thoughts. Lazlo’s mind was afire with marvel, the lit match touching off fuse after fuse. Burning lines raced through his consciousness, connecting far-flung dots and filling in blanks, erasing question marks and adding a dozen more for every one erased. A dozen dozen. There could be no end to the questions, but the sketch outlines of answers were beginning to appear, and they were astonishing.
If his absorption were a pattern of light, though, Sarai’s was a scribble of darkness. For fifteen years, she and the others had survived in hiding, trapped in this citadel of murdered gods and scraping a meager existence from it. And maybe they had always known this day would come, but the only life—the only sanity—had been in believing it could be held at bay. Now those specks in the distance, almost too small to be seen, were coming inexorably toward them to attempt to dismantle their world, and what tatters remained of Sarai’s belief deserted her.
The Godslayer had returned to Weep.
She had always known who her father was. Long before she ever screamed moths and sent her senses down to the city, she knew about the man who had loved and killed her mother, and who would have killed her, too, if she had been in the nursery with the others. Images rose from her arsenal of horrors. His strong hand, drawing a knife across Isagol’s throat. Children and babies screaming, the bigger ones thrashing in the arms of their killers. Spuming arterial fountains, leaping sprays of red. “The throat’s better,” the old woman had said in Sarai’s nightmare. She reached up for her own throat and wrapped her hands around it as though she could protect it. Her pulse was frantic, her breathing ragged, and it seemed impossible that people could live at all with such flimsy stuff as skin keeping blood, breath, and spirit safe inside their bodies.
At the garden balustrade in the citadel of the Mesarthim, with ghosts peering over their shoulders, the godspawn watched their death ride down to Weep.
And in the sky overhead—empty, empty, empty and then not—a white bird appeared in the blue, like the tip of a knife stabbed through a veil, and wherever it had been, and however it had come, it was here now, and it was watching.
mahal (muh·hahl) noun
A risk that will yield either tremendous reward or disastrous consequence.
Archaic; from the mahalath, a transformative fog of myth that turns one either into a god or a monster.
Unseen No Longer
Fabled Weep, unseen no longer.
From the top of the Cusp, where the Godslayer’s delegation stood, a trail descended into the canyon of the River Uzumark, with the white of demonglass gradually giving way to the honey-colored stone of cliff faces and natural spires and arches, and to the green of forests so dense that their canopies looked, from above, like carpets of moss one might walk across. And the waterfalls might have been curtains of pale silk hung from the cliff tops, too numerous to count. With its waterfall curtains and carpets of forest, the canyon was like a long and beautiful room, and Weep a toy city—a gilded model—at its center. The shocking surreality of the citadel—the sheer size of the thing—played havoc with the mind’s sense of scale.
“Does Eril-Fane want me to climb that?” Calixte asked, staring up at the great seraph.
“What’s the matter? Couldn’t do it?” taunted Ebliz Tod.
“Have to reach it first,” she quipped. “I suppose that’s where you come in.” She waved her hand at him, queenly. “Be a dear and build me some stairs.”
Tod’s umbrage rendered him momentarily speechless, during which pause Soulzeren interjected, “Be faster to fly, anyway. We can have the silk sleighs ready in a few days.”
“That’s just getting to it, though,” her husband, Ozwin, pointed out. “That’ll be the easy part. Getting rid of it, now, there’s another matter.”
“What do you reckon?” Soulzeren mused. “Move it? Dismantle it?”
“Blow it up,” said Drave, which drew him flat looks from everyone.
“You do see that it’s directly above the city,” Lazlo pointed out.
“So they get out of the way.”
“I imagine they’re trying to avoid further destruction.”
“Then why invite me?” he asked, grinning.
“Why indeed?” Soulzeren murmured in an undertone.
Drave reached out to smack Thyon Nero on the shoulder. “Did you hear that?” he asked, as Thyon had failed to laugh. “Why invite me if you don’t want destruction, eh? Why bring ten camels’ worth of powder if you don’t want to blow that thing right back to the heavens?”
Thyon gave him a thin smile and half nod, though it was clear that his mind was elsewise occupied. No doubt he was processing the problem in his own way. He kept his own counsel, while the other delegates were vociferous. For months their intellects had been hamstrung by mystery. Now the sky presented the greatest scientific puzzle they had ever encountered, and they were all considering their place in it, and their chances of solving it.
Mouzaive was talking to Belabra about magnets, but Belabra wasn’t listening. He was muttering indecipherable calculations, while the Fellerings—the twin metallurgists—discussed the possible composition of the blue metal.
As for Lazlo, he was awed and humbled. He’d known from the first that he had no qualifications to recommend him for the Godslayer’s delegation, but it wasn’t until he beheld the problem that he realized that some part of him had still hoped he might be the one to solve it. Ridiculous. A storybook might have held the secret of azoth, and knowledge of stories might have earned him a place in the party, but he hardly thought that tales would give him an edge now.
Well, but he was here, and he would help in any way he could, even if it was only running errands for the delegates. What was it Master Hyrrokkin had said? “Some men are born for great things, and others to help great men do great things.” He’d also said there was no shame in it, and Lazlo agreed.
Still, was it too much to hope that the “man born for great things” should not turn out to be Thyon Nero? Anyone but him, thought Lazlo, laughing a little at his own pettiness.
The caravan descended the trail into the valley, and Lazlo looked about himself, amazed. He was really here, seeing it. A canyon of golden stone, swaths of unbroken forest, a great green river blurred by waterfall mist, flowing as far as the shadow of the citadel. There, just shy of the city, the Uzumark broadened into a delta and was sliced into ribbons by boulders and small islands before simply vanishing. Beyond the city it reappeared and continued its tumultuous journey eastward and away. The river, it seemed, flowed under the city.
From a distance, Weep was stunningly like Lazlo’s long-held picture of it—or at least, like his long-held picture as seen through a veil of shadow. There were the golden domes, though fewer than he’d pictured, and they didn’t gleam. The sunlight didn’t strike them. By the time the sun angled low enough to slant its rays under the citadel’s outspread wings, it had gone beyond the edge of the Cusp, and only traded one shadow for another.
But it was more than that. There was a forlorn look about it, a sense of lingering despair. There were the city’s defensive walls, built in a harmonious oval, but the harmony was broken. In four places, the wall was obliterated. Set down with geometric precision at the cardinal points were four monumental slabs of the same alien metal as the citadel. They were great tapered blocks, each as big in its own right as a castle, but they appeared entirely smooth, windowless and doorless. They looked, from above, like a set of great map weights holding down the city’s edges so it wouldn’t blow away.
It was difficult to make out from this distance, but there seemed to be something atop each one. A statue, perhaps.
“What are those great blocks?” he asked Ruza, pointing.
“Those are the anchors.”
“Anchors?” Lazlo squinted across the distance, gauging the blocks’ position relative to the great seraph overhead. It appeared to be centered in the air above them. “Do they act like anchors?” he asked. He thought of ships in harbor, in which case there would be anchor chain. Nothing visible connected the seraph to the blocks. “Are they keeping it from drifting away?”