. . . So many?
Ghosts poured out of the citadel’s heart, one after the next, passing the four of them without acknowledgment to continue right on by, up the long doorless corridor that led toward the gallery and the garden terrace and their bedchambers. Sarai found herself flattened against the wall, trying to make sense of the flow of faces, and they were all familiar but not as familiar as they would be if she had seen them recently.
Which she had not.
She picked out a face, then another. They were men, women, and children, though most were old. Names began to come to her. Thann, priestess of Thakra. Mazli, dead in childbirth with twins who died, too. Guldan, the tattoo master. The old woman had been famous in the city for inking the most beautiful elilith. All the girls had wanted her to do theirs. Sarai couldn’t remember exactly when she had passed away, but it was certainly before her own first bleeding, because her reaction to discovering the old woman’s death had been so foolish. It had been disappointment—that Guldan wouldn’t be able to do her elilith, when her time came. As though such a thing could ever have come to pass. What had she been, twelve? Thirteen? Behind her closed eyelids, she had imagined the skin of her tummy brown instead of blue, decorated with the old woman’s exquisite flourishes. And oh, the hot flush of shame that chased that picture. To have forgotten, even for an instant, what she was.
As though a human would ever touch her for any reason other than to kill her.
At least four years had passed since then. Four years. So how could Guldan be here now? It was the same with the others. And there were so many of them. They all stared straight ahead, expressionless, but Sarai caught the desperate plea in more than a few eyes as they flowed past her. They moved with ghostly ease, but also with a severe, martial intent. They moved like soldiers.
Understanding came slowly and then all at once. Sarai’s hands flew to her mouth. Both hands, as though to hold in a wail. All this time. How was it possible? Tears sprang to her eyes. So many. So terribly many.
All, she thought. Every man, woman, and child who had died in Weep since . . . since when? . . . and passed near enough the citadel in their evanescent journey for Minya to catch. It had been ten years since Sparrow and Ruby outgrew the entrance to the heart. Was that when she had begun this . . . collection?
“Oh, Minya,” Sarai breathed from the depths of her horror.
Her mind sought some other explanation but there was none. There was only this: For years, unbeknownst to the rest of them, Minya had been catching ghosts and . . . keeping them. Storing them. The heart of the citadel, that great spherical chamber where only Minya could still go, had served, all this time, as a . . . a vault. A closet. A lockbox.
For an army of the dead.
Finally, Minya emerged, easing herself slowly through the gap to stand defiant before Sarai and Feral, Sparrow and Ruby, all of whom were stunned into speechlessness. The procession of ghosts vanished around the corner.
“Oh, Minya,” said Sarai. “What have you done?”
“What do you mean, what have I done? Don’t you see? We’re safe. Let the Godslayer come, and all his new friends, too. I’ll teach them the meaning of ‘carnage.’ ”
Sarai felt the blood leave her face. Did she think they didn’t know it already? “You of all people should have had enough carnage in your life.”
Minya eternal, Minya unchanging. Evenly, she met Sarai’s gaze. “You’re wrong,” she said. “I’ll have had enough when I’ve paid it all back.”
A tremor went through Sarai. Could this be a nightmare? A waking one, maybe. Her mind had finally broken and all the terrors were pouring out.
But no. This was real. Minya was going to force a decade’s worth of the city’s dead to fight and kill their own kith and kin. It hit her with a wave of nausea that she had been wrong, all these years, to hide her empathy for humans and all that they’d endured. She’d been ashamed at first, and afraid that it was weakness on her part, to be unable to hate them as she should. She would imagine words coming out of her mouth, like They’re not monsters, you know, and she would imagine, too, what Minya’s response would be: Tell that to the other babies.
The other babies.
That was all she ever had to say. Nothing could trump the Carnage. Arguing for any redeeming quality in the people who had committed it was a kind of rank treason. But now Sarai thought she might have tried. In her cowardice, she had let the others go on with this simplicity of conviction: They had an enemy. They were an enemy. The world was carnage. You either suffered it or inflicted it. If she had told them what she saw in the warped memories of Weep, and what she felt and heard—the heartbreaking sobbing of fathers who couldn’t protect their daughters, the horror of girls returned with blank memories and violated bodies—maybe they would have seen that the humans were survivors, too.
“There has to be some other way,” she said now.
“What if there was?” challenged Minya, cool. “What if there was another way, but you were too pathetic to do it?”
Sarai bristled at the insult, and shrank from it, too. Too pathetic to do what? She didn’t want to know, but she had to ask. “What are you talking about?”
Minya considered her, then shook her head. “No, I’m sure of it. You are too pathetic. You’d let us die first.”
“What, Minya?” Sarai demanded.
“Well, you’re the only one of us who can reach the city,” said the little girl. She really was a pretty child, but it was hard to see it—not so much because she was unkempt, but because of the queer, cold lack in her eyes. Had she always been like that? Sarai remembered laughing with her, long ago, when they had all properly been children, and she didn’t think she had been. When had she changed and become . . . this? “You couldn’t manage to drive the Godslayer mad,” she was saying.
“He’s too strong,” Sarai protested. Even now she couldn’t bring herself to suggest—even to herself, really—that perhaps he didn’t deserve madness.
“Oh, he’s strong,” agreed Minya, “but I daresay even the great Godslayer couldn’t manage to breathe if a hundred moths flew down his throat.”
If a hundred moths flew down his . . .
Sarai could only stare at her. Minya laughed at her blank shock. Did she understand what she was saying? Of course she did. She just didn’t care. The moths weren’t . . . they weren’t scraps of rag. They weren’t even trained insects. They were Sarai. They were her own consciousness spun out from her on long, invisible strings. What they experienced, she experienced, be it the heat of a sleeper’s brow or the red wet clog of a choking man’s throat. “And in the morning,” Minya went on, “when he’s found dead in his bed, the moths will have turned to smoke, and no one will even know what killed him.”
She was triumphant—a child pleased with a clever plan. “You could only kill one person a night, I suppose. Maybe two. I wonder how many moths it would take to suffocate someone.” She shrugged. “Anyway, once a few faranji die without explanation, I think the others will lose heart.” She smiled, cocked her head. “Well, was I right? Are you too pathetic? Or can you endure a few minutes of disgust to save us all?”
Sarai opened her mouth and closed it. A few minutes of disgust? How trivial she made it sound. “It’s not about disgust,” she said. “God forbid a strong stomach should be all that stands between killing and not. There’s decency, Minya. Mercy.”
“Decency,” spat the girl. “Mercy.”
The way she said it. The word had no place in the citadel of the Mesarthim. Her eyes darkened as though her pupils had engulfed her irises, and Sarai felt it coming, the response that brooked no comeback: Tell that to the other babies.
But that wasn’t what she said. “You make me sick, Sarai. You’re so soft.” And then she spoke words that she never had, not in all these fifteen years. In a low and deadly hiss, she said, “I should have saved a different baby.” And then she spun on her heel and stalked out behind her terrible, heartbreaking army.
Sarai felt slapped. Ruby, Sparrow, and Feral surrounded her. “I’m glad she saved you,” said Sparrow, stroking her arms and hair.
“Me too,” echoed Ruby.
But Sarai was imagining a nursery full of godspawn—kindred little girls and boys with blue skin and magic yet unguessed—and humans in their midst with kitchen knives. Somehow, Minya had hidden the four of them away. Sarai had always felt the narrow stroke of luck—like an ax blow passing close enough to shave the tips from the down of her cheek—that Minya had saved her. That she had survived instead of one of the others.
And once upon a time, survival had seemed like an end unto itself. But now . . . it began to feel like an expedient with no object.
Survive for what?
Stolen Name, Stolen Sky
Lazlo didn’t stay at Suheyla’s house for breakfast. He thought that mother and son might like some time alone after two years’ separation. He waited to greet Eril-Fane—and tried hard to keep his new knowledge quiet in his eyes when he did. It was hard; his horror seemed to shout inside of him. Everything about the hero looked different now that he knew even this small sliver of what he had endured.
He saddled Lixxa and rode through Weep, getting quite agreeably lost. “You look well rested,” he told Calixte, who was eating in the dining room of the guildhall when he finally found it.
“You don’t,” she returned. “Did you forget to sleep?”
“How dare you,” he said mildly, taking a seat at her table. “Are you suggesting that I look less than perfectly fresh?”
“I would never be so uncivil as to suggest imperfect freshness.” She took a large bite of pastry. “However,” she said with her mouth full, “you’re cultivating patches of blue under your eyes. So unless you got yourself punched very symmetrically, my guess is not enough sleep. Besides, with the state of ecstatic dazzlement you were in yesterday, I didn’t expect you’d be able to sit still, let alone sleep.”