They approached the forbidding wall of blue metal, and their reflections stepped forward to meet them. There was something about it, up close—the sheer volume of metal, the sheen of it, the color, some indefinable strangeness—that cast a hush over the lot of them as they reached out with varying degrees of caution to touch it.
The Fellerings had brought a case of instruments, and they set to work at once. Thyon went far from the others to examine it in his own way, with Drave tagging along, offering to carry his satchel.
“It’s slick,” said Calixte, running her hands over its surface. “It feels wet, but it isn’t.”
“You’ll never climb up this,” said Ebliz Tod, touching it, too.
“Care to place a wager?” she countered, the gleam of challenge in her eyes.
“A hundred silver.”
Calixte scoffed. “Silver. How boring.”
“You know how we settle disputes in Thanagost?” asked Soulzeren. “Poison roulette. Pour a row of shot glasses and mix serpaise venom into one of them. You find out you lost when you die gasping.”
“You’re mad,” said Calixte admiringly. She considered Tod. “I think Eril-Fane might want him alive, though.”
“Might?” Tod bristled. “You’re the expendable one.”
“Aren’t you nasty,” she said. “I’ll tell you what. If I win, you have to build me a tower.”
He laughed out loud. “I build towers for kings, not little girls.”
“You build towers for the corpses of kings,” she replied. “And if you’re so sure I can’t do it, where’s the risk? I’m not asking for a Cloudspire. It can be a small one. I won’t need a tomb anyway. Much as I deserve eternal veneration, I intend never to die.”
“Good luck with that,” said Tod. “And if I win?”
“Mm,” she pondered, tapping her chin. “What do you say to an emerald?”
He studied her flatly. “You didn’t get away with any emeralds.”
“Oh, you’re probably right.” She grinned. “What would I know about it?”
“Show me, then.”
“If I lose, I will. But if I win, you’ll just have to wonder if I really have it or not.”
Tod considered for a moment, his face sour and calculating. “With no rope,” he stipulated.
“With no rope,” she agreed.
He touched the metal again, gauging its slickness. It must have reinforced his certainty that it was unclimbable, because he accepted Calixte’s terms. A tower against an emerald. Fair wager.
Lazlo walked down to where the wall was clear, and skimmed his own hand along the surface. As Calixte had said, it was slick, not merely smooth. It was hard and cool as one would expect of metal in the shade, and his skin slipped right over it without any kind of friction. He rubbed his fingertips together and continued the length of the anchor. Mesarthium, Mesarthim. Magical metal, magical gods. Where had they come from?
The same place as the seraphim? “They came down from the skies,” went the myth—or the history, if indeed it was all true. And where from before that? What was behind the sky?
Had they come out of the great star-scattered black entirety that was the universe?
The “mysteries of Weep” weren’t mysteries of Weep, Lazlo thought. They were much bigger than this place. Bigger than the world.
Reaching the corner of the anchor, he peered around it and saw a narrow alley that dissolved into rubble. He ventured down it, still trailing his hand over the mesarthium. Glancing at his fingertips, he saw that they were grimed a pale gray. He wiped them on his shirt, but it didn’t come off.
Opposite the metal wall was a row of ruined houses, still standing as they had before the anchor but with whole sides carved away, like dolls’ houses, open on one side. They were decrepit dolls’ houses, though. He could see right into old parlors and kitchens, and imagined the people who had lived in them the day their world changed.
Lazlo wondered what lay beneath this anchor. The library? The palace or garrison? The crushed bones of kings or warriors or wisdom keepers? Was it possible that any texts had survived intact?
His eye caught on a patch of color ahead. It was on a forlorn stone wall facing the mesarthium one, and the alley was too narrow for Lazlo to get an angle on it from a distance. Only as he approached could he decipher that it was a painting, and only once he was before it, what it depicted.
He looked at it. He looked. Shock generally hits like a blow, sudden and unexpected. But in this case it crept over him slowly, as he made sense of the image and remembered what he had, until right now, forgotten.
It could only be a rendering of the Mesarthim. There were six of them: three females on one side, three males on the other. All were dead or dying—skewered or laid open or sundered. And between them, unmistakable, larger-than-life, and with six arms to hold six weapons, was the Godslayer. The rendering was crude. Whoever had made the picture was no trained artist, but there was a rough intensity in it that was very powerful. This was a painting of victory. It was brutal, bloody, and triumphant.
The cause of Lazlo’s shock wasn’t the violence of it—the spurting blood or the liberal quantities of red paint used to illustrate it. It wasn’t the red paint that got him, but the blue.
In all the talk of the Mesarthim so far, no one had seen fit to mention that—if this mural was accurate—they had been blue. Just like their metal.
And just like the girl in Lazlo’s dream.
How could he have forgotten her? It was as though she’d slipped behind a curtain in his mind and the moment he saw the mural, the curtain fell and she was there: the girl with skin the color of the sky, who had stood so close, studying him as though he were a painting. Even the collarbones were hers—the little tickle at his memory, from when he’d glanced down in the dream and blushed to see more of female anatomy than he ever had in real life. What did it say about him that he had dreamed a girl in her underclothes?
But that was neither here nor there. Here she was, in the mural. Crude as it was, capturing none of her loveliness, it was an unmistakable likeness, from her hair—the rich dark red of wildflower honey—to the stark black band painted across her eyes like a mask. Unlike the girl in his dream, though, this one was wearing a gown.
Also . . . her throat was gaping open and gushing red.
He took a step back, feeling nauseated, almost as though he were seeing a real body and not the cartoonish depiction of a murdered girl he’d glimpsed in a dream.
“All right down there?”
Lazlo looked around. It was Eril-Fane at the top of the alley. Two arms, not six. Two swords, and not a personal armory of spears and halberds. This picture, crude and gory, added yet another dimension to Lazlo’s idea of him. The Godslayer had slain gods. Well, of course. But Lazlo had never really formed an image to go along with the idea before, or if he had, it had been vague, and the victims monstrous. Not wide-eyed and barefoot, like the girl in his dream.
“Is this what they looked like?” he asked.
Eril-Fane came to see. His steps slowed as he made out what the mural depicted. He only nodded, never taking his eyes from it.
“They were blue,” said Lazlo.
Again, Eril-Fane nodded.
Lazlo stared at the goddess with the painted black mask, and imagined, interposed over her crudely drawn features, the very fine ones he’d seen last night. “Who is she?”
Eril-Fane was a moment answering, and his voice, when he did, was raw and almost too low to hear. “That is Isagol. Goddess of despair.”
So this was her, the monster who had kept him for three years in the citadel. There was so much feeling in the way he said her name, and it was hard to read because it wasn’t . . . pure. It was hate, but there was grief and shame mixed up in it, too. Lazlo tried to get a look at his face, but he was already walking away. Lazlo watched him go, and he took one last look at the haunting picture before following him. He stared at the daubs and streaks and runnels of red, and this newest mystery, it wasn’t a pathway of light burning lines through his mind. It was more like bloody footprints leading into the dark.
How was it possible, he wondered, that he had dreamed the slain goddess before he had any way of knowing what she looked like?
Darlings and Vipers
From the heart of the citadel, Sarai returned to her room. Minya’s “soldiers” were everywhere, armed with knives and other kitchen tools. Cleavers, ice picks. They’d even taken the meat hooks from the rain room. Somewhere there was an actual arsenal, but it was closed off behind successions of sealed mesarthium doors, and anyway, Minya thought knives appropriate tools for butchery. They were, after all, what the humans had used in the nursery.
There was no escaping the army, especially not for Sarai, since her room gave onto the sunstruck silver-blue palm of the seraph. The ghosts were thickest there, and it made sense. The terrace was the perfect place for a craft to land, much better than the garden with its trees and vines. When the Godslayer came, he would come here, and Sarai would be the first to die.
Should she be grateful, then, to Minya, for this protection? “Don’t you see?” Minya had said, revealing her army to them. “We’re safe!”
But Sarai had never felt less safe. Her room was violated by captive ghosts, and she feared that what awaited her in sleep was worse. Her tray was at the foot of her bed: lull and plums, just like any morning, though usually by this time she’d be deep asleep and lost in Letha’s oblivion. Would the lull work today? There was an extra half dose, as Great Ellen had promised. Had it only been a fluke yesterday? Sarai wondered. Please, she thought, desperate for the bleak velvet of its nothingness. Terrors stirred within her, and she imagined she could hear a din of helpless screaming in the heads of all the ghosts. She wanted to scream, too. There was no feeling of safety, she thought, hugging a pillow to her chest.
Her mind offered up an unlikely exception.
The faranji’s dream. She had felt safe there.