An explosion. She understood that much. The roar of the blast was curiously muted. She crawled toward the edge of the terrace and lay over it, her chest against the metal, and peered over the edge. She didn’t know what to expect to see down in Weep. Chaos—chaos to match the churn of her wind-scattered senses? But all she saw was a delicate blossom of fire from the district of the anchor, and fronds of smoke billowing in slow motion. It looked like a bonfire from up here.
Ruby and Sparrow, peering over the balustrade in the garden, thought the same.
It was . . . pretty.
Maybe it wasn’t bad, Sarai thought—she prayed—as she reached back out for her remaining sentinels. Many were crushed or crippled, but several dozen could still fly, and she hurled them at the air, back toward the anchor, to where she’d lost Lazlo.
Vision at street level was nothing like the calm view from overhead. It was almost unrecognizable as the landscape of a moment ago. A haze of dust and smoke hung over everything, lit lurid by the fire blazing at the blast sight. It didn’t look like a bonfire from down here, but a conflagration. Sarai searched with her dozens of eyes, and nothing quite made sense. She was almost sure this was where she’d lost Lazlo, but the topography had changed. Chunks of stone stood in the street where before no stones had been. They’d been hurled there by the blast.
And under one was pinned a body.
No, said Sarai’s soul. Sometimes that’s all there is: an infinite echo of the smallest of words. No no no no no forever.
The stone was a chunk of wall, and not just any chunk. It was a fragment of the mural, hurled all this way. Isagol’s painted face gazed up from it, and the gash of her slit throat gaped like a smile.
Sarai’s mind had emptied of everything but no. She heard a groan and her moths flurried to the body—
—and as quickly away from it again.
It wasn’t Lazlo, but Drave. He was facedown, caught while running from the chaos he had caused. His legs and pelvis were crushed under the stone. His arms scrabbled at the street as though to pull himself free, but his eyes were glazed, unseeing, and blood bubbled from his nostrils. Sarai didn’t stay to watch him die. Her mind, which had shrunk to the single word no, unfurled once more with hope. Her moths wheeled apart, cutting through the blowing smoke until they found another figure sprawled out flat and still.
This was Lazlo. He was on his back, eyes closed, mouth slack, his face white with dust except where blood ran from his nose and ears. A sob welled up in Sarai’s throat and her moths slashed the air in their haste to reach him—to touch him and know if his spirit still flowed, if his skin was warm. One fluttered to his lips, others to his brow. As soon as they touched him, she fell into his mind, out of the dust and smoke of the fire-painted night and into . . . a place she’d never been.
It was an orchard. The trees were bare and black. “Lazlo?” she called, and her breath made a cloud. It streamed from her and vanished. Everything was still. She took a step, and frost crackled beneath her bare feet. It was very cold. She called for him again. Another breath cloud formed and faded, and there was no answer. She seemed to be alone here. Fear coiled in her gut. She was in his mind, which meant he was alive—and her moth that was perched on his lips could feel the faint stir of breath—but where was he? Where was she? What was this place? She wandered among the trees, parting the whip boughs with her hands, walking faster and faster, growing more and more anxious. What did it mean if he wasn’t here?
“Lazlo!” she called. “Lazlo!”
And then she came into a clearing and he was there—on his knees, digging in the dirt with his hands. “Lazlo!”
He looked up. His eyes were dazed, but they brightened at the sight of her. “Sarai? What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you,” she said, and rushed forward to throw her arms around him. She kissed his face. She breathed him in. “But what are you doing?” She took his hands in hers. They were caked with black dirt, his nails cracked and broken from scraping at the frozen earth.
“I’m looking for something.”
“My name,” he said, with uncertainty. “The truth.”
Gently, she touched his brow, swallowing the fear that wanted to choke her. Being thrown like that, he had to have hit his head. What if he was injured? What if he was . . . damaged? She took his head in her hands, wishing savagely that she were down in Weep, to hold his real head in her lap and stroke his face and be there when he woke, because of course he would wake. Of course he was fine. Of course. “And . . . you think it’s here?” she asked, not knowing what else to say.
“There’s something here. I know there is,” he said, and . . . something was.
It was caked in dirt, but when he pulled it out, the soil fell away and it glimmered white as pearl. It was . . . a feather? Not just any feather. Its edges met the air in that melting way, as though it might dissolve. “Wraith,” said Sarai, surprised.
“The white bird,” said Lazlo. He stared at the feather, turning it over in his hand. Fragmented images flittered at the edge of memory. Glimpses of white feathers, of wings etched against stars. His brow furrowed. Trying to catch the memories was like trying to catch a reflection. As soon as he reached for them, they warped and vanished.
For her part, Sarai wondered what a feather from Wraith was doing here, buried in the earth of Lazlo’s unconscious mind. But it was a dream—from a blow to the head, no less—and likely meant nothing at all.
“Lazlo,” she said, licking her lips, fear hot and tight in her throat and her chest. “Do you know what’s happened? Do you know where you are?”
He looked around. “This is the abbey orchard. I used to play here as a boy.”
“No,” she said. “This is a dream. Do you know where you are?”
His brow furrowed. “I . . . I was walking,” he said. “To the north anchor.”
Sarai nodded. She stroked his face, marveling at what it had come to mean to her in so short a span of time—this crooked nose, these rough-cut cheeks, these rivercat lashes and dreamer’s eyes. She wanted to stay with him, that was all she wanted—even here, in this austere place. Give them half a minute and they could turn it into paradise—frost flowers blooming on the bare black trees, and a little house with a potbellied stove, a fleece rug in front of it just right for making love.
The last thing she wanted to do—the very last thing—was push him out a door where she couldn’t follow. But she kissed his lips, and kissed his eyelids, and whispered the words that would do just that. She said, “Lazlo. You have to wake up now, my love.”
And he did.
From the quiet of the orchard and Sarai’s caress, Lazlo woke to . . . quiet that wasn’t silence, but sound pulled inside out. His head was stuffed with it, bursting, and he couldn’t hear a thing. He was deaf, and he was choking. The air was thick and he couldn’t breathe. Dust. Smoke. Why . . . ? Why was he lying down?
He tried to sit up. Failed.
He lay there, blinking, and shapes began to resolve from the dim. Overhead, he saw a shred of sky. No, not sky. Weep’s sky: the citadel. He could see the outline of its wings.
The outline of wings. Yes. For an instant, he captured the memory—white wings against stars—just a glimpse, accompanied by a sensation of weightlessness that was the antithesis of what he was feeling now, sprawled out on the street, staring up at the citadel. Sarai was up there. Sarai. Her words were still in his mind, her hands still on his face. She had just been with him. . . .
No, that was a dream. She’d said so. He’d been walking to the anchor, that was it. He remembered . . . Drave running, and white light. Understanding slowly seeped into his mind. Explosionist. Explosion. Drave had done this.
A ringing supplanted the silence in his head. It was low but growing. He shook it, trying to clear it, and the moths on his brow and cheeks took flight and fluttered around his head in a corona. The ringing grew louder. Terrible. He was able to roll onto his side, though, and from there get his knees and elbows under him and push up. He squinted, his eyes stinging from the hot, filthy air, and looked around. Smoke swirled like the mahalath, and fire was shooting up behind an edge of shattered rooftops. They looked like broken teeth. He could feel the heat of the flames on his face, but he still couldn’t hear its roar or anything but the ringing.
He got to his feet. The world swung arcs around him. He fell and got up again, slower now.
The dust and smoke moved like a river among islands of debris—pieces of wall and roof, even an iron stove standing upright, as though it had been delivered by wagon. He shuddered at his luck, that nothing had hit him. That was when he saw Drave, who hadn’t been so lucky.
Stumbling, Lazlo knelt beside him. He saw Isagol’s eyes first, staring up from the mural. The explosionist’s eyes were staring, too, but filmed with dust, unseeing.
Lazlo rose and continued on, though surely only a fool goes toward fire and not away from it. He had to see what Drave had done, but that wasn’t the only reason. He’d been going to the anchor when the blast hit. He couldn’t quite remember the reason, but whatever it was, it hadn’t let him go. The same compulsion pulled him now.
“My name,” he’d told Sarai when she asked what he was looking for. “The truth.”
What truth? Everything was blurred, inside his head and out. But if only a fool goes toward a fire, then he was in good company. He didn’t hear their approach from behind him, but in a moment he was swept up with them: Tizerkane from the barracks, fiercer than he’d ever seen them. They raced past. Someone stopped. It was Ruza, and it was so good to see his face. His lips were moving, but Lazlo couldn’t hear. He shook his head, touched his ears to make Ruza understand, and his fingers came away wet. He looked at them and they were red.
That couldn’t be good.
Ruza saw, and gripped his arm. Lazlo had never seen his friend look so serious. He wanted to make a joke, but nothing came to mind. He knocked Ruza’s hand away and gestured ahead. “Come on,” he said, though he couldn’t hear his own words any better than Ruza’s.
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