Eril-Fane saw him and bellowed, “Strange!” He looked from the anchor to the citadel, and his horror deepened, a new layer added to the grief of this doom: the daughter who had survived all these years, only to die now. He halted his retreat, and so did his warriors, to watch Lazlo run to the anchor. It was madness, of course, but there was beauty in it. They realized, all of them—in that moment if they hadn’t already—how fond of the young outsider they’d grown. And even if they knew death was coming for them, none of them wanted to see him die first. They watched him climb over shifting rubble, losing his footing and slipping, rising again to scrabble forward until he reached it: the wall of metal that had seemed insurmountable, shrinking now as the earth sucked it under.
Even though it was sinking, still he looked so small before it. It was absurd what he did next. He put up his hands and braced it, as though, with the strength of his body, he could hold it up.
There were carvings of gods in just this pose. In the Temple of Thakra, seraphim upheld the heavens. It might have been absurd to see Lazlo attempt it, but nobody laughed, and nobody looked away.
And so they saw, all together, what happened next. It had the feel of a shared hallucination. Only Thyon Nero understood what he was seeing. He arrived on the scene out of breath. He’d run from his laboratory with his shard of mesarthium clutched in his hand, desperate to find Strange and tell him . . . tell him what?
That there were fingerprints in the metal, and it might mean something?
Well, he didn’t need to tell him. Lazlo’s body knew what to do.
He gave himself over, as he had to the mahalath. Some deep place in his mind had taken control. His palms were pressed full against the mesarthium, and they throbbed with the rhythm of his heartbeats. The metal was cool under his hands, and . . .
. . . alive.
Even with all the tumult around him, the noise and quaking and the ground shifting under his feet, he sensed the change. It felt like a hum—that is, the way your lips feel when you hum, but all over. He was unusually aware of the surface of himself, of the lines of his body and the planes of his face, as though his skin were alive with some subtle vibrations. It was strongest where his hands met the metal. Whatever was awakening within him, it was waking in the metal, too. He felt as though he were absorbing it, or it was absorbing him. It was becoming him, and he it. It was a new sense, more than touch. He felt it most in his hands, but it was spreading: a pulse of blood and spirit and . . . power.
Thyon Nero had been right. It would seem that Lazlo Strange was no orphan peasant from Zosma.
Elation swept through him, and with it his new sense unfurled, growing and reaching out, seeking and finding and knowing. He discovered a scheme of energies—the same unfathomable force that kept the citadel in the sky—and he could feel it all. The four anchors and the great weight they upheld. With the one tipping out of alignment, the whole elegant scheme had torn, frayed. The balance was upset, and Lazlo felt, as clearly as though the seraph were his own body slowly falling to earth, how to put it right.
It was the wings. They had only to fold. Only! Wings whose vast sweep shadowed a whole city, and he had only to fold them like a lady’s fan.
In fact, it was that easy. Here was a whole new language, spoken through the skin, and to Lazlo’s amazement he already knew it. He willed, and the mesarthium obeyed.
In the sky above Weep, the angel folded its wings, and the moonlight and starlight that for fifteen years had been held at bay came flooding in, seeming sun-bright after such long absence. It spiked in shafts through the apocalypse of smoke and dust as the citadel’s new center of gravity readjusted to the three remaining supports.
Lazlo felt it all. The hum had sunk into the center of him and broken open, flooding him with this new perception—a whole new sense attuned to mesarthium, and he was master of it. Balancing the citadel was as simple as finding his footing on uneven ground. Effortlessly, the great seraph came right, like a man straightening up from a bow.
For the minutes it took Lazlo to perform this feat, he was focused on it wholly. He had no awareness of his surroundings. The deep part of him that could feel the energies followed them where they led, and it wasn’t only the angel that was altered. The anchor was, too. All those who were standing back and watching saw its unassailable surface seem to turn molten and flow down and outward: underground, to seal the cracks in the broken bedrock—and over the streets, to distribute its weight more evenly over its compromised foundation.
And then there was Rasalas.
Lazlo was unaware that he was doing it. It was his soul’s mahalath, remaking the monster as he had in his dream. Its proportions flowed from bunched and menacing to lithe and graceful. Its horns thinned, stretching longer to coil spiral at the ends, as sinuously as ink poured into water. And as the anchor redistributed its weight, seeming to melt and pour itself out, the beast rode it down, ever nearer the surface of the city, so that by the time it stopped, by the time it all stopped—the earth shaking, the grit blowing, the angel taking its new pose in the sky—this was what witnesses beheld:
Lazlo Strange in a lunge, head bowed as he leaned into the anchor, arms extended, hands sunk to the wrists in fluid mesarthium, with the remade beast of the anchor perched above him. It was Skathis’s monster, shaped now not of nightmare, but grace. The scene . . . the scene was a marvel. It carried with it the hearts-in-throat abandon of Lazlo’s rush to the anchor, all the certainty of death, and hope like a small mad flame flaring in a dark, dark place as he had lifted his arms to hold up the world. If there was any justice, the scene would be carved into a monument of demonglass and placed here to commemorate the salvation of Weep.
The second salvation of Weep, and its new hero.
Few will ever witness an act destined to become legend. How does it happen, that the events of a day, or a night—or a life—are translated into story? There is a gap in between, where awe has carved a space that words have yet to fill. This was such a gap: the silence of aftermath, in the dark of the night on the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, at the melted north anchor of Weep.
Lazlo had finished. The elegance of energies was restored. City and citadel were safe, and all was right. He was suffused with well-being. This was who he was. This was who he was. He might not know his true name, but the place at his center wasn’t empty anymore. Blood on his face, hair pale with the dust of collapsing ruins, he lifted his head. Perhaps because he hadn’t watched it all happen but felt it, or perhaps because . . . it had been easy, he didn’t grasp the magnitude, quite, of the moment. He didn’t know that here was a gap slowly filling with legend, much less that it was his legend. He didn’t feel like a hero, and, well . . . he didn’t feel like a monster, either.
Nevertheless, in the space where his legend was gathering up words, monster was surely among them.
He opened his eyes, coming slowly back to awareness of the world outside his mind, and found it echoing with silence. From behind him came footsteps, many and cautious. It seemed to him they gathered up the silence like a mantle and carried it along with them, step by step. There were no cheers, no sighs of relief. There was barely breath. Seeing his hands still sunk into the metal, he drew them out like pulling them out of water. And . . . he stared at them.
Perhaps he ought not have been surprised by what he saw, but he was. It made him feel inside a dream, because it was only in a dream that his hands had looked like this. They were no longer the brown of desert-tanned skin, and neither were they the gray of grime and sickly babies.
They were vivid azure blue.
Blue as cornflowers, or dragonfly wings, or a spring—not summer—sky.
Blue as tyranny, and thrall, and murder waiting to happen.
Never had a color meant so much, so deeply. He turned to face the gathering crowd. Eril-Fane, Azareen, Ruza, Tzara, the other Tizerkane, even Calixte and Thyon Nero. They stared at him, at his face that was as blue as his hands, and they struggled—all save Thyon—with an overwhelming upsurge of cognitive dissonance. This young man whom they had found at a library in a distant land, whom they had taken into their hearts and into their homes, and whom they valued above any outsider they had ever known, was also, impossibly, godspawn.
They were all so still, so speechless and frozen, their expressions blank with shock. And so this was the mirror in which Lazlo knew himself: hero, monster. Godspawn.
He saw, in their shock, a struggle to reconcile what they thought they knew of him with what they saw before them, not to mention what they had just seen him do, and what it meant as their gratitude vied with mistrust and betrayal.
Under the circumstances—that is, their being alive—one might expect their acceptance, if not quite elation to match Lazlo’s own. But the roots of their hate and fear were too deep, and Lazlo saw hints of revulsion as their confusion smeared one feeling into the next. And he could offer them no explanation. He had no clarity, only a muddy swirl of his own, with streaks of every color and emotion.
He fixed on Eril-Fane, who in particular looked dazed. “I didn’t know,” he told him. “I promise you.”
“How?” gasped Eril-Fane. “How is it possible that you are . . . this?”
What could Lazlo tell him? He wanted to know that himself. How had a child of the Mesarthim ended up on an orphan cart in Zosma? His only answer was a buried white feather, a distant memory of wings against the sky, and a feeling of weightlessness. “I don’t know.”
Maybe the answer was up in the citadel. He tilted back his head and gazed at it, new elation blooming in him. He couldn’t wait to tell Sarai. To show her. He didn’t even have to wait for nightfall. He could fly. Right now. She was up there, real and warm, flesh and breath and laughter and teeth and bare feet and smooth blue calves and soft cinnamon hair, and he couldn’t wait to show her: The mahalath had been right, even if it hadn’t guessed his gift.
His gift. He laughed out loud. Some of the Tizerkane flinched at the sound.
“Don’t you see what this means?” he asked. His voice was rich and full of wonder, and all of them knew it so well. It was their storyteller’s voice, both rough and pure, their friend’s voice that repeated every fool phrase they threw at him in their language lessons. They knew him, blue or not. He wanted to push past this ugliness of age-old hates and soul-warping fears and start a new era. For the first time, it truly seemed possible. “I can move the citadel,” he said. He could free the city from its shadow now, and Sarai from her prison. What couldn’t he do in this version of the world in which he was hero and monster in one? He laughed again. “Don’t you see?” he demanded, losing patience with their suspicion and scrutiny and the unacceptable absence of celebration. “The problem,” he said, “is solved.”
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