Days of Blood & Starlight, p.1Part #2 of Daughter of Smoke & Bone series by Laini Taylor
Table of Contents
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Once upon a time, an angel and a devil held a wishbone between them.
And its snap split the world in two.
THE GIRL ON THE BRIDGE
Prague, early May. The sky weighed gray over fairy-tale rooftops, and all the world was watching. Satellites had even been tasked to surveil the Charles Bridge, in case the… visitors… returned. Strange things had happened in this city before, but not this strange. At least, not since video existed to prove it. Or to milk it.
“Please tell me you have to pee.”
“What? No. No, I do not. Don’t even ask.”
“Oh, come on. I’d do it myself if I could, but I can’t. I’m a girl.”
“I know. Life is so unfair. I’m still not going to pee on Karou’s ex-boyfriend for you.”
“What? I wasn’t even going to ask you to.” In her most reasonable tone, Zuzana explained, “I just want you to pee in a balloon so I can drop it on him.”
“Oh.” Mik pretended to consider this for approximately one and a half seconds. “No.”
Zuzana exhaled heavily through her mouth. “Fine. But you know he deserves it.”
The target was standing ten feet in front of them with a full international news crew, giving an interview. It was not his first interview. It was not even his tenth. Zuzana had lost count. What made this one especially irksome was that he was conducting it on the front steps of Karou’s apartment building, which had already gotten quite enough attention from various police and security agencies without the address being splashed on the news for all and sundry.
Kaz was busily making a name for himself as the ex-boyfriend of “the Girl on the Bridge,” as Karou was being called in the wake of the extraordinary melee that had fixed the eyes of the world on Prague.
“Angels,” breathed the reporter, who was young and pretty in the usual catalog-model-meets-assassin way of TV reporters. “Did you have any idea?”
Kaz laughed. Predicting it, Zuzana fake-laughed right along with him. “What, you mean that there really are angels, or that my girlfriend is on their bad side?”
“Ex-girlfriend,” hissed Zuzana.
“Both, I guess,” laughed the reporter.
“No, neither,” admitted Kaz. “But there were always mysteries with Karou.”
“Well, she was so secretive you wouldn’t believe it. I mean, I don’t even know her nationality, or her last name, if she even has one.”
“And that didn’t bother you?”
“Nah, it was cool. A beautiful, mysterious girl? She kept a knife in her boot, and she could speak all these languages, and she was always drawing monsters in her—”
Zuzana shouted, “Tell about how she threw you through the window!”
Kaz tried to ignore her, but the reporter had heard. “Is it true? Did she hurt you?”
“Well, it wasn’t my favorite thing that’s ever happened to me.” Cue charming laughter. “But I wasn’t hurt. It was my fault, I guess. I scared her. I didn’t mean to, but she’d been in some kind of fight, and she was jumpy. She was bloody all over, and barefoot in the snow.”
“How awful! Did she tell you what happened?”
Again Zuzana shouted. “No! Because she was too busy throwing him through the window!”
“It was a door, actually,” said Kaz, shooting Zuzana a look. He pointed at the glass door behind him. “That door.”
“This one, right here?” The reporter was delighted. She reached out and touched it like it meant something—like the replacement glass of a door once shattered by the flung body of a bad actor was some kind of important symbol to the world.
“Please?” Zuzana asked Mik. “He’s standing right under the balcony.” She had the keys to Karou’s flat, which had come in handy for spiriting her friend’s sketchbooks from the premises before investigators could get their hands on them. Karou had wanted her to live here, but right now, thanks to Kaz, it was too much of a circus. “Look.” Zuzana pointed up. “It’s a straight drop onto his head. And you did drink all that tea—”
The reporter leaned in close to Kaz. Conspiratorial. “So. Where is she now?”
“Seriously?” Zuzana muttered. “As if he knows. Like he didn’t tell the last twenty-five reporters because he was saving this excellent secret knowledge just for her?”
On the steps, Kaz shrugged. “We all saw it. She flew away.” He shook his head like he couldn’t believe it, and looked right into the camera. He was so much better-looking than he deserved to be. Kaz made Zuzana wish that beauty were something that could be revoked for bad behavior. “She flew away,” he repeated, wide-eyed with fake wonder. He was performing these interviews like a play: the same show again and again, with only minor ad-libs depending on the questions. It was getting really old.
“And you have no idea where she might have gone?”
“No. She was always taking off, disappearing for days. She never said where she went, but she was always exhausted when she came back.”
“Do you think she’ll come back this time?”
“I hope so.” Another soulful gaze into the camera lens. “I miss her, you know?”
Zuzana groaned like she was in pain. “Ohhh, make him shut uuup.”
But Kaz didn’t shut up. Turning back to the reporter, he said, “The only good thing is that I can use it in my work. The longing, the wondering. It brings out a richer performance.” In other words: Enough about Karou, let’s talk about me.
The reporter went with it. “So, you’re an actor,” she cooed, and Zuzana couldn’t take it any longer.
“I’m going up,” she told Mik. “You can hoard your bladder tea. I’ll make do.”
“Zuze, what are you…” Mik started, but she was already striding off. He followed.
And when, three minutes later, a pink balloon plunged from above to land squarely on Kazimir’s head, he owed Mik a debt of gratitude, because it was not “bladder tea” that burst all over him. It was perfume, several bottles’ worth, mixed with baking soda to turn it into a nice clinging paste. It matted his hair and stung his eyes, and the look on his face was priceless. Zuzana knew this because, though the interview wasn’t live, the network chose to air it.
Over and over.
It was a victory, but it was hollow, because when she tried Karou’s phone—for about the 86,400th time—it went straight to voice mail, and Zuzana knew that it was dead. Her best friend had vanished, possibly to another world, and even repeat viewings of a gasping Kaz crowned in perfume-paste and shreds of pink balloon couldn’t make up for that.
Pee totally would have, though.
ASH AND ANGELS
The sky above Uzbekistan, that night.
The portal was a gash in the air. The wind bled through it in both directions, hissing like breath through teeth, and where the edges shifted, one world’s sky revealed another’s. Akiva watched the interplay of stars along the cut, preparing himself to cross through. From beyond, the Eretz stars glimmered visible-invisible, visible-invisible, and he did the same. There would be guards on the other side, and he didn’t
What awaited him back in his own world?
If his brother and sister had exposed him for a traitor, the guards would seize him on sight—or try to. Akiva didn’t want to believe that Hazael and Liraz could have given him up, but their last looks were sharp in his memory: Liraz’s fury at his betrayal, Hazael’s quiet revulsion.
He couldn’t risk being taken. He was haunted by another last look, sharper and more recent than theirs.
Two days ago she had left him behind in Morocco with one backward glance so terrible that he’d almost wished she’d killed him instead. Her grief hadn’t even been the worst of it. It was her hope, her defiant, misplaced hope that what he’d told her could not be true, when he knew with an absolute purity of hopelessness that it was.
The chimaera were destroyed. Her family was dead.
Because of him.
Akiva’s wretchedness was a gnawing thing. It was taking him in bites and he felt every one—every moment the tearing of teeth, the chewing gut misery, the impossible waking-nightmare truth of what he had done. At this moment Karou could be standing ankle deep in the ashes of her people, alone in the black ruin of Loramendi—or worse, she could be with that thing, Razgut, who had led her back to Eretz—and what would happen to her?
He should have followed them. Karou didn’t understand. The world she was returning to was not the one from her memories. She would find no help or solace there—only ash and angels. Seraph patrols were thick in the former free holdings, and the only chimaera were in chains, driven north before the lashes of slavers. She would be seen—who could miss her, with her lapis hair and gliding, wingless flight? She would be killed or captured.
Akiva had to find her before someone else did.
Razgut had claimed he knew a portal, and given what he was—one of the Fallen—he probably did. Akiva had tried tracking the pair, without success, and had had no option, ultimately, but to turn and wing his way toward the portal he himself had rediscovered: the one before him now. In the time he had wasted flying over oceans and mountains, anything might have happened.
He settled on invisibility. The tithe was easy. Magic wasn’t free; its cost was pain, which Akiva’s old injury supplied him in abundance. It was nothing to take it and trade it for the measure of magic he needed to erase himself from the air.
Then he went home.
The shift in the landscape was subtle. The mountains here looked much like the mountains there, though in the human world the lights of Samarkand had glimmered in the distance. Here there was no city, but only a watchtower on a peak, a pair of seraph guards pacing back and forth behind the parapet, and in the sky the true telltale of Eretz: two moons, one bright and the other a phantom moon, barely there.
Nitid, the bright sister, was the chimaera’s goddess of nearly everything—except assassins and secret lovers, that is. Those fell to Ellai.
Ellai. Akiva tensed at the sight of her. I know you, angel, she might have whispered, for hadn’t he lived a month in her temple, drunk from her sacred spring, and even bled into it when the White Wolf almost killed him?
The goddess of assassins has tasted my blood, he thought, and he wondered if she liked it, and wanted more.
Help me to see Karou safe, and you can have every drop.
He flew south and west, fear pulling him like a hook, faster as the sun rose and fear became panic that he would arrive too late. Too late and… what? Find her dead? He kept reliving the moment of Madrigal’s execution: the thud of her head falling and the clatter of her horns stopping it from rolling off the scaffold. And it wasn’t Madrigal anymore but Karou in his mind’s eye, the same soul in a different body and no horns now to keep her head from rolling, just the improbable blue silk of her hair. And though her eyes were black now instead of brown, they would go dull in the same way, stare again the stare of the dead, and she would be gone. Again. Again and forever, because there was no Brimstone now to resurrect her. From now on, death meant death.
If he didn’t get there. If he didn’t find her.
And finally it was before him: the waste that had been Loramendi, the fortress city of the chimaera. Toppled towers, crushed battlements, charred bones, all of it a shifting field of ash. Even the iron bars that had once overarched it were rent aside as if by the hands of gods.
Akiva felt like he was choking on his own heart. He flew above the ruins, scanning for a flash of blue in the vastness of gray and black that was his own monstrous victory, but there was nothing.
Karou wasn’t there.
He searched all day and the next, Loramendi and beyond, wondering furiously where she could have gone and trying not to let the question shift to what might have happened to her. But the possibilities grew darker as the hours passed, and his fears warped in nightmare ways that drew inspiration from every terrible thing he had ever seen and done. Images assaulted him. Again and again he pressed his palms to his eyes to blot them out. Not Karou. She had to be alive.
Akiva simply couldn’t face the thought of finding her any other way.
MISS RADIO SILENCE
Subject: Miss Radio Silence
Well, Miss Radio Silence, I guess you’re gone and have not been getting my VERY IMPORTANT MISSIVES.
Gone to ANOTHER WORLD. I always knew you were a freaky chick, but I never saw this one coming. Where are you, and doing what? You don’t know how this is killing me. What’s it like? Who are you with? (Akiva? Pretty please?) And, most important, do they have chocolate there? I’m guessing they don’t have wireless, or that it’s not an easy jaunt to come back and visit, which I hope is the case because if I find out you’re all gallivanting-girl and still haven’t come to see me, I might get drastic. I might try that one thing, you know, that thing people do when their eyes get all wet and stupid—what’s it called? Crying?
Or NOT. I might PUNCH you instead and trust that you won’t punch me back because of my endearing smallness. It would be like punching a child.
(Or a badger.)
Anyway. All is well here. I perfume-bombed Kaz and it got on TV. I am publishing your sketchbooks under my own name and have sublet your flat to pirates. Pirates with BO. I’ve joined an angel cult and enjoy daily prayer circle and also JOGGING to get in shape for my apocalypse outfit, which of course I carry with me at all times JUST IN CASE.
Let’s see, what else? *strums lip*
For obvious reasons, crowds are worse than ever. My misanthropy knows no bounds. Hate rises off me like cartoon heat waves. The puppet show is good money but I’m getting bored, not to mention going through ballet shoes like there’s no tomorrow—which, hey, if the angel cults are right, there isn’t.
Mik is great. I’ve been a little upset (ahem), and you know what he did to cheer me up? Well, I’d told him that story about when I was little and I spent all my carnival tickets trying to win the cakewalk because I really, really wanted to eat a whole cake all by myself—but I didn’t win and found out later I could actually have bought a cake and still had tickets left over for rides and it was the worst day of my life? Well, he made me my own cakewalk! With numbers on the floor and music and SIX ENTIRE CAKES, and after I won them ALL we took them to the park and fed each other with these extra-long forks for like five hours. It was the best day of my life.
Until the one when you come back.
I love you, and I hope you are safe and happy and that wherever you are, someone (Akiva?) is making you cakewalks, too, or whatever it is that fiery angel boys do for their girls.
NO MORE SECRETS
“Well. This comes as a bit of a surprise.”
That was Hazael. Liraz was at his side. Akiva had been waiting for them. It was very late, and he was in the training theater behind the barra
He hadn’t been challenged on his return. The guards had saluted him with their usual wide-eyed reverence—he was Beast’s Bane to them, the Prince of Bastards, hero, and that hadn’t changed—so it would seem that Hazael and Liraz had not reported him to their commander, or else the knowledge of it had simply not yet worked its way out to the ranks. He might have been more cautious than to just show himself with no idea what reception awaited him, but he was in a haze.
After what he had found in the Kirin caves.
“Should my feelings be hurt that he didn’t come and find us?” Liraz asked Hazael. She was leaning against the wall with her arms crossed.
“Feelings?” Hazael squinted at her. “You?”
“I have some feelings,” she said. “Just not stupid ones, like remorse.” She cut her eyes at Akiva. “Or love.”
The things that were broken in Akiva clenched and ground.
Too late. He had been too late.
“Are you saying you don’t love me?” Hazael asked Liraz. “Because I love you. I think.” He paused in contemplation. “Oh. No. Never mind. That’s fear.”
“I don’t have that one, either,” said Liraz.
Akiva didn’t know if that was true; he doubted it, but maybe Liraz felt fear less than most, and hid it better. Even as a child she had been ferocious, the first to step into the sparring ring no matter who the opponent. He had known her and Hazael as long as he had known himself. Born in the same month in the emperor’s harem, the three of them had been given over together to the Misbegotten—Joram’s bastard legion, bred of his nightly trysts—and raised to be weapons of the realm. And loyal weapons they had been, the three of them fighting side by side through countless battles, until Akiva’s life was changed and theirs were not.
Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor / Fantasy / Young Adult / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes