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Strange the dreamer, p.46
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       Strange the Dreamer, p.46

           Laini Taylor
 

  There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.

  Sathaz had finally learned that if he climbed into the pool and kept very still, the moon would come to him and let him be near her. Only near, never touching. He couldn’t touch her without shattering her, and so—as Lazlo had told Sarai—he had made peace with the impossible. He took what he could get.

  Lazlo had loved Sarai as a dream, and he would love her as a ghost as well.

  He finally acknowledged that what he carried in his arms was not Sarai but only a husk, empty now of the mind and soul that had touched his in their dreaming. Carefully he laid her down in the flowers of the garden. They cushioned her like a bower. Her lifeless eyes were open. He wished to close them, but his hands were sticky with her blood, and her face, it was unmarred, even serene, so he leaned in close and used his lips: the lightest touch, catching her honey-red lashes with his lower lip and brushing down, finishing with a kiss to each smooth lid, and then to each cheek, and finally her lips. Light as the brush of a moth wing across the sweet ripe fruit with its crease in the middle, as soft as apricot down. Finally, the corners, sharp as crescents, where her smile had lived.

  The others watched, with breaking hearts or hardened ones, and when he stood and stepped back and turned to Minya, he felt like Sathaz in the pool, waiting for the moon.

  He didn’t know how it worked. He didn’t know what to look for. Really, it wasn’t so different from waiting for her in a dream when she might appear anywhere and his whole being clenched into a knot of eagerness. He watched Minya’s face, alert to any change in her expression, but there was none. Her little grubby visage was mask-still until the moment her eyes sprang open.

  There was a light in them. Triumph, Lazlo thought, and his hearts gave a leap of joy because he thought it meant that she’d found Sarai, and bound her.

  And she had.

  Like an etching in the air that slowly filled with beauty, Sarai was gathered out of nothingness and bound back into being. She was wearing her pink slip, and it bore no blooms of blood. The smooth blue of her chest was unpierced by the iron finial, and her hair was still studded with flowers.

  For Sarai, the sensation of re-raveling was like being saved from drowning, and her first breaths drawn with phantom lungs—which were, like everything about her new state, illusion, but illusion given form—were the sweetest she had ever known.

  She was not alive and she knew it, but… whatever her new state might lack, it was infinitely preferable to the unmaking that had almost devoured her. She laughed. The sound met the air like a real voice, and her body had mass like a real body—though she knew it followed a looser set of rules. And all the pity and outrage she’d felt on behalf of Minya’s bound ghosts deserted her. How could she ever have thought evanescence was kinder? Minya had saved her, and Sarai’s soul flowed toward her like music.

  That was what it felt like to move. Like music come to life. She threw her arms around Minya. “Thank you,” she whispered, fierce, and let her go.

  Minya’s arms had not responded, and neither had her voice. Sarai might have seen the cool flicker of her gaze if she weren’t so swept up in the moment. None of her old fears could compare with the wrenching loss she had just escaped.

  And there was Lazlo.

  She stilled. Her ghost hearts beat like real ones, and her cheeks flushed—all the habits of her living body taking root in her phantom one. Lazlo. There was blood on his chest and witchlight in his eyes. He was blue and ablaze with power, and with love, and Sarai flew to him.

  Tears streamed down his cheeks. She kissed them away.

  I’m dead, she thought, but she couldn’t feel that it was true any more than she’d felt the dreams she shared with Lazlo were false. For him it was the same. She felt, in his arms, the way she had in his mind: exquisite, and all he knew was gladness and second chances and the magic of possibility. He knew the touch of her dream lips, and he had even kissed her dead face in soft farewell. He bent now and kissed her ghost, and found her mouth full and sweet and smiling.

  He felt her smile. He tasted it. And he saw her joy. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes were shining. He bent his head to kiss her shoulder, moving the pink strap aside a fraction with his lips, and he was breathing in her scent—rosemary and nectar—when she whispered in his ear. The brush of her lips sent shivers coursing through him, and the words, they sent chills.

  He froze.

  The lips were hers, but the words were not. “We’re going to play a game,” she said, and her voice was all wrong. It was bell-bright and as sweet as icing sugar. “I’m good at games. You’ll see. Here’s how this one goes.” He looked up from Sarai’s shoulder. He locked eyes with Minya and the light of triumph in hers had all-new meaning. She smiled, and Sarai’s lips whispered her words in Lazlo’s ear.

  “There’s only one rule. You do everything I say, or I’ll let her soul go. How does that sound?”

  Lazlo drew back sharply and looked at Sarai. The smile he had tasted was gone from her lips, and the joy from her eyes. There was only horror now as their new truth came clear to them both. Sarai had sworn to herself that she would never again serve Minya’s twisted will, and now… now she was powerless against it. She was dead and she was saved and she was caught and she was powerless.

  No.

  She wanted to scream it—No!—but her lips formed Minya’s words and not her own. “Nod if you understand,” she whispered to Lazlo, and she hated every syllable, and hated herself for not resisting, but there was no resisting. When her soul had shaken loose from her body she’d had nothing to hold on to it with; no arms to reach with or hands to grip with. Now she had no will to resist with.

  Lazlo understood. The little girl held the thread of Sarai’s soul, and so she as good as held the thread to his—and to his power, too.

  What would she do with it? What would she make him do? It was a game, she’d said. “Nod if you understand.”

  He understood. He held Sarai in his arms. Her ghost, her fate, and Weep’s fate, too. He stood on the citadel of the Mesarthim, and it was not of this world, and he was not who he had been. “So you could be anyone,” Sarai had said once. “A prince, even.”

  But Lazlo was not a prince. He was a god. And this was not a game to him.

  He nodded to Minya, and the space where his legend was gathering up words grew larger.

  Because this story was not over yet.

  TO BE CONTINUED

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  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  It’s thank-you time!

  First: Jane. To my amazing agent, Jane Putch, for getting me through this year: Thank you. Remember that night in Pittsburgh when I had a second cocktail and told you the whole plot of the book? Your enthusiasm was like fuel, then and on so many occasions before and since. You are truly an incredible partner.

  To the teams at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Hodder & Stoughton, who didn’t bat an eye when this supposed stand-alone mutated into a duology, and changed main character and title. Um, yeah. Thanks for being cool with all that! And thank you for doing what you do so brilliantly, from beginning to end.

  To Tone Almhjell and Torbjørn Amundsen for several rounds of crucial feedback—including the all-important thumbs-up at the end, when I’d lost all context. Thank you so much. Tone, we’re going to figure out an easier way to do this book-writing thing, right? Any day now?

  To Alexandra Saperstein for unwavering excitement and support. Tag! Your turn to finish a book next
! (Also: adventure. Remember: A woman should have squint lines from looking at France, not just from writing in dim light.…)

  A couple of folks let me steal their cool names. Thank you, Shveta Thakrar, for the use of thakrar for my fictional term, and an even bigger thanks to Moonrascal Drave, whose name I put to a less noble use. Even on my final proof pass I was wondering if I should change my explosionist’s name because I felt terrible using Drave for such a creepy character! Please know that the real Drave is a cool guy and great friend to SFF. (Bonus points if you know the other recent SFF book in which his name appears.)

  Thank you to my parents, always and forever.

  And most of all, to Jim and Clementine, my people. For fun and adventure and normalcy and silliness and sanity and coziness and constancy and book time and superheroes and creativity and inspiration and lazy days and crazy days and castles and cake and cats and dreams and toys and plays and home and so much love. You are everything to me.

 


 

  Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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