Days of Blood & Starlight(2)

By: Laini Taylor


“No.”

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.





2


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 know whether to reveal himself.

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.

Karou.

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?