/ Language: English / Genre:antique / Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Laini Taylor

New York Boston

For Jane,

for a whole new world of possibilities

Once upon a time,

an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.



Walking to school over the snow-muffled cobbles, Karou had no sinister premonitions about the day. It seemed like just another Monday, innocent but for its essential Mondayness, not to mention its Januaryness. It was cold, and it was dark—in the dead of winter the sun didn’t rise until eight—but it was also lovely. The fal ing snow and the early hour conspired to paint Prague ghostly, like a tintype photograph, al silver and haze.

On the riverfront thoroughfare, trams and buses roared past, grounding the day in the twenty-first century, but on the quieter lanes, the wintry peace might have hailed from another time. Snow and stone and ghostlight, Karou’s own footsteps and the feather of steam from her coffee mug, and she was alone and adrift in mundane thoughts: school, errands. The occasional cheek-chew of bitterness when a pang of heartache intruded, as pangs of heartache wil , but she pushed them aside, resolute, ready to be done with al that.

She held her coffee mug in one hand and clutched her coat closed with the other. An artist’s portfolio was slung over her shoulder, and her hair—loose, long, and peacock blue—was gathering a lace of snowflakes.

Just another day.

And then.

A snarl, rushing footfal , and she was seized from behind, pul ed hard against a man’s broad chest as hands yanked her scarf askew and she felt teeth

—teeth—against her neck.


Her attacker was nibbling her.

Annoyed, she tried to shake him off without spil ing her coffee, but some sloshed out of her cup anyway, into the dirty snow.

“Jesus, Kaz, get off,” she snapped, spinning to face her ex-boyfriend. The lamplight was soft on his beautiful face. Stupid beauty, she thought, shoving him away. Stupid face.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked.

“It’s always you. And it never works.”

Kazimir made his living jumping out from behind things, and it frustrated him that he could never get even the slightest rise out of Karou. “You’re impossible to scare,” he complained, giving her the pout he thought was irresistible. Until recently, she wouldn’t have resisted it. She would have risen on tiptoe and licked his pout-puckered lower lip, licked it languorously and then taken it between her teeth and teased it before losing herself in a kiss that made her melt against him like sun-warmed honey.

Those days were so over.

“Maybe you’re just not scary,” she said, and walked on.

Kaz caught up and strol ed at her side, hands in pockets. “I am scary, though. The snarl? The bite?

Anyone normal would have a heart attack. Just not you, ice water for blood.”

When she ignored him, he added, “Josef and I are starting a new tour. Old Town vampire tour. The tourists wil eat it up.”

They would, thought Karou. They paid good money for Kaz’s “ghost tours,” which consisted of being herded through the tangled lanes of Prague in the dark, pausing at sites of supposed murders so

“ghosts” could leap out of doorways and make them shriek. She’d played a ghost herself on several occasions, had held aloft a bloody head and moaned while the tourists’ screams gave way to laughter. It had been fun.

Kaz had been fun. Not anymore. “Good luck with that,” she said, staring ahead, her voice colorless.

“We could use you,” Kaz said.


“You could play a sexy vampire vixen—”


“Lure in the men—”


“You could wear your cape….”

Karou stiffened.

Softly, Kaz coaxed, “You stil have it, don’t you, baby? Most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, you with that black silk against your white skin—”

“Shut up,” she hissed, coming to a halt in the middle

“Shut up,” she hissed, coming to a halt in the middle of Maltese Square. God, she thought. How stupid had she been to fal for this petty, pretty street actor, dress up for him and give him memories like that?

Exquisitely stupid.

Lonely stupid.

Kaz lifted his hand to brush a snowflake from her eyelashes. She said, “Touch me and you’l get this coffee in your face.”

He lowered his hand. “Roo, Roo, my fierce Karou.

When wil you stop fighting me? I said I was sorry.”

“Be sorry, then. Just be sorry somewhere else.” They spoke in Czech, and her acquired accent matched his native one perfectly.

He sighed, irritated that Karou was stil resisting his apologies. This wasn’t in his script. “Come on,” he coaxed. His voice was rough and soft at the same time, like a blues singer’s mix of gravel and silk.

“We’re meant to be together, you and me.”

Meant. Karou sincerely hoped that if she were

“meant” for anyone, it wasn’t Kaz. She looked at him, beautiful Kazimir whose smile used to work on her like a summons, compel ing her to his side. And that had seemed a glorious place to be, as if colors were brighter there, sensations more profound. It had also, she’d discovered, been a popular place, other girls occupying it when she did not.

“Get Svetla to be your vampire vixen,” she said.

“She’s got the vixen part down.”

He looked pained. “I don’t want Svetla. I want you.”

“Alas. I am not an option.”

“Don’t say that,” he said, reaching for her hand.

She pul ed back, a pang of heartache surging in spite of al her efforts at aloofness. Not worth it, she told herself. Not even close. “This is the definition of stalking, you realize.”

“Puh. I’m not stalking you. I happen to be going this way.”

“Right,” said Karou. They were just a few doors from her school now. The Art Lyceum of Bohemia was a private high school housed in a pink Baroque palace where famously, during the Nazi occupation, two young Czech nationalists had slit the throat of a Gestapo commander and scrawled liberty with his blood. A brief, brave rebel ion before they were captured and impaled upon the finials of the courtyard gate. Now students were mil ing around that very gate, smoking, waiting for friends. But Kaz

wasn’t a student—at twenty, he was several years older than Karou—and she had never known him to be out of bed before noon. “Why are you even awake?”

“I have a new job,” he said. “It starts early.”

“What, you’re doing morning vampire tours?”

“Not that. Something else. An… unveiling of sorts.”

He was grinning now. Gloating. He wanted her to ask what his new job was.

She wouldn’t ask. With perfect disinterest she said,

“Wel , have fun with that,” and walked away.

Kaz cal ed after her, “Don’t you want to know what it is?” The grin was stil there. She could hear it in his voice.

“Don’t care,” she cal ed back, and went through the gate.

She real y should have asked.



Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Karou’s first class was life drawing. When she walked into the studio, her friend Zuzana was already there and had staked out easels for them in front of the model’s platform.

Karou shrugged off her portfolio and coat, unwound her scarf, and announced, “I’m being stalked.”

Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch, and Karou envied her for it. Her own eyebrows did not function independently of each other, which handicapped her expressions of suspicion and disdain.

Zuzana could do both perfectly, but this was milder eyebrow action, mere cool curiosity. “Don’t tel me Jackass tried to scare you again.”

Jackass tried to scare you again.”

“He’s going through a vampire phase. He bit my neck.”

“Actors,” muttered Zuzana. “I’m tel ing you, you need to tase the loser. Teach him to go jumping out at people.”

“I don’t have a Taser.” Karou didn’t add that she didn’t need a Taser; she was more than capable of defending herself without electricity. She’d had an unusual education.

“Wel , get one. Seriously. Bad behavior should be punished. Plus, it would be fun. Don’t you think? I’ve always wanted to tase someone. Zap!” Zuzana mimicked convulsions.

Karou shook her head. “No, tiny violent one, I don’t think it would be fun. You’re terrible.”

“I am not terrible. Kaz is terrible. Tel me I don’t have to remind you.” She gave Karou a sharp look. “Tel me you’re not even considering forgiving him.”

“No,” declared Karou. “But try getting him to believe that.” Kaz just couldn’t fathom any girl wil ful y depriving herself of his charms. And what had she done but strengthen his vanity those months they’d been together, gazing at him starry-eyed, giving him… everything? His wooing her now, she thought, was a point of pride, to prove to himself that he could have who he wanted. That it was up to him.

Maybe Zuzana was right. Maybe she should tase him.

“Sketchbook,” commanded Zuzana, holding out her hand like a surgeon for a scalpel.

Karou’s best friend was bossy in obverse proportion to her size. She only passed five feet in her platform boots, whereas Karou was five foot six but seemed tal er in the same way that bal erinas do, with their long necks and wil owy limbs. She wasn’t a bal erina, but she had the look, in figure if not in fashion. Not many bal erinas have bright blue hair or a constel ation of tattoos on their limbs, and Karou had both.

The only tattoos visible as she dug out her sketchbook and handed it over were the ones on her wrists like bracelets—a single word on each: true and story.

As Zuzana took the book, a couple of other students, Pavel and Dina, crowded in to look over her shoulder. Karou’s sketchbooks had a cult fol owing around school and were handed around and marveled at on a daily basis. This one—number ninety-two in a lifelong series—was bound with rubber bands, and as soon as Zuzana took them off it burst open, each page so coated in gesso and paint that the binding could scarcely contain them.

As it fanned open, Karou’s trademark characters wavered on the pages, gorgeously rendered and deeply strange.

There was Issa, serpent from the waist down and woman from the waist up, with the bare, globe breasts of Kama Sutra carvings, the hood and fangs of a cobra, and the face of an angel.

Giraffe-necked Twiga, hunched over with his jeweler’s glass stuck in one squinting eye.

Yasri, parrot-beaked and human-eyed, a fril of orange curls escaping her kerchief. She was carrying a platter of fruit and a pitcher of wine.

And Brimstone, of course—he was the star of the sketchbooks. Here he was shown with Kishmish perched on the curl of one of his great ram’s horns.

In the fantastical stories Karou told in her sketchbooks, Brimstone dealt in wishes. Sometimes she cal ed him the Wishmonger; other times, simply

“the grump.”

She’d been drawing these creatures since she was a little girl, and her friends tended to talk about them as if they were real. “What was Brimstone up to this weekend?” asked Zuzana.

“The usual,” said Karou. “Buying teeth from murderers. He got some Nile crocodile teeth yesterday from this awful Somali poacher, but the idiot tried to steal from him and got half strangled by his snake col ar. He’s lucky to be alive.”

Zuzana found the story il ustrated on the book’s last drawn pages: the Somali, his eyes rol ing back in his head as the whip-thin snake around his neck cinched itself as tight as a garrote. Humans, Karou had explained before, had to submit to wearing one of Issa’s serpents around their necks before they could enter Brimstone’s shop. That way if they tried anything fishy they were easy to subdue—by strangulation, which wasn’t always fatal, or, if necessary, by a bite to the throat, which was.

“How do you make this stuff up, maniac?” Zuzana asked, al jealous wonderment.

“Who says I do? I keep tel ing you, it’s al real.”

“Uh-huh. And your hair grows out of your head that color, too.”

color, too.”

“What? It total y does,” said Karou, passing a long blue strand through her fingers.


Karou shrugged and gathered her hair back in a messy coil, stabbing a paintbrush through it to secure it at the nape of her neck. In fact, her hair did grow out of her head that color, pure as ultramarine straight from the paint tube, but that was a truth she told with a certain wry smile, as if she were being absurd. Over the years she’d found that that was al it took, that lazy smile, and she could tel the truth without risk of being believed. It was easier than keeping track of lies, and so it became part of who she was: Karou with her wry smile and crazy imagination.

In fact, it was not her imagination that was crazy. It was her life—blue hair and Brimstone and al .

Zuzana handed the book to Pavel and started flipping pages in her own oversize drawing pad, searching for a fresh page. “I wonder who’s posing today.”

“Probably Wiktor,” said Karou. “We haven’t had him in a while.”

“I know. I’m hoping he’s dead.”


“What? He’s eight mil ion years old. We might as wel draw the anatomical skeleton as that creepy bonesack.”

There were some dozen models, male and female, al shapes and ages, who rotated through the class.

They ranged from enormous Madame Svobodnik, whose flesh was more landscape than figure, to pixie Eliska with her wasp waist, the favorite of the male students. Ancient Wiktor was Zuzana’s least favorite. She claimed to have nightmares whenever she had to draw him.

“He looks like an unwrapped mummy.” She shuddered. “I ask you, is staring at a naked old man any way to start the day?”

“Better than getting attacked by a vampire,” said Karou.

In fact, she didn’t mind drawing Wiktor. For one thing, he was so nearsighted he never made eye contact with the students, which was a bonus. No matter that she had been drawing nudes for years; she stil found it unsettling, sketching one of the younger male models, to look up from a study of his penis—a necessary study; you couldn’t exactly leave the area blank—and find him staring back at her.

Karou had felt her cheeks flame on plenty of occasions and ducked behind her easel.

Those occasions, as it turned out, were about to fade into insignificance next to the mortification of today.

She was sharpening a pencil with a razor blade when Zuzana blurted in a weird, choked voice, “Oh my god, Karou!”

And before she even looked up, she knew.

An unveiling, he had said. Oh, how clever. She lifted her gaze from her pencil and took in the sight of Kaz standing beside Profesorka Fiala. He was barefoot and wearing a robe, and his shoulder-length golden hair, which had minutes before been wind-teased and sparkling with snowflakes, was pul ed back in a ponytail. His face was a perfect blend of Slavic angles and soft sensuality: cheekbones that might have been turned on a diamond cutter’s lathe, lips you wanted to touch with your fingertips to see if they felt like velvet. Which, Karou knew, they did. Stupid lips.

Murmurs went around the room. A new model, oh my god, gorgeous…

One murmur cut through the others: “Isn’t that Karou’s boyfriend?”

Ex, she wanted to snap. So very, very ex.

“I think it is. Look at him….”

Karou was looking at him, her face frozen in what she hoped was a mask of impervious calm. Don’t blush, she commanded herself. Do not blush. Kaz looked right back at her, a smile dimpling one cheek, eyes lazy and amused. And when he was sure he held her gaze, he had the nerve to wink.

A flurry of giggles erupted around Karou.

“Oh, the evil bastard…” Zuzana breathed.

Kaz stepped up onto the model’s platform. He looked straight at Karou as he untied his sash; he looked at her as he shrugged off the robe. And then Karou’s ex-boyfriend was standing before her entire class, beautiful as heartbreak, naked as the David.

And on his chest, right over his heart, was a new tattoo.

It was an elaborate cursive K.

More giggles burst forth. Students didn’t know who to look at, Karou or Kazimir, and glanced from one to the other, waiting for a drama to unfold. “Quiet!”

to the other, waiting for a drama to unfold. “Quiet!”

commanded Profesorka Fiala, appal ed, clapping her hands together until the laughter was stifled.

Karou’s blush came on then. She couldn’t stop it.

First her chest and neck went hot, then her face.

Kaz’s eyes were on her the whole time, and his dimple deepened with satisfaction when he saw her flustered.

“One-minute poses, please, Kazimir,” said Fiala.

Kaz stepped into his first pose. It was dynamic, as the one-minute poses were meant to be—twisted torso, taut muscles, limbs stretched in simulation of action. These warm-up sketches were al about movement and loose line, and Kaz was taking the opportunity to flaunt himself. Karou thought she didn’t hear a lot of pencils scratching. Were the other girls in the class just staring stupidly, as she was?

She dipped her head, took up her sharp pencil—

thinking of other uses she would happily put it to—

and started to sketch. Quick, fluid lines, and al the sketches on one page; she overlapped them so they looked like an il ustration of dance.

Kaz was graceful. He spent enough time looking in the mirror that he knew how to use his body for effect. It was his instrument, he’d have said. Along with the voice, the body was an actor’s tool. Wel , Kaz was a lousy actor—which was why he got by on ghost tours and the occasional low-budget production of Faust—but he made a fine artist’s model, as Karou knew, having drawn him many times before.

His body had reminded Karou, from the first time she saw it… unveiled… of a Michelangelo. Unlike some Renaissance artists, who’d favored slim, effete models, Michelangelo had gone for power, drawing broad-shouldered quarry workers and somehow managing to render them both carnal and elegant at the same time. That was Kaz: carnal and elegant.

And deceitful. And narcissistic. And, honestly, kind of dumb.

“Karou!” The British girl Helen was whispering harshly, trying to get her attention. “Is that him?”

Karou didn’t acknowledge her. She drew, pretending everything was normal. Just another day in class.

And if the model had an insolent dimple and wouldn’t take his eyes off her? She ignored it as best she could.

When the timer rang, Kaz calmly gathered up his robe and put it on. Karou hoped it wouldn’t occur to him that he was free to walk around the studio. Stay where you are, she wil ed him. But he didn’t. He sauntered toward her.

“Hi, Jackass,” said Zuzana. “Modest much?”

Ignoring her, he asked Karou, “Like my new tattoo?”

Students were standing up to stretch, but rather than dispersing for smoke or bathroom breaks, they hovered casual y within earshot.

“Sure,” Karou said, keeping her voice light. “K for Kazimir, right?”

“Funny girl. You know what it’s for.”

“Wel ,” she mused in Thinker pose, “I know there’s only one person you real y love, and his name does start with a K. But I can think of a better place for it than your heart.” She took up her pencil and, on her last drawing of Kaz, inscribed a K right over his classical y sculpted buttock.

Zuzana laughed, and Kaz’s jaw tightened. Like most vain people, he hated to be mocked. “I’m not the only one with a tattoo, am I, Karou?” he asked. He looked to Zuzana. “Has she shown it to you?”

Zuzana gave Karou the suspicious rendition of the eyebrow arch.

“I don’t know which you mean,” Karou lied calmly. “I have lots of tattoos.” To demonstrate, she didn’t flash true or story, or the serpent coiled around her ankle, or any of her other concealed works of art. Rather, she held up her hands in front of her face, palms out.

In the center of each was an eye inked in deepest indigo, in effect turning her hands into hamsas, those ancient symbols of warding against the evil eye.

Palm tattoos are notorious for fading, but Karou’s never did. She’d had these eyes as long as she could remember; for al she knew of their origin, she could have been born with them.

“Not those,” said Kaz. “I mean the one that says Kazimir, right over your heart.”

“I don’t have a tattoo like that.” She made herself sound puzzled and unfastened the top few buttons of her sweater. Beneath was a camisole, and she lowered it by a few revealing inches to demonstrate that indeed there was no tattoo above her breast.

The skin there was white as milk.

Kaz blinked. “What? How did you—?”

“Come with me.” Zuzana grabbed Karou’s hand and pul ed her away. As they wove among the easels, al pul ed her away. As they wove among the easels, al eyes were on Karou, lit with curiosity.

“Karou, did you break up?” Helen whispered in English, but Zuzana put up her hand in an imperious gesture that silenced her, and she dragged Karou out of the studio and into the girls’ bathroom. There, eyebrow stil arched, she asked, “What the hel was that?”


“What? You practical y flashed the boy.”

“Please. I did not flash him.”

“Whatever. What’s this about a tattoo over your heart?”

“I just showed you. There’s nothing there.” She saw no reason to add that there had been something; she preferred to pretend she had never been so stupid. Plus, explaining how she’d gotten rid of it was not exactly an option.

“Wel , good. The last thing you need is that idiot’s name on your body. Can you believe him? Does he think if he just dangles his boy bits at you like a cat toy you’l go scampering after him?”

“Of course he thinks that,” said Karou. “This is his idea of a romantic gesture.”

“Al you have to do is tel Fiala he’s a stalker, and she’l throw his ass out.”

Karou had thought of that, but she shook her head.

Surely she could come up with a better way to get Kaz out of her class and out of her life. She had means at her disposal that most people didn’t.

She’d think of something.

“The boy is not terrible to draw, though.” Zuzana went to the mirror and flipped wisps of dark hair across her forehead. “Got to give him that.”

“Yeah. Too bad he’s such a gargantuan asshole.”

“A giant, stupid orifice,” Zuzana agreed.

“A walking, talking cranny.”

“Cranny.” Zuzana laughed. “I like.”

An idea came to Karou, and a faintly vil ainous smirk crossed her face.

“What?” asked Zuzana, seeing it.

“Nothing. We’d better get back in there.”

“You’re sure? You don’t have to.”

Karou nodded. “Nothing to it.”

Kaz had gotten al the satisfaction he was going to get from this cute little ploy of his. It was her turn now.

Walking back into the studio, she reached up and touched the necklace she was wearing, a multistrand loop of African trade beads in every color. At least they looked like African trade beads. They were more than that. Not much more, but enough for what Karou had planned.



Profesorka Fiala asked Kaz for a reclining pose for the rest of the period, and he draped himself back across the daybed in a way that, if not quite lewd, was certainly suggestive, knees just a bit too skewed, smile bordering on bedroom. There were no titters this time, but Karou imagined a surge of heat in the atmosphere, as if the girls in the class—

and at least one of the boys—needed to fan themselves. She herself was not affected. This time when Kaz peered at her from under lazy eyelids, she met his gaze straight on.

She started sketching and did her best, thinking it fitting that, since their relationship had begun with a drawing, it should end with one, too.

drawing, it should end with one, too.

He’d been sitting two tables away at Mustache Bar the first time she saw him. He wore a vil ain’s twirled mustache, which seemed like foreshadowing now, but it was Mustache Bar after al . Everyone was wearing mustaches—Karou was sporting a Fu Manchu she’d gotten from the vending machine.

She’d pasted both mustaches into her sketchbook later that night—sketchbook number ninety—and the resulting lump made it easy to locate the exact page where her story with Kaz began.

He’d been drinking beer with friends, and Karou, unable to take her eyes off him, had drawn him. She was always drawing, not just Brimstone and the other creatures from her secret life, but scenes and people from the common world. Falconers and street musicians, Orthodox priests with beards to their bel ies, the occasional beautiful boy.

Usual y she got away with it, her subjects none the wiser, but this time the beautiful boy caught her looking, and the next thing she knew he was smiling under his fake mustache and coming over. How flattered he’d been by her sketch! He’d shown it to his friends, taken her hand to urge her to join them, and kept hold of it, fingers laced with hers, even after she’d settled at his table. That was the beginning: her worshipping his beauty, him reveling in it. And that was more or less how it had continued.

Of course, he’d told her she was beautiful, too, al the time. If she hadn’t been, surely he’d never have come over to talk to her in the first place. Kaz wasn’t exactly one to look for inner beauty. Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx. Beyond merely pretty, her face was vibrantly alive, her gaze always sparking and luminous, and she had a birdlike way of cocking her head, her lips pressed together while her dark eyes danced, that hinted at secrets and mysteries.

Karou was mysterious. She had no apparent family, she never talked about herself, and she was expert at evading questions—for al that her friends knew of her background, she might have sprung whole from the head of Zeus. And she was endlessly surprising.

Her pockets were always spil ing out curious things: ancient bronze coins, teeth, tiny jade tigers no bigger than her thumbnail. She might reveal, while haggling for sunglasses with an African street vendor, that she spoke fluent Yoruba. Once, Kaz had undressed her to discover a knife hidden in her boot. There was the matter of her being impossible to scare and, of course, there were the scars on her abdomen: three shiny divots that could only have been made by bul ets.

“Who are you?” Kaz had sometimes asked, enchanted, to which Karou would wistful y reply, “I real y don’t know.”

Because she real y didn’t.

She drew quickly now, and didn’t shy away from meeting Kaz’s eyes as she glanced up and down between model and drawing. She wanted to see his face.

She wanted to see the moment his expression changed.

Only when she had captured his pose did she lift her left hand—continuing to draw with her right—to the beads of her necklace. She took one between her thumb and forefinger and held it there.

And then she made a wish.

It was a very smal wish. These beads were just scuppies, after al . Like money, wishes came in denominations, and scuppies were mere pennies.

Weaker even than pennies, because unlike coins, wishes couldn’t be compounded. Pennies you could add up to make dol ars, but scuppies were only ever just scuppies, and whole strands of them, like this necklace, would never add up to a more potent wish, just plenty of very smal , nearly useless wishes.

Wishes, for example, for things like itches.

Karou wished Kaz an itch, and the bead vanished between her fingers. Spent and gone. She’d never wished an itch before, so, to make sure it would work, she started with a spot he wouldn’t be shy to scratch: his elbow. Sure enough, he nudged it casual y against a cushion, scarcely shifting his pose. Karou smiled to herself and kept drawing.

A few seconds later, she took another bead between her fingers and wished another itch, this time to Kaz’s nose. Another bead disappeared, the necklace shortened imperceptibly, and his face twitched. For a few seconds he resisted moving, but then gave in and rubbed his nose quickly with the back of his hand before resuming his position. His bedroom expression was gone, Karou couldn’t help noticing. She had to bite her lip to keep her smile noticing. She had to bite her lip to keep her smile from broadening.

Oh, Kazimir, she thought, you shouldn’t have come here today. You really should have slept in.

The next itch she wished to the hidden place of her evil plan, and she met Kaz’s eyes at the moment it hit. His brow creased with sudden strain. She cocked her head slightly, as if to inquire, Something wrong, dear?

Here was an itch that could not be scratched in public. Kaz went pale. His hips shifted; he couldn’t quite manage to hold stil . Karou gave him a short respite and kept drawing. As soon as he started to relax and… unclench… she struck again and had to stifle a laugh when his face went rigid.

Another bead vanished between her fingers.

Then another.

This, she thought, isn’t just for today. It’s for everything. For the heartache that stil felt like a punch in the gut each time it struck, fresh as new, at unpredictable moments; for the smiling lies and the mental images she couldn’t shake; for the shame of having been so naive.

For the way loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve—like the soul’s version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable.

And this, Karou thought, no longer smiling, is for the irretrievable.

For her virginity.

That first time, the black cape and nothing under it, she’d felt so grown up—like the Czech girls Kaz and Josef hung out with, cool Slavic beauties with names like Svetla and Frantiska, who looked like nothing could ever shock them or make them laugh. Had she real y wanted to be like them? She’d pretended to be, played the part of a girl—a woman—who didn’t care. She’d treated her virginity like a trapping of childhood, and then it was gone.

She hadn’t expected to be sorry, and at first she wasn’t. The act itself was neither disappointing nor magical; it was what it was: a new closeness. A shared secret.

Or so she’d thought.

“You look different, Karou,” Kaz’s friend Josef had said the next time she saw him. “Are you…


Kaz had punched him on the shoulder to silence him, looking at once sheepish and smug, and Karou knew he’d told. The girls, even. Their ruby lips had curled knowingly. Svetla—the one she later caught him with—even made a straight-faced comment about capes coming back in fashion, and Kaz had colored slightly and looked away, the only indication that he knew he’d done wrong.

Karou had never even told Zuzana about it, at first because it belonged to her and Kaz alone, and later because she was ashamed. She hadn’t told anyone, but Brimstone, in the inscrutable way he had of knowing things, had guessed, and had taken the opportunity to give her a rare lecture.

That had been interesting.

The Wishmonger’s voice was so deep it seemed almost the shadow of sound: a dark sonance that lurked in the lowest register of hearing. “I don’t know many rules to live by,” he’d said. “But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself.

No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles—

drug or tattoo—and… no inessential penises, either.”

“Inessential penises?” Karou had repeated, delighted with the phrase in spite of her grief. “Is there any such thing as an essential one?”

“When an essential one comes along, you’l know,”

he’d replied. “Stop squandering yourself, child. Wait for love.”

“Love.” Her delight evaporated. She’d thought that was love.

“It wil come, and you wil know it,” Brimstone had promised, and she so wanted to believe him. He’d been alive for hundreds of years, hadn’t he? Karou had never before thought about Brimstone and love

—to look at him, he didn’t seem such a candidate for it—but she hoped that in his centuries of life he’d accrued some wisdom, and that he was right about her.

Because, of al things in the world, that was her orphan’s craving: love. And she certainly hadn’t gotten it from Kaz.

Her pencil point snapped, so hard was she bearing down on her drawing, and at the same moment a burst of anger converted itself to a rapid-fire vol ey of itches that shortened her necklace to a choker and sent Kaz scrambling off the model stand. Karou released her necklace and watched him. He was already to the door, robe in hand, and he opened it already to the door, robe in hand, and he opened it and darted out, stil naked in his haste to get away and find a place where he could attend to his humiliating misery.

The door swung shut and the class was left blinking at the empty daybed. Profesorka Fiala was peering over the rim of her glasses at the door, and Karou was ashamed of herself.

Maybe that was too much.

“What’s with Jackass?” Zuzana asked.

“No idea,” said Karou, looking down at her drawing.

There on the paper was Kaz in al his carnality and elegance, looking like he was waiting for a lover to come to him. It could have been a good drawing, but she’d ruined it. Her line work had darkened and lost al subtlety, final y ending in a chaotic scribble that blotted out his… inessential penis. She wondered what Brimstone would think of her now. He was always reprimanding her for injudicious use of wishes—most recently the one that had made Svetla’s eyebrows thicken overnight until they looked like caterpil ars and grew right back the moment they were tweezed.

“Women have been burned at the stake for less, Karou,” he’d said.

Lucky for me, she thought, this isn’t the Middle Ages.



The rest of the school day was uneventful. A double period of chemistry and color lab, fol owed by master drawing and lunch, after which Zuzana went to puppetry and Karou to painting, both three-hour studio classes that released them into the same ful winter dark by which they’d arrived that morning.

“Poison?” inquired Zuzana as they stepped out the door.

“You have to ask?” said Karou. “I’m starved.”

They bent their heads against the icy wind and headed toward the river.

The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century—or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreamers, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tal houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshel blue, embel ished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs of uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fal en angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks. Thugs wore Mozart wigs and pushed chamber music on street corners, and marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theater with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet.

Above it al loomed the castle on the hil , its silhouette as sharp as thorns. By night it was floodlit, bathed in eerie light, and this evening the sky hung low, ful -bel ied with snow, making gauzy halos around the street lamps.

Down by the Devil’s Stream, Poison Kitchen was a place rarely stumbled upon by chance; you had to know it was there, and duck under an unmarked stone arch into a wal ed graveyard, beyond which glowed the lamp-lit windowpanes of the cafe.

Unfortunately, tourists no longer had to rely on chance to discover the place; the latest edition of the Lonely Planet guide had outed it to the world—

The church once attached to this medieval priory burned down some three hundred years ago, but the monks’ quarters remain, and have been converted to the strangest cafe you’l find anywhere, crowded with classical statues al sporting the owner’s col ection of WWI gas masks. Legend has it that back in the Middle Ages, the cook lost his mind and murdered the whole priory with a poisoned vat of goulash, hence the cafe’s ghoulish name and signature dish: goulash, of course. Sit on a velvet sofa and prop your feet up on a coffin. The skul s behind the bar may or may not belong to the murdered monks….

—and for the past half year backpackers had been poking their heads through the arch, looking for some morbid Prague to write postcards about.

This evening, though, the girls found it quiet. In the corner a foreign couple was taking pictures of their children wearing gas masks, and a few men hunched at the bar, but most of the tables—coffins, flanked by low velvet settees—were unoccupied.

Roman statues were everywhere, life-size gods and nymphs with missing arms and wings, and in the middle of the room stood a copy of the huge equestrian Marcus Aurelius from Capitoline Hil .

“Oh, good, Pestilence is free,” said Karou, heading toward the sculpture. Massive emperor and horse both wore gas masks, like every other statue in the place, and it had always put Karou in mind of the first horseman of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, sowing plague with one outstretched arm. The girls’

preferred table was in its shadow, having the benefit of both privacy and a view of the bar—through the horse’s legs—so they could see if anyone interesting came in.

They dropped their portfolios and hung their coats from Marcus Aurelius’s stone fingertips. The one-eyed owner raised his hand from behind the bar, and they waved back.

They’d been coming here for two and a half years, since they were fifteen and in their first year at the Lyceum. Karou had been new to Prague and had known no one. Her Czech was freshly acquired (by wish, not study; Karou col ected languages, and that’s what Brimstone always gave her for her birthday) and it had stil tasted strange on her tongue, like a new spice.

She’d been at a boarding school in England before that, and though she was capable of a flawless British accent, she had stuck with the American one she’d developed as a child, so that was what her classmates had thought she was. In truth, she had claim to no nationality. Her papers were al forgeries, and her accents—al except one, in her first language, which was not of human origin—were al fakes.

Zuzana was Czech, from a long line of marionette artisans in Cˇ eský Krumlov, the little jewel box of a city in southern Bohemia. Her older brother had shocked the family by going into the army, but Zuzana had puppets in the blood and was carrying on the family tradition. Like Karou, she’d known no one else at school and, as fortune would have it, early in the first term they’d been paired up to paint a mural for a local primary school. That had entailed a week of evenings spent up ladders, and they’d taken to going to Poison Kitchen afterward. This was where their friendship had taken root, and when the mural was finished, the owner had hired them to paint a scene of skeletons on toilets in the cafe’s bathroom. He’d paid them a month of suppers for their labor, ensuring they would keep coming back, and a couple of years later, they stil were.

They ordered bowls of goulash, which they ate while discussing Kaz’s stunt, their chemistry teacher’s nose hair—which Zuzana asserted was braidable—

and ideas for their semester projects. Soon, talk shifted to the handsome new violinist in the orchestra of the Marionette Theatre of Prague.

“He has a girlfriend,” lamented Zuzana.

“What? How do you know?”

“He’s always texting on his breaks.”

“That’s your evidence? Flimsy. Maybe he secretly fights crime, and he’s texting infuriating riddles to his nemesis,” suggested Karou.

“Yes, I’m sure that’s it. Thank you.”

“I’m just saying, there could be other explanations

“I’m just saying, there could be other explanations than a girlfriend. Anyway, since when are you shy?

Just talk to him already!”

“And say what? Nice fiddling, handsome man?”


Zuzana snorted. She worked as an assistant to the theater’s puppeteers on the weekends and had developed a crush on the violinist some weeks before Christmas. Though not usual y bashful, she had yet to even speak to him. “He probably thinks I’m a kid,” she said. “You don’t know what it’s like, being child-size.”

“Marionette-size,” said Karou, who felt no pity whatsoever. She thought Zuzana’s tininess was perfect, like a fairy you found in the woods and wanted to put in your pocket. Though in Zuzana’s case the fairy was likely to be rabid, and bite.

“Yeah, Zuzana the marvelous human marionette.

Watch her dance.” Zuzana did a jerky, puppetlike version of bal et arms.

Inspired, Karou said, “Hey! That’s what you should do for your project. Make a giant puppeteer, and you be the marionette. You know? You could make it so that when you move, it’s like, I don’t know, reverse puppetry. Has anyone done that before? You’re the puppet, dancing from strings, but real y it’s your movements that are making the puppeteer’s hands move?”

Zuzana had been lifting a piece of bread to her mouth, and she paused. Karou knew by the way her friend’s eyes went dreamy that she was envisioning it. She said, “That would be a real y big puppet.”

“I could do your makeup, like a little marionette bal erina.”

“Are you sure you want to give it to me? It’s your idea.”

“What, like I’m going to make a giant marionette? It’s al yours.”

“Wel , thanks. Do you have any ideas for yours yet?”

Karou didn’t. Last semester when she’d taken costuming she had constructed angel wings that she could wear on a harness, rigged to operate by a pul ey system so she could lift and lower them. Ful y unfolded, they gave her a wingspan of twelve magnificent feet. She’d worn them to show Brimstone, but had never even made it in to see him.

Issa had stopped her in the vestibule and—gentle Issa!—had actual y hissed at her, cobra hood flaring open in a way Karou had seen only a couple of times in her whole life. “An angel, of al abominations! Get them off! Oh, sweet girl, I can’t stand the sight of you like that.” It was al very odd. The wings hung above the bed now in Karou’s tiny flat, taking up one entire wal .

This semester she needed to come up with a theme for a series of paintings, but so far nothing had set her mind on fire. As she was pondering ideas, she heard the tinkle of bel s on the door. A few men came in, and a darting shadow behind them caught Karou’s eye. It was the size and shape of a crow, but it was nothing so mundane.

It was Kishmish.

She straightened up and cast a quick glance at her friend. Zuzana was sketching puppet ideas in her notebook and barely responded when Karou excused herself. She went into the bathroom and the shadow fol owed, low and unseen.

Brimstone’s messenger had the body and beak of a crow but the membranous wings of a bat, and his tongue, when it flicked out, was forked. He looked like an escapee from a Hieronymus Bosch painting, and he was clutching a note with his feet. When Karou took it, she saw that his little knifelike talons had pierced the paper through.

She unfolded it and read the message, which took al of two seconds, as it said only, Errand requiring immediate attention. Come.

“He never says please,” she remarked to Kishmish.

The creature cocked his head to one side, crow-style, as if to inquire, Are you coming?

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” said Karou. “Don’t I always?”

To Zuzana, a moment later, she said, “I have to go.”

“What?” Zuzana looked up from her sketchbook.

“But, dessert.” It was there on the coffin: two plates of apple strudel, along with tea.

“Oh, damn,” said Karou. “I can’t. I have an errand.”

“You and your errands. What do you have to do, so al of a sudden?” She glanced at Karou’s phone, sitting on the coffin, and knew she had gotten no phone cal .

“Just things,” said Karou, and Zuzana let it drop, knowing from experience that she’d get no specifics.

Karou had things to do. Sometimes they took a few hours; other times, she was gone for days and returned weary and disheveled, maybe pale, maybe returned weary and disheveled, maybe pale, maybe sunburned, or with a limp, or possibly a bite mark, and once with an unshakable fever that had turned out to be malaria.

“Just where did you happen to pick up a tropical disease?” Zuzana had demanded, to which Karou had replied, “Oh, I don’t know. On the tram, maybe?

This old woman did sneeze right in my face the other day.”

“That is not how you get malaria.”

“I know. It was gross, though. I’m thinking of getting a moped so I don’t have to take the tram anymore.”

And that was the end of that discussion. Part of being friends with Karou was resignation to never real y knowing her. Now Zuzana sighed and said,

“Fine. Two strudels for me. Any resulting fat is your fault,” and Karou left Poison Kitchen, the shadow of an almost-crow darting out the door before her.



Kishmish took to the sky and was gone in a flutter.

Karou watched, wishing she could fol ow. What magnitude of wish, she wondered, would it take to endow her with flight?

One far more powerful than she’d ever have access to.

Brimstone wasn’t stingy with scuppies. He let her refresh her necklace as often as she liked from his chipped teacups ful of beads, and he paid her in bronze shings for the errands she ran for him. A shing was the next denomination of wish, and it could do more than a scuppy—Svetla’s caterpil ar eyebrows were a case in point, as were Karou’s tattoo removal and her blue hair—but she had never tattoo removal and her blue hair—but she had never gotten her hands on a wish that could work any real magic. She never would, either, unless she earned it, and she knew too wel how humans earned wishes.

Chiefly: hunting, graverobbing, and murder.

Oh, and there was one other way: a particular form of self-mutilation involving pliers and a deep commitment.

It wasn’t like in the storybooks. No witches lurked at crossroads disguised as crones, waiting to reward travelers who shared their bread. Genies didn’t burst from lamps, and talking fish didn’t bargain for their lives. In al the world, there was only one place humans could get wishes: Brimstone’s shop. And there was only one currency he accepted. It wasn’t gold, or riddles, or kindness, or any other fairy-tale nonsense, and no, it wasn’t souls, either. It was weirder than any of that.

It was teeth.

Karou crossed the Charles Bridge and took the tram north to the Jewish Quarter, a medieval ghetto that had given way to a dense concentration of Art Nouveau apartment buildings as pretty as cakes.

Her destination was the service entrance in the rear of one of them. The plain metal door didn’t look like anything special, and in and of itself, it wasn’t. If you opened it from without, it revealed only a mildewed laundry room. But Karou didn’t open it. She knocked and waited, because when the door was opened from within, it had the potential to lead someplace quite different.

It swung open and there was Issa, looking just as she did in Karou’s sketchbooks, like a snake goddess in some ancient temple. Her serpent coils were withdrawn into the shadows of a smal vestibule.

“Blessings, darling.”

“Blessings,” Karou returned fondly, kissing her cheek. “Did Kishmish make it back?”

“He did,” said Issa, “and he felt like an icicle on my shoulder. Come in now. It’s freezing in your city.” She was guardian of the threshold, and she ushered Karou inside, closing the door behind her so the two of them were alone in a space no bigger than a closet. The outer door of the vestibule had to seal completely before the inner one could be opened, in the manner of safety doors at aviaries that prevent birds from escaping. Only, in this case, it wasn’t for birds.

“How was your day, sweet girl?” Issa had some half dozen snakes on her person—wound around her arms, roaming through her hair, and one encircling her slim waist like a bel y dancer’s chain. Anyone seeking entry would have to submit to wearing one around the neck before the inner door would unseal

—anyone but Karou, that is. She was the only human who entered the shop uncol ared. She was trusted.

After al , she’d grown up in this place.

“It’s been a day,” Karou sighed. “You won’t believe what Kaz did. He showed up to be the model in my drawing class.”

Issa had not met Kaz, of course, but she knew him the same way Kaz knew her: from Karou’s sketchbooks. The difference was that while Kaz thought Issa and her perfect breasts were an erotic figment of Karou’s imagination, Issa knew Kaz was real.

She and Twiga and Yasri were as hooked on Karou’s sketchbooks as her human friends were, but for the opposite reason. They liked to see the normal things: tourists huddled under umbrel as, chickens on balconies, children playing in the park. And Issa especial y was fascinated by the nudes. To her, the human form—plain as it was, and not spliced together with other species—was a missed opportunity. She was always scrutinizing Karou and making such pronouncements as, “I think antlers would suit you, sweet girl,” or “You’d make a lovely serpent,” in just the way a human might suggest a new hairstyle or shade of lipstick.

Now, Issa’s eyes lit up with ferocity. “You mean he came to your school? The scandalous rodent-loaf!

Did you draw him? Show me.” Outraged or not, she wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see Kaz naked.

Karou pul ed out her pad and flipped it open.

“You scribbled out the best part,” Issa accused.

“Trust me, it’s not that great.”

Issa giggled into her hand as the shop door creaked open to admit them, and Karou stepped across the threshold. As always, she felt the slightest wave of nausea at the transition.

She was no longer in Prague.

Even though she had lived in Brimstone’s shop, she stil didn’t understand where it was, only that you could enter through doorways al over the world and end up right here. As a child she used to ask Brimstone where exactly “here” was, only to be told Brimstone where exactly “here” was, only to be told brusquely, “Elsewhere.”

Brimstone was not a fan of questions.

Wherever it was, the shop was a windowless clutter of shelves that looked like some kind of tooth fairy’s dumping ground—if, that is, the tooth fairy trafficked in al species. Viper fangs, canines, grooved elephant molars, overgrown orange incisors from exotic jungle rodents—they were al col ected in bins and apothecary chests, strung in garlands that draped from hooks, and sealed in hundreds of jars you could shake like maracas.

The ceiling was vaulted like a crypt’s, and smal things scurried in the shadows, their tiny claws scritch-scritching on stone. Like Kishmish, these were creatures of disparate parts: scorpion-mice, gecko-crabs, beetle-rats. In the damp around the drains were snails with the heads of bul frogs, and overhead, the ubiquitous moth-winged hummingbirds hurled themselves at lanterns, setting them swaying with the creak of copper chains.

In the corner, Twiga was bent over his work, his ungainly long neck bowed like a horseshoe as he cleaned teeth and banded them with gold to be strung onto catgut. A clatter came from the kitchen nook that was Yasri’s domain.

And off to the left, behind a huge oak desk, was Brimstone himself. Kishmish was perched in his usual place on his master’s right horn, and spread out on the desk were trays of teeth and smal chests of gems. Brimstone was stringing them into a necklace and did not look up. “Karou,” he said. “I believe I wrote ‘errand requiring immediate attention.’ ”

“Which is exactly why I came immediately.”

“It’s been”—he consulted his pocket watch—“forty minutes.”

“I was across town. If you want me to travel faster, give me wings, and I’l race Kishmish back. Or just give me a gavriel, and I’l wish for flight myself.”

A gavriel was the second most powerful wish, certainly sufficient to grant the power of flight. Stil bent over his work, Brimstone replied, “I think a flying girl would not go unnoticed in your city.”

“Easily solved,” said Karou. “Give me two gavriels, and I’l wish for invisibility, too.”

Brimstone looked up. His eyes were those of a crocodile, luteous gold with vertical slit pupils, and they were not amused. He would not, Karou knew, give her any gavriels. She didn’t ask out of hope, but because his complaint was so unfair. Hadn’t she come running as soon as he’d cal ed?

“I could trust you with gavriels, could I?” he asked.

“Of course you could. What kind of question is that?”

She felt his appraisal, as if he were mental y reviewing every wish she’d ever made.

Blue hair: frivolous.

Erasing pimples: vain.

Wishing off the light switch so she didn’t have to get out of bed: lazy.

He said, “Your necklace is looking quite short. Have you had a busy day?”

Her hand flew to cover it. Too late. “Why do you have to notice everything?” No doubt the old devil somehow knew exactly what she’d used these scuppies for and was adding it to his mental list: Making ex-boyfriend’s cranny itch: vindictive.

“Such pettiness is beneath you, Karou.”

“He deserved it,” she replied, forgetting her earlier shame. Like Zuzana had said, bad behavior should be punished. She added, “Besides, it’s not like you ask your traders what they’re going to use their wishes for, and I’m sure they do a hel of a lot worse than make people itch.”

“I expect you to be better than them,” Brimstone said simply.

“Are you suggesting that I’m not?”

The tooth-traders who came to the shop were, with few exceptions, about the worst specimens humanity had to offer. Though Brimstone did have a smal coterie of longtime associates who did not turn Karou’s stomach—such as the retired diamond dealer who had on a number of occasions posed as her grandmother to enrol her in schools—mostly they were a stinking, soul-dead lot with crescents of gore under their fingernails. They kil ed and maimed.

They carried pliers in their pockets for extracting the teeth of the dead—and sometimes the living. Karou loathed them, and she was certainly better than them.

Brimstone said, “Prove that you are, by using wishes for good.”

Nettled, she asked, “Who are you to talk about good, anyway?” She gestured to the necklace clutched in his huge clawed hands. Crocodile teeth—those would be from the Somali. Also wolf fangs, horse would be from the Somali. Also wolf fangs, horse molars, and hematite beads. “I wonder how many animals died in the world today because of you. Not to mention people.”

She heard Issa suck in a surprised breath, and she knew she should shut up, but her mouth kept moving.

“No, real y. You do business with kil ers, and you don’t even have to see the corpses they leave behind. You lurk in here like a trol —”

“Karou,” Brimstone said.

“But I’ve seen them, piles of dead creatures with bloody mouths. Those girls with their bloody mouths; I’l never forget as long as I live. What’s it al for?

What do you do with these teeth? If you would just tel me, maybe I could understand. There must be a reason—”

“Karou,” Brimstone said again. He did not say “shut up.” He didn’t have to. His voice conveyed it clearly enough, on top of which he rose suddenly from his chair.

Karou shut up.

Sometimes, maybe most of the time, she forgot to see Brimstone. He was so familiar that when she looked at him she saw not a beast but the creature who, for reasons unknown, had raised her from a baby, and not without tenderness. But he could stil strike her speechless at times, such as when he used that tone of voice. It slithered like a hiss to the core of her consciousness and opened her eyes to the ful , fearsome truth of him.

Brimstone was a monster.

If he and Issa, Twiga, and Yasri were to stray from the shop, that’s what humans would cal them: monsters. Demons, maybe, or devils. They cal ed themselves chimaera.

Brimstone’s arms and massive torso were the only human parts of him, though the tough flesh that covered them was more hide than skin. His square pectorals were riven with ancient scar tissue, one nipple entirely obliterated by it, and his shoulders and back were etched in more scars: a network of puckered white cross-hatchings. Below the waist he became elsething. His haunches, covered in faded, off-gold fur, rippled with leonine muscle, but instead of the padded paws of a lion, they tapered to wicked, clawed feet that could have been either raptor or lizard—or perhaps, Karou fancied, dragon.

And then there was his head. Roughly that of a ram, it wasn’t furred, but fleshed in the same tough brown hide as the rest of him. It gave way to scales around his flat ovine nose and reptilian eyes, and giant, yel owed ram horns spiraled on either side of his face.

He wore a set of jeweler’s lenses on a chain, and their dark gold rims were the only ornament on his person, if you didn’t count the other thing he wore around his neck, which had no sparkle to catch the eye. It was just an old wishbone, sitting in the hol ow of his throat. Karou didn’t know why he wore it, only that she was forbidden to touch it, which, of course, had always made her long to do so. When she was a baby and he used to rock her on his knee, she would make little lightning grabs for it, but Brimstone was always faster. Karou had never succeeded in laying so much as a fingertip to it.

Now that she was grown she showed more decorum, but she stil sometimes found herself itching to reach for the thing. Not now, though.

Cowed by Brimstone’s abrupt rising, she felt her rebel iousness subside. Taking a step back, she asked in a smal voice, “So, um, what about this urgent errand? Where do you need me to go?”

He tossed her a case fil ed with colorful banknotes that turned out to be euros. A lot of euros.

“Paris,” said Brimstone. “Have fun.”




“Oh, yes,” Karou muttered to herself later that night as she dragged three hundred pounds of il egal elephant ivory down the steps of the Paris Metro.

“This is just so much fun.”

When she’d left Brimstone’s shop, Issa had let her out through the same door by which she’d entered, but when she stepped onto the street she was not back in Prague. She was in Paris, just like that.

No matter how many times she went through the portal, the thril never wore off. It opened onto dozens of cities, and Karou had been to them al , on errands like this one and sometimes for pleasure. Brimstone let her go out and draw anywhere in the world where let her go out and draw anywhere in the world where there wasn’t a war, and when she had a craving for mangoes he opened the door to India, on the condition that she bring some back for him, too. She had even wheedled her way into shopping expeditions to exotic bazaars, and right here, to the Paris flea markets, to furnish her flat.

Wherever she went, when the door closed behind her, its connection to the shop was severed.

Whatever magic was at work, it existed in that other place—Elsewhere, as she thought of it—and could not be conjured from this side. No one would ever force his way into the shop. One would only succeed in breaking through an earthly door that didn’t lead where he hoped to go.

Even Karou was dependent on the whim of Brimstone to admit her. Sometimes he didn’t, however much she knocked, though he had never yet stranded her on the far side of an errand, and she hoped he never would.

This errand turned out to be a black-market auction in a warehouse on the outskirts of Paris. Karou had attended several such, and they were always the same. Cash only, of course, and attended by sundry underworld types like exiled dictators and crime lords with pretensions to culture. The auction items were a mixed salad of stolen museum pieces—a Chagal drawing, the dried uvula of some beheaded saint, a matched set of tusks from a mature African bul elephant.

Yes. A matched set of tusks from a mature African bul elephant.

Karou sighed when she saw them. Brimstone hadn’t told her what she was after, only that she would know it when she saw it, and she did. Oh, and wouldn’t they be a delight to wrangle on public transportation?

Unlike the other bidders, she didn’t have a long black car waiting, or a pair of thug bodyguards to do her heavy lifting. She had only a string of scuppies and her charm, neither of which proved sufficient to persuade a cab driver to hang seven-foot-long elephant tusks out the back of his taxi. So, grumbling, Karou had to drag them six blocks to the nearest Metro station, down the stairs, and through the turnstile. They were wrapped in canvas and duct-taped, and when a street musician lowered his violin to inquire, “Hey lovely, what you got there?” she said,

“Musicians who asked questions,” and kept on dragging.

It could have been worse, certainly, and often was.

Brimstone sent her to some god-awful places in pursuit of teeth. After the incident in St. Petersburg, when she was recovering from being shot, she’d demanded, “Is my life real y worth so little to you?”

As soon as the question was out of her mouth, she’d regretted it. If her life was worth so little to him, she didn’t want him to admit it. Brimstone had his faults, but he was al she had for a family, along with Issa and Twiga and Yasri. If she was just some kind of expendable slave girl, she didn’t want to know.

His answer had neither confirmed nor denied her fear. “Your life? You mean, your body? Your body is nothing but an envelope, Karou. Your soul is another matter, and is not, as far as I know, in any immediate danger.”

“An envelope?” She didn’t like to think of her body as an envelope—something others might be able to open up and rifle through, remove things from like so many clipped coupons.

“I assumed you felt the same way,” he’d said. “The way you scribble on it.”

Brimstone didn’t approve of her tattoos, which was funny, since he was responsible for her first, the eyes on her palms. At least Karou suspected he was, though she didn’t know for sure, since he was incapable of answering even the most basic questions.

“Whatever,” she’d said with a pained sigh. Real y: pained. Getting shot hurt, no surprise there. Of course, she couldn’t argue that Brimstone shoved her unprepared into danger. He’d seen to it that she was trained from a young age in martial arts. She never mentioned it to her friends—it was not, her sensei had taught her early, a bragging matter—and they would have been surprised to learn that Karou’s gliding, straight-spined grace went hand in hand with deadly skil . Deadly or not, she’d had the misfortune to discover that karate went only so far against guns.

She’d healed quickly with the help of a pungent salve and, she suspected, magic, but her youthful fearlessness had been shaken, and she went on errands with more trepidation now.

Her train came, and she wrestled her burden through the doors, trying not to think too much about what was in it, or the magnificent life that had been ended somewhere in Africa, though probably not recently.

somewhere in Africa, though probably not recently.

These tusks were massive, and Karou happened to know that elephant tusks rarely grew so big anymore

—poachers had seen to that. By kil ing al the biggest bul s, they’d altered the elephant gene pool.

It was sickening, and here she was, part of that blood trade, hauling endangered species contraband on the freaking Paris Metro.

She shut the thought away in a dark room in her mind and stared out the window as the train sped through its black tunnels. She couldn’t let herself think about it. Whenever she did, her life felt gore-streaked and nasty.

Last semester, when she’d made her wings, she’d dubbed herself “the Angel of Extinction,” and it was entirely appropriate. The wings were made of real feathers she’d “borrowed” from Brimstone—

hundreds of them, brought to him over the years by traders. She used to play with them when she was little, before she understood that birds had been kil ed for them, whole species driven extinct.

She had been innocent once, a little girl playing with feathers on the floor of a devil’s lair. She wasn’t innocent now, but she didn’t know what to do about it. This was her life: magic and shame and secrets and teeth and a deep, nagging hol ow at the center of herself where something was most certainly missing.

Karou was plagued by the notion that she wasn’t whole. She didn’t know what this meant, but it was a lifelong feeling, a sensation akin to having forgotten something. She’d tried describing it to Issa once, when she was a girl. “It’s like you’re standing in the kitchen, and you know you went in there for a reason, but you can’t think of what that reason is, no matter what.”

“And that’s how you feel?” asked Issa, frowning.

“Al the time.”

Issa had only drawn her close and stroked her hair—

then its natural near-black—and said, unconvincingly, “I’m sure it’s nothing, lovely. Try not to worry.”


Wel . Getting the tusks up the Metro steps at her destination was a lot harder than dragging them down had been, and by the top Karou was exhausted, sweating under her winter coat, and extremely peevish. The portal was a couple more blocks away, linked to the doorway of a synagogue’s smal storage outbuilding, and when she final y reached it she found two Orthodox rabbis in deep conversation right in front of it.

“Perfect,” she muttered. She continued past them and leaned against an iron gate, just out of sight, to wait while they discussed some act of vandalism in mystified tones. At last they left, and Karou wrangled the tusks to the little door and knocked. As she always did while waiting at a portal in some back al ey of the world, she imagined being stranded.

Sometimes it took long minutes for Issa to open the door, and each and every time, Karou considered the possibility that it might not open. There was always a twinge of fear of being locked out, not just for the night, but forever. The scenario made her hyperaware of her powerlessness. If, some day, the door didn’t open, she would be alone.

The moment stretched, and Karou, leaning wearily against the doorframe, noticed something. She straightened. On the surface of the door was a large black handprint. That wouldn’t have been so very strange, except that it gave every appearance of having been burned into the wood. Burned, but in the perfect contours of a hand. This must be what the rabbis were talking about. She traced it with her fingertips, finding that it was actual y scored into the wood, so that her own hand fit inside it, though dwarfed by it, and came away dusted with fine ash.

She brushed off her fingers, puzzled.

What had made the print? A cleverly shaped brand?

It sometimes happened that Brimstone’s traders left a mark by which to find portals on their next visit, but that was usual y just a smear of paint or a knife-gouged X-marks-the-spot. This was a bit sophisticated for them.

The door creaked open, to Karou’s deep relief.

“Did everything go al right?” Issa asked.

Karou heaved the tusks into the vestibule, having to wedge them at an angle to fit them inside. “Sure.”

She slumped against the wal . “I’d drag tusks across Paris every night if I could, it was such a treat.”



Around the world, over a space of days, black handprints appeared on many doors, each scorched deep into wood or metal. Nairobi, Delhi, St.

Petersburg, a handful of other cities. It was a phenomenon. In Cairo, the owner of a shisha den painted over the mark on his back door only to find, hours later, that the handprint had smoldered through the paint and showed just as black as when he’d discovered it.

There were some witnesses to the acts of vandalism, but no one believed what they claimed to have seen.

“With his bare hand,” a child in New York told his mother, pointing out the window. “He just put his mother, pointing out the window. “He just put his hand there, and it glowed and smoked.”

His mother sighed and went back to bed. The boy was an established fibber, worse luck for him, because this time he was not lying. He had seen a tal man lay his hand on the door and scorch the mark into it. “His shadow was wrong,” he told his mother’s retreating back. “It didn’t match.”

A drunken tourist in Bangkok witnessed a similar scene, though this time the handprint was made by a woman of such impossible beauty that he fol owed her, spel bound, only to see her—as he claimed—fly away.

“She didn’t have wings,” he told his friends, “but her shadow did.”

“His eyes were like fire,” said an old man who caught sight of one of the strangers from his rooftop pigeon coop. “Sparks rained down when he flew away.”

So it was in slum al eys and dark courtyards in Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, San Francisco, Paris. Beautiful men and women with distorted shadows came and scorched their handprints onto doors before vanishing skyward, drafts of heat bil owing behind them with the whumph of unseen wings. Here and there, feathers fel , and they were like tufts of white fire, disintegrating to ash as soon as they touched the ground. In Delhi, a Sister of Mercy reached out and caught one on her palm like a raindrop, but unlike a raindrop it burned, and left the perfect outline of a feather seared into her flesh.

“Angel,” she whispered, relishing the pain.

She was not exactly wrong.



When Karou stepped back into the shop, she found that Brimstone was not alone. A trader sat opposite him, a loathsome American hunter whose slab-of-meat face was garnished by the biggest, filthiest beard she had ever seen.

She turned to Issa and grimaced.

“I know,” agreed Issa, coming across the threshold in a ripple of serpentine muscle. “I gave him Avigeth.

She’s about to molt.”

Karou laughed.

Avigeth was the coral snake wound around the hunter’s thick throat, forming a col ar far too beautiful for the likes of him. Her bands of black, yel ow, and crimson looked, even in their dul ed state, like fine crimson looked, even in their dul ed state, like fine Chinese cloisonné. But for al her beauty, Avigeth was deadly, and never more so than when the itch of impending molt made her peevish. She was wending now in and out of the massive beard, a constant reminder to the trader that he must behave if he hoped to live.

“On behalf of the animals of North America,”

whispered Karou, “can’t you just make her bite him?”

“I could, but Brimstone wouldn’t be happy. As wel you know, Bain is one of his most valued traders.”

Karou sighed. “I know.” For longer than she had even been alive, Bain had been supplying Brimstone with bear teeth—grizzly, black, and polar—and lynx, fox, mountain lion, wolf, and sometimes even dog. He specialized in predators, always of premium value down here. They were also, Karou had pointed out to Brimstone on many occasions, of premium value to the world. How many beautiful carcasses did that pile of teeth amount to?

She watched, dismayed, as Brimstone took two large gold medal ions out of his strongbox, each the size of a saucer and engraved with his own likeness.

Gavriels. Enough to buy her flight and invisibility, and he pushed them across the desk to the hunter. Karou scowled as Bain pocketed them and rose from his chair, moving slowly so as not to irritate Avigeth. Out of the corner of one soul ess eye, he cut Karou a look that she could almost swear was a gloat, and then had the gal to wink.

Karou clenched her teeth and said nothing as Issa escorted Bain out. Had it been only that morning that Kaz had winked at her from the model stand? What a day.

The door closed, and Brimstone gestured Karou forward. She heaved the canvas-wrapped tusks toward him and let the bundle col apse on the shop floor.

“Be careful,” he barked. “Do you know the value of these?”

“Indeed I do, since I just paid it.”

“That’s the human value. The idiots would carve them to bits to make trinkets and baubles.”

“And what wil you do with them?” asked Karou. She kept her voice casual, as if Brimstone might forget himself and reveal, at last, the mystery at the core of everything: what in the hel he did with al these teeth.

He only gave her a weary look, as if to say, Nice try.

“What? You brought it up. And no, I don’t know the inhuman value of tusks. I have no idea.”

“Beyond price.” He started sawing at the duct tape with a curved knife.

“It’s a good thing I had some scuppies on me, then,”

said Karou, flopping into the chair Bain had just vacated. “Otherwise you’d have lost your priceless tusks to another bidder.”


“You didn’t give me enough money. This little bastard war criminal kept bidding them up and—wel , I’m not sure he was a war criminal, but he had this certain indefinable war-criminaliness about him—and I could see he was determined to get them, so I…

maybe I shouldn’t have, though, since you don’t approve of my… pettiness, did you cal it?” She smiled sweetly and dangled the remaining beads of her necklace. It was more of a bracelet now.

She’d used her new itch trick on the man, wishing a relentless onslaught of cranny itches on him until he fled the room. Surely Brimstone knew; he always knew. It would be nice, she thought, if he would say thank you. Instead, he just slapped a coin onto the table.

A measly shing.

“That’s it? I dragged those things across Paris for you for a shing, while beardy gets away with double gavriels?”

Brimstone ignored her and extricated the tusks from their shroud. Twiga came to consult with him, and they muttered in undertones in their own language, which Karou had learned from the cradle in the natural way, and not by wish. It was a harsh tongue, growlsome and ful of fricatives, with much of it rising from the throat. By comparison, even German or Hebrew seemed melodious.

While they talked about tooth configurations, Karou helped herself to the scuppy teacups and set about replenishing her string of nearly useless wishes, which she decided to keep as a multistrand bracelet for now. Twiga hauled the tusks over to his corner for cleaning, and Karou contemplated going home.

Home. The word always had air quotes around it in her mind. She’d done what she could to make her flat cozy, fil ing it with art, books, ornate lanterns, and a Persian carpet as soft as lynx fur, and of course there were her angel wings taking up one whole wal .

But there was no help for its real emptiness; its close But there was no help for its real emptiness; its close air was stirred by no breath but her own. When she was alone, the empty place within her, the missingness as she thought of it, seemed to swel .

Even being with Kaz had done something to keep it at bay, though not enough. Never enough.

She thought of the little cot that used to be hers, tucked behind the tal bookcases in the back of the shop, and wished whimsical y that she could stay here tonight. She could fal asleep like she used to, to the sound of murmured voices, Issa’s soft slither, the scritch of wee elsething beasties scampering in the shadows.

“Sweet girl.” Yasri bustled out of the kitchen with a tea tray. Beside the teapot was a plate of the custard-fil ed pastries in the shape of horns that were her specialty. “You must be hungry,” she said in her parrot voice. With a sideward glance at Brimstone, she added, “It’s not healthy for a growing girl, always running off hither and thither at not a moment’s notice.”

“That’s me, hither-and-thither girl,” said Karou. She grabbed a pastry and slumped in her chair to eat it.

Brimstone spared her a glance, then said to Yasri,

“And I suppose it’s healthy for a growing girl to live on pastry?”

Yasri tutted. “I’d be happy to fix her a proper meal if you ever gave me warning, you great brute.” She turned to Karou. “You’re too thin, lovely. It isn’t becoming.”

“Mmm,” agreed Issa, caressing Karou’s hair. “She should be leopard, don’t you think? Sleek and lazy, fur hot from the sun, and not too lean. A wel -fed leopard-girl, lapping from a bowl of cream.”

Karou smiled and ate. Yasri poured tea for them al , just how they liked it, which meant four sugars for Brimstone. After al these years, Karou stil thought it was funny that the Wishmonger had a sweet tooth.

She watched as he bent back to his never-ending work, stringing teeth into necklaces.

“Oryx leucoryx,” she identified as he selected a tooth from his tray.

He was unimpressed. “Antelopes are child’s play.”

“Give me a hard one, then.”

He handed her a shark’s tooth, and Karou was reminded of the hours she’d sat here with him as a child, learning teeth. “Mako,” she said.

“Longfin or shortfin?”

“Oh. Uh.” She went stil , holding the tooth between her thumb and forefinger. Brimstone had trained her in this art since she was smal , and she could read the origin and integrity of teeth from their subtle vibrations. She declared, “Short.”

He grunted, which was about as close as he came to praise.

“Did you know,” Karou asked him, “that mako shark fetuses eat each other in the womb?”

Issa, who was stroking Avigeth, gave a tch of disgust.

“It’s true. Only cannibal fetuses survive to be born.

Can you imagine if people were like that?” She put her feet up on the desk and, two seconds later, at a dark look from Brimstone, took them down again.

The shop’s warmth was making her drowsy. The cot in its little nook cal ed to her, as did the quilt Yasri had made her, so soft from years of snuggling.

“Brimstone,” she said, hesitant. “Do you think—?”

At that moment, a thudding sounded, violent.

“Oh, dear,” said Yasri, clicking her beak in agitation as she gathered up the tea things.

It was the shop’s other door.

Back behind Twiga’s workspace, in the shadowed reaches of the shop where no lantern ever hung, there was a second door. In al Karou’s life, it had never been opened in her presence. She had no idea what was behind it.

The thudding came again, so hard it rattled the teeth in their jars. Brimstone rose, and Karou knew what was expected of her—that she rise, too, and leave at once—but she slouched down in her chair. “Let me stay,” she said. “I’l be quiet. I’l go back to my cot. I won’t look—”

“Karou,” said Brimstone. “You know the rules.”

“I hate the rules.”

He took a step toward her, prepared to help her out of the chair if she didn’t obey, and she shot to her feet, hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay.” She put on her coat as the banging continued, and grabbed another pastry from Yasri’s tray before letting Issa usher her into the vestibule. The door closed behind them, sealing out sound.

She didn’t bother asking Issa who was at the other door—Issa never gave away Brimstone’s secrets.

But she said, a little pitiful y, “I was just about to ask Brimstone if I could sleep in my old cot.”

Issa leaned forward to kiss her cheek and said, “Oh, Issa leaned forward to kiss her cheek and said, “Oh, sweet girl, wouldn’t that be nice? We can wait right here, the way we did when you were smal .”

Ah, yes. When Karou was too smal to shove out into the world’s streets on her own, Issa had kept her here. Hours they had sometimes crouched in this tiny space, Issa trying to keep her entertained by singing songs or drawing—in fact, it was Issa who had started her drawing—or crowning her with venomous snakes, while inside Brimstone confronted whatever lurked on the other side of that door.

“You can come back in,” Issa continued, “after.”

“That’s okay,” Karou said with a sigh. “I’l just go.”

Issa squeezed her arm and said, “Sweet dreams, sweet girl,” and Karou hunched her shoulders and stepped back out into the cold. As she walked, clock towers across Prague started arguing midnight, and the long, fraught Monday came at last to a close.



Akiva stood at the edge of a rooftop terrace in Riyadh, peering down at a doorway in the lane below. It was as nondescript as the others, but he knew it for what it was. He could feel its bitter aura of magic as an ache behind his eyes.

It was one of the devil’s portals into the human world.

Spreading vast wings that were visible only in his shadow, he glided down to it, landing in a rain of sparks. A street sweeper saw him and dropped to his knees, but Akiva ignored him and faced the door, his hands curling into fists. He wanted nothing so much as to draw his blade and storm inside, end things quick right there in Brimstone’s shop, end them bloody, but the magic of the portals was them bloody, but the magic of the portals was cunning and he knew better than to attempt it, so he did what he had come here to do.

He reached out and laid his hand flat against the door. There was a soft glow and a smel of scorching, and when he took away his hand its print was scored into the wood.

That was al , for now.

He turned and walked away, and folk cringed close to wal s to let him pass.

Certainly, they couldn’t see him as he truly was. His fiery wings were glamoured invisible, and he should have been able to pass as human, but he wasn’t quite pul ing it off. What people saw was a tal young man, beautiful—truly, breath-stealingly beautiful, in a way one rarely beholds in real life—who moved among them with predatory grace, seeming no more mindful of them than if they were statuary in a garden of gods. On his back a pair of crossed swords were sheathed, and his sleeves were pushed up over forearms tanned and corded with muscle. His hands were a curiosity, etched both white with scars and black with the ink of tattoos—simple repeating black lines hatched across the tops of his fingers.

His dark hair was cropped close to his skul , with a hairline that dipped into a widow’s peak. His golden skin was bronzed darker across the planes of his face—high ridges of cheekbones, brow, bridge of the nose—as if he lived his life in drenching rich honey light.

Beautiful as he was, he was forbidding. It was difficult to imagine him breaking into a smile—which indeed Akiva hadn’t done in many years, and couldn’t imagine doing ever again.

But al of this was just fleeting impression. What people fixed on, stopping to watch him pass, were his eyes.

They were amber like a tiger’s, and like a tiger’s they were rimmed in black—the black both of heavy lashes and of kohl, which focused the gold of his irises like beams of light. They were pure and luminous, mesmerizing and achingly beautiful, but something was wrong, was missing. Humanity, perhaps, that quality of benevolence that humans have, without irony, named after themselves. When, coming around a corner, an old woman found herself in his path, the ful force of his gaze fel on her and she gasped.

There was live fire in his eyes. She was sure he would set her alight.

She gasped and stumbled, and he reached out a hand to steady her. She felt heat, and when he continued past, his unseen wings brushed against her. Sparks shivered from them and she was left gaping in breathless, paralyzed panic at his receding form. Plainly she saw his shadow wings fan open and then, with a gust of heat that blew her headscarf off, he was gone.

In moments Akiva was up in the ether, scarcely feeling the sting of ice crystals in the thin air. He let his glamour fal away, and his wings were like sheets of fire sweeping the black of the heavens. He moved at speed, onward toward another human city to find another doorway bitter with the devil’s magic, and after that another, until al bore the black handprint.

In far reaches of the world, Hazael and Liraz were doing the same. Once al the doors were marked, the end would begin.

And it would begin with fire.



In general, Karou managed to keep her two lives in balance. On the one hand, she was a seventeen-year-old art student in Prague; on the other, errand girl to an inhuman creature who was the closest thing she had to family. For the most part, she’d found that there was time enough in a week for both lives. If not every week, at least most.

This did not turn out to be one of those weeks.

Tuesday she was stil in class when Kishmish alighted on the window ledge and rapped at the glass with his beak. His note was even more succinct than yesterday’s and read only Come.

Karou did, though if she’d known where Brimstone was sending her, she might not have.

was sending her, she might not have.

The animal market in Saigon was one of her least favorite places in the world. The caged kittens and German shepherds, the bats and sun bears and langur monkeys, were not sold as pets, but food. An old crone of a butcher’s mother saved teeth in a funerary urn, and it was Karou who had to col ect them every few months and seal the deal with a sour swig of rice wine that left her stomach churning.

Wednesday: Northern Canada. Two Athabascan hunters, a sickening haul of wolf teeth.

Thursday: San Francisco, a young blonde herpetologist with a cache of rattlesnake fangs left over from her unfortunate research subjects.

“You know, you could come into the shop yourself,”

Karou told her, irritated because she had a self-portrait due the next day and could have used the extra hours to perfect it.

There were various reasons why traders might not come into the shop. Some had lost the privilege through misbehavior; others weren’t yet vetted; many were simply afraid to submit to the serpent col ars, which shouldn’t have been a problem in this case, since this particular scientist spent her days with snakes by choice.

The herpetologist shuddered. “I came once. I thought the snake-woman was going to kil me.”

Karou smothered a smile. “Ah.” She understood.

Issa was no friend to reptile kil ers, and had been known to coax her snakes into semi-strangulation as the mood arose. “Wel , okay.” She counted out twenties into a decent stack. “But you know, if you do come in, Brimstone wil pay you wishes worth much more than this.” He did not, to Karou’s bitterness, entrust her to dispense wishes on his behalf.

“Maybe next time.”

“Your choice.” Karou shrugged and left with a little wave, to head back to the portal and through it, taking note as she did that a black handprint was scorched into its surface. She was going to mention it to Brimstone, but he was with a trader and she had homework to get to, so she went on her way.

Up half the night working on her self-portrait, she was groggy on Friday and hopeful that Brimstone wouldn’t summon her again. He usual y didn’t send for her more than twice a week, and it had already been four times. In the morning, while drawing old Wiktor in nothing but a feather boa—a sight Zuzana almost did not survive—she kept an eye on the window. Al through afternoon painting studio, she kept fearing that Kishmish would appear, but he didn’t, and after school she waited for Zuzana under a ledge out of the drizzle.

“Wel ,” said her friend, “it’s a Karou. Get a good look, folks. Sightings of this elusive creature are getting rarer al the time.”

Karou noted the coolness in her voice. “Poison?”

she suggested hopeful y. After the week she’d had, she wanted to go to the cafe and sink into a couch, gossip and laugh and sketch and drink tea and make up for lost normal.

Zuzana gave her the eyebrow. “What, no errands?”

“No, thank god. Come on, I’m freezing.”

“I don’t know, Karou. Maybe I have secret errands today.”

Karou chewed the inside of her cheek and wondered what to say. She hated the way Brimstone kept secrets from her, and she hated even more having to do the same thing to Zuzana. What kind of friendship was based on evasions and lies?

Growing up, she’d found it almost impossible to have friends; the need for lies always got in the way.

It had been even worse then because she’d lived in the shop—forget about having a friend over to play!

She would exit the portal in Manhattan each morning for school, fol owed by her lessons in karate and aikido, and go back to it each evening.

It was a boarded-up door of an abandoned building in the East Vil age, and when Karou was in fifth grade a friend named Belinda had seen her go in and had come to the conclusion that she was homeless. Word got around, parents and teachers got involved, and Karou, unable to produce Esther, her fake grandmother, on short notice, was taken into DHS custody. She was put into a group home, from which she escaped the first night, never to be seen again. After that: a new school in Hong Kong and extra caution that no one saw her using the portal. That meant more lies and secrecy, and no possibility of real friends.

She was old enough now that there was no risk of social services sniffing around, but as for friends, that was stil a tightrope. Zuzana was the best friend she’d ever had, and she didn’t want to lose her.

She sighed. “I’m sorry about this week. It’s been crazy. It’s work—”

crazy. It’s work—”

“Work? Since when do you work?”

“I work. What do you think I live on, rainwater and daydreams?”

She’d hoped to make Zuzana smile, but her friend just squinted at her. “How would I know what you live on, Karou? How long have we been friends, and you’ve never mentioned a job or a family or anything


Ignoring the “family or anything” part, Karou replied,

“Wel , it’s not exactly a job. I just run errands for this guy. Make pickups, meet with people.”

“What, like a drug dealer?”

“Come on, Zuze, real y? He’s a… col ector, I guess.”

“Oh? What does he col ect?”

“Just stuff. Who cares?”

“I care. I’m interested. It just sounds weird, Karou.

You’re not mixed up in something weird, are you?”

Oh no, thought Karou. Not at all. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I real y can’t talk about it. It’s not my business, it’s his.”

“Fine. Whatever.” Zuzana spun on one platform heel and walked out into the rain.

“Wait!” Karou cal ed after her. She wanted to talk about it. She wanted to tel Zuzana everything, to complain about her crappy week—the elephant tusks, the nightmarish animal market, how Brimstone only paid her in stupid shings, and the creepy banging on the other door. She could put it in her sketchbook, and that was something, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted to talk.

It was out of the question, of course. “Can we please go to Poison?” she asked, her voice coming out smal and tired. Zuzana looked back and saw the expression that Karou sometimes got when she thought no one was watching. It was sadness, lostness, and the worst thing about it was the way it seemed like a default—like it was there al the time, and al her other expressions were just an array of masks she used to cover it up.

Zuzana relented. “Fine. Okay. I’m dying for some goulash. Get it? Dying. Ha ha.”

The poisoned goulash; it was an old groaner between them, and Karou knew everything was okay. For now. But what about next time?

They set out, umbrel a-less and huddled together, hurrying through the drizzle.

“You should know,” Zuzana said, “Jackass has been hanging around Poison. I think he’s lying in wait for you.”

Karou groaned. “Great.” Kaz had been cal ing and texting, and she had been ignoring him.

“We could go somewhere else—”

“No. I’m not letting that rodent-loaf have Poison.

Poison’s ours.”

“Rodent-loaf?” repeated Zuzana.

It was a favorite insult of Issa’s, and made sense in the context of the serpent-woman’s diet, which consisted mainly of smal furry creatures. Karou said,

“Yes. Loaf of rodent. Ground mouse-meat with bread crumbs and ketchup—”

“Ugh. Stop.”

“Or you could substitute hamsters, I suppose,” said Karou. “Or guinea pigs. You know they roast guinea pigs in Peru, skewered on little sticks, like marshmal ows?”

“Stop,” said Zuzana.

“Mmm, guinea pig s’mores—”

“Stop now, before I throw up. Please.”

And Karou did stop, not because of Zuzana’s plea, but because she caught a familiar flutter in the corner of her eye. No no no, she said to herself. She didn’t

—wouldn’t—turn her head. Not Kishmish, not tonight.

Noting her sudden silence, Zuzana asked, “You okay?”

The flutter again, in a circle of lamplight in Karou’s line of sight. Too far off to draw special attention to itself, but unmistakably Kishmish.


“I’m fine,” Karou said, and she kept on resolutely in the direction of Poison Kitchen. What was she supposed to do, smack her forehead and claim to have remembered an errand, after al that? She wondered what Zuzana would say if she could see Brimstone’s little beast messenger, his bat wings so bizarre on his feathered body. Being Zuzana, she’d probably want to make a marionette version of him.

“How’s the puppet project coming?” Karou asked, trying to act normal.

Zuzana brightened and started to tel her. Karou half listened, but she was distracted by her jumbled defiance and anxiety. What would Brimstone do if she didn’t come? What could he do, come out and get her?

She was aware of Kishmish fol owing, and as she She was aware of Kishmish fol owing, and as she ducked under the arch into the courtyard of Poison Kitchen, she gave him a pointed look as if to say, I see you. And I’m not coming. He cocked his head at her, perplexed, and she left him there and went inside.

The cafe was crowded, though Kaz, blessedly, was nowhere to be seen. A mix of local laborers, backpackers, expat artist types, and students hung out at the coffins, the fume of their cigarettes so heavy the Roman statues seemed to loom from a fog, ghoulish in their gas masks.

“Damn,” said Karou, seeing a trio of scruffy backpackers lounging at their favorite table.

“Pestilence is taken.”

“Everything is taken,” said Zuzana. “Stupid Lonely Planet book. I want to go back in time and mug that damn travel writer at the end of the al ey, make sure he never finds this place.”

“So violent. You want to mug and tase everybody these days.”

“I do,” Zuzana agreed. “I swear I hate more people every day. Everyone annoys me. If I’m like this now, what am I going to be like when I’m old?”

“You’l be the mean old biddy who fires a BB gun at kids from her balcony.”

“Nah. BBs just rile ’em up. More like a crossbow. Or a bazooka.”

“You’re a brute.”

Zuzana dropped a curtsy, then took another frustrated look around at the crowded cafe. “Suck.

Want to go somewhere else?”

Karou shook her head. Their hair was already soaked; she didn’t want to go back out. She just wanted her favorite table in her favorite cafe. In her jacket pocket, her fingers toyed with the store of shings from the week’s errands. “I think those guys are about to leave.” She nodded to the backpackers at Pestilence.

“I don’t think so,” said Zuzana. “They have ful beers.”

“No, I think they are.” Between Karou’s fingers, one of the shings dematerialized. A second later, the backpackers rose to their feet. “Told you.”

In her head, she fancied she heard Brimstone’s commentary:

Evicting strangers from cafe tables: selfish.

“Weird,” was Zuzana’s response as the girls slipped behind the giant horse statue to claim their table.

Looking bewildered, the backpackers left. “They were kind of cute,” said Zuzana.

“Oh? You want to cal them back?”

“As if.” They had a rule against backpacker boys, who blew through with the wind, and started to al look the same after a while, with their stubbly chins and wrinkled shirts. “I was simply making a diagnosis of cuteness. Plus, they looked kind of lost.

Like puppies.”

Karou felt a pang of guilt. What was she doing, defying Brimstone, spending wishes on mean things like forcing innocent backpackers out into the rain?

She flopped onto the couch. Her head ached, her hair was clammy, she was tired, and she couldn’t stop worrying about the Wishmonger. What would he say?

The entire time she and Zuzana were eating their goulash, her gaze kept straying to the door.

“Watching for someone?” Zuzana asked.

“Oh. Just… just afraid Kaz might turn up.”

“Yeah, wel , if he does, we can wrestle him into this coffin and nail it shut.”

“Sounds good.”

They ordered tea, which came in an antique silver service, the sugar and creamer dishes engraved with the words arsenic and strychnine.

“So,” said Karou, “you’l see violin boy tomorrow at the theater. What’s your strategy?”

“I have no strategy,” said Zuzana. “I just want to skip al this and get to the part where he’s my boyfriend.

Not to mention, you know, the part where he’s aware I exist.”

“Come on, you wouldn’t real y want to skip this part.”

“Yes I would.”

“Skip meeting him? The butterflies, the pounding heart, the blushing? The part where you enter each other’s magnetic fields for the first time, and it’s like invisible lines of energy are drawing you together—”

“Invisible lines of energy?” Zuzana repeated. “Are you turning into one of those New Age weirdos who wear crystals and read people’s auras?”

“You know what I mean. First date, holding hands, first kiss, al the smoldering and yearning?”

“Oh, Karou, you poor little romantic.”

“Hardly. I was going to say the beginning is the good part, when it’s al sparks and sparkles, before they are inevitably unmasked as assholes.”

Zuzana grimaced. “They can’t al be assholes, can Zuzana grimaced. “They can’t al be assholes, can they?”

“I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe just the pretty ones.”

“But he is pretty. God, I hope he’s not an asshole. Do you think there’s any chance he’s both a non-orifice and single? I mean, seriously. What are the chances?”


“I know.” Zuzana slumped dramatical y back and lay crumpled like a discarded marionette.

“Pavel likes you, you know,” said Karou. “He’s a certified non-orifice.”

“Yes, wel , Pavel’s sweet, but he does not give of the butterflies.”

“The butterflies in the bel y.” Karou sighed. “I know.

You know what I think? I think the butterflies are always there in your bel y, in everyone, al the time—”

“Like bacteria?”

“No, not like bacteria, like butterflies, and some people’s butterflies react to other people’s, on a chemical level, like pheromones, so that when they’re nearby, your butterflies start to dance. They can’t help it—it’s chemical.”

“Chemical. Now that’s romantic.”

“I know, right? Stupid butterflies.” Liking the idea, Karou opened her sketchbook and started to draw it: cartoon intestines and a stomach crowded with butterflies. Papilio stomachus would be their Latin name.

Zuzana asked, “So, if it’s al chemical and you have no say in the matter, does that mean Jackass stil makes your butterflies dance?”

Karou looked up. “God no. I think he makes my butterflies barf.”

Zuzana had just taken a sip of tea and her hand flew to her mouth in an effort to keep it in. She laughed, doubled over, until she managed to swal ow. “Oh, gross. Your stomach is ful of butterfly barf!”

Karou laughed, too, and kept sketching. “Actual y, I think my stomach is ful of dead butterflies. Kaz kil ed them.”

She wrote, Papilio stomachus: fragile creatures, vulnerable to frost and betrayal.

“So what,” said Zuzana. “They had to be pretty stupid butterflies to fal for him anyway. You’l grow new ones with more sense. New wise butterflies.”

Karou loved Zuzana for her wil ingness to play out such sil iness on a long kite string. “Right.” She raised her teacup in a toast. “To a new generation of butterflies, hopeful y less stupid than the last.” Maybe they were burgeoning even now in fat little cocoons.

Or maybe not. It was hard to imagine feeling that magical tingling sensation in the pit of her bel y anytime soon. Best not to worry about it, she thought.

She didn’t need it. Wel . She didn’t want to need it.

Yearning for love made her feel like a cat that was always twining around ankles, meowing Pet me, pet me, look at me, love me.

Better to be the cat gazing cool y down from a high wal , its expression inscrutable. The cat that shunned petting, that needed no one. Why couldn’t she be that cat?

Be that cat!!! she wrote, drawing it into the corner of her page, cool and aloof.

Karou wished she could be the kind of girl who was complete unto herself, comfortable in solitude, serene. But she wasn’t. She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and… cancel her. She craved a presence beside her, solid. Fingertips light at the nape of her neck and a voice meeting hers in the dark.

Someone who would wait with an umbrel a to walk her home in the rain, and smile like sunshine when he saw her coming. Who would dance with her on her balcony, keep his promises and know her secrets, and make a tiny world wherever he was, with just her and his arms and his whisper and her trust.

The door opened. She looked in the mirror and suppressed a curse. Slipping in behind some tourists, that winged shadow was back again. Karou rose and made for the bathroom, where she took the note that Kishmish had come to deliver.

Again it bore a single word. But this time the word was Please.



Please? Brimstone never said please. Hurrying across town, Karou found herself more troubled than if the note had said something menacing, like: Now, or else.

Letting her in, Issa was uncharacteristical y silent.

“What is it, Issa? Am I in trouble?”

“Hush. Just come in and try not to berate him today.”

“Berate him?” Karou blinked. She’d have thought if anyone was in danger of being berated, it was herself.

“You’re very hard on him sometimes, as if it’s not hard enough already.”

“As if what’s not hard enough?”

“His life. His work. His life is work. It’s joyless, it’s

“His life. His work. His life is work. It’s joyless, it’s relentless, and sometimes you make it harder than it already is.”

“Me?” Karou was stunned. “Did I just come in on the middle of a conversation, Issa? I have no idea what you’re talking about—”

“Hush, I said. I’m just asking that you try to be kind, like when you were little. You were such a joy to us al , Karou. I know it’s not easy for you, living this life, but try to remember, always try to remember, you’re not the only one with troubles.”

And with that the inner door unsealed and Karou stepped across the threshold. She was confused, ready to defend herself, but when she saw Brimstone, she forgot al that.

He was leaning heavily on his desk, his great head resting in one hand, while the other cupped the wishbone he wore around his neck. Kishmish hopped in agitation from one of his master’s horns to the other, uttering crickety chirrups of concern, and Karou faltered to a halt. “Are… are you okay?” It felt odd asking, and she realized that of al the questions she had barraged him with in her life, she had never asked him that. She’d never had reason to—he’d scarcely ever shown a hint of emotion, let alone weakness or weariness.

He raised his head, released the wishbone, and said simply, “You came.” He sounded surprised and, Karou thought guiltily, relieved.

Striving for lightness, she said, “Wel , please is the magic word, you know.”

“I thought perhaps we had lost you.”

“Lost me? You mean you thought I’d died?”

“No, Karou. I thought that you had taken your freedom.”

“My…” She trailed off. Taken her freedom? “What does that even mean?”

“I’ve always imagined that one day the path of your life would unrol at your feet and carry you away from us. As it should, as it must. But I am glad that day is not today.”

Karou stood staring at him. “Seriously? I blow off one errand and you think that’s it, I’m gone forever?

Jesus. What do you think of me, that you think I’d just vanish like that?”

“Letting you go, Karou, wil be like opening the window for a butterfly. One does not hope for the butterfly’s return.”

“I’m not a freaking butterfly.”

“No. You’re human. Your place is in the human world.

Your childhood is nearly over—”

“So… what? You don’t need me anymore?”

“On the contrary. I need you now more than ever. As I said, I’m glad that today is not the day you leave us.”

This was al news to Karou, that there would come a day when she would leave her chimaera family, that she even possessed the freedom to do so if she wished. She didn’t wish. Wel , maybe she wished not to go on some of the creepier errands, but that didn’t mean she was a butterfly fluttering against glass, trying to get out and away. She didn’t even know what to say.

Brimstone pushed a wal et across the desk to her.

The errand. She’d almost forgotten why she was here. Angry, she grabbed the wal et and flipped it open. Dirhams. Morocco, then. Her brow furrowed.

“Izîl?” she asked, and Brimstone nodded.

“But it’s not time.” Karou had a standing appointment with a graverobber in Marrakesh the last Sunday of every month, and this was Friday, and a week early.

“It is time,” said Brimstone. He gestured to a tal apothecary jar on the shelf behind him. Karou knew it wel ; usual y it was ful of human teeth. Now it stood nearly empty.

“Oh.” Her gaze roved along the shelf, and she saw, to her surprise, that many of the jars were likewise dwindling. She couldn’t remember a time when the tooth supply had been so low. “Wow. You’re real y burning through teeth. Something going on?”

It was an inane question. As if she could understand what it meant that he was using more teeth, when she didn’t know what they were for to begin with.

“See what Izîl has,” Brimstone said. “I’d rather not send you anywhere else for human teeth, if it can be helped.”

“Yeah, me, too.” Karou ran her fingers lightly over the bul et scars on her bel y, remembering St.

Petersburg, the errand gone horribly wrong. Human teeth, despite being in such abundant supply in the world, could be… interesting… to procure.

She would never forget the sight of those girls, stil alive in the cargo hold, mouths bloody, other fates awaiting them next.

They may have gotten away. When Karou thought of them now, she always added a made-up ending, the way Issa had taught her to do with nightmares so she way Issa had taught her to do with nightmares so she could fal back to sleep. She could only bear the memory if she believed she’d given those girls time to escape their traffickers, and maybe she even had.

She’d tried.

How strange it had been, being shot. How unalarmed she’d found herself, how quick to unsheathe her hidden knife and use it.

And use it. And use it.

She had trained in fighting for years, but she had never before had to defend her life. In the flash of a moment, she had discovered that she knew just what to do.

“Try the Jemaa el-Fna,” Brimstone said. “Kishmish spotted Izîl there, but that was hours ago, when I first summoned you. If you’re lucky, he might stil be there.” And with that, he bent back over his tray of monkey teeth, and Karou was apparently dismissed.

Now there was the old Brimstone, and she was glad.

This new creature who said “please” and talked about her like she was a butterfly—he was unsettling.

“I’l find him,” Karou said. “And I’l be back soon, with my pockets ful of human teeth. Ha. I bet that sentence hasn’t been said anywhere else in the world today.”

The Wishmonger didn’t respond, and Karou hesitated in the vestibule. “Brimstone,” she said, looking back, “I want you to know I would never just…

leave you.”

When he raised his reptilian eyes, they were bleary with exhaustion. “You can’t know what you wil do,” he said, and his hand went again to his wishbone. “I won’t hold you to that.”

Issa closed the door, and even after Karou stepped out into Morocco, she couldn’t shake the image of him like that, and the uneasy feeling that something was terribly wrong.



Akiva saw her come out. He was approaching the doorway, was just steps from it when it swung open, letting loose an acrid flood of magic that set his teeth on edge. Through the portal stepped a girl with hair the improbable color of lapis lazuli. She didn’t see him, seeming lost in thought as she hurried past.

He said nothing but stood looking after her as she moved away, the curve of the al ey soon robbing him of the sight of her and her swaying blue hair. He shook himself, turned back to the portal, and laid his hand on it. The hiss of the scorch, his hand limned in smoke, and it was done: the last of the doorways that were his to mark. In other quarters of the world, Hazael and Liraz would be finishing, too, and Hazael and Liraz would be finishing, too, and winging their way toward Samarkand.

Akiva was poised to spring skyward and begin the last leg of his journey, to meet them there before returning home, but a heartbeat passed, then another, and stil he stood with his feet on the earth, looking in the direction the girl had gone.

Without quite deciding to do it, he found himself fol owing her.

How, he wondered, when he caught the lamp-lit shimmer of her hair up ahead, had a girl like that gotten mixed up with the chimaera? From what he’d seen of Brimstone’s other traders, they were rank brutes with dead eyes, stinking of the slaughterhouse. But her? She was a shining beauty, lithe and vivid, though surely this wasn’t what intrigued him. Al of his own kind were beautiful, to such an extent that beauty was next to meaningless among them. What, then, compel ed him to fol ow her, when he should have taken at once to the sky, the mission so near completion? He couldn’t have said. It was almost as if a whisper beckoned him onward.

The medina of Marrakesh was labyrinthine, some three thousand blind al eys intertwined like a drawer ful of snakes, but the girl seemed to know her route cold. She paused once to run a finger over the weave of a textile, and Akiva slowed his steps, veering off to one side so he could see her better.

There was a look of unguarded wistfulness on her pale, pretty face—a kind of lostness—but the moment the vendor spoke to her, it transmuted to a smile like light. She answered easily, making the man laugh, and they bantered back and forth, her Arabic rich and throaty, with an edge like a purr.

Akiva watched her with hawklike fixedness. Until a few days ago, humans had been little more than legend to him, and now here he was in their world. It was like stepping into the pages of a book—a book alive with color and fragrance, filth and chaos—and the blue-haired girl moved through it al like a fairy through a story, the light treating her differently than it did others, the air seeming to gather around her like held breath. As if this whole place were a story about her.

Who was she?

He didn’t know, but some intuition sang in him that, whoever she was, she was not just another of Brimstone’s street-level grim reapers. She was, he was sure, something else entirely.

His gaze unwavering, he prowled after her as she made her way through the medina.



Karou walked with her hands in her pockets, trying to shake her uneasiness about Brimstone. That stuff about “taking her freedom”—what was that about? It gave her a creeping sense of impending aloneness, like she was some orphaned animal raised by do-gooders, soon to be released into the wild.

She didn’t want to be released into the wild. She wanted to be held dear. To belong to a place and a family, irrevocably.

“Magic healings here, Miss Lady, for the melancholy bowels,” someone cal ed out to her, and she couldn’t help smiling as she shook her head in demurral. How about melancholy hearts? she thought. Was there a cure for that? Probably. There was real magic here cure for that? Probably. There was real magic here among the quacks and touts. She knew of a scribe dressed al in white who penned letters to the dead (and delivered them), and an old storytel er who sold ideas to writers at the price of a year of their lives.

Karou had seen tourists laugh as they signed his contract, not believing it for a second, but she believed it. Hadn’t she seen stranger things?

As she made her way, the city began to distract her from her mood. It was hard to be glum in such a place. In some derbs, as the wending al eyways were cal ed, the world seemed draped in carpets. In others, freshly dyed silks dripped scarlet and cobalt on the heads of passersby. Languages crowded the air like exotic birds: Arabic, French, the tribal tongues. Women chivvied children home to bed, and old men in tarboosh caps leaned together in doorways, smoking.

A tril of laughter, the scent of cinnamon and donkeys, and color, everywhere color.

Karou made her way toward the Jemaa el-Fna, the square that was the city’s nerve center, a mad, teeming carnival of humanity: snake charmers and dancers, dusty barefoot boys, pickpockets, hapless tourists, and food stal s sel ing everything from orange juice to roasted sheep’s heads. On some errands, Karou couldn’t get back to the portal fast enough, but in Marrakesh she liked to linger and wander, sip mint tea, sketch, browse through the souks for pointy slippers and silver bracelets.

She would not be lingering tonight, however.

Brimstone was clearly anxious to have his teeth. She thought again of the empty jars, and furious curiosity strummed at her mind. What was it al about? What?

She tried to stop wondering. She was going to find the graverobber, after al , and Izîl was nothing if not a cautionary tale.

“Don’t be curious” was one of Brimstone’s prime rules, and Izîl had not obeyed it. Karou pitied him, because she understood him. In her, too, curiosity was a perverse fire, stoked by any effort to extinguish it. The more Brimstone ignored her questions, the more she yearned to know. And she had a lot of questions.

The teeth, of course: What the hel were they al for?

What of the other door? Where did it lead?

What exactly were the chimaera, and where had they come from? Were there more of them?

And what about her? Who were her parents, and how had she fal en into Brimstone’s care? Was she a fairy-tale cliché, like the firstborn child in

“Rumpelstiltskin,” the settlement of some debt? Or perhaps her mother had been a trader strangled by her serpent col ar, leaving a baby squal ing on the floor of the shop. Karou had thought of a hundred scenarios, but the truth remained a mystery.

Was there another life she was meant to be living?

At times she felt a keen certainty that there was—a phantom life, taunting her from just out of reach. A sense would come over her while she was drawing or walking, and once when she was dancing slow and close with Kaz, that she was supposed to be doing something else with her hands, with her legs, with her body. Something else. Something else.

Something else.

But what?

She reached the square and wandered through the chaos, her movements synchronizing themselves to the rhythms of mystical Gnawa music as she dodged motorbikes and acrobats. Bil ows of gril ed-meat smoke gusted thick as houses on fire, teenage boys whispered “hashish,” and costumed water-sel ers clamored “Photo! Photo!” At a distance, she spotted the hunchback shape of Izîl among the henna artists and street dentists.

Seeing him at one-month intervals was like watching a time-lapse of decline. When Karou was a child, he was a doctor and a scholar—a straight and genteel man with mild brown eyes and a silky mustache he preened like plumage. He had come to the shop himself and done business at Brimstone’s desk, and, unlike the other traders, he always made it seem like a social cal . He flirted with Issa, brought her little gifts—snakes carved from seedpods, jade-drop earrings, almonds. He brought dol s for Karou, and a tiny silver tea service for them, and he didn’t neglect Brimstone, either, casual y leaving chocolates or jars of honey on the desk when he left.

But that was before he’d been warped by the weight of a terrible choice he’d made, bent and twisted and driven mad. He wasn’t welcome in the shop anymore, so Karou came out to meet him here.

Seeing him now, tender pity overcame her. He was bent nearly double, his gnarled olivewood walking stick al that kept him from col apsing on his face. His eyes were sunk in bruises, and his teeth, which were eyes were sunk in bruises, and his teeth, which were not his own, were overlarge in his shrunken face. The mustache that had been his pride hung lank and tangled. Any passerby would be taken with pity, but to Karou, who knew how he had looked only a few years earlier, he was a tragedy to behold.

His face lit up when he saw her. “Look who it is! The Wishmonger’s beautiful daughter, sweet ambassadress of teeth. Have you come to buy a sad old man a cup of tea?”

“Hel o, Izîl. A cup of tea sounds perfect,” she said, and led him to the cafe where they usual y met.

“My dear, has the month passed me by? I’m afraid I’d quite forgotten our appointment.”

“Oh, you haven’t. I’ve come early.”

“Ah, wel , it’s always a pleasure to see you, but I haven’t got much for the old devil, I’m afraid.”

“But you have some?”


Unlike most of the other traders, Izîl neither hunted nor murdered; he didn’t kil at al . Before, as a doctor working in conflict zones, he’d had access to war dead whose teeth wouldn’t be missed. Now that madness had lost him his livelihood, he had to dig up graves.

Quite abruptly, he snapped, “Hush, thing! Behave, and then we’l see.”

Karou knew he was not speaking to her, and politely pretended not to have heard.

They reached the cafe. When Izîl dropped into his chair, it strained and groaned, its legs bowing as if beneath a weight far greater than this one wasted man. “So,” he asked, settling in, “how are my old friends? Issa?”

“She’s wel .”

“I do so miss her face. Do you have any new drawings of her?”

Karou did, and she showed them to him.

“Beautiful.” He traced Issa’s cheek with his fingertip.

“So beautiful. The subject and the work. You are very talented, my dear.” Seeing the episode with the Somali poacher, he snorted, “Fools. What Brimstone has to endure, dealing with humans.”

Karou’s eyebrows went up. “Come on, their problem isn’t that they’re human. It’s that they’re subhuman.”

“True enough. Every race has its bad seeds, one supposes. Isn’t that right, beast of mine?” This last bit he said over his shoulder, and this time a soft response seemed to emanate from the air.

Karou couldn’t help herself. She glanced at the ground, where Izîl’s shadow was cast crisp across the tiles. It seemed impolite to peek, as if Izîl’s…

condition… ought to be ignored, like a lazy eye or birthmark. His shadow revealed what looking at him directly did not.

Shadows told the truth, and Izîl’s told that a creature clung to his back, invisible to the eye. It was a hulking, barrel-chested thing, its arms clenched tight around his neck. This was what curiosity had gotten him: The thing was riding him like a mule. Karou didn’t understand how it had come about; she only knew that Izîl had made a wish for knowledge, and this had been the form of its fulfil ment. Brimstone warned her that powerful wishes could go powerful y awry, and here was the evidence.

She supposed that the invisible thing, who was cal ed Razgut, had held the secrets Izîl had hungered to know. Whatever they were, surely this price was far too high.

Razgut was talking. Karou could make out only the faintest whisper, and a sound like a soft smack of fleshy lips.

“No,” Izîl said. “I wil not ask her that. She’l only say no.”

Karou watched, repel ed, as Izîl argued with the thing, which she could see only in shadow. Final y the graverobber said, “Al right, al right, hush! I’l ask.”

Then he turned to Karou and said, apologetical y,

“He just wants a taste. Just a tiny taste.”

“A taste?” She blinked. Their tea had not yet arrived.

“Of what?”

“Of you, wish-daughter. Just a lick. He promises not to bite.”

Karou’s stomach turned. “Uh, no.”

“I told you,” Izîl muttered. “Now wil you be quiet, please?”

A low hiss came in response.

A waiter in a white djel aba came and poured mint tea, raising the pot to head height and expertly aiming the long stream of tea into etched glasses.

Karou, eyeing the hol ows of the graverobber’s cheeks, ordered pastries, too, and she let him eat and drink for a while before asking, “So, what have you got?”

He dug into his pockets and produced a fistful of teeth, which he dropped on the table.

teeth, which he dropped on the table.

Watching from the shadow of a nearby doorway, Akiva straightened up. Al went stil and silent around him, and he saw nothing but those teeth, and the girl sorting through them in just the way he knew the old beast sorcerer did.

Teeth. How harmless they looked on that tabletop—

just tiny, dirty things, plundered from the dead. And if they stayed in this world where they belonged, that was al they’d ever be. In Brimstone’s hands, though, they became so much more than that.

It was Akiva’s mission to end this foul trade, and with it, the devil’s dark magic.

He watched as the girl inspected the teeth with what was clearly a practiced hand, as if she did this al the time. Mixed with his disgust was something like disappointment. She had seemed too clean for this business, but apparently she was not. He’d been right, though, in his guess that she was no mere trader. She was more than that, sitting there doing Brimstone’s work. But what?

“God, Izîl,” said Karou. “These are nasty. Did you bring them straight from the cemetery?”

“Mass grave. It was hidden, but Razgut sniffed it out.

He can always find the dead.”

“What a talent.” Karou got a chil , imagining Razgut leering at her, hoping for a taste. She turned her attention to the teeth. Scraps of dried flesh clung to their roots, along with the dirt they’d been exhumed from. Even through the filth, it was easy to see that they were not of high quality, but were the teeth of a people who had gnawed at tough food, smoked pipes, and been unacquainted with toothpaste.

She scooped them off the table and dropped them into the dregs of her tea, swishing it around before dumping it out in a sodden pile of mint leaves and teeth, now only slightly less filthy. One by one, she picked them up. Incisors, molars, canines, adult and child alike. “Izîl. You know Brimstone doesn’t take baby teeth.”

“You don’t know everything, girl,” he snapped.

“Excuse me?”

“Sometimes he does. Once. Once he wanted some.”

Karou didn’t believe him. Brimstone strictly did not buy immature teeth, not animal, not human, but she saw no point in arguing. “Wel ”—she pushed the tiny teeth aside and tried not to think about smal corpses in mass graves—“he didn’t ask for any, so I’l have to pass.”

She held each of the adult teeth, listening to what their hum told her, and sorted them into two piles.

Izîl watched anxiously, his gaze darting from one pile to the other. “They chewed too much, didn’t they?

Greedy gypsies! They kept chewing after they were dead. No manners. No table manners at al .”

Most of the teeth were worn blunt, riddled with decay, and no good to Brimstone. By the time Karou was through sorting, one pile was larger than the other, but Izîl didn’t know which was which. He pointed hopeful y to the larger pile.

She shook her head and fished some dirham notes out of the wal et Brimstone had given her. It was an overly generous payment for these sorry few teeth, but it was stil not what Izîl was hoping for.

“So much digging,” he moaned. “And for what?

Paper with pictures of the dead king? Always the dead staring at me.” His voice dropped. “I can’t keep it up, Karou. I’m broken. I can barely hold a shovel anymore. I scrabble at the hard earth, digging like a dog. I’m through.”

Pity hit her hard. “Surely there are other ways to live


“No. Only death remains. One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.

Nietzsche said that, you know. Wise man. Large mustache.” He tugged at his own bedraggled mustache and attempted a smile.

“Izîl, you can’t mean you want to die.”

“If only there was a way to be free…”

“Isn’t there?” she asked earnestly. “There must be something you can do.”

His fingers twitched, fidgeting with his mustache. “I don’t like to think of it, my dear, but… there is a way, if you would help me. You’re the only one I know who’s brave enough and good enough—Ow!” His hand flew to his ear, and Karou saw blood seep through his fingers. She shrank back. Razgut must have bitten him. “I’l ask her if I want, monster!” cried the graverobber. “Yes, you are a monster! I don’t care what you once were. You’re a monster now!”

A peculiar tussle ensued; it looked as if the old man were wrestling with himself. The waiter flapped nearby, agitated, and Karou scraped her chair back clear of flailing limbs both visible and invisible.

“Stop it. Stop!” Izîl cried, wild-eyed. He braced himself, raised his walking stick, and brought it back hard against his own shoulder and the thing that perched there. Again and again he struck, seeming to smite himself, and then he let out a shriek and fel to his knees. His walking stick clattered away as both hands flew to his neck. Blood was wicking into the col ar of his djel aba—the thing must have bitten him again. The misery on his face was more than Karou could bear and, without stopping to consider, she dropped to his side, taking his elbow to help him up.

A mistake.

At once she felt it on her neck: a slithering touch.

Revulsion juddered through her. It was a tongue.

Razgut had gotten his taste. She heard a loathsome gobbling sound as she lurched away, leaving the graverobber on his knees.

That was enough for her. She gathered up the teeth and her sketchbook.

“Wait, please,” Izîl cried. “Karou. Please.”

His plea was so desperate that she hesitated.

Scrabbling, he dug something from his pocket and held it out. A pair of pliers. They looked rusted, but Karou knew it wasn’t rust. These were the tools of his trade, and they were covered in the residue of dead mouths. “Please, my dear,” he said. “There isn’t anyone else.”

She understood at once what he meant and took a step back in shock. “No, Izîl! God. The answer is no.”

“A bruxis would save me! I can’t save myself. I’ve already used mine. It would take another bruxis to undo my fool wish. You could wish him off me.

Please. Please!”

A bruxis. That was the one wish more powerful than a gavriel, and its trade value was singular: The only way to purchase one was with one’s own teeth. Al of them, self-extracted.

The thought of pul ing her own teeth out one by one made Karou feel woozy. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she whispered, appal ed that he would even ask it. But then, he was a madman, and right now he certainly then, he was a madman, and right now he certainly looked it.

She retreated.

“I wouldn’t ask, you know I wouldn’t, but it’s the only way!”

Karou walked rapidly away, head down, and she would have kept walking and not looked back but for a cry that erupted behind her. It burst from the chaos of the Jemaa el-Fna and instantly dwarfed al other noise. It was some mad kind of keening, a high, thin river of sound unlike anything she had ever heard.

It was definitely not Izîl.

Unearthly, the wail rose, wavering and violent, to break like a wave and become language—

susurrous, without hard consonants. The modulations suggested words, but the language was alien even to Karou, who had more than twenty in her col ection. She turned, seeing as she did that the people around her were turning, too, craning their necks, and that their expressions of alarm were turning to horror when they perceived the source of the sound.

Then she saw it, too.

The thing on Izîl’s back was invisible no more.



If the language was alien to Karou, it was not so to Akiva.

“Seraph, I see you!” rang the voice. “I know you!

Brother, brother, I have served my sentence. I wil do anything! I have repented, I have been punished enough—”

Akiva stared in blank incomprehension at the thing that materialized on the old man’s back.

It was al but naked, a bloated torso with reedy arms wrapped tight around the human’s neck. Useless legs dangled behind, and its head was swol en taut and purple, as if it were engorged with blood and ready to pop in a great, wet burst. It was hideous.

That it should speak the language of the seraphim That it should speak the language of the seraphim was an abomination.

The absolute wrongness of it held Akiva immobile, staring, before the amazement at hearing his own language turned to shock at what was being said in it.

“They tore off my wings, my brother!” The thing was staring at Akiva. It unwound one arm from the old man’s neck and reached toward him, imploring.

“Twisted my legs so I would have to crawl, like the insects of the earth! It has been a thousand years since I was cast out, a thousand years of torment, but now you’ve come, you’ve come to take me home!”


No. It was impossible.

People were shrinking away from the sight of the creature. Others had turned, fol owing the direction of its supplication to fix their eyes on Akiva. He became aware of their notice and swept the crowd with his burning gaze. Some fel back, murmuring prayers. And then his eyes came to rest on the blue-haired girl, some twenty yards distant. She was a calm, shining figure in the moiling crowd.

And she was staring back.

Into kohl-rimmed eyes in a sun-bronzed face.

Fire-colored eyes with a charge like sparks that seared a path through the air and kindled it. It gave Karou a jolt—no mere startle but a chain reaction that lashed through her body with a rush of adrenaline. Her limbs came into the lightness and power of sudden awakening, fight or flight, chemical and wild.

Who? she thought, her mind racing to catch up to the fervor in her body.

And: What?

Because clearly he was not human, the man standing amid the tumult in absolute stil ness. A pulse beat in the palms of her hands and she curled them into fists, feeling a wild hum in her blood.

Enemy. Enemy. Enemy. The knowledge pounded through her on the rhythm of her heartbeat: the fire-eyed stranger was the enemy. His face—oh, beauty, he was perfect, he was mythic—was absolutely cold. She was caught between the urge to flee and the fear of turning her back on him.

the fear of turning her back on him.

It was Izîl who decided her.

“Malak!” he screamed, pointing at the man. “Malak!”



“I know you, deadly bird of the soul! I know what you are!” Izîl turned to Karou and said urgently, “Karou, wish-daughter, you must get to Brimstone. Tel him the seraphim are here. They’ve gotten back in. You must warn him! Run, child. Run!”

And run she did.

Across the Jemaa el-Fna, where those attempting to flee were being hampered by those drawn to the commotion. She shouldered her way through them, knocked someone aside, spun off a camel’s flank and leapt over a coiled cobra, which struck out at her, defanged and harmless. Hazarding a glance over her shoulder, she could see no sign of pursuit—

no sign of him—but she felt it.

A thril along every nerve ending. Her body, alert and alive. She was hunted, she was prey, and she didn’t even have her knife tucked into her boot, little thinking she’d need it on a visit to the graverobber.

She ran, leaving the square by one of the many al eys that fed into it like tributaries. The crowds in the souks had thinned and many lights had been snuffed, and she raced in and out of pools of darkness, her stride long and measured and light, her footfal nearly silent. She took turns wide to avoid col isions, glanced behind again and again and saw no one.

Angel. The word kept sounding in her mind.

She was nearing the portal—just one more turn, the length of another blind al ey, and she would be there, if she made it that far.

Rushing from above. Heat and the bass whumph of wingbeats.

Overhead, darkness massed where a shape blotted out the moon. Something was hurtling down at Karou on huge, impossible wings. Heat and wingbeats and the skirr of air parted by a blade. A blade. She leapt aside, felt steel bite her shoulder as she slammed into a carved door, splintering slats. She seized one, a jagged spear of wood, and spun to face her attacker.

He stood a mere body’s length away, the point of his sword resting on the ground.

Oh, thought Karou, staring at him.


Angel indeed.

He stood revealed. The blade of his long sword gleamed white from the incandescence of his wings

—vast shimmering wings, their reach so great they swept the wal s on either side of the al ey, each feather like the wind-tugged lick of a candle flame.

Those eyes.

His gaze was like a lit fuse, scorching the air between them. He was the most beautiful thing Karou had ever seen. Her first thought, incongruous but overpowering, was to memorize him so she could draw him later.

Her second thought was that there wasn’t going to be a later, because he was going to kil her.

He came at her so fast that his wings painted blurs of light on the air, and even as Karou leapt aside again she was seeing his fiery imprint seared into her vision. His sword bit her again, her arm this time, but she twisted clear of a kil ing thrust. She was quick. She kept space around her; he tried to close it, and she danced clear, lissome, fluid. Their eyes met again, and Karou saw past his shocking beauty to the inhumanity there, the absolute absence of mercy.

He attacked again. As quick as Karou was, she couldn’t get clear of the reach of his sword. A strike aimed at her throat glanced off her scapula instead.

There was no pain—that would come later, unless she was dead—only spreading heat that she knew was blood. Another strike, and she parried it with her slat of wood, which split like kindling, half of it fal ing away so she held a mere dagger’s length of old wood, a ridiculous excuse for a weapon. Yet when the angel came at her again she dodged in close to him and thrust, felt the wood catch flesh and sink in.

Karou had stabbed men before, and she hated it, the gruesome feeling of penetrating living flesh. She pul ed back, leaving her makeshift weapon in his side. His face registered neither pain nor surprise. It was, Karou thought as he closed in, a dead face. Or rather, the living face of a dead soul.

It was utterly terrifying.

He had her cornered now, and they both knew she wouldn’t get away. She was vaguely aware of shouts of amazement and fear up the al ey and from windows, but al of her focus was on the angel. What did it even mean, angel? What had Izîl said? The did it even mean, angel? What had Izîl said? The seraphim are here.

She’d heard the word before; seraphim were some high order of angels, at least according to the Christian mythos, for which Brimstone had utter contempt, as he did for al religion. “Humans have gotten glimpses of things over time,” he’d said. “Just enough to make the rest up. It’s al a quilt of fairy tales with a patch here and there of truth.”

“So what’s real?” she’d wanted to know.

“If you can kil it, or it can kil you, it’s real.”

By that definition, this angel was real enough.

He raised his sword, and she just watched him do it, her attention catching for a moment on the bars of black ink tattooed across his fingers—they were fleetingly familiar but then not, the feeling gone as soon as it registered—and she just stared up at her kil er and wondered numbly why. It seemed impossible that this was the final moment of her life.

She cocked her head to the side, desperately searching his features for some hint of… soul… and then, she saw it.

He hesitated. Only for a split second did his mask slip, but Karou saw some urgent pathos surface, a wave of feeling that softened his rigid and ridiculously perfect features. His jaw unclenched, his lips parted, his brow furrowed in an instant of confusion.

At the same moment, she became aware of the pulse in her palms that had made her curl her hands into fists at her first sight of him. It thrummed there stil , a pent-up energy, and she was jolted by the certainty that it emanated from her tattoos. An impulse overcame her to throw up her hands, and she did, not in cringing surrender, but with palms powerful y outthrust, inked with the eyes she’d worn al her life without ever knowing why.

And something happened.

It was like a detonation—a sharp intake, al air sucked into a tight core and then expel ed. It was silent, lightless—to the gape-jawed witnesses it was nothing at al , just a girl throwing up her hands—but Karou felt it, and the angel did, too. His eyes went wide with recognition in the instant before he was flung back with devastating force to hit a wal some twenty feet behind him. He crumpled to the ground, wings askew, sword skittering away. Karou scrambled to her feet.

The angel wasn’t moving.

She spun and sprinted away. Whatever had happened, a silence had risen from it, and it fol owed her. She could hear only her own breathing, weirdly amplified like she was in a tunnel. She rounded the bend in the al ey at speed, skidding on her heel to avoid a donkey standing stubborn in the middle of the lane. The portal was in sight, a plain door in a row of plain doors, but something was different about it now. A large black handprint was burned into the wood.

Karou flung herself at it, hammering with her fists in a frenzy such as she had never unleashed on a portal before. “Issa!” she screamed. “Let me in!”

A long, awful moment, Karou looking back over her shoulder, and then the door final y swung open.

She started to dart forward, then let out a choked cry.

It was not Issa or the vestibule, but a Moroccan woman with a broom. Oh no. The woman’s eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to scold, but Karou didn’t wait. She pushed her back inside and shoved the door closed, staying outside. Frantical y she knocked again. “Issa!”

She could hear the woman shouting and feel her trying to push the door open. Karou swore and held it shut. If it was open, the magic of the portal couldn’t connect. In Arabic she hol ered, “Get away from the door!”

She looked over her shoulder. There was a commotion in the street, arms waving, people shouting. The donkey stood unimpressed. No angel.

Had she kil ed him? No. Whatever had happened, she knew he wasn’t dead. He would come.

She pounded on the door again. “Issa, Brimstone, please!”

Nothing but irate Arabic. Karou held the door closed with her foot and kept pounding. “Issa! He’s going to kil me! Issa! Let me in!”

What was taking so long? Seconds hung like scuppies on a string, vanishing one after another.

The door was jumping against her foot, someone trying to force it open—could it be Issa?—and then she felt a draft of heat at her back. She didn’t hesitate this time but turned, jamming her back up against the door to hold it closed, and raised her hands as if to let her tattoos see. There was no detonation this time, only a crackling of energy that raised her hair like Medusa’s serpents.

raised her hair like Medusa’s serpents.

The angel was stalking toward her, head lowered so he was looking at her from the tops of his burning eyes. He didn’t move with ease, but as if against a wind. Whatever power in Karou’s tattoos had hurled him against that wal , it hindered him now but didn’t stop him. His hands were fists at his sides, and his face was ferocious, set to endure pain.

He stopped a few paces away and looked at her, real y looked at her, his eyes no longer dead but roving over her face and neck, drawn back to her hamsas, and again to her face. Back and forth, as if something didn’t add up.

“Who are you?” he asked, and she almost didn’t recognize the language he spoke as Chimaera, it sounded so soft on his tongue.

Who was she? “Don’t you usual y find that out before you try to kil someone?”

At her back, a renewed pressure at the door. If it wasn’t Issa, she was finished.

The angel came a step closer, and Karou moved aside so the door burst open.

“Karou!” Issa’s voice, sharp.

And she spun and leapt through the portal, pul ing it

shut behind her.

Akiva lunged after her and yanked it back open, only to come face-to-face with a hol ering woman who blanched and dropped her broom at his feet.

The girl was already gone.

He stood there a moment, al but unaware of the madness around him. His thoughts were spinning.

The girl would warn Brimstone. He should have stopped her, could easily have kil ed her. Instead he’d struck slowly, giving her time to spin clear, dance free. Why?

It was simple. He’d wanted to look at her.


And what had he seen, or thought he’d seen? Some glimpse of a past that could never come again—the phantom of the girl who had taught him mercy, long ago, only to have her own fate undo al her gentle teaching? He’d thought every spark of mercy was dead in him now, but he hadn’t been able to kil the girl. And then, the unexpected: the hamsas.

A human marked with the devil’s eyes! Why?

There was only one possible answer, as plain as it was disturbing.

That she was not, in fact, human.




















Copyright © 2011 by Laini Taylor

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First eBook Edition: August 2011

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-20142-1