Home > Dreams of Gods & Monsters(8)

Dreams of Gods & Monsters(8)
Author: Laini Taylor

Akiva’s first feeling was shame—to be schooled in cool-headedness by Thiago?—and his next was anger. “Yes. And it wasn’t to argue for our lives. You need a reason not to kill us? How about this: Do you have somewhere better to go?”

“No. We don’t.” Simple. Honest. “And so I’m listening. This was, after all, your idea.”

Yes, it was. His mad idea, to offer peace to the White Wolf. Now that he stood face-to-face with him, and Karou nowhere near, he saw the absurdity of it. He had been blinded by his desperation to stay near her, to not lose her to the vastness of Eretz, enemies forever. So he had made this offer, and it was only now, belatedly, that he saw how truly strange it was that the Wolf was considering it.

That the Wolf was looking for a reason not to kill him?

It had felt like aggression, that statement, like provocation. But was it, possibly, candor? Could it be the truth, that he wanted this peace but needed to justify it to his soldiers?

“The Misbegotten have withdrawn to a safe location,” Akiva said. “In the eyes of the Empire, we are traitors. I am patricide and regicide, and my guilt stains us all.” He considered his next words. “If you seriously mean to consider this—”

“This is no ruse on my part,” Thiago broke in. “I give you my word.”

“Your word.” This from Liraz, served on a bare crust of a laugh. “You’ll have to do better than that, Wolf. We’ve no reason to trust you.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. You’re alive, aren’t you? I don’t ask thanks for it, but I hope it’s perfectly clear that it’s no matter of chance. You came to us half-dead. If I’d wanted to finish the job, I would have.”

There could be no arguing with that. Indisputably, Thiago had let them live. He had let them escape.

Why?

For Karou’s sake? Had she pled for their lives? Not…

… bargained for them?

Akiva looked up the slope where she had gone. She stood in the arched entrance to the kasbah, watching them, too distant to read. He turned to Thiago, and saw that his expression was still devoid of cruelty or duplicity or even his customary coldness. His eyes were open, not heavy-lidded with arrogance or disdain. It made a marked change in him. What could account for it?

One explanation occurred to Akiva, and he hated it. In the torture chamber, Thiago’s rage had been that of a rival—a losing rival. Beneath the age-old hatred of their races had burned the more personal wrath of an alpha for a challenger. The humiliation of the one not chosen. Vengeance for Madrigal’s love of Akiva.

But that was absent now—as absent as the reasons for it. Akiva was no longer his rival, no longer a threat. Because Karou had made a different choice this time.

As soon as this idea came to Akiva, Thiago’s lack of malice seemed hard proof of it. The White Wolf was sure enough of his place that he didn’t need to kill Akiva. Karou, oh godstars. Karou.

If it weren’t for their bloody history, if Akiva didn’t know what lurked in Thiago’s true heart, it would seem an obvious match: the general and the resurrectionist, lord and lady of the chimaera’s last hope. But he did know Thiago’s true heart, and so did Karou.

It wasn’t old history, either, Thiago’s violence. Karou’s downcast eyes, her tremulous uncertainty. Bruises, gouges. And yet the creature standing before Akiva now seemed the White Wolf’s best self: intelligent, powerful, and sane. A worthy ally. Looking at him, Akiva didn’t even know what he should hope for. If Thiago was this, then an alliance stood a chance, and Akiva would be able to be in Karou’s life, if only at the edges of it. He would be able to see her, at least, and know that she was well. He would be able to atone for his sins and have her know it. Not to mention, they might stand a chance of stopping Jael.

On the other hand, if Thiago was this—intelligent, powerful, and sane—and he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Karou to shape the destiny of their people, what place was there for Akiva in that? And more to the point, could he bear to stand by and see it?

“And there is something else,” said Thiago. “Something I owe you. I understand that I have you to thank for the souls of some of my own.”

Akiva narrowed his eyes. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

“In the Hintermost. You intervened in the torture of a chimaera soldier. He escaped, and returned to us with the souls of his team.”

Ah. The Kirin. But how could anybody know that Akiva had done that? He hadn’t let himself be seen. He’d summoned birds, every bird for miles around. He just shook his head now, prepared to deny it.

But Liraz surprised him. “Where is he?” she asked Thiago. “I didn’t see him with the others.”

Had she been looking? Akiva flickered a glance her way. Thiago’s glance more than flickered. It sharpened, and settled on her. “He’s dead,” he said after a pause.

Dead. The young Kirin, last of Madrigal’s tribe. Liraz made no reply. “I’m sorry to hear it,” Akiva said.

Thiago’s gaze shifted back to him. “But thanks to you, his team will live again. And to return to our purpose, was not his torturer the very angel we now must oppose?”

Akiva nodded. “Jael. Captain of the Dominion. Now emperor. We’re standing here while he gathers his strength, and while your word means nothing to me, I’ll trust one thing: that you would stop him. So if you believe your soldiers can distinguish one angel from another long enough to fight Dominion beside Misbegotten, come with us, and we’ll see what happens.”

Liraz, to Ten, added coldly, “We wear black, and they wear white. If that helps.”

“It all tastes the same,” was the she-wolf’s laconic reply.

“Ten, please,” said Thiago in a warning voice, and then, to Akiva, “Yes, we will see.” He nodded a promise, holding Akiva’s eyes, and the sanity was still there, the cruelty still absent, yet Akiva couldn’t help remembering him ripping out throats, and he felt himself at the precipice of a very bad decision.

Revenant soldiers and Misbegotten, together. At best, it would be miserable. At worst, devastating.

But in spite of his misgivings, it was as if there was a brightness beckoning to him—the future, rich with light, calling him toward it. No promises made, only hope. And it wasn’t just the hope kindled by Karou’s subtle gesture. At least, he didn’t think so. He thought that this was what he had to do, and that it wasn’t stupid, but bold.

   
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