Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 7

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Chapter 7

It took me two days to run from Angel’s Crest to Hyperion moving with all due haste. Clean air filled my lungs and made me want to move. Manna kept me going. The mountains of the west dwindled. North of me, other mountains would be rising though I couldn’t see them. Mallens had drawn the privacy veil around Mount Attarckus, thick white clouds that rolled with wind and thunder.

Of course that had nothing to do with me…well, it had everything to do with me (Yay! I mattered!), but I hoped no one figured that out.

My master plan to become famous seemed to have some rather significant problems.

I put them out of my mind.

When I arrived, I had one of those moments of indecision where I knew whatever I chose, I’d choose wrong. The heavy cloud cover blotted out the sky, and Hyperion, Beloved of Light, lay dark. I couldn’t see squat. I could head in at night, but I wouldn’t be able to see what I was entering. If I waited until dawn, that was time wasted.

After unpleasant hesitation, I waited. The city beloved by light lay dark. That didn’t look right. It didn’t sound right in my head. It didn’t feel right on my skin. I slept and started with a full stomach.

In the morning I couldn’t see the Sun, but dawn came anyway. The world went from dark gloom to light gloom.

Mount Attarckus rises north of Hyperion, the eastmost and tallest of the Broken Fangs. Other, lesser kings who had ruled Heaven before had built their mansions on those peaks, and Mallens had thrown them down when he heaved Attarckus up. In clear weather, it’s a cone that reaches the sky. A pennant of stars trails behind Attarkus’ summit at night, and at the summer solstice the Sun has to change his path to avoid hitting the peak. Now it looked like a funnel or a wagon stand. The green of trees had turned to dingy gray, and the cone of the base had barely begun to taper when it hit darker gray clouds. They spread outwards and rolled like the top of a pot of water just coming to boil.

The Headlands of Ju rose above the Dawn Sea on white sandstone. To the east they met the ocean with marble cliffs. Hyperion took up most of the headland, a rumpled plateau where white hills jutted up from manicured forests and table-top mesas held marble palaces. Every forest had been perfect, every stream bed sculpted. Spirits of water and rain came from the ocean or the fast flowing rivers nearby to tend the springs of the city. Sandstone is a dry rock, and only constant attention by the spirits made Hyperion livable by the gods.

I say by the gods because Hyperion was a city for the gods. No one else was welcome. The spirits were tolerated and Celestials allowed, but they both received cold welcome even as they kept it running. Being mortal in the capital city of Heaven was a capital offense.

So’s treason.

Earthquakes had shorn the edges of the plateau off, and golden palaces and magnificent lawns lay in rubble fields. Idyllic rivers tumbled over marble cliffs and ran through broken houses. The main roadway had fallen apart, and the sign that said ‘No Mortals’ had been torn apart. I scrambled up a scree-field and entered the city without ever passing a sign.

There were no guards. Sometimes I saw movement in broken palaces, and a few timid people moved on the streets. Mostly I saw no one. I’d catch a glimpse of someone a few blocks ahead, but by the time I got there, the streets were empty. A few times I came upon someone, but they pretended not to see me. I did what I could to take advantage of this.

From my mother’s side, I knew that spirits did live in Hyperion, more of them than even the gods knew. Many dryads came here to tend the perfect forests. Nereids warded the beaches and watched the waves like shepherds. Naiads sculpted the crystal rivers that flowed between houses, kept the deep pools clear of pond scum, and ensured the wild life didn’t get wild enough to inconvenience the gods of the city, much less the titans who ruled it and all.

Also from her I knew of the deep frictions between the spirits and Celestials. The Celestials, mostly born of titans and the great powers, but occasionally the forgotten offspring of gods, were powers of themselves, atavistic beings of might. Hoarfast was one. They had skins of steel, they breathed snowstorms, they wore capes of rain, or their bodies were goats or boars. Some were extremely powerful. Death was a Celestial. Some were mere animals. The Boars of Herindon pulled the chariot of Regulus and ate the corpses of his victims. There were many of them. Mallens had fathered five hundred sons. They were not gods and not titans, but somehow less.

Which put them in the ranks of spirits, but they had to be better than somebody.

In Hyperion, Celestials formed the interactive working class. They ran forges, carried bags, pulled rickshaws, and served food. Spirits tended their domains: forests, rivers, and parks. Celestials tended the works of the gods.

No one cared about mortals. We weren’t even a thing.

If they could, spirits and Celestials belligerently ignored each other. They could walk face-first into each other on a corner and move on without either recognizing the collision happened.

After crossing the outer walls, I headed east. If I approached someone among the trees, I walked near the roads. If someone with iron skin or bee’s wings approached, I stuck to the forests. Everyone put me in the ‘other’ group, and if questioned later would have a hard time identifying me.

Soon I found the waterfront facing the Dawn Sea. The Sun Palaces lay in tatters with roofs stomped in and grounds torn with canyons. Mallens’s stomps had driven the ground down to bedrock, and the tops of great trees stuck out of sand traps. Whole buildings were driven underground or smashed flat. Over this place a curse of dark skies hung.

But there were no signs forbidding me to enter. I suppose the clouds and curse of dark skies meant that, but they didn’t say so.

This was it. If someone found the scepters before I did, I was dead. I’d tattle on Koru immediately, and we’d be tortured together. My death would be agony, but his would last forever. I’d win.

Self! Stop!

I didn’t want to die in agony. Death in agony wouldn’t be better if Koru’s was worse. I needed to find the weapons, dispose of them, and I didn’t know what to do next, but there wouldn’t be a next if I didn’t get find the scepters first.

I thought of two utterly blistered summers at Fate, filing unread documents in the bowels of an office building. It’s beautiful and majestic office building. It’s built on Firmament of the Sky, behind the stars of the Mask! But you know what a basement in a scenic building looks like?

It looks like every other basement.

High stress, someone always checking my work but no one ever needing it, no promotion potential, I had almost nothing to show for those two summers. I’d already spent my wages on rent.

But I had four little bits of luck.

I prayed to the Pattern Spiders and asked for one of my favors. I needed to find those weapons.

I glanced around. No one watched. I jogged down to the sea and started searching.


It took me several hours to figure out what was where. The New Light Cape had detached completely from the mainland, and Mallens had stomped lagoons into the beach, making a false shore. Wooden towers for lowly gods to greet the dawn had toppled over. The deeps east of the Cape bred tall waves that rolled on or collapsed, depending on what took place beneath the surface. A morass of beach houses, scrub trees, and rocks hid under calm water.

I looked for Heridite’s Crest. It was, or had been, a low prominence where yellow rock stuck up through the beach, a famous picnic spot surrounded by small pagodas and pavilions. Mallens had stood there the last four years when he’d greeted the dawn at First Light. That’s where we’d planned the hit to occur, so it would be a good place to start searching. However the geography of the place had been rearranged.

While I was poking around on a spur of boulders, splashing noises suddenly broke the otherwise dead silence. They didn’t sound like fish or whales surfacing, and after a moment, I made out shouting from the other side of a line of dunes.

“We’ve got it,” said someone.

“You mean I got it.”

“Oh, shut up. We got it.”

Wondering what it they got, I ran over.

Two heads were splashing and yelling in the middle of a black lagoon, and several more were swimming for the beach. The swimmers resolved themselves into three climbing out of the water and fell, gasping, onto the sand. The two in the lagoon were still yelling.

“Would you both shut up?” yelled a guy on the beach. He held up something. “We got it!”

‘It’ had a blade as long as an arm with a two-hand handle. It had no hilt. The cutting edge formed a stretched S; the other was straight and blunt. The blade wept a kind of darkness when the man waved it, a faint staining shadow like ink in water. But it would cut like razors. It would cut gods. It was a godly weapon.

It was a magnificent copy of Death’s All Things Ending, and Hasso, who’d made it, knew exactly who I was.

My jaw clenched.

I looked over the five of them, three if I could get there quickly enough. They were tired; I was fresh. I could probably hit them from ambush.

Was I really about to kill three people to take that sword?

The idea bothered me, and yet, what did I face at Mallens’s hand?

I ground my teeth like I was chewing rocks.

Maybe I could get the sword quickly. I’d take it without killing anyone.

Yeah. No one had to die. It would be fine.

I stayed low and started around the rocks.

Twilight in Heaven: Ch 5

Previous chapters

Chapter 5

I woke up on the bier. It was a low, squat block of stone, uncut and unpolished, white marble shot through with veins of silver and speckled with quartz. This was where Koru told me to come for a reading of my dreams, where Zeni performed her day-job. Night-job, I guess. I sat up and my leg was cured. Zeni sat on a chair nearby, playing cat’s cradle with herself, and looking unutterably bored.

My schemes and flattery aside, she was quite pretty. Her skin had the same reddish tint as the river silt, carried down from the Tsme. She had big eyes and small, long-fingered hands. Her hair and clothing floated in the water as if they were weightless, and underneath her clothing, her form curved in most interesting ways. That was the thing about gossamer. It revealed shapes and no details, form but no specifics, and hints. She looked amazing.

She looked up while I was looking at her and put her game away.

She really was quite pretty, but now, instead of looking passionate, enraptured, or amorous, she looked curious and a little cynical.

“I fixed your leg,” she said, waving her finger at me.

“Thank you.”

“With less pretty language, why are you here? Be honest.”

“Mostly for the leg,” I said.


“Also, I want your help to escape the valley.”

She shook her head. “I don’t get involved in the affairs of the Hakan.”

“I hate your sister.”

Zeni perked right up. “What now?”

“She’s a plague, and I want to work her downfall.”

Zeni’s eyes narrowed. “Which one?”

“Astras.” I paused. “Aelof’s fine. She’s quite nice, honestly, but she complains a lot.”

“She does do a lot of work,” Zeni said quickly.

“Maybe so, but I don’t want to hear about it! Anyway, I wish her the best. I’m talking about Astras. I want to work her downfall.”

“I don’t know if I should get involved–” said Zeni, and I hurried on.

“I think she’s cheating on Koru.”

That stopped her like I’d staked her through the heart. “With who?”

“Dr Simmons.”

She looked away, and the gears of her mind clicked audibly.

I went on. “He’s the really annoying one with the too-big head on the too-thin neck and laughs like a harpy.”

Zeni looked down, and her eyes fixed on me. She leaned forward in her seat, pulling barely-there fabric tight. “Why him?”

“A few reasons. One, he’s an idiot, she seems to like him, and I can’t imagine anyone putting up with him unless he was giving her a little something extra. Two, I don’t think Koru would suspect. Simmons gives a slightly-gay vibe. Three, I’ve never seen Koru give a lot of attention to Astras. She has to show up, look hot, and he treats her as being decorative. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was watering other fields as a way to get revenge.”

Zeni squinted. “Why do you want revenge?”

“She tried to have me killed.”

“Did you try to sleep with her, and she turn you down?”

“Who?” I yelled. My voice cracked. I didn’t mean to, but that meant there was no way I could have faked it. “The evil plague?”

“Yeah. You just said she’s hot.”

I stared at her for several seconds, then said, “No.”

“I’m just saying,” she just said.


This turn of conversation had moved away from me. I was still kinda trying to seduce her.

“Baby, let’s not talk about other women.”

“Yeah, yeah. Enough with that, buddy. What do you want?”

“I’d like you to smuggle me out of valley without anyone knowing.”

Zeni waggled her head side-to-side a few times. She looked up at the Moon again and frowned.

“And I’d like to talk with you a little bit,” I added.

Her head stopped wiggling, and Zeni looked at me. It was a flat gaze. Her eyes didn’t open all the way, but she arched her eyebrows. Her lips made a thin line. But I got the feeling through her mask she wasn’t quite as cold as she implied.

“Come here. Talk with me a little bit,” I added. There was plenty of room on the bier.

She stood up with marvelous posture, and that made her hips and curves draw the floating gossamer tight. I enjoyed looking at her. She shifted her weight to her right leg, as if to take a step, but the movement made her curves curvier. Her left foot went up on the toe.

“Night Witch, Daughter of Alph, Oracle, come to me!” yelled the voice of the idiot above, the true blister under my sandal strap, Mithrak. “Give me your wisdom.”

“I won’t give you a bleeding thing,” muttered Zeni, slipping out of her position to stand flat-footed with fists on hips.

I slipped up from the bier, took her about the waist, and kissed her. She looked surprised, and she didn’t kiss me back. But she didn’t move away either.

After a long, pleasant moment, I leaned away without letting go. “Help me. I must escape.”


“Mithrak’s going to ask you where I am. Don’t tell him.”

“I’ll lie to him.

I expected more fight there, honestly. “You can do that? As an oracle?”

“Do what? Lie to a customer? Oh, sweetie.”


I’d always sort of suspected, but I’d just assumed it was impossible.

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

Hyperion, I thought, but I didn’t say. “Just out of the valley, and far enough away I can’t be tracked easily.”

“Follow this stairway down, but when you come to the Moon, turn around. Before you, you will see many pools. One will bear the reflection of Angel’s Crest. Walk through it, and you will be there.”

“Can I come see you again?”

“If you want.”

And I did.

But I didn’t want to die. Fighting Mithrak would get me killed. If he fired even one round from that .43, Hoarfast would hear. And then…

I looked at Zeni.

“It would be great if they thought I was dead.”

She shrugged a mysterious shrug, but underneath she was smirking.

I ran down the stairway toward the Moon at the bottom of the lake.

Twilight in Heaven: Ch3

Previous chapters here

Chapter 3

Koru’s palace, Shang Du, stood on a tower of white granite, the Hakan. Behind it the folded Mountains of Tsme rose in jagged peaks, divided by deep, round valleys where the worms of Meru had crawled. The Hakan rose at the center of a bowl valley. At one time the spire had been joined to the greater peak Mt Nonac by a high wall of the same white granite, but the river Alph had cut a path through the junction. Now the crest of the rock formed a white bridge between Shang Du and the mountain, ornamented with lanterns and a wide path. The Alph entered the valley via a waterfall, the Hundred Ribbons, and circled the valley lazily until it passed underground. Koru’s palace up top was opulent and magnificent, horribly furnished, and carried a viewing deck that overlooked the valley and stood above the Tsme Peaks.

I stared at the other seven. Most of them stared at me. I wanted to think, but my mind struggled to comprehend Astras’s suggestion. No one quite moved. No one wanted this.

Maybe Astras did.

She kept talking.

“With the assassins gone, they will tell no secrets,” she said. “Nor will their remains be recognized. But they carried replicas of All Things Ending, and Kog had those replicas made. If Kog was gone, there would be nothing that connected any of us to him, and if we could all keep our secrets like the dead, we’d live.”

And if none of them said anything, they began to move.

“Take your hand out of your shirt,” I told Mithrak.

He’d reached under his jacket where I’m sure he carried a gun.

“I’m just scratching,” he said.


Hoarfast shifted his feet. Somehow, he seemed closer.

I faced seven of them. Seraphine wouldn’t fight nor Astras, Koru would have others fight for him, and Dr Simmons looked irrelevant. That left Mithrak, Cole, Agammae, and the terrible Hoarfast.

I wanted to fight Mithrak, but not him and Cole at the same time. Not if they had help. I never wanted to fight Hoarfast.

Who was this Astras who suddenly had so much to say? What was she even doing? She was a trophy wife. She needed to shut up, look sexy, and be kept. Now she seemed content to wait, but some noise kept building. Maybe the waterfall of Alph was getting louder.

Mithrak scratched himself again. His hand moved toward his armpit.

“Stop that,” I told him.

“I’m just scratching.”

“I told you to-”

Mithrak’s hand shot under his shirt, and I hard initiated on the lot of them.

He grabbed his gun, my fist met his face, and I followed through his head. His whole face wrapped around my fist with jaws and jowls moved in opposite directions, until I finished the strike and launched him a dozen feet away.

Agammae went on me. She threw her chair, I blocked, but the chair was a big thing. It filled a lot of space. She came in behind and kicked out my legs. I dropped.

Cole jumped at me and missed. Hoarfast went wide around behind the rest of the group. I had two seconds before he got here. Agammae spun around and jammed her leg between mine. I tried to leap from my back, but she got herself tangled up with me.

Hoarfast passed the spare chairs and drinks table, four steps away.

“Overe!” I shot my legs skyward again as I slip-broke from Agammae’s grip. My body moved like a wave, and I ended on my feet. Cole tried to tackle me. I retreated, Agammae sprawled out to snatch my feet, I retreated again, and Hoarfast arrived.

His parentage showed. Lines of gray followed his veins. His knuckles had turned to steel.

He feinted, threw two shots, and somehow, he’d gotten between me and the door. His assault was beyond the rest of them combined. I countered low, he blocked, and we exchanged strikes that didn’t connect. Mithrak got up, leaning like the deck was pitching and he’d lost his sea legs. Cole kept trying to grab me. Agammae’s hands appeared with knives. I slipped around Hoarfast’s jab as his off-hand tagged me, and my side went cold.

I dove off the balcony as flashing knives flew overhead.

Shang Du’s balcony overlooked the deep forest. At the bottom of the granite pillar, Alph passed into a dark cavern. Fog and froth filled the pit, and sometimes Koru’s children fell in. None of them ever emerged, and rats are strong swimmers.

Twilight in Heaven: Ch 2

Previous Chapters

Chapter 2

I stood on Koru’s balcony. Eight of us, the King of Rats, his daughter Seraphine, wife Astras, facilitator Hoarfast, wife’s counselor Dr Simmons, worthless-imbecile-chasing-Seraphine Mithrak, worthless-imbecile’s-friend Cole, security consultant Agammae, and emissary Kog, me, had just watched our attempt on the life of Mallens, King of the Gods and Lord of Creation, fail. Jermaine, Koru’s son, must now be dead. No one spoke yet. The roar of the river Alph as it fell off Mt Monac and plunged underground provided pleasant background noise.

All of Meru would have been so much better if Mallens had died. I’d long since left prayer behind, given up my wishes, and taken action to make things better. I’d done everything for them. I had found out who could be bribed and bribed them. I’d figured out how Death’s scepter could be stolen and stolen it. I had found heretical blacksmiths who would make replicas of All Things Ending and had titan-killing weapons made. I had done everything to make things better.

I had even volunteered to go with Jermaine. I offered. I had been the first to step up when he’d asked among our group. Sickness and death on anyone who said I sat out because I was a coward. Even when Jermaine refused, I hadn’t gotten angry, and I’d put aside my resentments for the greater good. While the angels prepared their killing party, I’d been in the streets, learning where Mallens would go, how he went there, who came with, and how we could use it. I had done everything for them!

And we had failed, and the world would fall to darkness.

If I had been there, we would have made it.

Something made a scrape and clatter.

Koru kicked his couch back. Seraphine looked startled to see herself casually pushed aside. “Everyone stay still. We need to decide what we’re going to do before anyone goes anywhere or says anything.”

Koru possessed age and power out of proportion with his standing as a lesser god. King of Rats was such a minor title other pantheons might not claim it. But as a lesser god he had this mansion of Shang Du. In this house they did not even put out plates for manna but feasted on honeydew. Normally a hundred servants filled the polished halls, but he’d sent them away for First Light. We had miles of corridors and rooms to ourselves.

His eyes were dull red, his nose was long and too big, and his mustache looked like whiskers. I think he greased it. All of his proportions were wrong. His arms were as long as his legs, being tall and thin drew attention to the slouch of his spine, and normally, like now, he wore furs to cover up his strange form. I don’t know how he and Seraphine were related.

“What do you want to discuss?” asked Hoarfast. “Our mutual endeavor has come to a definite end.”

“It has,” agreed Koru, “but we are now bound by a mutual secret. No one leaves this house. No one talks to anyone outside this house. We need to decide exactly what we are going to do.”

“I still don’t see what we have to talk about,” said Hoarfast. “We share a secret. We keep it.”

“The concern is someone running to Mallens and telling all, hoping for a reward,” said Mithrak. “Or at least mercy.”

“Mallens isn’t the sort to grant rewards or mercy,” said Agammae.

“Which is an excellent point,” Koru said to her. “Someone might panic and forget that.”

“Then again, we have nothing to talk about.” Hoarfast squeezed his knuckles. He didn’t crack them; he only pressed each fist within the other huge, calloused hand.

Hoarfast was the biggest of all of us and, quite frighteningly, the quickest. He was an old man in a career full of treachery: the arrangement and facilitation of killings. But he dreamed little dreams: money, fine houses, expensive clothes, and fast cars. He didn’t desire Seraphine, the most beautiful of women, but rather wanted women to come and go through his life, themselves impressed by his money, houses, and things.

I don’t know how Koru came to know him. They certainly didn’t move in the same circles. Mallens’s third sister Androche was made of iron and fathered one hundred children from alloys. One, Kobold, was a fine steel with a pattern like snowflakes on his skin, and he had sired a line of Celestials in the climes of Theony, a northern range of mountains where the ice lies deep and hard enough to be smelted as metal. Hoarfast carried Kobold’s blood. He had a coarse black beard like iron filings stuck to a lodestone, gray eyes, and dark hair. He wore gray suits, bespoke shoes, and steel pins in his collar to clasp his tie. I’ve never seen him carry a gun, but I’d never seen him use his fists either. I’d made sure he’d never mean me harm.

“I am concerned someone might not keep their secrets well enough,” said Koru.

Hoarfast looked up at him through his coarse eyebrows. “Then either you take our mere promises or start killing people, King of Rats.”

King of Rats met the lesser Celestial’s eyes. Even as a lesser god, Koru stood high above Hoarfast’s station, but Hoarfast killed gods for a living.

“Let’s not go there,” said Astras, breaking her own silence. “Once that starts, it does not end. Besides, I have a better idea.”

When no one reacted, she pressed.

“Look at me. I can help you both.”

After a longer pause Hoarfast said, “Lady of the House,” like she wanted to pull his teeth. He turned and nodded.

Koru let Hoarfast look away first before turning to Astras as well.

“No one knows we had anything to do with it. All of the agents died. They are martyrs for a better world, and we will get them their better world. We have time. But we won’t if we turn on each other.”

Everyone considered this. I scowled.

“You mean to try again?” asked Hoarfast, raising one coarse eyebrow.

“Of course,” said Koru. Hoarfast may have been answering Astras, but the King of Rats answered. “Mallens killed my son.”

“Of course,” said Astras. She smiled. “Remember, no one outside Shang Du knows any of us had anything to do with it.”

She looked magnificent. On credentials alone, I understood why Koru chose her. The Sylph of the River Alph had given up her kingdom to marry Koru and now wore a deep-cut dress with high slits on either side. She’d crossed her legs, trapping the narrow front-panel of fabric between her thighs and exposing her long, naked leg to the seat of the couch. She wasn’t wearing underwear.

“Except for one,” said Astras, pointing at me. “Him.”

I had done everything for them.

Twilight in Heaven Ch1

Prologue: Shang Du
Chapter 1

The assassination went poorly.

I, Kog, had gathered with my seven comrades on the viewing deck of Shang Du. We’d arranged the couches to face east, and Seraphine sat at the center. Technically, she sat at her daddy Koru’s side, but no one had come to this party to look at the King of Rats. She had pulled her long, beautiful legs onto the seat beside her, cocking her hips so she leaned toward her father. He hunched forward, elbows on knees, the only one of us watching the killing with hard eyes.

There was a drink with him. He didn’t touch it. Everyone else was putting champagne away.

Mithrak sat as close to her as he could, one couch over. He sprawled, open legged, with his shirt unbuttoned down to his sternum. His face needed my fist.

On Koru’s other side sat Astras, Koru’s wife and not Seraphine’s mother. I’ve wondered about Astras as long as I’ve known her. Did Koru simply have a list of appropriate credentials for a trophy wife and marry the first woman who passed the checklist? Or was there anything more to her than appeared? She had the credentials.

Those three couches held the center of the group I’d been allowed to attend. On Mithrak’s right, Cole lounged in a deep seated, high-armed chair. His hands and forearms rested up above his shoulders, almost level with his eyes. By him sat Agammae; she shaved her head, wore a suit, and carried knives. Her chair was the same deep-seated thing that looked like it was swallowing Mithrak, so she perched on the edge of her seat and looked like she didn’t belong here.

On a cushioned bench on Astras’s other side sat Dr Simmons with a huge head on a tiny neck. He drank too much, talked too loudly, and laughed in a tense, shrill way even when things were going well. It was always hard to wrap my head around how that guy could be that smart.

With him sat Hoarfast. Hoarfast looked like a killer. He had the black suit, black shirt, black tie, and a bull’s head on bull’s neck. Hoarfast’s main job this morning was serve the doctor questions. About five words in, Simmons would decide what Hoarfast meant to ask, answer it at length and volume, and laugh at his own jokes while the big man sipped champagne and waited.

Koru loathed Simmons. Astras claimed to enjoy his presence. No one else paid him much mind save Mithrak, who occasionally took questions himself so he could throw out self-flattering compliments.

I tried to ignore them all. Simmons’s voice made my jaw clench; Mithrak’s made my knuckles itch. I sat next to Agammae on a divan. There was a chair open, but those things were horrible. The cushions sat in deep trenches, and the front of the chair formed a hard bar under woven wicker. Agammae must feel like she was sitting on an iron rod. This position put me slightly closer to Seraphine, and when Mithrak spoke to her, as he usually did, he faced away from me so I didn’t hear him as much. I was ignoring Koru’s daughter entirely.

I’d only come here because it let me see her, but since I didn’t want to act like an idiotic puppy, I’d been polite but otherwise avoided her. She knew. I think she found me funny.

What I wanted to do was sit behind everyone, maybe toward the center, but Koru didn’t want anyone behind him so we spread out in this absurd line. Simmons’s tittering and giggling sounded shrill, Hoarfast’s low, deep voice sounded like bodies being dragged through gravel, and Mithrak talked in the other direction. Agammae and I had nothing in common, nothing, and even if we did, Koru hated sidebar conversations around him. It made him think he was missing something.

I drank my champagne. Koru’s other children ran across the ground, squeaking, and climbed over my feet. I hate rats.

The eastern sky began to warm. At first the high trees of Koru’s estate blocked much of the sky. The palace stood on a huge granite spire, but the mountains to the east rose higher. Redwoods and sequoias rose above us. We saw hints of dawn through their branches. Morning over the ocean reached above the trees and started washing out the stars. The horizon turned red and blue. Three tall shadows stood like pillars of night, but these had heads and shoulders.

“Three of them,” said Hoarfast. Whatever stupid joke Simmons was laughing at died. Koru might have been the only one focused on the horizon, but all of us were watching.

“Who?” asked Astras.

“So he brought friends with him,” said Mithrak. He sounded angry. “It won’t matter.”

“But who did he bring?” asked Astras, and suddenly everyone had something to say.

“Probably Lumina and Tolos,” said Agammae, leaning forward on her unpleasant seat. It had to be digging into her behind.

“No, no, no!” Simmons laughed, high and loudly. “He’d bring his brothers, not his sisters. If he brought his sisters, why wouldn’t he have brought them all?”

Mithrak nodded. “It would be his sisters if there were four of them.”

Agammae ground her teeth. She leaned forward even further and stabbed her finger out. “That’s Tolos because she puts her hair back in a braid.”

I couldn’t tell.

Mithrak argued loudly with Agammae, saying she couldn’t make out if one of the shadows wore her hair back. He turned his head toward her to shout, and now I got the brunt of his unpleasant presence. Agammae insisted. She kept pointing at the silhouette of the one on the right, the shorter of the three, and waving at it like she wanted to punch the air with just one finger. Simmons laughed like a screaming rabbit.

The three shadows stood above the peaks, and only titans stood taller than the mountains. Before them the sky’s faint gray on black began to dilute into oranges, yellows, and hints of blue. The Sun himself hadn’t broken the horizon yet, but his cloak appeared before him.

“Just be patient,” said Astras. “We’ll see soon enough. We’ll be able to tell if they’re wearing dresses before we can see their hair.”

Mithrak and Agammae stopped arguing. They looked at her.

“What if the brothers are wearing capes?” asked Cole. “How will we tell?”

“I’ll be able to tell a cape from a dress,” said Astras.

Dr Simmons burst into loud, high-pitched giggling. Everyone but Koru stared at him, and that only made him giggle louder. I wanted to strangle him.

“We planned for this,” said Koru softly.

Dr Simmons gagged. He might very well have shoved his fist in his mouth to make himself stop laughing.

Koru continued. “We planned out what to do if other titans came with Mallens. They just die too.”

Everyone nodded, even me, but Koru lied. We’d planned for one other titan with Mallens: his brother Otomo. At First Light last year and the First Light three years prior, Otomo had joined Mallens when the Lord of Creation had greeted the Sun.

But Otomo couldn’t see well at night. That’s why he delighted in the coming of the Sun after winter. We’d planned for one other titan and that he wouldn’t be able to see in the dark. Mallens had never brought his sisters.

Dawn bled into the sky. Pink and orange seeped into the eastern horizon, but before the sky had turned any single color, the stars went out in the west. Low over the mountains behind us, a few glittered, but the rest faded even before the light seemed bright enough to wash them out. Koru leaned even further forward in his chair to hunch on the little bar at the front of the cushion.

Mithrak picked up his champagne and called, “To us!” Everyone but the King of Rats drank. I did too, but it galled me.

Dawn had barely brightened the horizon but already washed out the stars. In the constellation of the Mask, a black spot appeared like an ink droplet in water. Four of us called it out at once. Its nexus, a tiny spot of darker black among shadows against the night appeared in the darkest of constellations and swung east, moving fast and against the procession of daylight. But it was so little.

No one could see the little speck of darkness who didn’t already know it was coming, no matter how well they saw at night.

The earlier speed of the coming sunrise froze, and now every moment stretched out. The speck of darkness passed the Gull and the Tower. It rose to the zenith of the sky and began to fall, diving swiftly to the east.

We looked at tall Mallens’s head. He and his two sisters looked east to the coming of the dawn, but sunrise was now so very, very far away.

Dr Simmons made some cheer, but no one followed him. His toast thudded like dead weight into silence.

Mallens and his sisters stood still, facing the coming dawn. The Sun’s painters created the first and most beautiful sunrise of the new year.

Everything was going according to plan. There was no reason any of them should look back, no way they could have seen Jermaine’s Sunset Group on black horses of laurel, and no way they could have seen it as anything but a fleck of off-colored cloud if they did. I clenched my teeth. Koru stopped breathing in anything but hisses. Dr Simmons giggled a hysteric whispered noise, and Hoarfast grabbed his shoulder, squeezing enough to drag the fabric into tight folds. The black speck dove like a comet. Jermaine rode for Mallens.

The little shadow on the left turned to say something to Mallens. Her shadow wore a thick braid. I could see hints of her form, a bit of hip and breast. She paused, raised her arm, and pointed at the sky behind them.

Mallens turned as well, and Lumina did too on the far side. The Sun outlined the front of her long dress. The King of Titans turned the rest of the way, and his eyes lit up the sky.

The eyes of the King of Titans burned as two white crosses, suddenly brilliant, brighter than the coming dawn, brighter than any of the stars had been, and bolts of fire and light leaped up to the sky. The black speck swerved, Mallens’s lightning missed, and the spot of darkness, so small I could barely see it even knowing it was there, hesitated. I stopped breathing.

Everyone on the patio stopped breathing.

Jermaine went. The spot of darkness charged. The laurel horses rode on, and ink drops splattered the pale milk of the sky. I don’t know who started it, but everyone on the patio was cheering. The assassins of Sunset Group fell on Mallens, their hoof prints were black splashes, and they left a trail of streaking shadow.

Mallens swung one hand and knocked them from the sky.

Another black spot, vivid against the dawn, leaped from behind him. Sunrise Group charged Mallens’s back. Their blades moved, leaving streaks through Mallens like the butt of the hand drawn through handwriting before the ink has dried. The King of Titans burned. Plumes of smoke and fire rose from his back; splatters of blood splashed the heavens. The splotches of darkness overcame the coming dawn and turned the sky dark again. Mallens whirled on Sunrise, but Sunset had merely fallen. They’d not yet been destroyed, and now they spread out. Many black dots rode for Mallens.

Little Tolos, taller than mountains but the smallest of the titans, turned and fled. Lumina ran too. They left their king alone.

Mallens lurched sideways. We saw flickers of his eyes looking this way and that, now crosses, now three-bar hexes, always burning, as Sunrise and Sunset caught him between them.

The Sun crested the horizon and put forth all of his power. Mallens lurched to the east and stood silhouetted. He swatted Sunrise Group from the sky, and they fell as Sunset had. The King of Titans was bleeding.

Sunset tried to circle, but Mallens struck again. He smashed something. The remainder moved left and right. Mallens flailed, stomped his feet, slammed his fists into the ground. The earth buckled. Splashes of water or liquefied soil shot upwards.

The riders of Sunrise split up too. They looped and soared, black flecks around the King’s head. He struck at them as they cut him as wounds and blowthroughs erupted from his hands and fingers. Blood splattered his face; black on black even by daylight. I tried to count the assassins, and got less than half of them. They must have been moving too quickly for my mortal eyes.

Mallens caught something and struck it down. He caught another. Several of the riders tried to coordinate, but he caught one group and threw them down. The other group dove, either for cover or to flee, and Mallens leaped at them. His feet crushed the earth.

For a while he danced like a madman, all stomps and violence without music. And then suddenly he went still, leaning on his knees. His body shook.

We waited. My rear-end hurt. I looked down. I’d moved forward to hunch on the edge of the divan, and it was jutting into my legs.

I hated Koru’s furniture. I stood up.

Mallens was black as mountain stuff, black as the rock underneath the oceans, rough hewn and poorly constructed. In him the early craft of the Clockwork Gods showed their initial inexperience. His face had no curves, just blocks and planes. He wasn’t even a person yet.

And yet he lifted his arms, shook his fists, and screamed at the Sun itself. He scattered blood in all directions and turned the skies black and cloudy. He roared, and the Sun made obeisance and covered his face before the Lord of Creation.

I looked around. Koru stood with his arms crossed. Seraphine touched him on the side, but when he didn’t react she moved away, crossing her own arms and hunching her shoulders behind them. Astras had one arm pressed against her chest and scratched her elbow with the other. Mithrak had a butterfly knife in hand and did slow tricks without looking. Hoarfast squeezed Dr Simmons’s arm through the sleeves of his jacket. The good doctor was biting a knuckle. Agammae stood with wide legs, hands on hips with thumbs behind, and stared forward. The muscles in her jaw bulged. I just stood there and realized I’d become aware of my arms. I didn’t know what I’d been doing. The rats were fleeing the balcony.

In the distance, the treetops shook like waves rushing toward the beach.