By Laura Schiller

Based on: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Copyright: Laini Taylor

"Get out!" Brimstone roared, pushing Karou into the snow. He slammed both doors on her and leaned against the inner one, breathing hard, more out of fury than exertion. He glared defiantly at Issa, Twiga and Yasri, who glared back with all the full force of their disapproval.

Issa's hood was up as she slithered forward, fangs bared.

"What have you done?" she hissed.

The condemnation of his only friends and helpers was painful, but his face and voice gave nothing away.

"Only what I had to," he growled.

"Are you insane?" Yasri shook her orange curls and snapped her beak. "That was Karou, not one of those filthy human traders – "

"It's her time," he interrupted.

"Her time?" Yasri's avian voice rose to a grating screech. "For Nitid's sake, she's injured - "

" – and it's winter in Prague, in case you didn't notice!" Issa's tail lashed accusingly in the direction of the door. Beneath her rage, Brimstone heard the shiver of impending tears.

Twiga was less demonstrative than the women, but his brown eyes were dark with anger as he picked up Karou's fur-lined leather coat from its hanger.

"Let me pass, Brimstone," he said, his giraffe neck extended to its full height.

"We can't risk it." Brimstone held up his hand sharply, to silence potential interruptions. "She found Thiago, do you understand? She followed me through the Eretz portal, found his new body and woke him up. He nearly killed her – and if you three had been watching her properly, this never would have happened!"

The bass rumble of his voice made the teacups rattle on the table. Not only his rare loss of temper, but the implications of what he'd just said, wiped the judgment off their faces to be replaced with pure horror.

"Oh no," breathed Issa, lifting a hand to her mouth. "Oh, my sweet girl."

"So there's no need for that." Brimstone gestured with a claw at the coat folded over Twiga's arms. "If she has half the common sense we tried to teach her, she'll be running to her apartment. And if we follow her there, Thiago will track us. Her only chance for safety, as we agreed all along, is to cut off all contact and leave her to the human world."

Twiga sighed, replacing Karou's coat on its hanger, smoothing it down with his careful jeweller's hand.

"She'll be all right, won't she? It's only a few steps to her place … "

"She's smart, strong and resourceful." Yasri stood on tiptoe to pat Twiga's shoulder. "She will survive."

Issa sighed. Being cold-blooded, she had a strong aversion to the cold. The idea of her foster-daughter walking through the snow on bare feet and in a thin camisole continued to haunt her.

"Foolish child." Brimstone began to pace around the room, barely dodging chairs, shelves full of teeth, and the tooth necklaces overhead. "Seventeen years we spent hiding her from Thiago, and she blundered right into his arms. She has no idea … if he had … "

He could not say it. His peers in Loramendi would never have believed it, but the indomitable Brimstone, successful leader of the rebellion against the seraphim, was afraid. The thought of losing Madrigal for the second time did not bear thinking of.

He touched the wishbone around his neck, a contingency plan he'd prayed never to use. Every time her childish hands had reached for it, every time she'd demanded to know the truth about wishes or her own identity, he had kept her in ignorance for her own peace of mind. Now, with any luck, she would live out her life in the human world – frustrated, anxious, lonely, but most importantly alive.

"Brimstone?" Yasri's caw broke him out of his thoughts. He turned.

"Perhaps," she said, "Perhaps now is the time to send it after her?"

Her slit-pupiled eyes landed on the wishbone. He shook his head.

"She deserves to know," Twiga pointed out. "They are her memories, after all."

"But what good are memories that will only break the sweet child's heart?" Issa argued. "No, no, she's better off as she is."

"The less she knows about the war, the safer she will be," Brimstone declared, bringing his claws down on the dining table with a quiet, but firm click. "I will send Karou the wishbone if, and only if, none of us is able to preserve it."

Silence fell. All four of them knew what that implied: either they would be dead, or captured by the seraphim. Either way, the worst would have happened; not only for them, but for their entire nation, considering how vital Brimstone's revenants were to its survival. In that case, the love story of Madrigal and Akiva – and its transcendent plea for peace between the races – might be their only hope.

It was a very small hope, a fool's hope perhaps. But, as Brimstone had told his heart's daughter during both her childhoods, hope made its own magic, and was not to be underestimated.

"May the Sisters guide her and protect her," whispered Issa, the first to break the silence.

Brimstone echoed her prayer in his heart.