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His eyes are shot; his arm is broken; the magic has left them all. But Alex takes a stance from eidetic memory and snarls:

“I know kung fu.”

Quan-Ti, immortal, hesitates.

Behind Alex, Amadeus Faust steps out from nothing and opens his femoral arteries with a circular blade. In the cage, the Chosen Ones scream.

A snap of the cloak; the sorcerers vanish. Alex, on his elbows, crawls toward the lever that opens the door. His face is white-green, his blood an empty bucket. He gets a grip with one hand. Then the other.

His body pulls it down.


Above, Quan-Ti doesn’t turn around. “I expected the blonde boy,” he says.

“I’m lighter,” Toe mutters.

“Do you even know anyone in China?” He does turn, now, tapping the bronze dagger on his lips. “Did they ask for your help?”

Toe glares.

“Where were you when they burned four thousand years of art? Tortured monks? Locked up authors? Where were you in Tiananmen Square?”

“Eating crayons.”

“Even if you could stop me, how do you expect to erase the past?”

“We’re fucking nerds, man,” says Toe, “our job is the future,” and Hugo’s sword falls smack in his open hand.


Achin drops to her knees, her eyes dull from the drugged ash-wine. Behind her, the rest of the Heavenly Choir does the same, voluntarily or at the hands of the guards.

The emperor is propped up before them, pale, like a thing already dead. The soothsayer Quan-ti turns from the fire and nods to the bard, who bends his head to his lute. The Choir begins to sing; Quan-ti, smiling, approaches their leader.

He draws the short bronze knife across her throat and moves on; behind him, the emperor flushes with health. Achin’s voice dies in gurgles. The blade keeps singing.