The only way to kill a god is from the inside…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Godslayers, Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane sequel to Gearbreakers, out from Feiwel & Friends on June 28.
The Gearbreakers struck a devastating blow against Godolia on Heavensday, but the cost of victory has been steep. Months later, the few rebels who’ve managed to escape the tyrannical empire’s bloody retribution have fled to the mountains, hunted by the last Zenith—Godolia’s only surviving leader.
Eris has been held prisoner since the attack on the capital city, which almost killed her. And she begins to wish it had when she discovers Sona—the girl she loves, the girl she would tear down cities for—also survived, only to be captured and corrupted by the Zenith. The cybernetic brainwashing that Sona has forcibly undergone now has her believing herself a loyal soldier for Godolia, and Eris’ mortal enemy.
With the rebellion shattered and Godolia moving forward with an insidious plan to begin inducting Badlands children into a new Windup Pilot program, the odds have never been more stacked against the Gearbreakers. Their last hope for victory will depend on whether Eris and Sona can somehow find their way back to each other from opposite sides of a war…
I have an odd dream. Senseless—Godolia, like a mouth in the desert. It breathes in.
In comes the world. Out come its Gods.
I think, in the midst of that divine hunger, I become someone else.
He is there when I wake from it. The Zenith. Just a boy. The only one left.
I was close. I was very, very close.
He stands at the foot of my bed. I crawl toward him, dropping my brow to the frame.
“Now,” Enyo says. I feel his eyes, dark as Phantom skin. His voice is gentle. “Do you feel like yourself again?”
“Yes, my Zenith,” I whisper, closing my eyes against the feel of sheer, splintering relief. “I am feeling quite like myself again.”
I was so lost. She… made me lost.
I have done the worst to him, to my nation. And still he saved me, plucked me from the depths of the Gearbreakers’ corruption, instead of slaughtering me like I slaughtered them.
Lost, but found. And home again.
In Godolia. This holy place.
This merciful place.
I guess I do believe in deities, after all.
There’s supposed to be millions of them, so when I pray, it’s really more of a blanket statement than pinning it to just one. One doesn’t seem like enough.
My head bowed over my knees, the metal shell of the transport shudders around me. As I sit shoved between two guards amid about a dozen others—which seems excessive, seeing as my wrists and ankles are bound, and a clamp is fastened over my mouth because as of late I’ve been what some would consider “bite-y”—I work on sending a careful, concise message up to the heavens. They must be crowded and loud, and I want to get this right.
You’re assholes, I pray, but maybe that isn’t the right word for what I’m doing. Is there another word for when humans speak to Gods? Did we bother to make one? You’re assholes, every single one of you.
The train slows, and the transport doors glide open, spilling light. It stings my eyes; must be months since I’ve been outside.
I go limp when they try to shove me to my feet.
Because it’s been months. And the only reason they’d have to move me is to kill me.
I am going to come for every last one of you.
They lift me easily. I let my head loll back, the sun warming my bruises. It feels like spring. It feels like they harvested me from my grave just so they could kill me again for kicks.
I will rip your divinity out by its roots.
The transport rumbles away, and my eyes follow it to a massive spire rising a few dozen feet to the left, its black throat craning for the sky. A cannon. I realize, faintly, that we’re on the wall ringing the city. Light glints off the bleached stretch of the Badlands, webbed with the metal of train tracks. I can just see the point where the smog of Godolia fades to blue sky.
It all feels out of place—me muttering profanities into the broad shoulder flattening my cheek, the raised platform set at the wall’s edge, this ugly, ugly place and its billion people pressed in like a rotted spot in the sand. Random things dumped into the blank part of a map.
Save me and I won’t do shit for any of you, I pray as they lug me up onto the platform, promptly tossing me onto my hands and knees. The plastic surface is slick with humidity, but I still drop my brow to it and close my eyes. I need a little rest. I need there not to be so much buildup.
You dealt me a rotten world, and the very least you can do is not let it kill me like this.
Footsteps shake the platform, but no one hauls me upright. I don’t really want to get my brains blown out with my face already touching the ground, so I roll onto my back, but the light still sears, and I have to put my hands to my face, shackles awkward but blissfully cool against my cheeks. The breeze picks up in just about the nicest way possible. There’s not even an unreasonable amount of sand scraping my hair.
A few weeks ago, someone politely informed me my entire family was dead. That hours after Heavensday, Paladins were sent to crack the Winterward ice. That everyone I have ever loved probably froze before they could drown.
Everyone except for one, but she’s dead, too.
And that is entirely on me.
I’m coming for you either way. It’s your decision whether it’s now or in a few years, when you’ll have time to get ready for me, or apologize, or just die, or bring them all back, just… just bring them all back—
“Get her to her feet.”
They pull me up. I go limp again, chin bumping my collarbone. They don’t find it as funny as I do, and someone steps forward and grasps my jaw. I wince, their nails slipping beneath skin. I expect to open my eyes to a gun between my brows—which makes me really not want to open my eyes, to just let this darkness bleed easily into the next, barely a transition, hardly a difference—Oh Gods—I don’t want this I don’t want this—Save me please please I’m scared to die—
Then I open my eyes anyway, because I refuse to go out both begging and blind, not after everything… and the panic hesitates.
It’s her, the blue of the sky behind her, and the world doesn’t seem so empty anymore.
She’s cut her hair.
Those perfect, chestnut curls scrape her chin, dark lashes drawn low so she can look at me properly. Backlit by the sun, her glare is vicious, and she’s alive, and she’s alive, and she’s alive.
There’s no way in hells I’m letting them kill me now.
“Should I take off her mask?” Sona asks someone I don’t care about, but who seems to respond in the affirmative, because she unhooks the bind from around my mouth.
I try to kiss her, and she hits me across the face.
“Uh-huh, completely deserved that,” I rasp out of cracked lips, which split even farther when I grin. My vision is still tilting when I look back at her, cheekbone stinging. “So, we’re getting out of here?”
I haven’t spoken in weeks, and my words peel out drily, incomprehensible.
They must be incomprehensible, because Sona fixes me with a strange look. She doesn’t answer.
Also, instead of unshackling me, she moves behind me and hooks her arm around mine, one hand tangling in my hair and forcing my chin skyward.
My heartbeat spills up my throat. This isn’t right. She isn’t right.
Her lips brush my ear, and mine part, and I think to myself please please please—why would I pray to the Gods when she’s right here—and Sona says, “You will show respect for your Zenith.”
I start laughing.
It comes out splintered and gasping, and I can’t stop it. Even when she punches me again, even when I hit the platform and the shock snaps my teeth, even as she leans over to shake me, curls floating off her chin. Because of course it would be her of all people, one of the unlucky few strong enough to survive corruption. Thoughts ripped out and dropped back in with new roots.
We just need to start running, I think, dazed, as Sona lifts me onto my knees and forces my head back again. We just need to get home.
Someone else leans over me—a tall boy with dark hair pulled into a small knot, and sharp black eyes, a sullenness to his mouth that in a flash of hurt reminds me of Xander. Low freaking blow.
And then it goes lower, because there’s an insignia on his jacket that really shouldn’t be there, really shouldn’t be anywhere now. Because it means we missed one. We failed.
“I’m sorry,” I rasp, and keep saying it. Apologies bubble up my throat, my rambling soon smudged by laughter again when I realize she thinks I’m begging for my life, and that these words aren’t for her. Because I’ve doomed her here. I thought I was leaving her to a Zenithless world, to Godolia in a state of chaos. I was going to die, and maybe she was going to hate me for it, but it didn’t matter because she would be alive. She would fight and get out, and it was going to be okay because she had people to go home to.
Does she even remember them?
Does she even know how loved she is?
The Zenith starts speaking. I don’t care what he has to say, so I pitch forward and try to bite off his ear.
He pulls back, and my teeth snap against open air. Sona snarls, her grip winding tighter in my hair.
“How dare you—” she spits.
“Gwaenchanha. Bellsona, it’s fine,” the Zenith assures her, raising his hand. And he really does look fine, as unfazed and clean-cut as the tracks against the pale sand. He’s just a kid, now in charge of a big, messy world. At the very least there should be some Godsdamn black circles around his eyes, and a suit that doesn’t fit him so perfectly. He smiles brightly at Sona, which makes me want to not only go for his ear again, but also gnaw on it. “Everything’s intact, see? I’d heard Miss Shindanai was getting a tad bite-y.”
“Why—” My voice breaks. It startles me. The Zenith’s eyes stay steady on mine, watching. The corruption couldn’t have stuck the first time. She’s too freaking stubborn for it. She’s going to come back, and I might already be gone. “Why didn’t you kill her?”
“Do you really not know?” the Zenith asks—he seems like he’s actually asking. His gaze drifts to Sona, and there’s something in his eyes I don’t understand. Something careful. “She’s worth saving.”
The cool edge of a blade slips beneath my jaw, Sona’s hands are perfectly steady, lining it up right.
“Wait,” the Zenith says, and she does.
Heat builds fast behind my eyes and trickles out slow, the fight leaving me with the simple realization that she’s going to be the one to pull me from this world, just like she’s done countless times before in little, euphoric bursts—her head on my shoulder in the soft light of the hallway; her fingers tracing mine under the wide, star-cluttered sky; the warmth of her lips inside the dead mecha, tugging me away into something quieter, despite everything else—
The Zenith comes closer. And then he kneels down in front of me, dark, focused eyes on mine. Past the heartbeat in my ears, everything is suddenly still as he observes me. Finding a worthless Badlands girl. A heretic. Full of anger and hatred and hurt that means nothing to him.
“Worth saving…,” I whisper, throat moving against the blade. “Just to kill me?”
“No, no. Not just you.” The Zenith smiles. It could be considered gentle. He leans in, lips nearly gracing my ear. He breathes—I close my eyes as the tears break. That startles me, too. The fear, its suddenness. I’ve killed Godolia’s Gods before, but I haven’t met one, haven’t had one speak to me, soft and promising. “Bellsona is going to end the Gearbreakers.”
He pulls back. I stay perfectly still, watching his shoes through the hair in front of my eyes.
“So,” I say. “Starbreach is alive.”
The Zenith chuckles. “Are either of us really surprised?”
He moves his hand. Sona forces me around, knee in the middle of my back, grip in my hair pitching me up and forward. And suddenly there’s not ground under my chest, but a two-hundred-foot drop down a cold, black wall, into a Badlands full of deities.
A dry, panicked gasp cracks out of my throat.
“Sona—” I rasp. “Sona, please.”
Windups. There must be dozens of them, mismatched and red-eyed with their chins tilted back, craning for a view. That’s what really scares me shitless, I think—the disarray of it, a mob instead of an army tailored into orderly lines.
We were good Gearbreakers. Glitch left the Windup army a fraction of its formal glory. But we didn’t get all of them. The ones out on rotations, the ones stationed in the Iolite Peaks. We knew there would be a few leftovers. A fraction.
But it seems all of them wanted to come watch me die, and they had the right idea. Let the last thing I see be that all we did and all we gave up was for nothing. Despite our efforts, the world is still crawling with Gods.
And Sona’s hand is the only thing keeping me on it. Tears pool out of my eyes and into open air, my mouth wet with spittle as she readjusts the blade at the side of my neck with perfectly steady hands. I’m going to die. I’mgoingtodieI’mgoingtodieI’mgoingtodie—
“All right, dear,” says the Zenith. “Proceed.”
It startles me, when the blade draws blood; I wasn’t ready for it. I was waiting for her to look down, but she doesn’t, and I realize that this is really happening, that she’s going to kill me without even meeting my eyes. And when she wakes up from this—she will wake up from this—it’s going to destroy her—
“Sona,” I gasp, sob rattling in my chest, sounding like a little kid. “You said you’re here as long as I want you to be, remember? I want you here. Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.”
The blade hesitates. Blood runs in a warm, steady line down one side of my neck, soaking my shirt collar.
“You know me,” I choke. “We belong to each other. Remember?”
Sona blinks twice, and then, for a split second, her eyes drop to mine.
Then, hurriedly, her gaze lifts back to the Zenith. He stares at her steadily, and I can tell he saw it, too.
It happens too quickly.
His hand lifts, and Sona jolts me to my feet, shoves the knife into my shackled hands, and pushes me away. And she’s screaming go, go, go, and I’m screaming come with me you have to come with me, and the air comes alive with gunfire.
I’m back on the platform. Sona hits it a second later, warmth spotting my cheekbone before I roll for cover.
“Put down your guns, you might hit her! Bellsona! These are not your roots!” the Zenith growls. She flinches, but dives for me when I twist the knife in my hands and lunge for him. Entangled, we skitter toward the wall’s edge, my feet kicking out over the open drop.
“Go!” she screams, pulling away from me.
“Come with me.” It barely matters that there’s nowhere to run to. “I love you, please come with me.”
Faintly, I realize the bullets have stopped flying. Crouched above me, Sona presses a hand to her ribs, to the blood slicking her side. The Zenith is standing a dozen feet away, mouth closed despite the ease of a kill order.
“I don’t know you,” Sona rasps, wry smile on her lips, and she’s so desperate and so confused; I can feel it in the way her hand grips my arm, that this is familiar to her, but she says it again anyway. “I don’t know you.”
Her skin knows mine. But they messed up her head, and she doesn’t know how it got to be that way.
“We’ll fix it,” I beg wetly, tears smudging the image of her head bent over mine, warbling the tight line of her mouth. “Please, love, I promise—”
And then I’m airborne.
She pushed me. She killed—
No. Greedy things, Gods—their hands rise, searching for me, and I hit a palm. Metal fingers curl to block out the sky, but I’m already gone, sliding down a wrist and then an arm. Metal bodies rise around me, heads and necks and collarbones. I hit a shoulder running, fingers reaching for me from a dozen hands, and this is it, one of my hells, Windups and nothing else…
I’m down the line of the shoulder, reach the side of the Argus’s head, and there’s only one place left to go.
Back-to-back with the Windup, below all of them.
I hit the ground. Sooner than I was expecting. Alive-r than I was expecting.
No. Fuck. There’s another freaking palm under my feet, I—
The hand is closing. It’s the worst way to go, a Gearbreaker way to go, being crushed—
We’re moving, and the force of the motion brings me to my knees. The world above is mechas, spines and chests and grins, edges outlined by sky, heads turning… The Windup’s other hand closes over my head and goes still.
It’s just the dark and me, breathing hard. Waiting. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. My pulse throbs in my teeth. Alive alive alive.
“Did you just—” It comes out as a whisper. “Cup me in?”
What the hells is happening? Did the rest of them really not see?
I slam my foot against the fingers that have replaced the sky. The scream comes first from the pain and then from everything else, and I double over in the darkness. “You f— you have to let me out!”
My hands scramble against the pockmarked metal of the mecha’s fingers—a Berserker. But there’s something else here, between the valves. Lips parting, my touch moves, following the scratches. Finding words.
No—finding my name.
Eris Don’t Panic.
I trace it again. Don’t Panic.
Oh, I think distantly, my head going blank with dry delirium, like static eating a screen. I get it. I’m dead.
Sona’s still up there. With the Zenith. He said he was going to kill Jenny. The look in his eyes was just like one I’ve found in hers again and again—the careful observation, the next step already lined up neatly in their heads.
Didn’t I always wonder what it would be like, if Jenny had been born on their side?
He saw Sona’s corruption waver, and he’s going to try it all over again. Until he gets it right.
Until it sticks.
Excerpted from Godslayers, copyright © 2022 by Zoe Hana Mikuta.