Ship of Smoke and Steel (The Wells of Sorcery #1)(7)

My sister, who cares for worn-out dogs and other broken things. I see Shiro’s face, his last shudder, and my throat goes tight. Tori’s a hundred times better than me, and if the only thing I do with my life is make sure she stays that way, it’ll have been enough. Someday she’ll be grown, and she’ll have enough money that she’ll never have to work, or to marry if she doesn’t want to. She won’t remember huddling under the bushes in the public gardens when it rained, or dodging the kidcatchers who snatch little girls for the dockside brothels.

“… and when I told Garalo about it,” she’s saying, “he said that’s the same way the nobility treat the common folk, working them to the bone and then throwing them away. I said they shouldn’t be allowed to, and—”

“Wait.” I fix her with a look. “Who’s Garalo?”

“Just a boy I know.” Tori’s guilty look is blindingly obvious on her guileless face. “I talk to him in the market sometimes.”

“How did you meet him?”

“Kuko wanted to listen to a speech, so she took me after shopping. Then I had questions, so we stayed and got to talking.”

“Tori…” I take a breath.

“I know,” she says. “I have to be careful. I’m not a baby, Isoka. Garalo talks to lots of people.”

“It’s still not safe to get involved in politics,” I tell her. “You never know what kind of attention that’s going to attract.”


“You have everything you need right here, don’t you?” I venture a smile. “Don’t go looking for trouble.”

Tori looks away for a moment, and I think she’s going to argue. Then the tension goes out of her, and she nods. I lean forward and wrap her in a hug, remembering the little girl who clung to my side when we huddled in the gutter.

I’m getting dirty, I want to tell her, so you can stay clean. But she can’t know that.

* * *

Eventually, I have to leave, though not before cunning Ofalo, knowing my habits, comes back with roasted dumplings and plum juice. It’s good to see him with Tori. I think he cares for her—I feel a stab at that dark jealousy, but I push it down. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Tori? She’s nothing but easy smiles and kindness and generosity. And if Ofalo’s loyalty comes from more than gold, so much the better.

I know it’s time to go when Tori starts asking me questions. “Is it true about Soliton? The ghost ship?”

“Ghost ship?” I glance meaningfully at Ofalo, who’s clearing the plates, and he inclines his head in apology.

“She must have overheard some of the girls talking, my lady,” he says. “Nothing but silliness.”

“They said there was a ghost ship in the harbor. It comes to collect evil souls.” Tori sounded excited. “Kuko said she saw Immortals watching for it!”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” I tell her. “And certainly no ghost ships.” Though the Emperor’s Immortals are real enough, unfortunately.

“That’s right,” Ofalo says. “I’ll have a word with Kuko.”

“And whatever happens,” I add, “you’ve got the Ward Guard and all the servants here to keep you safe.”

“I’m not scared!” she protests.

I say my good-byes, which means more hugs and a promise to visit again as soon as I can. Ofalo walks me out, back through the perfect house and its perfect gardens. With him at my side, the other servants know better than to sneer.

“There’s a girl who takes her shopping,” I tell quietly. “Kuko.”

“Yes, my lady. She’s a good girl, a hard worker.”

“Did you know she’s been taking Tori to listen to agitators?”

There’s a long pause. “I had no idea, my lady. I’m terribly sorry.”

“Just take care of it.”

He inclines his head. “She’ll be dismissed at once. I’ll make certain whoever accompanies Lady Tori in the future is … reliable.”

“Good.” We pause at the front door. “I’ll expect your next report in a month.”

“Of course, my lady.” He bows deep, wispy beard swaying. “We are honored by your trust.”

His face is as calm as ever. I wonder what he thinks of me, if he thinks anything at all. Maybe he just sees me as a bottomless coin purse, a lifetime meal ticket.

If so, it’s for the best. He wouldn’t want to know the truth.

* * *

The cab is waiting in the street outside, Hagan lounging on his seat while the old mare munches from a feed bag. He straightens up as I emerge, his collar damp with sweat. From the halfsmile on his face, I can tell he likes the way I look in the kizen, all clean and feminine, like a noblewoman. I flash him an obscene gesture, and he laughs.

“Your command, my lady?” he asks.

“Take the highway to the Fifth Ward,” I say. “We’ll change and head to Breda’s from there.”

He nods, and I hop up to the carriage door before he can offer to help. Hagan clicks his tongue, and we move off at a slow walk. The Second Ward has wide, winding streets, lined with houses like Tori’s, set well back among their gardens for privacy. Huge round stones sit on squat pillars, carved with the circular emblems of noble houses. Lesser houses, here. Anyone with real power would live in the First Ward, or better yet in the Royal Ward, in one of the palaces the Emperor bestows on his favored subjects. Still, seeing Tori in her comfortable place, among the residences of those who might once have sold her life for a few coppers, gives me a warm feeling. It’s revenge on everyone who told us we weren’t good for anything.

Django Wexler's Books