Ship of Smoke and Steel (The Wells of Sorcery #1)(4)

Hagan shoots me a questioning look. I glare at him. He should know better by now.

“Please,” the girl says.


The Melos blade punches into her side, under her left armpit. I slip it between the ribs to find the heart. The quickest death I know. It’s all I can offer.

A lot of my colleagues, those who hold territories for the bosses, like to make up happy stories about their jobs. They’re defending the people of their wards, they say, protecting them in exchange for a reasonable fee. I prefer not to dress it up. This is what I do. I hurt people for money. I hurt them until they pay, or I kill them if they won’t, so that the next batch know better.

It’s all right. The money goes to Tori, her perfect house, her obedient servants. Her gentle, sheltered life, miles from the stink of blood. She deserves it. She’s smart, and kind, and loving, and she’ll grow up among nobles and live a perfect life. She’s not a monster, like I am. She can be generous and gentle. All I can do is hurt people.

* * *

Shiro is still moaning, but he’s a dead man. I can see that at a glance. By the way Hagan kneels at his side, though, I can tell he’s going to be difficult about it.

“We need a bandage for this,” he says, staring at the wound. Blood has glued Shiro’s shirt to his skin, and still flows in shallow spurts. “Can you tear up some cloth?”

“Why?” I say. “So he can bleed out tonight, or die a week from now when his bowels fester?”


“You know it’s true. Look at him. Unless you have a tame Ghul adept you haven’t told me about, he’s done.”

Hagan bites his lip. His hands are shaking. “You’re saying we should just leave him here?”

“No, I’m saying we should slit his throat and be done with it. It’s a mercy.”

He winces as though I’ve hit him. “I … I can’t—”

“You were quick enough to finish the woman with the crossbow.” I frown. Hagan is usually more reliable.

“It’s not the same! He was—is my friend. I can’t just—”

“Then get out of the way.”

Hagan looks at me for a moment, then stands. I kneel beside Shiro. His eyes are closed, and I don’t think he’s conscious. Thank the Blessed One for small favors, I suppose. My blade slides into his side, and he shudders and goes still. I stand up and let my power fade away, the Melos energy dispersing into shimmers of green lightning. It feels like stepping from a stifling room into a cool breeze, heat streaming off my skin.

“Let’s go,” I tell Hagan.

“There’s probably money here,” Hagan says, looking away from Shiro’s corpse. “You don’t want to look for it?”

“To the Rot with the money. We’re here to send a message.” I wave one blood-spattered hand at the bodies. “This is the message.”

Hagan gives a jerky nod. I watch him surreptitiously as we leave through the busted door and slip back onto the Sixteenth Ward’s busy streets. My other eye is on the crowd, but if anyone pays us special attention, they take care not to stray too close. In the upper wards, if a body was discovered, the Ward Guard would come out and pursue the murderer. Down here, the guards barely bestir themselves to clean up the corpses, and not until after they’re picked clean.

Still, it’s a good idea to get off the streets. There’s another hideout ready, halfway up a decaying block of shabby tenements. I’ll lay low there until morning. Quite a few of the Sixteenth Ward’s vagrant children are on my payroll, and they’ll watch to see who finds the bodies and who those people tell about it. It’s possible that the people in that room were the whole of Firello’s organization, but it’s equally possible he had another partner or two who might come over all revenge minded. If so, I’d like to know about it. I didn’t go from street rat to ward boss by taking unnecessary chances, and even Melos armor is no protection from a knife in the throat while you’re sleeping.

The bolt-hole is another empty, grubby room, with a rag-curtain window looking into a central courtyard the residents use as a garbage dump. There’s a sack with fresh clothes, a clay jug of weak wine, another of water, and paper-wrapped parcels of food. Hagan stops in the doorway, one hand clutching the wound on his arm, breathing hard.

“Well.” I look down at myself, the bloodstains already drying to dirty brown. “That could have gone better.”

Hagan snorts and mutters something. I turn to look at him.

“Are you okay?”

He looks up, face hardening. “Fine, boss.”

“I’m sorry about Shiro.” I’m not, but the lie won’t hurt. “But he got emotional and paid the price. You know I warned him about that.”

“So did I,” Hagan said.

I frowned. “Was he your brother or something?” It’s not like we hadn’t lost men before. It happens. When you’re in the business of hurting people, sometimes they hit back.

“I haven’t got a brother,” Hagan said. “He was just … a friend.”

I shrugged. Who rotting knows what goes on in people’s heads? Friendship wasn’t a luxury I’d ever been able to afford. Life had taught me that lesson early on: there was Tori, there was me, and then there was everyone else.

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