Ship of Smoke and Steel (The Wells of Sorcery #1)(5)

“How’s your arm?” I ask. “You look pretty bloody.”

“Nothing serious.” He pokes at the wound and winces. “I’ll be all right.”

“Go get cleaned up. I’ll see you in the morning, once we know we’re clear.”

Hagan forces a smile. “Yes, boss.”

* * *

I strip, wadding up my shirt and trousers, and do what I can to scrub the blood from my skin. It’s something, but I won’t feel really clean until I can get to a bathhouse for a proper soak. Once I’m in fresh clothes, I demolish the supper in the sack—rice balls, a roast chicken, sweet preserved cherries—and start in on the wine. It’s all simple stuff, but with my body coming down from the combat high everything tastes good.

The dim light from the window turns redder as the sun slides down the sky. Jug in hand, I wander over and stare. From here I can see the harbor up close, pier after pier jammed with vessels, their bare masts like a strange, dead forest. I’ve heard that Kahnzoka is one of the greatest ports in the world, rivaled only by the Jyashtani capital of Horimae. Farther out are ships under sail, from single-masted junks to enormous square-rigged traders. The sleek triangular sails of an Imperial Navy galley, black trimmed with gold, cut through the riot of color like a shark through a school of fish.

I feel keyed up, jittery, unable to relax, like I’ve missed something and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I’m like this, after a fight. It helps if I have someone to fall into bed with, a quick rut to burn off the extra energy. I thought about asking Hagan to stay—I’ve tumbled him a time or two—but he didn’t seem like he was in the mood.

Wine’s not as good, but I’ll take what I can get. I bring the jug to my lips and swallow, as the last of the sun slips below the horizon and the light begins to fade from orange to black.

* * *

I dream of the people I’ve killed.

I don’t know why. I don’t feel bad about killing them. But their faces appear behind my eyelids when I sleep, standing around me. They’re not threatening, not come to take vengeance from beyond the grave. Just … waiting, as though I should have something to tell them.

Firello is there, and his girl, and his guards. Shiro’s there, too. He looks at me, silently, expectantly.

“Get lost,” I tell them. “I don’t know what you want from me, but you’re not going to get it.”

They just stare. No expressions, no sadness or pain. Just … expectation.

“This is a dream,” I tell them. “You’re all dead.”

They don’t react.

I struggle to wake up, to open my eyes. And it seems like it works, for a moment. Only it doesn’t, because I’m still dreaming.

I’m lying on the thin, lumpy sleeping mat, empty wine jug near my hand. A slight breeze through the rag curtain raises goose bumps.

Above me there’s a faint light. Tiny glowing pinpricks hover and dance, like dust caught in a sunbeam, leaving trails of luminous gray in their wake. They writhe like a bucket of eels. I raise my hand, and the gray trails shift, as though pulled toward my fingers.

Dreams. I close my eyes again, hoping for a more pleasant one.


Everyone has their addictions.

Mine isn’t drink, or dice, or sex. That’s not to say I never have a jug or three, or that I’m immune to the rush of clinking coin and clattering bone, or that I’ve never spent the evening in the company of a pretty boy from Keyfa’s brothel. But these are things I could do without, if I had to.

My addiction is Tori. I can no more stay away from her than a plant can turn away from the sun.

Hagan picks me up after breakfast, at a suitably discreet spot far from our usual haunts. He’s driving a battered old cab, with proper livery and permits. Nothing fake—I have an arrangement with the owner, and he keeps Hagan’s name on the books as a licensed driver. Hagan dresses the part, too, in a cabdriver’s shabby linen and slouching felt cap. The elderly mare in the traces gives a snort at the sight of me, and her ears flick while I climb aboard.

Then it’s up to the Second Ward, up the great hill, climbing away from the sea and out of the miasma of smoke and poverty. It’s like ascending the celestial mountain where the Blessed One dwells with the heavenly court. Except at the top of our mountain sit the nobles and the Emperor’s favorites—more like rotspawn, in other words, than choirs of angels. We drive through the main gate under the suspicious eye of the Ward Guard, but our passes are in order, and a few coins encourage him not to ask unnecessary questions.

Hagan knows the routine, and he drives in silence. I’m back in my kizen, ridiculous, tight-bound thing, trying to look like the respectable lady I’m not. I don’t know why I bother. It never works.

* * *

The house is beautiful, all wide porches, gently sloped roofs in elegant gray-green tile, manicured lawns, and a tiny, perfect pond. I stand outside, about as welcome as a dead dog floating in that pond. I can see it on the faces of the servants, when they think I’m not looking. The gardener in his broad straw hat stares at me and spits in the grass; the doorman’s hand hovers near his sword as he lets me through the front door. A young woman brings me tea, moving with grace in spite of her restrictive kizen. She places the cup in my hand as courtesy demands but carefully avoids even the slightest brush against my skin. Then she hurries off, no doubt to wash thoroughly.

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