A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions.
Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.
At least, it makes the perfect cover story.
The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the worldor destroy it.
The trouble is that this old soldier isn't sure she's still got what it takes to be the hero.
— Amazon 2016 Best Books of the Year: Mystery & Thrillers
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
He said to them:
“Life is death and death is life.
To shed blood is to behold this holiest of transitions, the interwoven mesh of the world,
The flow from shrieking life to rot and ash.
For those who wage Her wars, who become Her swords, She will deem you shriven and holiest of holies.
And you shall forever reside beside Her in the City of Blades.” And he sang:
“Come across the waters, children, To whitest shores and quiet pilgrims, Long dark awaits
In Voortya’s shadow.”
— EXCERPT FROM “OF THE GREAT MOTHER VOORTYA ATOP THE TEETH OF THE WORLD,” CA . 556
MAKE IT MATTER
Somewhere around mile three on the trek up the hill Pitry Suturashni decides he would not describe the Javrati sun as “warm and relaxing,” as all the travel advertisements say. Nor would he opt to call the breezes here “a cool caress upon the neck.” And he certainly would not call the forests “fragrant and exotic.” In fact, as Pitry uselessly mops his brow for the twentieth time, he decides he would rather describe the sun as “a hellish inferno,” the breezes as “absolutely nonexistent,” and the forests as “full of things with far too many teeth and a great desire to apply them to the human body.”
He almost cries with relief when he sees the little tavern at the top of the hill. He hitches up his satchel and totters over to the shoddy building. He’s not surprised to see it is almost deserted, save for the owner and two of the man’s friends, because life is quiet and slow here on the resort island of Javrat.
Pitry begs them for a glass of water, and the owner, exuding con- tempt, slowly complies. Pitry gives him a few drekels, which some- how makes the man even more contemptuous.
“I was wondering,” Pitry says, “if you could help me.”
“I’ve already helped you,” the owner says. He gestures to the water.
“Well, yes, you did do that, and I thank you for it. But I am trying to find someone. A friend.”
The owner and his two comrades watch him, their expressions stony and inscrutable.
“I am looking for my aunt,” says Pitry. “She moved here after an accident in Ghaladesh, and I am here to give her the dispensation from the settlement, which took some time.”
One of the owner’s friends—a young man with a formidable unibrow—casts his eye over Pitry’s satchel. “You’re here carrying money?”
“Ah, well, no,” says Pitry, trying wildly to think up more of his improvised cover story. Of all the things Shara taught me, he wonders, why did she never teach me to lie? “Only the checking account and instructions for the dispensation.”
“So a way to get money,” says the other friend, whose mouth is lost in an abundance of ill-kept beard.
“Anyway, my aunt,” says Pitry, “is about so high”—he holds out a hand—“about fifty or so, and is very . . . how shall I put this . . . solid.”
“Fat?” suggests the owner.
“No, no! No, no, no, not really. She is”—he curls his arm, suggesting a formidable bicep that is, in his case, absent—“solid. She, ah, is also one-handed.”
All three of them say, “Aaah,” and glance at one another, as if to say—Ugh. Her.
“I take it you are familiar with her,” says Pitry.
The mood among the three men blackens so much that the air almost grows opaque.
“I understand she might have purchased property around here,” Pitry says.
“She bought the beach cottage on the other side of the hill,” says the owner.
“Oh, how lovely,” says Pitry.
“And now she won’t let us hunt on her property anymore,” says the bearded man.
“Oh, how sad,” says Pitry.
“She won’t let us look for seagull eggs on the cliffs there anymore. She won’t let us shoot the wild pigs. She acts as if she owns the place.” “But it sounds, a bit, like she does,” Pitry says. “If she bought it
and everything, I mean.”
“That’s beside the point,” says the man with the beard. “It was my uncle Ramesh’s before it was ever hers.”
“Well, I . . . I will have to have a talk with her about that,” Pitry says. “I’ll do that now, I think. Right now. I believe you said she was on the other side of the hill, ah, that way . . . ?” He points in a westerly direction. The men do not nod, but he feels a flicker in their surliness that makes him think he’s right.
“Thank you,” says Pitry. “Thank you again.” He shuffles back- ward, smiling nervously. The men keep glaring at him, though he notices the unibrow is staring at his satchel. “Th-Thank you,” he mutters as he slips out the door.
Pitry regrets not defining the phrase “other side of the hill” more precisely. As he marches along the wandering paths, it increasingly feels like this hill keeps producing other sides out of nowhere for him, none of which bear any sign of civilization.
At last he hears the dull roar of the ocean, and he spies a small, crumbling white cottage nestled up against the rocks along the beach. “Finally,” he sighs, and he trots off toward it.
The forest pushes him down, down, until he’s wandering a narrow thread of path with the forest brooding over his left shoulder and a rambling, intimidating drop-off on his right. He wanders along this stretch of road for a few yards before he hears something over the waves: a rustling in the forest.
The man with the unibrow from the tavern steps out of the forest and onto the path, about twenty yards in front of him. He’s holding a pitchfork, which he keeps pointed directly at Pitry.
“Oh, ah . . . Hello again,” says Pitry.
More rustling behind him. Pitry turns and sees the man with the beard has stepped out of the forest and onto the path about twenty yards behind him, brandishing an axe.
“Oh . . . well,” says Pitry. He glances down the ravine on his right, which ends in what looks like a very angry patch of sea. “Well. Here we all are again. Um.”
“The money,” says the unibrow. “The what?”
“The money!” barks the unibrow. “Give us the money!”
“Right.” Pitry nods, pulls out his wallet, and takes out about seventy drekels. “Right. I know how this goes. H-Here you go.” He holds out the handful of money.
“No!” says the unibrow. “No?”
“No! Give us the real money!”
“The bag,” says the bearded man. “The bag!” “Give us the bag!”
“Give us the bag of money!” shouts the bearded man.
Pitry looks back and forth between the two of them, feeling as if he’s in an echo chamber. “B-b-but it doesn’t have any money,” he says, smiling madly. “Look! Look!” He fumbles to open it and shows them it is full of files.
“But you know how to get it,” says the unibrow.
“You have a bank account,” says the unibrow. “You have an ac- count number. That account is full of money.”
“Full of it!” shouts the bearded man.
Pitry now deeply regrets the flimsy cover story he made up on the spot. “Well . . . You . . . I don’t . . . I don’t . . .”
“You know how to—”
But then the man with the unibrow stops speaking and instead makes a very high-pitched, ear-rattling sound, a sound so strange Pitry almost wonders if it’s a bird call of some kind.
“I know how to what?” says Pitry.
The unibrow collapses, still making that odd sound, and Pitry sees that there is something shining redly just above his knee that was definitely not there before: the tip of a bolt. The man then rolls over, and Pitry sees the rest of a bolt protruding from the back of his leg.
A woman stands on the path a few dozen feet beyond the shrieking man with the unibrow. Pitry sees one dark, thin eye glaring at him along the sights of an absolutely massive bolt-shot, which is pointed directly at his chest. Her hair is dark gray, silver at the temples, and her brown, scarred shoulders gleam in the sun. The hand she uses to steady the bolt-shot—her left—is a prosthetic, dark oak wood from mid-forearm down.
“Pitry,” she says, “get the fuck down.”
“Right, right,” Pitry says mildly, and he stoops to lie down on the path.
“It hurts!” cries the man with the unibrow. “Oh, by the seas, it hurts!”
“Pain’s a good sign, really,” she says. “It means you still have a brain to feel it with. Count your blessings, Ranjesha.”
The unibrow shrieks again in response. The man with the beard is now shining with sweat. He stares at the woman, then at Pitry, and glances at the forest to his left.
“No,” says the woman. “Drop the axe, Gurudas.”
The axe falls to the ground with a thud. The woman takes a few steps forward, the point of the loaded bolt hardly moving one inch.
“This is kind of a sticky situation, isn’t it, Gurudas?” she says. “I told you two that if I caught either of you on my property again I’d expose a goodly amount of your innards to the fresh sea air. And I hate breaking promises. That’s what the whole of civilized society is founded upon, isn’t it—promises?”
The bearded man says, “I . . . I—”
“But I’ve also heard rumors, Gurudas,” she says, taking another step forward, “that you and your friend there used to lure tourists out here and rob them blind. Being as you have such a fluid interpretation of property, I’m not surprised you thought you could keep pulling your trick on land that I now own. But I just don’t have it in me to tolerate that kind of bullshit. So. Am I going to have to put a few inches of bolt in you, Gurudas? Will that communicate the message that you need to hear?”
The bearded man just stares.
“I asked you a damn question,” snaps the woman. “Where do I need to shoot you to free up your tongue, son?”
“N-No!” says the bearded man. “No, I don’t . . . I don’t want to get shot.”
“Well, you do have a funny way of following that dream,” says the woman, “since the second your foot falls on my property, the opposite is most likely to happen.”
There’s a pause. The man with the unibrow whimpers again. “Pitry,” says the woman.
“Yes?” says Pitry. As he’s still facedown on the path, the word generates a lot of dust.
“Do you think you can get up and step over that idiot bleeding all over my road?”
Pitry stands, dusts himself off, and gingerly steps over the man with the unibrow, pausing to whisper, “Excuse me.”
“Gurudas?” asks the woman.
“Y-yes?” says the bearded man.
“Are you competent enough to come down here and pick up your friend and get his dumb ass back to your brother’s shitshack of a tavern?”
The bearded man thinks about it. “Yes.”
“Good. Do it. Now. And if I ever see either of you again, I won’t be so generous with where I stick you.”
The bearded man, careful to keep his hands visible, slowly walks down the path and gathers up his friend. The two of them hobble back down the path, though once they’re about fifty yards away the man with the unibrow turns his head and bellows, “Fuck you, Mula- ghesh! Fuck you and your mone—”
He shrieks as a bolt goes skittering across the rocks inches beside his feet, making him jump, which must be very painful considering the first bolt is still lodged above his knee. She reloads and keeps the sights on them until the bearded man has dragged his screaming friend out of sight.
Pitry says, “Gener—” “Shut up,” she says.
She waits a little longer, not moving. After two minutes she relaxes, checks her bolt-shot, and sighs. She turns and looks him up and down.
“Damn it all, Pitry . . .” says General Turyin Mulaghesh. “What in the hells are you doing here?”
Pitry was not sure what to expect of Turyin Mulaghesh’s living quarters, but he hardly anticipated the graveyard of wine bottles and filthy plates he meets when he steps through the door. There is also an abundance of threatening things: bolts, bolt-shots, swords, knives, and in one corner, a massive rifling—a firearm with a rifled barrel. It’s a new innovation that’s only just become commercially affordable, thanks to the recent increased production of gunpowder. The mili- tary, Pitry knows, possesses far more superior versions.
The worst of it all, though, is the smell: it seems General Turyin Mulaghesh has taken up fishing, but has yet to work out how to adequately dispose of the bones.
“Yeah, the smell,” says Mulaghesh. “I know about the smell. I just get used to it. Between the ocean and the house, it all smells alike.”
Pitry fervently disagrees, but is smart enough to not say so. “Thank you for rescuing me.”
“Don’t mention it. It’s a symbiotic relationship: those two excel at being idiots, and I excel at shooting idiots. Everyone gets what they want.”
“How did you know to be there?”
“I heard a rumor some Ghaladeshi was walking around the beaches asking for me, claiming he had a lot of money to hand off. One vendor at the market likes me, so he let me know.” She shakes her head as she sets a bottle of wine on the kitchen counter. “Money, Pitry. You should have just hung a ‘Please rob my stupid ass’ sign on your forehead.”
“Yes, I realize now it was not . . . wise.”
“I thought I’d keep a lookout, and saw you walking up the hill to Haque’s bar. Then I saw you leave, and Gurudas and his friend follow. It didn’t take me long to work out what was about to happen. You are welcome, though. That was the most fun I’ve had in a while.” She produces a bottle of tea and a bottle of weak wine, and, to Pitry’s amusement, goes about arranging a drink tray, a traditional gesture of welcome in Saypur with its own subtle messages: taking the tea would be an indication of business and social distance, and taking the wine would be an indication of intimacy and relaxation. Pitry watches her motions: she’s become quite used to doing everything more or less one-handed.
She places the tray in front of Pitry. He bows slightly and selects the open bottle of tea. “My apologies,” he says. “Though I would be most grateful for the wine, General, I’m afraid I am here on business from the prime minister.”
“Yes,” says Mulaghesh, who opts for the wine. “I figured as much. There’s only one thing could possibly put Pitry Suturashni in my backyard, and that’s Shara Komayd’s say-so. So what’s the prime minister want? Does she want to drag me back into the mili- tary council? I quit about as loud as anyone could ever quit. I thought it was pretty final.”
“This is true,” Pitry says. “The sound of your resignation still echoes through Ghaladesh.”
“Shit, Pitry. That was downright poetic.” “Thank you. I stole the line from Shara.” “Of course you did.”
“I am, actually, not here to convince you to return to the military council. They found a substitute for your position.”
“Mm,” says Mulaghesh. “Gawali?” Pitry nods.
“I thought as much. By the seas, that woman kisses so much ass it’s a miracle she can find the breath to talk. How the hells she made general in the first place, I’ll never know.”
“A solid point,” says Pitry. “But the real purpose of my visit is to share some information with you about your . . . pension.”
Mulaghesh chokes on her wine and bends double, coughing. “My what?” she says, standing back up. “My pension?” Pitry nods, cringing.
“What the hell’s wrong with it?” she asks.
“Well . . . You have heard, perhaps, of what is called the ‘duration of servitude’?”
“It sounds familiar. . . .”
“The basic gist of it is that, when an officer of the Saypuri Mili- tary is promoted to a new rank,” Pitry says as he begins digging in his satchel, “their pay is automatically increased, but they must serve in that rank for a set duration of time before receiving the pension level associated with that rank. This was because twenty or some-odd years ago we had a series of officers get to a rank, and then promptly quit so they could live off the enhanced pension.”
“Wait. Yeah, I know all this. The rank of general requires four years of servitude, right? I was almost positive I was well past that. . . .”
“You have served as a general for more than four years,” says Pitry, “but the duration of servitude begins when your paperwork is processed. And as you were stationed in the polis of Bulikov at the time of your promotion, the paperwork would have been processed there—but a good deal of Bulikov was destroyed as, um, you are well aware. This meant they were quite delayed with, well, anything and everything.”
“Okay. So. How long did it take Bulikov to process my paper- work?”
“There was a delay of a little under two months.” “Meaning my duration of servitude was . . .”
Pitry produces a piece of paper and runs a finger down it as he searches for the precise amount. “Three years, ten months, and seventeen days.”
“Shit.” “Yes.” “Shit!”
“Yes. As your duration of servitude is not completed, when the fis- cal year ends, your pension will revert to that of previous rank—that of colonel.”
“And how much is that?”
Pitry puts the piece of paper on the desk, slides it over to her, and points to one figure.
“Damn . . . I was going to buy a boat.” She shakes her head. “Now I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to afford all this!” She waves her hand at her cottage.
Pitry glances around at the dark, crumbling cottage, which in some places is absolutely swarming with flies. “Ah, yes. Such a pity.” “So what? Are you just here to tell me I’m getting the rug pulled out from under me, I’m off, see you later? Is there no option to, I don’t know, appeal?”
“Well, this is actually a common occurrence. Some officers are forced to retire early due to their health, family, and so on. In these instances, the military council has the option of voting to ignore the remaining time, and award the pension anyway. Being as you, ah, did not leave on the best of terms, they have not opted to do that.”
“Those fuckers,” snarls Mulaghesh.
“Yes. But, we do have an option of recourse. When the officer in question has shown exemplary service to Saypur, they are often as- signed to go on what I believe is magnanimously called the ‘touring shuffle.’ ”
“Aw, hells. I remember this. I serve out the remainder of my time wandering around the Continent ‘reviewing fortifications.’ Is that it?” “That is it exactly,” says Pitry. “Administrative responsibilities only. No active or combat duty whatsoever. The prime minister has arranged it so that this opportunity is now being extended to you.” Mulaghesh taps her wooden hand against the tabletop. While her attention’s elsewhere Pitry glances at the prosthetic limb: it is strapped to a hinge at her elbow, which then buckles around her still- considerable bicep. She’s wrapped her upper arm with a cotton sleeve, presumably to avoid chafing, and he can see more of what looks like a harness wrapped around her torso. It’s clearly an extensive and com- plicated mechanism, and probably none too comfortable, which can’t help General Mulaghesh’s famously choleric moods.
“Eyes, Pitry,” says Mulaghesh calmly. “Or have you not been in a woman’s presence for a while?”
Startled, Pitry resumes staring into the piece of paper on the table. Mulaghesh is still for a long time. “Pitry, can I ask you something?” “Certainly.”
“You are aware that I just shot a man?” “I . . . am aware.”
“And you are aware that I shot him because he was on my prop- erty, and he was being an idiot.”
“I believe you have articulated this, yes.” “So, why should I not do the same to you?” “I . . . I beg your pa—”
“Pitry, you are a member of the prime minister’s personal staff,” says Mulaghesh. “You’re not her chief of staff or anything, but you’re not just some damn clerk. And Shara Komayd would not send a member of her personal damn staff all the way out to Javrat to tell me my pension’s getting reevaluated. That’s why they invented the postal service. So why don’t you stop dancing around and tell me what’s really going on?”
Pitry takes a slow breath and nods. “It is quite possible that . . . that if you were to do this touring shuffle, it would provide an excellent cover story for another operation.”
“Ah. I see.” Mulaghesh screws up her mouth and loudly sucks her teeth. “And who would be performing this operation?”
Pitry stares very hard at the paper on the counter, as if somewhere in its figures he might stumble upon instructions on how to escape this awkward situation.
“You, General,” he says. “This operation would be performed by you.”
“Yeah,” says Mulaghesh. “Shit.”
“I mean, damn it all, Pitry,” snarls Mulaghesh. Her wooden hand makes a thunk as she brings both hands down on the countertop. “That’s some dirty pool right there, holding an officer’s pension hos- tage to make them go off and get themselves shot.”
“I am sympathetic to your position, General. But the nature of the oper—”
“I retired, damn it. I resigned. I said I was done, that I’d done what I needed to do, thanks, leave me alone. Can’t I just be left alone? Mm? Is that so much to ask?”
“Well, the prime minister did suggest,” says Pitry slowly, “that this might be just the thing you need.”
“I need? What the hells does Shara know about what I need? What could I possibly need?”
Again, she waves her hand at her cottage, and again, Pitry looks at the reeking, filthy home, with carpets tacked up against the win- dows and one kitchen cabinet door askew, and the counters littered with wine bottles and fish bones and tangled, dirty clothes. Finally he looks at Mulaghesh herself, and thinks only one thing:
General Turyin Mulaghesh looks like shit. She’s obviously still in tremendous shape for a woman her age, but it’s been a long while since she bathed, there are rings under her eyes, and the clothes she’s been wearing are in desperate need of a wash. This is a far cry from the officer he once knew, the woman whose uniform was so starched you could almost carve wood with the cuffs, the woman whose glance was so bright and piercing you almost wanted to check yourself for bruises after she looked at you.
Pitry has seen someone in such a state before: when a friend of his went through a rough divorce. But he can’t imagine what Mulaghesh divorced herself from, except, of course, the Saypuri Military.
But though this explains some of what he’s witnessing, Mulaghesh’s complete and utter fall from grace is still confusing to him: because no one—not the press, not the military council, not Parliament itself—has any idea why Mulaghesh resigned in the first place. Al- most a year ago now she telegraphed the Continental Herald fifteen words: “I, General Turyin Mulaghesh, resign from my position on the Saypuri Military Council, effective immediately.” And in one in- stant, her retirement papers were submitted, and she was gone. As with so many of Mulaghesh’s actions, what she did is inconceivable to any ambitious, motivated Saypuri: how could someone just walk away from the position of vice-chairman of the Saypuri Military Council? The vice-chairman almost always becomes chief of armed forces, the second most powerful person in the world after the prime minister. People pored through her interactions in the weeks before her resignation, but no one could find any hint of what could have pushed her over the edge.
“So this is what Shara’s become?” Mulaghesh says. “She’s a blackmailer? She’s blackmailing me into doing this?”
“Not at all. You have the option of just doing the touring shuffle and not engaging in the operation. Or, you could forgo the shuffle and accept a colonel’s pay.”
“So what’s the operation?”
“I am told we are unable to reveal that until you have fully signed on.”
Mulaghesh laughs lowly. “So I can’t figure out what I’m buying until I’ve bought it. Great. Why in hells would I want to do this?”
“Well . . . I think she hoped that her personal ask might suffice. . . .”
Mulaghesh gives him a flat, stony stare.
“But in the eventuality that it did not, she did ask me to give you this.” He reaches into his satchel and holds out an envelope.
Mulaghesh glances at it. “What’s that?”
“I’ve no idea. The prime minister wrote and sealed this herself.” Mulaghesh takes it, opens it, and reads the letter. Pitry can see pen strokes through the paper. Though he can’t read the writing, it looks to be no more than three words.
Mulaghesh stares at this letter with large, hollow eyes, and her hand begins to shake. She crumples up the letter and stares into space.
“Damn it,” she says softly. “How in the hells did she know.”
Pitry watches her. A fly lands on her shoulder, a second on her neck. She doesn’t notice.
“You wouldn’t have sent that if you hadn’t meant it, would you,” she murmurs. She sighs and shakes her head. “Damn.”
“I take it,” Pitry says, “that you are considering the operation?” Mulaghesh glares at him.
“Just asking,” he says.
“Well. What can you tell me about this operation?”
“Very little. I know it is on the Continent. I do know that it concerns a subject lots of people are paying attention to, including some very powerful people in Ghaladesh, some of whom are not wholly benign toward the prime minister’s agendas.”
“Hence the cover story you’re giving me. I remember when we used to do this stuff to dupe other nations, not our own. Sign of the times, I suppose.”
“Things do continue to worsen in Ghaladesh,” Pitry admits. “The press likes to describe Shara as ‘embattled.’ We’re still suffering from the last round of elections. Her efforts to reconstruct the Continent continue to be enormously unpopular in Saypur.”
“Imagine that,” Mulaghesh says. “I still remember the parties when she got elected. They all thought we were about to start our Golden Age.”
“The voting public remains quite fickle. And for some, it’s easy to forget that the Battle of Bulikov took place only five years ago.”
Mulaghesh pulls her prosthetic arm in closer, as if it pains her. Pitry feels like the temperature in the room has just dropped ten degrees. Suddenly she looks a great deal more like the commander Pitry saw that day, when the god spoke from the sky and the buildings burned and Mulaghesh bellowed at her soldiers to man the fortifications.
“I haven’t forgotten,” she says coldly.
Pitry coughs. “Ah, no. I don’t suppose you would have.” Mulaghesh stares off into space for a few seconds more, lost in thought. “All right,” she says, her voice unnervingly calm. “I’ll do it.” “You will?”
“Sure. Why not.” She places the balled-up note on the kitchen counter and smiles at him. His skin crawls: it is the not-quite-sane smile he’s seen before on the faces of soldiers who have seen a lot of combat. “What’s the worst that can happen?”
“I . . . I’m sure the prime minister will be delighted,” says Pitry. “So what is the operation?”
“Well, like I said, you won’t know until you’ve fully signed on. . . .”
“I just said yes, damn it all.”
“And you won’t be considered fully signed on until you’re on the boat.”
Mulaghesh shuts her eyes. “Oh, for the love of . . .”
Pitry slides one file out of the satchel and hands it to her. “Here are your instructions for your transportation. Please make note of the date and time. I believe I will be rejoining you for at least part of your trip, so I expect I will see you again in three weeks.”
“Hurrah.” Mulaghesh takes the file. Her shoulders slump a little. “If wisdom comes with age, why do I keep making so many bad decisions, Pitry?”
“I . . . don’t think I feel qualified to answer that question.” “Well. At least you’re honest.”
“Might I ask for a favor, ma’am? I need to return to Ghaladesh for some final preparations, but, considering today’s events, I . . .” He glances at her various armaments.
“Would like something to defend yourself with on the road back to port?”
“I mistakenly assumed Javrat would be civilized.”
Mulaghesh snorts. “So did I. Let me dig you up something that’ll look scary but you can’t hurt yourself with.”
“I did receive some basic training when I first joined the Bulikov
“I know,” says Mulaghesh. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You prob- ably learned just enough to be a danger to your own damn self.”
Pitry bows as she marches off into the recesses of her home. He realizes that he has never seen Mulaghesh walk another way: it’s as if her feet know only how to march.
When she’s gone he snatches the balled-up piece of paper on the counter. This is, of course, a grievous violation of his position, not to mention a betrayal of Shara’s trust in him. I am such a terrible spy, he thinks, before remembering that he’s not actually a spy at all, which makes him feel a little less guilty.
He stares at the words on the letter in confusion. “Huh?” he says. “What was that?” says Mulaghesh’s voice from the next room.
“N-Nothing!” Pitry balls the letter back up and replaces it. Mulaghesh returns carrying a very long machete. “I have no idea what the original owner used this for,” she says. “Maybe hacking up teak. But if it can cut lukewarm butter now, I’ll be surprised.” She hands it over and walks him to her door. “So, three weeks, huh?”
“That is correct.”
“Then that’s three weeks to eat as much decent food as I can,” says Mulaghesh. “Unless the Continent suddenly figured out how to make dumplings and rice right. And, ugh . . .” Her hand goes to her stomach. “I thought for so long my belly would never have to deal with cabbage again. . . .”
Pitry bids her good-bye and walks back up the hill. He glances back once, surveying her bland, unhappy little cottage, the sands around it winking with empty bottles and broken glass. Though he’s never been involved in an operation—besides Bulikov, which he feels doesn’t count—he can’t help but be a little concerned about how all this is starting. And he’s not sure why a letter containing only the words “Make it matter” could have any impact on whether it starts at all.
Excerpted from "City of Blades"
Copyright © 2016 Robert Jackson Bennett.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
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