Late spring in Stumps. A monotone drizzle painted the city a dark, unfriendly grey. Amaranthe pulled the hood of her waxed cape deeper into her face, making her way over mostly deserted streets. An accident involving two trains had stopped the trams on the line leading out toward their current hideout in a forgotten railway shed just outside city borders. Late spring was supposed to be sunny and balmy, but the cold rain took the warmth off the air and made the cobblestones treacherously slick under her boots.
A painful cramp pulled at the scars crisscrossing her abdomen. She stopped and pressed her flat hand against her belly until it eased. The daily training sessions, restoring muscle tone and flexibility fast, had helped wonders with the residual pain, but there were three days each month when it felt like the Makarovi weren’t done mauling her. Today was the second, and she seriously considered spending the 25 ranmyas that would get her a copper tub with hot water, soap, and towels behind a thick curtain in the public bathhouse ahead. Sadly, funds were low this month. The money was needed for food and weaponry. And there was a reason why the walls of bathhouses were always covered with wanted posters: Public baths and disguises didn’t go well together.
Once, she’d hung up the wanted posters. Now, one of them showed her likeness over a 10,000 ranmya offer for her head, body optional. Another cramp tugged at her belly. ‘Body optional’ didn’t sound so bad right now.
She sighed, missing her old apartment with its battered tub that took twenty buckets to fill and never stayed hot for long, or even their last hideout. The pumping house with its limitless water supply and convenient boiler room had made hot baths possible throughout winter. There were some things a girl just couldn’t do in a lake fed with snowmelt, like easing her monthly cramps for example.
She ground her teeth and stubbornly continued on down the street, passing her own wanted poster beside Sicarius’s, even Maldynado’s, though the latter was well away from the others. It was hanging almost at the end of the building where the wall connected with the fence of a construction site, closed down for the night. Posters here were mundane advertisements: Jeladok’s automated steam brooms was followed by Ruskar’s cure for toe fungus and a promotion for an upcoming book release—
She froze, stared horrified. That was so not the kind of recognition they needed for their exoneration!
Her ravenous hands roamed the broad expanse of his hard chest, reaching lower towards…
Why should he wish for a bath when she’d lick…
She would not hear his ‘no’ over the patter of the shower…
“You?” He looked up, horrified. “You’ve written something this… tasteless?”
She shrugged daintily. “What can I say, the warrior caste has the manners, but these days the plebs has the money. And manners won’t pay for Wilthur’s recent lack of luck at the races, I’m afraid.”
“I can’t believe you of all people would intentionally hurt a young woman’s reputation for money!”
“Oh please!” Lady Dourcrest snorted. “She’s hardly an innocent with that bounty on her head, even when you belong to her group of misfits.”
“And what if I told you, she’s my girl?”
“Now, now, Maldynado-dearest.” Lady Dourcrest patted his cheek affectionately. “We both know that you’re one of my most avid readers and gifted disciples, but when I saw her wanted poster and read her age, I knew it wouldn’t be you in her bed. I’ve had tea with your mother. I know about Tia. So stop trying to take this old woman for a ride. My Wilthur wouldn’t approve of it.”
At the same time in downtown Stumps
in front of Ribald Publications
No, Books decided. They couldn’t postpone anything until they’d found the author. For Amaranthe’s sake. If she was believed to have had a licentious affair with a notorious criminal such as Sicarius, she’d never be able to work in her profession again, exoneration or not. That just wasn’t right, that—
He pushed through the doors into the foyer. “Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist. “I’d like—”
“Did you see that dashing enforcer corporal?” she said to a colleague with ink stains up to her elbows. “Lev, Flev—?”
“Jev,” the other woman provided. “And yes, that’s one sexy uniform I wouldn’t mind stoking my furnace.”
The receptionist laughed. “You really ought to convince the old man we need more enforcer themed novels on the program! Just think of the effect when all that starched grey cloth comes off and—”
Books, flustered, cleared his throat with emphasis. “Excuse me, madam,” he snapped. “I intend to speak with your editor-in-chief regarding the upcoming release of ‘The Dirty Assassin’. It will be in his best interest to hear me out.”
“Oh, sir.” The receptionist blinked, surprised. “You haven’t heard—?”
Two hours later
Amaranthe retied her bun a second time, catching even the last wayward hair before pinning on her bland little hat. She critically studied the result in the mirror shard she’d scavenged off the bulk trash. Her business costume was all stern lines in plain brown. It had taken Basilard’s strength and the threat of a third stair running session every day to keep Maldynado from immediately ‘shopping for something more suitable’. Yes, even Sicarius and the most austere of her former teachers at Mildawn would approve; though the latter probably not to the stiletto sheathed at her calf. She closed her hand around the name and address a chagrined Maldynado had given her and straightened her shoulders. Time to go and inform Lady Dourcrest, how erroneous her assumptions—
The door banged open and Books gasped, “The book release is stopped!” He took a few deep breaths, stuttered an apology about running all the way here from the tram station, and continued, “Apparently, this morning both – the editor-in-chief and the owner of Ribald Publications – were informed in no uncertain terms that the empire still frowns upon the glorification of its wanted criminals. The posters are being taken down as we speak.”
In case you didn’t figure it out: the answer to who stopped the offensive book release can be found in Deadly Games chapter 6. He didn’t say whose clothesline it was!
The Emperor’s Edge series is copyright Lindsay Buroker, who kindly allowed derivative fiction of her works. The embedded art is copyright Alex Baird, with the displayed characters belonging to Lindsay Buroker. This story is licensed internationally under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0: CC BY-SA by Ann-Kathrin Kniggendorf (AKK).