The Crimson Campaign(The Powder Mage Trilogy)(7)
Author:Brian McClellan


    Jakob nodded solemnly.

    “Good lad.”

    “I’ll kill you,” Faye said to Vetas.

    Vetas stepped to Faye and whispered something in her ear. She stiffened, the color draining from her face.

    “Now,” Vetas said, “Faye is going to take over your responsibilities, Nila. She’ll do the laundry, and help with Jakob.”

    Nila exchanged a glance with the woman. She felt the knot of fear in her belly reflected on Faye’s face.

    “And me?” Nila knew what Vetas would do with someone who didn’t have a use. She still remembered Jakob’s dead nurse – the one who’d refused to go along with Vetas’s schemes.

    Vetas suddenly crossed the room. He took Nila by the chin, turning her face one way and then another. He forced his thumb into her mouth and she had to keep herself from biting down as he examined her teeth. He stepped away suddenly, and wiped his hands on a kitchen towel as if he’d just handled an animal.

    “Your hands show very little wear from the laundering. Remarkably little, to be honest. I’ll give you some lotion in the morning and you’ll apply it every hour. We’ll have those hands looking soft, like a noblewoman’s, in no time.” He patted her on the cheek.

    Nila resisted the urge to spit in his eye.

    Vetas leaned forward and spoke quietly so that Jakob could not hear. “This woman,” Vetas said, pointing to Faye, “is your responsibility, Nila. If she displeases me, you’ll suffer for it. Jakob will suffer for it. And believe me, I know how to make people suffer.”

    Vetas stepped away, throwing a smile toward Jakob. More loudly he said, “I think you need some new clothes, Jakob. Would you like that?”

    “Very much, sir,” Jakob said.

    “We’ll do that tomorrow. Some toys, too.”

    Vetas glanced at Nila, his eyes holding a silent warning, and he left the room with his bodyguards.

    Faye adjusted her dress and took a deep breath. Her eyes traveled around the room. A mix of emotions ranged across her face: anger, panic, and fear. For a moment Nila thought she might snatch up a frying pan and attack her.

    Nila wondered who she was. Why was she here? Obviously another prisoner. Another player in Vetas’s schemes. Could Nila trust her?

    “I’m Nila,” she said. “And this is Jakob.”

    Faye’s eyes settled on Nila and she nodded with a frown. “I’m Faye. And I’m going to kill that bastard.”





    CHAPTER




    5




    Adamat slipped through the side door of one of the dilapidated buildings in Adopest’s dock district. He moved down hallways, brushing past secretaries and bookkeepers, always looking straight ahead. In his experience, no one questioned a man who knew where he was going.

    Adamat knew that Lord Vetas was looking for him.

    It wasn’t hard to surmise. Vetas still had Faye. He still had leverage, and no doubt he wanted Adamat dead or under his thumb.

    So Adamat stayed low. Field Marshal Tamas’s soldiers were protecting his family – part of the bargain Adamat had struck with the field marshal in order to keep his neck from the guillotine. Adamat had to work from the shadows now, finding Lord Vetas and discovering his plans, and freeing Faye before any more harm could come to her. If she was even still alive.

    He couldn’t do it alone.

    The headquarters for the Noble Warriors of Labor was a squat, ugly brick building not far from the Adopest docks. It didn’t look like much, but it housed the offices of the biggest union   in all the Nine. Every subdivision of the Warriors moved through this hub: bankers, steelworkers, miners, bakers, millers, and more.

    But Adamat only needed to speak with one man, and he didn’t want to be noticed on his way in. He went down a low-ceilinged hallway on the third floor and paused outside an office door. He could hear voices inside.

    “I don’t care what you think of the idea,” came the voice of Ricard Tumblar, head of the entire union  . “I’m going to find him and persuade him. He’s the best man for the job.”

    “Man?” a woman’s voice returned. “You don’t think a woman can do it?”

    “Don’t start with me, Cheris,” Ricard said. “It was a turn of phrase. And don’t make this about men or women. You don’t like it because he’s a soldier.”

    “And you bloody well know why.”

    Ricard’s retort was lost as Adamat heard the creak of the floorboards behind him. He turned to find a woman standing behind him.

    She looked to be in her midthirties, with straight blond hair tied back in a ponytail behind her head. She wore a dress uniform with loose pants and a white frilled shirt of the type that might be worn by a footman. Her hands were clasped behind her back.

    A secretary. The last thing Adamat needed.

    “Can I help you, sir?” she said. Her tone was brusque, and her eyes never left Adamat’s face.

    “Oh, my,” Adamat said. “This must look terrible. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I just needed to speak with Ricard.”

    She didn’t sound at all like she believed him. “The secretary should have kept you in the waiting room.”

    “I came in the side door,” Adamat admitted. So she wasn’t the secretary?

    The woman said, “Come with me to the lobby and we’ll make you an appointment. Mr. Tumblar is terribly busy.”

    Adamat gave a half bow at the waist. “I’d rather not make an appointment. I just need to speak with Ricard. It’s a terribly urgent matter.”

    “Please, sir.”

    “I just need to speak with Ricard.”

    Her voice dropped slightly – instantly more threatening. “If you do not come with me, I will have you taken to the police for trespassing.”

    “Now look here!” Adamat raised his voice. The last thing he wanted to do was cause a commotion, but he desperately needed Ricard’s attention.

    “Fell!” Ricard’s voice called from inside the office. “Fell! Damn it, Fell, what is that ruckus!”

    Fell narrowed her eyes at Adamat. “What is your name?” she asked sternly.

    “Inspector Adamat.”

    Fell’s demeanor changed instantly. Gone was the severe gaze that brooked no argument. She let out a soft sigh. “Why didn’t you say so to begin with? Ricard has us looking all over the city for you.” She stepped past Adamat and opened the door. “It’s Inspector Adamat here to see you, sir.”

    “Well, don’t leave him in the hallway. Send him in!”

    The room was cluttered but clean – for once. Bookshelves ran the length of each wall, and an ironwood desk framed the center of the room. Ricard was sitting behind his desk, facing a woman who looked to be about fifty. Adamat could immediately tell she was wealthy. Her rings were gold, set with precious gems, and her dress made from the finest cut of muslin. She fanned her face with a fine lace handkerchief and pointedly looked away from Adamat.

    “You’ll have to excuse me, Cheris,” Ricard said. “This is very important.”

    The woman pushed past Adamat and left the room. Adamat heard the door slam behind him and they were alone. Adamat thought briefly to ask what that had been about – then decided against it. Ricard was just as likely to spend an hour explaining as he was to tell Adamat it was private business. Adamat removed his hat and coat and returned Ricard’s embrace.

    Ricard sat back down behind his desk and gestured to the vacant chair. They spoke at the exact same moment:

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