When he reached the top of the stairs and returned to the bar, Tessa watched him with a strangely calm expression that Samuel found difficult to read. The reject's smile was almost sardonic, as if this entire situation was a terribly inappropriate joke. But the fire that danced between the fingers of her upraised hand spoke volumes.
"Do you recognise this?" Samuel held out the broken rod toward her in offering.
The fire in Tessa's hand congealed into a bright spark of harsh white light at the end of her fingertips, and she dashed at Samuel with her hand extended. Samuel stumbled backwards until he hit the wall, and the reject's fingers followed until they were inches from his throat.
"No," Tessa replied, but the fire faded from her hand as she took the rod from him. Samuel sighed in relief and rubbed his throat.
Tessa turned the broken rod over once and tested the shards at the end. "This is Coldstone. Clovis gave this to you?"
"Yes. I was supposed to use it on you," Samuel admitted.
"That burning-" Tessa began to say, but Samuel cut her off by holding out the pad of paper.
"This was written on my pad of paper while I was downstairs. While the pad was still in my coat pocket," Samuel explained.
"Shimmering ash in the wind, Inspector. I know better. I know Clovis has a lot of Coldstone in that basement, and I know not even a Crafter can-"
Tessa's indignation vanished from her face like a wisp of smoke in a gale. Her eyes widened, and her hand shook, even as she traced over the paper with her finger. "Burn me, it's still warm. And I wondered why I didn't earn the coat."
"Listen," Samuel said and pointed towards a nearby table. Tessa followed mutely and sat down without turning her eyes away from the paper in her hands.
"We can negotiate a conditional sentence, but we have to do it right here, and right now," Samuel said, and he pointed to the door. "As soon as Clovis gets back up here, the Crafter is going to intervene. And people will die if it comes to that."
"A Crafter doesn't have any authority. They can't offer me terms," Tessa said, handing the slip back. She then looked around at the torches on the walls, and asked, "Who are you representing?"
Samuel saw a spark of flame dance over the paper. He shook his head, bemused. "You were right. A Crafter doesn't have the authority. But we're not dealing with a Crafter."
Samuel handed the paper back to Tessa, who read it with a single flicker of her eyes.
The reject smiled then, the first real smile Samuel had ever seen on her. In that smile, Samuel saw his own fear and prejudices fade a little, and his opinion of her change.
His hand still stung. He tried to ignore that.
"What are your terms?" Tessa asked.
Samuel held out his hands. "Two years in a prison work-camp. The fields, with one of the rehabilitation, work-sites that the Bureau of Agriculture runs."
"Two years of hard labour?" Tessa asked.
"Not hard," Samuel said, leaning forward. "Just honest work. Forty-eight hours over six days. One day a week to yourselves. An option to continue if they like your work."
Tessa nodded but frowned. "And Oversight?"
"Oversight prizes restraint. And you're showing a lot of restraint by changing course. I'm confident you'll get a fair hearing,
"Tessa?" someone asked. "What the burning hell is going on? Where's Clovis?"
Tessa stood up and glared at the man. "You want to live, Travis?"
YOU ARE READING
Bitter Cold Truth: A Tale of the Everburning CityFantasy
There is no night in the Everburning City. There can never be. Fourteen people lie dead on the platform of Billows Station, killed by fire and rage. And as the perpetrator hides within the millions of people who inhabit the City, the task of findi...