It was a small comfort that Samuel couldn't see Captain Raeth. He didn't want to see the shock, disappointment, the sorrow, given shape on the man's face. Samuel didn't want to know how deeply this betray must sting, to someone who had put himself in danger's path only because he felt he should.
Samuel could see Crafter Ratterson well enough, however. Samuel had expected Theo to be pleased by this turn of events. He expected the Crafter to gloat, to say something glib, or even to take advantage of this moment and press the attack.
Samuel hadn't expected Theo to look as shocked as he expected Gerald to be.
Crafter Ratterson stared at Samuel with his mouth slightly open. His hands had fallen limp at his sides and his head shook slightly. "You weren't kidding about him, Gerald."
The world was suddenly plunged into darkness. The unnatural blue light vanished, and the breeze that swept through the air was dry and cool. So much so that Samuel wanted to wrap his coat around himself.
"The Inspector knows the stakes. And his judgement is better than mine," Gerald said, as he sheathed his sword. There was something almost musical in the man's voice, as if he were trying to stifle laughter. "He was willing to kill me, and let you walk through us, rather than let our battle happen."
"Well, you're an irritating ass," Theo said, drawing close enough to converse. Samuel's fear, and his anger, were replaced by baffled, indignant incredulity. "But you were right about him."
Theo turned to Samuel and held out his hand. "Inspector Samwise, you can put the rifle down," Theo added.
"It's Samuel," he replied, lowering his rifle. Confusion, frustration, incredulity were all boiling beneath the surface of his shattered emotional state.
"He has no intention of ever getting that right," Gerald said. "He'll make this a running joke for years."
"But why? Was this a test? Were the two of you just staging all of this?" Samuel asked.
"No. What you saw was as serious as things come. I came here to burn this place down and kill everyone inside. I'm not happy to admit that I was too angry with it to entertain the possibility that I didn't have to," Theo Ratterson said. "It's not a happy thing to have to find out about yourself."
"But you knew?" Samuel asked Gerald, not sure if he should laugh or throw a punch at the airship captain. "You knew I would do that?"
"I bet a part of my sanity on it," Gerald said.
"This still leaves our problem with these two," Theo said, gesturing towards Silas and Amanda in turn. "I trust you'll deal with the boy?"
Samuel turned to look at Silas, who was staring at his shaking hands.
"I think even he understands his fate," Samuel said. "He talks as if he's lost pieces of himself. Like he can't feel certain emotions, and it's harder to feel and express compassion. Is that normal?"
Both the captain and the Crafter flinched, and shared a long look between them. "More than normal. Inevitable. It is our fate," Theo admitted.
"We are hollowed out, our wick consumed inch by inch every time we use the Craft. The degradation is slower for some, the strain for a graduated Crafter might be minuscule for something that would drive a reject to madness, but the Craft will kill us all."
"This only leaves Amanda," Theo said.
There was a long, profoundly tense silence following that announcement. Samuel subtly took a half step away from Silas, and he opened his coat and rested his hand on the rifle's stock.
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...