Satrine Rainey would never have
guessed that she would make a habit of waking up before sunrise to go to
Absolution at Saint Limarre’s Church. In her nearly forty years, she
hadn’t ever bothered with the ritual. Her soul was probably beyond
salvation; she had accepted that. But she needed to talk, and she was
filled with secrets too terrible to hold in, but too dangerous to
entrust to anyone.
Anyone but Sister Alana, under the silence
guaranteed by the rite of Absolution. Sister Alana would never tell her
secrets. The ritual was taken very seriously by both the government and
the church, so nothing said under Absolution could ever be used in
persecution or prosecution.
Even the secrets of a not-so-former spy turned Constabulary Inspector.
course, Sister Alana was more than just a Cloistress of the Blue in the
Church of Druthal. She was an old friend-the only person left from
Satrine’s childhood on the streets of Inemar who could be called that.
Most others from those days were dead, jailed, or wasted. Hardly any of
them were someone she would have considered a friend even back then. Her
own mother-that waste of flesh named Berana Carthas-had abandoned her
when she was twelve. Just left to live with some man who didn’t want to
deal with a daughter.
Sister Alana was the only person who knew everything about who she was, who she had to become, and who she was now.
knew Satrine well enough to be sitting on the back steps of Saint
Limarre’s, looking out at the small burial field behind the church,
waiting with pastries and two cups of tea.
“I didn’t tell you I was coming today,” Satrine said as she walked up.
“Didn’t need to,” Sister Alana said, standing up and embracing Satrine. “I saw last night’s newssheets. Tea?”
seems too hot for tea.” It was now autumn, but the sweltering summer
heat still hadn’t broken. Even now, before the sun had properly showed
itself over the towers of East Maradaine, the heat was oppressive. For
the past few months Satrine had forsaken the traditional coat of a
Constabulary officer, usually wearing just her shirtsleeves and
“You’ll drink it anyway,” Sister Alana said,
sitting back down on the steps. She was right. Satrine may have made a
habit of seeing Sister Alana early in the morning, but she wasn’t
accustomed to it. Most nights she barely managed to sleep at all. She
took the tea and sat next to the cloistress. “How was your Saint
The fact that yesterday had technically been a
holiday-both the equinox and a Saint Day-had barely registered on
Satrine. She worked the whole day, and there was no particular
observance she would make to Saint Helsen. She didn’t even know Saint
And in thinking that, it came to her, courtesy of
her telepathically induced education. Saint Helsen, Savior of Harvests.
The Sickle-Bearing Pilgrim.
“It was work. And you know that.”
“Bless those whose work keeps us safe.”
least last night she went home at a reasonable hour. She was able to
eat dinner with Rian and Caribet, spend time taking care of Loren. She
hadn’t realized how much Rian had sprouted over the summer. Her eldest
daughter was now almost as tall as she was, and looked far older than
her nearly fifteen years. Her summer working the glove counter at
Henson’s Majestic store had done wonders for the girl’s maturity. And
the money helped. For the first time since Loren’s accident, it didn’t
feel like they were just scraping by each day.
“The girls go back to school today,” Satrine said idly.
“You aren’t here to chat about the girls.”
“No,” Satrine said.
Alana closed her eyes for a moment. “May our voices only be heard by
God and the saints, for our words are for no one else.”
“Thank you,” Satrine said. “So what did you read in the newssheets?”
“Many things, most of which probably had nothing to do with you and yours.”
“Aventil had another street war last night. Nine dead, including two constables.”
“Aventil isn’t supposed to be your problem.”
in the Grand Inspection Unit now,” Satrine said. “The whole city is
technically my problem.” In truth, in the months since they had launched
the GIU, it had been a steep learning curve of what the new unit meant.
They were supposed to handle the big cases, the ones that had a wider
scope than any one precinct. What it really meant was fighting with
stationhouse captains, officers, and patrolmen over jurisdiction and
“You’ve been sweating over Aventil for the past few weeks.”
shouldn’t I? Welling and I work one case, and right after that, gang
wars explode. Two of the gangs are determined to destroy each other,
another splinters into two factions, and I just wonder…”
could have stopped it then?” Sister Alana sighed. “Please, Satrine.
Aventil has been a nightmare since we were girls. You couldn’t have
saved it. You definitely didn’t start it.”
“And then there’s the new case. Cases.”
“No, that one is on Mirrell and Kellman.”
“I thought you and Minox were working it.”
sighed. Minox had pushed the idea that a series of missing
children-mostly street rat kids like she and Sister Alana had been when
they were Tricky Trini and Lannie Coar-were part of a larger case that
warranted deeper investigation. Evidence had connected those missing
children to a handful of other cases involving children from
working-class families, and even a few from minor nobility. Minox had
put the pieces together-notably the similar witness reports from all
over the city-to show that there was some sort of larger conspiracy to
kidnap children. Though for what, he still had no idea. Satrine
suspected another fighting ring, or something even more disturbing.
Minox had presented his evidence to Captain Cinellan, the case got a
lot more notice. That meant it wasn’t going to be handled by the
inspectors who handled “the strange ones.” Not by Satrine Rainey, who
was still loathed throughout the city Constabulary for faking her way to
an Inspector’s rank with forged orders, or by Minox Welling, the
Uncircled mage who still had the threat of Inquiry hovering over his
head. So the pile of files for the missing children went to Mirrell and
Kellman. Satrine didn’t understand why-they weren’t very inquisitive or
investigative. A delicate case that involved a lot of moving parts, that
was not their forte.
“No, we’re working the Gearbox Murders. That’s what the gaudier newssheets are calling it.”
Sister Alana said. “I rather like the gaudy newssheets. There’s
something honest about the level of viscera they commit to.”
talking about the ones with the drawings.” Satrine picked up a pastry.
She was going to need something in her system for this.
have to ask,” Alana said, picking up one of the newssheets she had
stacked next to the steps. “These contraptions you find the victims in.
They aren’t actually this elaborate, are they?”
Satrine took the
paper from her. The sketch showed a monstrosity of machinery, with gears
and blades and some poor woman caught in the thing while bits of her
were being sliced off. As gruesome as it was, there was also an almost
comical aspect to it, as the machinery also had strings, candles, mice
in wheels, and a whole assortment of elements that were purely the
“Nothing like that,” Satrine said. “Most of
the time we never even saw the machine…. I’ll spare you the gore. There
were five deaths-that we know of-before we realized they were
connected. Now seven.”
“Who are they?”
“Victims from every
part of the city, each found in a different part of the city. No rhyme
or reason behind it. Men, women, old, young, rich, poor.”
“Not yet. But…” She hesitated to voice her thoughts.
is doing this, they’ve got resources. They’ve got time. And they want
attention. If it isn’t nobility, or at least someone with money and
influence, I’ll eat my vest.”
“And this theory of yours has met with resistance?”
Sister Alana hit on the point. “Minox doesn’t think so. He thinks this is someone with a message. There’s a grand scheme to it.”
“A grand scheme for what?”
“He’s not sure. He can’t figure out the message.”
“And so his theory holds more credence than yours why? After all, the theories don’t exclude each other.”
doesn’t, just…” Satrine sighed, taking a bite of the pastry. “When he
gets his hunches, he just digs into them like a crab on the beach.”
“Did he spend the night in the stationhouse?”
“Probably,” Satrine said. “If I were to predict-”
Satrine could finish that thought, the back doors of the church burst
open, and a young blond woman in nightclothes stormed out, swinging a
great candlestick like a sword. “Betrayal! Beware the betrayal and
escape the darkness!”
Satrine was on her feet, instinctively
grabbing her handstick, but Sister Alana had already reacted. In swift
motion, she ducked the swinging candlestick, popped back up, and knocked
the blond woman in the face with a perfect punch.
The blond woman dropped to the ground, and then looked around rather confused.
“Sister Alana,” she said curtly. “Why am I in the back garden in my sleeping attire?”
were having one of your spells again, Sister Myriem,” Sister Alana
said. “Go inside and clean yourself off. I’ll come to check on you
Sister Myriem stood up and dusted herself off, giving Satrine a polite nod before returning inside the church.
“She’s still a problem?”
for long,” Alana said with a heavy sigh. “Or at least, not mine. She’s
going to be transferred to Saint Bridget’s. Not my doing. The other
cloistresses here are terrified of her.”
fit was a sedate one for her,” Alana said. “In a few weeks, she’ll be
gone. May the saints forgive me, but I will sleep easier.”
wish I could.” Sleep hadn’t been easy…all summer, frankly. Between the
rigors of the job and the strain of caring for her husband, it had
already been hard enough. The words a Lyranan spy had whispered in her
ear had set her thoughts spinning every night. “You’re working with a
Sister Myriem screaming “Betrayal” in her fit didn’t
help. Something about that young woman was just unnerving. She didn’t
blame Alana for wanting to be rid of her.
Alana guessed her thoughts. “Do you honestly suspect Minox is a traitor of some sort? In collusion with corruption?”
at all,” Satrine said. “But I can’t shake the feeling. Pra Yikenj spoke
with…conviction. And she had proven insightful before.” Satrine’s first
encounter with Pra Yikenj had been a little over fifteen years before,
when the spy had noticed Satrine was pregnant before Satrine had.
“She wanted to rattle you.” Alana glanced about furtively. “And your other masters? What do they think?”
Intelligence isn’t telling me anything new, other than to remind me
that there’s some sort of corruption in the Constabulary that they worry
about. Which…isn’t useful to tell me.”
“So what will you do today?”
was about to answer, when she heard the pounding of feet and a wheezing
breath that was oddly familiar. “I think I’m about to get summoned to
And then Phillen Hace, newly minted Senior Page in the Constabulary, raced into the churchyard. “Inspector Rainey.”
“Phillen,” Satrine said calmly, picking up her tea and sipping it. “Did Inspector Welling send you in search of me?”
“Yes,” Phillen said.
“And did he presume to tell you to find me here?”
Phillen looked guilty for a moment. “Yes.”
“Has he been there all night?”
“Near as I can tell, ma’am. I mean, I slept.”
“Fine. Be with you in a moment.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a bit of a salute. He gave a nod to Alana. “Begging your pardon for interruption, your glory.”
“Always, son.” As Phillen went to the street, Alana sighed and looked at Satrine. “Never the time we need.”
“Come to the house sometime,” Satrine said. “I would love you to meet the girls.”
“I’ll try. I don’t get much chance to cross the river.”
Satrine let Sister Alana embrace her one more time and went off to where Phillen was waiting patiently for her.
thought crossed her mind. “You do go home sometimes, yes?” She had
never thought to ask the boy that. He always seemed available when
Welling sent him, at any hour.
“No point, ma’am. Ain’t had a home for a year, save the stationhouse. And that’s the best year I’ve had.”
“What about your mother?” Satrine asked. “You’ve mentioned her before.”
“I have, indeed,” he said. “That year I brought up? It’s been the year she’s been in the Quarry for theft and grift.”
I’m sorry,” she said. She knew he had no fondness for his mother-she
understood that all too well-but she also understood it wasn’t easy to
feel nothing for one’s mother.
“Don’t be,” he said. “I’m the one who got her nabbed and ironed.”
“How long does she have left to serve?”
“Five days,” Phillen said as they approached the stationhouse. “It should be interesting.”
me know if there’s anything you need,” Satrine said. Phillen nodded and
dashed off. She steeled herself and went into the stationhouse. There
was surely about to be some form of aggression or difficulty facing her,
from the patrolmen or the desk sergeants, or most likely Miss Nyla
Pyle, the floor clerk for the GIU who hated Satrine with cold fire. All
that she was used to.
That was part of her every day.
had not been a priority for Minox Welling for the past few days,
catching only a few hours in the stationhouse bunk to refresh his mind
before returning to his analysis of the “Gearbox Killer” murders.
had to confess, it was possibly the most singularly troubling case he
had ever encountered in his time as an Inspector Third Class in the
Maradaine Constabulary. He had never before seen a case where the
murderer had no apparent motive beyond the thrill of killing. That, and
the message Minox theorized was hidden within the murders.
“There is no thrill to killing,” Joshea Brondar said. “I spent three years in the army trying to avoid it if I could.”
you,” Minox said quietly. “Men like you and me are fundamentally
decent. But to the deranged mind-which is clearly what we’re dealing
Joshea picked up one of the charcoal sketches of the crime scene. “Is it all right if I look closer at this?”