For Kristi, for never doubting—
not even when I did.
For Kevin, because it’s a big brother’s job to make a little brother tough. What you taught me, I’ve needed. (But I never have been right since that dirt clod incident.)
We’ve got a contract for you,” Momma K said. As always, she sat like a queen, her back straight, sumptuous dress perfect, hair immaculately coifed if gray at the roots. This morning she had dark circles under her eyes. Kylar guessed that none of the Sa’kagé’s surviving leaders had slept much since the Khalidoran invasion.
“Good morning to you, too,” Kylar said, settling into the wing-backed chair in the study. Momma K didn’t turn to face him, looking instead out her window. Last night’s rain had quenched most of the fires in the city, but many still smoked, bathing the city in a crimson dawn. The waters of the PlithRiver that divided rich eastern Cenaria from the Warrens looked as red as blood. Kylar wasn’t sure that was all because of the smoke-obscured sun, either. In the week since the coup, the Khalidoran invaders had massacred thousands.
Momma K said, “There’s a wrinkle. The deader knows it’s coming.”
“How’s he know?” The Sa’kagé wasn’t usually so sloppy.
“We told him.”
Kylar rubbed his temples. The Sa’kagé would only tell someone so that if the attempt failed, the Sa’kagé wouldn’t be committed. That meant the deader could only be one man: Cenaria’s conqueror, Khalidor’s Godking, Garoth Ursuul.
“I just came to get my money,” Kylar said. “All of Durzo’s—my safe houses burned down. I only need enough to bribe the gate guards.” He’d been giving her a cut of his wages to invest since he was a child. She should have plenty for a few bribes.
Momma K flipped silently through sheets of rice paper on her desk and handed one to Kylar. At first, he was stunned by the numbers. He was involved in the illegal importation of riot weed and half a dozen other addictive plants, owned a race horse, had a stake in a brewery and several other businesses, part of a loan shark’s portfolio, and owned partial cargos of items like silks and gems that were legitimate except for the fact the Sa’kagé paid 20 percent in bribes rather than 50 percent in tariffs. The sheer amount of information on the page was mind- boggling. He didn’t know what half of it meant.
“I own a house?” Kylar asked.
“Owned,” Momma K said. “This column denotes merchandise lost in the fires or looting.” There were checks next to all but a silk expedition and one for riot weed. Almost everything he had owned was lost. “Neither expedition will return for months, if at all. If the Godking keeps seizing civilian vessels, they won’t come back at all. Of course, if he were dead—”
He could see where this was going. “This says my share is still worth ten to fifteen thousand. I’ll sell it to you for a thousand. That’s all I need.”
She ignored him. “They need a third wetboy to make sure it works. Fifty thousand gunders for one kill, Kylar. With that much, you can take Elene and Uly anywhere. You’ll have done the world a good turn, and you’ll never have to work again. It’s just one last job.”
He wavered only for a moment. “There’s always one last job. I’m finished.”
“This is because of Elene, isn’t it?” Momma K asked.
“Momma K, do you think a man can change?”
She looked at him with a profound sadness. “No. And he’ll end up hating anyone who asks him to.”
Kylar got up and walked out the door. In the hallway, he