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First pages

Prologue. The Woman in the Fire

Joah watched as the flames crept closer to his feet. He was calm, unbothered. His arms and legs were tied with rope. His girl dead in the next room. He’d join her soon enough. He couldn’t muster the will to care all that much. He wasn’t even coughing, though the thick black smoke was sliding painfully down his throat. Something the man had given him, some sort of drug in the wine. The man had called himself a doctor. Maybe he knew about drugs, the kind that would keep Joah content even as he watched himself burn to death.

Joah was letting his eyes slide shut, no need to actually watch the fire eat him, when a woman walked through the flames. She seemed, like him, far too calm to be trapped in a raging house fire. Maybe a vision? A side effect of the drugs? He couldn’t see her well through the smoke, just a thin black shape examining the room’s walls near him, confident and unhurried. She drew closer and he watched her remove a glass jar from under her cloak. She reached in and pulled out a handful of a fine grey powder, which she threw in a practiced arc against the base of the walls. The flames fell back, smoke retreating, and Joah was able to see her face as she knelt in front of him.

“Are you Joah Ralis?” she asked, bronze skin shining in the firelight. Sharp features like Sara’s. Beautiful. If he couldn’t look at Sara as he died, he could at least look at this woman. When he didn’t answer, she reached and turned his head, leaning down to examine the long scar along the side of his jaw. “Where’d you get this, Joah? Your parents said you hurt it loading barrels.” Her tone was light, still unhurried though the flames were already pressing back.

He gave a grin. “Knife fight in the Lagoons.”

She produced a small blade and cut away the ropes on his arms and legs. “You’ve been drugged, Joah. Your parents sent me to find you. I’m going to get you out of here. There’s a window in the next room. We can get out onto the roof. From there you either jump or I push you. I don’t get paid any less if you break a few bones. Can you walk?” She tugged him up into a sitting position.

Joah’s head swam, his grin fading. “We can’t leave Sara.”

“The Farrowe with blonde hair, about my height? Sorry, Joah, she’s dead in the other room.” She reached out, grabbed him by both hands and gave them a quick squeeze. “Come with me now.”

He gave a grunt and forced himself to his feet, the woman helping. She wasn’t particularly big but neither was he. She led him away from the room that held Sara. When he turned back towards it, she pulled him forward. “Focus, Joah. You want to give this guy another clean kill?”

Joah stumbled after her through a doorframe lined with fire, muttering, “He’s done this before?” She didn’t hear. Now that he was up the smoke was attacking hard. He briefly lost the woman then felt her hands again. She led him to a window. There was fresh air. They were on the second floor. It might feel nice to be weightless, falling towards the stones below. The woman caught Joah as he swayed forward.

She pushed him against the window frame and reached down to pull his legs up one at a time. “He said he was going to the window,” Joah said. He was mounting the window frame, resting his numb feet on the short, slanted roof.

She gave him a sharp look. “The window? The doctor said that? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“He said,” Joah felt this point was important, “that he was leaving to join the window. Told the other guy that.”

“The Winden?” she asked.

Joah shrugged and let himself slide out onto the roof. He heard the woman, caught off guard, curse and try to grab him. He turned over a few times on the tiles, then was falling. He had a moment of bliss, free of the flames and the recent horrors he’d endured, before the ground cracked into him. His breath fled and he writhed on the ground, the numbing effect of the drugs not sparing him from a wave of sharp pain. He heard the woman land smoothly near him.

Her hands grasped his shoulders, gripping his shirt. She dragged him into the shadows of the nearest alley and propped him up against a wall. They watched the fire swallowing the house in front of them while Joah’s wind came back. Flames licked at every window, smoke pouring from each opening out into the night. There were a few shouts, mostly around the front end of the house, for the fire brigade.

After watching for a few more labored breaths, Joah grew bored and turned to the woman. She was staring at the fire, transfixed, an unsettling expression of bliss on her face. When she realized he was watching, it slid away and he was left wondering if he’d imagined it. She turned to him. “He took you on the riverwalk? You were staying at the Bellshore Inn?” Joah nodded. She said, “A lean, older man? Maybe wearing dark glasses? Called himself a doctor, probably several times?” Joah was still nodding. “Who was the other guy you mentioned?”

Joah shrugged. He’d never gotten a good look. Just at the very end, right after they’d killed Sara and started the fire. When the doctor said the thing about the window, or the Winden. “Sara’s gone.” He started crying. “I loved her. Nobody believed me.” The woman didn’t say anything for a while as Joah cried. Finally he asked, “What was the point of this? Who was that?”

“I wish I knew. All I know is that you were targeted because she’s a Farrowe and you’re a Gaoel. Whoever this so-called doctor is, he’s killed several young couples. He doesn’t like mixed-blood. When your parents told me you’d run off with your Farrowe lover, I knew there might be trouble. He picked you out because you were with her. I don’t know the other one. He’s always worked alone before tonight.”

“We weren’t hurting anybody.” He bent over to the stones in a fit of weak coughing.

“I know,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry. I would have saved her if I could.” The wind shifted, carrying the glowing embers of the burning house away from them. “He said he was leaving. At least there’s that.”

Chapter 1. The Opening

The Fire Eye opened over the city of Celest, just as it had every year as far back as anyone could remember. The same day of the year, same time of night, same miraculous celestial event. It began with the slow appearance of what could be mistaken for a chain of stars. These grew steadily brighter to form a jagged line of bright purple in the dark skies. Then, so like an eye drawing open, the line spread into an oval of blazing light, colors trapped somewhere between a rainbow and a flame. Huge, it took over the sky above the city, perched over it as a flower in bloom might stand over a clump of grass.

Kay didn’t look up. She longed to. Each year brought subtle variations to the pattern of the Fire Eye, variations Kay knew far better than any others in the gaping crowd she steered her way through. She should have been home, sitting in the rooftop corner she had set up especially for this. Instead, a job offer had come in from a man it was unwise to ignore. Accompanied by instructions to meet him atop the stairs which overlooked the gathering on the plaza. Which left Kay working her way through the crowd, ignoring the shifting light on the cobblestones below her and the gasps of children and visitors seeing the Fire Eye from Celest for the first time.

Soon the lanterns would launch. Many of the crowd had already lit theirs. Small candles heated the trapped air in the paper lanterns and drew them upwards. A tiny spark to pay homage to the great fire in the sky. The lights from the hundreds of early rising lanterns danced off the golden skin of the crowd. They wanted to get their lights up early, to beat the thousands that would follow. They were easier to track that way, and later tell the lie that they had seen their lantern pass into the very center of the eye, the flaming pupil. Granting them a wish for power or love or peace. There would be more wishing for peace this year than any other, at least from those who had their eyes open and knew the refugee situation would get worse before it got better. Those who realized the hunger and anger of the tens of thousands outside the walls would not wink out as smoothly as the Fire Eye would when its time had elapsed.

The lack of a Farrowe presence at the Fire Eye Opening was notable. The refugees had brought no equivalent holiday from their homeland. The Fire Eye was unique to Celest and the locals made no effort to share the occasion. There was profit to be made from Farrowe gold, one thing they’d packed in abundance, but the Gaoel seemed in agreement that the sense of community brought about by the Opening would only be strained by a Farrowe presence, the way their presence had strained everything else. Indeed, with a crowd this large, all Gaoel, all armed with fire, it would be unsafe for any of the lighter-skinned outsiders here. While the lanterns rose and all eyes turned to the sky, it would be too easy for a knife to find its way into a Farrowe back.

Kay, herself a mix of Farrowe and Gaoel blood, had drawn unwelcome attention during these tense days. Wetbloods, the favored slur for Gaoel of mixed heritage, were not popular right now. She’d been in Celest for nearly ten years and she was committed to dying before she left the aura of the Fire Eye behind. But the flood of refugees had forced a Gaoel-Farrowe divide which endangered her peace. Hers and all others of mixed-blood. Kay’s skin was the more golden tone of the Gaoel and her hair was black, which allowed her to pass as Gaoel at a glance, but a closer look revealed sharp features more in line with the Farrowe. Smaller eyes, a hawkish nose. She kept her hair neatly trimmed at shoulder length, just long enough to swing free in the Gaoel fashion for women but easy to pull back when she needed to move quickly. She wore a dark blue cloak pulled around her to hide her lithe frame and the weapons she carried.

During the Opening, the height at which one was stationed was reflective of status. Gaoel were obsessed with station and its most prominent marker was altitude. The plaza Kay walked through was filled with commoners, children running around with eager shouts. The rich and noble would be atop the various buildings and higher plazas surrounding the main. Over at the palace, the Dynasty would have carefully chosen the elevation of each guest based on their contributions during the last year and anticipated ability to carry that level of effort forward. Kay looked past the crowd to the stairs where she was summoned tonight. Her plan had been to arrive for the meeting early to scope the crowd and have an escape route ready. Two men guarded the entry of the long stairs, which ended at the Goet Overlook. Where Ban Terrel was waiting. She had yet to learn much about where she was headed. The crowd had slowed her. If the meet went bad, she had no escape plan.

The two men gave her a move-on gesture as she approached, clearly expecting her. They wore a common dark grey color on slightly varied styles of coat, not uniforms but pretty close. She climbed the stairs slowly, trying not to look up at the Fire Eye above her. She would take it in later. It would wait. She needed her senses at the top. Another two guards waiting there. Kay didn’t know enough about Ban Terrel. She was unsure whether his people would be best treated as a gang, a family, or a company. Given their disciplined stances and spacing, there was definitely a martial component. She had to assume any of his men would kill her at a look from him. She knew Ban Terrel was both respected and feared. Enough so that she wasn’t saying no to this invitation and would find it hard to say no to whatever job was offered her. She had no idea where his money was born or where it slept. No idea where he stood with the Dynasty or where he came down on the refugee question that had divided the city of late.

The Goet Overlook was crowded with more grey coats. It had none of the festive atmosphere one could see below. Ban Terrel stood at the far end of the space, resting both hands on the crumbled remnants of the rampart which surrounded the Overlook. A beautiful choice, maybe the best Kay had seen, for a viewing of the Fire Eye. All eyes were on Ban Terrel as he quietly looked at the skies, some personal communication between him and the celestial event. Kay paused, uncertain whether to come any closer. She could feel the men, a respectful distance from Ban Terrel, turn their attention to her. Weighing her. Then Ban Terrel turned. He was elderly, dressed in a simple robe of dark grey, a thin beard below a shaved head. He gave her a light smile and gestured for her to take the place beside him. As she neared she saw he had two lanterns ready for launch. He’d prepared and waited for her. An unexpected gesture of respect that did nothing to lessen her wariness.

Ban Terrel took her hand in a paternal manner and drew her to one of the lanterns. He took his place in front of his own. Both had lit candles. When he loosened their ties, only Ban Terrel’s gentle grip prevented them from floating away. The sky in front of them was littered with rising lights as the lanterns from the plaza below ascended. Kay could see hues of purple and orange dancing on the outside rims of the thin paper lanterns, the Fire Eye reaching out. She would have to look at it. He would notice if she didn’t. The small flame dancing atop the candle in front of her didn’t pull at her the way it normally would. Not tonight. Not with its great mother, father, god in the sky above. The candle was nothing. The Fire Eye was everything.

As she released her lantern, following Ban Terrel’s lead, she lifted her eyes. There it was just above her. The light hit her eyes and burrowed deeper, filling her head with its song. She felt her body melt, become one with the perfect fire in the sky. Her dream, her savior. No one else understood the gift they’d been given. The fire she’d chased her whole life painted above, unafraid and beautiful. Her mouth fell slack, eyes filled with tears. This was why she tried to be alone the night the Fire Eye opened.

She was dimly aware that Ban Terrel was waiting for her to pull her attention away from the Fire Eye. She closed her eyes reluctantly, still seeing the fiery pattern on the insides of her lids for a moment, and turned to face him. If he saw the wetness on her cheeks, he ignored it.

“I was told you find children.” Kay nodded but he was already looking back out over the city. “Thank you for answering my summons. I hope the timing wasn’t too inconvenient. I have always enjoyed the Opening. A wonderful time for reflection on the past as well as the beginning of something new.” He paused for a long time. “I also love Celest. I love seeing the joy and spirit of the Opening reflected out there.” A sweeping gesture to the plaza below. “What do you see when you look out there?”

Kay shrugged. “I see a much needed release. A step away from everyone’s concerns.”

“And what are everyone’s concerns?”

Kay’s eyes shifted to the west. Thousands of lights floated in the skies above Celest. Beyond the city walls there were few lights. The Fire Eye went uncelebrated amongst the refugees. The Farrowe fought a battle with starvation and chaos. The people she had once called her own, from a land that had once been her miserable home. The ones who had exiled her to Celest now badly wanted to follow her through its gates.

Ban Terrel was watching her closely. “I understand you have Farrowe blood. Does it cause you pain to see them suffer?”

A long pause. “Yes,” Kay said. “There were some who treated me kindly, long ago, though I have no idea how many of the ones I remember survived the war.”

“Why did you become a finder of children?”

It was a question Kay fielded often. The ones who hired her, the desperate parents and grandparents, the scared friends, the fretting relations, all were full of mistrust. To invite one into a story involving a missing child was to expose your weakness. It told a stranger of your willingness to sacrifice for their return. Let someone untrustworthy into your circle and you could be conned. A competing offer could be leveled to your enemies, assuming they hadn’t already wrapped their hands around your offspring. Assuming your child still lived.

She gave him the safe answer. “I have a knack for it.” She unconsciously fingered the leather bracelet she used to track the children she’d been able to help. One notch in the leather for each child she’d brought home.

“Hard to argue with your success. I have made some quiet inquiries around the city. As a fetch, you are peerless. But you leave me guessing at your motivation.”

She looked at him long, feeling the pressure he radiated. His men around him. The Fire Eye ignored in the sky. She was being evaluated, but if anyone here was not being upfront about motivation, it was Ban Terrel. She kept quiet.

Finally, he turned back to the view, bringing strong, weathered hands up to rest on the rocky ledge before them. There was a more relaxed lean to his stance. “Her name is Leah Jordene. She is of mixed-blood, a Farrowe mother named Maggie Jordene. A Gaeol father. She is twelve.”

“When did you see her last?”

He didn’t like being inserted into the narrative and distanced himself with his response. “Last report on her was eighteen months ago, before the Winden siege began. She was tall for her age with reddish hair.”

“What can you tell me about the mother?”

“If she is alive, she is likely somewhere out there. She is in her middle forties.” He looked to the darkness in the west. “The mother was not unskilled in food preparation and had worked enough in Ferris to achieve modest recognition. She would have been placed near the kitchens.”

Which meant she had a better chance of being alive. Food had guards. If one wanted to find the centers of power in refugee camps, one looked to where the food and water came and went.

“If I can find them, do you want me to approach them? Do they know you’re looking? Will they know your name?”

“See to their immediate security and then give me their location. Keep my name out of all stages of your investigation. I have powerful enemies.”

“I charge—” Kay began but he waved her off.

“Sort the details out with Yamar,” Ban Terrel said, turning away from her while gesturing to the closest man. Kay glanced at him. Yamar wore the sharp, grey uniform. He was a head taller than the others. He had hands with long fingers folded in front of him, gaze lowered.

Kay turned back to Ban Terrel. “What about the father’s name?”

“Good luck in your search.” The only answer she got. And then the meeting was over.

Yamar took her arm and led her to the stairs. He was calm and collected. He started by taking the stairs two at a time with his long legs, then slowed when he saw she was moving slower. Her cloak was pulled tight around her as she tried to process the investigation she’d just, apparently, signed up for. After giving her a few moments, Yamar launched into the details. He’d researched her daily rate and was fine with it. They could cover expenses. They already knew where her office was and would be by to check in two days from now. She wasn’t to contact Ban Terrel, only go through Yamar. Ban Terrel wasn’t joking about the enemies thing. She should keep her eyes open for unwanted attention. If she needed muscle inside or outside the walls, they could set it up.

Kay was feeling okay about the job by the time they reached the bottom of the stairs. Her hire made sense. She was getting paid for her Farrowe connections, her ability to track down someone outside the walls without drawing too much attention. Fair enough, sounded manageable despite Ban Terrel’s evasion about the father. She was wondering whether Yamar would be forthcoming about Ban Terrel’s familial indiscretions. Then Yamar handed her off to another of Ban Terrel’s men at the bottom of the stairs, a soldier named Reagan, and things went south.

Kay could immediately sense trouble within Reagan. After Yamar left, there was scant eye contact before he roughly grabbed her arm to lead her across the plaza, still buzzing with families and vendors. His eyes were busy roaming the crowd. He was under instruction to escort her home but he was the one setting the direction. If she was lucky, he was just a fool, one who couldn’t handle even taking minor direction from a woman. But she didn’t like those eyes. Was he working a different angle? It was a little early in this game to allow herself to be taken. Did she deal with this before getting dragged into a dark alley? The only thing that stopped her was, if he was working for someone else, she wanted to know who. This was the problem with not setting up an escape plan.

She decided to push back just as Reagan got her to the edge of the crowd. She pulled her arm back and turned to face him. “I’m the other way,” she said.

“Honey,” he said, “you’re whichever way I say you are.” He was big for a Gaoel, black hair hung over one eye. Battered face with old scars. Why had they handed her to him? Intimidation? Or had he taken a mask off, one that worked well enough to fool Ban Terrel? He reached out to grab her again, but his eyes were up, looking back to the crowd. He missed.

Kay slid her hands inside her cloak. She gripped her baton in one. The other carefully pinched out some powdered demonlord pepper from one of the jars on her belt. Her fingers would burn for hours whether she used it or not, but that never bothered her.

“We should talk—” she began but he cut her off.

“Oh, you’ll talk. You’ll have plenty to say.” Still looking up and down the alley, maybe whoever he was expecting was meeting him here.

Kay decided not to wait around. She flung the demonlord in his face, followed it up by hitting him hard in the back of the knee with her baton. When he crumpled before her, she lined up and cracked him in the neck. Out cold, not even much chance to feel the sting of the pepper in his eyes. Oh, well. Unlikely anyone would think to wash it off. It would wait for him to awaken. She, on the other hand, needed to move.

She blended back into the fringes of the crowd, then ducked into a different alley. If there were watchers in the crowd, she didn’t see them. She saw no one following her as she went half the way back to her office, then, when she changed her mind, all the way back across the city to the western gates. Kay had remembered an underground fight between Farrowe and Gaoel barefist champions was scheduled for midnight just outside the city. It would be in her best interest to learn what she could about Ban Terrel and a soldier named Reagan before news of her hire leaked. And to start setting herself up for a trip to the refugee camps tomorrow in a hunt for Leah Jordene, potential illegitimate daughter of a Gaoel man of consequence.

Her fingers burned and the Fire Eye shone above. She should be home, she had set this week aside as a holiday, but the night seemed to call to her. As she neared the gates she could see stray lanterns, giving up on their futile quest to reach their glorious mother in the sky, surrender to the eastern winds and run up against the city walls where their small flames died.

Chapter 2. A Fetch at the Fight

The fight was in an old warehouse just outside the city walls, its interior lined with benches, a depressed fighting pit in the center. The crowd was loud, mostly men, mostly Farrowe. They wore rough clothes, radiating a sense of restrained violence, though not too many were openly carrying weapons. The Farrowe idolized their fighters, liked to imitate them and mimic the appearance that they were ready to hop into the pit in an instant.

Among the golden-skinned Gaoel clustered in small groups around the warehouse, Kay saw only a few swords. For the few Gaoel present, it was likely none could afford the expensive weapons charges the Dynasty put on blades. One armed group she recognized, however. Off-duty Home Guard, exempt from licensing fees. And she knew a couple of them.

She joined the group of three, two she’d seen before. The highest ranking of the bunch, a thick-waisted man named Jules, was telling a story to the others. He kept going after giving Kay a nod. A good sign. She cultivated her relationship with the Home Guard carefully. She needed them for referrals and staying on their good side meant less chance for them to steal bounties out from under her. Kay had heard Jules’ story before, knew the exact moment he’d deliver the punchline and draw laughs from his group. He played his part. When the laughter subsided, he turned to Kay.

“Wouldn’t expect you here, Kay. You make it on one of the undercards?” Without waiting for an answer, he looked at the youngest in his small group. “Go find Kay a drink. Gin.” The kid looked annoyed, but went to do his bidding.

“He’s gonna spit in it, isn’t he?” Kay asked.

“Not if he wants to keep his job, he ain’t. So what brings you out?”

“Been a while since I’ve been outside the walls. What brings you guys?”

“We were told to keep an eye on things. Not in any official capacity of course. Least the promoter knows the score. We’ve been drinking for free all night. Hop on our tab.”

The kid returned with a gin and a pitcher of beer. He handed Kay the drink and poured the beaming Jules and his partner a fresh beer. “You’ll do well, kid,” Jules said. “Let me introduce you to Kay here. If she has a last name, she keeps it close to the vest. Kay is what we call a fetch. The rich folks hire her to find their missing kids when they think we aren’t moving fast enough. Most of the time, when it’s something a little more serious than a runaway, we do all the work and track down our leads and show up to rescue some poor little princess all ready to receive her gratitude and the gratitude of her rich mommy and daddy. And what do we find? Kay’s already there. Then she gets the credit. Occasionally she’ll buy us a round, but don’t hold your breath.”

“Well, let me get this one,” Kay said.

“Aren’t you clever?” Jules said dryly. He raised one finger in a gesture Kay had seen many times before. The start of another story. “So this one time, kid, this set of twins goes missing. Too young to be runaways, so we’re thinking they were taken. We’re working with the family, a rich one, waiting to hear what the ransom request is. One of the detectives, a sharp guy, asks the family if they fired any servants recently. Turns out they had and the guy sounded like bad news. So we take a crew down to his house. It’s me, Skull,” Jules gestured to his partner, “and a couple of greenies like you. We get to the street and something ain’t right. All the neighbors are out and there’s this guy hollering with a bloody nose, blood all over his face. We ask the crowd, where’s the servant guy live, and they point us to this rundown house. But the bloody nose guy keeps hollering, trying to tell us we need to check out his house, some crazy lady broke in. We gotta tell him to get the fuck out of our way. All set to break down the door but it’s already busted in. We go in and the servant is unconscious on the floor. No one else but lots of signs of struggle. So we come back out, say, ‘Okay, fuckface, show us what you want to show us.’ Bloody nose guy says some woman came into his house with a pair of brats and then busted his nose and locked him out. Sure enough, it’s Kay, and she’s got the two kids with her. Turns out she got there first, took out the servant but lost track of his partner. He got out through the back and so she wanted to get off the street with the kids before he has a chance to make another try at them. So she picks a random house and shoves the kids in. When the owner turns out to be a prick, she busts his nose and locks him out. Best part was, the dumb fuck partner circles back around when he sees Kay outside the house and tries to sneak past us while we’re sorting all this out. Gave Skull and me a chance to break in our new boots. I thought we taught him good, but even after we finished I don’t think he was as scared of us as the busted nose guy was of Kay.”

Jules gave a hearty laugh at his own story. Kay and Skull joined in. It never hurt for the rest of the crowd to know she had some Home Guard backing. They weren’t bad guys, mostly. Sometimes they dragged their feet in helping out families without money or connections, but they’d saved her from one or two dark alley encounters.

She stopped quickly though when she realized the kid wasn’t laughing along. He was eyeing her, and when he saw Jules wasn’t paying attention, he parked a glob of spit right on his lips and gave her a mocking look. A gesture saying he saw the wet in her blood, recognized her Farrowe features, and he didn’t like it. He was a purist. The Gaoel purists, the ones who hated mixed-bloods, thought of other races as below them. Used the terms wet or low to convey that their status was far below pure Gaoel. It was not good to see a purist climbing on board the Home Guard. A dark alley encounter might go a different direction with this one.

Kay gritted her teeth and ignored the gesture. On a different day she might have found a way to express her disapproval, but the tides had grown dark and uncertain lately. She didn’t want to test alliances before she had to. Or inflame new enemies by shoving their teeth back down their throats. She felt the throb of fire growing on her cheeks and knew she needed to leave this conversation before the flame bloomed.

She made an excuse to walk away, her mood dampened as she scanned the crowd. She fought a small sigh of relief when she saw Calum, a mixed-blood bookie she sometimes swapped info with. His attention was fixed on the fights. She slid onto the bench right behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Who’s gonna take this next one?” she asked.

Calum had a sullen, concentrated look about him. In the ring, two Farrowe were warming up. They were shirtless and gloveless, both lightly sparring in their respective corners. Calum was ignored by the crowd, which probably meant he hadn’t gotten authorization from the Farrowe promotor to take bets here. He tossed a smile back over his shoulder. “Aren’t you supposed to have the week off? I never pegged you as coming to the fights for fun.”

“Just landed a job looking for someone outside the walls. Figured it couldn’t hurt to see if there were more contacts could be made.”

Calum was scanning the crowd. “There are a couple of good ones here. Turnover’s crazy though. This latest Farrowe wave has some real hardcases. Don’t extend any credit.”

“I just need information, someone close to the kitchens.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Now look here.” Calum was getting excited as another fighter appeared in the wings, ready to enter. “Everybody’s excited about the top card, an undefeated Gaoel middleweight against a Farrowe camp up-and-comer, guy by the name of Amos Farr. The Gaoel fighter comes from the Bosun Crew, a street tough but he has good discipline. Amos will take a dive, all the Farrowe money is on the second or third minute. Promoter keeps his Gaoel hosts happy, lets them feel tough, gets the refugees feeling the sting on their pride and clamoring for a chance to redeem. Won’t be a good fight. But interesting to see the Bosun Crew getting in with the Farrowe.”

Kay could see the Bosun, clumped together near the ring. All wore blue shirts, sleeves cut off, shoulders motley with tattoos of bears and naked women. Their golden skin and short black hair stood out among the paler, red- and brown-haired Farrowe crowd. There were few other Gaoel among the crowd. Kay knew the Farrowe would respect the courage of the Bosun in venturing outside the walls to a Farrowe event. In their eyes, many of the Gaoel seemed frustratingly blind to the opportunities outside the walls. As a people, the Gaoel tended to respond poorly to the uncertain, just one of the factors that had contributed to the lack of a comprehensive strategy to deal with the refugee situation. They had lived behind closed borders a long time, their focus inward and upward.

Most of the Bosun were watching the fights studiously or talking amongst themselves. Dissecting their new opponents’ tendencies. But a few stood, chatting with Farrowe, none of whom Kay recognized. One lean Bosun was surrounded by a group of Farrowe. Kay wondered what deals were being made.


About me

Samuel Gately is a writer of novels and short stories in the fantasy genre. Most have spies in them. He lives in Oak Park just outside Chicago with his wife, daughters, and two terrifyingly fluffy dogs.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
Two types. Those who are able to totally mesmerize me with a story like Elmore Leonard, Ian Fleming, and Leigh Bardugo. And those with such jaw-dropping creativity that I have to wonder how they do it, like Salman Rushdie, David Foster Wallace, and Mervyn Peake.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
I love fantasy because it is so versatile. Fantasy readers love elements of mystery, horror, crime stories, romance, intrigue, and so many other flavors. As both a reader and writer, I love that variety. So long as there’s enough magic and mysticism for the book to be an escape, I’m in.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
Much of this book revolves around the sky and a celestial event called the Fire Eye. I really wanted that image to be strong, so I worked with an artist I admired, Dominik Mayer. I love the skies in all of his paintings, and I’m very pleased with the life he’s given it in the illustration.