Shadow of an Empire is an upcoming Fantasy-Western Epic from author Max Florschutz, releasing on June 1st 2018 and available for pre-order now. Enjoy this free look at the second chapter of the novel, and come back next Tuesday for a look at chapter three as the release nears!
If you’re new, chapter one can be read here.
Chapter 2 – Hayt’s Junction
It was almost sundown by the time Sali arrived on the outskirts of the town of Hayt’s Junction, the sun low on the horizon and just beginning to cast tinges of red and orange across the sky. He tugged on the reins, slowing Brey to a gentle trot as the road underfoot began to shift, changing from the more bumpy, hole-ridden, well-worn path they had been following to something more befitting an outpost of the empire.
Or, at least something close to it, Sali mused. In reality, the only real difference was that the gravel was finer and the holes were less frequent, but it was still a noticeable difference all the same. Brey’s gait leveled out, the horse slipping into an easy trot rather than the more deliberate, careful canter they’d been moving at for most of the afternoon.
He twisted in the saddle and looked back, craning his neck as he made another check on his passenger. Keeber was still right where he’d left him, bound and gagged astride his own horse, his hat tucked low to keep the sunlight out of his eyes. The man had been quiet since his arrest, only putting up a small fuss before quieting down and apparently resigning himself to his fate.
Even so, he’d kept an eye on him during the journey back. Keeber’s horse was tied to Brey by means of a lead line, and he’d confiscated the man’s gear, but that didn’t mean there couldn’t be something he’d missed.
So far though, the only thing Sali had noticed about his collar was that the man seemed to be feeling a little less than well. His face was somewhat pale, and he’d been drinking quite a bit of their shared water supply. Maybe one of the gunshot wounds he’d cauterized was getting infected.
If that’s the case, I really don’t feel bad for him, Sali thought as, satisfied that the man wasn’t trying anything, he turned his attention back to the oncoming town. He shouldn’t have tried to shoot me.
Up ahead, Hayt’s Junction beckoned like an oasis of civilization. One of the southernmost settlements in the Outlands, the town had originally been conceived as a junction and refueling point for a new southern rail line, one that would shave several hundred kilometers off the more roundabout northern and central lines by cutting directly across the canyon the town was nestled up against. Once the junction had been put in place, however, and the bridge built, quite a few of the camp followers for the project had realized that the spot was also a suitable living location, and a number of them had declined to move on, instead founding the town and adopting the name of the railway station as their own.
Sali shifted in his saddle as he reached the outer edge of the town’s main thoroughfare, heading down the main street and straight for the peacekeeper’s office. A few citizens glanced at him as he passed, stopping in whatever business they had and letting their eyes slide over him before settling on the man behind him with an open glare of hostility. One even spit, her saliva hitting the dirt with a wet slap, before turning away and going back to whatever business she was tending to.
Crime in a small town, Sali thought as the stares faded, and one by one each person went back to whatever it was they had been doing. When there’s only a few hundred people at most, any crime against one is a crime against all of them. By all accounts, Keeber hadn’t been well liked by the general public before he’d decided to turn to a life of crime, at least from what the peacekeeper captain had said, but from the looks the man was getting now, he wasn’t going to find much mercy from his fellow citizens in the coming days. At the very least, Sali doubted that any of them were going to be showing up at the office to argue for leniency in any way, shape, or form.
A dog’s bark echoed from somewhere ahead of him, followed by laughter, and he turned to look down a side street as he passed it, catching sight of a couple of kids kicking a ball back and forth, a mangy mutt of a dog chasing after it while letting out short, sharp yips. One of the kids caught the ball with his foot as he spotted Sali, and he waved, the rest of them following suit. He gave them a quick nod back, tapping the edge of his hat, and then they were back playing in the dust and dirt once more, the ball bouncing between them and occasionally off the buildings on either side of the street or the dog.
Ahead of him was the general station, the railway stop that the whole town was centered around. The heavy wooden planks of the platform were empty at the moment, baking under the still-hot sun. The stationhouse itself was open, though Sali couldn’t see any activity inside.
Slow day, he thought. There was a little more activity from the hothouse across the street, signs of movement behind the thick-paned glass as boilers soaked up as much energy as they could to replenish their reserves, but there wasn’t a sense of urgency about it. Rather it looked like a couple of people playing cards, probably gambling away their winnings while they waited for the next train or for their reserves to reach maximum potential. It wasn’t the best way for a boiler to collect heat, but there wasn’t a large enough source of wood around to keep burning in a constant rotation for the number of boilers coming through the town, nor did the desert settlement have access to the more convenient hot springs of the capital. Granted, most didn’t need that much heat. He himself had only bothered to pay the fee to use the glasshouse a few times, and mostly because he’d been in a situation where he didn’t have the convenience of waiting several days to otherwise gather enough.
He glanced back at his charge once more, noting the way the man was slumped in the saddle. He’s asleep, he thought as they passed by the glasshouse, small rainbows glinting around them. I wonder if mufflers have something like glasshouses? I guess it could be possible. It wouldn’t take much to make a house of noise, though I doubt there’d be a demand for it. Not when you could just head down a busy street or even to an industrial plant somewhere and just soak up sound.
Then again a lot of those locations hired mufflers anyway, just to keep the noise level down. Which meant that maybe it was an inverse situation. Padded rooms where they can let all that sound out? He’d never thought about it before. He knew there definitely weren’t any organized enterprises built around shockers or movers, at least none that he’d ever heard of, but then again, none of the other five gifts were nearly as heavily utilized in the empire as boilers’ skills were.
And a glimmer wouldn’t need a specialized building, Sali thought as he neared the peacekeeper office. Just access to light of some kind. If you’ve got a sunroof or a balcony and it isn’t a cloudy day, then you have everything you need. And even if they were employed for work that required their gifts, short of being a worker on a light-tower sending messages all day, there couldn’t be more than a few jobs that would require more light out of them than they could pick up over the course of the average afternoon.
Then again, he thought as he slowed his mount once more, disengaging his feet from the stirrups and then swinging one leg over Brey’s side. If someone out there comes up with or has come up with a reason for glimmers, mufflers, movers, or even shockers to need to burn a lot of energy at once, I’m sure they’ll find a way to make it easier on them. That was how business operated, anyway. And if one person didn’t, another would.
His feet hit the ground just as Brey came to a complete stop, both their motions kicking up a slight cloud of dust. Sali barely had to step forward to wrap Brey’s reins around the hitching post in front of the peacekeeper office, and he knew from experience—as well as the looseness of the knot—that the horse wouldn’t go anywhere until he asked it to. Technically, the animal didn’t even need to be tied up … but rules were rules.
He’d barely given the knot a light cinch when the front door to the station banged open, bouncing against the front wall as a large, heavyset man walked out. His face lit up as he saw Sali, pausing only for an angry glare aimed in Keeber’s direction before taking on a friendly cast once more.
“Adjudicator Amazd,” the man said, his heavy tread rattling the porch and front steps of the office as he moved to shake Sali’s hand. “We didn’t expect to see you back so soon.” His voice was still the same as Sali had remembered, surprisingly thin and reedy, and with a hint of a southwestern accent.
“It’s not a worry, Captain Delix,” Sali said as he took the man’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “Keeber didn’t get far. In fact, I found him camped out in Snake Gully just east of here.”
“That close?” the captain asked, lifting one eyebrow. “He’s got a lot of guts.”
“Or he just didn’t realize that he’d have an adjudicator coming after him,” Sali said, dropping the captain’s hand and stepping back over to give the prisoner a shake.
Keeber came awake with a start, a muffled yell with too many pitches erupting from his throat as he jerked against his bounds. Then his eyes focused, his attention narrowing in first on Sali, then the man in the grey uniform of a peacekeeper next to him.
“’iss ‘ff ‘o ‘e ‘iss.”
“Gagged him, huh?” Delix said, stepping forward and looking the criminal in the eye. “Can’t say I blame you.”
“Standard procedure with a muffler,” Sali said, shrugging. “If they’ve got the training, they can let sound out of any part of their body, technically, but most haven’t put the time in. A gag’s usually a good way to shut ‘em up.”
“—‘on’a ‘ve ‘ew ‘or ‘e ‘ort—” Keeber continued on, glaring daggers at the captain. The man just nodded.
“So,” Sali said. “You want me to get him down, or—?”
“Naw,” Delix said, giving Sali a wave of his hand. “I’ve got privates for that.” He stuck his hand to his lips and whistled, a loud, clear tone that rang across the street. “Seldis, Averay! We’ve got company!”
The door jerked open again, this time disgorging a young woman who gave the captain a quick salute before turning and wedging a small piece of wood beneath the door with her foot, locking it in the open position. Delix nodded.
“Averay’s getting the cell ready?” he asked, and the woman—Seldis, Sali gathered—nodded. “Good,” Delix continued. “Then come help me deal with our new guest. Won’t be the first time he’s seen the other side of these bars, will it Keeber?” What was likely a muffled insult rolled back, any sense of meaning caught by the thick, wrapped cloth.
“Now look, Keeber,” Delix said as Seldis stepped up next to him. “I know you might be thinking about struggling or putting up a fight the moment I step up and try to undo those bonds. But I want to remind you of something.” His hand slipped down to tap the butt of the revolver holstered at his side. “This gun? I don’t need to draw it to put up a fight.” He lifted both his hands, tapping his meaty fingers against his other palm in an odd sort of clap. “I’m a mover, Keeber, remember? And you can bet your sorry butt that if you put up a fight, I’ll sock you into next week, clear?”
Keeber glared at him for a moment longer, but then nodded, his head and shoulders slumping.
“Good,” Delix continued, stepping forward and going to work on the ropes tied around the man’s legs. “Because while I didn’t know Poskin that well, I do know his family. You pull something funny right now, and you might not get a sentencing trial. Or I might just decide to give that big, angry-looking wound on your leg a nice love tap, you get me?”
Keeber didn’t say anything back, but Sali had the impression that was the point. He stepped back, watching as the two peacekeepers untied the knots he’d secured the man with and then helped him down. Once Keeber was on the ground there was only a moment’s hesitation and an angry glare he shot at Sali before Delix gave him a nudge on the back that got him moving forward. The trio marched up the front steps of the office and out of sight.
Sali toyed with one of the straps on Brey’s saddle, making sure the leather wasn’t too tight while he gave the captain time to stuff Keeber into a cell. Then he moved back, untying the line that had led from Brey to Keeber’s horse and attaching it to the hitching post so that the animal was out of the street. He wasn’t sure what the peacekeepers would do with the horse; odds were that Keeber wasn’t going to need it any more. Most likely they’d sell it at auction and put a portion of proceeds toward the damages from Keeber’s actions, since there probably wasn’t anyone to send the animal or funds to.
The horse tied off, he turned and walked up the steps to the office, removing his hat as he walked under the porch overhang and through the front door.
The inside of the office looked fairly standard, as far as most peacekeeper’s offices went in the Outlands. There was a desk sitting perpendicular to the front door, its surface cluttered with papers and, Sali couldn’t help but notice, several rounds of ammunition being used as paperweights. Two rough wooden chairs sat in front of it, battered and worn. Behind the desk, an open doorway led to a small kitchen area that had originally been sparse, but over the years of various peacekeepers being assigned to the small town had become decorated with more personal knickknacks and touches. Past the kitchen was a closed doorway, which from experience he knew led to a hallway identical to every other peacekeeper office station, which in turn would lead to several small rooms that each one of the peacekeepers lived in during their rotation in the Outlands.
The rest of the wall behind the desk was taken up by a set of stairs that led up to the captain’s office on the second floor, a private retreat that came with the responsibilities of the rank.
The wall opposite that stairway, however, was taken up by the “corrals,” the small, simple-bar cells used for unruly drunks or patrons who needed a few hours to cool off. At the moment, none of them were occupied, though from the disheveled blankets on one of the cots one had been not too many hours ago. That, or the station was getting a little lax with its cleaning.
The back wall, on the other hand, was devoted to the higher security cells, designed for gifted prisoners or those who needed more than just a few hours to cool off or sober up. There were two of them, and as Sali watched Captain Delix and Seldis backed out of one of them, what was left of Keeber’s restraints in their hands. The last peacekeeper, a shorter man that had to be the aforementioned Averay, slid the massive cell door shut once they were clear, slamming down a thick, steel bar and locking the whole ensemble with a heavy thunk. Not a moment later a dull rumble of noise rippled through the metal, a bass drone that made the floor under his boots shake. Keeber letting out a little pent-up anger, maybe.
Or maybe he just struggled a bit and got smacked for it, Sali thought as he stepped up to the desk. If that was the case, he didn’t really feel bad for the man. Nor would he be surprised.
“All right, wait until he settles down,” Delix said, rapping a knuckle against the heavy metal door. “And then once he’s done that, get him some food. Seldis?” The peacekeeper looked up, her eyes attentive. “While Averay here gets some food, you go find the doctor. I think our visitor’s leg might be infected. No sense treating a man horribly, even if he is probably going to get the noose for what he pulled.” The private nodded and then snapped the captain a quick salute before darting away. Sali stepped to one side as she passed him by, her footsteps ringing against the floor in rapid cadence and vanishing out the door.
“So,” Delix said, dropping into the seat behind the desk. The chair let out a loud, wooden squeak of annoyance at the sudden weight. “He do anything we need to know about when we carry out his sentencing?” The captain reached out and swiped at a pile of papers, spreading them across the surface of the desk as he hunted for something.
“Other than shoot at me, no,” Sali said. “Which, given that I’m fairly certain he didn’t know I was an adjudicator at first, but was still trying to shoot whoever came down the trail, is attempted murder alongside everything else. Other than that, nothing much.”
“Pull up a seat. Did he confess to the crime?” Delix’s searching fingers found what he was looking for, and he pulled a small stack of shuffled reports to him. A stray bullet, disturbed by the motion, skittered across the wooden surface of the desk, rattling along until Delix stopped it with a quick slap of his hand.
“He did,” Sali said, nodding. “When I confronted him, he admitted that he knew exactly what he’d done. It was his reason for putting up a fight.”
“He didn’t have to try and shoot you, though,” Delix said, plucking a pencil from one of the desk drawers and making studious notes on the report he’d located.
“No,” Sali agreed. “He was more than willing, I think, to take a shot at anyone who came around his camp, no questions asked. Me being an adjudicator was entirely coincidental.”
“So, an attempted murder charge alongside the current one?”
Sali thought back. “Yeah,” he said, nodding as he recalled how the shot had just barely missed the top of his head. “It was no warning shot. Keeber was looking to take my head off.” The captain’s pencil made another quick series of scratches on the paper. “You find anything new here?”
“No,” Delix said, shaking his head slightly. “We talked with just about everyone who had anything to say on the matter, and we didn’t find anything to hold up to even the most reasonable doubts. Unless Keeber has some profoundly surprising evidence, I’d say his future is pretty bleak. Now then,” the captain said as his pencil came to a halt. “Tell me about what—”
Sali started before the man had even finished asking, listing out the details of his tracking Keeber east and into the Snake Gully camp. It was an old, rote requirement by now, but one that needed to be carried out to the best of his ability unless he wanted to spend the few days in Hayt’s Junction waiting for the sentencing council to be gathered together.
Granted, as an adjudicator he could always have passed sentence himself, on the trail or at the campsite itself. Simply listened to Keeber’s explanation, pronounced the sentence then and there, and carried out the punishment.
Paperwork was better. Even if it took longer. Back when the Outlands had been a mostly unsettled wilderness between the two sides of the empire, a hot and dusty shrub desert occupied only by wild chort, Wanderer tribes, worker camps laying railway tracks, and a few daring individuals who had struck out to see what sort of resources they could lay claim to in the inhospitable country, adjudicators had been a much needed solution, a bringing of law and order that suggested that even if one was far away from the empire itself, they still had to be concerned with justice and the basic principles of right and wrong.
Now the situation was different. Gone were the days when an adjudicator was required to ride into a town with his guns drawn, his quarry chosen and sentenced to die. Now there was a peacekeeper station in almost every settlement. Rather than simply pronounce sentence on the spot, an adjudicator could bring a criminal back and submit them to a proper council.
If, of course, he felt like doing all the paperwork that came with it. The times hadn’t changed quite that much. Even Sali’s old teacher had often muttered that it was easier to simply shoot a man than take them back to town and let the townsfolk discuss how to do it while some busybody made notes in triplicate.
Still, he’d gotten used to the process, and in a short amount of time his account of events was written out in short, concise sentences by Captain Delix’s capable hand. His part in Keeber’s fate over, Sali passed over his badge—a heavy, rectangular piece of dented, scuffed, and scraped metal that declared him an authorized adjudicator of the Indrim Empire. With the badge in hand, Delix signed his name and rank at the bottom of the report. Then he passed the battered bit of metal back to Sali and slid the stack of papers along after it.
Three signatures later, Delix took the papers back and then tugged one free from the rest. “Your fee,” he said, holding the slip out between his thumb and forefinger. “Three hundred marks.”
Sali’s brow lifted. “Three hundred?”
“He did shoot at you,” Delix said with a shrug. “You want to say that’s too high, feel welcome to, but you’ll have to complain to somebody else to get them to change it.” A large finger came down at tapped at the report. “As far as I’m concerned, you earned it.”
“Fair enough,” Sali said, rising from his seat and taking the offered slip with one hand. “Need me for anything else?”
“No,” Delix said, shaking his head. “We’ll take care of Keeber. You going to stay in town for a while?”
“Just for the night,” Sali said. “I’ll check the general station and see if there’s anywhere I need to be, but if not, I’ll probably head out in the morning.”
“Any destination in mind?”
He shrugged. “East. Back out towards Snake Gully. There’s a Wanderer meeting place near there. Vaalay tribe. I might see if they’re around and have any news for me.”
The captain nodded, though Sali could see he wasn’t really interested in what was going outside the small town he was responsible for. “Well, best of luck to you then, Adjudicator Amazd. Thanks again for your help with this.”
“Just doing my job,” Sali replied, nodding as he placed his hat back on his head once more. Then he turned and walked out of the office.
The sun was much lower on the horizon than when he’d gone in, painting the twilight sky with a swath of rich, pastel oranges and yellows. Brey looked up at him as he came to a stop, and he reached out and tugged the horse’s lead line free, glancing up the street at a small structure that proclaimed it had “Food, Drink, and Rooms Available.”
“If they’ve got a stable to go with that then you’re in business,” Sali said, turning and walking up the street, Brey at his side. “You deserve a good rub-down and a nice meal as much as I do.” Or, at least, as much as he deserved the second one. For the first, I’ll settle for a bath and a chance to wash some of the stink out of my clothes.
As it turned out, the hotel did have a stable out back, and with the exchange of a few marks, he left Brey to be taken care of as he made his way back down the street toward the railway station.
It wasn’t a long walk, but he took his time, in no hurry. The street was still warm, but with the setting of the sun it was also becoming more crowded as people began to shift over from daylight to night. He spotted the peacekeeper private—Seldis—alongside an older man he guessed was probably the local doctor, walking down the side of the street, and gave them both a tip of his hat.
The general railway station was still open when he walked up onto the platform, though like earlier there seemed to be no activity at the moment. The door to the station itself was wide, a faint glimmer of lamplight from inside shining out, though still outdone by the setting sun.
Inside, it was much as he’d expected. A clerk sat behind the station desk, built into a wall that kept the general public from seeing too much of what went on behind it—most of which, he knew from experience, was simply paperwork and logistics. She looked up at him as he entered, smiled, and then in a clear, almost melodic feminine voice said “Just a moment.”
He nodded as she turned back to her paperwork. Fine by me, he thought, stepping over to one of the large display boards erected along one wall of the station. It was a timetable, detailing the scheduled arrivals and departures from Hayt’s Junction, as well as the expected times that trains would pass through without coming to a full stop but still exchange mail, trade out its crew of boilers, and refill.
Hmmm … Sali thought as he stared at the timetable. Nothing’s stopping here until tomorrow night. Guess I was right about riding out of here. Both the trains before then were simply passing through rather than stopping, and the last thing he wanted to do was leave Brey behind or try to jump him aboard a moving train without any warning. Technically, as an adjudicator, if he needed to board a train, he was allowed to board a train.
But getting Brey on, and without a good reason is another matter, he thought as he stepped away from the timetable. No, he wouldn’t be leaving on either of the next two trains without good reason.
And from the look of the news, I’m not about to get one tonight, he thought as he looked at the next board.
The news board was a simple yet elegant idea. With each passing train, news came from the empire, usually in the form of newspapers and scripts ordered in small bundles by the Imperial Railway. And as each new collection of stories came in, the station clerks would cut out the headlines alongside a short excerpt and post them on the news board for all to see. If anyone wanted to read the story in more detail, the full paper could be purchased from the station clerks. In some of the larger outland settlements there were actually local papers to compete with, but in a lot of the smaller locales, it was the only news they got.
Though not always up-to-date, Sali thought as he eyed the largest headline on the board. It had been on display when he’d arrived in Hayt’s Junction, just as it had been up in the last town he’d visited too. Then again, some news was bound to grab the public’s attention, and news of yet another head of a noble house being murdered was always good for selling papers.
“TYRSTORE KRYLLIS MURDERED,” the headline read in large, block print. “THIRD NOBLEMAN TO BE ASSASSINATED IN SEVEN WEEKS.”
He did the math as he skimmed over the article excerpt, rereading it half out of boredom and half on the chance that he’d missed something the first two times he’d read it. But nothing new jumped out at him, and he was forced to conclude he’d divined all he could from the story. Someone had killed the head of house Kryllis, the kill coming not long after the last noble had been found with his throat cut, and now not only was the public wondering who would take over the substantial fortunes of the house, they were also wondering exactly how long it would be before the next noble was found dead at the hands of a rival.
A culling, the history books called it, though in his opinion the name felt a little too clean for what was transpiring. Dozens upon dozens of nobles, sick of one another and tired of owing favors, would see the rising body count as a way to “do away with” some of their own less-desirable standings, while at the same time expressing a strong desire that the imperial inquisitors or the peacekeepers keep their noses out of things … which he was fairly certain prior emperors had supported, as the end result—a less feisty and more subdued noble class—was something that was useful in the long run.
I wonder if we’ll feel any of the fallout this far out? he wondered as he moved to the next article. What’s Kryllis even responsible for, anyway? Most of the noble houses were as rich as they were simply because they owned or operated whole industries, which meant that a culling could impact local markets if things got far enough out of hand …
He pushed the thoughts out of his mind. And unless it does, it’s not your problem, he thought as he spotted an unfamiliar headline. “RIPPER SENTENCED TO LIFE IN THE GULAG.”
Well, well, someone finally caught … him? No, her, he corrected as he skimmed over the article. Lady Amacitia Varay, huh? The article itself was truncated, but there was a pencil sketch of the woman next to the headline. It was hard to tell if the manic look in her eyes was an artistic license taken by the artist, or something that had been there already.
He was skimming through a third article—this one about some new business venture out west involving using shockers to send electrical impulses through wires over long distances—when the clerk behind the desk looked up and spoke once again in clear, precise tones. “Sorry about the wait, sir.”
“It’s no problem,” Sali said, turning away from the article. “There was plenty to read there.”
“Well, if you’re thinking about getting a paper, I’d wait,” she said, smiling at him. “We have another train coming in from the east tomorrow, just before sunrise, and there should be a new selection with it.”
“What about from the west?” he asked as he came to a stop in front of the desk. “When’s the most recent?”
“Today,” the clerk said, and he nodded.
“I’ll take one,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the slip Delix had given him. “And I need to have this sent to my bank. Minus fifty marks in coin.”
The clerk smiled again. “Not a problem, sir,” she said, her fingers snatching the paper from his hand. She glanced at it for a moment, asked to see his badge, and then went to work, her fingers darting across her desk as she made notations and filled out a small paper to be sent along with his payment stub. As she worked he watched, his eyes picking out details. From her voice, she was clearly a muffler, and one with a little practice. But her accent was at once both familiar and unfamiliar, like something that should have been on the tip of his tongue but wasn’t. It wasn’t until he spotted the familiar woven band around her wrist that he made the connection: She was a Wanderer. Or at least, her family was. That explained the accent. It was a fluid fusion, enhanced by her own vocal abilities.
“If you’ll give me a moment,” the clerk said, her voice still carrying the same trilling tone, and then she ducked back into the back of the station. A moment later she was back, a newspaper in one hand and a small, glinting pile of metal in the other. She passed him the paper first, subtracting a single Imperial mark from the pile of coins as she did so, and then proceeded to count out the remaining forty-nine as if he were judging her every move.
“Thanks,” he said when she had finished. “You have a good night.”
“You too,” she said as he walked out of the station.
The sun was almost completely gone now, swallowed by the horizon with only the barest edge poking up above the dirt. He caught a blast of hot air from the glasshouse as he walked past the front entrance, kicking up the bottom of his duster, and then he was beyond it, instead feeling a gentle chill as the sun finally vanished completely.
The hotel was more than happy to provide a hot bath, meal, and laundry service when he procured the marks for it, and it wasn’t long at all before he was sinking into a freshly fluffed mattress, letting out a sigh of relaxation as the covers folded around him.
The next thing he knew, someone was banging on the door in the dark, and he pushed himself up on one hand, the other reaching out and searching for the butt of his revolver.
“Yeah?” he called as his fingers met cool wood. “Who is it? What do you want?”
“Adjudicator Amazd?” came a voice from outside the door. “Sorry to wake you, but I was supposed to get you right away.”
“And who are you?” Sali asked, lifting the barrel of the gun. You can never be too sure …
“Private Averay, sir,” the voice said, and Sali relaxed slightly.
“Well?” he asked after a moment. “What is it?”
“Inquisitors, sir,” Averay said, and Sali felt a prickle run down his back. “Imperial Inquisitors. Several of them. They just got off of the train a few minutes ago, sir, and they’re … Well, uh, they’re looking for you.”
For a moment Sali froze. Inquisitors? As in more than one? Here? And looking for me? He could feel his brain struggling to put the pieces together. It’s still dark out, so they either arrived on the late train, or the early morning one.
“Are they coming here?” he asked.
“No,” Averay said. “They’re at the office, waiting for you.”
“Right,” Sali said. “Tell them I’ll be right down.” He threw back the covers, reaching inside of himself and drawing on a small bit of his power to keep the early morning cold from bothering him.
Imperial Inquisitors. What would inquisitors be doing here? And why would they want to talk to me? At least they were waiting for him at the office, rather than coming right to him. That at least meant he wasn’t being arrested for something.
He dressed in the dark, his mind racing. Maybe they were just passing through and wanted to check up on one of the adjudicators they’d helped pick. But even as he thought of the idea he pushed it away. Something about it felt … off. Like it was too easy of an answer. Inquisitors didn’t deal with the Outlands often. And when they did?
Well, it usually meant something was bad. Very bad. A pit in his stomach, he finished readying himself and left the room.
There were inquisitors to meet with.
Shadow of an Empire will release Friday, June 1st, and is available now for pre-order!
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The cliffhangers, the cliffhangers! Now that’s what I call good marketing. By the time we reach the end of these free chapters, everyone who wasn’t going to buy it already will be lining up on Amazon.
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