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The Emperor's Edge


“Emperor, city, you, boot. Got it, sir.”
“Is that a joke, Lokdon?” His tone made it clear it had better not be.
She sighed. “No, sir.”
“If you can’t remember where your loyalties lie, better you take up a shop like the rest of the
women in Turgonia.”
Amaranthe forced her face to stay neutral, ignoring the heat warming her cheeks. “Yes, sir.”
“Now, I ask you again, where is your partner?” The chief’s tone had grown soft, dangerous.
She lifted her chin. “Investigating suspicious activity at Curi’s.”
Furrows like canyons formed across the chief’s forehead as his scowl deepened. “I see. I’ll
remember this when I’m filling out the extra duty roster.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Start your patrol without him. And when he catches up, tell him if he can’t arrive at work on
time, you can both sleep here. In one of the cells.”
“I will, sir.”
Amaranthe trotted away before the chief could spout further threats. She crossed the wide
boulevard in front of headquarters and jogged around a lumbering steam tractor obscuring ice
with sheets of salt. Snow piles framed the ancient cobblestone alley she entered, its walls close
enough to touch with outstretched arms. She almost bumped into a man and woman coming out
of a temple that had been turned into a bookstore. Bundled in fur caps and parkas, they saw her
uniform and stepped out of the way, joining a headless statue in one of the recessed nooks by the
door. At the turn of the last century, Mad Emperor Motash had declared atheism the state
religion and ordered all statues depicting deities beheaded. A hundred years later, the locals still
called the seat of the empire, “Stumps.”
Amaranthe smelled the scrumptious scents of Curi’s Bakery as she came onto the next
boulevard, and she cast a longing gaze at the building. Paintings of apple pastries, glazed fruits,
and spiced breads adorned the windows for those unable to read the sign. A gangly university
student ambled out with a pastry stuffed in his mouth. Warm frosting dribbled down his chin.
Someone tapped Amaranthe’s shoulder. “Buy one. The city won’t catch on fire if you
indulge occasionally.”
“Can’t.” She glanced at her partner, Corporal Wholt, as he fell into step beside her. She
wanted to yell at him for being late again, but it would change little, and she had yet to meet the
man who appreciated unsolicited criticism. “Enforcers are supposed to be fit. I’d have to run the
whole lake trail tonight if I ate one of those pastries.”
“You probably will anyway. To punish yourself for being tempted.”
Amaranthe did not consider diet advice from Wholt worth much. Though he stood several
inches taller than her five and a half feet, his slouch made the difference negligible. A fledgling
pot belly slumped over the belt of his rumpled gray uniform. The double-bar rank pin on his left
collar flap was skewed at a different angle than the pin on his right. She reached up, unfastened
the backs, and adjusted the pins so both sides matched.
“Thanks,” Wholt said dryly. “You know you’re the most grandmotherly twenty-five-year-old
woman I’ve met, right?”
“That’s because most of the women you know work at brothels.”
“The best kind. Very amenable ladies.”
“You missed a spot shaving.” Amaranthe’s hand dropped to her utility knife. “Want me
to...?”
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