The Emperor's Edge
“No!” Wholt sidled away. “Don’t you ever grow weary of being the ideal enforcer? Perfectly
pressed uniform, gleaming weapons, not a single hair out of place in that unflattering brown
Frowning, Amaranthe touched her hair. It was neat and out of the way. That counted more
“You come to work early,” Wholt continued, “stay late, precisely follow every regulation,
and where’s it gotten you? You’re still a corporal after six years.”
“You’re still a corporal after six years too,” she said.
“Actually,” he said, tone growing calm, and a smile coming to his lips, “I came up on the list
for promotion. It’ll be sergeant next month.”
“You? You’re going to make sergeant? You don’t know half the regulations and you’re late
for work every other day.”
Wholt looked away. “You’re my partner, Amaranthe. I figured you’d be happy for me.”
She stared at the snow edging the cracks in the sidewalk. He was right. She should be happy
for him, but it was all too unfair. “Congratulations,” she managed, though she doubted it sounded
“I’m sure it’ll be your turn next month,” Wholt said.
Amaranthe was sure it would not, even if the chief forgot to mark her file with a demerit for
that morning’s lie. She knew of no female sergeants in the Stumps force. The empire did not
permit women to join its armies, and it was only in the last generation that it had begun allowing
them to join the city law enforcersgrudgingly.
“Wholt.” Amaranthe looked him in the eyes and touched his arm. “Try to...be a good
sergeant. You represent the empire when you wear that uniform. And you represent yourself.
That should matter.”
He actually stood taller. “I will. I know. It does.”
His attention shifted over her shoulder. “Is that smoke?” He pointed toward the blocky
buildings crouched alongside the lake. “Or just factory haze?”
Down the hill, dozens of men and machines toiled on the frozen water, hacking out blocks of
ice that would be stored for summer use, but smoke blurred the scene. Amaranthe pinpointed the
“There’s not a factory there.” She grabbed Wholt’s arm and tugged him forward. “Fire!”
They took a trolley toward the waterfront and hopped off at the nearest stop. Smoke
thickened the air, and they slipped and skidded as they negotiated the slick sidewalks. They ran
around a corner, almost crashing into the back ranks of a gathering crowd.
In a residential district, where wooden structures were more common, people might have
raced back and forth with buckets to help, but this dilapidated wooden building was an island
surrounded by brick, stone, and cement. The onlookers appeared more fascinated than concerned
about the flames spreading, and the Imperial Fire Brigade had already arrived with one of the
city’s self-propelled fire pumps. Black smoke poured from the stack, mingling with the plumes
rising from the building. A thick hose was attached to the pump and to a fireplug up the street.
Water streamed onto the flames flickering through the broken windows of the old building. Only
one corner, which was dominated by a multistory brick kiln, was not burning.
“You mentioned something about the city not catching on fire today?” Amaranthe asked as
she and Wholt pushed their way through the onlookers.
“Did I say that?”