The excellent folks at Angry Robot Books will post a larger sample from A Discourse in Steel come June, but they’ve allowed me to do as I did with Egil and Nix’s first book, The Hammer and the Blade, and post monthly snippets in the lead up to the release. With these, I’m attempting to give you a flavor for the book but reveal no spoilers.
Now, if you haven’t yet read The Hammer and the Blade, I feel like I don’t know you at all. And I wish that you would read it. And if you’re inclined to pre-order A Discourse in Steel, why that’d be more than a little awesome and much appreciated.
Meanwhile, here’s a snippet. Note that this hasn’t been copy edited. Any typos are the responsibility of yours truly. I hope you enjoy.
Nix and Egil sat at the bar, the smell of the fire still heavy in the air. Egil rattled his bone dice in his fist. Both of them understood the weight of their situation.
“The sun’ll be up soon,” Nix said, for no reason in particular.
“They must think Rose saw something. Or maybe they know she read the clicked Upright Man’s mind. Either way…”
“Either way,” Egil said, nodding. “The guild’ll keep coming. Especially now. They got one burned to death and one near dead in the temple.”
“Aye,” Nix agreed. “Limits our play. We could try a sit-down with the new Upright Man. Explain the situation. Get them to back off.”
Egil was already shaking his head. “They tried to burn down the inn, Nix. There were twenty people in here, including Kiir and Rose and Mere and Lis. And they won’t let up on Rose if they think she knows guild business.”
Tesha came down the stairs and they fell silent. She wore a nightdress and no makeup and her hair was mussed and she looked more vulnerable than Nix ever wanted to see her again. She slipped onto the stool between them.
“How are you doing?” Nix asked her.
“Fine,” she said. “Merelda finally fell asleep. Will we have trouble with the Watch?”
Nix shrugged. “Doubtful. No bodies and a fire that was quickly contained. They’ll come tomorrow. Maybe. If so, just tell them it was an accident.”
She nodded, ran a hand through her thick black hair. She looked like she wished she had her pipe. “What do we do now?”
“Huh? We have the damage repaired. It’s not that bad. Then we–”
“That’s not what I mean, Nix.”
“Ah,” Nix said, nodding. “I forgot I was talking to you. Well, Egil and I were just talking about that.”
“Mere said this was the guild.”
“That’s not good. They won’t come back tonight?”
“Not how they work,” Nix said. “Word won’t even get back until the morning probably. They’ll plan, consider, then come again.”
“Shite,” she said. “And that man you two brought in?”
Nix nodded. “Guild.”
“Shite,” she said again.
“We have two days,” Egil said. “Maybe three.”
“They want Rose?” Tesha asked.
“I’m not even going to ask why,” she said. “But they can’t have her.”
“Aye, that,” Nix said.
For a time the three of them sat at the bar in silence. Nix knew what they had to do, but he didn’t want to say it aloud.
“We’ll have to go at the guild house,” Egil said, saying it for him. “Tonight, I’d say. This new Upright Man must have ordered the burn and click. For that, we kill him and anyone else we find there. Maybe the next Upright Man gets reasonable about things. They want a fight, we give them all they can handle.”
“Attacking the guild?” Tesha asked. “Is that wise?”
“You’re asking that of us?” Nix said, grinning. “Us?”
Egil said, “They come at ours. We go harder at theirs. That’s all they understand. We put a bunch of them in the ground and maybe they understand that coming at us is bad for business. But they’ve got to be taught that lesson with steel. Not even Nix can talk us out of this one.”
“I’ve talked us out of worse,” Nix protested.
“You’ve talked us into worse, too,” Egil said, smiling.
“This is so,” Nix conceded. To Tesha, he said, “You ought to send everyone away from the Tunnel, until things are resolved.
Her mouth formed a hard line and she shook her head. “I don’t run. And even if I did, I don’t have anywhere else to go. I think the same’s true of Rose and Mere. Gadd will stay, too. I’ll send the rest off somewhere for a time. They won’t like it, though.”
“We ought to get some men here in the meanwhile,” Egil said to Nix.
Nix nodded, and both of them spoke a name at the same time.
“Veraal?” Tesha said.
“He’ll have some men he can trust,” Nix said.
“But how do you know you can trust him?” Tesha asked. “Who is he?”
“Veraal? He’s an old colleague. An uncle. A fence.”
“I know what an uncle is,” she said.
“Right,” Nix said. “Well, Veraal owes us one.”
“Or several,” Egil added.
Nix nodded. “Or several. And he has no love for the guild. They’re the reason he runs out of the Low Bazaar.”
“We’ll need armor, too,” Egil said. “Chain shirts, anyway.”
“He can help us there, too.”
“What do you have in that satchel?” Egil asked Nix, nodding at Nix’s bag of needful things. “A few miracles, I trust?”
“Favor my gewgaws now, do you?” Nix said.
“I favor anything that puts my hands around the throat of Upright Man. Put the flame to my inn? My friends? That demands recompense.”
Nix leaned back in his stool. “Recompense? You’ve been reading again, haven’t you?”
Nix turned to Tesha. “If by some unbelievable chance we don’t come back from this by dawn tomorrow, Rose and Mere need to get out of the city. Veraal can help with that. Then you and everyone here just lay low. You’re all in the cross shot. The guild will lay off if we’re dead and Rose is gone.”
She bit her lip. “This is that serious?”
“It is,” Egil said.
“Bah,” Nix said, in imitation of Egil. He stood, stretched, and hit Egil on the shoulder, “This is fun. We’ll be laughing about it two days from now, yeah?”
“We go in through the sewers, I think.”
“Yeah,” Egil said.
“That’s it, then,” Nix said, and turned to face Tesha. “So… this would be the time to declare your secret love for me. You might not get another chance.”
She stared at him, expressionless, and he told himself she was trying to hold back a smile.
“Secret lust, at least?” he prodded.
Her smile won through at last.
“That’ll do fine,” he said, and winked at her. To Egil he said, “I’ll head out now. They’ll get eyes on the inn by sun up. I want to be gone before that.”
“Plan?” Egil asked.
“I’ll go to the Bazaar and try to buy a few miracles. I’ll get Veraal in motion, too. You stay here in case something happens during the day. Then tonight we sneak into the guild house and kill everyone that gets between us and the Upright Man.”
“That’s a good plan.”
“That’s not a plan,” Tesha said.
“That’s as good as our plans get,” Egil said.