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Silhouine

Dulap and his gunny are gone by noon.

Silhouine, ashamed of herself, pokes through the front room: trinkets and baubles, mostly. Gewgaws. Mlle. Sunanza sold junk to the gullible and information to the incognito rich, but neither magic nor connections can be stuffed in a sack.

“Beds and fresh linen in the back,” says Yael. “Come on. You need some sleep.”

Silhouine fingers a pewter key, pockets it, sighs and obeys.

She wakes with a sack on her head, jouncing along saddle-hung on a humpbacked donkey.

“I deeply regret making your acquaintance,” grumbles Yael, nearby.

“So do I,” says Silhouine.

Silhouine

The survivors take stock of their worldly possessions.

  • Silhouine: nothing
  • Yael: nothing
  • The cat: nothing
  • Dulap: pretty much all the things he had before

“Whatever you want from my shop is yours,” says Dulap. “I’m packing a gunny for the north road.”

“Why do I suspect,” says Silhouine, “that what you’re actually offering us is Mlle. Sunanza’s remaining stock?”

“Do our masters deserve anything?” says Dulap. “They ran off to the country and left us here to get extorted and bombed!”

“It wasn’t actually a bomb,” groans Silhouine.

“What is a bomb, after,” Yael muses, “but a crater and leftover fear?”

Silhouine

The neighborhood wakes up pretty fast.

Water and sand keep the blaze from spreading far, but throwing them on Silhouine’s shop just seems to make it angry. They can barely get close enough to do so: the column of fire is godlike, taller than the roof ever stood.

It isn’t until morning that it runs out of fuel. The shop is a well of molten stone.

“Damn those pirates,” says another shop prentice, anonymized by soot. “The bridge, our homes–they’ll bomb the whole city soon!”

“It was a bomb,” says Silhouine slowly.

“Of course it was,” says Dulap, exhaustedly giggling.

Silhouine

Light, heat, smoke that tastes of blood or metal. Silhouine tries stomping the stuff out at first–they all do–and then pause, considering each other, a triangle with burning shoes.

On the way up the ladder-steps, Silhouine somehow manages to elbow Yael in the mouth while Yael steps on her hand. Dulap, meanwhile, lifts them both up from beneath with panicked strength. The fire inhales sharply as they burst through the hatch.

A great serpentine tongue of flame follows them up from the cellar, and Silhouine’s cat streaks out to bury its claws in what remains of her hair.

Silhouine

“I think that’s the last of it,” pants Silhouine.

“Wait, this one is holding the door open,” says Dulap, and picks up the barrel to carry it down. He reaches the foot of the steep ladder-steps just as the hatch swings shut with a bang, startling Yael, who drops the candle.

“Where’s the lantern?” says Silhouine, somewhere in the musty cellar-dark.

“I left it outside.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s dark.”

“I’ll just light a twist so we don’t break our necks climbing up,” says Dulap.

His knife scrapes on flint once, twice, three times.

The cellar begins to get brighter.

Silhouine

“How many barrows of this stuff are there, Dulap?” pants Silhouine, who is starting to get a bit cross.

“Just a few more!” says Dulap. “Oh, and then the barrels on the cart. Do you have a pack animal we could hitch up to–”

“No,” says Silhouine flatly.

“Um,” says Dulap.

“It’s getting dark,” says Yael. “Look, Dulap and I can pull the cart together if Silhouine can manage the barrow, but we don’t want to do it by starlight.”

“I’ve got a lantern,” says Dulap.

“Good,” says Silhouine, brushing red-brown powder off her nose. “I’ll get some candles, too.”

Silhouine

“I had to take it in trade,” says Dulap, “he said Mistress always did before, and if I didn’t he’d stop bringing me his custom. I can’t afford to lose customers when half the city has fled to the hills!”

“Nor can anyone,” says Yael softly.

“But it wasn’t his to give?” says Silhouine, still trying to work this out.

“I don’t even know what it is, or why these other people want it,” says Dulap, rubbing his face. “Could you store it? Just until I can unload it?”

“What did he call the stuff?” says Silhouine.

“Ferrous alumen,” he says.

Silhouine

The occupation, such as it is, drags on into the rainy season. Master Isaam isn’t back yet, and Silhouine begins to suspect incidents on the mountain pass. It worries her: she liked Isaam, and doesn’t want him dead or destitute. Will an heir or a creditor show up to claim the shop? Will he keep the old apprentice around?

“You know you’re running out of inventory,” says Yael, at last.

“Yes,” snaps Silhouine, who doesn’t have the capital to restock. “I’m working on it.”

Dulap shows up the next day, with a wheelbarrow and white all the way around his eyes.

Silhouine

It was, they said, carved up and carried back to the city in pieces, on greased sleds and low-riding ships, from the westward lands where the sun dies in winter. There was no stone with its strange green veins anywhere in Silhouine’s country; a dozen people could walk over it standing abreast.

She and Dulap make their way out of the nervous crowd around the remains.

“Were they making a point?” Silhouine asks.

“I don’t know,” says Dulap. “Do you feel pointed?”

“It was big and ugly. I never really liked it.”

Her bed is cold, and her kitten shivers.

Silhouine

Silhouine and Dulap and their fellows cheer on the fire, while around them burghers cower behind blackout curtains. It’s some time before they hear the distant boom of the dogfight.

A platoon of harriers from the garrison have hounded out the Iron Heart, and the result is firework: traces of gold that hint at unseen aerobatics. The harriers started it, but they aren’t winning.

They’re overhead for a moment, and most of the prentices cheer even louder. Silhouine’s frozen. Sparks earth themselves around her, and a pattering rain of debris follows; looking down to follow it, she sees a human tooth.

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