Ship of Smoke and Steel (The Wells of Sorcery #1)(3)

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There are nine Wells of Sorcery, the pathways of magic the ancients burned into the fabric of the world. Most people can’t touch any of them. Those who can reach at least one are called mage-born. Most of them can only draw a trickle of power, from one or two of the Wells; they are the touched. A few can manage more, enough to matter, enough to kill; they are the talents. And a handful, the adepts, have full access to the power of their Well.

That’s me. My Well is Melos, the Well of Combat. War.

I should not exist. Adepts don’t frequent the Sixteenth Ward. They certainly don’t turn up at a rotscum gambling joint as gang enforcers.

So I can understand why Broken-Nose was (briefly) surprised.

Suddenly everyone is going for their weapons. Hagan’s the fastest, snatching a triangular knife from his belt and whipping it in a perfect throw at the thug with the crossbow. She half-turns, taking it in the shoulder instead of the throat, but it startles her, and the bow clatters to the floor.

The two bruisers draw their swords. The woman in the corner has a knife in each hand, moving warily. Firello is fumbling for his sword, and I write him off as a non-threat. I step away from Broken-Nose’s collapsing body and ignite my other blade. It snaps into existence with a distinctive crackle-hiss, about two feet of stuttering, shimmering energy, its brilliant bright green color characteristic of Melos power. The blades begin at the backs of my wrists and run parallel to my forearms, as though I’d strapped on a pair of glowing swords like bracers. They have no weight, but I can feel the heat of them, the power running across my skin in lines of crackling magic. Those lines get brighter and hotter the more energy I draw on. For an adept, it is entirely possible to burn oneself to death by drawing too much, as I can attest from painful experience.

Most people don’t know how to fight a Melos adept. This clearly includes bruiser number one. He raises his sword in a useless overhand swing that does nothing but give me plenty of time to react. Accordingly, I’m not there when it comes down, stepping to one side, but my left-hand blade is in position. His own momentum does most of the work of severing his hand neatly at the wrist. Hand and sword hit the floor with a clatter, green lightning playing briefly over the severed stump as he stares in horror.

I’ve already moved on. His friend, bruiser number two, swings his sword in a flat arc, a slightly better move, especially when you’re used to fighting people smaller and weaker than you. I’m very used to fighting people bigger and stronger than me, however, so I angle my parry, the steel edge scraping across the Melos blade with an earsplitting scree and a shower of sparks. He overcorrects, lurching backward, and it’s no great trick to step forward and plant the end of my other blade in his throat. His stumble turns into a fall, his hands coming up to claw at the wound. Green lightning crackles across him for a moment, quickly swallowed in a spew of crimson foam.

Hagan, to my left, is facing off against the knife-wielding woman and not doing well. They’ve both got blades in hand, but he has a long, shallow cut down one arm, blood dripping from his elbow, and his face is locked in grim concentration. As I close, something thrums through the air, just behind me. Crossbow bolt. I step between Hagan and Knives, who gives ground at the sight of my blades.

“Take care of Crossbow!” I tell Hagan, and he nods and spins away. Knives takes a second step backward. There’s uncertainty on her face—I figure her loyalty to Firello is a little shaky at the moment. I could probably talk the fight out of her, but we’re past that now. If the Immortals get rumors there’s a Melos adept on the loose, I won’t last very long, so the only people who have seen my blades are either my trusted associates or dead. Knives is not my associate.

She has a wide stance, natural with a weapon in either hand. I bull right down the middle, straight at her, which she is not expecting. Her knives come in, reflexively, aiming for my sides. They get within an inch of my skin before Melos power erupts, a storm of wild green energy that stops the knives dead, as though they’d struck a steel breastplate. I feel the surge as a wash of heat across my skin, radiating outward from where the blows struck.

Meanwhile, my Melos blade has punched into her stomach, the tip emerging between her shoulders. She hangs there for a moment, suspended, and then vomits a gush of blood. I dismiss the blade, letting her crumple, then ignite it again with a crack-hiss.

On the other side of the room, the thug with the crossbow is on the floor, one of Hagan’s knives in her back. She’s crawling away, but he’s already on top of her. Hagan has worked with me a long time, and he knows the rules. He lifts her head up by the hair and slashes her throat with a quick, efficient motion, and she shudders and goes still.

The bruiser with the missing hand is curled up around the wound. I silence him with a quick thrust as I walk past, and that leaves Firello and his girl. He’s got his sword out, but his hands are shaking.

“Okay!” he shouts. “Okay! I get it. Blessed’s Blood! We can make a deal—”

I don’t feel like talking to him. What’s the point? My left-hand blade strikes his sword, knocking it aside, and my right takes his head off. The spray of blood patters on the floor.

The girl collapses to her knees, her makeup streaked with tears.

“Please,” she says, voice so quiet it’s hard to hear over the crackle of my blades. “Please. I didn’t do anything. I just serve drinks, I swear. You don’t need to kill me. Please.”

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