“Today is the last day,” Isora tells herself, grinning. She unlatches the padlock on her locker and opens the grated door. Tomorrow is her eighteenth birthday. Tomorrow, she is a Boss, in charge of her own faction of the Murder of Crows.
But first: business.
The hauberk in her locker is made from the ruins of what survived the Great Detonations. Swirls of red and blue and black mark where who linked the ringmail had stripped metal from the Old World’s wheelers to make the armor. And sitting on a shelf atop it is a visorless helm, with infinitesimal slits that she can breathe out of. Elsewise, it is entirely sealed.
She doesn’t need the helm as yet. That is more for battle-yard trials, or assignments where her Father wishes her to engage in more open combat in the street. These are not the assignments he has given her today, though she knows better than to express her gratitiude to him for that.
It will not make what he has assigned her today any easier, elsewise.
Isora heaves the pile of ringed metal over her head and lets it land heavily on her shoulders. She rubs away the pain, the rings only slightly pinching at the boiled leather and the flesh beneath it.
Isora smells her companions before she hears them. Khalee smiles of oiled metal, and Desmon smells strongly of gasoline.
Both have a hint of crow feathers. All three of them have been taught from a young age never to forget their cloaks.
“That sounded like it hurt,” Khalee calls before she enters the room. “You sure you didn’t need any help with that hauberk?” Isora hears Khalee’s rattling at she enters.
“I’ll be fine, thanks,” Isora laughs.
“I expect a promotion once you’re a Boss,” Desmon says. His voice is nasal despite his best efforts. “Don’t leave Khalee and me behind to do the grunt work.” She can feel their breaths on either side of her now as she buckles her bladebelt around her waist.
“I’d better get a position as lieutenant,” Khalee says.
Desmon is quick to chime in, “Me too!”
“Yeah,” Khalee laughs, “Because the boy who broke his nose three times is totally commanding enough for a position as lieutenant of the Murder of Crows.”
Isora raises her hands in a gesture of mock-defense that no one else can see. She places a hand on both their breasts. “Guys, please. We’ve discussed this.”
“The third time wasn’t even my fault!” Desmon whines, “Isora, tell her—”
“Calm down, Desmon,” Khalee says. Isora hears her gums smack as her lips break into a smile. “Think of your broken noses as battle scars for the incredibly stupid.”
Desmon clutches Isora’s arm in both hands, pleads her name. She pulls it back, grinning to herself. “I’ll see what I can do.” She is sure to turn to face the direction of Khalee’s voice. “For both of you.”
“You’ll be rotting in the Third Hell if you don’t make us lieutenants. Remember what the Goodbook says.”
“The worst crime is betrayal,” the three drone together as they make their way toward the exit. Their footsteps echo down the hallway. An announcement of their coming.
Isora can feel the dim warmth of torchlights held on the sconces on either wall. The flames are a gray blur in her vision, nothing more.
Khalee is the first to ask what Boss Ivan has assigned them.
“My f—” Isora’s jaw tightens at the mistake she’s nearly made. She fights down the word rising up in her throat. “Boss Ivan has assigned us to take a collection from Maken, then we’ve got an appointment with Lord Em, and then ditch duty.”
“Ditch duty?” Khalee spits her indignation. “Fuck! Please tell me that one’s optional.”
“Take a wild fucking guess.”
At least we’re not battle-yard champions again,” Desmon says.
“Fair enough,” Khalee agrees.
“Isora, which districts did the Crown appoint Lord Em to rule over again?”
“We’ve been over this, Desmon. Typhon Quarter and Muninn Point. Which did you think he ruled? There’s a reason Father’s told us to meet with him—”
“Father?” Khalee asks.
Isora freezes. Her whole body tenses. She feels a fish wriggling in her stomach. She can feel her friends looking at her. She curses herself inwardly for such a stupid mistake. Such a simple mistake. Even her friends know she’s not supposed to do that. In the back of her mind, a small part of her wonders what would happen if one of them went to Fath—no. Went to Boss Ivan.
She does not bother to correct her mistake. They already know what she was supposed to say. It’s no use dragging the mistake through the mud. “Don’t concern yourself with Lord Em just yet,” she tells her companions. “We’ve a debt to settle first.”