TITLE: Blood and Salt
Far from home and treated as a pariah, Azetla has carved a precarious life for himself in the Imperial army. When his battalion is sent to catch a devil, he discovers that the mission is part of a rebellion against the Emperor. Deemed untrustworthy by both sides, Azetla must ally with the caught devil—who has ruthless aims of her own—to shape the uprising into something he can survive, and even wield.
The wind was briefly warm and pungent as it dove down, twisted through the narrow alleys of south city, and pushed softly at Azetla’s back. It blunted the teeth of winter. It was early in the year for the desert to be driving its scent up through the Imperial capital, but Azetla took comfort from it, letting it prod his strides towards the northern half of the city. The heat and tang did not bother him. They carried hints of home.
“Spare some blood, jackal?” a boy chanted as Azetla passed. “Show us your innards! Throw yourself into the river!”
The pale child seemed pleased with himself as he rocked on his heels, trying with all his small might to provoke a reaction. When the boy threw several pebbles with a wild arm, Azetla simply leaned out of the way and moved on. The boy was a beggar and thin as a pike, but even had he been otherwise, it wouldn’t have been worth the price of bread to respond. Especially not today. Azetla had almost become immune to such things.
The streets turned from dust to stone as Azetla reached the carved archways leading to the capital colonnade. The beige columns were already draped with scarlet cloth. By the end of the day everything in the city would have a celebratory tinge of red to it: wine and animal blood left at the feet of the temple statues, crimson dye splashed in the streets, and roses in the river.