My brother seemed smaller in his cell, empty, as if the soul within him had already fled the city. He had folded himself into the corner where his bed met the wall, knees tucked up to his chest like a child.
I slid the viewing-window shut and pushed open the door.
“Sister,” he said, looking up as I entered. He gestured Friendly Greeting, but there was a hint of mockery in the movement. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“Hello, Tien,” I said, then cursed my tongue. I should not have called him by final-name; we were no longer family in the eyes of the law. Custom did not provide a way to address a relation-turned-exile—the assumption being, naturally, that such interactions would not take place at all.
He caught it, of course; his hands shifted to Subtle Wryness. “Still claiming me?”
“No.” I shut the door, moving to stand in front of it.
“Then why are you here?” He unfolded his legs, straightening his posture. Imprisonment had not agreed with Tien; his clothes were rumpled and his hair was a mess, and not in his usual fashionably disheveled way. “Have the Quiet realized their mistake?”
I fought my flash of anger. Tien always had excelled at being aggravating. This conversation was futile, and I had been a fool to hope otherwise.
“The Quiet do not make mistakes,” I said. “I’m giving you a chance to explain.”
“Explain?” His face showed no expression, as was proper, but his tone had fangs.
I took a deep breath, stopping myself from gesturing Irritation. “Father trusts there may have been circumstances that were not brought to light at the trial—”
“I didn’t kill her!” His voice cracked on the last word; he turned his face to the wall while he composed himself. His hands, which had been nearing Fury, clenched into fists instead.
Still he insisted on this charade?
“This is ridiculous.” I realized that my hand had strayed to my sword hilt and forced it to relax. “I won’t waste time asking how you could shame our name like this. You cannot think that anyone will believe—”
“Do you?” He strode across the room, halting in front of me. “Do you believe I’m a murderer?”
“Of course I do!” Unbecoming, my voice was too close to a snarl. An official of the Quiet had to remain composed at all times; how else could the City trust that laws would be enforced fairly? I let a moment pass before continuing. “I believe my eyes. I believe the mages who plucked that poor girl’s last memories from her!”
Tien rocked back on his heels, hissing in a faint breath. For a moment, I thought he was actually going to cry, which would have been the height of humiliation for both of us. This was bad enough without an adult showing emotion on his face like a toddler.
“I can’t explain that,” he said. “Somehow—” He broke off, glancing down at the floor. His left hand was gesturing Deep Grief. “Somehow, the memories are wrong. I didn’t kill Irune.”
Irune? I remembered her full name; it had been read off at the trial. I’d known that she and Tien had been involved—but he was a flirt, ever since he was a teenager. He spoke of someone new every month. But if he was on seventh-name with her—
Vexing though Tien was, I hadn’t wanted to think that he was capable of killing a lover, or anyone, for that matter. He’d been in plenty of duels, but they’d been first-blood or to-the-floor, not deadly. Tien was an indolent dandy who—infuriatingly—managed to be a good swordsman anyway, but he wasn’t a killer.
Except he was. I could still hear her screams echoing through the courtroom as the memory was displayed. Tien hadn’t watched them; he’d buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking.
“That’s not possible,” I said.
“I know,” he snapped. “And no, before you ask, I wasn’t drinking; I don’t take anything, and I didn’t even see Irune that night. The first I heard of her death was when the Quiet hauled me in for questioning.” He glanced down at the floor, fighting to control his expression. One hand had gone to his belt where his fan would ordinarily be. “Imagine that, Aika, if you can imagine caring for anything that isn’t cold steel.”
I had hold of his collar before I could stop myself, yanking him up so that his toes just brushed the floor. He didn’t flinch, simply sagged in my grip.
“I care for our family,” I said. “I care for the City, and you still dare to call me by final-name?”
He gestured Sardonicism, his gaze an empty, lifeless thing. “You did it first.”
I dropped him.
How could he? He could admit his fault, salvage some shred of honor, but no, he had to cling to his foolish vanity. The memory had shown his guilt; the court had decreed his guilt, and there was no use in discussing it further.
“Are you going to come see me off?” his voice sliced through the air as I flung open the cell door.
“Enjoy your exile,” I said, and slammed the door behind me.
I did see him off; Ward Chief Satia assigned me to the guard standing at the walls as they opened the gates. I could tell that she expected me to protest.
I did not protest. An Aster-rank didn’t argue with an Azalea-rank, and I knew she was testing my loyalty. The Quiet were responsible for holding the City together when the fractious bonds of familial loyalties and obligations among the Council families threatened its stability. Any hint of weakness on my part would not have been forgiven.
I stood on the walls as the gates swung open below. Tien looked impossibly small as he walked out of them, a bowed speck of a figure crossing the steppes. He had a bag with him—Father must have appealed to the others of the Council for that dispensation. He and Mother stood further down the wall, heads held high, my remaining siblings ranged between them. Their hands were still, betraying no emotion.
The Jieha family stood on the other side of the ranks of the Quiet, bearing witness to the exile of their daughter’s killer. Her younger brother, an Iris-rank, stood with his family. He was the eldest and the heir now; he would have to leave the Quiet. Father had been furious with me when I’d joined, for the converse reason—you are the Ysanne heir, he’d said, your loyalty belongs here—but he’d accepted my decision.
The Council Speaker, standing on the watchtower, unrolled the decree. “Sonam Juin Lajos Andreu Roel Shen Santxo Tien da Ysanne,” he intoned, the sound echoing over the walls, “has been found guilty of willful murder—”
My mother’s hand clenched against her robes.
“—by the courts of Our Most Serene City of Xiuvri. He is therefore cast out to the judgment of the gods. Henceforth, he shall not be as one dead, but as one never born; his names shall not be spoken within these walls.”
Father’s hands were shaking. He’d defended Tien until he saw the memories, and even then could not quite believe it. It had fallen to Mother to convince him that it was hopeless. Our family had held a seat on the Council since my great-grandfather was a child; respect for the Ysanne name went back further still. We could not shackle ourselves to Tien’s actions.
“May justice always have a voice within these walls,” the Speaker said.
“Justice has a voice,” the ranks of the Quiet chorused.
I stood straight, between two other Asters, and watched my former brother until he disappeared over the horizon.
I looked over the records again at my desk at headquarters that night, wondering if they might contain a hint as to why Tien had so stubbornly clung to his story. It should have made no difference—his reasons were irrelevant in the eyes of the law—but I would not be able to let it rest until I knew.
The records contained nothing that I hadn’t seen before; the evidence spoke for itself. Tien, for all his faults, was neither heartless nor conscienceless, or so I’d believed. When we were children, he had always been the one to confess to indiscretions first, though he generally charmed his way out of consequences. I would have thought he would break when faced with her memory, at the latest.
I activated the spell that had been cast on the third page and called up the image of Osera’s body, frozen in place as the Quiet had discovered it. She’d been a mage; the embroidery on her sash indicated Chalcedony-rank. The Quiet’s ranks were named for flowers, to remind us that our every movement should be graceful, but the mages...they were named for stone.
Her hand was outstretched on the floor at my feet. I stepped around it as I circled her, though it was only an illusion. She was lovely, even in death, her dark hair fanned out beneath her. She must have been talented, too, to make Chalcedony-rank so young—twenty-four, the records said, several years younger than myself and three ranks higher among the mages than I was in the Quiet. No wonder Tien had liked her.
I dismissed the illusion and closed my hand around the memory-stone instead, its edges chafing at my palm. Her bedroom appeared in front of me, as if I were standing in her place. The door opened, and the view shifted as she/I rose from the dressing table, setting down the fan she’d been holding.
“Shen,” her voice echoed from where I was standing. The ghost-hands in front of mine gestured Affectionate Greeting.
My former brother strode forward, the knife in his hand flashing.
I stopped the memory spell, my stomach churning. Sixth-name. She’d called him by sixth-name, whereas he’d called her by seventh in his cell. Forward Tien might have been, but he wouldn’t have persisted with that level of familiarity if she hadn’t been willing to match it.
This was pointless. The quality of the memory was perfect, as they always were. Recalling memories of the dead was a task only Topaz-rank mages could perform, and Topazes did not make errors—or if they did, they were not the survivable kind.
I looked out the window next to my desk. The headquarters of the Quiet were in the Nightshade Tower, from which our highest rank took its name. The entire city was stretched out before me, from the estates of the Council families in the east to the spires of the university in the west. The gates that had discharged Tien earlier were shut once more, gleaming silver in the moonlight.
“Late night, Aster Nuria?”
The voice made me jump, though I knew who it was. Ward Chief Satia was the only one in our unit who persisted in calling me by my second-name, though she used third with everyone else. A legacy of her family’s distrust of mine; the Dastris and the Ysannes had a longstanding rivalry, and though such divisions weren’t supposed to persist in the ranks of the Quiet, we were all only human.
I closed the file quickly, though I hadn’t technically been doing anything wrong. “Good evening,” I said, gesturing Neutral Welcome. “May I be of assistance?”
“Not at all,” she said. Her hands glided over one another, returning my greeting with Benevolence to Inferior. “Merely an observation.”
I bowed my head as she passed me on the way into her office, feeling like a schoolgirl caught at sneaking sweets. Did she think I held familial sympathy for Tien, despite his conviction? Of everyone in our unit, she would forgive my lapses least.
Her doubt was unnecessary. I knew where my loyalties belonged.
It stayed with me, the name incongruity. I tried not to think about it, but my mind kept returning to it, worrying at it like a loose tooth.
On the fourth day, Ieyeran, the new Jieha heir, formally submitted his resignation from the Quiet. I watched him as he entered the Ward Chief’s office, his silhouette visible through the frosted glass walls. He bowed and set his Iris insignia on her desk, along with the necessary paperwork.
I averted my gaze to my desk as the Ward Chief’s door opened, feeling as though the eyes of everyone in the office were upon me, the Ysanne. I cast a sideways glance at Ieyeran as he passed. His cloak was now trimmed with silver, the mark of the heir of a Council family.
Ieyeran met my eyes, gesturing Inquiry.
I quickly looked away, responding with Faint Embarrassment. After a second’s consideration, I added Humble Apology. I wasn’t sure whether I was apologizing for my actions or Tien’s.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him motion Acceptance. Whether he thought of my staring as impolite or not, he didn’t seem inclined to press the issue.
I watched him leave, his cloak trailing behind him. Before the memory had exonerated him, Ieyeran had been a preliminary suspect, despite his status as an official of the Quiet. From the reports in the file, his quarrels with his sister had put mine and Tien’s to shame. But the memory had proven that it was Tien, and that line of inquiry had been dismissed.
I realized I was thinking of Tien’s guilt as a matter of ‘if,’ and rebuked myself. This was what I had joined the Quiet to do, to punish wrongdoing in the City and protect its peace. Family loyalty had no place in the ranks. There was no reason to suspect anyone else, other than a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
I knew what Ward Chief Satia would have to say on the subject of feelings.
I stayed late in the office that evening. After everyone had departed—including the Ward Chief and her wary gaze—I called up the memory again. I would not have been able to explain my actions if challenged. The case was settled. Solving serious crimes was the job of the six detectives anyway, Rose-rank and viewed warily; their job was necessary, but prying into others’ private lives as they did was outside the bounds of decorum. But I couldn’t rid my mind of the way Tien’s fists had clenched, the bite in his voice as he’d told me he didn’t kill Osera. I knew Tien, or I thought I had, and his grief had seemed genuine. If I hadn’t seen that memory, I would have sworn on my own honor that he was telling the truth.
I activated the spell, not sure what I was hoping to find. Again I saw Tien enter the room, wielding the knife; again I saw him stabbing the place where I stood, the place she’d been standing. Her screams faded toward the end, dying away as her life drained onto the floor. She took a vase with her as she fell, the porcelain shattering in shards around her. The attack had been sudden; she’d had no time to cast something to defend herself.
I played it again, steeling myself as her bedroom formed around me once more. I looked around the room instead of the image of Tien. The dressing table, the window at the other side looking out over the gardens, the silk paintings on the walls and the vase Osera was destined to knock over in her last moments—
The image tilted sideways as she fell, blurring before fading black.
“Stop,” I told it, my voice jarringly loud in the empty office. “Go back four seconds.”
There it was, the fall, the vase shattering...
Where was the vase?
In the image the Quiet had taken when they found her body, the shards had been next to her, scattered among the folds of her sleeves. They should have been visible in the memory, but the carpet was bare.
“Go back again,” I said. “Half-pace.”
At the slower pace, I could see the vase tip and shatter on the floor and then—vanish. The pieces were gone as if they had never been.
I played the memory three more times. On the last time, slowed down to a fourth of the normal speed, I saw a hand reach down and take something from her belt, in the final moment before the memory blackened.
But she’d set her fan on the table when the door opened.
It was no surprise that the court had missed it. The memory had seemed so conclusive that no one had examined it this thoroughly. Tien was in the memory, and a memory couldn’t be altered; the solution was obvious.
Then how could the vase shards in the memory vanish, and the fan move on its own?
It was impossible. And yet...
I believe my eyes, I had told Tien.
Memory evidence was irrefutable—or it was supposed to be. If it was true that it was possible to alter one, then the resolution of every case, for the last gods’-knew-how-many years, was in question. The prospects were...dizzying. Sickening. Even if this was the first time this had happened—if it had happened—memories would no longer be something the Quiet could rely on. And if it was harder for the Quiet to punish the perpetrators of crimes, then the peace of the City would be in serious trouble.
I took a deep breath. Gods give me strength.
There was no point asking the mages if memories could be altered. I knew what they’d say. Whoever had done this hadn’t shared their discovery with anyone; you couldn’t tell people about something like this without word getting out.
I opened the file again and read through everything, not skipping a word. One name jumped out at me.
Ieyeran’s wife, a member of the Dastri family by birth, was a Carnelian-rank mage, outmatched only by Topazes. She hadn’t been part of the team that retrieved Osera’s memory, of course. But memories were placed in holding for a few hours before they were viewed, to give the spell time to weave its final threads together. If someone had gotten to them during that time—
I had no proof, only suspicion. The oddities in the memory would be enough to raise questions, certainly, but not enough to overturn Tien’s conviction. Particularly since I had no evidence that altering a memory was even possible.
I closed my eyes.
Osera’s fan. I’d seen it before. It had been at Ieyeran’s belt when he’d come to the office to resign his post. It was engraved with the family name, most likely an heirloom. And the memory showed Osera’s killer taking it from her belt.
How could he be so foolish as to wear it in public—ah, of course. He didn’t realize the memory showed him taking it. The most noticeable action with the fan in the memory had been Osera setting it on her dressing table, where presumably it could have been found by anyone.
I collected the materials in the file. After a moment’s consideration, I slipped the memory-stone into my pocket. The proper thing to do was to report my discovery to my Ward Chief, but...she was a Dastri, too. It shouldn’t have mattered—didn’t matter; we dedicated ourselves to the City above all else—but for something this important, I had to be certain.
But if I told her, and I was right, then the system the Quiet relied upon to keep order would be called into question. The damage to Tien, to Osera, had been done already. Pursuing this meant that people would lose faith in the Quiet, and in the courts. Once it was known that memories could be altered, others would take advantage of that. The peace I’d sworn to uphold would be damaged—perhaps irreparably. Was it worth the consequences?
Justice has a voice.
I stayed at the window until the sun set, watching the sky streak red and gold and blue over the roofs of the City.
As I finished my explanation, Ward Chief Satia regarded me silently, her hands motionless. Outside the walls of her office, the ordinary business of the day carried on, but inside, the spells on the walls imposed a deathly hush. Nothing said within this room would be overheard.
“You realize,” she said, hands still showing no emotion, “that you accuse a member of our own ranks.”
I bowed my head. “I do, Ward Chief.”
“You have thought, I am sure, of the repercussions. As ordinary citizens are one with their families, so are we one with each other. Trust in the Quiet, and therefore peace in the City, depends on the respect and honor that citizens hold for us.”
I gestured Polite Inquiry. “Surely false honor is not worth having.”
“You swore an oath to this City, Aster Nuria.” She turned to the window. “You swore to set aside personal considerations.”
“With respect,” I said, shifting my hands to Civil Dialogue With Superior, “It is not the name of Ysanne with which I am concerned. If it’s true that this memory has been tampered with, then an innocent man has been sentenced to exile, and the integrity of the City is in danger.”
“In danger?” She looked back at me, gesturing for the first time since I’d begun speaking. It was Rebuke. My hands nearly formed Humble Apology automatically, but I stopped myself.
“No, Aster,” she went on. “What would endanger the City is if it became known that a foolish member of the Quiet committed an indiscretion. What would endanger the City is if it became known that it was possible for an unscrupulous mage to change the memories of our honored dead and call our investigative methods into question.”
I held very still, not allowing my hands to betray my shock, as ice rushed through my blood to the bone. I felt the stone in my pocket, my last resort, condemning my faith.
“Of course I knew.” She gestured Irritation.
“You chose to preserve the Dastri name,” I said, through numb lips. “To protect your relation.”
“No.” She met my eyes, her hands stilling. “You joined the Quiet against your father’s reluctance, if I recall. Why did you insist?”
Why was she asking now? “Because I believed in the importance of peace and order in the City. I still do.”
“You’re a good official, Aster Nuria,” she said, unexpectedly. “You have a good eye for detail and an excellent hand with a sword.”
“Thank you,” I said, my hands unmoving. If she wasn’t going to show emotion, neither was I.
“The Dastri name is not my concern,” she said. “This organization is. I will not see the Quiet dishonored because of the rash actions of two fools with an overabundance of ambition.”
“A man was exiled for a crime he didn’t commit,” I said, my voice rising slightly above a courteous level of volume. “Does that not dishonor the Quiet?”
“I do not wish to speak ill of your family,” she said, the standard preface given by one who intended to do exactly that. “But think. Your former brother was always getting himself into trouble of one sort or another; his talents chiefly extended to talking himself out of it.” She gestured Mild Distaste. “His exile has cost the City nothing; indeed, it’s likely saved us a great many headaches in the future. But one of the Quiet, one who has sworn a sacred oath to uphold laws, brought up on charges?”
“We also swore an oath to the truth,” I said, though she was right—mostly—about Tien.
“No stability comes without cost,” she said, punctuating it with Benevolent Explanation. “Would you jeopardize the peace of the City over one feckless playboy? We no longer even know his whereabouts to invite him home.”
I remained silent, the stone heavy in my pocket.
It would have been so much easier if she were only trying to protect the Dastri name. Neutrality, we swore. Find the truth, protect the City. And if one damaged the other?
She was right; letting matters stand as they were would have far fewer consequences. His exile has cost the City nothing, except in the minds of those who knew.
“If you honor the reputation of the Quiet and the work we do,” she said, “you’ll leave the memory-stone with me and dismiss this from your mind.”
I hesitated for a moment, then withdrew the stone from my pocket and set it on her desk.
“I knew you would choose well,” she said. She plucked it from the polished surface.
“Thank you,” I said, looking her in the eye. “I believe I have.”
The Council was surprised to be called together on such short notice; this was not a meeting-week. But Father was still well respected, even given recent events, and so they agreed to his request, as he’d agreed to mine.
They sat arrayed in their rows in the circular chamber, all thirty-one representatives of the Council families, their gazes drilling small holes into me in the middle of the room. I wondered if they’d constructed it that way on purpose to intimidate those speaking.
I wouldn’t let it work on me. I was oath-sworn to many things, and while Tien would have argued that those oaths were chains, I saw it differently. They were my strength; they were my spine.
Ward Chief Satia was a member of the guard inside the room. I had asked Father to request her presence specially. She was regarding me intently, her hands frozen half between Inquiry and Amusement. Ieyeran was there too, seated next to his father—by tradition, a new heir attended the first Council meeting following his or her selection.
I took a deep breath, and began.
“Good day,” I said, gesturing Gratitude for Attention. “I am honored you have chosen to hear my petition.” It was customary to recite one’s full name on such occasions, but mine was not important, not today. My role here was as an Aster, not an Ysanne.
The Ward Chief tilted her head slightly. I ignored her gaze and turned my attention to the representatives.
“You are all familiar, of course, with the former Jieha heir’s murder,” I said. “Certain information has been brought to the attention of the Quiet regarding this investigation.”
Ieyeran’s hands twitched in his lap, then were still.
“With respect, Aster,” the Speaker said, gesturing Faint Skepticism, “the case has been settled most conclusively.”
“Apologies,” I said, replying with Humble Rebuttal, “but I fear that it may have been settled less conclusively than befits our City.”
A murmur stirred through the representatives like wind over grass. The Ward Chief’s hand had gone to her sword hilt, but she could not challenge me in front of everyone.
“I took the opportunity of re-examining the memory,” I admitted, adding Apology for Presumption. “Certain incongruities made themselves known to me in the process. If I may...”
I pulled the memory-stone out of my pocket, the real one, not the empty one I had left with Ward Chief Satia. I had been hoping that that last resort would not have been necessary. But I had known that there was a possibility I could be wrong. So I had taken precautions.
We were taught, after all, to be deliberate in all our deeds.
The Ward Chief had gone very, very still.
“This is the memory shown before the court?” the Speaker asked.
“It is,” I said. “I would ask leave to display it once more.”
The murmur rose again. Ieyeran’s right hand had curled into a fist.
“Courtesy to the petitioner,” the Speaker cautioned the chamber. “Permission granted, Aster.”
I played them the memory as I had seen it, slowed down. I pointed out the vanishing vase shards, how the altered memory showed Osera calling Tien by his sixth-name when he’d called her to me by her seventh.
“If the memory were truly hers, whole and unchanged, she would have called him by seventh-name,” I said. “However, if a shift in relationship had only just occurred, others would not yet know of it. Whoever altered the memory altered it according to the most recent name she had called him publicly.”
The murmurings had stopped; the entire chamber was now deathly silent. I had to keep myself from jumping when the Speaker cleared his throat.
“It is curious, to be sure,” he said, “but it is not conclusive. We do not even know if altering memories is possible. Your concerns are valid, Aster, but they are suspicions only.”
I looked up at Father, who had frozen in his seat. His hands—unconsciously, I thought—had formed Hope.
“If I may direct the Council’s attention to the end of the memory,” I said. I stopped it at the moment the hand took the fan from Osera’s belt. I did not look at Ward Chief Satia to see her reaction. This was the part of my discovery I had not shared with her.
“Previously, we saw this fan placed on the dressing table,” I said. “That is the part of the memory that has been altered. This part, I believe, is the original; it has not been tampered with because no one realized it was visible. It shows someone taking her fan from her belt. Her killer.” I looked straight at Ieyeran. “If you would turn your attention to the new Jieha heir, you will see the one he wears at his.”
Ieyeran darted out a hand to cover the fan, but it was too late. The entire chamber had turned to stare at him.
His father, seated next to him, had gone statue-still. His throat worked once as he swallowed, staring at Ieyeran, almost visibly pleading.
“Father,” Ieyeran said, reaching out a hand.
“Ieyeran?” The word cracked through the air like a whip; Ieyeran recoiled. First-name, the name of a near-stranger. Not a name used with family, ever, unless you meant to irrevocably cast them off.
“Attention,” the Speaker called. The guards at the far doors had moved to Ieyeran’s row, standing on either side of him.
“You have made quite the discovery, Aster,” the Speaker went on, as the representatives subsided. “I wonder, however, that you did not choose to share it with your Ward Chief.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, no more than the space of a breath, and took the other stone out of my pocket. A sound-capture stone, purchased from a Topaz-rank mage of a family linked to none of the parties involved. My final precaution.
“I did, Honored Speaker,” I said, and activated the spell.
After, Ward Chief Satia stared at me while the guards bound her hands, shock actually showing—if faintly—on her face.
“I thought we had an agreement,” she said, her tone chipped ice.
“I did not promise that,” I told her. Father had risen to his feet. He was speaking in quiet tones with the Jieha representative, who had not so much as looked in Ieyeran’s direction as he was taken away. Finding Tien, if it were still possible, would have to wait until the charges were formally overturned, which would take the support of everyone on the Council. Somehow, I didn’t think the Jieha representative would argue.
“The Quiet’s shame is on your head.” Her bound hands were free just enough for her to gesture Contempt. “You must possess an overabundance of family loyalty after all; it certainly can’t be due to any good opinion of your brother.”
“You’re right,” I said. “He is feckless. But he is not a murderer.” I gestured Devotion to Duty. “I swore an oath to set aside personal considerations. My opinion of my brother is irrelevant to the question of his guilt.”
“I hope you’re happy,” she spat. “The damage to this City’s peace may be irreparable.”
“Perhaps,” I said, adding Polite Disagreement. “But I believe that damage gone unseen is worse.”
From the way some of the guards avoided my eyes as they led her off, not everyone agreed.
Commissioner Nazarui looked up as I entered her office. I motioned Apology For Intrusion, even though she’d invited me in, and stood at attention. I’d never been called to meet with the Commissioner herself before. I’d never imagined I would be.
“You’ve caused quite a stir, Aster Jiae,” she said, using my first-name.
“I apologize,” I said, resisting the urge to shift my feet like a child.
“You should.” She replaced her pen in its inkwell, the snap of her wrist more akin to someone throwing a dart. “Six challenges to resolved cases have crossed my desk already this morning. The university mages have been clamoring to speak with the Carnelian-rank who altered the memory—they want to do further research, if you can believe that. And I have a formal order from the Council to examine whether anyone else in our ranks has been...unruly.”
I was silent.
“Are you prepared to bear responsibility for your actions?”
I looked up, meeting her eyes. If the loss of my position was the price I had to pay, then I would pay it.
“Good.” She stood up, setting an insignia on her desk. “The Quiet will need to put more effort into investigations from now on. Since it was your discovery that caused this, it seems fitting that you receive a caseload of your own.”
I stared down at the insignia in front of me: a small gold rose. A detective. She was making me a detective. My work would not be that of a respectable guard of the City but that of one who was obliged to trespass into others’ affairs.
“As you’ve proven yourself so adept at noticing memory incongruities,” she added, a trace of wryness in her voice. “Warranted or not, your actions have damaged the peace of this City. You can accept responsibility and dedicate yourself to repairing it, or you can leave the Quiet. Which is it?”
Her words were stern, but her hands were forming Respect for Task Accomplished. I tore my gaze away from the insignia and bowed my head. She was correct. This was my responsibility. If shouldering it would help safeguard the City, then I would do it.
“I accept,” I said, and picked up the rose.
You never do anything halfway, do you? Tien’s voice, rueful and amused, came to me as clearly as if he were standing in the room.
He was not, of course. There was nothing there but memory, the sort that can’t be captured in a stone.