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Chapter One

Turai is in the grip of one of the fiercest winters in memory. Ice lies in thick sheets over the frozen streets. Snow falls incessantly from the grey sky. The vicious north wind whips it through the alleyways, where it comes to rest in huge banks deep enough to bury a man. The citizens groan in frozen misery and the church sends up prayers for relief. The poor huddle miserably in their slums while the wealthy hide behind the walls of their mansions. In the taverns, great log fires struggle to keep the cruel weather at bay. Deep inside the imperial palace, the King's Sorcerers expend their powers in keeping the Royal family warm. Winter in Turai is hell.

Three hours before dawn, the snow is falling heavily and the wind is howling. No creature dares show its face. The beggars, whores, dogs, dwa addicts, thieves and drunks that normally infest the streets have vanished. Even the lunatics have better sense than to invite death in the appalling cold. No one is outside. No one would be so foolish. Except for me. I'm Thraxas the Investigator. In the course of my work, I often do foolish things.

I'm down at the docks, looking for a man the Transport Guild suspects of stealing shipments of dragon scales. Dragon scales are valuable items but the rare cargoes that arrive in Turai have been going missing almost as soon as they arrive. The Guild has hired me because it believes that one of its officials has been stealing from their harbour-front warehouses. The idea is that I catch him in the act. It never seemed like that great an idea to me, but I needed the money.

I'm hiding behind a low wall in the freezing darkness. I can feel the frost gathering on my face. I'm tired, hungry and I need a beer. My legs have gone numb. I'm as cold as the ice queen's grave and that's a lot colder than I want to be. I'm in a very bad mood. There's no sign of the suspect, who goes by the name of Rezox. No sign of anyone. Why would there be? Only a crazy person would be out on a night like this. I've been shivering for two hours and I figure if he doesn't show up in the next few minutes I'm giving up and going home. Dragon scales may be valuable, but they're not worth freezing to death for. The only thing that's keeping me alive is the spell that warms my cloak, but the warming spell is wearing thin.

I think I hear something. I'm no more than ten yards from the warehouse but it's difficult to make out anything through the driving snow. The door of the warehouse is opening. A large man wrapped in furs emerges, carrying a box. That's good enough for me. I've no intention of hanging round any longer than I have to, so I struggle to my feet and clamber over the low wall. Unsheathing my sword, I walk up behind him. The howling wind prevents Rezox from hearing my approach, and when I bark out his name he spins round in alarm.


"Rezox. I'm arresting you for stealing dragon scales. Let's go."

Rezox stares at me while the snow settles on the furs that shroud his face and body.

"Thraxas the Investigator," he mutters finally, low down so it's difficult to catch.

"Let's go," I repeat.

"And why would I go with you?"

"Because I'm freezing to death out here and if you don't start walking I'm going to slug you and carry you off. Easy or difficult, I don't mind, just so long as it's quick."

Despite the interruption to his criminal activities, Rezox doesn't seem perturbed. He lays down the box carefully then stares at me again.

"So what do you want?"

"A warm bed. Let's go."

"You want money?"

He's trying to bribe me. Of course. The cold has made me slow-witted. I shake my head. I don't want money.


I shake my head again.


I stare at him blankly. I just want to get home.

Wrapped in his furs, Rezox doesn't look cold, but he's puzzled.

"Are you saying you can't be bribed?"

"Just get in the cart, Rezox. I'm cold and I want to go home."

The wind intensifies and Rezox has to raise his voice to make himself heard.

"Everyone in Turai can be bribed. I've paid off Senators. I'm damned if I'm going to be arrested by a cheap Private Investigator from Twelve Seas. What is it you want?"

I don't seem to want anything.

Rezox claps his hands. The snow muffles the sound, but it's enough to bring two men out from the warehouse, each one carrying a sword and neither looking like he'll mind using it.

"Let's be reasonable, Thraxas. Just take a little money and walk away. Hell, it's not like the Transport Guild can't spare a few dragon scales."

I raise my sword a couple of inches. Rezox has one final attempt at talking me out of making the arrest.

"You'll die for nothing, Thraxas. Take the money. No one will ever know. What are the Guild paying you? Thirty gurans? I'll give you three hundred."

I remain silent. The two thugs advance. Normally on a case I'd be carrying some spell for dealing with emergencies, but right now I'm using all of my very limited supply of sorcery just to keep warm. The snow flies into my eyes, making me blink.

As the man on my left lunges in, I step nimbly to one side, bring my blade down on his wrist then kick his legs so he crashes to the ground. The second man leaps at me. I parry his blow, twisting my own blade in such a manner that his flies from his hand, spinning through the air to land in the snowdrift behind us. I punch him in the face. He loses his footing on the icy ground, and lands with a dull thud.

I stare at Rezox.

"Were these the best you could find?"

Rezox screams at the men to get up and attack me again. I look down at them.

"Better get going. You just used up the last of my patience. Attack me again and I'll kill you."

They're petty thugs. Not good for much but just smart enough to know when they're about to die. They scramble to their feet and without so much as glancing at Rezox stumble off into the darkness. I place the point of my sword at Rezox's throat.

"Let's go."

I lead him off to the next warehouse, where I've left a small wagon and a horse. The horse is none too pleased about being left in the cold space, and snorts angrily as we arrive.

"I'll split the dragon scales with you," says Rezox as I load him into the cart. I don't reply. We set off. Technically it's illegal to ride horses or wagons in the city at night, but on a night like this there won't be any civil guards around, and I've no intention of struggling on foot to the Transport Guild's headquarters.

"You're a fool," he sneers. "You're too stupid to know what you're doing. What does the Guild mean to you? They're just as corrupt as everyone else."

"Maybe. But they hired me to arrest the thief. And you're the thief. So here we are."

Rezox can't understand why I care. Neither can I.

"I'll hire a lawyer and beat the charge in court."

I shrug. He probably will. Turai is a corrupt city. There are plenty of clever lawyers always ready to represent men like Rezox.

The warming spell has completely worn off and my cloak offers me no protection from the elements. I'm numb with cold. Rezox still looks comfortable in his luxurious fur. He should have tried to bribe me with that.



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