Kalyne had been right. There was no way that Rews could have gone back in this condition. His lips were split and bloody, his sides covered in darkening bruises, his head lolled sideways, face swollen almost past recognition. In short, he looks like a man ready to confess.

“I don’t imagine you enjoyed the last half hour, Rews, I don’t imagine you enjoyed it much at all. Perhaps it was the worst half hour of your life, I really couldn’t say. I’m thinking about what we have for you here, though, and the sad fact is… that’s about as good as it gets. That’s the high life.” Glokta leaned forward, his face just inches from the bloody pulp of Rews’ nose. “Practical Frost’s a little girl compared to me,” he whispered. “He’s a kitten. Once I get started with you, Rews, you’ll be looking back on this with nostalgia. You’ll be begging me to give you half an hour with the Practical. Do you understand?” Rews was silent, except for the air whistling through his broken nose.

“Show him the instruments,” whispered Glokta.

Frost stepped forward and opened the polished case with a theatrical flourish. It was a masterful piece of craftsmanship. As the lid was pulled back, the many trays inside lifted and fanned out, displaying Glokta’s tools in all their gruesome glory. There were blades of every size and shape, needles curved and straight, bottles of oil and acid, nails and screws, clamps and pliers, saws, hammers, chisels. Metal, wood and glass glittered in the bright lamplight, all polished to mirror brightness and honed to a murderous sharpness. A big purple swelling under Rews’ left eye had closed it completely, but the other darted over the instruments: terrified, fascinated. The functions of some were horribly obvious, the functions of others were horribly obscure. Which scare him more, I wonder?

“We were talking about your tooth, I think,” murmured Glokta. Rews’ eye flicked up to look at him. “Or would you like to confess?” I have him, here he comes. Confess, confess, confess, confess…

There was a sharp knock at the door. Damn it again! Frost opened it a crack and there was a brief whispering. Rews licked at his bloated lip. The door shut, the albino leaned to whisper in Glokta’s ear.

“Ith the Arth Ector.” Glokta froze. The money was not enough. While I was shuffling back from Kalyne’s office, the old bastard was reporting me to the Arch Lector. Am I finished then? He felt a guilty thrill at the thought. Well, I’ll see to this fat pig first.

“Tell Severard I’m on my way.” Glokta turned back to talk to his prisoner, but Frost put a big white hand on his shoulder.

“O. The Arth Ector,” Frost pointed to the door, “he’th ere. Ow.”

Here? Glokta could feel his eyelid twitching. Why? He pushed himself up using the edge of the table. Will they find me in the canal tomorrow? Dead and bloated, far… far beyond recognition? The only emotion that he felt at the idea was a flutter of mild relief. No more stairs.

The Arch Lector of His Majesty’s Inquisition was standing outside in the corridor. The grimy walls looked almost brown behind him, so brilliantly spotless were his long white coat, his white gloves, his shock of white hair. He was past sixty, but showed none of the infirmity of age. Every tall, clean-shaven, fine-boned inch of him was immaculately turned out. He looks like a man who has never once in his life been surprised by anything.

They had met once before, six years earlier when Glokta joined the Inquisition, and he hardly seemed to have changed. Arch Lector Sult. One of the most powerful men in the Union. One of the most powerful men in the world, come to that. Behind him, almost like outsized shadows, loomed two enormous, silent, black-masked Practicals.

The Arch Lector gave a thin smile when he saw Glokta shuffle out of his door. It said a lot, that smile. Mild scorn, mild pity, the very slightest touch of menace. Anything but amusement. “Inquisitor Glokta,” he said, holding out one white-gloved hand, palm down. A ring with a huge purple stone flashed on his finger.

“I serve and obey, your Eminence.” Glokta could not help grimacing as he bent slowly forward to touch his lips to the ring. A difficult and painful manoeuvre, it seemed to take forever. When he finally hoisted himself back upright, Sult was gazing at him calmly with his cool blue eyes. A look that implied he already understood Glokta completely, and was unimpressed.

“Come with me.” The Arch Lector turned and swept away down the corridor. Glokta limped along after him, the silent Practicals marching close behind. Sult moved with an effortless, languid confidence, coat tails flapping gracefully out behind him. Bastard. Soon they reached a door, much like his own. The Arch Lector unlocked it and went inside, the Practicals took up positions either side of the doorway, arms folded. A private interview then. One which I, perhaps, will never leave. Glokta stepped over the threshold.

A box of grubby white plaster too brightly lit and with a ceiling too low for comfort. It had a big crack instead of a damp patch, but was otherwise identical to his own room. It had the scarred table, the cheap chairs, it even had a poorly cleaned bloodstain. I wonder if they’re painted on, for the effect? One of the Practicals suddenly pulled the door shut with a loud bang. Glokta was intended to jump, but he couldn’t be bothered.

Arch Lector Sult lowered himself gracefully into one of the seats, drew a heavy sheaf of yellowing papers across the table towards him. He waved his hand at the other chair, the one that would be used by the prisoner. The implications were not lost on Glokta.

“I prefer to stand, your Eminence.”

Sult smiled at him. He had lovely, pointy teeth, all shiny white. “No, you don’t.”

He has me there. Glokta lowered himself ungracefully into the prisoner’s chair while the Arch Lector turned over the first page of his wedge of documents, frowned and shook his head gently as though horribly disappointed by what he saw. The details of my illustrious career, perhaps?

“I had a visit from Superior Kalyne not long ago. He was most upset.” Sult’s hard blue eyes came up from his papers. “Upset with you, Glokta. He was quite vocal on the subject. He told me that you are an uncontrollable menace, that you act without a thought for the consequences, that you are a mad cripple. He demanded that you be removed from his department.” The Arch Lector smiled, a cold, nasty smile, the kind Glokta used on his prisoners. But with more teeth. “I think he had it in mind that you be removed… altogether.” They stared at each other across the table.

Is this where I beg for mercy? Is this where I crawl on the ground and kiss your feet? Well, I don’t care enough to beg and I’m far too stiff to crawl. Your Practicals will have to kill me sitting down. Cut my throat. Bash my head in. Whatever. As long as they get on with it.

But Sult was in no rush. The white-gloved hands moved neatly, precisely, the pages hissed and crackled. “We have few men like you in the Inquisition, Glokta. A nobleman, from an excellent family. A champion swordsman, a dashing cavalry officer. A man once groomed for the very top.” Sult looked him up and down as though he could hardly believe it.

“That was before the war, Arch Lector.”

“Obviously. There was much dismay at your capture, and little hope that you would be returned alive. As the war dragged on and the months passed, hope diminished to nothing, but when the treaty was signed, you were among those prisoners returned to the Union.” He peered at Glokta through narrowed eyes. “Did you talk?”

Glokta couldn’t help himself, he spluttered with shrill laughter. It echoed strangely in the cold room. Not a sound you often heard down here. “Did I talk? I talked until my throat was raw. I told them everything I could think of. I screamed every secret I’d ever heard. I babbled like a fool. When I ran out of things to tell them I made things up. I pissed myself and cried like a girl. Everyone does.”

“But not everyone survives. Two years in the Emperor’s prisons. No one else lasted half that long. The physicians were sure you would never leave your bed again, but a year later you made your application to the Inquisition.” We both know it. We were both there. What do you want from me, and why not get on with it? I suppose some men just love the sound of their own voices.

“I was told that you were crippled, that you were broken, that you could never be mended, that you could

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