"The Eve of the Fall of Habesh" by Tobias Buckell is a short story from Speculative Horizons anthology edited by Patrick St-Denis.
It takes place in the city of Habesh by the Elkatoa coast. Five miles north, another city, Kopach, is being burnt by the Sea People, who are going to attack Habesh next. This puts a sense of impending doom in the story.
The magic system requires that you can only learn one spell. Teaching is a sin. Everyone gets only one spell. And the catch? Using magic takes away your life force, makes you old and wizened.
The protagonist Jazim is a contragnartii who appears to work for the city Habesh. Jazim has a target. The target is a beggar in the Market. The Market is alive with commerce. As is his duty, Jazim tries to arrest the beggar named Bruse, but the beggar blasts him with air. And runs away. Jazim gives a prematurely aged girl some coins and chases after the beggar. He chases him to a soup tent. He silences the beggar and fights him. But he lets him go because some kids say he's helping them.
Jazim goes to a restaurant and then some guards come in looking for him. One of them is a Locator. The guards march him out of the kitchen. Yamis, an Inquisitor, is after the children, who are apparently escaped factory workers. Jazim is supposed to bring the kids back to protect the city against the Sea People. After the war, they are to be hanged.
His decision is whether to help the kids escape or defend the city which he loves so much. He also has a brother shackled in the city. So it really is a tough decision...
"The Eve of the Fall of Habesh" is written in first-person and the present tense. It's a nice writing style. I enjoyed the setting and the character was fairly compelling. I'd like to see more stories written about this world. For a short story, it has almost too much detail. But I enjoyed it. I think the author's books would be good.