Midnight and the smell of ashes. My time of the day, here - with the moon rising high over the smoke and soot, the sounds of the city muted down to the bare bones of back-alley violence and the low, husky calls of the street ladies and men, the clicks and clacks of the last few honest folks rushing home to their families and loved ones to get away from the nightly drama play.
Kralis at night. Beautiful.
I pick myself up from my rooftop cot - it's too barking hot to be inside tonight - and stretch, taking in another deep breath of the thick city air and smiling. I tousle my hair to shake loose the big bugs and rub in some flea powder (the stuff stings like you wouldn't barking believe) and dig through my rucksack before finally shrugging and pulling out my slops, a set of leathers with a long, armored coat over the top. A steel-lined broad hat and a triple-barreled shotgun complete my evening ensemble, the weapon concealed beneath the coat.
Down below, I can hear Ma and Da screaming at each other again. I roll my eyes and leap off of the roof, hands reaching for a pipe that juts from a nearby building. I grab hold of the greasy metal and, in seconds, I'm on the cobblestones, down with the ashes and muck. I smile to myself and start walking, happy to just pound the pavement for awhile and leave them behind.
I consider stopping to play with a couple of halfling gentlemen of my acquaintance, but tonight doesn't seem the night - way too damned hot, for one - so I end up at Ryk's, a bar near the corner of Down and Up. Ryk's a half-orc, an old soldier that retired with a pension that makes my head spin just thinking about it, and he serves good swill for dirt cheap. I'm greeted by a chorus of "Hi Kylla!" or "Evenin' babes!" as I push open the front door, and that only makes me smile wider. The room's a bit smoky from the cheap candles Ryk uses (what, you think the beer pays for itself?) but I take a seat at the bar anyway. Ryk gives me a scarred grin and pours me a pint straight off, and I slap down a pair of steel nobles for the privilege before taking a nice, long draw.
"Busy night, love?"
I ask teasingly. The half-orc's older than I am, and I'm almost pushing a century.
"You know it babes. That festival - whaddya call it, the Moonrise Summit or some crap? - is makin' everyone edgy just like it does every year, and edgy people like good booze."
I mutter as I take another pull from the mug. "Ma and Da are at it again. She caught him this time, over at the Silk Ribbon with Aeysha. You'd think, given the whole history of catching each other in halfling brothels, they'd both jus' shut up about it, but no. Every damn week, another barking argument. I was half-tempted to mention that if we were going to fight about village horse-carts, I'd taken a ride on that particular one."
The dwarf sitting next to me spits out the ale in his mouth and gives me an incredulous look, which I return with a wicked grin, Free City of Kralis, baby. 'Do as Thou Wilt' is the only law."
Ryk laughs - he doesn't approve, but he can appreciate a good joke - when some greasy little girl runs up to me panting. At first I'm about to get irritated - she's an elf, like me, and can't be more than, what forty? - when she sets down a little card on the table in front of me with a rising moon crossed by rifles on it. I roll my eyes, "Since when did Garyn start hiring children?"
She swallows nervously and looks around the bar, but I give her a hard look and she stammers out, "Th-the beggar king wants to see you!"
I raise an eyebrow and shrug, standing up and finishing my booze off, "Hey Ryk, I'll probably be back. Might have to hit my plates, though, so keep something open for me, wouldja?"
The half-orc nods, and I gesture for the little girl to lead on.
* * *
Garyn - he only calls himself 'The Beggar King' if you're in trouble with him - holds court in the sewers just underneath Crook-Tooth Alley, and it stinks down in ways you don't want me describing. He sits on a throne made of scraps, four centuries worth of elven wisdom and cunning with all the kindness of a hungry wolf-like. He isn't smiling when I walk in, which is never a good sign. He might like us to call him 'Father' but he's got about as much loyalty to us as we do to him - that is, none at all unless out pockets and stomachs remain full.
"We've got a problem, Kylla,
he says by way of greeting. "You've been holding out on me."
I let my hand rest near the bottom of my coat, my little finger hooking around the small leather release for my shotgun. "I've got no idea what you're talkin' about,"
I say evenly. I'm lying - I have been holding back on my tithes and protection fees, trying to buy up some medicine before the next plague comes through the slums over the winter. They always come through over the winter, and about six years back we lost my younger brother to one. I've got no interest in following him to a shallow grave.
"You'd be a better liar if I hadn't been asking around with your friends and clients, Kylla. Really, you gotta learn more discretion if you're going to sneak around behind my back. You know how much I just love people that hold out on me."
I swear quietly, under my breath, "Look, I can pay it all back if you can give me a moon or two to scrounge it together, some folks owe me -"
He cuts his hand across his face to get me to shut up, which I do immediately, "I'm not interested in your excuses, Kylla. This is the third time. I'm sorry, but you're done."
I tug my loop and swing my shotgun out of the coat and into my hands, whipping it upwards as fast as I can. My finger squeezes the trigger and the shot blasts away a wooden support that I quietly weakened the last time Garyn had me paint the place. As I turn to run, a huge chunk of the ceiling comes loose and blocks the tunnel behind me. He'll be trapped in there for days
Assuming he gets out at all, anyway.
* * *
"Busy night, babes?"
"Nothing too major, Ryk. Say, you know if anyone's hiring a repair rat?"
"Y'know, I might have a friend or two."