Part 11:

Guns to your Heads

The rain had stopped almost as soon as the four had begun to walk, just the natural trajectory of rainfall in the desert. Even their clothes had begun to dry, the rainwater dissipating into the arid air. Not that they weren’t still soaked however, save for the short man who had managed to avoid the roughest parts of their tussle. In fact, the three others looked absolutely haggard, the big man not even having removed the knife from his side yet. If he was bleeding from the wound one couldn’t tell against the dark fabric of his outfit, especially in the blackness of night, but Kajulan was kind of hoping he was. If she was about to die with only a shallow flesh wound delivered in turn, she at least hoped to have drawn blood.

It was damn near impossible to tell where they were going, even as the rain clouds began to part and the moonlight shown down. There were poles running down the street with lanterns hanging from them, but no one had bothered with lighting them in a very long time. Usually this benefited Kajulan, but not so much when she was being transported against her will. Not that knowing where they were going would help much given their current predicament.

Kajulan glanced over at Tekole, and felt a twinge of guilt over getting him killed. He was remarkably calm given their situation, especially considering how he had reacted to their difficulties at the casino. What a screwed-up world, she thought, where the specter of death could frighten one less than the specter of debt.

“Alright,” said the short man. “We’re here.”

Kajulan and Tekole both looked up. The building in front of them was tall, five stories so, with some sort of terrace above its first and a flat, overhanging roof at its top. It was or had been an inn, although in truth it was closer to something like a hotel, built during the city’s economic boom right before its downfall. The short man stepped around the group, keeping his gun trained on the prisoners as he did so, and approached the building’s wide front entrance. He grabbed one of the doors’ knockers, and struck at it four times, a short pause between each one. A slit in the door opened.

“I heard you the first time!” harshly whispered the man answering. “What is it?”

“We found the guys Jethin’s been after,” the short man replied.

The man behind the door sighed in a resigned manner, but he did open it, and the four entered. It was hard to tell how much of the interior had been redecorated, as it looked much like how it could’ve before its abandonment. It was clearly a lobby, dimly lit by candelabras placed against corners and pillars, and cushions rested on wooden benches that ran along every wall. Even the reception still stood at the back of the room.

Nobody moved, the four standing in silence for a moment until the short man finally broke it. “Alright,” he said, turning to face the big man. “Go get Jethin.”

“What?” stuttered the big man. “No! Why do I have to get Jethin? You go get Jethin!”

The short man groaned. “Fine!” He flipped his gun around and handed it to the big man. “You take this. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He sighed deeply. “Probably.”

The short man ran off, quickly going up the stairwell besides the reception and past the balcony hanging over it. It was a fair while before he returned, and when he did he was barely visible, walking consistently a few steps behind a dark-haired tajkyn man. Said man was dressed in a long, flowing nightgown, matched perfectly with an equally flowing nightcap.

“Well well well,” said the tajkyn, clasping his hands together as he approached the balcony. “If it isn’t the two rogues who have caused me so much heartache!” He moved over, and began to walk down the stairway. The short man followed behind, careful to maintain the same distance as he did so.

“Ladu,” said the tajkyn, turning to face the short man. “Stop making what’s-his-name do your job for you. Go get your gun.”

Ladu passed him, moving quickly so as to hide his grimace, and took his spot as hostage taker besides the big man.

“So,” began the pajama clad tajkyn, placing both hands on his chest. “I am Jethin, if that was not obvious from the sycophantic display being put on by your captors.” He walked closer to Kajulan and Tekole, noticing with a frown that he had to look up at the prisoners. “Kneel!” he ordered. “I wish to pontificate.”

Given everything else that had happened that night, it was a particularly easy order for Tekole to follow, and a particularly hard one for Kajulan, but both did kneel.

“Now then,” said Jethin. “Let’s begin.” He began to pace back and forth, shaking his finger as he did so. “You don’t know this, but the two of you are the worst kind of outlaws.” He paused, as if the words he was about to utter were foul beyond compare. “Errant ones. No master, and no dominating principles. You cause chaos, striking above your station with reckless abandon, doing as you will merely on a whim! And just as a person cannot survive while disobeying their society, a society cannot survive while being disobeyed by its people!” He moved closer to the two, placing a hand on either’s shoulder. “You know, I really should have you both killed.” He swung around, walking over to the reception and taking a seat atop its desk. “But thankfully, two positions in our little duchy have just so happened to open up.”

The two men behind Kajulan and Tekole exchanged nervous glances. “Oh, not you two,” reassured Jethin, waving his hands dismissively. “I’m talking about two other members of our organization. They got a little too cocky with the town guard and, well. . .” He hopped off the desk and began to mime getting shot, making matching squelching noises with his mouth. He stopped and shook his head. “But I’ve already resolved that issue. The problem at hand is you two. And while I do not abhor violence, I do believe that it is generally something best avoided, when possible.” He approached the group again, and looked directly at Kajulan. “That store where you robbed me, it belonged to a man named Rudim. And when I decided I needed said store, I gave him an alternative to violence. An out. And he took it.” Jethin leaned in even closer, giving a deeply uncomfortable smile as he did so. “But to you two, I offer something different. I offer you an in.” He withdrew, turning around but keeping them in the corner of his eye. “So guns to your heads, what is your choice?”