Part 14:

Thankfully, the Big Guy Prefers his Fists

The first truly warm day of the dry season had come upon Uruda, and of course it just so happened to overlap with the first day Kajulan had to wear this ridiculous outfit. She continuously fussed with it as they walked down the street, and eventually resolved to remove the hat from the ensemble entirely, only for Ladu to swing around.

“You put that damn thing back on!” he sneered. Kajulan dropped the hat back on her head immediately, and lowered her arms. Somehow the quiet rage in Ladu’s voice intimidated her more than the veiled threats of Jethin, or that time he had been holding her at gunpoint.

“But he’s not wearing his hat,” whined Kajulan, gesturing with her thumb at the big man behind her.

“He’s also not currently being used by Jethin as a petty display of power,” replied Ladu. “So shut it.”

Kajulan slowed down, allowing the big man to pass her, and began to walk beside Tekole.

“Wow,” said Tekole. “He was way nicer to me.”

“That’s because you’re sweet,” replied Kajulan, looking away as soon as she spoke.

“Oh.” Tekole began to play with the back of his curly hair. “Well, you’re sweet too.”

Kajulan nodded rapidly in response, even though she didn’t believe him. She looked ahead, and noticed the two others had put quite a bit of space between them. She nudged Tekole, and then increased her pace.

“So,” began Kajulan, shifting from a jog to a steady jaunt as she and Tekole caught up. “Where are we going?”

“We’ve been walking in circles,” said Ladu. “Have you really not noticed?”

Kajulan looked up. “I mean, all the buildings look the same, so. . .”

“No they don’t!” Ladu took a moment to collect himself. “Look, the businesses in this part of town pay Jethin for protection. So we do a few rounds, let the people know we’re still active here. We also put a stop to anyone causing trouble, but we don’t have to do that too often. You have to be pretty stupid to rob from Jethin’s territory.” Ladu stopped speaking, letting that last sentence hang in the air. Kajulan grabbed it.

“Well,” she said. “That was my idea, not Tekole’s.”

Ladu looked back at her. “I know.”

The four came to a stop, moving to the side of the street. Kajulan leaned up against a wall, taking shade in the building’s overhanged roof. “So is this all we do?” she asked.

“For the main racket, yes,” replied Ladu. “But things were never this quiet in Tajlyn, were they?” He looked over at the big man, who nodded. “We do have to pick up a payment today, but that can wait.”

Ladu closed his eyes and leaned back as well, letting the warm noon breeze run over his face. As much as he hated this grunt work, it was nice to take a bit to just forget things and be in the moment.

“But does it have to wait?” asked Kajulan.

Ladu jerked forward. “No it doesn’t, I guess! Let’s go!”

The four were on the move again, and the few people out and about did their best to avoid making contact with them. It was kind of unsettling, obviously to Tekole but also to Kajulan. She wasn’t used to people being afraid of her. Even that noble couple she had robbed a few days ago hadn’t seemed that scared, and she had them at knifepoint.

Ladu and the big man came to a stop outside a peculiar building, one shaped more like those of the East. They entered first, followed closely by Kajulan and Tekole. It was a bar, although an entirely empty one at this time of day. The albi woman at the counter, carefully hanging glasses from the rack above her, stopped and stared as they entered.

“Oh,” she said, a slight smile disappearing from her lips. “It’s you.”

“Yeah,” replied Ladu, looking down so as to avoid eye contact. “We’re here to collect payment. You know the drill.”

The woman leaned forward, her arms resting on the counter and her smile returning with a cynical twist. “I do. But you’re not getting anything today.”

Ladu sighed, and placed his face in his hand. “Please, don’t make us go back to Jethin empty-handed. You know how he is.”

“I’m not scared of Jethin,” the woman replied defiantly.

“Well you should be!” exclaimed Ladu. “I mean, I’m scared of Jethin!”

Tekole looked over at Kajulan. “I don’t get it,” he said. “If she stops paying, don’t we just stop doing protection stuff?”

“Tekole,” Kajulan whispered. “No.”

“Alright, fine,” said Ladu, shaking his head. “Do what you want, but I’m sure we’ll be back tonight. Jethin’s been in a remarkably good mood, so maybe we’ll just be smashing cups and stuff. And if not, well thankfully the big guy here prefers his fists.”

The woman snorted dismissively. “You’re not coming back,” she said, and as she spoke three previously secluded figures emerged from the back of the bar. All three were albi as well, and the lead amongst them carried a sword on her side and a confidence quite unlike the bluster of the mercenary Kajulan and Tekole had robbed a few nights earlier.

Their entrance was dramatic, its intimidation factor only somewhat undercut by how clearly rehearsed it was. Kajulan began to bounce up and down.

“Alright,” she said, stretching her neck and rolling her shoulders. “Let’s go then. Let’s do this.”

Ladu put his hand up. “Actually, we’re leaving now. Let’s go.”

Kajulan deflated as the three others left, the bounce leaving her step, and she turned to join them. But as soon as they stepped outside, she started up again.

“So I don’t get it,” she began. “We act all tough when we’re harassing some poor lady, but tuck tail and run as soon as someone vaguely threatening shows up?”


Kajulan was speechless for a moment, but the state didn’t last long. “Well, that’s kind of crappy, isn’t it?”

“Now look,” said Ladu, flipping around and raising a scolding finger. “You’ve managed to cheat death once already. Good for you! But I’m not about to throw away my life so recklessly. So if you want to go back in there and start a fight to ease your conscience, go ahead. But I guarantee you’ll be dead within a minute.” Ladu turned back around, ignoring Kajulan’s response regardless of if she had one, and placed his hands on his hips. “Well then, guess our patrolling’s going to have to be done for the day. Let’s go get something to drink. Somewhere else.”