Part 2:

Live Hard and Die Young

Kajulan emerged slowly from between two buildings, not out of an abundance of caution, but rather because the gap between them was quite a bit smaller on this side than it was on the other. Regardless, she did eventually manage to squeeze her way through, nearly overextending and flinging herself to the ground in the process. She didn’t though, and continued on her way.

Kajulan broke into a brisk walk, once again not out of an abundance of caution in regards to the robbery she had just committed, but rather because she was excited. She had a score, something actually worth selling. It made her feel like a big time crook, a big shot, and now she was on her way to see her guy. She thought it was neat that she had a guy; That also made her feel like a big shot.

Of course, her guy was nothing more than a petty fence, a necessity in her line of work. It wasn’t because Uruda’s merchants were particularly honest. It was just really hard to convince them to buy stuff based on the vague hope they’d be able to make a quick turnaround with it, even when it was something of actual value. But her guy always bought her stuff, even when it was worthless. Because that was just the kind of stand-up fence he was.

Kajulan stopped in front of a short-roofed brick building and entered. A bell hanging from the doorway rang as she did so, and Kajulan squeezed her eyes shut, stifling a sneeze. Two shelves ran down the center of the room, in addition to two more mounted on the wall, all piled high with knickknacks and novelties caked in several years of dust. The building was ostensibly an antique shop, but everything in it was thoroughly worthless. Not that it mattered, of course. The shop was just a front after all.

Kajulan marched confidently to the desk at the back of the shop, and placed her elbow on the only non-dusty surface in the place. She began to tap her fingers impatiently, looking around for the store’s proprietor.

“Eh-hem,” Kajulan enunciated. She waited patiently for a response before trying again. “Rudim! Get the hell out here! I have something to show you!”

There was a loud crash, followed by desperate shuffling and the backroom door swinging open. In the doorway stood a rotund man, albi like Kajulan, with pronounced cheekbones and the hint of a beard. He seemed short next to her, although in reality she was simply quite tall for a woman.

“Kajulan!” exclaimed the man, waving at her jovially. “The last time I saw you there was still snow on the ground! How has it been?”

“Rudim, look!” exclaimed Kajulan, ignoring his question. She held the ring out in front of her, and Rudim leaned in, squinting to get a better look at it.

“Oh, that is nice,” he said. “May I take a closer look?” Kajulan complied, handing off the ring to Rudim, who held it between his thumb and index. “Silver with gold inlay,” he continued. “Oh, and that’s interesting. See the looping pattern that repeats around it? That’s Ulkaski in design. I’d reckon this came all the way down from the mountains to get to us.”

“Neat,” lied Kajulan. “So what’s it worth?”

“Oh, quite a bit,” Rudim answered. “And I could sell it for even more.”

Kajulan perked up, removing her elbow from the desk in the process. Quite a bit was a lot of money, she assumed, and she could get a bunch of cool stuff with it, probably.

“But I’m afraid I can’t buy it from you.”

Rudim flicked the ring back at Kajulan, who didn’t react, the tiny thing bouncing off her dumbstruck forehead.

“What?” she asked. “Why not!?”

Rudim didn’t answer, disappearing into the backroom again, and Kajulan returned to her agitated posture from before, elbow on desk and fingers tapping away.

Rudim returned, this time holding a small wooden crate in front of him, filled to the brim with what seemed to be junk, though of a different kind than that which lined the shop’s walls.

“I’m leaving Kajulan,” he said. “Getting out of the business while I can.”

“You mean you’re retiring?” asked Kajulan.

“That is what that means, yes.”

Kajulan sunk her face into her hand, and shook her head disapprovingly. “Well? Why? Why are you leaving? Why now?”

Rudim looked at her sadly. “The city’s changing, kid. There just isn’t room for independent roguery anymore. Just last season a tajkyn man named Jethin began making moves, setting up a turf. Real feudal-types they have down in the South, and they don’t like competition.”

“Jethin doesn’t sound very tajkyn,” replied Kajulan, still sulking.

“I don’t think it’s his real name,” said Rudim. He rapidly shook his head. “Look, that’s not the point. The point is people in our line of work don’t last very long. You either get out while you can, or you live hard and die young. And I haven’t lived nearly hard enough to die now.” Rudim sat his crate on the desk. “That Jethin guy, he offered to buy me out instead of running me out, and I’m happy to take it. I’d rather spend the rest of my life up North on the beach, sipping fancy wines under a frond tree, than tied to a rock underneath a river somewhere.”

Kajulan opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a chime as someone else entered the building. It was another albi man, although done up quite differently than either Rudim or Kajulan. He wore a metal kettle hat on his head and a pale long coat draped over his body, which was covered with rivets from top to bottom. The helmet looked real, if not crude, but the thinness of the coat betrayed its rivets as purely decorative. Overall a real wannabe-soldier looking type.

“Well then. . .” the man began, pausing to glance at a small paper note in his hand. “. . . Rudim. Jethin’s fulfilled his end of the bargain. Time’s up. Let’s go.”

Rudim shook his head and chuckled. “Just a moment please, but thank you for your patience.” He slung the wooden crate beneath his arm, and picked the ring up from off the desk, handing it to Kajulan. “Hold on to this. I may not be buying it, but it’s still worth something. And you never know when the opportunity will present itself.”

The other man’s impatience grew, as he grabbed the bell from the door and began to ring it aggressively. “Alright Rudim! That’s enough stalling! Enough heart-to-heart! It’s time to go! Now!”

Rudim shook his head at the display but began to head out regardless, although he stopped at the door, turning back to look at Kajulan.

“It’s been a good run, but I’m out of it now.” He gave a brief salute. “Have a nice life kid.”

Rudim left, and the other man closed the door behind him. He marched up to the front of the store, standing beside Kajulan with his hands on his hips, glancing around proudly as if he had accomplished something. Kajulan looked him up and down incredulously, until he finally acknowledged her existence and turned towards her.

“You too,” he sneered, gesturing behind himself with his thumb. “Get.”