Part 9:

Didn’t Check for Knives

The casino was pretty nondescript. The stones that made up its walls were darker and less colorful than those found in the rest of the city’s buildings, even with the light of the sunset shining down on it. Not that the blandness mattered, as the place didn’t really need to advertise; People were kind of just drawn to it.

A single guard stood watch, although literally he was seated in a small chair pushed up against the wall, head tilted down and close to dosing off. He roused himself as Kajulan and Tekole approached, eyeing the belt and holster around the woman’s waist.

“No weapons,” he said, hopping up to attention. Although usually difficult, Kajulan complied, removing her belt and handing it to the man. He stepped aside, granting the two entrance, and Kajulan turned to Tekole as they passed him.

“Good thing he didn’t check for knives,” she whispered, although not nearly as quietly as she could have. She felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Hand it over,” said the guard. Kajulan sighed and reached into one of her pockets, pulling out the brass-knuckles-knife-contraptions and dropping it into the man’s outstretched hand. He stepped aside again, and Kajulan and Tekole entered.

“Good thing he didn’t check for my other knife,” Kajulan whispered, this time much more quietly.

While from the outside the the casino looked like any other random building, inside was another story. The air was smokey and dimly lit, the result of incense burning over thick-paned lanterns, and stairs led down into a pit filled with a variety of gaming tables. The most notable difference however was that the place was absolutely bustling, with bets and drinks being rushed to and fro, and crowds of people from all walks of life clogged between tables. In fact, it was perhaps the only place in Uruda that brought the rich and poor together. The worker, in abject poverty, spent meager earnings on a moment of enjoyment, while the noble spent with reckless abandonment, doing their best to join them.

Kajulan stopped at one of the stairwells and motioned for Tekole to go first. He gripped the railings as he descended, the stairs unusually steep, perhaps a method of player retention. Once at the bottom he went over to one of the tables, less choosing it and more being shuffled there by the crowd.

“Ah yes,” Kajulan said, slinking up beside him. “Good choice.”

“Have you ever played this game before?” asked the woman running the table, the feigned interest in her voice obvious. She was dressed in trousers and a white blouse, with a burgundy vest fitted neatly over it. In all honesty, the outfit looked suspiciously like a more put together version of the one Kajulan wore.

Tekole simply stared ahead instead of answering, still intimated by the atmosphere of the place. Kajulan elbowed him. “Oh, no,” he said, shaking his head rapidly. The woman began to explain the rules, most of which traveled through Tekole’s head with barely an ounce of recognition.

“Bet,” said the woman. Tekole placed a spattering of change on the table, and the woman thrust a pair of dice into his hands. “Roll,” she said. Tekole did as he was told and flung the dice at the table. They bounced a few times, before settling on their numbers.

“Congratulations!” said the woman. “You win!”

“Really?” asked Tekole. “I won?”

The woman nodded, and added several coins to the pile in front of Tekole. “Good job Tekole,” said Kajulan, clapping him on the back. “You keep playing, I’m going to get us something to drink.”

“Get something fancy,” said Tekole, eagerness already creeping into his voice. “We’re going to have to spend all this money on something.”

Kajulan left and ascended the stairs, maneuvering through the throngs of people before coming to the bar.

“Hello,” said the albi man tending the bar, delightfully stereotypical with rag and glass in hand. “What can I get you?”

“I don’t know,” replied Kajulan. She leaned forward and placed her arms on the bar. “Got anything fancy?”

The man put a finger up in the affirmative and went behind the bar’s shelf, a moment later returning with an exquisitely shaped bottle. “Just got this in a week ago,” he said. “Tajlyndic Brandy.”

Kajulan eyed the bottle suspiciously. “How strong is it?”

The bartender looked the skin and bones woman in front of him up and down. “Very.”

Kajulan stroked her chin. “Hmm. Better make it beer then. Two please.”

Kajulan paid, and the bartender left again, replacing the fancy bottle with one much plainer. He filled two mugs from it and slid them over to Kajulan, who nodded in appreciation before leaving.

Almost Immediately she bumped into someone, and stumbled backwards a little bit. It was another albi man, although much older than her and rather short. The most notable thing about him however was his peculiar manner of dress, with a baggy black tunic worn beneath a squared black poncho, and a matching hat shaped like the kettle helmets that were common amongst the empire’s soldiers.

“Sorry,” said Kajulan. The man didn’t respond, instead simply staring at her, an unreadable look on his face.

“What!?” Kajulan sneered, scrunching her shoulders and wagging her head aggressively. The man still didn’t respond, so Kajulan simply huffed and left.

After shuffling through the crowd once again, Kajulan returned down the stairs and stood beside Tekole. “Hi,” she said.

“I screwed up!” Tekole replied, not even turning to face her. “I screwed up real bad!”

“Woah woah woah,” replied Kajulan, in her not-very-reassuring reassuring voice. “What happened?”

“I just kept putting down more money,” began Tekole. “And I just kept winning. So I put down everything. . .” He paused for emphasis. “. . .Everything. And I lost! Really badly!”

“Don’t worry,” said Kajulan, brow furrowed. “I’ll fix this.” She left the table, and approached the burliest man in the pit. Faking a trip she spilt the mugs, splashing their contents across the man’s back. He turned to face her, and Kajulan threw her hands up, cowering.

“Please!” she screamed. “Don’t hurt me! It was an accident!”

“What?” asked the man, but Kajulan didn’t answer, instead slinking away as people began to congregate around him.

“Is something wrong here?” sternly asked the most senior employee amongst the crowd.

The man slapped his hand to his forehead, a concerned expression on his face. “I don’t know!”

Kajulan ran over to Tekole, and began sliding the money into one of the now empty mugs.

“But Kajulan,” said Tekole. “That’s not all mine. Some of it is winnings.”

“Who cares,” she replied callously. “This place sucks. Let’s go.”

Kajulan tugged at Tekole’s arm, and the two clambered up the steep stairs, both silently grateful that they were tall.

The pair burst out the front door, startling the guard who had returned to his seat, Kajulan’s belt and knife lying in his lap. “Hey!” he shouted. “What’s going on?”

The two didn’t stop to be confronted, but Kajulan did pluck her knife from him as they ran by.

“Sorry!” she said. “We were just leaving.”