So there we were – stinking of stale troll guts and fighting for our lives on the intersection of Chickenshit lane and Horseshit alley in a bad part, of a bad district, of the bad city of Kaer Maga . And things were going badly. Harrows Justice versus the Slaughterhouse gang – outnumbered two to one.
Four seconds earlier Arith and I were holding the front line, the only line, between the gang and the softer members of Harrows who were doing their part to even the odds.
Three seconds ago the Boys swarmed Arith attacking him from all sides and two seconds ago he went down faster than the dress on a two-snip whore on payday with the Guard.
One second ago the Boys queued up on me for an encore performance of the gang-stomp. I was barely hanging on as it was, one working tendon in my knee, an intact collarbone, and the grace of Father Cailean all I had left. As another round of blows started falling I felt the tendon snap and recoil under the grating edge of a blade, my collarbone cracked and crumbeled under an axe strike and Father Cailean left to get a drink.
Right now? My head bouncing off the cobblestone – tasting broken tooth, bloody breath from a punctured lung and the bile of my own mortality – I could see – just as my vision began to darken – the Boys swarm to rain certain-fucking-death on the rest of Harrows Justice and I have just one final, enduring thought.
I love this fucking town.
We came to Kaer Maga for two reasons. Neither of which originally was to get the snot stomped out of us. Our primary reason was as stopover point on our way into the Cinderlands – sell our old shit, buy some new shit, and stock up on some other shit in the last place to understand roofs and a wall for a thousand miles. I’ve heard rumors of the Shoanti] in the Cinderlands, bunch of bloodthirsty savage barbarians. Meeting Thousand-Bones, I don’t know, the old fart had more wisdom than teeth, which wasn’t hard – but his son – what’s his face – would probably skin me alive as soon as look at me twice. Yeah best to stop over in Kaer Maga and gear up before heading into the hell lands.
The other reason kind of fell into our blood-stained laps. The traveler we rescued from the crazy Pharasma -bitch was Piety Winnesten, a high muckity-muck of the Church of Abadar, you know, those banker types who won’t get involved in anything as long as their palms are greased? We must maintain strict neutrality even as people starve on the street and children die from the plague because an ever-loving Whore Queen is calling the shots and declared martial law outlawing everything but saluting the high fucking Cheliaxian flag? Yeah – well to Abadar, the Crown Hag is just another client and they don’t want to get involved in local politics.
Yeah, that, Church of Abadar.
Long story short of it the high-holy fence sitters had been guarding some seriously bad ass artifacts from the Thassalonian age, you know way back when Aroden was a corporal. Something called the Sword of Lust, one of seven artifacts held by these ancient evils called Runelords got burgaled out from Abadar nose by a spell-caster by the name of Tarina. Word had it Tarina was in or heading to Kaer Maga, so Piety Winnesten and her two Grey Guardsmen were traveling to Kaer Maga when they were kidnapped by the Pharasma crazies. Her Guardsmen were turned into dust, and they were working Winnesten over to turn her into…well something else. You want the details? Ask fucking River. The kid understands this fucking stuff, I’m a Soldier, the extent of my knowledge on celestial alignments is how to line up the whitewashed rocks outside the barracks to mark a path from bunk to shithole. All this hummana hummana bullshit realms and magical states of being mojo is way above my paygrade.
Apparently the Runelords created a sword for each vice – though, not to brag, I’ve got all the sword of lust I need right here! The swords are sleeping though, and come to mention it so are the Runelords, and if they’re ever activated in total it will be the end of the world, fire and brimstone, all that. Well somebody’s done a pretty good job of acquiring, and I use that word the same way Thrice would, the artifacts.
Anyways Piety Benchsitter offered us ten-large in gold to get the sword back and I swear Maia got an erection at the offer. Even got some myself. That’s good pay, and the charity work has never been good for her spirits. How hard could it be?
Walking around Kaer Maga is like bedding your girlfriends sister compared to Korvosa. Both cities are full of curves, both can provide you with just about everything you need if you know where to look, but at first glance they’re totally different – and that’s hot – but over time you realize they both fall not too far from the same tree of bat-shit crazy.
Korvosa has a single ruling monarch, who is fucking insane, and Kaer Maga has about a dozen of factions ruling the city – all of which appear equally insane. No I don’t have the goddamn time to tell you all about them, I’ll do it later. Anyways – back to my point, in Korvosa you can get away with a crime if you can pay the sin tax, in Kaer Maga you can get away with a crime if the person you’re criminalizing doesn’t fight back hard enough. In both cities you’ll get knifed if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s just that in Kaer Maga it will be a street thug and in Korvosa it will be a Grey Maiden. Both cities need a good injection of justice – but that’s another matter. To be honest I’m still torn – would I want one crazy over me with all power, or like twenty crazies ruling all over me splitting all the power up. Have to think about that for awhile. Father Cailean willing, we’ll get an opportunity for that kind of change in Korvosa] before this is all over.
This is a city consumed with its own business – and one thing we struggled with – that doesn’t mean they know a lot of what’s going on in the city. But everyone knows what’s going on with money – how much they have, how they’re going to make more, and who’s going to give it to them. It’s a city full of Maias, and I’m pretty sure it’s driving our Maia nuts. We split into two groups, the kid and Maia working one angle and Arith, Larisha and myself working another. Not sure what River and Maia did but we three went around a handful of stalls in different districts.
We spread some gold in some palms to find someone who could introduce us around and help us find people. We also went to the Augurs, one of the factions ruling the city. I’d heard that the Augurs were all Trolls who foretold the future by reading their own intestines – if only Larisha did that with the Harrows Cards I might pay more attention. Since we already needed some intel, I was not going to pass up the opportunity to catch this show. It was worth every gold we paid too – its something you’ve got to see for yourself trust me. Your teeth go on edge, the air gets, heavy, the troll rips open its guts spraying blood all over a linen cloth set before, then starts rooting through. The troll confirmed that the Sword of Lust was in the city, but to tell us where, it’d need a name of who possessed it. Then it stuffed its guts back inside and leaned back, obviously you don’t get too do too many followup questions so we decided to come back the next day.
Maia and River had struck out because they hadn’t realized the golden rule in Kaer Maga, those who spend the gold make the rules. Larisha and I went out so she could visit her Temple and I could make sure she didn’t visit it as a corpse. Turns out there’s a Temple to Father Cailean just across the street from Pharsma so while she was inside hummana-hummana I wandered over. Man – what a fucking place. Drinkers, and brawlers, and brawling while drinking. Some oak of creature over in the corner was running arm-wrestling scams, a scam because he trounced me like I was somebodies kid and I know I used to win most of the Guard bouts. Still – there was something…I don’t fucking know, off you know, with the place. Like I got to go back home, only to find that although home had stayed the same, I hadn’t. I mean everyone there was fucking drinking up a storm and fighting – and don’t get me wrong I’ve done my share of that too. But not lately, at least the drinking part. Somehow, being in there, I felt like a stranger coming back to a familiar place, rather than back home. Fuck me, I don’t fucking know what I mean, forget I brought it up.
We get back to the inn to find that we’d already been visited to set up a meet with someone who could tell us where Tarina was. Long story short –we head out to this stall and there’s a merchant who sells low grade magical goodies, you know the kind – little knicknacky shit that makes life easier – everything from a bridle that turns into a horse to that magic lantern he swiped off the dead guy in the alley. I mean, you don’t go looking too hard at these or you might see the blood stains on them. Well this merchant has a problem, and before he’s going to tell us where Tarina can be found we have to solve his problem. And that problem is the Slaugherhouse Boys – what you thought I’d forgot about that? I was just laying the groundwork you know, how we got to there.
So we schedule a throw down with the Slaughterhouse Boys for a few days from now, and by schedule I mean plan to ambush. That leaves us some more time to finish up our shopping, and get back to the Augurs. This time Maia wants in on the show and Arith waves off. Good choice for his pretty boy image. So long story short, we’re back in front of a troll – with a linen cloth out in front of it, and we ask The name of the person holding the Sword of Lust is Tarina, where is she in town?
The Troll starts his process, ripping out his guts, and then – I’m not fucking kidding – the good god-damned troll explodes. I mean there wasn’t a piece bigger than my finger flying around. All three of us got hazed with blood and guts, I think I saw the trolls jawbone roll around on the floor – and the walls, they were just covered. My first thought was I wonder who they’ll bring in to interpret this prophecy, it must be the mother fuck-all. Then my second thought is Holy shit – Tarina probably did that and she’s got a bead on us! I grab Maia, and Larisha who is sit there blabbering like an idiot – seriously that girl needs to learn the difference between prayer time and a troll-just-fucking-exploded-in-your-face time when it comes to opportunities of casual conversation.
We book out there and take all the back ways and back alleys to the inn – so as not to be followed. Of course Arith and River can’t get enough chuckling out of the whole damn thing. River didn’t seem concerned that Tarina would be beading in on us so perhaps we’re clear on that. But Maia – she’s done with this town, ready to walk away from the 10,000, which I never thought I’d hear her say. Some of the soothsayer buddies, they come by in a bit to collect the bits so the troll can reconstitute itself.
So much for that line of questioning. That leaves us with the merchant and the Slaughterhouse Boys. We set up a day or two later when they come strolling around. I know they’re type, street toughs, used to bullying up the population because their strong and the locals are weak and scared. I never joined a gang during those bad times, I’d had enough of gangs with the Guard, but I sure as hell fought them enough. Since then I’ve nabbed quite a few of their type at nights and left them bleeding or dead doing my Rabbit Prince thing. So I, personally, was actually looking forward to this.
For once – the crew let me do things my way. I’ve always offered but they’ve never accepted, probably thinking I’d always pick a fight at the first opportunity by saying something really insulting. I mean…well…in this case that’s exactly what I was planning. But not everytime. I was a fucking higherup in the good god-dammned Guard after all – I know how to work around a few situations without resorting to cracking heads. But this was one of those times where it made sense to pick a fight, and when it comes to skillsets, this is one where I do excel if I do brag a little.
So that’s how we ended up fighting the Slaughterhouse Boys. Did we lose? Fuck no. Would I be goddamnned here talking to you if we did? Like I said before, we roll like a big fucking rock. Those Boys worked us over while we were still building our momentum up, but they had no idea what kind of rock was gearing up to run them over.
Larisha popped me back up and I was able to get some of my own healing tricks in there, I felt good as new – and that’s when the Boys started dropping like flies. That leader, the one who’d pointed Arith and I for special treatment, I was going to stick a polearm so far up his backside that I’d tip his hat for him. But Larisha beat me to it and dropped him with some crazy Pharasma shit. I mean for all of us – it was on. Those poor Boys, they probably thought they had it licked up when Arith and I dropped. And they fucking get hit by fire, spraying waves of color, and like a gazillon arrows coming from Maia’s bow even as the ones they thought they had down, Arith and I, come fucking back with a vengeance. We’re fucking Harrow’s Justice, don’t fucking mess with us!