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Riken Snowtear woke with fire in his mouth. He didn't mind. He liked the fire. It meant he'd had a good time last night, even if he couldn't remember the majority of it.
Gretchen and Pollo were gone, no doubt off to find customers who had more left in their pockets than lint. He could still smell the girls on the bed, sweet like peaches in cream.
He rolled from the musty bed and stretched his spent muscles with a yawn. A pair of brown woolen trousers and a dirty white overshirt hung haphazard from the ancient chandelier over the bed. He retrieved them and struggled into each. Only able to locate one of his boots, he left the room barefoot in search of food.
Wicked Delight's greatroom was alive with early morning clientele. A thin sheet of multicolored smoke hovered over the proceedings. In the far corner, a minstrel strummed a soft but lively tune on a three-string, while a dozen men ate eggs and steak, drank watery ale, and perused the selection of ample maids.
Riken headed for the bar.
"Nay, Snowtear. No coin, no food. Ain't running a shelter here."
The speaker was a brusque, plump woman by the name of Hagatha Minear with a surly disposition and the face to match. She owned Wicked Delight now that her husband of three cents had died the previous winter, and she ran as tight a ship as any Riken had ever seen. He didn't much care for the madam (she smelled permanently of cooked cabbage and stale smoke), but coin went further in her establishment than any other of like accommodations in the city.
"By the Father, Hagatha," Riken sighed, taking a seat on a dust-covered barstool. "Just saw a lady last night about a job. You know I'm good for it. Just want some eggs."
"Take your bony ass and whining voice out of here until the kyn's in your pocket," Hagatha said, the cabbage smell intensifying as she drew closer.
"Hold on. Didn't I pay for breakfast last night?"
"You did, but then you ordered a second girl."
"Ah." Pollo had been well worth an empty stomach.
"Now go," Hagatha said, "or I'll fetch Hog."
Her idiot son, more brawn than wit, peeked his freckled face through the kitchen archway at the mention of his name. Riken waved the boy off dismissively.
"That's how you treat a good customer then?"
"A good customer's one with coin, you little ferret."
"Fine," Riken said, then noticed a fat gray rat sniffing about the other side of the long bar.
Navigating his way through the cramped tables on the way to the exit, he heard Hagatha let out a piercing shriek as the rat scurried under the hem of her dress and up her pudgy leg. A beaming smile spread across Riken's face, until a mountain of a man stepped in his path and erased it with a fist the size of a cantaloupe.
Riken fell hard to the floor, and his head smacked against the wood. He felt warm blood gushing from his nose, but before he could do anything about it, the mountain jerked him off the floor and dangled him in the air.
"Morning to you too, Uther," Riken said, founding it hard to speak with two massive paws choking his neck.
"Eleven kyn, you owe me," Uther Penent said.
"Just on my way to see you, Uther.
"Well...nay," Riken said, and he sensed his error when the grip on his neck tightened.
"Can't very well pay you from up here."
Uther lowered him to the ground, but the hands remained firm on Riken's windpipe.