Chapter 4: Checking In

Who is the child who walks into death? To risk everything in search of those single points in time when life on the razor’s edge? Who knows, but there is always a need for more to join the ranks. — Slaves of War and Blood (Act 2, Scene 4)

By the time Karin stopped in front of the Barnsveld Inn, she was thoroughly tired of riding on horseback and through the rain. Thirty hours didn’t sound so bad, but after the fact, it felt like thirty days.

The pain from her puncture wound had settled across her entire chest. Both breasts and her chest ached with tenderness with the left side adding an uncomfortable lump of the alchemical pack that filled the wound. Every time her horse hit a rough patch of road, the jostling of her breasts caused renewed pains to tear through her senses. Even her nipples rasping against her underclothes were a torture for the last few hours.

The idea of spending a week without clothes kept her going.

She groaned as she leaned to get off the horse. With one arm across her breasts to prevent them from bouncing, she slid off gracelessly and hit the ground hard.

A hand rushed up. “Let me get that, madam. Staying for the weekend or longer?”

“A month and don’t call me madam.”

He nodded. “I’ll take of her. Your name?”

“Karin Bedosen of the Rat Hunters.”

The hand’s eyes grew wide. “Rat Hunters? You were the ones that took out the slather nest. You lost… you lost one of them. I’m sorry.”

It had been a while since she thought of Booker. He was a young, foolish man who had dreams of opening a business of his own. A momentary pang struck her. The hunters lost someone every few months while on the job, it was brutal and risky.

On the other hand, they also gained recruits looking for a few months of dangerous but high-paying gigs before retiring. Six years ago, after Karin realized she wasn’t interested in her husband as much as he wasn’t interested in her either, she had joined for a suicidal thrill. She almost quit after the first time she saw her intestines. Or when she broke her leg. However, she kept coming back and taking the next job the moment she recovered. The thrill of survival and the huge stack of crowns dump in front of her after a job well done was enough to keep her going.

She sighed. There wasn’t much a thrill when her chest ached and her joints burned from having another mage’s magic stuffed inside her. With her thoughts dark, she headed into the inn.

It was late morning and all of the nightly guests had left. The public hall only had a pair of folks cleaning the tables. The innkeeper that she remembered from the last time sat at one of the tables, working through piles of paper and accounting.

Karin headed over. “You have a room open for a month?”

The innkeeper didn’t look up. He was bald with a short trimmed hair over his ears. He was probably in his sixties. “You a heavy drinker?”

“Give me a double bed on the second floor, probably some laundry service, and a bottle of whiskey a week and I’m not going to cause problems.”

“Can’t give you the bottle. Town law.”

“I remember. Just keep my glass full and I’ll keep my head down.” Karin knew what he was trying to find out. “I couldn’t brawl even if I wanted to. I got hurt badly in the last hunt and I’m not up to any trouble.”

“Hunt?” The innkeeper turned to her. “You are one of the Rats?” His face brightened. “You were. I remember you.”

She nodded.

“A month you said?”

“Yes.”

“Normally, it’s thirty a night. Fifty days in Punmahik, so fifteen hundred.”

“I can pay that.” She could easily afford a year of the inn before having to cash in scrips. Her job had paid well and she didn’t have anything else to spend it, so she kept it squirreled away for when she did retire.

“You helped this town so I’ll throw in a bottle’s worth of the local whiskey in. And laundry, as long as it isn’t blood or vomit. Deal?”

“Deal. Cash okay?”