Songbird in the Kitchen 1: The Opened Cage

The Rat Hunters were a famed band of mercenaries who traveled across the land to eliminate the worst infestations of escaped experiments and dangerous creatures.

— Ralisman Dupren, The Rise of the Kormar Mercenary Armies

Karin yawned as she hopped off the back of the wagon. Her breath fogged around her as she limped away, making room for others getting off behind her. Her hip protested her landing, and she rubbed it as she glared around her.

There were four wagons pulled into a circle. Two of the younger Rat Hunters were stacking wood for a long night of fire. A third was using his magic to light the cooking pit. Others were setting up a stall for the paymaster. The foolish hunters who tried to line up were quickly volunteered for duty. The others knew to stay away from the stall until the cash box had been opened.

Roal, one of the senior of hunters, approached Karin with two large steaming mugs. “I could have sworn there were only dicks in the wagon with you.”

She stared at him for a moment, then grabbed one of the mugs. “Dicks?”

It took a moment for the scent of tea to penetrate the fog of waking up and realize he was referencing her sore hip. “You know me, I have no interest in a cock between my legs. No, Maril's damn boots fell out of the netting, and I was too cold to move. Spent the entire night with those steel toes digging into my hip and my tits crushed against one of the crates.”

Roal patted her shoulder and then grinned. “Want me to rub anything better?”

She looked at him for a long count before giving him a sweet smile. “Not unless I can cut your balls off in trade.”

“I meant your hip.” He didn't seem perturbed by her threat.

She scratched the dried blood scabbing over a recent burn. “I'd rather find a peach instead of an old man like you. Your hands are too big, and I'd rather have something softer near my privates.”

He smirked.

Peach, it was a sly phrase for the women who were untouched by the brutal life of a mercenary. They were soft, beautiful, and lovely to touch. More importantly, peaches were lovers of women like Karin.

Roal had a fondness for the same type of beauty, though they were called apples if they preferred men over women. They both had bonded over their shared appreciation of the female form and made a point of not competing with each other in the days they had between jobs.

“The city council is going to open the gates after they verify that we aren't going to bring any weapons inside. Apparently San Graif prides itself in being a just and noble city with a high moral caliber.” Roal rolled his eyes.

She gulped down some of the tea in her mug. As it burned down her throat, she smiled back. Being unarmed wasn't a concern for her. “So, you're saying those city walls contain a lot of ripe lovelies desperate to have a little fun?”

“By the Divine Couple's blessing, I hope so. It also means if we're going to have fun, we need to stay away from these assholes.” He gestured to the rest of the Rat Hunters. “Most of them haven't been home in months. The guards are going to be stuck on them like those damn leeches.”

“Which ones? There have been so many.”

“The big glowing ones that went for the eyeballs.” He barked out a laugh. “Remember when I had to use both hands to get the one out of your gut?”

She shuddered. “Oh, I hate those things. I also hate that you accepted that job.”

“That's my talent, Old Lady. I'm always where I need to be.”