Countless male and female and other gendered and non-gendered beings of all walks and slitherings of life were assembled around a pit. Cheering and jeering. Yet again enveloped with meagre lighting. While within it was a dangerous bloodsport come to fruition. Some poor creature was soon to meet its maker.
Through the throng and looking down into that arena I spied a pair of beasts that resembled Diwruuj mudfangs. Perhaps not such poor creatures after all. For they were incredibly vicious animals that could tear off one’s face if given the chance. But it wouldn’t eat the flesh, as they were strictly cannibals.
“I thought you said this place would be civilised,” joked Kára, noticing the mudfangs herself.
I replied, “Not everywhere, Captain. But seeing this establishment running so smoothly… is a leg up over some others.”
Some of the people there were locals, some were foreign. Some were only half-people, and some not even people at all. With their metal bodies, and minds of a matter not remotely biologic. Among them were merchants and soldiers, priests and pirates, princes and prostitutes. And few among them were civilised. Most of everyone was a cutthroat or an addict of something. Such became clear as I stepped into a poignant and sweet-smelling cloud of smoke. If it was indeed smoke.
The man continued to guide us past the fighting pits, and into the crowd. Occasionally, a Saravian or two would meet my gaze or Kára’s and they would glare.
He came alongside a blonde-haired Saravienne in a black uniform with a serving tray and whispered in her ear. She gave a nod to acknowledge the man before he took his leave, and presumably returned to his post. Standing guard at the entrance of the building.
Henceforth, the woman was to escort us through. To a secluded hall. There the clamour would still be present, but more tolerable. Yet as we approached, the woman turned to Kára and spoke in our tongue, “Not woman.”
“What? Excuse me?” Kára exclaimed, clearly offended.
“No… womans,” the server repeated.
“Wait a moment,” I interceded, “She’s our captain! Do you understand? She needs to meet with Saan Qorm. That was our arrangement!”
“I am Captain Kára Hazana! I must meet with Baron Saan Qorm!” she affirmed.
“Tasmir, explain,” I insisted, gesturing with my hands, obviously as insulted as Kára was.
The calmer Rhode Tasmir translated as diplomatically as possible, but the server girl merely shook her head and refused to listen, or didn’t care that Kára was our leader.
“She says she can’t let you see him, Captain,” said Rhode.
“I take… mans only. Woman wait here.”
The girl sounded adamant in her struggle to speak to us in a foreign language, yet her eyes looked sympathetic.
I stepped over to Kára who seemed quite shocked by the slight against her, and I said, “Saan has put you in a very difficult position.”
Subtly she took a step back. I assumed so as not to appear too intimate with me in Rhode’s presence. I leaned back as well, though was hurt by the gesture.
“Indeed,” she whispered. “Something is amiss. We’ve never met here before. Not on his turf. Always on neutral ground; Cáceres or Rioja usually. And now…”
“Now he drags you across the galaxy, and refuses to see you entirely. Having brought you to a dangerous place at that,” said Rhode, who’d sidled over and joined the conversation. “We could force our way in? Why should this serving girl be our deterrent? There are games, and there are power plays, Captain. You know how ambitious Saan is.”
“Then perhaps we should be on our way; it could be a trap. If he’s so power-hungry, he may have designs to have us all killed. Captain, we should take the merchandise to Rioja and put the man in his place,” I advised.
I watched as Kára weighed her options. Deciding if we were all to leave, barge in or do as Saan wanted. She looked around as though different scenery could help her to decide. As if the view would have the answer.
After a long silence she said, “Saan Qorm has wanted me dead since the moment we met. Either he’ll try to kill me now or later, but we need to be paid, or we can’t make repairs to the ship, much less do anything else. And if we go to Rioja or I invite myself in… he might renege on the deal.”
Mister Tasmir nodded, “Kellar and I will be fine. We know the terms.”
“Are you armed?”
Sighing, I expressed my misgivings, “I still think this is an ambush. Every second we stay here brings us closer to our doom.”
“As ever, I value your counsel Mr. Kellar. But I don’t think we will die today. Go with Tasmir. If he’s still half as good of a shot as I remember, then you have nothing to worry about,” said Kára, her tone reassuring.
Rhode chuckled, “Twice as good. Will you be waiting here, Captain?”
“No. I’ll pick up the fuel we need before I return to Amazon, and I'll meet you there when the deal is done.” She handed over a canister to both Rhode and I so that we had three to an armful. “Good luck.”
“Good luck to you, Captain,” I replied.
Our captain walked away, and the serving girl brought us further inside the belly of the beast.