Madam Zephora Harte scooped up her skirts and hurried around the far side of the room, keeping a safe distance from the unconscious man on the floor. Then she followed Derek the wench down the hall back to the front door. Matilda passed the frying pan to another wench and trailed after her.
“Well it took you long enough!” Zephora told the three fighters at the door. Unlike Tiny Timmy, all three were armored. “My wenches were terrified.” She glanced down at their boots. “Can one of you please take off your shoes and come get your man? He’s caused quite a ruckus.”
“Sorry ma’am,” one of the fighters said and touched his forehead as if he were tipping his hat to her. He tried to bend down, but couldn’t reach his boots with the armor on.
Zephora sighed. “Never mind, come on in.” She waved her hand towards the salon. “There’s already blood on our rugs, anyway. We’re going to have to have a cleaning crew in. I’ll send the bill to Mr. Bannister.”
“Hey, there’s no reason to do that,” said one of the other fighters, his hand on his sword.
“Why, is your boss going to be unhappy that one of his men pissed off the nicest whorehouse in the city?” Matilda was casually leaning against a wall wallpapered with pink flowers, picking at a nail with one of her smaller knives. “I heard that a person’s reputation is everything here on Krim.”
Then she stepped outside the building to make room for Tiny Timmy to be dragged out. His friend got him out onto the front step then shoved him down onto the street. Tiny Timmy’s head banged on a stair then he came to when he landed on the street, his face in a puddle. He moaned and tried to push himself up with his arms, then fell back onto his elbows.
He shook his head and looked back at the house. He swore when he saw Matilda.
“She sliced my hamstring when I wasn’t looking,” he said. “That’s low-down dirty.”
“She took you down in a fair fight, Mr. Bradshawe,” the madam called down from the open doorway. “And at my request. I’ll be sending the bill for her services along to your guild as well.”
“They won’t be sending anything anywhere if they’re all dead,” growled Tiny Timmy. “Get them, boys.”
“Now what kind of thing is that to say about some nice people who have been feeding you all night?” asked Matilda.
“Just get me back to the gate,” said Tiny Timmy.
Matilda glanced back at Zephora. The madam pursed her lips and stepped closer to Matilda. “This is your first day on Krim, right?”
Matilda nodded. She figured the newness of her shoes and weapons had given her away. Or maybe the fact that her face still twisted up from the smell every time she breathed in.
“If he gets to the main gate, he can reset his avatar,” said Zephora. “It’s what most people do instead of laundry. But it helps with all kinds of cuts and scratches, too. Anything non-fatal, you can get instantly cured. Of course, the more hard-core players prefer to let their wounds scar over.”
“No healing potions here, I take it,” said Matilda.
“No.” Zephora sighed. “And what I wouldn’t give for a cleaning spell.”
“If we kill them all, by the time they come back, we’ll all be off up north,” said Tiny Timmy.
“Their entire guild is about to go fight a war,” said Zephora.
“Good point,” said one of Tiny Timmy’s friends. He started towards the front steps and Zephora gasped behind her and slammed the front door shut.
Then the fighter stopped, mid-stride, and slowly toppled over.
“What the hell,” said one of the two who were still upright.
Tiny Timmy pushed himself over to his side, where he was face-to-face with his buddy — and saw the knife in his friend’s left eye.
“I didn’t even see her throw that,” one of the other fighters said, stepping back.
Then Tiny Timmy’s head dropped down to the ground.
“Who’s next?” Matilda twirled another knife between her fingers.
The other two fighters backed away and she walked down the steps, and pulled the knife out of Tiny Timmy’s eye socket. She wiped it on his sleeve and tucked it away.
“Don’t you have a war to get to? Or does your boss want you to pick a fight with the Mercenary Guild and the Chamber of Commerce? You know you shouldn’t be messing with the service providers.”
“And take the bodies with you!” Zephora shouted through a tiny window she’d opened in the front door. “I don’t want them lying around stinking the place up.”
“Stinking the place up even more than usual, she means,” Matilda added. She grabbed her other knife and stepped back.
The two remaining fighters grabbed Tiny Timmy’s body by his arms and legs.
Zephora opened the door and stepped out. “The disposal chute is down that way,” she pointed toward the alley to her left.
“Yes, ma’am,” said one of the fighters.
Zephora turned to Matilda. “Maybe I should join the Chamber after all,” she said. “They’ve been coming by, but I figured it was just a scam.”
“No, they’ve got some power,” said Matilda. “I mean, without access to weapons and whores, Krim isn’t going to be much fun for these guys, is it? Not to mention food and drink.”
“You’ve got a point,” said Zephora. “Speaking of food and drink, I’ve got to get the kitchen going again. It’s almost time for the nightly rain and we’re probably going to get a new wave of customers any minute now.”
“Nightly rain?” Matilda followed Zephora back inside.
“That’s how they keep Krim clean,” said Zephora. “Well, cleaner. At midnight, like clockwork, all the streets get a nice good washing.”
“That doesn’t sound very historically accurate,” said Matilda. “But I’m not about to complain.”