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Bad Guards: Soft Jobs


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Bad Guards: Soft Jobs


First Grade Constable Aru loved the promenade. Bright, clean, frequented by people who settled their differences with words rather than blades, or at least had the courtesy to employ their blades out of Aru’s sight . . . these things filled Aru’s heart with the deep satsifaction that came from not being threatened by armed men. It was a feeling that he treasured. Rank, Aru considered, hath its privileges.


Aru saw the hooded woman and her large friends taking up concealed positions near his post, and did his very best to ignore them.


“Afternoon Venk.â€Â


“Afternoon Aru.â€Â


Venk was a pleasant man to pass the day with. Five chubby children and an abundant wife may have drained Venk’s purse, but he was always ready with a bit of gossip and a small donation to the Guard’s Benevolent Fund. That was worth something.


Generally around two days pay.


“Any word on the restoration, Venk?â€Â


“None. Bloody guilds.â€Â


“I thought you were with the Merchants Committee?â€Â


“Nah. You have to have a posh little shop inside the promenade to join up with the MCs. Magic swords and scrolls, junk for smug nobles and dim tourists with more gold than brains. Bloody Barterman’s place has pushed up the rents so high an honest merchant can barely afford a place by the gates, let alone a spot on the tiers.â€Â


“What about the vegetable seller? And the dry goods man?â€Â


“Inherited property. Not for the likes of you or me. This is a city of nobles, thieves and guildsmen, and not one of them gives a thought to the working man.â€Â


“I hear you . . . still, spell scrolls aren’t all that expensive."


Venk looked questioningly at Aru.


"Useful, too," Aru continued, "buying a nice scroll or two doesn’t make you a fool.â€Â


“Useful? They’re illegal!â€Â


“Not if you pay your license fee Venk. Or if you’re a city official. Illegal to use maybe, but not to own."


Venk looked unconvinced.


Aru shifted nervously. "You can even use ‘em if you pay enough.â€Â


Venk offered Aru a long stare. “You buying scrolls, Aru?â€Â


With a furtive grin, Aru produced a vellum tube from his pack and displayed it to Venk. Venk looked over the complex symbols and odd diagrams, and noted with some distress the tendency of certain strings of text to glow.


“I can’t make heads or tails of that Aru. What do you want that for?â€Â


“Soft jobs, Venk.â€Â


“Soft jobs?â€Â


“The good-life. You know. Bettering myself.â€Â


Venk considered this. “I thought guarding was a good job. Nothing wrong with being a guard. My cousin Harry is a guard. Makes good money standing around all day in the council building, takes a few ‘gifts’ every now and then, spends his summers working the caravan routes. Not bad at all.â€Â


Aru slumped a little. “It’s not all like that Venk.â€Â


The hooded woman was by the fountain. Her companions had clear lines of fire towards the east gate. Aru’s grip shifted on his pike.


“So, what’s it like then? You have a ‘soft job’ Officer.â€Â


“Not ‘Officer’, ‘Constable’. Never ‘Officer’. ‘Constable’ is no place for a man my age to be, Venk."


Aru's eyes were focused on the young hooded woman and the large man beside her.


"Out in the weather in all seasons, no pension, thugs coming at you with fists and worse and Helm help you if you strike back too hard against a man with friends."


The large man walked back towards the east gate. He was holding a mace.


"The City won’t even pay for you to get healed up unless you’re a full Sergeant or better, and if you get killed . . . well, if they can, they may bring you back, but it’ll be coming out of your pay the rest of your life. I have a family . . . no, I need to get somewhere, something better.â€Â


Venk had never heard that many words at one time from Aru. The guard’s face was pale, his knuckles white on his pike shaft. His breathing was growing shallow. Venk’s hands began to close down the stall of their own accord.


“So how will a few scrolls get you a soft job then?â€Â


“Not jut the scrolls, Venk. I’m taking classes too. So are a few of my mates. The Cowls are running them out of that Sphere thing.â€Â


“What! You’re trying to learn magic! At your age?â€Â


“It’s not impossible. Once I do, there are loads of jobs for a healthy man who can cast a few spells. Good jobs, indoors. Safe jobs.â€Â


“What, working for the Cowls?â€Â


“Or higher up in the City government. Maybe even on a merchant ship, open sea and travel, cut of the profits when you hit port.â€Â


“Pirates, storms, sharks, fish men, monsters . . .â€Â


“You’ve got to think positive, Venk.â€Â


A group of mercenaries was now speaking with the hooded woman. The same mercenaries, Aru noticed, that had cleaned out the slavers and the Sphere. “None of my business,†Aru whispered to himself, “none of my business.â€Â


The hooded woman’s friends opened fire on the mercenaries. From just outside of the gate charged the large man she’d been speaking to. Some kind of cleric. Power burnt and twisted the air around the large man, forcing Aru’s eyes away as the cleric continued to chant. People were going to get hurt. Normal, ordinary people. Stomach surprisingly calm, Aru charged towards the hooded woman.


“In the name of the Council . . .â€Â


Venk ran.


Later, in the temple of Helm, his burns and cuts now expensive memories, Aru thanked the priest and headed home. He fingered the scroll still tucked in his greaves.


“Soft jobs†muttered Aru.

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