The House of Wolves

The Game which the Thieves play

een owed? And besides, you
e just a cranky old man, how do you expect to steal anything from me when you need others to do your thieving for you? ”

”I did it before girl, you would be wise to presume I can do it again…and besides, its only right for an adult to teach a child a necessary lesson. Especially the immature sort, which you clearly seem to be despite all your years. ”

”Oh? So now you want to act like a proper adult? Don make me laugh! When have you ever stepped up to do anything for me unless its for the sake of discipline? ”

”Ah…so you even admit its discipline, ” Raymond poured himself another glass of alcohol. ”And besides, in this world discipline is far more crucial than love. Why would I give you something you don need? ”

”Don pretend as if you care for me! You aren doing this for my benefi- ”

”And when did I ever say I was? Im not your father and I don intend to be. My discipline is to ensure the survival of the business, nothing more. ”

”So then why, ” She slammed her fist on the table angrily, ”will you not let me leave? ”

”Because you
e an important part of this company. You aint worthy of my respect nor full payment, but the fact that there were men requesting your service means you
e important. ”

”Well I won be staying until I receive that full payment. ” Aurelia spat, now face to face with Raymond. She turned to leave, but once again Raymonds voice drew her back.

”You can leave…but as I told you, youll come back eventually, I know you will. And that time, youll be so desperate, so hungry for this life that the payment Im giving you know will seem like a **in blessing. ”

”And how can you be so damn sure of that, huh? ”

”You truly never learn do you? I told you, because I have experience. Ive seen kingpins attempt to become merchants, only to return to their old habits or be betrayed. Ive seen men try to escape, to try to go clean and devote themselves to god and grace and all that nonsense and come crawling back all the same. Youd think the people would learn but no, they keep telling themselves the same lies and drinking up the same fantasies until they actually start to believe em. And what happens then? They slip up, and get punished for it in all the worst ways. ” He seemed genuinely bitter when saying this. Practically trembling with sheer, unconcealed frustration.

”Embarrassing is what it is. All trying to be king of this and king of that, trying to overthrow the status quo and reject some so called oppression- ”

”But there is oppression! ” Aurelia interjected angrily. ”Those bastards who call themselves merchants force people to hide their peculiarities whilst they showcase them proudly! There is discrimination and you know this for a fact! ”

In response Raymond simply raised his eyebrows at Aurelia and laughed.

”Its always amazed me how you could go from crude to suddenly articulate, yknow? Twas about five minutes ago when you were all ** you and you
e just a cranky old man, and here you are now talking like a goddamn scholar! What a riot! ”

”As if you
e any different. ”

”Ah, but I ain so impassioned as you, especially not about a matter I have a very basic understanding of. Im articulate when Im explaining the truth. You
e articulate when spouting out false injustices. ”

”Bullshit! And besides, what does being articulate or not have to do with anything? ”

”Tell me, how can you complain about hiding peculiarities when a place like this exists? We have dwarves, monsters, creatures of all kinds amongst us and no one says a damn thing! Pretty, peculiar don you think? ”

”Yes but we live in the underground, its far different down here than up there! ”

”Bah, the undergrounds no more than an illusion for peasants to think they can play noble. ” He shook his head with the same air of a frustrated educator, which aggravated Aurelia to no end.

”Tell me, those on top here, what differentiates them from the businessmen? The blood barons, pretty stupid name by the way, were all born into power too, power their daddy or mummy carved out of them when they were no more than a distant dream. So really, whats the big difference? They take and we take, they waddle around in their masks and shit while the elite in this place look as if they just walked out of a coffin! Like really, have you seen the so called Lord of Crows? He actually wears feathers around his cloak you know! ” He broke into a chuckle.

Aurelia on the other hand, looked around frantically, afraid that an assassin of some sort might spring from behind the tables and fill them both with holes. It was not wise to insult the Blood Barons here, and certainly not the Lord of Crows. It was the same as insulting the High Council when in Bayronds square, except here the punishments were perhaps even crueler.

But to her shock, no assassins sprung from the now empty pub, no arrows lodged themselves in any of their heads, quite literally nothing happened. All one could see was a worried little girl and a middle aged man who was laughing away nonsensically.

This awkward stalemate of sorts continued for about a minute, before Raymond regained his bearings and reignited the discussion once again.

”You see girl, all that separates merchants and thieves is the names we call ourselves. ”

Aurelia shook with rage and anger upon that statement. She didn know why, after all, how could she believe in the views she spoke of when she had broken her own code. But nevertheless, she continued to argue, clinging on to a hope that perhaps she could at least verbalize the freedom from this life she had held onto desperately. Maybe she couldn attain it, no, she certainly couldn . But perhaps, she could prove that it at least existed. It had to…right?

”So you
e saying these injustices don exist? ”

Raymond let out an uncomfortably long sigh, and took a sip from his refilled glass.

”Yes, yes I very much am. These injustices you speak of died long before any of us were born, when this ” He threw his hands up, gesturing at the area around him, ”was created. When the people came together and decided to build this market for the commoners to play like the merchants. Quite beautiful it is, don ya think? ” He then took a hard, scrutinizing look at Aurelia. ”Who am I kidding, of course you don , with all your righteous rambling and what not. ”

He froze, as if to consider something. Aurelia hardly wanted to hear anymore, but she didn have the will to leave either. She was stuck, forced to listen as all her justifications were teared down right before her eyes.

”Well, there are those who still find themselves going to war or shipped to the mines. ” He conceded, only to follow up by saying: ”however those are the idiots too proud and too stupid to do what needs to be done to survive. ”

”So then what about the girls and boys forced to degrade themselves in this market of yours? ” Aurelia snapped back, empowered with a new argument. But to her dismay, Raymond laughed at that too.

”Far better than being sent to a battlefield to die because you
e too poor to afford anything. Id take being shacked up with an old man over getting my arm cut off any day. And besides, you act like its better up top. You can wear all the jewelry you want and still be treated like a toy by those whose jewelry exceeds yours still. Youll be hard pressed to find anybody not degrading themselves one way or another aside from maybe the High King himself. ” He scoffed and shook his head.

”Everyone else is just deluding themselves with dreams and codes and all that in order to make themselves think they
e better than what they are. Just because you wrap a dagger in a neat little bow and stuff it in a box doesn make the blade duller. Remember that girl. ”

NO! You
e wrong! Aurelia wanted to scream. But this time, she kept her mouth silent and listened. She wondered if the code she had held so much faith in was just another lie she had been telling herself, a false scrap of hope she had clung in order to run away.

I can accept that. I can , I can , I can , I can , I CANT!

”Learned your lesson yet brat? Or do you need me to continue my discipline. ”

She shot him a scathing glare, one filled with all the hatred and fury she could muster. She hated Raymond at this moment, more than she ever had before. She hated him for breaking her this profoundly on a day when she was already so broken.

She hated him for stealing the hope she had clung too for so long just like that. But he wasn done. She wanted him to be done, she couldn stand to hear more. But he continued all the same.

”Pathetic. Before, as irritating as you were, you were at least somewhat respectable. I had hopes for you, you know? What a **ing disappointment. ”

He got up and made his way to the door, leaving Aurelia in silence.

”Where are you going, ” She asked softly. She had not the energy to be ferocious, not even in the slightest.

”Hitting the brothels. Shop closed right after you came in. ” He spat. But before he could leave, she stopped him yet again.

”So then what am I supposed to do huh? That was the only thing, the only damn thing that kept me going you know? What do you expect me to do now!? ”

”You truly just keep hitting new lows eh? Are you a babe, still dependent on its mothers milk? ”

”Please. I don care how stupid I must look, just tell me. ”

Raymonds face contorted as he mulled it over but eventually he sighed, and she could see his shoulders slumping in the reflection of the glass. He muttered to himself, ”can believe Im doing this ”, and made his way back to her.

”You have a brother don you? From what I heard, hes a bloody ignorant fool himself too. So fight to keep that, let that be your salvation. For some people its money, for some its women, the world goes around because people want. You just need to find what it is you want. ”

”But I thought you just wasted your time tearing down what I want. ”

”Theres a difference, girl, between wanting something and thinking that itll make you different. We all want things, you just have to not be stupid enough to assume itll make you better once you get it. Its like thinking that just because you can kill a merchant you can become one. Let me tell you what happens to people like that, they get burned by their own pride…or just burned, doesn really matter. But its especially dangerous when people like us think that. ”

”But what about those in power, what about the crime lords or the merchant bosses. ”

”Let the rich think what they want. Few can ever make anything of it, the rest are no different from clowns thinking they own the circus. Why should I care about their stupidity? All that matters is that I don get wrapped up in it. ”

Aurelia nodded. She understood now. Even if there was no salvation for herself, she still had her brother. She had always had her brother, since this all began. That had always been her primary purpose and objective, her desires had always been secondary. This experience had been no more than a necessary reminder and clarifier of that fact.

The articulate, questioning part of her died that day. Because she killed it. All she had now was the voice. The voice which pulled her into violence and which she had cursed for so long. But now she embraced, no, she drowned in it.

So much so that when it compelled her to to throw the bag of gold Ardos had given her into the river, she did so without hesitation. After all, she didn need it, she wasn worthy of it, and that was fine with her. Maybe, one day, she would earn it. But it sure as hell wouldn be from the hands of someone else. With it, was the box of contacts she kept for herself.

Ill take that money for myself with my own hands. I don care what I have to do to earn it, I don care if I have to degrade myself to get it. Im done with bullshit like that! Im done with other people and Im done expecting help or salvation or change!

The bag flew in a perfect arc as she that muttered those words to herself, and crashed into the canal. With it went the temptation of escape which she had wrestled with so greatly. When the bag hit the water, a coin spilled out, and instantly became dyed in filth, making it unrecognizable from the copper coins she had chosen to keep.

The canal that ran before her was the dirty, muddy, unfiltered part of it which couldn be bothered to be cleaned. But that was okay. It was the same canal after all, there was nothing to complain about. In fact, she liked the way it was now. Shed always been hesitant to admit the way it appealed to her, but what was there to hide?

Suddenly a man touched her shoulder. His teeth were crooked and his face was ugly. He threw her against the nearest wall, and clasped her mouth. He didn even hesitate or say anything beforehand,

”Nice hair you got there. ” He said, running his slimy fingers through her hair. Absolutely repulsive. But it was the same down here as it was in the square. It didn matter where she went, scum like this were everywhere. These people too drunk and stupid to see other people as other people would be found no matter where she went. And she had two choices, she could either join them, or become the pieces of meat who got played by them.

She had made her choice.

So this time, without hesitation, she drove her fist into the mans gut. He recoiled, giving her ample time to sweep his legs. She got on top of him, and for a second he grinned, thinking she was playing along with his twisted fantasies. Then, she raised her fist and with a single blow broke the mans nose.

Yes..beat him more the voice whispered. This time, she did not run from it. She beat him with her already bloody fists. Flesh was much softer than the wall was, and much more satisfying. She was tired of holding herself back, tired of her hopes being a double edged sword to keep her in line. She was tired of holding herself accountable and she was tired of her justifications compelling her to be better.

Now she knew it was impossible. Now, all of her hopes were thrust onto her brother, he was her only, absolute reason above all else. Soon enough, the man was dead, her hands dripping with blood, no longer hers. And thats how it would be. There would be no more self punishment, she was done with that.

I killed him for my brother, She told herself. This act right here, was all done for the purpose of making her stronger so that in the end, her brother would be happy. Upon further introspection she would have realized what a far fetched justification that was. But whether it made sense or not was no longer of relevance to her, because what need was there to understand? As long as she believed, she could do whatever she wished.

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