Chapter 96: A Stand of Conscience

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...And thus is your vow, to keep safe the realm, to guard the Kingdom with your life. Now, raise yor hand and swear it. 'I vow to vouchsafe the Kingdom and guard the Crown, to hunt down enemies of the law, whether they be agents without or criminals within. I vow to serve the King, to be his blade in the night, his bow in the day, his eyes in the light, and his ears in the dark. I vow this, swear it upon my life, to uphold it for as long as I draw breath.'

-The Necromancer's Notes, Transcripts Wing, Passage A1165-30M, Alberion Ranger Oath


One Year Ago


Raddas stared at the letter that Laidu had received. "This is official?" he asked, having to practically shout in the crowded room.

"Looks like it, Laidu said, wrapping his one hand in tight cotton bandages. His other hand was already wrapped for protection, ready to punch some skulls. "I'll just deal with it when the time comes." He pulled the bandage tight, then tied it off. "And don't show it," he snarled under his breath. "We've worked hard enough on our cover identities. Don't blow it." 

Raddas nodded and tucked the letter into the large leather belt he wore. The belt had a higher waist than his pants, coming up past his navel, emblazoned with what looked like a crocodile sewn into the leather, made up of vibrant green beads. "Why am I dressed like this again?" he asked Gial, sitting next to them in the booth. The underground fighting ring (both literally and figuratively underground) had several booths on raised platforms, one of which was reserved for them. Or rather, for the people the criminals running the fighting ring thought the Rangers were. 

"Same reason I need to wear this stupid robe," Gial snapped. It wasn't like anyone could hear them over the din of the illegal fight club. "Laidu looks exotic enough as he is. But they're expecting something crazy from the Mad Ajandi Sultan." 

"So you dressed me up like a tribesman from the Circle?" Raddas asked. He tugged at the thin, spiky braids in his wiry hair. "Why couldn't I wear a shirt?" 

"They're expecting a barbarian, so a barbarian is what we give them," Gial said. "And besides, aren't you from the Circle?" 

"I'm from an Alberic trading outpost. I was a scribe's apprentice," Raddas said. "I wore a shirt and pants. I didn't dress like this." 

"I know," Gial said. "And that, my friends, is exactly why you're dressed up in such a trite and stereotypical way." He smiled.

"So we fulfill every stereotype they expect?" Raddas asked. 

"Yep. That way, they assume they know everything about you, they don't bother looking in any deeper. After all, good or bad, all that stereotypes are are shortcuts in thinking. You don't want to spend all your time judging and deducing for every new situation or person you come across, so you generalize. And we're just taking advantage of that, hijacking their thoughts, and sending them on that shortcut without them even realizing it," Gial said. "Which is why I look like what a slack-jawed idiot thinks Ajandi sultans look like." 

"They do dress like that," Laidu said. "I've seen them. Don't you remember? We have the scars on our back from the last time we enjoyed the 'traditional Ajandi hospitality.' I don't really want to have that happen again, and I don't like remembering it. But you are dressed accurately. Except normally they'd be fatter." He shrugged. 

Gial looked at Raddas, staring at the seam where the Ranger's deep brown skin met the light tan of the leather belt. "What's the letter?" 

"Apparently," Raddas said, annoyed, "Denan's been promoted, and his first act after promotion is to punish Laidu for 'disorderly conduct on a mission.' And the example he used was the de Voileaux case." 

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