Tournament of Losers
Friar, they were all dead or had abruptly decided to find work as sailors.
    Two huge figures guarded the main door, such as it was, to the temple. Rath saluted. "Ho, Jen, Pippin. How are my favorite gargoyles?"
    Pippin rolled his eyes and grunted. Jen gave one of her toothy, silvery smiles. Rumor had it she'd been a merchant's daughter once, and that was how she'd afforded such fancy tooth repairs. Rath was fairly certain she had always been a street rat as much as the rest of them; she was just exceptional at beating coins out of people. And everyone knew she was one of Friar's favorites. "Get inside," she said. "His patience is about to run out."
    "What patience?" Rath muttered as he stepped past them into the damp, moldy, and smoky-smelling temple. The smooth floor had long ago been shattered, most of it cracked, broken, and covered by pools of filthy water.
    But beyond the main room, into the private rooms reserved for priests, everything had been repaired and better tended, at least moderately. It smelled heavily of Friar's cologne and the cigarettes his lot were always smoking: the fancy, expensive kind that Rath would never be able to afford.
    Another guard, dressed in mismatched armor probably stolen from at least six places, leered as he saw Rath. "Hello, pretty boy."
    Rath snorted. "If you think calling me pretty is going to get you anything, it's no wonder you can't afford more than a farthing whore every second full moon."
    The guard's leer turned into a scowl, and his pasty skin turned a splotchy red. "You fucking—"
    "Enough!" Friar barked, his head poking out a door. "If you can't resist the taunts of a Fates-damned whore, why am I trusting you to guard anything? Shut your damned mouth and do your job. Rat, get your ass in here and give me my damned money."
    Rath stepped by the guard, whose glare promised their conversation wasn't over. "That one isn't going to last long," he said as he stepped into the opulent, over-perfumed room that was Friar's office.
    Friar took a seat at a large, heavy wooden desk, the kind Rath had once seen in the office of a merchant who'd called him in as a boy to ask him questions about a theft. It was bigger than Rath's bed, dark and carved all over the front and sides with ornate depictions of animals. The chair Friar sat at was just as absurd. Behind him, on either side of the chair, were more stone-faced guards. Another stood inside the door, and a last one at the window that overlooked a weedy, half-flooded scrap of land that had once been a free garden. "I don't need you telling me that. Only thing I want from you is my fifteen slick."
    Pulling out his coin purse, Rath tipped out the fifteen marks into his hand, stomach twisting. His fucking father. How much damned money would Rath and his mother have if his useless, Fates-rejected father hadn't forced all of them to bleed their lives away paying his debts so they could live to do it another day? Fifteen slick. That was enough money to take care of him and his mother for a long time.
    He balled his hand around the money, then strode up to the desk and slapped the pile of coins on it. "Fifteen slick, on time. Are we even?"
    Friar reached out idly, moving slowly, lazily, as he counted out each coin and dropped it into the fat purse sitting at his elbow. Finally, when the last coin had vanished, he leaned back in his chair and drawled, "Even—for now."
    "I'm not concerned with debts that don't exist yet. See you around, Friar." He turned around and headed for the door.
    "I hear you're in the tournament," Friar called after him.
    Rath heaved a sigh. Why in the Fates did Friar care about that? "Where else was I going to get the slick? What's it to you?"
    "I like you, Rat, even if I don't always like the way your mouth flaps. There are certain parties extremely interested in winning very particular parts of the tournament. You'd do well to keep your goals modest and be better off getting out of it entirely."
    "What?" Rath turned

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