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Posts Tagged ‘bad customers’

There is no “[sex trafficking] marketplace”, but rather all sorts of people selling and buying sex for their own reasons, some of them miserable.  –  Laura Agustín

License to Rape

Police states define the bodies of all citizens as “crime scenes” which can be violated by “authorities” at will:

San Diego County may not remove children from their homes and subject them to highly intrusive physical examinations without parental permission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled…The case stems from an April 2010 incident involving Michael and Melissa Mann and their four young children.  The Manns had apparently spanked at least one of the kids with a wooden spoon as a form of punishment…The county [abducted] the children…and [held] them in [custody]…while the parents went to court to regain custody…a doctor performed a 22-step medical exam requiring “blood samples and a gynecological and rectal exam…[including] separat[ing] the labia and look[ing] at the hymen”…County officials did not obtain a court order authorizing these examinations, nor did the parents sign off.  Indeed, the Manns didn’t even know [that]…their kids [had been molested] until one of them said something about it later…

Real People 

Universities are very slowly beginning to turn toward sex worker rights:

…Lady Lola Lightning…a 23-year-old [NYU] sophomore and Salem, Massachusetts native started playing with Periscope just five months ago….[and has] gathered a loyal following as a webcam model…she doesn’t use toys or do too many tricks; she just strips down and has a raw chat with viewers…along with her new job as a stripper in Brooklyn, she is able to pay for her entire tuition and living expenses without support from her family…

Not To Be Taken Internally (First Updates of the Year)

Please, y’all, do NOT let non-doctors inject liquid silicone into your bodies, unless you want to die:

On October 15, 2018, a 28-year-old Australian-born Seattle resident named Jack Chapman, also known as Pup Tank, died…he…was…romantically linked to Dylan Ray Hafertepen, a well-known member of the Dom/sub pup play communities in San Francisco and, later, Seattle…Hafertepen[‘s]…Tumblr (as well as the Tumblr accounts of several of his pups) contained numerous images of their engorged scrotums, dramatically increased in size due to liquid silicone injections.  In one picture, Tank’s testicles dangle outside of his basketball shorts, his nuts roughly the size of two dodgeballs…Since World War II, cosmetic surgeons and back-alley “pumpers” have offered liquid silicone injections as a quick and dirty form of plastic surgery…But such injections aren’t approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for cosmetic procedures because of adverse reactions.  Sometimes they harden into painful masses that appear like wormy tumors under the skin.  Sometimes the surrounding tissue gets infected…Other times, stray bits can travel through the bloodstream, causing [fatal] embolisms…Numerous articles have discussed trans women who end up disfigured or dead because of silicone injections by unlicensed pumpers.  But few mention the pumpers who offer silicone injections for gay men…Tank died from “silicone embolism syndrome”…[which] led to “pneumonitis”…bleeding in the lungs…and eventually…death…

The article is very long and very detailed, and describes what looks to me like a very abusive BDSM relationship.  But it wasn’t the emotional & psychological abuse which killed Chapman/Tank; it was misuse of a substance which has caused the deaths of many seeking quick, cheap body modification without proper medical safeguards.

The Notorious Badge

Looks like I’m not the only sex worker writing horror with sex worker characters:

Award-winning screenwriter Isa Mazzei did not have a welcoming introduction to the movie industry.  “I’ve…never been more sexually harassed than trying to sell this film in Hollywood,” she [said]…Mazzei, a former cam girl, has written one of the hottest horror movies on this year’s genre festival circuit.  Cam, which will debut on Netflix later this month, drags the audience inside the paranoia and perils of being an internet star.  Her success in creating a believable yet terrifying online dystopia was bolstered by its roots in Mazzei’s real fears, including the risks of being harassed, hacked, doxxed or assaulted…Mazzei had to endure the sleaze of movie execs who believed they could harass and belittle her because of her previous  sex work.  Lots of them asked her to share details from her past life, some suggested she was only credited as the screenwriter as a gimmick to help the pitch, while one owner of a Hollywood agency went so far as to write an alternate ending to the semi-biographical movie that included himself and Mazzei inserted into the script…

No Difference

African campaigns against homosexuality are a lot like US campaigns against sex work:

The governor of…Dar es Salaam…launched an anti-gay crackdown…calling on [collaborators] to begin reporting homosexuals for round-ups to begin next week…homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania, with same-sex acts between men punishable by a maximum life sentence.  “These homosexuals boast on social networks,” said [governor Paul] Makonda, a fervent Christian and loyal ally of President John Magufuli.  “Give me their names,” he demanded. “My ad hoc team will begin to get their hands on them”…Anti-homosexual sentiment is rife in Tanzania…and…has increased since Magufuli’s 2015 election…AIDS clinics have also been shut down under Magafuli, accused of “promoting” homosexuality, while he has encouraged women to abandon birth control and have more babies…

Somewhere in the Middle (#425)

Kate Iselin on myths about clients:

…Films and television shows cast clients as either sinister perverts who slither around in the darkness…or drug-addled millionaires looking for more Barbie-lookalikes to fill their yachts with for the weekend…Sure, not every client is perfect.  Some are far from it.  I could share a horror story or two about some who…disregard [hygiene or] boundaries…But clients like these are, thankfully, rare.  The majority of people who visit sex workers — whether they visit strip clubs, brothels, see private workers, or simply download some good, old-fashioned porn — are as normal and average as you and me.  They have jobs, and hobbies, and families, and social lives, just like anyone else…I believe it’s the heavy stigma around sex work that carries over to our clients, too: it makes sense that someone who thinks sex workers are immoral and disgusting would also feel the same about the people who pay to spend time with us…the belief that our clients are bad people is damaging not only to our clients themselves, but to the sex industry as a whole…

The Clueless Leading the Hysterical (#687) 

This is what a moral panic looks like:

The Drug Enforcement Administration [worked to drum up hysteria over] candy laced with marijuana and methamphetamine this Halloween.  The DEA St. Louis Division says there has been no [actual] threat, but [authoritarians are using the existence] of drug-laced edibles [in states where cannabis is legal to frighten the ignorant]…signs of marijuana or meth-laced candy include unusual wrapping, appearance, unusual colors, odd smell…candy…that is unwrapped or unmarked…

There has literally never been a case of a kid getting drugged candy in his trick-or-treat bag. Not a single one.  Every time the claim has been made, it turns out to be either an intentional hoax or some nefarious shit by the parents.

Full of Themselves (#787)

Puritanical language is an intrinsic part of any story about cops raiding massage parlors:

Police have posted notices at 18 massage parlors in Kent [Washington] saying that they will be shut down…after a monthslong [escapade involving vice cops getting happy endings at] businesses that they say were fronts for prostitution…some of the massage-parlor owners and employees have been charged with crimes and…[prosecutors] plan…to bring charges against any customers who engaged in prostitution…many of the businesses…were not licensed by the state and failed to follow regulations to protect the health and privacy of patrons…

“Fronts”.  “Prostitution”.  “Crimes”.  “Engaged in prostitution”.  “Regulations”.  And it’s pretty hilarious to see thugs pretending to give a shit about people’s privacy while simultaneously plotting to destroy their lives.

Neither Addiction Nor Epidemic (#792) 

It’s good to see “sex addiction” collapsing as an excuse for bad behavior:

A former WAFB employee who secretly recorded two female station employees using the restroom in 2017 was sentenced to four months in prison…Morgan McDermitt…must also register as a sex offender for 15 years. His wife, upon hearing the sentence…ran from the courtroom sobbing…Judge Beau Higginbotham initially sentenced McDermitt…to four years in prison…but then suspended all but four months of the sentence. In July, Higginbotham refused to accept a proposed plea bargain in the case that would have only placed McDermitt on probation…The judge asked McDermitt, who sought sex addiction therapy after his arrest, why he did not seek help before he was caught…

Damned Lies (#866)

It’s good to see fact checkers demolishing politicians’ grandiose claims about Backpage:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton…[claimed to have] “shut down the world’s largest human trafficking marketplace”…The Texas attorney general’s office helped shut down the Backpage website, which is what another Paxton ad says.  However, the federal government led the shutdown and officials in other states pitched in.  Significantly too, we otherwise landed no confirmation that the Backpage site, which profited from ads about sex, also was the world’s largest trafficking marketplace–a classification that experts found dubious and unverifiable.  All told, we rate this statement Mostly False…

Suppression

This is especially important because other states are trying the same scam:

…Pennsylvania [prisons will]…allow…book orders to resume through a new centralized processing center…The [censorship plan] was…[pretended] to eliminate drug smuggling into the prisons, [when in actuality all contraband comes in via screws]…[Chief Screw] John Wetzel said the new procedure was a response to criticisms by book-donation groups…The new policy…allows family and friends to order books to be shipped directly from publishers or bookstores to a secure processing center in Bellefonte, Pa., where staff will screen books five days per week.  It also enables inmates to place orders directly from a hard-copy catalog…the book-donation groups still have concerns about how the new process will play out, including how the [prison system] will ensure the packages reach the inmates who requested them, intact with all supplemental materials…Sean Damon of Amistad Law Project, which led protests over the book prohibition…[is] not satisfied, as other new security measures — including the scanning and surveillance of incoming mail, and the photocopying of inmate legal mail — remain in place…

Traffic Jam (#877)

Remember that “threat” a Hawaiian prohibitionist claimed to have received from “pimps”?

The recent publication of a hyperbolic study that purported to show an “astronomical” level of demand for sex workers in the Hawaii was punctuated by…Police…respond[ing] to a call regarding a purported threat of physical violence against [prohibitionist politician] Khara Jabola-Carolus…police concluded that there had been no physical threat…[what actually happened was that during] a conference call…one [prohibitionist claimed to]…hav[e] received a…text message [from Dominique Roe-Sepowitz which in turn claimed] that…some person or persons were “trying to get Jabola-Carolus fired”…

Signs (#878) 

Another state mandates indoctrinating hotel workers into being anti-whore snitches:

A state mandate now aims to [harass] sex [workers] in Minnesota through the state’s hotel industry.  The law requires all hotel and motel employees to be [indoctrinated] in [anti-whore propaganda].  The training must be completed by Nov. 28.  After that date, all new employees must be [indoctrinated] within 90 days of hire…the signs to look for [include] guest[s traveling light]…or [with their children]…“There might be signs in the room – for example, that they…request extra sheets and extra towels, [and enjoy their privacy]” said Minnesota [prohibitionist]…Beatriz Menanteau…

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Readers whose sexuality is primarily vanilla may be unfamiliar with the kink term “topping from the bottom”, but it isn’t difficult to explain.  A “top” is the dominant or active partner in a scene and “topping” is acting as a top (ie dominating, putting the other in bondage, inflicting pain, etc); a “bottom” is the submissive or receptive partner and “bottoming” is the act of being tied up, having pain inflicted, etc.  “Topping from the bottom” is when the bottom keeps trying to run the scene, sometimes by sabotaging the top’s efforts (such as by fucking up a task on purpose so as to draw down punishment) and sometimes by volunteering what they want to do in faux-submissive language (“Let me please you by…” etc).  Now, obviously an ethical kink interaction is a mutual one in which both partners get their needs met, but the place for that is in the negotiation before the scene; if things during the scene become too intense or otherwise go south, the partners usually have a prearranged “safeword” which acts as a panic button.  For a bottom to “safe out” or express their needs and desires before or after a scene (eg “next time I’d like such-and-such”) is not topping from the bottom; the term is reserved for those who say they want to let go of control, but in actuality refuse to.  Sometimes it’s a subtle behavior and sometimes an overt one, but it’s always annoying, and I find it’s much more common in male bottoms.  Maybe that’s because guys are less able to control their sexual impulses, and maybe it’s because they’re used to making sexual demands of women and can’t let that go even when their sexuality is masochistic or “submissive”.  But whatever the reason, I know it’s not just me because I’ve heard many complaints from dommes about such behaviors, and every freaking week I see guys on Twitter with “slave” or “sissy” or “submissive” or whatever in their handles attempting to “correct” or argue with me or even with clearly-declared professional dominatrices.  Another (and IMHO even more egregious) form of this is the behavior Matisse calls “bottoming at” someone; this is when a self-declared bottom violates a top’s boundaries by enacting “submissive” behavior toward her without any kind of prior negotiation or consent (Matisse has told the story of a complete stranger who once came up to her in a very public place, got on his knees and started loudly addressing her as “Mistress”; needless to say she was mortified).

The reason I’ve explained all this is because of the recent mess involving the “Shitty Media Men” list, an attempt to create something like the DNS (“Do Not See”) lists used by sex workers, only for amateurs.  Unfortunately, because amateurs do not understand the need for discretion as pros do, and because the circulation of the list included female reporters, the list went public and its originator was outed within twelve hours despite the instructions “Please never name an accuser, and please never share this document with a man” clearly appearing at the top.  Even then, the damage might’ve been limited to some argumentation and finger-pointing which would’ve died down and sank into the greater “Me Too” pool within a few weeks if not for the antics of one of the men on the list, a writer named Stephen Elliott who attempted to defend himself in an essay thus:

My entry reads: “Rape accusations, sexual harassment, coercion, unsolicited invitations to his apartment…”  I was shocked to find myself accused of rape.  I don’t like intercourse, I don’t like penetrating people with objects, and I don’t like receiving oral sex.  My entire sexuality is wrapped up in BDSM.  Cross-dressing, bondage, masochism.  I’m always the bottom.  I’ve been in long romantic relationships with women without ever seeing them naked…I’ve never had sex with anyone who works in media.  I am not seeking to come out about my sexuality as a means of creating a diversion…I’ve always been open about my sexuality, and I have even written entire books on the topic

I don’t know Elliott, and I’ve never met him, but a number of sex workers I follow on Twitter have, and apparently he’s infamous among American professional dommes for…well, shitty sexual behavior (including bottoming at them).  But even had I not heard any of these stories, I’d still be inclined to point out that his “I can’t possibly have sexually harassed women because I’m a bottom” holds about as much water as the average colander.  As I described in the first paragraph, “submissive” men are quite capable of being creepy, pushy and even threatening, especially for vanilla women who don’t understand the dynamic; Elliott writes “I am not seeking to…creat[e] a diversion,” but that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.  Like so many bad male bottoms, he’s trying to get his way by being manipulative and then retreating behind “but I’m a slaaaaaaave!” when called on it.  But Mr. Too-Submissive-To-Be-a-Creep wasn’t content to just whine about how he’s a victim; he decided to weaponize that victimhood:

Stephen Elliott…is suing Moira Donegan, the creator of the Shitty Media Men List for libel and emotional distress…and is seeking at least $1.5 million in damages…According to the suit, Elliott also intends to sue other women who contributed to the Google spreadsheet (who he names as “Jane Does”), which briefly circulated last October and contained the names of over of 70 men who were anonymously accused of sexual misconduct, ranging from rape to harassment…Elliott intends to subpeona the Google metadata for the list in order to obtain this information…Elliott has acquired attorney Andrew Miltenberg…who has made a name for himself defending men accused of sexual assault…Elliott’s suit is the only legal action to have taken place in the aftermath of the controversial spreadsheet…

The New York Times story on the suit adds the telling detail that “Mr. Elliott is asking the court to order that the defendants ‘issue a written retraction to each and every person to whom they originally published the false and defamatory statements’,” a demand which only makes sense when one notes its resemblance to punishwork that a teacher might inflict on a misbehaving student (or a domme on a sub in a school role-play), a pointless and repetitive task intended to accomplish nothing but humiliation.  Elliott’s every action, from the tales I’ve heard of his behavior in person to his article to this lawsuit, looks like part of a strategy to cloak sexual demands behind a veneer of submission, weakness or victimhood.  It’s like a real-world version of topping from the bottom, and what he’s trying to accomplish is nothing less than scaring amateur women out of warning each other about shitty men like him.

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It’s no secret that I do not suffer fools gladly, and never have.  In the past few years my reaction to imbeciles online has resulted in my being compared to a Western gunfighter, various warriors, a wronged wolverine, and even a psychic mutant (sorry, I can’t find that column); earlier this year, Matisse said I was like a “flaming sword of doom on Twitter”.  But while at one time I had a great deal more patience with work calls, the events of the past few months have necessitated a change in that department as well.  Up until this year, a large enough fraction of the texts and phone calls I received led to paying work to justify my taking at least a few minutes with each caller.  But now that Backpage is gone and the guys who used it have flooded into all the other sites, and Eros has made the incredibly asinine decision to remove all advertiser’s website links (thus driving browsers to contact providers by phone or email), I’ve been forced to improve my phone-screening skill set so as to eliminate the > 80% of phone callers or texters who are time-wasters, clowns, or cheapskates.  Even if I’m awake, I’m unlikely to answer a voice call before noon or after midnight, because those guys are most likely looking for a session nownownow and I don’t work at any AM hour (if they really want to see me, they can text or email).  Texts from any number not already in my phone book receive a short reply with my website link (and I wish I had a way to save that as something like a macro), and most of those don’t reply once they see my rates (or else they’re too lazy to even visit the site).  Guys who voice-call and mumble, ignore my questions, make stupid comments or just keep saying “hi” are going to be hung up on, and those who then try to pursue by texting are likely to get their feelings hurt.  Some of you reading this may not understand why this strictness is necessary, but I know the sex workers get it:  if I spent just five minutes with everyone who contacts me I’d be on the phone for about two hours a day, and less than a fifth of that effort would actually lead to any money.  So it’s absolutely imperative that I quickly separate the grain from the chaff so as to concentrate on the former rather than wasting my time and emotional energy on the latter.

Still, I recognize that there may be some men who want to be good clients, but simply lack the phone skills to present that way; maybe English isn’t their first language, or they’re painfully shy, or nervous about contacting an escort because they never have before.  To those guys, I advise doing what a new client I saw last week did:  use email.  All the emails I received from this gent were clear and polite, and I had no trouble screening him, but when we chatted so I could give him directions I noticed he wasn’t very verbal, and when we actually met I don’t think he said 40 words in the whole hour.  The reason it worked out anyway was that he made a realistic assessment of his competence in spoken English, understood that his written English was much better, and so followed his strong suit.  So unless you’re both eloquent and confident, and quite familiar with my rates and such, email is probably the best approach; not only does it give you the opportunity to put your best foot forward, but it also allows me to answer when I’m in the proper frame of mind.

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I often get questions from women who are interested in becoming sex workers.  Sometimes they have specific questions, but more often they want general advice; you can find past questions like this in my Mentoring tag, or on my “Previously Asked Questions” page under “Mentoring”.  But while I was answering last week’s question I realized that I cannot in good conscience continue to advise young American women to enter full-service sex work (i.e. escorting or other forms of prostitution) at all until “sex trafficking” hysteria has imploded and the ramped-up persecution of sex workers, our clients, our loved ones and our associates has at last died down.  Every day I read stories of women being raped, beaten, humiliated, locked in cages and even murdered by cops who claim either that they’re “rescuing” us or “abating” us (like a disease).  Every day I receive communications from time-wasters and psychos, and read other ladies’ complaints of similar incidents.  Every few weeks another advertising site or escort service falls victim to a high-profile pogrom, and a constant stream of new surveillance weapons are deployed against us (and this doesn’t even count the shockingly-invasive amounts of information websites like Eros are demanding as a condition of carrying escorts’ ads).  On top of all that, I myself keep advising gentlemen to stick to contacting well-known and well-established providers, and to avoid unknowns; that’s excellent advice for them, but very bad for new ladies just getting into the business.  And while the vast majority of clients are probably unaware of my advice, it would be pretty shitty of me to help women get into the business while simultaneously warning men to avoid them.  No, I’m afraid that for the duration of the moral panic I’ll have to limit myself to helping those who’ve already crossed the Rubicon, while suggesting that those who haven’t consider taking up a branch of sex work that hasn’t been criminalized…yet.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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I had to find a new job and apartment, and in the ensuing chaos I was late and cheap on the last appointments with my regular girl, and I feel like I didn’t treat her very well.  She’s at a new escort agency now, and now that things have settled down at my end, I’d like to try a fresh start, and see if I can maintain a proper regular worker/client relationship, but I don’t know if she would be okay with that or would prefer I simply never see her again.

Unless your lady has indicated clearly to you that she’s angry and doesn’t want to see you any more (and most of us will make that pretty clear), it doesn’t hurt to ask her for another appointment.  The worst she can do is say “no”.  And if she doesn’t, make absolutely sure that you do not run late for your next several appointments; tell her how sorry you are that you were flaky and didn’t treat her as she deserves to be treated, and give her both a nice tip and a gift for your next few sessions.  I think it’s very likely she’ll forgive you.  But if she doesn’t return your calls or emails, or makes excuses to not book appointments with you, you need to accept that she would prefer not to see you again.  In that case, move on, learn from your mistakes, and be sure to be an exemplary client to the other ladies you see from now on.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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I’d like to see you frequently, but that would add up pretty fast.  Do you give discounts for regular clients?

Every independent sex professional in the world has heard the line, “if you give me a discount I’ll be a regular”, and every pro in the world who’s heard it more than once (which is to say, everyone who’s been doing it for more than a month or so) rolls her eyes when she hears it.  Would you walk into any other business and make such an offer?  Of course you wouldn’t, because everybody including you knows it’s bullshit.  That’s not how volume discounts work, as anyone who’s ever been to a place like Sam’s or Costco understands; the way to get a lower price per unit is to buy a larger package deal up front.  Want a “regular client” discount from your favorite provider?  Offer to pay her up front for x number of sessions, and ask how much of a discount she’d give you for that.  Yes, it requires you to trust she’ll make good once you fork over the cash…just like you want her to trust that you’ll make good on your promise of regularity.  I can’t promise that any given sex worker will actually make such a deal, and I’m not telling you that some might not grant your request for a lower price after you’ve been seeing them for a while.  What I am telling you is that nobody is going to give a total stranger a discount merely on his say-so that he’ll be back, because we aren’t stupid.

As for me personally, I offer two kinds of package deals.  Since my hourly rate decreases the more hours you buy, I’m willing to sell a block of time for the multi-hour rate and then let you divide it up as you like (incall only; we’d need to work out a slightly higher price if you expect me to drive somewhere every time).  So, you could pay me up-front for a 16-hour gig and then take it as 8 two-hour sessions or 4 dinner dates; I’d even let you break it into 16 one-hour sessions, but I’d expect an extra tip for that much prep time  (remember, I only have to get pretty once per date, so 16 one-hour sessions is a LOT more prep time in all than one 16-hour session).  The other way to do it is a sugar-type arrangement wherein you pay me every month and I give you a agreed-upon amount of time every week.  The reason I’m willing to make these deals is simple:  regular clients are far less work and stress (no screening, no uncertainty or time-wasting back-and-forth initial-contact dance), and I like the comfort and certainty of prepaid appointments (so I naturally want to encourage them).  Again, I can’t promise that other ladies will be as generous, or that they’ll even make such a deal in the first place.  But the number willing to make such a deal is bound to be dramatically higher than the number who will respond well to a no-skin-in-the-game “if you give me a discount I’ll be a regular”, because the latter number is approximately zero.

(Have a question of your own?  Please consult this page to see if I’ve answered it in a previous column, and if not just click here to ask me via email.)

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It’s been over a year since I wrote a new story, but this one has been slowly growing in my head since late autumn of 2014, and it finally came forth week before last.  I’m just going to tease you with the beginning; if you want a copy, you can either buy it on Kindle or get a PDF copy by becoming a patron of my blog.  If you’re already a patron, you should’ve received a copy one week ago today; if you didn’t, please let me know.

Dane retrieved his knife from the body of the dog and began to carve as many choice cuts from the carcass of the wild cow as he thought he could eat before they spoiled; it wasn’t that much, but he figured he’d be in Korneg within a few days anyhow, and then he could buy all the food he wanted with the gold & furs he’d taken from that trader he ambushed last week.  The job was easier than he had expected; he congratulated himself on having had the good sense to let the dog pack do most of the work of butchery before he started picking them off from the top of the ruined tower.  He knew they’d be back soon, once hunger overcame fear of the rifle; still, half a dozen precious rounds were a good trade for an equal number of big, thick steaks.  It had been a long time since he’d had beef, since that excellent roast in Westover; maybe he should’ve stayed there longer.  But Dane was a cautious man, and he figured it probably wasn’t wise to stay in any city after he’d killed, even though she was just a whore; sooner or later the local warlord’s peacekeepers would’ve figured out which of the transients currently in town had done it, and his career would’ve come to an abrupt halt at the end of a rope.  Or something both much worse and much slower, if the harlots’ guild had caught him first.

Still, it had been a good stay while it lasted, and a profitable one; besides the rifle and ammo belt, some fairly-new boots and a little gold, he’d managed to steal a good horse on the way out.  That put Korneg within reach; though he was a strong walker, no human could outrun a hungry wild dog pack.  And since it was high time he left the Valley, that was now a necessity rather than just a preference.  He’d heard talk of Korneg for years…of its wealth, of the succulence of its foods, of the impregnability of its walls…and of the powerful queen who ruled it.  He had always wanted to see it for himself, but though Dane was no coward, he was also no fool; he knew that no matter how soft its beds or its women, he could not stay in Korneg long before his way of life put a price on his head.  Still, it guarded the only known safe pass to the Cities of the East, and that meant he had little choice but to visit it if he wished to remain free and alive.

The next few days were unremarkable except for the rain, but even that was a blessing because it meant plenty of water for both him and the horse in a season when good water was usually a concern.  It also meant he’d be that much harder to follow, in the event some bounty hunter had picked up his trail.  So all in all, he was in an unusually good mood when on the next clear day he spotted the stone pillars marking the edge of Korneg’s territory, despite the fact that they made him vaguely uneasy.  They were unlike anything he’d ever seen in his three decades of life:  five times as tall as a man they were, carved in the likeness of two huge serpents which coiled around and around until they ended in heads whose baleful eyes stared down at him, glinting like purple gems in the early afternoon sun.  It was obvious that they were intended as a show of power, and the display was a successful one; even in the heart of Ghezhel, mightiest city of the Valley, there were no comparable monuments.  There was an engraved tablet at the foot of the one on the right, but that was of no help to Dane since he had never learned to read.  However, the road beyond was well-built and well-maintained; he knew he couldn’t be more than a few days from the city wall, and he might even reach a trading post before nightfall.  So he set aside his disquiet and rode on, steadfastly resisting the gnawing urge to look back to see if the stone guardians were watching him…

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