The minute Lian approached the mayor's office, she felt uneasy. The guards at the door stared right at her, their faces grim and threatening. Inside was no better. Everyone, from the women washing the walls to the men with long spears viewed her with open hostility. Every nerve in her body told her to turn back and leave, but she didn't yet trust those instincts. She had only been a vagabond four years, and Shuli Go were still trusted in many parts of the Empire. Not, however, in Chongqing.
She approached the reception area, a raised dais on which three of the mayor's servants sat and met with supplicants. The two women and one man almost had their eyes bulging out of their heads as she made her way to them. Still, she bowed formally and began the formal supplication process.
"My ladies and lord, I, of the family Zhao, of the Shuli Go order—"
"The former Shuli Go order!" The leftmost woman, a bulging calamity of a matron, bellowed at her.
"Uh… as you, as you say, of the former…" but it was too late.
"You dare wear a sword in the city of Chongqing without wearing the formal seal of her lady the mayor?" The other woman, a thinner, older woman with a high-pitched, shrieking voice accosted her.
"I did not know…"
"To wear such a weapon in Chongqing is punishable by not less than ten years of servitude to the city," intoned the man in the middle, a man whose very face exhaled bureaucratic boredom.
"I did not know it was required. I will happily surrender my weapon until I have the proper seal," Lian offered, her face flushing and the realization of the men all around her with long spears creeping back into her consciousness.
"That is unlikely to occur. Our Lady the Mayor of Chongqing has decreed that Shuli Go are to be banished at first sight. The guards should not have even allowed you entry," the fat woman boomed.
"I… I arrived with a friend. We travelled under his papers."
"Forgery and deceit then too!?" The older woman railed.
"What business would a Shuli Go even have in Chongqing?" The man asked.
"I…" Lian stumbled, a searing hotness saturating her face and boiling her brain. She bowed again and panicked, "I… I killed some bandits, outside of the city. I… I thought I… there may be some reward. I brought their hands…"
When she looked up she saw her fate amidst the illustrious court of her Lady the Mayor of Chongqing had been sealed.
"You admit to murder in this hall! Before all the Gods and ancestors! What depravity!"
"You bring us their hands as if we know who they belong to? You could have murdered our citizens, how are we to know the difference?"
"Remember the family yesterday, who had been expecting ten relatives to arrive for a week? I think we have found their killer."
"No, wait, I… the man I was travelling with. The Wei family, they were attacked, I defended the survivor…" but Lian's voice was lost amidst the shouts from the mayor's representatives and those of the guards who quickly moved in and grabbed hold of her arms. She was too shaken to even consider fighting. Instead she slumped, her face red with shame and confusion, as the guards took her belongings, her sword and her bag full of hands, and escorted her down some stairs and into the darkness of the Chongqing jail.
She was thrown into a cell in a long string of them, iron lattice separating one cell from another, and only one tiny candle at each end to illuminate anything. It was cold, humid, and smelled of rot and disease. It was only when the jailer threw the lock on the gate behind her that the heat lifted from Lian's head and she realized she was in trouble.