The city of murderers is safe for travelers and strangers. Social rank is determined by the number of victims you can accumulate without getting caught — murderers keep the right ear of their victims, and the more ears you have, the higher you rate in Wieroo society. Despite this, the people are welcoming and hospitable; murder victims must be Wieroo citizens to count. Killing a noncitizen is treason, and is punished by complete loss of status and expulsion from the city. Only citizens can vote or hold office. Citizens are branded upon presentation of their first ear, and falsification of that brand is also punished by exile. There are families who have lived there peaceably for generations without becoming citizens, cheerfully paying their alien registration fee year after year after year.
Stumbling back from the bar, Cedar comes upon two citizens, one sprawled and bloody and the other crouched over him with the crooked knife preferred by the lower class. She leans against the wall to watch, her head spinning. He doesn’t notice her until he’s got the ear off. He freezes, face working from satisfaction to confusion to disappointment slowly. “Ah, hell,” he says, voice cracking. He’s young — thirteen or fourteen at the most — and tremendously ugly. The man in the street is much older, fat and prosperous, with the gold glint of a fifty-ear chain spread across his flabby paunch.
“It’s okay,” Cedar mumbles. “I’m not going to tell anyone. I didn’t see anything.”
He stares at her, then is gone up the alleyway, leaving her alone with her tenth body. “I’m starting to get used to you,” she tells it, and wanders off back to her rooms, where a bottle of red wine is waiting for her.