There were men up there who would kill him, and Kasoria did not slow as he trotted up the stairs. Peeling paint and odd, white squares where pictures used to hang flashed by him as he went and-
-they wouldn't even let him wait to get up there, apparently.
Mistake. Easier to wait for me to come through the door.
Something quick and scraggly came darting out of the doorway at the top of the stairs, red hair streaming as he launched himself at the little man coming up the stairs. Sword raised high over his head, clearly think he was going to bring it hammering down on his target, smite him like some legend from the old times.
Kasoria slid hard to his left, hard enough to smack his back flat against the wall-
-and the man sailed past him, gravity and momentum merciless mistresses-
-slamming into the wall at the bottom of the bend, but he was quick, and lithe and tried to backhand at Kasoria-
-who blocked the blow with his gladius, other hand shooting out-
-grabbing that thick red hair and-
Jumper's face smashed into the wall, and his nose shattered. Kasoria yanked him back again, pushing the gladius hard, pinning the sword and hand and arm against the wall-
Again, harder, a scream coming out his mouth this time, and again, louder, feral-
Sucking air and oxygen and energy into his lungs, always dancing on the edge of bloodlust, especially as Jumper's eyes went glassy and his nose as battered halfway into his brain. His legs went to jelly and he started to drop-
-Kasoria yanked back even harder, bearing the doomed man's neck-
-slit his throat with all passion of a butcher killing a sow. Red spray arced up and painted those parched white squares. Splattered the windows and dripped down, raced in rivulets and Kasoria would have noted their mortal grace-
-if he'd still been there. But he wasn't. He dropped the man, sweat from his hair still slick on his hand, and continued on his way. There was a sad little slump and sigh that blended together, but he didn't look back. That was one. How many more? Two? Four? More? He had no idea, but Semyon was probably up there. Wouldn't be far from his partner and as he passed through the doorway-
The man had a fucking spear, of all things. His chosen weapon in a house. He charged at Kasoria as he stood in the doorway, and the killer sidestepped, knocked the steel tip aside with his gladius, lunged forward as he did backhanding-
The man dropped the spear and backpedaled. Not a complete idiot, then.
Instead he want for a hunting knife, one of those huge-bladed bastards that was as thick as a sword at the middle. He tossed it from one hand to the other then hacked at Kasoria, forcing him to sway back-
-kicked out and the little man dodged him again, goading him, grinning, teeth shining white and mocking in a face split with blood-
That's it. Get angry. That'll help.
Hunter bellowed like a bull and charged, swinging, slashing, hacking, driving Kasoria back and back and feeling like he was winning. The little man's gladius came up and blocked him, weapons screeching and grinding together, ruddy red face leering over Kasoria as he savored the feel of the little man giving ground.
"Yer a dead man," he snarled, blade lock between them practically touching their chest as he spat the words. "Shoulda' nev-"
Kasoria's head jerked forward and Hunter's vision became a cloud of burning sparks as his nose broke. He reeled back, cursing, splitting-
-blind, just for a moment, and that's all Kasoria needed-
-parrying a wild swing, slashing down with his own-
-drawing a real scream of agony as his gladius hacked through Hunter's shoe and severed most of his toes, his balance vanishing-
Kasoria capitalized. Sidestepped around and behind the man and drove his shoulder into his back, rocketing him into the space he'd just occupied-
-in front of the window. Kasoria had learned long ago that how
you won a fight didn't matter, just that you did
. The bards and poets may have sung of heroes rich in valor, but they never had to sit through the stench of the battles. And precious few of the cunts had even seen an honest-to-shite Etzos street fight, where honor and nobility would just get you a knife in the back.
He didn't care what he had to do. He just wanted this obstacle out of his way.
And oh, out he went. Through the glass that exploded out into the street below, tinkling and showering down onto the cobbles a trill before his screaming soon-to-be corpse. Kasoria peered over and saw his body, twitching and barely missing an old couple that were, in true Etzos fashion, prodding him with their feet instead of fleeing.
Floorboards creaked. Behind him.
He turned and swung and-
-pain raked across his back, flesh flayed open in a long, burning line-
-as he whirled around he saw a thick but agile figure duck under his swinging gladius, steel just barely nicking the tip of his hair as he fell down to one knee, avoiding the blow-
-another flash of agony, his shin, Semyon punching but not punching, a knife held in his hand, reversed, blade curved-
All this Kasoria saw in blinks, broken trills, data and factors he absorbed even as his body howled at him and he threw himself away, into the corner of the room. Blood oozing down into the back of his breeches. Leg aching already, blood in his shoes. Pain making him pant, pain making him shake, pain, pain-
Shut up and focus!
"Fat boy was right," Semyon said calmly, face as expressionless as his own as he flipped the karambit casually around the finger it was looped over, then back into his grip. Kasoria studied it as best he could in that handful of trills. It was a dagger, but curved towards him. That explained the fighting technique. A blade like that could rip up skin like paper, and you could use it to punch as well as slash. "Should have stayed away."
Semyon lunged, and Kasoria slashed wildly at him, once twice, three times, desperation only half-faked. Distance. Only thing that would save him from that thing was distance. It was a weapon for close range, an assassin's tool, so he just had to-
Don't be an idiot. You can't be up here all day wearing him down.
-dived across the wall as Semyon's punch cratered his knuckles into the wall. He yanked his hand out and went after the little fucker without mercy, Kasoria scrambling back, toppling a short table and a chair in his path-
-Semyon kicking the first aside and stepping over the other, face grim and set, outraged that this cunt had fucked with their business. All the men dead, all the trouble, a fine base of operations ruined
, and that soft fuck Wattle was probably fucking off with their coin right now, or worse. So, of course, Semyon had to make it all right again. Had to get his hands dirty and his knuckles all bruised, because that
was what mattered. Not Wattle and his slick fucking words; him and his will to murder.
"Not getting away from me, old man," he said as Kasoria finally came to a wall, pushing himself up it with a grunt, leg screaming under him as he did. "Just stop your squirming and-
He couldn't run anymore. And he wouldn't run away, either. Not from this broken-nosed prick with bad hair and worse breath. He lunged, thrusting feint at Semyon's side, then a slash at his knees-
-dodged, avoided, blade-tipped fist jabbing out as a rejoinder-
-Kasoria barely avoided it, swaying back so hard his knees creaked-
Too far. He yelped and the pain in his shin rattled his balance, ruined it, sent him crashing down onto one knee. Semyon leaped at his chance, swinging his foot up into Kasoria's chest-
-and the little man grunted as it connected, slamming into his chest-
But he stayed on his knee. Gladius clattering to his sides, hands grasping Semyon's boot... and keeping it there. The man above him frowned for a moment and then got it-
-a trill before Kasoria twisted, very hard, and very much the wrong way.
Semyon yelled as his ankle broke, Kasoria following it up a second later with a screaming jab into his balls, once and twice and-
-that karambit came at him again, a punch at his head that he barely blocked with his arm-
-roaring out as now his forearm was cut open, impact of the fist rattling his bones but the dagger did the damage and he screamed and Semyon saw fury and hatred and now he wasn't dancing over it
Throwing himself at the man and tackling him down to the ground. Bleeding arm grasping Semyon's knife-hand around the wrist, other hand grabbing the bruised sack he had between his legs and squeezing, screaming as he did and Semyon was yelling higher and higher-
-now in sheer disbelief as Kasoria sunk his teeth into his fingers, biting through them, killing his grip-
He knew this madness. This strength that came from rage, howling like fire through his body, killing pain, dousing weakness and doubt... but not for long. He was cut and bleeding and they would keep dribbling until there was nothing left. He had to finish this, and fast. Wrap it up with Semyon, then Wattle, then get to a tame healer and toss some coin his way. After that-
No. Before all that. Right now. This moment.
All that matters.
Kasoria let go of Semyon's balls and reared up just far enough to cock his arm into his chest, so his fist was touching his breast bone and then come thundering down-
-slamming his forearm into Semyon's throat. The enforcer's eyes bulged, watered, streamed tears, ability to do something as trifling as breathing stolen from him in a trill, and now his karambit was forgotten-
-Kasoria yanking it from his fingers and didn't bother gripping it properly. He just wrapped his bloody fingers around it and stabbed and slashed and carved and eyes and mouth and nose and tongue until all the screaming had stopped and nothing but meat was looking back at him. He was blind and yelling and he could taste hair and spit and tears and blood in his mouth but he was alive. He was straddling a man without a face, panting, gasping, with a trophy in his hand and...
... and he had company.
Two figures. One holding two knives. The other a club. They were staring at him from the stares. Kasoria stared back. A wraith bathed in the stuff of life. His free hand groped for his gladius as he kept eye contact with them, as one would to keep predators from attacking. Eye contact. Fix them, keep them looking. Try to run, or look away, and they would see weakness.
But Kasoria was not the prey, and he knew what they saw. He ground his teeth and covered it with a snarl that rumbled from the pit of his soul, effort of rising to his feet biting at his bones like demons. His hands were filled with bloody weapons. His breeches, his coat, his face, his boots... they stank and wrung of the stuff. They'd passed the bulldogs downstairs, Derick in the front room, crippled Wattle, the cutthroat with a cut throat... and now they both looked down and realized who it was this monster had just killed.
"Th-That's... That's the boss."
Kasoria stood up to his full height, and he seemed a giant in those disbelieving eyes. He took a step. Another. They might get lucky. The rush of unholy energy was already dribbling away from him, and he was a novice when it came to using two weapons at once. He'd probably just hurl the karambit and go it solo with the gladius. Take one, for sure. Maybe cripple the other, take an eye out of him. But they might-
"... fuck this
Kasoria blinked, and the rabbits bolted.
The stairs. Blood of the Fucking Immortals, the stairs nearly finished him.
He took them gingerly, carefully, one at a time. Stowing the karambit in his pocket and steadying himself as he went... so slowly... back where he'd come from. It seemed an age to cover the ground that before had taken him trills. Then he got to the bottom and the fact he was trailing blood of his own was forgotten, next to the fact he saw the trail of another heading out the door.
The killer scowled. No. He would not
allow that fucking stooge to get away. He marched as best a man can when one leg is being uncooperative, and opened the front door-
A handful of figures peered beyond the front garden, rubbernecking, eyes wide and green with avarice as they saw... gold on the floor. Little suns, all glinting in the mud and stone, daring anyone to come hither. But they knew who owned the house, and didn't want trouble... although
, they also
knew that one of those men was crippled and barely-conscious on the ground in front of them...
Kasoria frowned. He seemed to have sprouted extra legs... and a hand.
... a kid?
He walked over to the odd assemblage of body parts. Aching and tired and needing a drink, any drink, long as it killed his nerves and sent him to bed. But the job wasn't over. Wattle wasn't poisoned, his blade had not been so prepared, but he bled like a woman's cunny come The Time, and there was already a puddle under him. Kasoria leaned down, and grabbed one beefy shoulder. Tried to dislodge him and... no, no good. Instead he started to lean and step back, using his weight to pull the man away-
Revealing a bloody, wide-eyed, and dagger-clutching youth under him. His other hand was clutching Wattle's leg, trying to stem the bleeding.
Kasoria let the kid have a good, long look at what he would be trying to stab, then pointed with his chin at the thing in Finn's hand.
"If yer gonna... use that, hurry up an' do it. If not... take off yer shirt an' get it wrapped around his leg. Tight."
He really hoped he didn't collapse. That would ruin the image he was trying to project. He looked away - a bold move, with an Etzos urchin at your feet, let alone one hold a knife - and gestured broadly, yet casually, at the watchers.
"Nothing to see. Move on. Means "fuck off"."