• PM To Join • Haunted House

Atop a stony plateau overlooking the lands of central Idalos, and growing wealthy from the gem stones pulled from the rocky soil, Etzos is a bastion of independence; firm in its belief that man should rule Idalos, not be servants of the vain Immortals who nearly destroyed it. But can the many factions set aside their conflicting agendas and see this through?

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Kasoria
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Haunted House

Fri Jul 05, 2019 6:39 pm

66th Trial, Ymiden, 719a
Outer Perimeter
South Side



They'd won the war, or so they said. Fought the Horde and sent it running back to the jungles. This what they said. But Kasoria didn't see any of that. All he saw was ghosts. Ghosts and emptiness, in a place forever crowded.

There was always noise. Always movement. The vibrations, grand and tiny, of a vast multitude of lives going about their business. Some sordid, some virtuous, most just trying to live their lives. No matter where he was, he could feel Etzos striving around him, above him, under him. One gestalt consciousness formed from well over a million souls. As he emerged from the sewers and the Underground, as he walked the streets again for the first time in seasons, he was reminded of something he'd heard long ago.

You never really hear it, until it stops.

More than once, the little man in a tattered old cloak had stopped in the middle of the street. The fact he could do so without being barged over or aside was evidence enough to him something was wrong. But beyond that, the... silence. Not complete, but by the standards of Etzos, it was deafening. Unnatural. Horrifying. Where there should have been a mighty tumult, there were but distant voices and scrapes of movement. Bodies were piled on street corners. Some were nothing but ashes, pyres made so hastily that they'd just been piled up like logs at intersections and set ablaze. The smoke still hung everywhere, seeped into everything. There were people on the streets, but they were a drizzle, a trickle compared to the river of humanity that he'd had to navigate before.

Then there were the ghosts. So many ghosts.

Kasoria turned onto his street and stepped aside for a little girl that he could see straight through. She looked up at him briefly, with eyes that seemed the same color as the cobbles behind her head, and hurried on. Kasoria swallowed down his revulsion as her dead, opaque hand brushed his... and went straight through it. He'd been on the surface for maybe a break. He'd seen almost as many of these... things, as he had living people. The drifted around like clouds trapped in a valley. Looks confused and angered and simply sorrowful etched on their pale faces. Some of them hung around the pyres, looking through them as if they could find their bodies. Others were searching the streets, frenzied look in their eyes, not seeming to see their still-living neighbors or fellow citizens. The rest were just... going through the motions. Walking around. Trying to keep on living.

Don't even know they're dead.

Kasoria shook the thought from his head and stopped in front of another husk. No red cross on the door, this one, but that made sense. The owner had been out of town for a very long time. But that hadn't stopped someone from breaking the window by the door, reaching in and unlocking it... and then someone after that had simply kicked it down. The door hung open now, lock and door jamb splintered and broken. He knew what he'd find inside, yet still he steeled himself. This was his home. For so many years, this had been the only place he could relax. He'd made it as comfortable for himself as he could allow. If he had anything like a sanctuary, it had been here.

Then he walked inside, and saw what time and desperation had done to it.

"Aye," he whispered to the oppressive air. "'bout what I figured..."

Everything that could be sold, or traded, or used in any way, from weaponry to firewood, was gone. His tables and chairs. His cupboards and their doors. He felt a pang go through as he saw his books were gone, and the shelf they sat on. His bed had been ripped apart, only a handful of bed-springs left. His closet had been rifled, all clothing taken. The floorboards had been pulled up in places, and the larder... well, he wasn't so foolish to think anything but dust would be in there. Kasoria walked through his home, and looked out the back window. Yes, even his sparring dummies were gone. Ripped apart and taken for fuel, he'd guess. He couldn't imagine anyone looting his place for training supplies, after all.

He stood in the middle of his home, and he felt the absence. Not of his belongings... well, not just them, but the others. The front door was open. So was the back. There should have been tiny, feral, angry and hungry bundles of fetid fur creeping around him. One in particular, with one disapproving eye and the mien of an exiled noble. She should have been up on the table, to better get close to his head as she tried to nuzzle under his beard.

You don't hear it, until it stops. You don't miss it, until it's gone.

Burned flesh and smoke and rot. That's what his home smelled like now, same as everywhere else in Etzos. He'd wager not even the Citadel would be spared the stench, and serves them fucking right. Anger, thick and choking, swelled up to quash his sorrow. After the Shadow Monsters had invaded, the Army of Etzos had expanded to larger than it had been in generations. Fifty thousand men at arms, including cavalry and mages and siege machinery. An army of conquest, not just defense. But was it used? Was it deployed? Did it crusade south to raze down the Immortal-held cities down to their deepest cellars? Did they slash and burn the jungles of Lissara into ashes? No. No, they just sat on their fat polished fucking arses and did nothing.

Deterrence, they call it. Fucking insanity. Immortals don't care about deterrence.


Kasoria inhaled quick and deep and the blast of smelly air cleared his mind long enough to think straight. This wasn't his home anymore, but it did hold some things he still cared for. He walked into his bedroom, and stood directly under the lamp hanging from the ceiling. He looked up at it... then looked down... and crouched to the floor. It hadn't been pulled up yet. A few bits jimmying and working between the boards with his dagger changed that. Once he'd made a hole big enough for him to get two hands into, he looked down and saw... bricks. Nothing but the bricks.

But as he looked closer, he could see the mortar between many of them was still absent. Just like he'd left them.

One by one, Kasoria pulled up the bricks, until the layer of them was gone and the dirt under it was revealed. He dug down with his fingers until he-

There we go.

Felt something under them. Cloth and metal beneath it. He started to dig and pull around the shape, until he could get some idea of it with touch alone. It was long, and metal, and hard... and it wasn't alone. He picked up the long, straight object wrapped in cloth and placed it to one side. Then he took the leather pouch that was next to it. He opened it up, and a fist-sized collection of nels that were all gold winked up at him in the dim light. Kasoria smiled softly, greedily, and without shame. He was an Etzori, after all. What other reaction would his kind give, to coming into money?

Into your own money, he reminded himself as he pocketed the purse. Good thing you put some away for a rainy one.

The smile faded as he looked over at the bundle. He hadn't laid eyes on it for quite some time. Every time he added more to his emergency funds, of course, he did, but it had always been wrapped up. Had been for... Fates... eight arcs, he'd had that thing. Never got around to selling it or just throwing it away. Just shoved it under the floor and the bricks and tried to forget it. But every time he unearthed the coin, he saw it. He felt that same swell of mingled anger and bitterness and sadness and hateful ignorance.

Because he didn't know where she was, even after all these arcs. Alive and prospering, dead in some sewer or forgotten catacomb under his feet, or on the other side of the world... he had no clue. The not-knowing was worse, even after all those arcs. He'd never had the chance to give her the sword he bought for her, and every time he saw it, he was reminded of his... failure.

This is why you don't care. Why you don't love. Because they can be taken from you. Because they make you weak. Now stop whinging and let's fuck off out of it. This isn't your home anymore.

Kasoria's hand moved, and paused in mid-reach. Why open this wound up? Why bother? What help would it give him? He didn't need another sword; he already had one, and plenty of metal besides. He didn't need the money from selling it, for he already had a season's worth of coin back in his pocket. But he still reached for it. Wanted to see the craftsmanship and the keen blade. He remembered, without wanting to, how he'd fretted over the thing when he'd bought it. Wanting it to be perfect for her. Now it was-

A shadow moved across the wall in front of him. From the doorway. A moment later, a floorboard creaked.

Nostagia vanished. So did the softness in his eyes. His grasping fingers turned into a fist, and Kasoria inhaled deeply.

Huh. Wasn't expecting that.

"Hmmm... ain't smelled that in a while," he said, projecting about as much fear as he would surrounded by infants. "Scales. Y'don't forget that smell. Yer kind can't really hide it, I'd wager..." He looked over his shoulder, a hunched figure that looked like a bundle of rags with a head and a beard, and saw the crocodile-faced person standing in his doorway. "Shite gets in between the scales. In the joints. Hard to clean, aye? Hmm. I'll bet it is."


Receipt
+14WP's worth of gold nels, retrieved from Kasoria's emergency funds, hidden under his home (referred to as "a season's worth", which is what he's making nowadays in Wages)
word count: 1788
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
Fur
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Re: Haunted House

Mon Jul 08, 2019 12:29 am

66th Ymiden, 719

The arrow that was Etzo’s future had finally been fired, straight and true into the Immortal bitch’s sickening ranks. Tension had been gathering behind it for trials now, potential energy growing with each soul slain by sickness or violence, waiting to be unleashed against the foe that had brought it about. Before the ghosts, many had accepted that such an opportunity would never arise; defeat, death was the only certainty. Even when the incorporeal allies did appear and routed the invading armies, hope was still a fleeting concept; indeed, behind their walls, both ethereal and physical, they still behaved like cattle, bleating and shitting themselves while the stench of fire and gore hung in the air. Fur had felt dread before in his life, but never to the magnitude that had been wrought this season. Thankfully, for a time, the nightmare seemed to be over. The twang had been felt deep within the populace. Now they were stuck in those recoiled vibrations, waiting for the world to return to the way they once remembered it, back before Fate’s arm had yanked them backwards.

If they could ever return, that is.

Fur knew he had to, at least, even if everyone else never did. When the gates were closed, he had been one displaced person among many. It had been easier to cope with the struggle when there were so many others who shared it with him. The siege had passed, though, meaning those who had been forced out of their old lifestyles were going to get the chance to go back to it. Sure, some would find their past flattened, the consequence of any conflict, but most wouldn’t. Or if they did, they would rebuild. Fur had nothing to return to. The only change the invasion had wrought on his life was the size of the community around him who shared in his hardship. A brief glimpse into what it felt like to be a part of something bigger. Now he was alone again. Perhaps death would have been the sweeter reward, after all.

No. Fur shook his head, displacing the thoughts, preventing them from taking root within him. He was a survivor. He survived. That constituted a success, and men did not celebrate victory in such a fashion. His death would come one trial, but it would not be this one. Not by his hand, or anyone else’s if he could help it.

A sea of people passed as one through the Great Parhn Gate before forking in two directions, north and south, to begin their circumnavigation of the city. Fur fell into the latter stream, backpack slung over his shoulders and hand resting of the hilt of a knife stuck in his waist band. Not he needed the protection right now. The men and women around him were numb. They looked straight ahead, minds focused on their destinations and nothing else. They were steeling themselves against the prospect that they find nothing there when they arrived; fighting and bloodshed were the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Fur was hopeful that his own destination would still be standing, simply for his own ease. Before he had moved within the city walls, the Ithecal had stumbled across a vacant lot in the South Quarter that he had been squatting in. Not a husk, either, with a missing roof and crumbling walls. A solid, padlocked structure that had no one to call it home. A shame, really, that Fur wasn’t willing to let continue. The furniture had been largely looted by the time the Ithecal had started squatting there, and a group of southern hoodlums had pilfered the rest one night shortly after, but no one else bothered the home. In fact, it felt like the locals avoided it, not that that bothered the child. He had been able to come and go as he pleased before the siege forced him out of the neighborhood. Fur wanted that freedom again, if it was still there for the taking.

Fur was alone by the time he ducked onto the street the house sat on. He could here the echoes of footfalls and voices all around him, but he saw no one. The Ithecal imagined that that would be the norm moving forward. Many Etzori didn’t survive the siege, and those that did were going to be very, very cautious moving forward. Haunted by their memories and the ghosts that freely roamed the city these days. Fur welcomed the peace at least; it had been a while since he had felt that.

The front door was open to the house as Fur stepped up to it. His time for introspection had passed and the child reverted to his more feral instincts. The foreign troop had probably passed through the neighborhood, looking for stragglers or loot to steal, so finding the house in such a disarray didn’t come as a complete shock. Still, Fur hadn’t made it this long because he threw caution to the wind when the logic felt so sound. Drawing his knife and falling into a crouch, the Ithecal stepped through the room, wincing at the creaking beneath his unskilled feet and hopeful that the room awaiting him would be empty.

It wasn’t.

The figure appeared to be alone, crouched in the center of the room. From where he was standing in the doorway, Fur could see where the man had dug up the floorboards to the brick underneath. Bags sat scattered around him, but the Ithecal hadn’t a clue what could be in there. Something valuable to the owner, at least, for the lengths that they had gone to hide it. And this man had found it, when other looters had not. That meant the stranger was one of two things, and Fur wasn’t certain which one he’d rather deal with right now.

Despite himself, Fur gulped when the vagrant spoke. Without even turning around, he identified the child as an Ithecal., and when he did twist to face him, his eyes burned with a low fire. Fur felt an inkling of a feeling that he knew who the stranger was, and he hoped to all things that it wasn’t true. He had years ago about a monster that roamed the streets on the south side of Etzos. Bloodstained rumors that kept many a man and woman on their toes at night. It was the reason Fur preferred the north side of the city, when he could help it. Unfortunate circumstances early in the season had forced him down here, though, and he was hoping to lay low, under the radar.

Just his fucking luck to pick Kasoria’s own home as his squat.

Fur knew he needed to vacate. Now. Even if it turned out to be someone else; whatever sat at the man’s feet was worth some nel in this post-war time. Definitely worth enough to kill for. “Either you’re the owner in this house or a better thief than the usual rabble that’s been by this season. In both scenarios, I get the feeling that my presence is unwanted here. I’ll be sure to take the hint.”

And with that, Fur began backing out of the room, ready to bolt if he needed to. It wasn’t going to be easy, though, with all of his belongings weighing him down. Though the prospect of a knife in his throat seemed like right proper motivation to overcome that. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
word count: 1271
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Kasoria
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Re: Haunted House

Mon Jul 08, 2019 10:26 am

Smart kid.

The thought chuckled through Kasoria's mind as he rose and turned. He didn't allow his face to register the emotion, though. Not with a quirk of his brow or a quick, amused squirm of his lips. He had a part to play here, after all. Stoic and unyielding. Ruthless and powerful. He couldn't allow anything smacking of humor to ruin that. He straightened up to his full height, which was... well, admittedly not much taller than the lizard-man in front of him. Which told him the creature was definitely a youngster. The one he'd found the previous arc had been monstrous, gigantic, dwarfing any human that had ever lived. For this one to be so small...

Just a kid. But not a stupid one.

Kasoria knew well the street daemon mentality of the Etzori Underworld. The wheeler-dealers and hustlers were the most prevalent; those souls that embodied the immoral, unfettered side of the city's legendary mercantilism. Anything for a nel, that was their guiding principle. Fraud, extortion, theft, slavery, stolen good and usury, everything was on the table. Then there was the other side. Those that sought power through strength, and violence, and brutal subjugation. Oh, well he knew such men. He'd worked for them for decades. He'd been one for even longer. When confronted with a smaller victim, ragged and alone, that mentality immediately sought to dominate, to assault and stomp into submission.

Kasoria had lost count of how many times someone had made that mistake with him. Most never made it again.

But this one? His instincts were different. Honed and sharpened enough to see past the dirt and grime and disguise of poverty that Kasoria wore. Married to a shrewd mind, the Ithecal knew it was better to back away and live than hurl himself into a fight he didn't truly understand. A grown man doing such was one thing, but a young one? Full of piss and vim, head full of shite and that rampant urge to prove himself? Kasoria had to admit, he found it almost impressive. And just as his lips started to slid into a smile-

He noticed something his eyes had missed before. The shrine under the window by the door was gone. The shelves were still there, but the stones, the candles, the physical memories of his kin... all had been stolen. His face had been stoic the whole time he'd looked at Fur, but his eyes were different. They'd glimmered with something approaching a dark humor. Now they slid back into something far less reasonable. Black and brutal and burning with dark fire. His hand gripped the long, hard bundle in one hand, until the Ithecal could hear the metal creak under it. The purse in his other hand trembled for a trill as he did the same.

Wait-

"The... usual rabble?"

He spoke the Ithecal's words back to him. Forcing his mind to beat down the red, blinding rage and focus on what intelligence he could gather. This creature called this place home. Kasoria been gone long enough for even his fearsome reputation to dissipate, and that included where he lived. He guessed that a good chunk of the looting had been done before Ymiden, and the siege, and all the madness that came with it. This was Etzos, after all. People would never miss a chance to... redistribute goods that had no owner, and would otherwise go to waste.

"Y'know them? If they're the usual, then y'know them from the unusual," he said, lilting, growling South Side accent holding as much warmth as a block of ice. "Stands t'reason, dunnit?"

Kasoria's eyes narrowed as the Ithecal started to step back. He could see the tension in the young one's muscles. The way his legs wanted to flee, but were being battered into submission by his mind. Weighed down by his goods and gear, the Ithecal had no way to quickly turn and bolt, but if he was willing to walk away without a fight, the idea certainly had occurred to him. Kasoria cocked his head to one side, and pocketed the purse... but while his hand was under his cloak, he found something else, and when it came back out-

-it was holding a short, straight, oddly-weighted and wickedly-sharp knife.

"Youse try an' bolt, I'll kill yeh 'fore yeh get out the doorway," he said, almost conversationally. Reflecting pretty much precisely the attitude he'd have while cutting the boy's throat. "Killed yer kind before. One a these won't do it, not right away. But inna knee or the neck, that'd slow yeh down enough for...."

Now there was a smile. An ugly, stretching thing that showed yellow teeth and never touched his black eyes. Silver steel played quickly over his fingers, wordless demonstration of what his sentence had left unsaid:

I know how to kill you, I’m very capable of it, and I won’t lose a wink of sleep. Don’t test me.

Kasoria started to walk forwards. Bundled gladius in one hand, throwing knife in the other. Slowly. Carefully. As one would approach an animal in a trap. But he managed to inject some humanity into his voice as he went. Some measure of Etzori negotiation. This was the city for deals, of course. Usually he'd be tempted to just browbeat and bully what he wanted out of the lizard, but once again...

Smart kid. That buys him something more. Unless he gets too smart. That'll get you killed as fast as being stupid, around here.

"Tell me who they are. Tell me where t'find 'em. Tell me-" the knife stopped dancing over his fingers, pointing at the empty shelves where his family's memories had been laying "-whole stole from me."
Last edited by Kasoria on Tue Jul 09, 2019 3:42 am, edited 1 time in total. word count: 995
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
Fur
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Re: Haunted House

Mon Jul 08, 2019 11:38 pm

For the briefest of trills, Fur was convinced that the man was going to let him go. The child didn’t think, had the roles been reversed, that he would’ve made the same decision. Even if the kid alone was not a threat, the newfound knowledge he possessed could still be dangerous. Maybe he told someone else who could better act on the information, blindside the vagrant while he was trying to disappear with his loot. No, Fur would’ve made sure that that child didn’t leave the room before an ironclad vow of ignorance was given. If, even, they were allowed to leave at all. Fur wouldn’t find any joy in the silencing, in whatever form it came, but some things had to be done when self-preservation was the end goal.

Fur’s departure ceased when the vagrant spoke his words back to him, staying him in his tracks. Just before that, he had been staring past the Ithecal, and he did not like what he saw. Or, rather, what he saw wasn’t there any longer. The child could here the creaking of metal from where he crouched as the man clenched his fists. That wasn’t good. Not good at all. Fur began preparing his checklist for swears to make when it came to that point. That was, of course, if the stranger even allowed him to plead his case.

Some injustices, Fur had learned, could never be satisfied by words.

The child nodded quickly to the man’s inquiry about the ‘rabble.’ When he had first used the phrase, Fur had cursed himself. He had yielded information regarding the ransacked building and its missing property, implicating in the process that he played a role in it. A witness, if nothing else. Now, though, he realized it might’ve been the best thing he could have said. Fur had created, in the stranger’s eyes, a new threat that extended beyond what was directly in front of him, and he alone knew where to find it. It was, in a way, the best bargaining chip he had.

Not that there was much bargaining to be made when staring down a blade. Fur knew the vagrant’s words to be a promise, not a threat, and he had no intention of forcing the man’s hand. Tell him who stole his stuff? Without hesitation.

“Rats,” Fur blurted out, letting his hand with the knife drop to his side. He didn’t want the man to think he was still going to try and put up a fight. “Small-timers that were more nuisance than threat. They broke in a few nights before the siege started and ran off with everything that was left. Some books and your decorations beside the door. Whatever other stuff that might've been was gone even before I started squatting here. Furniture and what not." Fur pasued, thinking hard about his next words. He had just admitted to trespassing, so his follow up needed to trump this new information. "They liked to congregate near one of the Underground entrances in case one of the street gangs were sent to knock them around. That’ll be the place to start looking. If,” Fur paused, letting that last thought hang in the air.

If they’re even still alive.

That was the greatest uncertainty coming out of the siege: who survived and who did not? For all Fur knew, the thieves could’ve died from the plague or the siege. And, even if they had made it through everything, they could’ve relocated from their usual haunt. Hell, the entrance to the underground might not even be there any longer; he had heard rumors of tunnels being collapsed to prevent the invaders from seizing control of the Underground. Maybe this was one of them. Too many variables to make the Ithecal feel comfortable. But what else could he do?

He hoped those thugs still lived, just so the stranger could finish what sickness and war couldn’t.

“I’ll take you to them,” Fur offered, as if he had any other choice. “And I won’t try to run. I swear it.” It was the only one on the list he could check off in this moment. Compliance. It was his only road to tomorrow. Walking in the shadows of a monster.

Fuck. Me
word count: 733
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Kasoria
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Re: Haunted House

Tue Jul 09, 2019 10:24 am

"If."

The word was enough to chill Kasoria's demeanor even more, if that were possible. He'd never claim to being a man that made much love for his citizens, his fellow humans, those that also called themselves Etzori. But he did love his city. He was proud of it. He awoke every day and did not regret or hide from the fact he could wear that badge with pride: that he was a man of the Free City of Etzos, where commerce and reason were the blood and vitae of humanity, not groveling subservience to magic tricks and immortal monsters. All they had accomplished, from those first scattered bands of heroes and vagabonds to the current generation of merchant princes and warriors, was writ large in marble and stone all around him.

Now he looked about and saw a husk in every direction. A corpse of broken buildings and broken people. No class had been spared, no aspect of society. From the beggars whose gutter homes were all they could aspire towards, to the mighty lords in the Citadel... all had suffered. His city had suffered. This place he knew, could read from the vibrations in the cobbles under his feet. That meant he hurt, too.

Focus. You don't have the time for grief.

"Decorations?" He snorted and smirked and immediately forgot his own advice. By the sound of the lizard, he wasn't a recent arrival. He should know better. "Y'don't know a Lighthouse when y'see one? C'mon, yer an Etzori. Get a fuckin' clue, would yeh?"

It didn't occur to the little man that might have been a compliment. That the being he looked at had rarely been regarded as anything but a lizard, a creature, at worst a monster who just happened to have the accent of a human. Kasoria had plenty of prejudices curdling within his breast, but he'd seen enough of the queerer races in Etzos to... get used to them, as it were. Mainly because he'd found they all bled the same, with the proper application of force. He sheathed his knife a moment later, listening to the rest of the lizard's babble. More looters. More opportunists and desperate folk, mingled with the usual criminals and scum. And where would they go? Why, where else?

"The Underground," he muttered, half to himself. "They were smart, they'd a' left the city by now. That place ain't gonna be safe fer anyone much longer..."

Plague was not unknown in Etzos. He'd lived through a couple, over his forty-six arcs. Nothing so virulent or ravenous as what Lissira had unleashed on the city, but bad enough. They always had the same cycle: Infection, Hysteria, Proclamation, Measures, and Accounting. Now the city was going through the last two, and if the Underground was where so many dispossessed were heading to, it would be a prime breeding ground for any ailments or sicknesses still lingering about the city.

Kasoria remembered what the Blackjack and the Army had done last time. Whole levels sealed and bricked off. Platoons stationed first to guard, to isolate, and then... purge. Smoke and the stench of cleaved, burning flesh had risen from the sewers for trials after. The Council took no chances with plague, not in a place so tightly packed, where a sickness in the Oh'Pee could be walked into the Citadel itself within a day. They'd let the healers do their work as best they could, but once their job was done and all that was left was a great unknowable mass of the faceless and worthless under the feet...

They'll cleanse the Underground. Leave the bodies down there to rot or burn. Easier than healers. Faster, too. Lot more certain.

"Not a bad wee sticker, that," he said, surprising Fur with his change in tone. He nodded down and the Ithecal realized he was talking about his dagger. Dark iron, straight blade, nothing flashy. Kasoria smirked softly. Reminded him of so man he'd wielded, when he wasn't much older. "Dun' let all these shites tell yeh about magic swords an' forged by This and That wanker. Weapon's about who's swingin' it, not jus' what it is."

An idea came to him. He cocked his head to one side and held up the straight, weighty bundle. With some degree of flourish, even standing in the wreckage of his home, Kasoria undid the strings, and let the cloth fall down at his feet-

-revealing the gladius underneath. Black steel. Ridged wooden hilt. The bulbous pommel underneath it inlaid with runes, words in Ith'ession. The blade was sharp and did not gleam, not so long in the darkness without stone or oils to tend to it, but even Fur could tell it was harder and sharper than his own. Kasoria let the boy - for that's what he was - gaze longingly upon it... and then snapped the blade back into its sheath.

"Do what I tell yeh," he said, stating terms now, not making threats. "Help me get back what's mine, an' its yers." He chuckled softly and pulled back his cloak, revealing his own sword at his hip. Just one of many about his person. "I dun'need a spare, see?"

Kasoria extended his arm, offering the sword and scabbard. When that scaly claw gripped it, Fur found there was no give to his grip. No release. It forced him to look into those black eyes, colder and stiller than those of the snakes and fellow, stunted reptile things he knew well from the Underground. Yet still, the little monster smiled.

"Dun' ned youse t'swear, boy. You run, you turn on me, an' y'don't finish the job right, well... I'd say enjoy it while it lasts. Cuz one day, you'll have me t'worry about, steppin' out from the dark, when youse think I've forgotten about yeh...

He didn't say his name. Didn't invoke his dread reputation or his litany of urban legends. Most times Kasoria didn't know whether or not to be conceited or embarrassed by all the stories he'd heard about "the Raggedy Man", or "Vorund's Hound". Usually he defaulted to being professionally appreciative; it made his work much easier, after all, when men thought they fought a daemon or a wraith, and not just a mortal man. Here, though? He wasn't above conjuring the specter of his legend.

"A'right," he said, letting go the blade, and nodding to the street beyond the ravaged house. "Lead on."
word count: 1120
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
Fur
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Re: Haunted House

Tue Jul 09, 2019 5:45 pm

It was probably easy for the vagrant to scoff at Fur’s ignorance, given that he spoke from a place of better understanding. The kid before him walked like an Etzori and talked like an Etzori, so he was obviously an Etzori. He ought to know better. Fur believed himself a child of this city, through and through, but he balked at this notion that the path to its heritage was linear. An orphan from the day he was born, going arcs before he ever laid eyes on another Ithecal. Raised in a brothel, crawling and then weaving through the lustful crowds who found their faith between the legs of strangers, by a couple who played deity a break at a time. Fur was never taught of the thereafter, only the now. Live in the now. The alternative was never presented to him until the soldiers came, kicking down the doors and walls that held up the child’s understanding of the world. Lighthouses? There weren’t any beacons of hope like that on the streets; one had to learn to wade through the darkness alone. It was unfair of the stranger to lecture Fur in such a way.

Not that the child would ever dare to say so.

Fur had only lived through a handful of plagues, and most of them he had been sheltered from by his family. Parents wanted to make sure that their children didn’t have to face the realities of the world too early on. Fur had been enlightened since he had started living on the streets, observed, felt the panic that seized a city when the rumors and warnings began to circulate. With that said, he had not yet witnessed a purge of the Underground yet, so that particular fear of the dangers that might lie ahead never crossed his mind. Just the general caution when it came to that part of the city; Fur still wasn’t comfortable enough to venture there often. Though, if the vagrant was who he thought it was, the child felt more confident.

The vagrant commented on the knife Fur wielded, which of all things embarrassed the child. He hadn’t been condescending when he said it, but the Ithecal knew the truth: the knife was more for show than anything. He was better with his hands, but the knives would deter foes when fists would only instigate. Sometimes, de-escalation was all that the child wanted, a chance to slip away before the fight even began.

Fur listened to the bit of wisdom the vagrant offered, knowing the worth of it giving who it potentially came from. If this was truly Kasoria, then he was speaking from experience, not from false bravado or overconfidence. Did it make the child any better of a fighter in this very moment? Not at all, but the advice was absorbed, held onto. It very well could be the foundation that made him a better fighter in the future.

And that blade would help, too. Besides his war pick, Fur had never handled something larger than a knife. The extra length would be welcome, that was for certain. The child hated having to get so close when he was fighting because it almost always put him within range for his opponent’s own weapons. He hated swapping scars in every scrap; he wanted to know what it was like to walk out the clear winner, not just the survivor.

Of course, remember what the stranger just said: the swordsman, not the sword. Still, Fur couldn’t help but daydream.

“Deal,” Fur replied, agreeing to the terms offered to him by the stranger. He had figured the man would spare his life in exchange for the help, so this talk of further reward had caught him off-guard. The Ithecal’s mind was made up, and the threat of future violence couldn’t make him more on board with the plan than he already was. Send a shiver down his spine, maybe, but nothing more.

The stranger released his grip on the blade, letting its full weight fall into Fur’s grip. It was an uncomfortable weight, but not unwieldy. He reached around to the bag on his back and tossed the knife he was holding through the open maw. Might as well start getting used to this new weapon. Worse comes to worse, he could ditch it and rely on his hands to do the trick. Or, more likely, hover in the background while the vagrant shakes down some looters.

Fur took point once the duo exited the house, cutting through the neighborhood in an easterly direction. The child had yet to determine a pattern or reasoning behind the placement of Underground entrances. One just kind of had to know about them. Thankfully, the locals were quick to gripe about the rats in question, so the Ithecal had found their spot without too much difficulty. He had done so simply for the sake of possessing the information. It proved valuable currency on this night.

After a few bits of travel down alleys and side streets, Fur stopped short of an open courtyard, hugging the shadows on its edge. A crowd of a half-dozen hovered around a staircase descending into what looked like a pub. A front, disguising its true purpose. Fur didn’t recognize most of the men and women save for one, a lanky youth with a pockmarked face and a crude tattoo on his bare, pale bicep. It looked like a skull that had melted.

Fur pointed the boy out, using the gladius as an extension for emphasis. “He was with the group that tossed your house. Rest of them are no bodies.” The child turned to look at the man standing behind him. “He’s the one to talk to.”

The Ithecal didn’t offer any more input, willing to sit back and observe how the vagrant would go about the task. He had brought them thus far, but it wasn’t his operation to run. He would follow, do as he was told, and learn all that he could.

Who knew if he’d ever work alongside the Raggedy Man again?

But if he was leading? Well, Fur would probably spook the kid, but let him escape underground. Rats did have a tendency to return to their nests when startled. He’d lead them right back to the group and, hopefully, to the stolen goods.
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Re: Haunted House

Thu Jul 11, 2019 6:03 pm

The thought did occur to him, of course. As they were walking away from his old home, Ithecal brat leaving the way with his new sword in hand, Kasoria kept looking at him with that appraising glint in his eye. Weighing up his options. The pros and cons, as it were. Not the how or the what, exactly. Those things were never much of a consideration for him. No, he was thinking about after the deed itself. What would be the consequences? The ramifications? None, so far as he could tell. He may have looked like a monster from a child's tales, but that same child could tell you the Ithecal was a kid, a street rat (gecko?), no-one of import.

So why not just kill him after you get back what you want?

The thought wouldn't go away, but at least there was plenty to distract him. Something approaching normalcy was returning to Etzos. Even if it was just the fact people were living in it again, and without the constant dread of a besieging army soaking into them every waking moment. People were cleaning up looted stores. Repairing houses. Cart after cart of dead bodies, piled high and tastefully covered with sheets (mostly), trundled away from the center of the city, heading forever outwards. Kasoria didn't want to dwell on how many fields and meadows would be salted with ash for the next... Fates, he didn't even know. But more than the efforts to rebuild and restore, he noticed something else.

There weren't nearly enough people. Not for the city as it was, or would need to be again.

Six in ten. That's what they said. As high as eight in the outer towns. So for every ten Etzori living a season ago, seven of them are dead.

He shook his head, unable to keep the sorrow from his face. He was a murderer, a killer, and had long since made peace with that, as best he could. But to slaughter a city, in such a way, with such sadistic delight? Over a million of his people, from the northern hills to the southern jungles, from Westguard to Fosters Landing. And why? Because they were an imperialist, expansionist threat? Because they had offended the Immortals in some way?

No, he thought, and the sorrow died, replacing by anger like water frozen into ice. Because we are the Free City of Etzos, and we need no gods or morties. That's why she tried to murder us all.

The boy stopped and Kasoria was so lost in his own thoughts he almost ran into his back. They were in the shadows under the eaves of an archway, opening up to a courtyard. A clutch of gutter rats were clustered around the stairway on the other side. From below, they could hear the faint sounds of music, strings and drums. Kasoria inhaled sharply and the faintest whiff of bathtub gin caught in his nostrils. A tavern, in the loosest sense of the words. More likely some barely-licensed shebeen that was naught but a dozen tables, chairs, and a big flat board serving as a bar, with shelves behind it loaded with bottles. Most of which were likely filled with embalming fluid.

Kasoria shuddered and remembered Mad Caspar, Vorund's resident lunatic. He used to drink the stuff, with flavoring. As if it could make a difference.

Enough nostalgia. Focus on the present.

Which he did, and started by smacking Fur around the head.

"Put the fuckin' sword away," he snarled, eyes fixed on the men and boys around the stairs. "It draws attention. Sheath it 'til yeh need it."

That little nugget imparted, he kept looking at Mister Tattoo. Who seemed very much the typical Oh'Pee street rat. Cut off sleeves to his tunic. Amateur ink on his bare skin, likely telling of fearsome deeds one needn't question too closely. He leaned against the wall, apparently holding court. One hand held a bottle, the other rested on his sword-

Kasoria's eyes went wide. Not at the sight of the sword, or the hand. But what was around the wrist. He'd know that bracelet anywhere, the dozen or so coins from all across the world, glinting in black and gold and silver and brass. His father had made that for his mother, long, long ago. His first gift to her, given more meaning since he had made it himself, not just spent coin to have another do so. There was a growl, from behind the Ithecal. Long enough to make the lizard-man worry a touch, and then words replaced it.

"You go ahead, keep 'em focused on you," he said, giving orders as if he were working with a partner, of all things. "I'll come 'round the side, get to him a'fore he can bolt." The Ithecal looked back at him and Kasoria answered the question he didn't ask. "F'youse think I'm lettin' you get behind me fer long enough to jam a sword in my back, yer a fuckin' idiot. You earn trust, boy, y'don't just get it."

Teaching again? Already?

Another growl. He decided to let the lizard think it was directed at him. Then he motioned towards the staircase, and made himself scarce.

Kasoria took the long way around the outer courtyard. The next archway was at the right, where the one they'd been at was right in front of the stairs, the shebeen, Tattoo and his minions. He'd let the Ithecal come closer, first. Let them focus on him, and not on the shabby little beggar coming in from the side. He stood there in the shadows, watching the big lizard come closer. Raise a hand in greeting and be answered by scorn, laughter, even a handful of thrown pebbles. Kasoria frowned minutely. Clearly not a popular fellow in the area.

Sound familiar?

Mayhap it was his wandering thoughts that did it. Made him lose his edge, his focus. Of course his eyes were on Tattoo, but not on anywhere else. So he didn't see the cat at his feet until he'd all but stepped on it, drawing a squealing tirade of abuse as he jerked away-

-and Tattoo looked over-

-saw him there, with his cloak, his beard, his hair, all raggedy-raggedy, the-

"...Raggedy Man."

Fuck.

"GEDDIM!"

He roared the command just as Tattoo bolted down the stairs. Shoving aside his underlings, all cocksure fearlessness vanishing from him now. Kasoria took off running, barging through the kids without so much as a glance, powering down the stairs two at a time. The door was swinging open at the bottom, and a hefty bruiser of a minder was already appearing in front of it-

-Kasoria leaped off the fourth step from the bottom, right arm cocked back, timing the jump, the landing, the explosion of his arm-

Fur would see the little human go airborne for a moment, then land fist-first. A blow that spread the doorman's nose all over his face and sent him reeling back with a scream. Kasoria slammed a boot between the big man's leg as an afterthought, then sped past him. The stink and drunken joviality of an underground drinking den assaulted him at once, but he ignored it. He could see Tattoo's blonde crest vanishing into a backdoor, and kept running. Weaving around and across tables, vaulting over another, sparing but a glance over his shoulder-

"Move, fu'fuck's sake!"

Letting the lizard get behind him wasn't a smart move, as far as he was concerned, but he had no other option. Tattoo could run like a fucking hare, and he couldn't afford to pause, wait for Fur, let him run ahead, then follow behind. So he kept moving, stone and wood whipping past his face as he went. He ignored the ache in his legs, the wheeze in his lungs. Fates, but he was getting fucking old. He kept his arms pumping, kept moving, just kept. Didn't do anything but that which gave him speed, and finally-

"LEMME FUCKIN' IN!"

Tattoo was pounding against a doorway at the end of a tunnel. Kasoria didn't know how long they'd been running, or how far down they'd gone, but these stones were... old. Not much red brick or granite down here. Now it was limestone and old mud bricks and actual, real rock, like the kind this whole city was built upon. Kasoria tried to make a note to return, explore this level, but he would likely not remember. Everything in him was focused on that boy, that bracelet.

"OPEN THE FUCKIN'-"

"Fuck, Garo, s'the fuckin'-"

Whoever it was opening the door, he was too slow. Perhaps he'd been at the ale, or something stronger. He opened the door and found "Garo" in front of him. Panting and ruddy and terrified. That was enough to make him frown, and then he saw movement behind him. A short, dark figure, flying across the stone floor with murder in his eyes. And behind him... was that a fucking lizard?

"I... What's-"

"MOVE, YOU-"

Too late.

With a bellow of rage, Kasoria leaped and aimed a flying kick square into Garo's back. At that speed, with all his weight behind the blow... well, Kasoria was no physicist or master of natural sciences, but he knew that it would be far, far more powerful than a simple standing kick. The impact blew Garo off his feet and into the doorkeeper. Both of them collapsed inside the room, crashing onto a floor that seemed more made of rot than wood. Kasoria walked through it a moment later and now, now he unsheathed his sword.

A dozen sets of eyes regarded him from the shadows beyond a scattering of pilfered, pitiful candles. All around the room was loot, of one kind or another. Everything from jewelry to bags of grain, clothes to bridles and musical instruments. Kasoria heard the feet running behind him, and slid as nimbly as he could to one side of the doorway. Only the wall behind him, now. Not an Ithecal with a sword he'd given him.

"Now..." he said, between pants, looking about the room without fear, glaring down at Garo and Doorkeeper as they started to rise. "I'm guessin' youse know me. So... yer gonna give me-"

He took a step towards them. As soon as his weight pressed down, they all heard a creak like the groan of a dying giant. Kasoria felt it, too. The faint shuddering under his foot, that told him this floor was not stable. The rot was everywhere, but it was clearly built to last... as long as you didn't, say, fill the room with chests and boxes and pilfered wares. Or have more than a dozen people inside it, all gathering in the middle of the room and-

CREEEAAAAKKKKKK

Oh, fuck.

He looked behind him, and saw the Ithecal running towards them all. Another weight. Another body. Another couple of hundred punds that might.

"Wait," he shouted, arm outstretched to stop Fur before he leaped into the room and into the disintegrating floorboards. "D-"

Too late.
word count: 1901
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
Fur
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Re: Haunted House

Fri Jul 12, 2019 5:04 pm

Fur nearly stumbled over when Kasoria smacked him in the back of his head, caught so unaware. It wasn’t a stiff strike, more corrective than malicious. It was the last thing he would’ve expected from the killer. It was a touch that a father gave their son, or perhaps a teacher his student. The vagrant was neither of those things to the Ithecal, and he couldn’t fathom him being that way for anyone else. Though, perhaps he was being a bit too limiting in his judgement of the man. A few bits worth of time together didn’t exactly cast the clearest light on a man. There was a chance that the stranger that stood in his shadow had a lot more to offer than a well-honed blade.

Possibilities, opportunities, began to pass through the child’s mind that had not been there before, when he had first stumbled across the man. Fear had gripped him, then, and he could only think of how he would walk out of that room alive. That had passed, though, replaced with a scenario that, while still potentially dangerous, at least came with the aid of an experienced and skilled ally. Fur had not really had allies, before. Working one-off gigs around the Outer Perimeter never really opened the door to building relationships, and the thugs he usually worked with weren’t really people he wanted a deep connection with. Alley cats and gutter rats. They were comfortable in their squalor and lacked the ambition to stray far beyond it. Fur did not share that same sentiment. Hesitation had stayed his hand up to this point, not complacency, but the sieged had changed the city and the people as well. Fur had not been exempt from that.

Simply put, Kasoria probably had connections that spanned across the city and region. Powerful men and women who had suffered the same losses within their ranks that the general population had felt. They would need fresh blood to step into this wide void to help restore their operations to their former working order, before war had wrecked its havoc. Perhaps, even, they’d take on a special individual who wanted to offer help, anyway he could, outside the traditional hierarchy of power. Fur understood the concept of loyalty, the role it played in this line of work, but the child wanted to build his house on a different foundation.

Efficiency.

Indiscriminate and untethered. Fur wasn’t looking to seize territory or steal rackets, call himself a boss or a kingpin. Any thug with a bit of a muscle at his back could make that declaration, but very few had the aptitude to ever expand upon it. Most were swallowed whole by their greed, or by bigger fish who did not appreciate the disrespect shown towards their own hard-earned positions at the top. Fur wanted something more stable, something more independent. Some would call it a mercenary, but even that felt wrong, too selfish of a term. Etzos was rebuilding, and Fur wanted to see it happen. He wanted to help it and him at the same time. If anything, he thought himself more of a helper. A fixer.

Tonight was the proverbial foot in the door, if he performed well. He had gone into this negotiating for his life, but it wouldn’t be the Etzori way to not try and get more out of it by the end. Prove himself capable to the Scratcher behind him and maybe he’ll introduce him to even bigger men and women to try and work for. The beginning of a symbiotic relationship for all parties, known and unknown involved.

Save for maybe the gutter rats they were stalking. Fur listened to the vagrant lay out the plan while he sheathed the sword and worked it onto the raggedly belt he wore. It was a jarring sight to see, a clash of solid and poor craftsmanship. Maybe a new one was in order, moving forward. Not that that was important right now, Fur thought to himself as he let the cloak he wore fall back into place, obscuring the blade from view. The child let the stranger’s backstabbing comment wash over him, not bothering to even respond to it. By this point, he had realized that words and promises weren’t going to sway the man’s caution. Only actions. That would prove pretty easy, given that Fur had no intention of stabbing him.

When Kas moved, Fur followed suit, stepping into the dim light of the courtyard. He didn’t try to mask his approach, given that he was the feint in this two-pronged assault, approaching the crowd with heavy footfalls and a purpose. The first rat spotted him, which radiated outward like a wave as caution and distaste spread throughout the crowd. Fur watched a few hands disappear into pockets and behind backs, fingering the hilts of their hidden blades. The Ithecal kept walking, though, unwavering. He had all the eyes on him, which was the whole point.

Off to the side, an loud squeal pierced the air, pulling the attention away from Fur for the briefest of trills. Then, the fearful bellow from their target: Raggedy Man. Panicked seized the crowd at all once, the mob mentality shattered into a dozen individual pawns all searching for their escape route. Now that was the real benefit that came with a reputation in this city.

Their target bolted down the steps of the pub, with Kasoria a half-step behind; then, the crowd dispersed, fleeing in the opposite direction, into the path of Fur. The Ithecal pulled his arms in close as he barreled through the routed rats, showing them out of his way as he pursued the quarry. Ahead, Fur heard a thud echoing off the narrow walls of the staircase. When he arrived at their top, Fur spotted Kasoria delivering that snapping leg kick to the bouncer, sending him into a seated position. The child bounded down the steps two at a time, sidestepping the stunned man as he tried to follow the vagrant’s order.

Fur wasn’t as agile as Kas, though, as they moved through the tavern into the Underground. The vagrant moved with a grace around and over the tables that the Ithecal couldn’t match. Plus, the sudden arrival of the Raggedy Man in pursuit of a rat sent similar shockwaves through the tavern as it had done above ground. The patrons scattered, some in Fur’s path, forcing him to weave through moving bodies as well as the furniture. By the time he reached the backdoor, Tattoo and Kas were well ahead.

He could hear their footfalls and shouting, though, bouncing off the walls. So, like a hunter, Fur began to track the sounds as he bounded down the tunnel. Within trills, his lungs were on fire from the exertion. Running wasn’t a typical addition to his daily routine, and especially not at the pace he was maintaining. This wasn’t a leisurely jog to work on his endurance; this was a break-neck sprint trying to catch up to his ally and provide the back up he had promised.

He needed to prove himself.

It was this determination that deafened Fur to the warnings from the vagrant. The creaking he had heard a few trills prior was his body straining at the opportunity. Nothing more. Fur stepped into the room, slamming on the brakes to stop just a pace or two beside Kas.

A trill later, the floor gave out beneath the group, and they went crashing into the darkness beneath them.
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Re: Haunted House

Mon Jul 15, 2019 3:08 am

They said it wasn't the fall that killed you, but the landing. Which was just stating the fucking obvious, really, and Kasoria always hated that. The landing was where the pain waited for you, true, but he could handle pain. It was the fall, the plummet, the waiting, the not knowing... that's what really did a number on you. Nothing solid under you. No ground, no wall. Just empty air that you clutched and scrambled at uselessly. Your innards seemed to slip their moorings and jostle inside you, making you want to puke even as you fell, which didn't improve when you landed. And here, there was the added flavor of complete darkness to add to the horror, as the world span in blurred shadows and flashes of light and there was nothing around you but screams and flailing bodies-

Kasoria grunted as he smacked into something on the way down. Something hard and stony that chipped as his back smashed into it. He tried to grab on but he kept falling, joining the gaggle of howling bodies going down and down-

Uncertainty. The terror that birthed. Your own mind not helping, just making thins worse. How far down would you go? Ten feet? A hundred? A thousand? Onto what? Dirt? Water? Solid stone? There was no way to know until-

-the ground rushed up to greet you and all you could do was hope whatever else you'd hit on the way down would slow you enough so that when you did impact-

-the face-jarring, bone-smashing crunch of your body imitating a bug hit by a slipper wasn't too painful, and sweet, blessed, painless unconsciousness would take you in short order. But it wouldn't last too long.

"Fuck... he's still alive..."

The voices were the second thing he was aware of. The first was pain. Everywhere, all over him. So much damage done that even taking a breath made him groan... but that was progress all by itself. Breathing. Speaking (sort of). Being aware and thinking and alive. Now if he could just open his eyes...

"... do it... don't care if... fuck are..."

It was just fragments. Snapshots of sound. The more he heard, the more Kasoria decided this couldn't last. Like a swimmer tearing his arms to shreds to rocket up from the depths to the surface, he forced his way through the pain, the ache, the broken glass breathing and the lack of thoughts, just constant feelings. He pushed and pushed until his eyes opened and the darkness had-

-shapes-

-faces-

-weapons.

"S-Shit!"

The ganger with the white skunk stripe gaped in shock as Kasoria's hands shot up-

-and the dagger that should have buried in his chest was stopped cold, Kasoria's crossed wrists absorbing the energy. In the same moment his eyes had opens, his hands came up. Decades of killing and brawling and fighting and misery weren't good for much, but they taught a man to survive. Not only that, they taught all of him. Thinking and otherwise. Now his body didn't need to process, as it were. Didn't need to stop and take in the details, like a man would reading a book. As far as a fight went, Kasoria just needed to read the cover. That told him all he needed to know.

With a growl the little man flexed his arms and pushed upwards, shoving Skunk Stripe up and away from him-

-buying him some space and time to launch a quick left hook at his face. The blow connected with a wet crack, and the ganger went back with a howl. But there were other shadows ringing the Raggedy Man, eager as daemons to finish the assassin laying on his back. He blinked a handful of times, quickly, trying to chase away the blurs in his vision, discerning reality from phantom-

Fuck it, just hit everyone.

It wasn't a refined stratagem, but it worked.

The little man started lashing out at everything that came close to him. Feet, shins, arms, groins, his body twisted side to side as his arms punched and grabbed. One figure to his side was yanked down almost on top of him, one one knee, bringing him close enough to-

-bury his knuckles in his crotch and make him scream like a woman as he fell away.

It couldn't last. They were street scum, gutter trash, but they outnumbered him and they were fresher from their falls. He could smell blood, more than just his own. Flashes of fresh bodies that were not moving, would never move again. Blood splattered from them like juice from broken fruit. Yet even in the moment they descended on him as one, finally realizing their main advantage over him, Kasoria took in where they'd crashed into.

This is... old.

"GED THE AWL CUNT!"

He wasn't so much showered with blows as deafened by them. Stomp and kicks smothered him, wherever they could reach in the gloom. The only light was from far above, the room they'd fallen from, now missing a floor and most of the candles. Kasoria tried to roll away but everywhere were legs like bars on a cage. So he swallowed the pain as best he could, let it sour into rage and with a roar he lunged-

-wrapped his bloody arms around the nearest set of legs and yanked them down, into their friends, falling over him and them and-

-making a window, scrambling out of it, forgetting dignity and form as he half-fell, half-staggered out of the circle of brawling boots. The Raggedy Man turned as soon as he was clear of the, drawing his gladius in the same movement-

A flash of silver in the darkness. The sound of metal ripped from leather. A sword. A real sword. Not the ganger blades and stilettos and daggers they were used to when bludgeons wouldn't suffice. The sight of it gave them pause, stopped them from rushing him right away. Kasoria spat on the dusty stone between them.

Fools. Could have taken me, if you'd had the balls.

"Right..." He spoke, voice as dusty and cracked as the room they were in. "I'm only gunna... say this one..."

This wasn't a cellar, or a basement. It was a tomb. Crude images had been carved into the stone walls, of divine figures or just those mundane ones passing into the next world. There were squat, long boxes made from similar stones, but better carved. Words had been chiseled onto the tops of them. One or two had been smashed open, but by the falling floor above or just by time and long-gone adventurers, who could say. Kasoria spied white bones and rotted cloth in them. This had been a burial ground. A very old.

Fuck that, where's the-

His new friend wasn't having a much better time of it than him. Three of the looters had penned him in against a wall, underneath and ancient fresco of (fittingly) knights in armor trying to slay a scaly demon with lances.The Ithecal was unlikely to enjoy the symbolism. But sheer ferocity and his new gladius was keeping them at bay... for now. Kasoria logged the location in memory, then forgot about it. The boy would have to survive by himself. He cared only for what belonged to him, what was stolen, what he'd seen on that wrist-

-that one there-

"You?" He said, pointing with the gladius and injecting as much menace as he could into his words. "On yer wrist? Tha... Tha's mine."

"Youse were dead, Raggedy Man," Tattoo managed to say with a few drams of courage, now he had a nice thick wall of underlings with weapons in front of him. "You die, streets get what yeh leave behind, so-"

Kasoria growled and plunged into himself. When the animal sound reached its peak, it came out as a bellow that brought with it-

-a glow that covered his hand, then spread out across his forearm. His ether, his Spark, bent to his will and pouring itself out of his skin at his command. Even those magical muscles ached under his skin; he must have cracked his head on something. The sticky feeling in his hair was becoming a drippy one. His vision still swam but for now... for now, he could still stand up, at least. The looters quailed as one when they saw the Shield form in front of his forearm. Their faces were made chalky white by the glow to the Abrogation construct, broad and hard enough to stop a blade or brickbat.

Good. Makes an impression.

"One time." His voice was lower now. Steadier. Even. Colder. Harder. Not just than before, but since he'd left this damned city. It was so easy for him to slip back into that persona, that reputation he'd worn like a cloak or a hat or the gladius he now held. "Then I'm gunna start killin' yeh. The bracelet. The abacus. The broach. I want 'em back, right fuckin'-"

He'd never forget the sound. It wasn't quite a roar. It wasn't a chitter or a chatter of cats. It was more like the scraping of vast, insectile jaws, so fast and angry that they were like a screech. Lungs that would never know words or have any need for them pushed out a hideous, hissing sound so loud it was almost a scream. All eyes in the tomb, on both sides of the bloodbath to come, turned slowly towards where it had come from.

Rubble started to shift. Heavy rubble. Shoved and pushed aside by something-

No. Things. More than one. Two... voices.

Skittering, clicking sounds. Like metal legs across the stones. The things, both of them, reared up into the light from where they'd been half-buried, and at once hissed through clacking jaws at the unwelcome sensation. Then they remembered they weren't alone, and with clusters of black eyes set into heads buried in chitin and bone, they turned back to the humans.

"... oh, fuck me."
word count: 1717
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
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