• Mature • The Space Between (Max)

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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The Space Between (Max)

Wed Apr 03, 2019 1:53 am

63rd Trial, Zi'Da, 611AV



"Job got a little messy, didn't it?"

"It's a messy business."

"We pay you to keep it as clean as possible. We paid you for one man, not half the tavern."

"'We'?"

And lo, a seething fucking enmity is born.

Bangun Vorund smiled into his glass as Ilos' face twisted from politely mocking to outright hateful. The ragged little man in the chair before him blinked like he'd just offended a kitten. It was just the three of them, alone in one of many offices the man behind the desk commanded throughout the Oh'Pee. Not all of them were owned by him, but he had access to them whenever he wanted. One of the perks in being the biggest noise in his patch of Etzos... which was pretty much the entirety of the South Side. That trial, it was above a butchers. The next, it might be that neat little basement job under Petro's Vegetables, or the one with the big, bright windows above Tactile Holdings.

So many to choose from, and he had his pick. Vorund went where the money was, and that applied to his more fleshy assets, too.

"Aye," Ilos growled, putting his drink down half-empty. The little man didn't have one. "We. I gave you this job, on behalf of Mister Vorund. So it's very much my neck on the line-"

"Won't be you swingin' fer it, though, boy."

"The fuck do you-"

"Enough, enough, Fates, give my head peace."

One exasperated proclamation was enough to shut them both up and sharpish. They burned the air between them with steady, contemptuous stares. One in a dapper suit expensively cut, eyes dripping with scorn, like he'd just scrubbed the urchin off his shoes. The other man was almost in rags, clothes cheap and repaired many times. He walked with a stick and when he entered, it had been with a limp and a grunt when he took his seat. His beard flowed like a stain over his chest and his hair was dirty and wild.

Yet even Ilos knew better than to let words become actions with this man. Not with Mister Vorund's pet executioner.

"The fuck happened out there, Kas?"

"Horum heard me comin'," Kasoria said with a shrug and a snort to cover the trace of any lie. "Bad luck. Turned around, had me dead t'rights with a pocket bow. His lads came runnin', they gave me a kickin'... took their time, though. Stupid. Shoulda' just killed me right away. I got loose of 'em, fought back-"

"What about this girl?"

The sounds of meat being quartered below became very loud, all of a sudden. Now Kasoria's gaze had some heat to it, instead of the glacial, unfeeling ice before. The other men blinked in brief surprise, though it was so fast and fleeting Ilos was scarce sure he saw it. But Vorund was sure. He filed that little detail away, wondering what to make of it... and, as always, how to use it.

"Gutter rat I had scoutin' the place fer me."

"Gutter rat? How many of them would be ballsy enough to toss a dagger into a man's back?"

I should never have let that cunt with the bottle get away, Kasoria snarled inside his own head, then immediately shrugged the thought away. No, that had been part of the job, too. Leaving one man, one to tell the tale, not just an ax buried in Horum's skull. But still... it would have meant less questions. Clearly the tale had been told and retold around the grog shops and alleys and dark, illicit places of Etzos in the two trials he'd been licking his wounds. Already Vorund's Hound had a fresh crop of bodies to add to his mythical toll. Part of him was glad for the free boost to his reputation (it always helped when people shat themselves rather than remember to fight back), but-

Fucking girl.

"I know talent when I see it," Kasoria shot back, not a hint of deception in his voice, that time. "She's a wee thing with a baby face an' people don't see her comin'. So she's useful."

"Knows t'keep her mouth shut?"

Finally Kasoria's face registered something more human than indifference or cold annoyance. Disgust peeled back his lips and he turned to Vorund, letting Ilos know exactly how he felt about being questioned by a man apparently no higher or lower than himself.

"He really askin' me that?"

"Looks like, Kas," Vorund said, almost gently, but telling him he'd find no aid in him. He sloshed the brandy in his glass and studied the swirling liquid. "Better answer him."

Kasoria turned back. He spoke slowly. As if to a child. Relishing the tightening of the thin-faced little bastard's lips.

"Yes. She knows to keep her mouths shut. Otherwise I'd a' topped her after I did Horum."

"How sure ar-"

"That's good enough fer me, Ilos." The oldest man in the room finished his drink and smacked his lips. "Kas knows what saying that means t'me. And what it'll mean if he's wrong."

You vouch for someone and they turn, that means you turned, too. So you both go in the same hole. Too bloody right I know what it means.

"If you say to, Mister Vorund."

"I damn well do, lad." The gangster reached into the desk and tossed Kasoria a bag. He caught it with a wince, impact trembling down his wounded arm. But the sound of many a coin jangling inside eased the pain immensely. "Five hundred, as agreed. Come back at the end of the season. Might have somethin' else for you."

Kasoria nodded, pocketed the bag, and left. There was no ceremony to be observed nor niceties. Four arcs he's been Vorund's man and no other, but that didn't make them friends. The gang lord favored him with a half-smile and a quick nod in return. Ilos just snorted softly and sipped his drink, not even bothering to acknowledge the assassin. Kasoria shot his master a look that came with a raised eyebrow of inquiry... and Vorund shrugged minutely in reply, with a roll of his eyes.

Kasoria smiled under his beard. Aye, breaking in the young ones was always a chore. Whether it was the Blackjack or gutter rats or perfumed junior racketeers like Ilos, there was always a curve.

He left the butchers with the stink of pig's blood following him out the door, into air that seemed more ice than vapor. Even the beggars were swaddled like babes, lumps of fabric and blankets and refuse and even boxes surrounding each one. Every citizen he passed seemed more bundled up than the last, where he trusted to his hooded cloak and mounds of hair to protect him. He picked him way down the road and turned into an alley, stick tapping out a slow, steady beat on the cobbles as he did.

He was a dozen paces in when something small, lithe, and quiet detached itself from a patch of shadow, and stood in his way. Wraith and killer stared each other down, whistling wind and muted sounds of the street forgotten. The figure stepped forwards... and jutted her chin his way. Kasoria smirked and patted his chest. The resounding clank of those same coins brought a sparkle to those dark eyes, and a chuckle to his own lips.

"Ye of little fuckin' faith. C'mon," he commanded, stumping past the girl, knowing she'd follow. "Let's get out the cold. Playin' havoc wiv' these stitches..."
word count: 1306
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
NOTE: Kasoria is using the name "Thagoras" while in Eastern Idalos, from Zi'da 717 onwards
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Mon Apr 08, 2019 11:29 pm

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Young Max's first job with the heartless assassin had been nothing short of eventful. A simple mission had gone rapidly haywire. Her "cover" was blown by a woman adept at detecting traitors no matter how little and scrawny. The Old Man was discovered for what he was and stumbled into his quarry's trap. It was perhaps the stubborn, ungovernable attitude of Kasoria's kid protege that kept them both out of a grave that night. Striking other children and brutal men was nothing new to the orphan. Stabbing was another story, and she'd stuck a man who should've scared her beyond her wits. His fiery companion, who nearly strangled the life from her, certainly had.

In a lot of ways Maxine was still shaken from the experience. Sleep hadn't come. The shame of how frightened she was had bothered her, and as always, she smothered it with outwardly projected arrogance and crassness. Some time during the trial, Kasoria had left to report back to the sketchy man he killed for. It was in that span of time Max had a chance to process some more alone. Pride had bubbled to the surface, its presence proving just how resilient a young, malleable mind could be despite trauma.

At the end of the trial, they had succeeded. Kasoria's mark was dead. Maxine managed to stay alive and suggest she was indeed a worthy investment. Even better, the Old Man had promised to compensate her for her work. She'd never had coin of her own in her palm. Quite frankly, the orphan hadn't a clue what she'd do with it first. Eat until she puked? Purchase something from a bazaar that caught her eye? The possibilities were endless, and though bloody, her future looked brighter than the week before. Ambition was a seed quickly blooming.

What's taking so long, Old Man?

Anticipation kept her from patiently waiting at Kasoria's residence. Instead she followed along, waiting and kicking rocks in the shadows until the hairy man emerged from the butcher shop. Max stepped out in his way when the time was right. She wrapped her thin cloak around her tiny frame, looking expectantly at him until he smirked and patted the coin on his person. A broad grin seized her expression. Maybe the close call had been worth it after all.

"Well?" Max pressed with an elated tone as she followed in the man's wake. "How much he give ya?" That was the question she asked. The Old Man knew what she was getting at. The real inquiry was how much of it was hers. That little mind was racing miles ahead of itself. "He give us another job?" Greed. Once one got a taste, they always wanted more, more more. A kid from nothing was no different. She was starving for it.
word count: 481
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:21 am

They'd come a long way, and in so short a time. Gone was the time she could barely meet his eyes without fear, or the lingering hatred that often followed it. Gone was the flock of doubting voices in his mind, warring and whispering at him to end this, end her, cut this thread and make clean this whole incident. She was still a witness, and now to more than just that squalid business in the house with the horrible basement. Now and then, a voice would flutter through his mind still. But they were solitary, and fleeting. She had proven herself enough, and though he'd never admit it, risked her life to save his.

That didn't save her from a clap around the head, of course. Thus was the way of his teaching.

"Don't-" he snapped as Max rocked forward a little from the impact of the blow "-be chattin' like dat in places y'don't know! This's Etzos, girl. Fuckin' eyes an' ears everywhere..." He stumped forwards, limping and dragging his injured leg. She'd suggested a stick but he'd just glared coldly at her. Might as well hang a "Wounded And Weak, Try Your Luck" sign around his fucking neck while he was at it. "An' never talk about coin. That'll just attract attention y'don't want..."

Kasoria answered none of her questions, of course, although he planned to. For the moment, his wounds ached doubly in the biting air and he wanted them to quiet. Only the warmth of his abode would do so... and yet, he still taught her a lesson. They wound through the alleys and the crooked side streets; the derelict houses with doors long-since torn off for firewood; under bridges and down tunnels that seemed carved between the rings themselves. Once they were on his street again, he turned to her, looking down from beneath his mass of hair, bushy brows looming over his piercing black eyes.

"Learn the alleys, girl. Learn 'em an' use 'em more than the streets." He stamped his foot on the cobbles. "Sewers, too. More miles t'walk down there than up here, lemme tell ya. Best way t'stay out of sight... like I told ya before."

Kasoria grunted with something like humor as he recollected that first, amusing, strained interaction. She'd made quite the poor shadow back then: trying so hard to be conspicuous, and failing for that very reason. Still, he reasoned as he laboriously unlocked his door, she wasn't to know she was trailing a man who does it for a living.

"Yes, yes, calm the fuck down..."

At once they were assailed, assaulted, buffeted by a battalion of fluffy, scurvy fiends. They mewled and meowed and rubbed their bodies against the two pairs of trunk-like legs that appeared. A few new ones, still ignorant to the fact that the bigger human usually meant FOOD, scurried out the door and Max shut the door behind them. The rest followed their de facto master as he went to the kitchen. He spooned a few mouthfuls into a large, flat bowl and left it on the floor. They were swarming over it and devouring the contents before the clay had properly settled.

"A'right, then," he said, pointing to the seat opposite him at the table. "Less dole it out..."

The girl watched with greedy, twinkling eyes as the full purse was revealed. The old man tipped it over... and a river of golden coins spewed out like a waterfall. He quickly straightened the leather purse, and she knew there was far more inside it than had been emptied. Lips moving silently, the old man's dirty fingers started counting them out... and sliding them towards her.

More and more. Over and over. Until the wood was hidden by the little circles and each one, each one was food for a trial, even longer! Her eyes grew impossibly wider as he just kept going. Piling them on top of each other until a little mound was before her. His had withdrew to gather up the leftovers and stuff them back into the purse, but before her own could take so much as a nel-

-his own snapped out again, covering it. She flinched and paused, looking up into steady, serious eyes.

"You find somewhere, down below," he said, voice slow and deep as the man-made caverns he was describing. "Somewhere youse know t'be dark, and deep, an' forgotten. Somewhere that you know'll stay that way. You go there, the long way. The way that means youse can tell if yer bein' followed." He patted the pile. "That's where y'keep this. Not at that fuckin' orphanage, wiv' the busybodies an' the brats always pokin' about. Somewhere you know's safe."

Kasoria took his hand away and relaxed for a moment, smirking at the starstruck expression on Max's glowing face.

"Hundred gold nels. That what you get, for yer work. What I got... ain't yer fuckin' business. Now-"

The word came out with that grunting, unsteady growl of a man speaking while exerting himself. He hauled his body upright and she saw a flash of teeth as he bit back a curse. He could put weight on his leg, but straining it... that taught him a lesson in humility. But the trial was young and there was no reason to waste it. Now he was safely away from prying eyes, save for the legion of felines prowling around the house, he picked up a fire poker and used it as an impromptu walking stick.

"We get work when he has some, y'follow? But the time in between, that ain't fer spendin' alla' that-" he pointed the blunt point of the poker at Maxine's pile "-on shite. That's fer trainin'. Fer stayin' sharp, an' ready for when you need it. So get out there, an' get warmed up. Fifty pull ups, fifty push ups, fifty sit ups."

Kasoria turned his back and decided to ignore the suppressed groan from the young throat. Instead he walked out into the cold backyard, iron stick clanging out a beat as he went.

"Then we'll see how much a' that blade work youse remember..."
word count: 1064
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
NOTE: Kasoria is using the name "Thagoras" while in Eastern Idalos, from Zi'da 717 onwards
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Wed Apr 17, 2019 3:47 am

Image
She should've seen that one coming. All of them actually.

"Ow!" she hissed at the first familiar rocking of her brain inside her skull. Her hands came up to cover her head after the second. By the third she'd grit her teeth. "Shit! Okay! Shutting up." She didn't want to admit that he was in the right. Etzos was turning out to be more of a cutthroat place than even she could've guessed. Rynmere was a farcry from this urban jungle, and she of all people should've known better than to assume no one was listening. It had been her that was playing a traitorous fly on the wall lately. The streets weren't safe. Homes hardly were either. The only secrets safe were those never told.

Anger stewing, Maxine followed her limping mentor back to his home which doubled as her training site. The dragging of his leg shouted "gimp!" to everyone they passed. He'd denied the crutch, and she chocked it up to stubbornness and little else. A limp or a cane, the predators around them smelled weakness in all its forms. Max wasn't so foolish as to think that was what he was. Just the suggestion he had fallen within her cross-hairs would earn her more than a clap on the ear. Healing or whole, the Old Man could still knock her into the dirt without breaking a sweat. She had no illusions about that. Woe to the fool who had a thought to prey upon him now, however fleeting.

"Sewers?" Her nose scrunched at the very idea. There was enough filth above ground to make a stomach turn in certain areas of the city. To wade through the waste? She'd rather see that fiery red-head again. This orphan's studies would be strictly to the alleyways. Those she'd get to know like the back of her own calloused hand. By the time her training was through, she'd know every vein and artery of Etzos. She'd be the indispensable agent he'd been hoping to craft. And she'd surpass that by tenfold.

The orphan waded through the sea of cats to take her seat across from the Old Man, rolling her eyes as she watched the furry creatures faun over him. Her gaze quickly locked to the purse when it was presented. The time it took him to spill its contents felt like a lifetime. The cascade of golden coins was like music to her ears. The first couple presented earnings as they appeared filled her will excitement. Her eyes got wider and wider, and by the time he was finished tantalizing her with her earnings, her jaw was completely unhinged. Max blinked dumbly at Kasoria.

A trick?

Then her hand shot out to retrieve the coin as though she feared it would vanish into thin air. They neared did. The hand that offered them snapped shut before she could claim her winnings. Max's eyes snapped shut, betrayal and surprise deep in her young eyes as she lifted them to Kasoria. He held her stare. The young girl's entire focus was on the wealth nearly in her grasp, but his words hung heavily upon her. It was had to comprehend this new reality. It was hard to comprehend she even had coins leftover to hide after buying a minimal meal. Is this what kept the Old Man on this path? Could she forever forget the things she had to do, the results of her accomplice actions, if this was the reward?

"Yeah, yeah," she nodded fervidly, stare moving back to the coin pile. "Hide it in the ground in a secret spot. Got it." It was easy enough. She'd dig a hole somewhere no one saw and that would be that. This was the start of her own literal gold mine. Kasoria announced the final count and the brightest smile Maxine ever wore spread across her face.

A hundred? A hundred GOLD?!

She jumped out of the chair with a whoop and scooped the pile into her hands. Max hardly noticed the pain the man was in as he rose from his own chair while she childishly celebrated. When she put it in her pockets, her tattered cloak hung comically to one side, rendered uneven by the weight it bore. When she spied the cane Kasoria had taken up, she had to bite back the snarky comment that crossed her mind. It was his own choice to give her any payment. He could just as easily take it away again. If silence was the price to retain her profit, she would've considered severing her own sharp tongue in that moment.

All the work would have to wait. Maxine reluctantly left her earnings on the table. Instead she moved right to the lawn. Push-ups, sit-ups, and all the like were completed just as Kasoria demanded. Stronger, better, faster was the mantra that convinced her to keep going. He could clang that stick all he wanted. Maxine was going to make sure she reminded him exactly why she was worth every golden coin he'd placed in her hand.

word count: 870
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Mon Apr 29, 2019 1:04 am

"Footwork! Footwork, fer fuck's sake! What are yeh, a fuckin' tree?! Ya puttin' down roots?!"

Before the girl could ask what she was doing wrong, the Old Man limped over and showed her. She barely had time enough to turn before his hand whipped out and snatched the dagger from her hand. His other shoved her to one side and as she stumbled across the bare stones, he snorted. He pointed with the dagger when she finally stopped, ignoring her glare.

"See that? No fuckin' balance. Yer too used t'just standin' there, so when yeh have t'move, it's clumsy. That's ain't gonna do."

He turned to the dummy she'd been practicing on. They'd manhandled it into the middle of the yard, propped up against a chair. Without another word, Kasoria flipped the dagger over in his hand to a reverse grip. Didn't even look down when he did it. Kept his eyes on the target as he got a fresh hold on the dagger and-

-slashed it across the stomach, sliding across the cobbles from right to left-

-then an uppercut, carving the tip of the dagger up the dummy from navel to chin, stabbing into the face once, twice-

-then darting forwards, under the outstretched wooden arms, feet skittering across the stones-

"Shite-!"

Mayhap a little too much too soon?

He managed to right himself, but only just. Damn near broke his ankle doing it, though. He wasn't about to let The Girl see him stumble like the old man he felt like, the old man he was compared to her. His leg had healed quickly, like all his scars seemed to do... but the trials moved slowly. Training, eating, sleeping. That's what they filled them with. The girl came in the morning and left at nightfall. Sometimes she'd return with a bruise, a welt, and Kasoria didn't ask her about it. That was not what he was to her. Besides, if he did his job and she did hers, she'd soon be able to put any wanker in his place for raising a hand to her.

But for now? He had to be stone. Which wasn't helped by him falling over his fucking feet.

The curse zipped from his mouth as he turned, grabbing onto the shoulder of the dummy from the back for support. Then he stabbed the dagger into it at the base of the backbone, to cover his desperate clutching. He yanked it back out, eyes finding hers over the wooden shoulder, and-

THUNK

"You stab it in to the side a' the neck, here-" he said as he did just that, tip of the dagger resting two or three inches below the right "ear" of the mannequin "-right up to the hilt. Then yeh grip hard and push forwards. Don't pull the blade out through how it went it; push it out through the front. That way, yeh cut the windpipe, the arteries. Means he bleeds out in a few trills, an' he can't call fer help."

He spoke not just like a teacher, one who'd learned such thing through books and lessons. In his voice Maxine could hear the traces of memory, of reminiscing. The recounting of facts and past occurrences, recited with confidence because he'd seen them with his own eyes. He walked back around the dummy, willing his damned bandaged leg to behave itself, and tossed the blade back to her.

"But y'need to move. No way at him from the front. You go to the side. No dice there? Slide around the back. You take whatever chance youse can get, any opening-"

It was a soft, tiny sound. But it was something new and unexpected, which was all Kasoria needed. Like a hound tasting some distant, entrancing flavor in the air, his head whipped around to the kitchen door. It came from inside. A quick, bare rustle. Not cloth. Something else. Heavier than air, lighter than foot or garment. Paper? It sounded like paper... and coming from the front door.

"Keep practicin'," he growled as he walked by her. "I see you stuck there again, I'll nail yer feet to the cobbles an' see if that teaches yeh..."

He could hear her bare feet slapping across the stones before he was even in the door. Then the thunk-thunk of the dagger stabbing home, each one accompanied by a high-pitched grunt. AS expected, a scrap of paper was waiting for him. Shoved under the door, resting on the stone floor. He bent down and opened it. No point opening the door, seeing if the messenger was still around. If it was from Vorund, the fellow knew well enough to do his job and fuck off sharpish.

The assassin's face crunched into a frown as he read the words. Not Vorund's handwriting. But... it was his style. Dictated, maybe?


Citizen's Market
Third break of the Afternoon
You'll know the itch when you see it
Look for the Ill Man
Under the eaves


Code or shite poetry. Think I know which.

Kasoria checked the scrap of paper in the harsh, cold daylight streaming in through the window. Two tiny rips on the bottom, and on the back... there was a tiny "V" in the right-hand corner. That by itself couldn't have been enough, but the two rips... that was the clincher. That told Kasoria the message was truly from Bangun Vorund, though the writing was finer.

"Ill Man," he muttered, then snorted. "Ilos. Gonna be lookin' fer a peacock."

The girl was still moving, barely standing still. Dancing and gliding around the dummy and piercing it from groin to neck. She'd done so yet again when she heard a flourish of cloth from the doorway. She'd find Kasoria there, pulling on his cloak, ratty and much-patched, stained and stinking. His blindfold went on next, completing his facade of the poor blind soul. He smirked at her before his black eyes vanished behind it.

"C'mon, girl. We got business, an' an old man needs his guide."

The wound through the streets and alleys like they'd done many a time before. Even now, just walking through the Outer Perimeter, Kasoria was assessing her. Seeing if her step was sure and steady. Seeing if she sounded plaintive enough when she begged pardon for her blind... uncle, was it? Probably explain why they didn't look alike. Clever girl. He kept his hand on her shoulder and exaggerated his limp. Kept his eyes down but glancing furtively from under the blindfold. He could smell the Market over the stench of his cloak. Cattle and vegetables and cooked meat and sheep and wet leather and sewage.

Then he saw the crowd, and Bangun Vorund had been wrong. He didn't see the itch that Vorund wanted his scratcher to handle; he heard it first.

"Brothers! Sisters! We seek no conflict nor consternation, save for those who would do us harm out of ignorance! We ask for naught! Demand naught! But we we offer light, and salvation! We offer rebirth, in the glory of the Immortals!"

The voice was one any politician would have killed for. It was everything a man should have sounded like. Fierce, strong, reassuring, vital, resonant. One heard such a voice and immediately trusted it. The power it seemed to throw out in every syllable was a palpable thing.

"My acolytes and I know this city is lost to such revelations! We know that the people of Etzos are proud of their independence from the gods! That they relish the lack of worship and their dread reputation as a City That Kills Immortals! We know this, we know! But hear me! They will forgive you, my friends! They will embrace you as the children you are to them! Embrace you, and fill you with glorious purpose!"

The crowd was half ugly, half entranced. The man on the rude podium was flanked by a couple of beefy men who were not, by the looks of things, skilled orators. Their thick necks and scarred knuckles hinted that they were better tasked to dishing out pain... or preventing it being dished, in this case. Fortunately for the robed speaker, the entranced half of the crowd were up front. The rest, along with Kasoria and Maxine, were at the back.

"Oh, scorn me if you will! Doubt me if you must! But the Immortals care, brothers! The Immortals want reconciliation, sisters! They wish to see Etzos become a beacon of light for human and Immortal! That we may both walk hand in hand into the future! Made great by the labors of Man, and the godliness of the Immortals! They care, my friends! They care for your salvation!"

The girl squirmed under his hand. That was when Kasoria realized he was squeezing so hard he was almost numbing her arm. He got a hold of himself and tried to hide the mask of naked, ancient fury his face had become. But she turned just a trill to soon. He ignored it. Ignored her. Ignored her bruised shoulder and his lack of an apology. He looked at the edges of the market, and found... ah-ha.

"Stay here," he said, voice coarser, harsher, as if straining at a leash unseen. "Watch him, an' his minders. Tell me what you see but do not move from here, d'yeh understand?"

He waited until she nodded, then sidled into the crowd like a hooded spider. Limping and skirting and mumbling his way through the press. All the while that iresitable voice poured words over his head, into the hearts of all present. All the while Kasoria felt memories rise and curdle before his eyes. All the while he walked, until he found Ilos leaning against a market stall, he kept his face low and shadowed.

For he would struggle to explain the abject hatred his face screamed with every step.
word count: 1689
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
NOTE: Kasoria is using the name "Thagoras" while in Eastern Idalos, from Zi'da 717 onwards
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Sun May 12, 2019 12:39 am

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Nothing was ever good enough. It was a frustrating lesson she struggled with time and again, no matter how many times she experienced it. Maxine was never half as good as she thought she was. Her form was poor. Her footwork was shoddy. The connections between her attacks were choppy rather than a smooth flow, making her practice anything but cohesive. The orphan was as hard on herself as the Old Man was. She wanted to be flawless, perfect in her presence and execution. It was an uphill battle.

Yeah, go ahead. Remind me how much I suck.

She begrudgingly stepped aside when the dagger was ripped from her unwilling grasp. She crossed her arms and squared to the demonstration, pursing her lips. He tore her apart as he always did. His movements were on point and practiced. He didn't need to pause and then as he strung them together. He did it with a flow as natural as flowing water. It only made her seethe more...until his mistake. A laugh escaped from her despite her better judgement. Her brow rose in alarm as soon as the sound escaped her. She clamped a hand over her mouth more so to hide her smirk than to display remorse. Apparently Kasoria was a mortal. Imperfect like the rest of them.

For once she didn't dwell on a moment to verbally lash out at him as she was wont to do. Instead she recognized a teaching moment coming on. Max trudged closer to the dummy with a studious focus to her young eyes. Her head tilted, carefully watching exactly where he jabbed the knife into the neck of the mannequin. The blade was tossed toward her a moment later and she caught it with practiced ease. The orphan gave the familiar weapon a slow twirl in her learning hand.

Something else seemed to catch the Old Man's attention, for in the next moment he was stalking off toward his home. Maxine shrugged and moved toward the dummy. She took the extra moment to place herself in a good defensive stance. Then, she began the boring repetitions.

You're a fighter, not a tree. No roots. Not a tree.

It was awkward at first, but a slow exploration yielded more comfort after a time. Her feet began to move a bit faster, and the transitions from one side of the dummy to another less strange in succession. The better it felt the more her confidence swelled. She was moving almost to a full speed pace when the Old Man noisily shoved his way through the back door. The orphan turned at his arrived, curious eyes taking in his costume change. Realization struck her. A giddy, childish grin spread across her face.

"I won't even steer you into a pole this time," she promised, slipped the dagger into the makeshift sheath on her hip. Max practically skipped to her mentor's side. He offered his arm and she took a hold of his bicep, eager to begin their facade through the streets. It was a simple farce. Max would look very much the part of a kind child, leading the blind man across Etzos. Unbeknownst to the bystander, Kasoria was pulling all the strings. By now she knew what subtle gestures and minor movements, even a twitch, meant as far as directions went.

"Please excuse me!" her voice somehow turned mousy and her expression meek. She brushed past a man, who turned with a jutted chin. "Sorry! M-my uncle. He's blind." The stranger's face immediately turned away out of shame, quick to forget the handicapped man he nearly hassled. So forth they went until Kasoria directed her to pause them within earshot of a shouting man. She frowned as she listened, many of the big words and complex politics he discussed flying over her head. He sounded good though. Convincing, even. But Maxine didn't know who Immortals were. She only knew the Law of the Sword.

The intense squeeze on her hand jarred her from the oration. She looked from the hand to Kasoria's face, half expecting him to be giving her a scolding look. Instead he was fixed angrily on the mark. This was an ire she didn't understand. It didn't matter. In the next trill she was given a command he was he gone.

"Even after last time he makes me stay behind," she muttered darkly to herself. She crossed her arms and watched the idiot at the podium fighting the whims of the audience. Her eyes began to rove carefully. The speaker himself looked relatively harmless. His minders, on the other hand, were armed to the teeth. She bit her lip at that. One wrong step and she wouldn't be dodging away from the likes of The Red. These stakes felt just a bit higher.

Yet as she waited, she found herself drawn into the crowd around her. Her eyes peered through the bodies of men and women far taller than she was. Something felt off. Wrong. And still the orator continued to orate. A sense of dread began to inexplicably fall upon her. Maxine hadn't the slightest sense as to why. Her awareness simply hadn't been refined to comprehend what her subconscious knew quite yet. She felt something was going to happen. Something unplanned. Something bad.

Forget it. Kasoria said to wait here. So we wait. It's nothing, stop being a baby.
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Mon May 20, 2019 9:30 pm

"The fuck is this all about?"

Ilos was munching on a hunk of skewered lamb when the voice next to him spoke, so he didn't see the fury stamped all over Kasoria's face. Instead he just snorted and kept watching the show. Amazing what the little peons would believe, if you used pretty enough words.

"Would have thought that was obvious."

From under his cowl Kasoria glared up at the man. Just a hunched beggar entreating a well-dressed man leaning against a pillar. One hand out, mumbling words only for the two of them. But had anyone been closer, pricked up their ears, they'd not have heard the mutterings of a desperate relic. This was a growl, low and choked and remarkably angry.

"Fuck aren't the Blackjack breakin' this up fer?"

"Same reason our boss needs you on this."

Kasoria's jaw twitched under his hood. He was quickly losing his patience with Vorund's new flunky.

"Meanin'?"

"Heard of Gritt Paxler?"

"Course I fuckin' have."

Ilos leaned to one side and spat out a glob of fat that wasn't going in his guts, no bloody way. Then he gestured with the dripping skewer of meat and vegetables to the podium, the speaker, and his bodyguards. "That's his nephew. Quaros. Sister's kid, I think."

That shut the assassin up for a little while. Now the pieces came together in his head. Why else would a man be able to stand in an Etzos street, proclaiming his love for the hated Immortals, without fear of molestation? Not just because of his minders: Kasoria knew full well how a mob of enraged Etzori would wash right over armed men like an angry wave, when riled up enough. But if the man was kin to the master of the Smith's and Mason's Guild, well... that was different. That was power and influence that stretched from The Tower to the Mines. It was authority that could shut down businesses, impoverish thousands, and command retribution of their own against all who struck at them. Not just scratchers like him, but even worse... lawyers.

"Shit."

Ilos made an affirmative "mmm!" sound as he chewed, nodding his head. "Aye... nff... exactly. Wanker'd probably be dead by now if not for that." He dropped the stick on the ground and wiped his fingers on a napkin. "You can guess what our master wants done. The fee will be the same as last time."

Finally the flunky turned and met Kasoria's eyes. A gaze of cold command, of superiority, like any manager would regarding the help... and yet that was not what met Kasoria's molten stare. Ilos took in the full, bubbling hatred spilling from the little man's face and stiffened. The irrational, primal urge to go for a weapon sprang into his mind and he barely beat it back. Kasoria stared back levelly, silently, as the man groped for words. He cleared his throat and looked away.

"I... ah, but one more detail. He wants the boy to vanish. No trace. No... No body."

Kasoria nodded stiffly, not bothering to ask stupid questions to obvious answers. This wasn't a man that could be found and mourned and avenged. This was one that had to disappear. So the whole city could shrug its shoulders and tell the Paxlers they had no clue what happened to their darling, misguided young man. More of his filth boomed out over the cobbles. Men muttered darkly around them. Not nearly enough for Kasoria's liking.

"Anythin' else?"

Ilos took a few moments to nod, handing him a folded piece of paper.

"His... His routine, next few trials, far as we can tell." The man managed a shaky, flighty smile. "Benefits of Mister... ah, our master having friends in the right-"

"I'll handle it," Kasoria said, then started to hobble away, saying louder, "Thank yeh, thank yeh sir, thank yeh..."

He left Ilos standing by his pillar and worked his way back through the crowd. Past faces and bodies and all though the hubbub of voices, he could hear one over them all. It wasn't the man speaking. It was one long dead, long dust, from long ago. It was a woman, her voice changing from moment to moment, almost word to word. Whenever he closed his eyes, even for a blink, he saw a face. Her face. Their face. His body seemed to fall from him. Hands and feet becoming numb. Memories dragging him back, some sort of unthinking mechanics keeping him walking, moving, finding, reaching out for-

"C'mon," he growled, tugging the blindfold (almost) entirely back over his eyes as he rested his hand on Maxine's shoulder. "Time t'get back. Got what we need t'know."

Man and girl wound their way out from the gathering. Just another urchin leading another blind man. Behind them the voice continued to crow, throwing out promises of redemption and enlightenment and sickening, baseless love with every sentence. He heard a ragged cheer rise from the crowd - in fucking Etzos! - Kasoria felt his teeth grind until his molars cracked. His thoughts were in dark places, and now he didn't even need to look where he was going, he couldn't stop them from poisoning all else of his being. Finally the words started spilling out of his mouth, no longer able to be contained.

"Fuckin' disgrace, so it is," Maxine heard from behind her, very word soaked in vitriol. "Fuckin' cunt should fuckin' know better. Fuckin' Tower family, an' all. Shoulda' knocked that shite outta his head fuckin' arcs ago. 'stead he's onna streets, praisin' those cunts-"

He didn't know why she spoke. Not in that moment. Later he would assume it was excitement, or just childish ignorance. Not quite innocence, for that word wasn't quite fitting for her, but... he would conclude there was no malice behind it. Nothing that raised his ire like what he'd just seen. But she picked utterly the wrong moment.

"What's the big deal, anyway?" She said with a shrug, not seeing Kasoria's face freeze behind her. "They're like gods, aren't they? I mean, they were going to-"

He moved so fast and with such violence that Maxine never stood a chance. He went from being meekly led to yanking her into the alleyway in the blink of an eye. By the time a squeak of surprise had left her lips, he'd spun her around and shoved her up against a wall. A hand grabbing a chunk of her shirt and yanking up under her chin, raising her up on her tiptoes. All his training, all his lessons, they melted like snow in a furnace at the sight of his face. The sheer, ugly, oozing savagery of his expression. Something immortal and insatiable had stirred in her teacher. Something that man and his words had brought back to life.

"Youse fuckin' pin yer ears back an' lissen," he snarled, more beast than man, words flecked with spittle, "Cuz I ain't gonna say this twice. They. Are. Not. Fuckin'. Gods. They are monsters. They don't give a fuck about us. Not what we do, not what we want. All they do's use us. We're less t'them than fuckin' maggots are to us, an' they'd wipe the whole fuckin' lot of us out or make us into fuckin' pets if they had half a chance. They don't care. They don't listen."

He tightened his grip and some dark part of him relished her terrified gasp. Enjoyed ripping such fear from someone, anyone who'd dared call those abominations divine.

"First it's words in the street. Then it's temples an' priests. Then before y'know, we'll be fightin' their wars an' givin' over our children an' openin' our own fuckin' throats, just because a buncha' cunts with magic that don't fuckin' die like normal say so. Not here. Not in fuckin' Etzos. We didn't fight fuckin' wars t'let that happen t'day. My fam-"

He stopped there. Not because he was frightening the girl, but because that locked and sealed portion of his past had come so close to exposure. Few knew about it. He rarely spoke of it; the last time had been well over a decade ago. His face warred and struggled with itself as his words came to a screeching halt. No. No, he couldn't speak of them. She didn't need to know, and-

... shit.

Kasoria let go of her. She didn't move. Only the cloth he'd unhanded moved on her body. She was terrified, staring, eyes wet and lip trembling. He felt a wave of something bitter ripple through him, shameful and hollow. But that timeless rage replaced it, blowing out of him in a sigh that set his head to shaking. He looked down at his feet and gathered his thoughts. His discipline. Fates, all his talks about self-control, and for what?

"We're doin' that cunt back there," he said without preamble, when he could look her in the eyes again. "We're gonna make him vanish. An' I need you. I need what you can do, what you saw. For all that, youse get the same as last time."

He should have said more. Arcs before, maybe he would have. Before all those bodies had excavated so much of what made him a man. Before congealing hatred had hardened in layers around his soul. Even then, some small piece railed against him from within, shaking its head at his cruelty, his pointless, childish anger directed at such a small target. But he'd said he needed her, and it was... mostly not a lie. He did need her, for the plan he had in mind.

Kasoria took a step back, and held out his hand. He pulled his blindfold back down.

"C'mon," he said again, voice somewhere close to normal again. "Gimme yer shoulder. Tell me what y'saw while I was gone..."
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"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
NOTE: Kasoria is using the name "Thagoras" while in Eastern Idalos, from Zi'da 717 onwards
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Max
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Sat Jun 01, 2019 3:37 pm

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The orphan girl was completely enraptured by the stranger's oration. Etzos was merely another city to her no different than the one that came before it. She was poor in Rynmere. She was poor here. Life continued to trample the downtrodden and raise up the higher class. Things being as they were, Max was too young and preoccupied by her childhood misfortunes to be aware of great histories. Too much focus and worry was granted instead to the search of her next meal. The speaker, however, had found at least one young mind her could enlighten. Hers.

Rynmere talked much about the Seven. She didn't remember who they Seven were or why they mattered to the kingdom. She just knew, thanks to the constant swearing to them, that they were what the peasantry believed in. Here and now was the first time Immortals were spoken about to her in depth. The man described them as living, breathing being who could think, speak, and act on their own accord rather than fables. The beings suggested promises and purpose, two things the orphan with nothing was inclined to hear out. Etzos was a city of Immortal murderers, it sounded like. The crowd booed and jeered the preacher, but Max couldn't help but hear his curious words anyways. For all their hatefulness, the Immortals would forgive. They would reconcile. Even with the wretches who'd love nothing more than to bury them.

Weakness.

All powerful entities shouldn't forgive the people who struck them down. They should've returned the favor ten-fold and brought them to heel. It made no sense, all this that the man promised. She was no stranger to the streets though. Crazy men said crazy things, and crazier yet, crowds sometimes did gather to hear them anyhow. Maybe he was crazy. Maybe he was making it all up. The damage was done though. Questions and interest were planted in her easily-influenced mind. Maxine wasn't about to pledge her allegiance. Not to anyone. Still, she wondered if the Immortals were as real as they man seemed to claim. Who were they? What did they have to offer?

Maxine nearly jumped when she felt the hand on her shoulder. She blinked, mind pulling away from the deranged orator and remembering their mission at hand. The orphan girl nodded and went back to her duty. Blindfold over his eyes, Maxine dutifully led him through the winding crowd, keeping up their usual facade. As they vacated a strange thing seemed to happen. The crowd began to cheer. The disdain for the pro-Immortal messages were beginning to crumble away. The people, some people, wanted change. She could feel the Old Man's fingers curling roughly on her shoulder at the sound. It would seem not everyone agreed.

Kasoria began his spewing thereafter. He went on, cursing about some Tower family and beliefs best beaten from heads. On he went, and Maxine was left in her naivety. So she spoke her impulsive questions, and she didn't dare even dream on what came in their wake.

The next thing she knew, she was slammed against an alley wall. Her eyes were wide upon Kasoria, toes tapping at the ground and hands instinctively moving to the hand balled up in her shirt. Maxine stared at that matted, bearded face of a madman and felt the abyss staring back at her. This was not the face of her irritated mentor. This was the face men of Etzos saw before Kasoria blew their candle out. At first she struggled and squirmed in his grip. Then, at the sheer animalistic savagery of the killer's expression, she was rendered to little more than a deer in the jaws of the wolf. She dared not move or speak. In her wide-eyed shock, she could do nothing more than listen as fear filled her.

In one growling shout Kasoria answered all her questions about the Immortals as harshly as he could. They were not gods. They were not all-powerful beings worthy of reverence or respect. They were tyrants, slavers, and master manipulators that would feed the mortal world to the slaughter like fodder. Immortals were not loving beings. They would not render purpose or power. They used and destroyed at will, and she was merely an ant beneath their cruel heel.

He tightened his grip and she swallowed hard. He continued his spewing, snarling his anger in her face. They he paused when he started to say something. Family. Yes, that had to have been the world. She blinked at him, curiosity peeking through the terror in her big eyes. The unkempt, poor assassin once had a family. She didn't know why that thought was so odd, so hard to see as a reality. He had a past before he became this...person. A different identity. He'd been someone else. Now it was gone, and within this context, it seemed he believe the Immortals and their wars were responsible. The fury in her face began to make more sense. The man, in a split trill and single slip of his mask, began just a tad more human.

Max watched his eyes go somewhere else and then some sort of realization strike him. He dropped her right there on the cobbles. Her heels touched the ground again but she didn't dare move a muscle. Only stared. The fabric on her chest stayed mostly balled up where his fingers had curled in it. Fear filled her even upon release. She didn't want it to consume her but it did all the same. She felt the water in her eyes, the tremble in her lip. Max hated him for it. He seemed to sense that and feel shame, for in the next moment, he was spouting off that he needed her for the job. Certainly it was a superficial attempt at making her feel better.

"Fine," the orphan spat, forcing the shake out of her voice the more she spoke. "But you keep that promise. Same as last time. Not a coin less." She rubbed the back of her hand across her nose. The Old Man dropped that hand back on her shoulder and off they went. It took her a bit to gather herself and focus her mind. After a time, it started to come together. "He's got guards. Big men with big daggers and swords. The ones closest to him looked mean. There were other ones, too. Some closer to the crowd. The one with the ginger beard, he looked nervous. His eyes were all big and he was looking all over like he was scared of the crowd. Or expecting something. Don't know."

More walking. More false pleasantries as they bumbled by people in the street. A woman leaned toward her husband, cooing over the sweet girl helping the blind old man.

"They set up in a good spot. The guards were standing to keep the crowd back just far enough he could zip out to the left or right. When I got on my tippy-toes I could see they left a blocked-off alleyway behind them, too. An extra escape route. Or a good way for a knife to get close. They're smart like you taught me but not too smart." She paced for a bit, thinking. Kasoria would see the wheels turning even with his eyes covered. Ambition had a strong hold on his protege, and whether he said the hollow words or not, Maxine was going to prove to him he did need her. "I bet the nervous one would panic if something happened in that crowd. He'd rile up the others and it would be a mess. Make it easier for you to do what you do if he's in the open. Too many eyes though."

There was one last thing. Something she didn't look for but had noticed all the same. She bit her lip. Part of Max felt like she shouldn't tell the Old Man what it was. It hadn't been something she saw or heard. It was something she felt. No matter how hard she tried to brush it off, it remained.

"Something else, too," she admitted quietly. Her head glanced over her shoulder and she bit her lip again. An annoying pause before she convinced herself to spit it out, whispering what it was. "It felt like...like someone was watching me." It sounded even more ridiculos out loud but there it was. "I didn't do nothin', I swear. I stood there like you told me. I don't know. It's what it felt like."
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Re: The Space Between (Max)

Mon Jun 10, 2019 1:17 pm

What was done was done, and what was said was said. There was no taking it back or apologizing, even if he did feel pushed to do so. Which he didn't. Bloody stupid girl needed to get it through her head sometime or another: this is the Free City of Etzos. Freedom bought by the blood and lives of countless dead men, centuries ago. Who'd fought the nearest Idalos held to gods, and beat them. Used their freedom to build one of the finest, wealthiest cities in the world. Not perfect, not without flaws, but without any hand of abomination resting over the people there.

Kasoria was not a man to moralize, because he both knew what morality was, and had enough self-respect to understand he fell under no code worthy of the title. But he knew this city - his city - was special. Because of that freedom. Because they, hated and cursed all, held no sway in the lands of Etzos.

"You'll get yer fuckin' coin," he growled as they marched on, man and girl, beggar and guide. "You'll have t'fuckin' earn it, though."

He listened to her report, all very observant and clever, with both ears and half a mind. He could feel the surging, righteous anger draining out of him like blood through a puncture wound. As they trailed through the alleys and streets, occasionally mumbling out an plea for alms, Kasoria was... aware of himself again. He frowned behind his blindfold. Fates, but he didn't like that feeling. To be so blinded with hatred that he was barely aware of what he was doing. Like a dog slipping its leash.

"They're expectin' trouble," he said as they wound their way down the street, directed subtly by his hand jerking or pushing on her shoulder. He was almost turning her, telling her where to go by which direction the pressure of his hand moved. "Go around crowin' bout the fuckin' Morts in Etzos, gotta expect it. Looked like a seasoned bunch a' lads, too. Gingy's probably new blood."

Self-flagellation and the whisper of guilt were gone from his mind, now. Fresh information was flooding into it, chasing away all those pointless, pesky doubts. He could see Quaros and his phalanx of bodyguards, keen-eyed and with scabby knuckles. Just as she described then. But now he could see the broader picture. The space they left in front of them. Distance equaling time, time equaling to a window for them to hustle their charge off his perch and into the alley. Then down there to safety, in the narrow space where a handful of men left behind could cover their escape from a platoon, if necessary.

The little man frowned again. First at the words, and the memory... then at the smell.

"Stop here."

She groaned at the order, and frankly, he didn't blame here. The stink of hundreds of braying, roaring, neighing, whinnying animals was a miasma that defied words. It was death and misery and hideous hygiene and the specter or rot and the story of a million urinations and defacations all made airborne and spreading all across the sky. Kasoria almost gagged as they stopped in the middle of the street... and then swiftly got out the way.

"He's comin' by here in four trials," he muttered to her as they watched a procession of well-fed cattle lumber by, led by shouting drivers. "Over... there, I'd wager."

He pointed to where two roads met a third, at an angle. Almost like a Y-shape, with an island of raised gravel and brick and stone where all three lines intersected. Kasoria knew if a pompous cunt wanted to scream out about his fucking gods, this would be the prime spot to do it. But it was exposed. He studied it from where they stood, finger idly tapping on Maxine's shoulder.

Won't be an island if there's trouble; it'll be a prison. So he'll have to get out quick. Have to go for the nearest-

"That way."

He pointed, she led the way. Down the pavement beside the road, coated as much in animal filth as stone, that the slaughterhouse towered over. A multitude of animals were straining behind the fences and gates set into the wall. All stalls belonging to a different owner. The meat market was storage and seller both: animals were kept there, sometimes slaughtered further inside, and on the other side was a row of butchers. They'd come together arcs before, a consortium of ambitious, meat-minded men. Why run their little stores and petty kingdoms, when they could conglomerate? Pool their resources, rent out a truly massive structure and increase the flow of hoofed product trotting through their circle tenfold? The plan had worked. Ever since then, South Side Slaughter And Sales had been a staple of the Oh'Pee.

"m'guessin'... that's why he's comin'."

He didn't point to the business behind them. He pointed over the road, where quite different animals were arrayed against the wall. Ragged and bedraggled. Kicked out from the shelter during the day so it could be cleaned and readied for the night. Men and women with faces harder than the ones defending Quaros ran that place; providing aid and charity, but not much leeway for fucking about. Kasoria had asked Vorund why the butchers had set up shop so close to a bloody poorhouse, and he got the answer he should have expected: "Why'd ya think they got the rent so cheap?"

"Desperate people," Kasoria said, and he felt Maxine stiffen lightly as that same, savage tone rustled under his words. "Lookin' fer hope. Any hope. Even the false stuff. He comes down here, swans about, gives some coin an' speaks his words... by next season, every one a' the pathetic cunts'll be singing Morty praises, all across the city."

His fingers flexed, but Kasoria caught himself in time. He would not lose himself again. Instead he spat to one side and kept the girl moving. Down the alley right opposite the island, wide at the entrance, narrow as it went on. They walked slower at his silent urging; footsteps wet and sodden and loud in the enclosed space. Kasoria had the germ of an idea. The possibility of a plan. Then he stopped, and saw what he'd been looking for, and the seed shot through the soil and into the sky.

"An' wiv' that-" he said, pointing to the sewer grate, winking wetly at them from the shadows of an archway "-I think we've godda plan, girl."

++++++++++


"A'right, one more time, f'those at the back..."

Kasoria let the shock of him making a joke hang in the stunned, humid air for but a moment before he reset the pieces on the table. Maxine had been oddly reminded of the kids at the orphanage when he'd started setting things up. He'd used everything he could put his hands on. Books, knives, forks, jars, plates, all of them were laid out in a way that, if you squinted real hard and had the right imagination, could almost look like a layout of the road intersection they'd just been in. She was sitting at one end of the table, watchful and quiet, as Kasoria held up-

"This," he said, holding a clay salt shaker "is that wanker Quaros. An' he'll be here."

He placed the shaker on the space representing the island in the middle of the roads. Around it were some cups an a jar or two, all meant to be his bodyguards.

"He'll be makin' his speech, probably a crowd around him. Tha's good. Means all eyes'll be on him. An' if things go bad, I'm guessin' this is where they'll move him." He pointed to a gap between two books that was doing a brave job of imitating the alleyway. "Prob'ly leave a few men to watch the back, then hustle him down there. That's where I'll handle 'em."

Handle them. Sort them. Deal with them. Anything but kill them. Maxine was beginning to wonder if her mentor used such expressions because he was hiding from the murderous reality of what he did, or because he honestly didn't see any difference between cutting a man's throat and repairing a squeaky door knob. Any road, she had no time for the question. Kasoria wasn't slowing down.

"But you? You'll be out here. By the stalls." He pointed to the long wall of the slaughterhouse (actually a large book). "When I give you the nod from inside the alley, you start openin' the gates. Scare the fuck outta the animals inside. Stick 'em wiv' yer needle, if yeh have to. Just get them movin' an' runnin'... this way."

He swept his hand from the top of the book, down the road, into the intersection and the island. The shadow of it fell across all, and one could almost her the propphecy of thundering hooves and screaming animals... and people. There would be a lot of them in the road. All rapturous as they listened to their homegrown prophet. People just like him, like her, like his parents, and they were going to unleash a stampede on them.

Fuck them, he thought with a sudden savagery that surprised even him. Shouldn't be listening to the cunt, anyway. Fuck do they think they are?

"That'll get the crowd terrified, get Quaros moving. His men'll get lost in the madness, or at lease some of 'em. The rest'll focus on getting him out an' down the alley. You meet me there. If y'don't see me on the cobbles, go to the sewer grate. I'll be waitin' for yeh but not fer long." The last words were wrapped in an iron warning. "Y'don't stick around after the fact like some twat savorin' the fuckin' moment. We do our job, we fuck of, we live t'get paid."

Kasoria straightened up and regarded the table with a touch of pride. Then he looked over at Maxine and gave half a smile. He'd almost forgotten...

"Jobs like this? Sometimes y'gotta throw in some chaos. Make everyone mad an' scared an' forgettin' what danger they're in. All those animals, all that fear, runnin' people... they won't notice us. Jus' a beggar an' a girl. You throw things inta' chaos, an' you make the best a' what comes outta it. So... wadaya think?"

Kasoria didn't know if Maxine was quite at the level of understanding what a rhetorical question was, but it was still one worth asking. She needed to feel like she was valuable, was needed... and she was, of course. But she had to believe it. Treating her like an equal was part of that. The little man waited while she frowned at the table, as if seeing it for the first time... even when Bella hopped up onto it and started knocking things over, as cats in their kingdom are want to do. Kasoria reached down and stroked her straggly fur absently. Soon the bubbling stove and equally bubbling cat were the only things audible in the room.

Focus on the What and the How and the When, he silently commanded her, willing her not to bother with the Why. Doesn't matter. It's a job. You do the job, you leave, you get paid. This one more than anyone, you need to learn that, girl.
word count: 1961
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see Heaven."
NOTE: Kasoria is using the name "Thagoras" while in Eastern Idalos, from Zi'da 717 onwards
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