• Mature • “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine) [Graded]

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Kasoria
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“The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine) [Graded]

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Continued from here

80th Trial, Zi'Da, 711AV




It was what hell must look like, if you believed in that kind of thing. Kasoria generally did, but he was flexible. Sometimes, most times, he preferred to believe there was naught but oblivion awaiting him. Not just darkness, or cold, or sleep, but obliteration. It sounded... almost peaceful. Perhaps there'd be a way for him to come back, same soul, new body, no memories. There was a word for that, he was sure of it. But then he thought of his family, the ones he'd lost, who'd been taken from him... and he hoped there was some place for them. That they had not been obliterated or re-something and surely they would not know hell.

But you would. Where else would you go?

Kasoria had made his peace with that a long time ago. Long before Maxine had met him. So when he emerged from the sewers and strode to the edge of the alley, what he saw was not so overwhelming to him.

Screaming children. Bellowing wounded. Soldiers and Blackjack snapping off orders. Crying, wailing, despair and grief so loud and thick it seemed to soak into the skin when you walked through the air. Kasoria did just that, but his eyes were for no-one there. They were scanning, tracking, flickering and flitting over everyone, wounded or otherwise. She'd come this way, he knew it. She'd fled from him after she couldn't go through with Quaros. So he'd had to, and the fat fucking traitor was already forgotten. But her...

She thinks you're going to kill her, he thought, and ground his teeth as he pushed past a pair of struggling figures, one supporting the other, both smeared with blood. She knows how this works now. Thanks to you.

This is all because of you.


"Shut up."

"Uuhhh?"

In all the tumult and chaos, the shattered soul at his feet still heard that. A figure bloodied and bruised, so much so that the natural color of his skin was a best guess. One hand over an eye bleeding so badly he'd likely lost it. Still he had the wits to sound quizzical... or maybe they'd fled him so thoroughly he didn't know where he was anymore. Kasoria ignored him, hardened his heart with practiced ease and kept moving. Fucking Fates, where the hell was she? Where would she run to? What would-

It was a flash of a face that did it. Not just the recognition of it, but the intent it wore. The unspoken message of grim, professional violence.

"Revun"

The whispered word dribbled from his lip and he was already running before the shaven-headed figure had turned the corner.


++++++++++


"Fuckin' bitch gonna make me earn it."

Revun didn't get it. Well, no, okay, he did, but fucking really? What was she going to do? Escape from men three times her size and four times her age with more experience in slaughter and pursuit than she could imagine? One little girl, without friends or weapons, fleeing through the very sewers and gutters they'd controlled since before she was born. The scratcher spat to one side but didn't slow his run. Skidded around the corner and saw a flash of black hair-

-then two more flashes. Lither, shorter man than he. He hated them on sight, with all the jealous envy of a man who knew but would never admit he was outmatched.

Fuck it. Get your blade wet even a little bit, the Old Man will be good for the coin.

He had to hand it to Vorund: he didn't believe in taking chances. Two of the best scratchers one could hire (short of his little pitbull, of course) were assigned to one little girl. And should they prove insufficient? There were half a dozen men in... shall we say, a lower league of competence, who'd been contracted and put into action. She may escape the big fish - and that was a big "may" - but even if she did, bloodied and battered and tired, she'd still run into them.

Or you. Make it you-

"Fuck!"

The figure crashed into him and knocked him straight into the darkness of an alley. He heard scraping and clanking, metal on stone, a sewer entrance being muscled open. Damnit, he was losing sight of them. With a curse he rounded on his attacker and drew a blade in the same motion. Young, flushed features peered down at a disheveled figure looking up, breathing heavily, but with eyes that were cold and hard and steady as a crossbow bolt.

"Fuck're you doin' 'ere?"

"The... The fuck am I doin' here?!" Revun spat out as he took a good look at . The blade went back in its sheath and he rolled his eyes. "Fuckin' hark at you, actin' the fuckin' hero! Come on, out me way, fuckin' job's gettin' away-"

"Yer goin' after the girl?"

"Course we are!" His blood was up. His lungs burned. His hands were twitchy and eager for the kill that would make him rich. He didn't see the slow, horrified dawning in the little man's eyes. "Job's a job, innit, and... wait..."

Slowly, far too slowly, Revun put it together. As he wondered why this beggar bastard was so sure, so calm, with a big bloke like him waggling a blade before his eyes. Why the old man would tackle him anyway, would want to speak with him... other than trying to be some sort of hero, right? Saw him going after the girl, wanted to protect her, all that good shit. But he couldn't stop him, could he? Couldn't outfight Revun, who'd been making a tidy name for himself over the last few arcs. Steeled or not, he'd be able to handle...

Kasoria saw the look of understanding, just as he gripped the brass knuckles in his pocket. By the time Revun looked at him again, he was already moving.

"Fu-"

It was short, efficient, and comparatively quiet. Revun went for his weapon, not an unarmed attack. That was a mistake. Sheer size, momentum, weight married to speed, would have probably overwhelmed the little man, if only for a moment. Forced him into retaliation... disadvantageous, to what needed to be done. But he didn't. He was a crude and straightforward man: he thought he needed a weapon, not that he was one.

Brass knuckles or not, Kasoria thought differently.

THUNK

A line of molded brass crashed into Revun's throat and crushed his larynx like a grape. Blood vessels exploded and the amateur scratcher went staggering, knife falling from fingers that hadn't even fully grasped it-

-until Kasoria's free hand grabbed him by the lapel-

-right leg lashing out, a short, savage, downward stomp that dislocated his knee, dropping him down-

THUNK

-second jab smashing into his nose, then a third and instant later, crushing bone and ligament into a ruined face even as the man choked to death. Only then did Kasoria let him. Let him fall onto his back and drown on his own blood. Looking up at a smoky sky without color or light or sun. Or future. Then he turned away and dropped the knuckles into his pocket. Only then did he let the fear show on his face. A flickering, flitting thing. Like an animal pursued through the undergrowth.

She's down there, and they're after her. He didn't believe you. Now he's going to make sure.

"Fuckin' bastard."

Kasoria held fast to that hate and let it power him from feet to fingers. He tore out the alley and rushed around the corner, find the open sewer grate as he knew he would. Revun wasn't the only one listening. As he dropped down inside, he could hear the sound of running feet. Many pairs of them. With a muffled curse and the closest he could come to a prayer, he drew his gladius and started after them all.
Last edited by Kasoria on Wed Jul 29, 2020 2:31 pm, edited 2 times in total. word count: 1361
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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Maxine never had the privilege of wandering the woods. Wildlife in its natural state was a fleeting visual, something she glanced in passing or out the rare window of a carriage. The closest she came to seeing the natural order of things in the natural world, beyond the grime of a city's underworld, was the occasional hunter hauling his slew of pelts over his shoulder back into town to trade or sell. She could never truly visualize the experience that went into that work. Not until to-trial. To-trial, she knew what that wide-eyed, fleeing hare must've felt with the howling, racing hounds at its heels.

And she was afraid.

Everything she'd just weathered hadn't completely drifted to the way-side. Letting the animals loose, the business with Quaros, escaping The Old Man; all of that still weighed upon her. Like chimes behind a symphony, sins and macabre played a haunting undertone to the present horror she was enduring. The man wearing the hat, commanding her pursuers, was far more at the forefront of her mind now. He hadn't followed when she turned and ran. He merely stood there, tall and unwavering like a heavy stone in a stream, looking on as his deadly shadows brushed past him to wet their blades for a little extra weight in their pockets.

What mark was easier than that of an orphan girl?

Max's heartbeat in her ears nearly drowned out that of her own running feet on the cobbles. Her slender arms pumped like pistons at her sides, lungs sucking greedily for oxygen that might propel her ahead of the swarm of older, more experienced, deadlier players in the game she never had a prayer of winning. Her advantage came with the lack of weight on her skeleton. All she had was that measly, tucked away dagger. She didn't have to content with the weight of light armor or weapons on her hips. Light and lithe, she slipped in and out of alleyways and traversed obstacles at a speed the hunters didn't exactly expect. She was quicker only for the moment, they knew. Either they'd catch up on a straight-away, or she'd tire. They only had to keep the little brat in their sights.

Where do I run?!

The Old Man's house was the first thought in her head. It was a place she once felt secure and hopeful. Now it was a snare, and he was sure to gut her as soon as he laid eyes on her. The orphanage was out of the question. The matron would hand her over just as soon as the perilous soldiers inquired about her. Mina was there, too. Max knew her best friend would be more than willing to repay the favor of her love, trying in vain to protect her. Max wouldn't give her the chance. She couldn't put her at risk. She had to think of something else. Somewhere else. No where felt safe that came to mind. Only one felt familiar, and it too was a gamble.

Two men, breathing easily still, began to gain on her. She could hear their foot falls growing in volume. It sent panic through her veins, and try as she did, she couldn't get her own legs to move faster. They were going to catch her. Then they were going to kill her.

No, no, no! Please!

Instead of trying to lose them around another corner, Maxine rolled the dice. Her brown eyes caught sight of the opportunity she was looking for. She made a mad-dash toward it. They were practically on top of her when she lunged through the half-broken sewer grate. Her slender, starved body slipped through the mangled space between the bent metal and the stone wall. The gnarled steel bit into her body as she grazed by it, bleeding her but not hindering her from entering the disgusting depths it guarded. A hand slipped through the grate to catch the orphan girl by the hood of her coat.

"Get off!" Maxine cried, back slamming against the inside of the grate as the man yanked her closer. She struggled to press forward against the force. "Let me go!"
"Come 'ere, ya little bitch!" the man hissed through clenched teeth. "Fen, hurry up and help me!"
"Hold on!" another voice, Fen's, piped up as he arrived hastily at the sewer opening. "Lemme get a hold of ya, Devin!"

Just as Fen reached for his partner to held get a grip on the hood, Maxine managed to wrestle herself free from her coat. Her arms slipped from the sleeves and she was lose. She fell forward into the muck, sputtering but gifted with a mere moment of relief, before she hustled to her feet to vanish into the tunnels. Fen and Devin shouted their curses after her, their furious voices echoing after her to continue to chase. Max didn't pause for even a bit. Angry pounding at her back, she knew the two catspaws were already getting to work wrenching the steel back to make entry. It wouldn't take them long.

She was already so tired.

Waste splashed under her feet. Something foul dripped onto the top of her head The smell was suffocating. None of that mattered. Her only hope was getting lost under Etzos, deep in this maze where the killers couldn't find her. She didn't know this stretch of tunnels. For all she knew, The Old Man could be lurking in this mess of piping, too. Her odds were looking grimmer by the bit.

"Aye! Over here!"
"'Urry up!"
"We've 'bout got it loose!"
"In there 'fore she gets away!"

There was more voices. Fen and Devin's friends had arrived. The swarm was growing, and like a rising tide, they would gain on her and crush her beneath their deadly weight. She never even got the chance to spend a single coin from her keep on herself. The orphan never would. Underneath the primitive, base fear that had full possession of her body and mind, she knew that single fact to be true. The sound of metal being torn from the wall echoed behind her. A round of brief cheering followed.

They're here.
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

There were three ways to hunt.

One was to follow your prey, and strike. The other was to draw your prey to you, then spring a trap. The third was to know where your prey would be going, and already be there to surprise them.

The second and third were often confused, or dismissed as one and the same. Kasoria had decided this was a mistake. Drawing the prey in, required a lure, bait, and in some base, animal fashion, prey might discern that it was being tricked.

The third way, however... that required a keener knowledge. Enough to understand the wants of your prey, its motivations, it nature, habits, locales, even allies and enemies. With this understanding, one could predict the actions of prey and thus, their movements.

In the third way, prey never suspected it was being hunted, unless they were explicitly informed as such. In the third way, the hunter needed only intelligence, and patience.

Really wish I hadn't fucking told her all that, now.

The Raggedy Man's face was a pinched mask of annoyance as he finished taking off his boots. Now he'd be getting sodden into the bargain, too, but it was worth the discomfort. Sight wouldn't aid a man much down in the Underground, and smell certainly wouldn't. But hearing? Aye, that's what you often relied on. He didn't want his steel-capped feet giving him away. Not when he had much stalking to be done. Much killing.

No witnesses, on this one. Any of them escape and get back with word it was you, Vorund won't hesitate. Every scratcher in the city will be after you.

And her.


The last bit was unnecessary, but his mind whispered it anyway. He still the words, closed his eyes... and listened. He was in a smelling little alcove not far from the broken grate he'd seen the others flow into like cackling water. He could hear their footsteps now, going further and further away. He cocked his head to one side. Echoes and reverberations bounced around him, muddying the aural texture of the sounds... but he was an old hand at this subterranean world. He knew the nature of brick and the tune they made. He turned his head to the side... and started jogging away.

He came up behind them, as was expected. He thought he recognized a couple of voices from past contracts but most seemed young. Probably earning their stripes. Their feet pounded against the stones, drowning out his own pursuit of them. His gladius was held close to his hip. Fates, like he had a fucking choice. Even a short sword like that was a wee bit long for these narrow tunnels. But it was what he had, what he was good with, and that was enough-

"Fuckin' wait a bit, will ya?!"

"How 'bout get yer fat arse fuckin' movin'?!"

Kasoria stopped at the corner before peering around. A beefy ganger was resting with one hand against the wall, breathing heavily. Clearly not one made for extended pursuit. He could just make out the bobbing, ducking shadows far ahead of the man, leaving their comrade behind with nothing but laughter and grunts in their wake. The Raggedy Man slid from his spot and kept close to the walls. Heel-toe-, heel-toe, quick but precise, just like he'd taught the girl.

Quick, precise, silent. The fat man never heard him. But there was still that flicker, that glimmer of steel in the waning light-

-that turned his head around but by then it was too late and the flicker was a flash was a sheet of lightning-

-Kasoria lashed out with the gladius held in reverse, lunging in the same instant, arcing steel opening up Fatty's throat as he turned to face him-

Bright, arterial red mingled with pure silver for just a moment. Met and coated and then fell away from each other. Spattering so hard against the wet stone that the sound almost echoed, until coughing chokes replaced it and Fatty's jammed a hand to his neck that was crimson within a moment-

-Kasoria's second blow, a double-handed that that went crunching through his sternum like a needle through cloth, ended his pain. Or at least expedited it. Fatty sank down to his knees, ruddy face now deathly pale. He looked up through fading eyes, barely twitching as the little man yanked his weapon clear and then went one-

No. He paused. Fatty didn't understand why. He tried to ask but it seemed too tiring to bother. Too much effort. Better he sleep for a while first. Yes. Yes, that would do it. He felt something loosening at his belt... then a weight removed from it. Was that his dagger? Had that little fucker stolen his dagger? Well... it didn't matter. He was so tired, and the tiles were so cool and inviting against his forehead...

Kasoria left the fat man to bleed out behind him and kept walking. Feeling better now the pack was thinned down a little... no pun intended. But still that look of annoyance stayed on his face. Where would she go? Not to the Orphanage. Not to his home, not if she thought he was her enemy too. So where? Somewhere outside the city? Somewhere deeper? A friend? Maybe an enemy should could parlay her knowledge into-

Think simple! What did you always tell her? What do you always need?

"... coin."

The Raggedy Man remembered what he'd told the girl, when he gave her what must have been a lifetime's salary to a gutter wretch like her. Hide it deep, in the darkness of the Underground. Where no-one can find it, so you'll always have it there should you need it. Well, the trial of need had certainly come, and he remembered telling her another important lesson, too.

"When the wolves are closing in, when all your friends are gone or turned, don't get sentimental about stone and cobbles. Leave the city. Go somewhere else. New name, new past, and don't ever come back."

Something unfamiliar and reeking of desperation wrapped around his heart for a moment. He had to cough into his hand just to dislodge it. He knew where she was going, or at least what she was going towards. After that... she'd vanish. He'd never find her. With a growl, Kasoria shook his head and chased the mournful whispers away. The pack was still hunting, the stragglers almost within sight. The alphas were in the lead, he assumed, skilled and seasoned murderers with a clutch of amateurs or budding professionals in their wake. Kasoria knew the What, but now the Where... so he'd follow the Who, instead.

Because sure as Death and Darkness, they weren't going to quit the chase, either.
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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Her stream of consciousness was not filled with plans or intellect like her better hunters. There was no room for that. Already, she was over-stimulated with things in her visual field, sound, lights, and whatever brushed her skin. Her mind was working in overdrive to make sense of the world around her quickly so snap decisions could be made. Almost every move she made was a product of impulse based on the snapshot of information her brain perceived. As she continued to flee through the thinking tunnels, there was only one known idea she was acutely aware of.

Whatever you do, don't stop.

The echoes behind her snapped at her heels deceptively. The voices felt close and far away all at once, which did little to stem the persistent panic that claimed her as its slave. This run through the sewers was blind navigation. Every turn, heap of vile, and twist in the path was an utter surprise. She was choosing her road at random. The killers just followed. She was proving to be an annoying mark. Once they got their hands on her, the deed itself would be easy. It wouldn't be long now.

Yet not all hunted in a pack. Not all flocked together like co-dependent sheep. There were men like those stumbling over one another at the entrance of the sewer, working selfishly together like one, incoherent mob with swords in their hands. They were just a group of individual minds all after the same bag of coin. Their type was a nel-a-dozen. A different breed, more rare and singular, did not follow his brethren through the grate once it was broken down.

While men clambered through that reeking dark, taking the same path as their prey, a silent catspaw took the literal high ground. Unlike the hulking, fat man below, he was lithe and unassuming. He was not consumed with greedy fervor nor blind with obsession at the task at hand. He was smarter than the yapping, jaw-snapping dogs howling through the tunnels after the scared little hare. Kasoria would know him well.

Few knew the man's given name: Sven Michaelson. That was the name given to him at birth by a common whore who failed to take the right precautions before copulating with a pathetic, nameless John. A blight took her long ago, along with his history before making a new name for himself. Dubbed "The Garrote," Sven became known for him silent, clever execution style. He was efficient as he was ruthless. This mark was below him. Every man had a crippling vice though. Like his father before him, Sven liked women. Lots of expensive women. Skinning this one little hare would buy him plenty of nights until a job of his station came about.

So while the fools filled their boots with shit, The Garrote calmly walked the cobbles above. A quiet, shining dagger tap, tap, tapped on his outer thigh as he moved down the street. His eyes danced coolly between his surroundings and each small sewer window peeking up from the ground. Focused and adept, he followed the sound of the racing child below his clicking heels at every turn.

Max couldn't help it. In her run, her head turned to look back when she heard a change in the sounds behind her. She didn't know what the noises were or what they meant for her. The distance and the environment manipulated the echoes, making them nearly indecipherable. So she turned to look over her shoulder while he feet continued to move. What did she spy? Was it only darkness and shadows? Did her mind play a trick or did she really see the glint of a dagger? Before she could figure it out, she tripped.

More muck. It shouldn't have even mattered anymore, but she mentally cringed. She had lost time though. If someone was racing in the dark, by the time she found her feet and started running again, they'd catch her. The orphan came up with a new plan. Maxine lunged toward the wall and jumped, catching a hold of the street above. Feet scraping along the wall and arms shaking, she managed to pull herself up through the small opening back to the world above. Sometimes it really did pay to be a small, scrawny child.

A few people on the street level gave her an odd look. She didn't linger. Maxine scrambled, and through this new scenery she ran. At least now she recognized loosely where she was. More options were on the table. Not far from here, she hid her coin. It was a place not even The Old Man knew. She hid it once and then hid it again. It was a place Mina knew, and that was by design. Out of the sewers and pushing through the crowd, maybe she could slow her escape...catch her breath.

As Maxine tried to settle in among the crowd and do just that, if only to get her bearings, The Garrote watched. The dagger at his thigh kept its tap, tap, tapping. And he smiled.
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

You needed a trail to be able to track. Whether physical or magical, this was a law of existence. Some sign of passing, some imprint a being had made or was making in the world. Kasoria knew that most "trails" weren't set, solid, straight things. They were fragments, blemishes. Tiny details like scuffs and stains that only sharp eyes would think to pick out of the vastness of creation. If you were lucky, it would be just empty enough for you to notice; if you weren't...

And that's where we fucking are.

The Raggedy Man got his last break as he skidded to a halt by the grate Maxine had hauled herself out of. Smears and streaks of effluence marred the wall, from the floor of the sewer to the opening above. He paused and studied it for a few moments. He could just make out... the scuff of boots. The long, claw-less marks of a sole scraping its way up, trying to gain purchase. This was where she had come out. He sheathed his weapons and followed, echoing din of the sewers soon replaced by the greater tumult of Etzos in full swing.

Few noticed him; what few did, hurried on with naught but a muttered comment, if anything. Still in the garb of the drunken beggar he always wore when working, he was once again beneath reproach (and all standards of hygiene). He ignored it all. The stares and mutters and ladies clutching their collars and men sneering down their noses. His eyes swept the crowd left and right, searching for a tiny running figure-

-a flash of hair, lank and long and dark and lost a moment later between much larger bodies-

-he plunged after her, forgetting the corpse he'd left below-

Not knowing that it wasn't alone.

The big man wiped his serrated sword on the last clean patch of cloth the ganger under him still had. The teeth of it cut and sliced flesh with fabric, but the gurgling wannabe scratcher was past caring. He was still staring up into that hard, bearded face, as if his gaze could beg for life he could never be granted. Fenrir looked back down at him with the same dull disinterest he'd worn when he'd carved open his torso. The same expression he'd worn as he hacked and slashed and gutted his way through the clutch of jabbering pikers, these pretenders to a purse that was already his. He'd found them in this intersection beneath the streets, arguing furiously about which way, what sound, that direction, whose fault.

The giant towering over them had said nothing. He just blinked slowly and came to a decision. They would be no help to him. Too noisy, too stupid... they'd served no purpose and Old Man Vorund had been mistaken in deploying. They were jackals to his lion, scaring away the game. So he made the problem go away.

"Pluh..."

Fenrir kicked the dying man off him without looking down. Quick work, at least. Then his ear twitched and he peered around a corner... in time to see a man's legs go up and out into the street. He followed, like a wolf at a scent. That's what he was named for, or so he'd heard. Names were never of much interest to him. But he liked the one his mother had given him. Of all the faces departed in his time, hers came to him most often.

Not that it had helped her, in the end. But that was the past. Fenrir did not dwell on it.

He came to the street and oh, the crowd most certainly parted for him. He could look clear over their heads and see the bobbing, rushing figure of the Raggedy Man. He moved forwards and the people parted for him as a shoal would for a shark. As if they could smell the blood and menace he stank of and, unlike Kasoria, never bothered to hide. It was his nature. What he did and what he was and the two were indivisible. As he stalked after the man he knew, he saw another one, on the other side of the street.

Hmm. He knew that face, too. Not one for a dagger, though. More that wire he was so fond of. Two predators regarded each other and didn't need words to understand. They were the last two standing... not counting the old beggar, of course.

Fenrir grunted. Sven raised an eyebrow.

Until that Trial, then.

Maxine fled and the Raggedy Man pursued, just barely, with fell-handed monsters following in his wake. They'd settle the contract once the girl was dead. If Kasoria wanted to get in the way, well...
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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Little shit always was fast.

He couldn't help but manage a flicker of pride even as he chased after the girl. She was scrawny and speedy before they met; now she was much the same, but lither, smoother, more aware of her surroundings. Their training had gone far, and she'd learned the lesson well: be as able to fuck off out of it as you are to stick around and dish it out. Depending on the fight, either one could be essential.

Won't be another lesson. Not after today.

The pride vanished. Kasoria's face was grim again and he choked down the exertion and exhaustion and the sweat and the raw, skinned feeling in his throat. They'd ran across half the city and she wasn't slowing. If anything, she was getting more wily. Skipping in and out of stores and crowds. Ducking into alleys then back into crowded streets before repeating the cycle in reverse. Kasoria was leaving a trail of sweat behind him now, and every moment he dared pause to find her was like a blessing to his throbbing muscles.

But he never ceased the pursuit. She was heading out of the city, he just knew it. In her mind, she'd crossed the two most dangerous people in Etzos: the murderous bastard who'd trained her, and the even bigger bastard who employed said bastard. She couldn't lay low or slink into the shadows; they owned the shadows, and none laid lower than Bangun Vorund's web of informants. So that left only two options: run to the law, or run to a different country.

Maxine would hardly trust the law that had failed her time and time again. The government and authority that had never done shit for her, save toss her into an orphanage. But now she had skills, and sense, and once she had the coin to buy her way...

The flash of bobbing hair was getting further away. Kasoria spat and ran faster. Arms pumping at his side to eat up the cobbles quicker. Those sightings were getting more infrequent, more hazy, more distant. He had to close the gap, but he was big and slow compared to her. Unless something slowed her down... which was, he thought with a curse, unlikely.

Getting fucking old.

He skidded around the corner and saw the girl vanish into a pair of cavernous double doors, set into a wall of ancient brick. The stink of soap and ink and lye and boiling watr assailed him all at once, and then his eyes answered the questions his mind was concocting. Everywhere there hung sheets of fabric. Some of them bleached and white, other thick and bright with colors, and some with several all mingled together. Sheets, banners, towels, lengths the size of ship sails hung from the high ceiling down to above the vats of dyes they were set over. Women and men with their faces swaddled roamed around the floor, checking each sheet for quality and consistency. In one end, finished articles were being rolled and secured and-

There!

Kasoria kept running even as he took in his surroundings. She was there, trying to climb over a pile of boxes. This was his chance! Longer limbs and bigger muscles would see him over them faster. If he could get over them fast enough, close the gap, lunge and tackle and grab... he could explain it to her. Tell her... something.

"What are you doing?"! A burly man with a pot belly snarled as Kasoria sprinted past his office. "Oi, I said-"

Kasoria's swinging left hook cracked across the man's jaw with barely a look to judge the distance, and not a moment of speed sacrificed. The sound of bone clacking into bone was like an ax splitting a log. The foreman's head snapped around and teeth sprayed from his mouth , eyes dull and glassy before he'd even hit the ground. Kasoria ran on, ignoring the spreading circle of terror and horror his actions had caused. Fates, but she was quick. He looked around quickly, trying to see a way around, or under... no, no such luck. She'd already have found that, if it was the case. He didn't have much choice, then. He girded himself for a flying leap-

-saw it behind the sheet at his right. The sudden, arcing shadow behind the bright blue cloth. Something rushing at him against the glare of the sun, already cutting through the fabric as he dropped, rolled-

-shark-toothed sword ripping the material in half and swinging through the air where his neck would have been-

-Kasoria turning his duck into a roll and stopping on his knees, turning around to see-

Someone huge and hulking and carrying a familiar sword. Once he got a good luck at the bearded face and shaved head, his face hardened into a glare.

He stood up. No words, no questions. None were needed. They both knew all they needed to, for what was to follow. Fenrir rushed at him the moment he went for his sword, not stupid enough to give the Raggedy Man a fair chance to arm himself-

-Kasoria backing away again, until he smacked into the wall of boxes. He could feel the vibrations from Maxine clambering up them, but didn't spare her a glance to be sure. He knew taking his eye off this man would be... profoundly unwise. But his evasion bought him time to unsheath his gladius, fill his hands with the dagger looted from The Fat Man, and then-

Fenrir was on him again. No roars, no bellows, no curses. Just animal grunts and inhuman passion blazing in his brown eyes.
word count: 961
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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The slim man watched the two animals clash and brawl and hammer at each other. So uncivilized.

He'd come in through a side door, knowing where the girl was heading... or at least, what would be in her way. Knowing what she'd have to navigate, he'd cut through an alley, over a roof or two, and had entered the dyeing mill through one of the worker entrances. Less fuss, no violence, no savage and exhausting pursuit. Not to mention time to just sit still, catch his breath, find his quarry, and appreciate his own superiority.

Everyone rushes. Everyone flees or chases. What a waste of energy.

He saw the girl start her climb, the Raggedy Man begin his own, but before he could that big oaf Fenrir put paid to the plan. Nearly took the little wretch's head off, too. But Kasoria was too quick and crafty for that ignominious end. In a twinkling he was back up and armed. Fenrir didn't back down, reputation or not. The watcher could understand why. The three of them were... he would say, near the top of their profession. They'd faced enemy after enemy and laid them to waste. At this point, he supposed, they really didn't think anything could kill them.

Hubris, the man thought from his perch, then was rewarded for his insight a moment later as swords clashed-

-Fenrir held the bind a quarter-second too long-

-and Kasoria buried the dagger into his knee up to the hilt.

The giant roared in agony but didn't give the little man a chance to capitalize. A savage backhand knocked Kasoria clear across the floor like a wrecking ball. He demolished a pile of crates as he went through them, yelping as a thousand little splinters bit into him. He shook his head in the dust and the wreckage and started to get upright again-

-only for the shadow of Fenrir to swallow him up and with another spit-spewing grunt the giant lashed down-

-gladius meeting the blow but the impact knocking him down to his knees again-

-perfectly placed for Fenrir's kick to hammer him clear off his feet and smack into the wall. For just a moment, as he settled back against the wall, Kasoria was sure he saw a flitting, slender figure scurrying across the gantry. Like a spider mated with a rat, long coat billowing behind him. Then he blinked and the image was gone. All that was left was Fenrir, limping closer with a dagger impaling his leg and hardly the worse for the damage. He started to cough, thinking it was blood in his mouth but no it was dust, it was... something he'd crashed into and split-

Then he felt the burning, and got an idea.

++++++++++

He was so small. So weak. Tossed around like a ragdoll, not a Raggedy Man. Fenrir grunted at his little joke. It helped him take his mind off his leg.

Like such things as compassion and kindness, he was aware of pain in only the ost abstract sense. He'd become so deadened to it years before that it was simply... and irritation. A drag on his reactions and his abilities. But if Kasoria thought some slick moves and a dagger through his knee would stop him, well, he did not know Fenrir.

The giant man limped forward, steps heavy but far from weak. He flourished his sword as he came on, getting the weight back to the center of his palm. One good, solid vertical slash down would cleave the little cunt from scalp to hips, he'd wager. That furry maw of his split into a grin at the idea. Not only a bag of coin for himself, not only Bangun Vorund appreciating his work... but the scalp of Kasoria, the Raggedy Man, Vorund's Hound. The old man probably wouldn't like that at first, but hells, the little shit had been in the way, so...

You're either in, or in the way, he remembered, a little Etzori underworld aphorism that was as old as the deepest mines.

The little man tried to push himself up... and failed. Slumped back against the wall with a grunt. Fenrir grinned wider. Pathetic. Weak. Old. And now dead. He raised the sword and Kasoria mirrored him, hand trembling even as he did, as if the gladius was heavy as a battle mace. Both hands holding on tight, Fenrir let the killing blow come down like the hammer of judgement-

-and then Kasoria was moving, rolling to his side, a dirty smear across the wooden floor-

CRASH

-that his sword fairly demolished a trill later, heavy steel wielded by a massive man smashed and splitting wood like an ax would twigs. Fenrir was thrown off balance as he was bent double, his target suddenly gone. Now the fucking dagger caused him trouble, all that weight forced onto his legs, and a knee that was basically split in two, making him cry out-

-not seeing the Raggedy Man shove his free hand into the sack that had fallen over, and the chalky, yellowy powder inside. The little man grunted with agony as the substance ate at the blood and cuts on his hand. Evil fucking shite, but he bit it down and ignored it. Just as Fenrir turned to him, stoic expression now contorted in pain and frustration-

-he gauged the distance, and hurled the handful of lye at the man's face.

It exploded like a snowball against that hairy, sweaty mug and immediately the big man began roaring. First in anger. Kasoria recognized that. Then, as he got shakily to his feet, the bellows become wet, and choking, and soon... soon he was screaming. He swung his sword wildly, at where he though Kasoria would be-

-desperate, blind, eyes screwed shut yet bleeding all the same, like his nose and mouth-

-screamed anew when Kasoria swayed back and sliced his hand off at the wrist with his retaliation, sending the sword flying away trailing ribbons of blood-

He finally got one eye open. More red than white inside it. One hand reaching out as the other flailing and bled and burned as the lye in the air landed on it. Mad with pain. Insane with fury. But still, too stubborn to just die, Fenrir charged, voice finally giving hideous vent to all that rage-

-Kasoria let him get close, gladius tucked close to his side before he thrust up into the colossus above him-

-gladius punching up under Fenrir's jaw and into his brain, splitting bone and brains and the tip crunched out the top of the huge man's head. With two hands gripping the blade and a sincere effort of muscle, Kasoria yanked the blade back out. Fenrir twitched. He took another step forward. Then another, forcing Kasoria back... as his hand grabbed at his tunic.

The Raggedy Man blinked in shock. Blood was pouring out of Fenrir. From a half-dozen places. All of which looked painful beyond words. Something grey and mushy was leaking from the back of his head, getting matted in his mane of brown hair... but still he gripped tighter. Kasoria was forced to grab his wrist and start foricng it open. Watching those animal eyes go duller... slowly... fighting even trill of-

CRUNCH

-the gladius reversed in his hand with the flick of a wrist and he stabbed it sideways through the giant's misshapen skull. Through the temple. This time .Fates, he could swear he saw the reflection of the blade behind the man's eyes as it pierced his brain a second time.

Fuck me. That better be enough.

With a slowness like a distant avalanche, Fenrir fell back and almost took Kasoria with him. One final sigh, oddly soft from such a big man, and he collapsed on his back in a puff of dust and lye and spilled dye. Kasoria pried open his hand and stood up, panting hard through his nose and forcing himself to keep his mouth shut. Fucking nasty stuff, that was. He didn't need that in his lungs. He turned away from the big man without another thought, looking behind him to see-

Well... a little helpful, at least.

The wall of crates had been half-knocked down by the giant throwing him around. He was able to jump and vault over the few that remained and there, at the end of the long stone dock where cart after cart waited to be loaded up and shipped out-

-he saw a young girl with dark hair leap onto the back of one, just as it was leaving-

-and another figure hurl a driver from his seat, ignoring his squeal of outrage as he did. Even from that distance, Kasoria recognized that face. Only a couple of times had they met, but Sven left an impression. His... appetites, especially. The Raggedy Man cursed as he ran on, putting it together in his head. The gaggle of amateurs? They were a distraction. Hounds corralling and exhausting the fox. These two, scratchers as callused and skilled as himself... they were the real hunters.

You planned this all trial, you old bastard, he told himself as he ran along the dock, watching Sven whip his horses into a trot. Probably before that. You were never going to let her live.

"Oi? Oi, what're you-"

He was getting fucking tired of hearing that. He didn't lash out this time. All he had to do was raise a gladius slick with blood and gore and brains and bone fragments and make sure the old cunt holding onto the horse's reins saw it, and he got the idea. Turned three colors in the space of five trills and started running. Kasoria sheathed his sword, clambered up into the saddle and with a quiet prayer to the Fates to not try any stupid shit, he kicked his heels-

Fucking hells I hate riding these things.

-and sped out of the dye works after The Garrote and The Girl.
word count: 1694
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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The plan wasn't to kill the wanker from the back of the horse. He could barely hang onto the beast as it was; fucked if he was going one-handed while he swung a sword at the same time. No, he just needed to get close enough to the wagon to jump.

Oh, and that's a much better plan.

Kasoria growled down the doubt and spurred the horse onward. Fates, he'd never seen so much of the city so quickly. It had been... a long time, since he'd sped across the cobbles on the back of a horse, heedless of all but the quarry ahead of him. Sven was lashing his own horses with the reins, yarring and driving them on, but doubled up as they were, Kasoria's didn't have a loaded cart to carry behind it.

He could barely see the girl's. No matter. Sven would follow her. So he just had to follow Sven, before-

"Fate's FUCK-!"

A handcart poked out into the road and Sven drove his horses straight through it. Wood and grain exploded in all directions, horses and cart barreling through the cloud of wreckage, and Kasoria covered his face as he followed in its wake. He cursed again, and not because of the screaming man the two scratchers had left behind them. The Blackjacks would be closing in on them soon. That fucking travesty outside the slaughterhouse wouldn't occupy them forever. They'd left a trail of corpses a blind man could follow, and now they were chasing each other through the Comm'See. He had to end this-

Now!

Teeth clamped together, Kasoria trusted to his balance, if not his horsemanship, and pulled his left foot from the stirrup. The cart was on his right... almost flush to his side. He kicked the horse on one more time. It neighed, outraged and pained, but he ignored it. Wouldn't have to suffer him much longer. A final burst of speed, and the cart of loaded bolts and bags of cloth was right next to him and he pulled out his other foot-

-braced both feet on the flank and back of the horse and-

-straightened his legs in a burst of movement, hands outstretched-

-landing in a heap of flailing limbs. He was sure he'd roll right off the cargo and go spinning off the other side but no, his hand caught something solid. He didn't much care what it was. The old man shook his head and glared at the man bent over the reins. Just as he started to move, Sven turned, saw him-

-yanked hard to one side, cart shifting and rocking under Kasoria-

-making him fall on his face and right as he landed he saw Sven's arm come up-

-stabbinh down at him, and he rolled over just as the dagger punched through some fresh cloth now forever ruined-

-drawing his own gladius and getting ready to-

There was a scream from up ahead of them. A warning mingled in with it. Both men had taken their eyes off the road... and now they looked back, to find a massive wagon ahead of them, carrying lumber piled fifteen feet high, drawn by a haf-dozen musclebound oxen. The driver was red-faced and scrieking, waving his hands and trying to warn them, clear the street, civilians scattering as the horses pounded on-

Sven panicked. Either that or over-reacted. Instead of yanking on the reins striaght back, he pulled to the side in his haste-

-and the horses went sharply to the side, eyes wide and mouths frothing, mad with pain and tiredness, unable to see for the blinkers-

-stumbling, falling, cart smashing into their prone bodies-

-breaking bones and shattering legs before it somersaulted-

Kasoria didn't remember what happened after that. Other than the world become a swirl, a jumble, a mad artist's pallet with colors smashed together... and then the impact on wet cobbles that definitely broke something.

Clarity came slowly. Probably because it bought pain along as well. Every sense that returned, something came back that ached, or throbbed, or hissed with violent, insistent pain. Kasoria managed to get onto all fours before he realized one arm was broken. He flexed his fingers... shite... well, could have been worse. Could have been his sword arm. Blood was running into his mouth and he saw patterns, smears of the red stuff around him. He'd been lucky. If the cart had thrown him first, he'd have gone under it. That would have been... well, brief, but deadly.

He coughed and the sound was lost over the screaming of the dying horses. Already a cloud was coming back to gaze and gawk, like good, honest fucking Etzori. Kasoria cast his bleary eyes about for his sword. Sven. Garrote. He was still there. He needed his sword, needed a weapon... and saw it, not fallen far from where he'd rolled to a stop. He reached for it and-

-then something thin and unbreakable went around his throat in a flash of black before his eyes

-before yanking hard, hard and panting body pressed against him at the same time-

"Last time... you fucking get in my way," said the Garotte, and began to pull.
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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He had eight trills. Maybe ten. He knew this from experience.

The only advantage he had was Sven was just as fucked up and battered blue as he was. He couldn't see him, but he'd been in enough brawls and savage, breathing-distance clutches that he could read a man just by the strength he set against him. The sounds he made, the rhythm or imbalance in his exertions. The Garrote yanked back hard-

-but not evenly, right side weaker, drawing a pained grunt-

-left side wobbling, too. Broke arm, fractured leg, maybe the other way around, it equated to the same thing-

Getting dark. losing air. Half a bretah left.

Do something. Whatever it is.

Do

it

now.


Kasoria had to fight the urge to panic. Drowning, suffocation, immolation, they all brought that same, insensate, animal terror roaring to the surface. Tearing away all traces of civility, thousands of years of mental progression destroyed in the last few moments of existence. Fates, how often he'd seen it. How often he'd been the cause of that... devolution. Fitting, then, that he should feel the same urge seize him. To flail and panic and void his bowels and-

-rumbling through the cobbles, people running, a shadow looming closer-

-another wagon thundering down the street, driver beating and thrashing the horses, heedless of the wreckage of the cart ahead of him. People scattered out of his way, all save the two mad and bloodied bastards busy killing each other and Kasoria-

One chance. That's all you get.

-reached behind himself, willing himself not to claw at the wire around his throat, knowing it would do no good. Instead he twisted his hand behind his arse, finding Sven's crotch there, and the moment he found something soft and dangling against his palm-

All he had left. Every ounce of strength... well, almost... went into clutching, squeezing... then twisting. All the way around. Until something tore in his grip and something pissed foulness through the fabric of the breeches and Sven screamed-

-as the cart thundered closer, so close it would miss the two of them by mere feet-

Kasoria took advantage of the agony and the confusion, the lessening of the pressure around his neck, reached up behind his head and gripped Sven around the head-

-bellowed in agony as he thudded down hard to one knee, bent forwards, and yanked Sven over him in the same white-hot moment of pain. It was a calculated risk. The wire could break his neck. But he'd take The Garrote with him, as the man flew over his head, back smashing onto the cobbles-

-just in time for a dozen hooves, four wheels, and a few thousand pounds to run over him in a cacophony of bursting organs, splitting flesh, and shattering bones.

Kasoria fell back onto his arse and stared at what he'd done. Watched Sven's face contort into horror for just an instant before weight and speed and steel and hooves and wood smashed everything he was into pulp. The cart was so heavy it barely bumped when it went over him; the horses ran right over him, hooves hitting him so hard they seemed to touch the cobbles through his skinny body. There was barely time for the man to scream. He got out half a roar, the prelude to a screech, before a hoof smashed his mouth into splintered enamel and his face to red candle wax and then... then the cart went over him, and finished the job.

Kasoria's vision swam, as he looked at the human wreckage his quick thinking had produced. He couldn't breath. Not even enough to choke. He could see shadows around him, swirling and worrying over him. Vri's heralds or concerned civilians... he didn't even know. His arm hurt. His neck was on fire. He barely got back to his feel, pushing away the worried crowd and then brandishing the sword with a snarl just to dissuade the ones overly-concerned (or looking to pick his pocket).

The girl. Where's the girl?

That thought, clear and sharp like, well, a wire across his throat, chased the shadows away. Maxine was long gone. Her hunters were dead, butchered in drabs or bundles or bloodied single in a trail from the slaughterhouse to this fucking anarchy. Kasoria turned away from it all and started limping, not looking back, sheathing his sword and not stopping for anyone. One, two, three corners, and his hood went up. An alley or two later, and he slithered through a sewer grate to the chorus of iron-shod boots hurrying quick-step across the cobbles. The Blackjack had finally arrived. Too late, naturally.

In the darkness, in the gloom, the Raggedy Man panted and regained some measure of himself. Broken arm. Leg wasn't much better. Throat... fuck, bleeding and his cords were likely damaged. He needed a healer, a meal, and strong drink. In that order... maybe reverse order. In fact, screw the food, a healer and booze would be better until-

"Vorund..." The words came out as a gurgle, as if the wire were still around his throat. "Fuckin'... bastard..."

The Raggedy Man rose and started to limp through the shadows. Headed south. Headed home.

Concluded here
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Re: “The hounds snap fierce at your heels." (Maxine)

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Kasoria:

Knowledge:
Skill Knowledge:
Blades (Dagger): Stab Through the Kneecap
Blades (Gladius - Combo): Throat Slash, Stab to the Heart (Reverse Grip)
Detection: Noticing Scuffed Masonry from Where Someone Has been Climbing
Detection: Following a Fleeing Figure in a Crowd
Detection: Stilling Your Mind and Body to Better Use Your Hearing
Detection: Spying the Shadow of a Swinging, Hidden Blade
Discipline: Thinking Quick and Clear Even while Being Garroted
Hunting: Know Where Prey WILL Be, Not Just Where it IS
Resistance: Powdered Lye
Unarmed Combat (Brawling): Tossing an Opponent into Passing Traffic
Unarmed Combat (Brass Knuckles - Combo): Throat Punch, Knee Stomp, Straight Punches to the Face
Unarmed Combat (Garrote): How to Escape When its Used on YOU

Non-Skill Knowledge:
NPC Bangun Vorund: Decided to Execute Maxine

Loot: -
Wealth: -
Injuries: -
Renown: -
Magic XP: -
Skill Review: Appropriate to level.

Points: 15

Max:

Knowledge: -
Loot: -
Wealth: -
Injuries: -
Renown: -
Magic XP: -
Skill Review: -

Points: 15

- - -
Comments: I never knew that Kasoria had lost a family. I wonder what happened to them. I found his thoughts about the afterlife fascinating, and when you described the chaotic scenes that Kasoria witnessed … I just couldn’t stop reading. I’m impressed by the way that you write action scenes I think I’ve already told you so, and I like that you regularly let us experience things from the point of view of a NPC. It’s a pity that Max disappeared so soon though. I was wondering where this would go. You did a good job finishing this thread on your own by having Kasoria chase after her though, and it seems as if there’ll even be a sequel!

Enjoy your rewards!

Max, if you come back and want knowledges, send me a PM, and I’ll edit this review!
word count: 295

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