Paul and Alicia sat in the living room of his neighbor’s disgusting house, playing a board game while they waited for the night’s festivities. The girl was fond of taking big risks, and often wound up losing turns or overshooting her mark on the board. It was an interesting view into her personality.
“I’ll spend the last of my rolls for this one,” she said, grabbing three extra dice to make a run for the finish line. Paul worked out the averages in his head and realized that gave him an approximately 80% chance of making up the lost ground and winning over the next couple turns while she had no movements left. Assuming she didn’t roll too high above average.
“Hah! Twenty!” The dark-haired girl moved her piece to the finish line and did a vindictive victory dance in the endzone with her wooden horse figurine.
“four out of five times, you would have lost that bet.”
“The words of a sore loser. It was a twenty percent chance to win right then and there, or a hundred percent chance to finish carrying on with the boring back and forth. I saw an opportunity to bring the game to a close, one way or another.”
“Fair enough,” Paul said with a shrug.
“I’ve been wondering,” Alicia asked, kicking her feet in the air as she fiddled with the horse token.
“How did you meet Edward, wind up working for him?”
“I found evidence that there was a Phytomagus in the city and narrowed it down to Edward. Then he kidnapped my wife and held her as a guarantee of my good behavior. That’s the how and why of it.”
“Oh,” Alicia’s face darkened. “Oh.”
“What, did you think your boy was a nice guy?”
“Not exactly, but…”
“To be fair, she’s doing well, and she…”Paul felt like he had to choke out the rest. “chose to stay there.”
Alicia gave him a look of sympathy mixed with a bit of condescension. “Damn.”
“how about you?” Paul asked. “What happened in that alley where I found the sword?”
“That was you?” She shook her head in amazement. “I got attacked by men hired to kill me, and Edward just smoked his stupid cigar and watched. This was apparently right after he killed my uncle.”
“Yeah, I saw that.”
“Still pretty pissed off about that.” Alicia said, her fingers tightening around the game piece.
“Why do you like him so much, then?” Paul asked. “I’m just playing for the winning team. What’s your excuse?”
“I don’t like him.” The young girl said hastily, her defenses coming back up. “He’s a powerful tool that hands out ungodly powers to anyone with a pretty face who asks nicely. I want to use him for just that.”
Paul chuckled. “He is a bit of a tool.”
I could probably convince Garth to hand out powers, given how easy she makes it sound, but just like the way she plays the game, it’s an all or nothing gamble, and I’m too old to make those any more.
The sound of the back door opening caught their attention.
“You think that’s the owner?” Alicia asked.
“Nah, I gave Harry enough cash for a week-long bender, and believe me, that man knows how to go on a bender. It’s probably Carl and Ragnar with the guest of honor.” Paul set the game aside and stood up. There was going to be a lot of work tonight, one way or another, so he put his game face on and steeled himself.
From the back of the house, his two subordinates dragged Donald Lam kicking and thrashing, a Yoke around his neck, hands and feet bound.
“Don! We’ve got to stop meeting like this! It is nice of you to join us, though. Here, take a seat by the window.” Paul grabbed a rocking chair and spun it to face Paul’s house, then he turned out all the lights, so no one could see into the room.
Ragnar and Carl had been tasked with watching Don for any suspicious activity, and kidnapping him if he made a wrong move. It should have been terribly hard to get by the Lam family security, but their former Garthspawn had made sure to note the little escape tunnel and exactly where the entrance was.
Operating with this much information about his targets was refreshing.
Don was coated in dust from being dragged through the unused tunnel, his eyes wide. With terror as he looked around the darkened room.
“Now Don, the only reason you’d be here is if Carl and Ragnar here saw you meeting with people you shouldn’t be meeting with. Fixers.”
Paul glanced at Alicia. “It’s probably well documented that I dote on my wife and children. Ask anyone who knows me from the precinct. If I were a filthy scum-sucker like you, I might think to even the playing field and get some leverage of my own.”
“So, If I see anyone try to break into my house tonight, I’ll assume that they’re working for you, and that they’re trying to harm me and mine. Sound about right?”
Less than a minute later five individuals crept down the street before boosting each other over Paul’s gate. Rather than going for the front door, they silently padded to a side window and slipped into the house.
“You know what I do to people who try to fuck with my family?” Paul said, picking up the crossbow beside the window and matching Alicia’s gaze. “I kill them. Ragnar.”
“Mmmph!” Donald shook his head violently.
Ragnar grinned his hideous, half-dog grin and loped silently to the front door, shadowing the assassins. Two minutes later the beastkin waved to them from Paul’s open front door.
Paul silently said goodbye to his home of fifteen years, and slid the window open, waiting for Ragnar to get clear before pulling the trigger. The bolt shot through the door and impacted against one of several decorative jars scattered around the house, filled with raw Sky-fish oil that Ragnar had bought from his tribe for this exact purpose.
Paul’s house exploded.
A wave of air and heat put Paul on his back foot, while Ragnar let out a yip and dropped to all fours to escape the raging inferno. Thick flames burst from every window and whatever sound the five men might have made as they died was swallowed up by the roar of flames.
Carl had made sure to get behind something so he was least affected. Alicia seemed to approve of the high-stakes gamble, nodding to herself with her arms crossed.
“Anything you’d like to add?” Paul asked, turning to face Donald Lam, well aware that he was framed by the burning building. Carl took the man’s gag away.
“My son was in there!”
“You got more,” Paul said before leaning close and dropping his voice to a whisper. “So don’t test me.”
“You’re not as clever as you think you are, and if you give me one reason to think you’re not going to be good to your word, I’ll kill your whole family. I’ll wipe the Lams out of the city. In one night.”
He glanced at Alicia.
“From the root.”
“What do you say?” Paul asked Don.
The man stared at him silently.
“Carl go do the thing.”
Carl’s brows furrowed. What thing? He seemed to ask.
“The thing where we kill all the Lams overnight.”
In actuality It was a furnace with a giant bellows designed to produce a massive amount of bad air, something Garth called Carbon Monoxide. It was placed at the end of the secret tunnel into the Lam’s basement, and could easily produce enough bad air to suffocate them down to the last Lam baby in its crib.
Honestly the babies would suffocate first, Paul thought, his emotions cold.
“Aaaah,” Carl said, nodding and heading for the door.
“Okay! Okay!’ Donald said. “I’ll do what you say, just fucking…Stop.”
“I’m going to be the lead investigator for this little fire here, and it’s going to be found that my whole family died in it, with five crispy corpses to sell the story. I’m going to be just devastated. Are we clear?”
“The department is going to pay me a consolation, enough to cover the house and my pain and suffering arranging this little coup. After that I’m going to throw myself into my new position as captain with gusto as a way of coping with my terrible loss and searching for the culprit. Clear?”
“Excellent.” Paul said, squatting in front of his boss. “But you did try to hurt my family, and I kill the people who do that. Due to your unique position maybe we can dial that back to a stiff reminder? Better?”
“Is that better?” Paul asked, prompting a response.
“Yes, that’s better.” Donald snarled.
Paul pulled a wickedly curved knife, designed for castrating bulls with a quick yank. “Good. Alicia, do you want to hold him down or do the cutting?”
“No, No, you can’t do this! People will ask questions!” Donald shouted.
“Not if I cut somewhere under your clothes.” Paul said, tracing the blade down Donald’s chest until it reached his inner thigh.
“I hear you really like this thing.” Paul said. “Whores three times a week, even after getting frisky with the Garthspawn a couple times a day. Maybe it would save a lot of women a lot of trouble if I just got rid of it.”
“No, no nononnoonOOO.” Donald chanted, hyperventilating as spit blew out from between his clenched teeth.
“I think I’ll hold him down. looking at an old man’s penis isn’t exactly what I had in mind for tonight.” Alicia said.
“I bet,” Paul said with a chuckle before returning his gaze to the chief of police.
“Ask me to cut off your toes.”
“I’m giving you the opportunity to choose what I cut off. That’s me giving you some power in our little relationship here. Don’t you appreciate it? Ask me to cut off your toes, so that you don’t forget about our deal and why you shouldn’t fuck with me or my family.”
It was also a technique designed to break a man down by making him complicit in his own torture. Paul knew, it, Don knew it.
Paul waited, tapping the blade on Donald’s thigh.
“Guess we have to do this the hard way.”
By the light of the burning house, Paul lit a candle and placed the blade over it to heat while he tugged off the man’s pants.
Alicia averted her eyes, but Paul didn’t shay away, With quick, professional motions, he grabbed the man’s shriveled genitals in a firm grasp and put the fire-heated curve of sharp steel behind them, the boiling hot metal scalding his flesh as it made incidental contact with his thighs, forcing a yelp of pain out of his lungs.
“Fine, Fine!” Don shouted as Paul tensed for the neutering.
“Cut off my toes.” Don said with a sob.
“So I don’t forget.”
Paul took the hot blade away from Don’s scrotum, and the man breathed a heavy sigh of relief. It was short lived, because Paul immediately moved the hot knife on to his toes.
“Paul,” Alicia said, pulling his attention away from his work. “Looks like one got out.”
“Oh?” Paul said, raising his head to look.
A slightly scalded young man was walking away from the inferno, aiming for the house they were in, walking with a slight limp and carrying a shortsword. He must have seen the candle in the window.
“Richard, RICHARD!” Don screamed at the top of his lungs as his son staggered toward them.
“Well, you did want to kill someone.”
“That I did,” Alicia said with a smile. She went to the front door, and in the light of the raging inferno across the street, they watched the short, lethal fight between the fencer and the crooked soldier.
The girl drew a strange grey parrying rod with a basket hilt and lunged forward, gliding across the grass in a way that made her seem light as a feather. Richard’s silhouette knocked her first thrust aside as he attempted to close the distance, but the girl’s lower body strained for an instant before she skated backward through the grass, strange dirt-devils forming around her feet as she kept the man with the shorter blade at the perfect distance.
She whipped the sword back and thrusted again, and caught the Lam in the shoulder. while he was distracted by the pain, she stabbed him three more times in the lungs.
When the large silhouette slumped over, Alicia Denton stepped forward and dispassionately stabbed the Donald’s son in the heart twice before stepping away, watching the corpse for movement before she put a superhuman kick into its chest, sending it tumbling across the street and into the burning building before heading back.
“Now,” Paul said, his gaze turning back to Don just in time to see the last light of hope fade from his eyes. “Where were we?”