Valor and Violence



A Family Dissassemblance - Part 5


Elizabeth giggled and sang a silly song as she flitted around the room, the silk ribbon her father had brought home clutched in her tiny hand, tracing elegant spirals through the air behind her. Papa sat on his chair, laughing and clapping his hands along with her singing. She stopped and looked at him, into the bright blue eyes set above his dark bristly beard. She ran over and jumped into his lap, throwing her arms around his bulk and squeezing him.

“I love it, Papa! Thank you!”

“I’m glad you like it, Eliza. You’re a natural! Should I be worried you’ll run away to join one of those circus troops as a performer?”

Elizabeth giggled and pulled away. “Maybe. Do they make much money?”

Father pulled a face. “Doubtful, but I’m sure they have a lot of fun travelling the world, seeing exciting places and meeting exciting people.”

“Bah!” Elizabeth said, screwing her mouth up in distaste. “You do that AND you make lots of money, too.”

Father stopped laughing, averting his eyes from Elizabeth as a grave look came over his face. He set Elizabeth back down on the ground and stood, walking to the cupboard and retrieving a jug. The liquid inside sloshed around as he pulled the stopper with his teeth and took a long gulp.

He got like this sometimes. Ever since Mama died. He didn’t like it when she spoke about following in his footsteps, but without becoming an assassin, how could she get back at the bad men who had taken Mama from them? He’d see. She’d grow up and be the best assassin in the world! And when she’d gotten revenge for them both, Papa wouldn’t need to be sad anymore. And they wouldn’t need to keep moving from place to place, never stopping for long for fear they would be found. She was sick of moving. They’d stayed here longer than ever before, the mountain passes further west blocked by snow until the thaw. In their time here, she had actually made some friends. She didn’t want to leave.

“Papa, can we stay here? Forever?”

Papa started and turned back to her, plastering a strained smile on his face.

“I’m sorry, Eliza, but you know we can’t. Not yet.”

“Then when?”

“Just one more trip. I have some friends in the next city who can help us.”

“We don’t need their help! You can beat the bad people!”

Papa chuckled and ruffled her hair. “I love the vote of confidence, Eliza. But I’m only one man. I’ll need my friends with me. To make sure none of the bad men escape.”

As he spoke, his expression darkened and below the beard, his mouth twisted into a savage grimace. He scared Elizabeth when he looked like that sometimes, so he tried not to let her see it, but when he thought about the people who took Mama…

They were interrupted by a banging at the door. Papa glanced up sharply and pulled Elizabeth behind him before drawing a knife from his belt.

“Not takin’ visitors. Move along,” he called out. There was only silence on the other side of the door. Until it flew inwards off its hinges.

Men in dark cloaks surged into the room, swords and axes in hand. Papa threw the knife with unerring accuracy, catching the first man through the eye, then leapt to meet them, armed with only the jug as he screamed at Elizabeth to flee through the window.

But Elizabeth couldn’t move. For all her bravado and big talk, terror stuck her feet fast to the ground as she watched her father fight. He blocked the wrist of an attacker and smashed the jar in his face, then stabbed the jagged remnants into the man’s throat, ripping it clean in a spray of blood that blinded the man behind him. He seized the second man’s arms and wrestled his blade free, ramming it through its owner’s heart, then leapt onto the next victim.

Papa was better than they were. Faster. Stronger. More skilled. But they had numbers. He cut them down almost as fast as they could come through the door, but not quite fast enough. One assailant slipped past and, while Papa was distracted, swung an axe into his shoulder. Papa cried out in pain and rage and turned on the man, smashing his palm into the thug’s face and driving him back into the wall. He slammed the man’s head against the brick until he went limp, but in the second it had taken, the room had filled with more assailants and they fell upon him, hacking and slashing until, finally, Papa stopped moving. The six survivors stood around his body, staring alternately down at him and at the dozen other corpses scattered about, breath coming in ragged gasps. Eventually, one of them spoke.

“Cael’s cock, Barnie, if I’d known it would be this much trouble I never would ‘ave agreed to come!”

“Shut yer mouth, Henry. His lordship was clear. Shut the Guild down before they could get a foothold in the city. It wouldn’t do to let the new Chapter Master escape.”

“He almost got the lot of us! Why didn’t his ‘lordship’ send some of his knights to help? Plate and shields woulda helped!”

“I said, shut yer mouth!” Barnie shouted, smacking Henry across the face to send home his point. “Look, this is a good thing. Pay gets split fewer ways now. We’re all very rich men.”

Elizabeth listened to them talk, tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes fixed on her father’s corpse. They had just taken the last person she had in the whole world, and they were talking about money? Her eyes flicked up, taking in the faces of the attackers. She didn’t recognise them until her gaze settled on the one they called Barnie. He was one of the men who had taken Mama.

And now he’d taken Papa too.

“I’ll kill you!” she screamed as she sprinted at him. He turned towards her, surprise registering on his face in the split second before she was on him. She launched, wrapping her legs around his chest and scraping her nails down his face, gouging deep furrows through his skin, blood bubbling up around her fingernails.

He swore and staggered back, grabbing for her arms. He spat in her face when he finally got her under control. “You cheeky little bitch. You’ll pay fer that, mark my words, you’ll- hang on… You’re old mates little ankle biter, aren’t you?” He laughed, a grating sound that devolved into the cough of a lifetime smoker. “Well, that temper of yours makes sense now. First, I gut yer mother, and now yer father. Bet you wish there was something, anything, you could do to get back at me right now, aye?”

Elizabeth snarled and struggled, but his hold on her was too strong. Her fingers curled into claws, but though they hungered for the soft meat of his face, they could carve nothing but shapes through the air. He started to laugh again, and Elizabeth’s desperate struggles become more violent, until she snapped her head forward, teeth bared, and latched onto Barnie’s throat. The thug screamed as she shook her head like a dog, his skin tearing under her teeth. He grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to pull her off, staggering around the room in a blind panic and knocking his friends out of the way when they tried to help. Elizabeth kept chewing and tearing until she found his jugular and a gush of hot blood shot down her throat. It caught her by surprise and she released her hold on instinct, coughing and spluttering as Barnie dropped her and fell back, hand clamped to his throat. He stared at her in horror as he convulsed, his movements growing weaker and weaker until he finally went limp, his open eyes glassy, an expression of terror still etched on his face.

Elizabeth sat there, hyperventilating, staring into the dead man’s eyes until a voice beside her broke the trance.

“Bloody Pit, she ripped his throat open!”

“She’s a right demon she is. What do we do with her?”

The men fell to bickering, forgetting her for the moment, and Elizabeth crawled away, dragging herself underneath the chair her father had been laughing and clapping in just a minute ago. As the enormity of everything hit her, her father gone, the flesh of his killer between her teeth, the tears came back thick and fast, leaving hot tracks down her face. The men’s bickering ended abruptly when Henry spoke up, evidently the closest they had to a de facto leader now Barnie was dead.

“Shut up, all o’ yer. We aren’t killing a fecking kid. You two, grab her and tie her up. We’ll take her back to the city, sell her to some Skjar next time they come through trading. There’ll be a couple more trading fleets before the ice floes close them off.”

The chair was ripped away and Elizabeth squinted up into the faces of two of the men as they grabbed her with rough hands, hauling her up and towards the door. She kicked and screamed until one of them stuffed a rag in her mouth, and even then she kept kicking until a third produced a length of coarse rope and bound her limbs. Defeated, she cried silently as they carried her out into the cold.


The next few weeks passed agonisingly slowly, the murderers slowly making their way back to the coastal city where it all began. Their progress had been hampered by the snows, which were coming on faster this year than was normal. Elizabeth had found that, as long as she kept silent and still, she wasn’t treated too poorly. Occasionally, Henry would even throw her food scraps from the campfire when they were done eating. Tonight was one such night, and she gnawed hungrily on a rabbit leg at the edge of the circle of firelight. She shivered under her threadbare blanket and tried to crawl closer to the crackling blaze, but the rope around her ankle, tied off to a stake driven into the frozen ground, stopped her. She stretched out, fingertips grasping for the warmth, but cold stabbed through her now exposed belly and she quickly retreated back into a ball. Her tears had long since dried up, so she just lay there, listening to the thugs’ drunken ramblings and fantasising about their deaths.

The routine was interrupted by a stranger entering the firelight, taking a seat with the others as though they were old friends. The murderers glanced at each other, then one of them cautiously offered him a flask.

“Greetings, friend. What brings yer out here on a night like this?”

The stranger accepted the drink and knocked it back, gulping loudly and smacking his lips when he finished.

“Ah! That hits the spot!”

His voice was strange, almost hoarse, though it had depth and power behind it. Elizabeth sat up, careful not to make a sound, and peered at him. He was tall, even seated she could tell that much, though a worn traveller’s cloak obscured most other details about his body. When he moved to hand the flask back, there was a serpentine grace to his movements, and she remembered stories her father told her about the hooded serpents from south of the Continental Rift.

“My thanks,” he said, holding his hands out to be warmed by the fire, showing gloves of dull, black leather. “As for what brings me out here, I’m looking for someone. Or someones. I owe them a debt, and I’m not one to let something as… trifling, as a bit of inclement weather get in my way.”

“Ah, a man o’ conviction, I see. Not sure we can be much help though, we haven’t seen anyone in a few days, not too many travellers on the road this time o’ year.”

“Indeed, especially this year. This snow is otherworldly, is it not?”

“Aye, it is at that.”

The group let the silence hang for a few moments, the only sound the crackling of the fire, before Henry spoke up.

“So, what’s the nature o’ your debt then? Gambling? Women? How much do you owe? If’n you don’t mind me asking.”

There was an edge to his voice, an eagerness that he failed to completely disguise. Elizabeth realised he was trying to gauge whether the newcomer was worth killing and robbing. She wanted to yell out to run, that he wasn’t safe with them, but she was too scared of bringing the men’s wrath down on her again. So she waited, and watched.

“That is quite forward, friend,” the stranger said, oblivious to the danger, “but my debt isn’t in coin. It’s more… payment in kind. You see, a friend of mine, like a brother really, was recently murdered by a group of miscreants. Chased him all the way from the coast and trapped him in a quaint little village just outside the mountain pass. I’m trying to track them down so I can remove their entrails and string them from the trees. Now tell me, are you sure you haven’t seen anyone else on these roads?”

The moment felt like it stretched out forever, before everyone exploded to their feet. The thugs drew weapons from beneath their cloaks and leapt at the stranger, tripping over themselves to get to him. Their drunken strikes passed through thin air as he rolled backwards, disappearing into the night with a foreboding laugh. The murderers shouted and jostled around the fire, facing outwards in a ring.

“Feck! Feck! FECK! Who is that?”

“He’s from the Guild obviously, fuckwit. Shut yer mouth and open yer eyes. He ain’t done with us.”

“Oh, we’re so fecked!”

“Shut it! There’s one o’ him and five o’ us. Keep your heads on straight and we’ll get ‘im,” Henry said, silencing the others.

Then a dagger from the dark silenced him. He keeled over backwards into the fire, a blackened steel blade protruding from his forehead. The others swore, distracted, and the stranger shot back in. He cut two down before the others could even move. The last two survivors stared at their fallen comrades in horror for a moment, before hurling themselves at him with desperate screams. Elizabeth barely registered the stranger’s movements, but in the time it took her to blink, one thug had fallen to his knees, blood gushing over the fingers clasped to his throat, while the other stared in disbelief at the entrails spilling from his open belly. The stranger calmly executed them with sharp blows to the temples, straightened up and turned to leave. As he was vanishing back into the dark, Elizabeth found her voice.


She sat there, in the freezing cold, listening to the thudding of her heart in her ears. Hoping he heard her. Hoping he would care enough to come back. She jumped with a squeal when he spoke beside her ear.

“Hello there, my dear. Who might you be?”

She turned to face him. Though he was barely a foot from her, she couldn’t see his face, hidden as it was in the shadows of his hood.

“I-I’m Elizabeth, but my Mama and Papa call… called me Eliza.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Eliza. I’m a friend of your fathers. They call me the Guild Master,” he said, offering his hand. She regarded it warily for a moment, then grasped it back, feeling the slick blood of her tormentors beneath her fingers. She looked up into the shadows of his face and imagined she could see a slight, warm smile.



Elizabeth came too as Francesca pulled away, smiling faintly through her tears.

“I know where they’re holding Luca, though,” the broker said. “I was getting ready to rescue her when you arrived.”

“No offence, but they probably would have killed you… like, effortlessly.”

“I can’t just leave her,” Francesca protested.

“But you absolutely should…”

The broker furrowed her eyebrows. She opened her mouth to protest but closed it again, picking up on the dangling sentence. Elizabeth smiled, then gripped her crooked nose and pulled, snapping it back into place. She did her best to remain stoic, to impress Francesca, but her eyes immediately began watering and she failed to suppress a strained groan.

I, on the other hand,” she said quickly, trying to ignore the throbbing in the centre of her face, “will get your daughter back and kill every one of the posh bastards that gets in my way.”

“Elizabeth, I can’t ask you to- “

“You don’t have to. I’m offering.”

The Guild Master had come into her life like a divine gift. Elizabeth was going to pay it forward and be the divine gift for Luca. But Francesca still looked confused.

“But your purpose here… the Guild…”

“I don’t see the reason I can’t do both.”


“Easy. I’m going to need something from you, though.”

“Anything! Just name it!”

“I need the home locations for each of the Famiglia patriarchs.”

Francesca’s mouth dropped open as her brows knitted together. “So, you can, what? Just march in there and kill them?”

Elizabeth smiled and sat down on the bed. “Of course.”

“Like it’s so easy. The whole point of the ball was to catch them all at once, without the security they have every other minute of the day.”

“My dear Francesca. The ball wasn’t about security.”

“Then what was it about?”

“Why, the spectacle, of course.”




It turned out, almost everyone in Verduno knew where the patriarchs lived. The bastards liked to advertise their wealth and power, and their opulent mansions were inevitably front and centre in this undertaking. The issue, Francesca had tried to explain, was getting past their security more so than finding them in the first place. Every floor crawled with enforcers and mercenaries at all hours, and at the first sign of trouble, every patriarch had an impenetrable safe house which they could withdraw to. Many attempts had been made on various patriarchs’ lives over the years, and none of them had been successful.

Until now, Elizabeth reflected as she swung onto an ornate balcony, four stories off the ground. The guards inside were less of an issue when you could effortlessly scale the exterior with a little magical help. She stared through the double windows before her, her first target for the night snoring softly in his bed.

Salvatore Pietro.

She threaded a wire through the gap between the glass panes and undid the latch, then slipped into the room, slit Pietro’s throat in his bed, and stole back out the window.




Ten minutes later, she silently stalked Riccardo Olivieri from his bedroom to his toilet, and put a knife through the back of his neck as he took a piss.




Fifteen minutes after that, she was standing in the corner of Marco Capresse’s bedroom. The fat bastard was the head of the Capresse Famiglia, the largest and most powerful of all the Verduno families, and the father of the loudmouthed arsehole at the palace. He was the mastermind behind tonight; turning Giorgio, the ambush at the ball.

Taking Luca.

She padded over to his bed, pulling a foot long iron spike and mallet from her belt. She held them, poised, over Marco’s face, listening to him snore, her lips curling in disgust at the wino veins running through his bulbous nose and the flabby cheeks quivering with every exhalation.

“This is for takin’ Luca,” she hissed, her old northern accent creeping back into her voice as her emotions built. Marco blinked, waking at the sound of her voice. His eyes flew wide open, and he screamed as Elizabeth slammed the mallet down, the point of the nail plunging through his eye. He thrashed and spasmed as she struck, again and again. His screams died after the third blow, and he went still after the fourth. But still she kept going, blood and jelly spraying into her face. Not that she noticed. Her eyes were sightless, her mind playing back the slaughter of her father on that cold tavern floor, the way they kept hacking and hacking long after he was dead. A whimper from the bed beside them brought her back to reality, and she realised Marco was well and truly dead, the spike buried deep into the bed frame and her mallet mangling the flesh and bone of his face with every strike.

She looked up, wild eyed, to find the wife sitting in the bed next to them, horror and fear etched on her face. The whimper turned to a scream when their eyes locked, and she tumbled out of bed, scrambling across the floor to the wall. Elizabeth climbed over Marco’s body and advanced on her, brandishing the dripping mallet.

“Yer husband is the third patriarch I’ve killed tonight. Send messengers to the other families; I will do the same thing again tomorrow night, and the night after, and the night after that, and so on until every single one o’ you bastards is dead. You have one opportunity to save yourselves. I will be in the Doge’s Palace until sunrise. Bring the broker’s daughter. This is your only chance to avoid extinction.”

A note from JEPayne

What are your thoughts on flashbacks? In general and here specifically? Let me know in the comments below! And if you're enjoying the stories, please consider following, leaving a rating or even a review!

See you next week for the 'explosive' conclusion to Elizabeth's story! Things are going to... erupt!

About the author


  • Townsville, Australia

Bio: Serving member of the military who writes in his free time. Current project is a full length fantasy novel and short story spin offs that I'll be publishing here! Aim is for weekly uploads for as long as I can keep it up, though I may be forced to drop down to fortnightly or take a brief hiatus to replenish the backlog. If necessary, I'll make sure it's communicated to everyone reading!

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