A faint burning smell filtered through the hallway leading to the penthouse suite. A handful of cameras were scattered through, electric eyes keeping watch on who came in and out. Of course, some back-alley laser eye surgery had rendered their vision dark. Kitsune stood on the side of the door, properly suited, unlike last time. Her gun was unholstered, the barrel warm to the touch. She’d opted for lower power and silenced. After all, why carry a shotgun when all the brute force she needed currently had their arm thrown around her, their head resting on her shoulder? Kitsune ran back through the contract one more time in her head, making sure everything was laid out correctly.
Nine Tails, Inc received many contract opportunities. What she lacked in social skills, Mariko more than made up for in SEO. After the first contract, all it took was some good word of mouth and a couple more successes before they had a shining reputation. She was selective though, rarely taking on the same client twice. After that first contract, it was usually more of the same. Some people wanted debts collected, others wanted robberies, and yet more wanted good old-fashioned murder. Mari didn’t care about the reason behind any of it, she just wanted some interesting challenges. She enjoyed being sneaky, being stealthy, getting in and out without a trace.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one doing these jobs.
She was grateful to have Spork around, even more so that they wanted to work with her. However, stealth and sneaking fit them about as well as their birth name. They’d been antsy for the past few days, and Mari knew why. Spork was basically a dog, and all dogs needed to run around and stretch their legs. Although in Spork’s case, it was more stretching their violence muscles. They needed an opportunity to be wild, to be let off the leash. It’s what allowed them to maintain a level of quiet in their other jobs.
That’s what she was searching for. Something that would give Spork the release they needed. And Mari was pretty sure she’d found it. Some idiot who was clearly new to this whole dark web thing had identified himself as a wealthy businessman who had been convinced by his stock broker to invest a significant portion of his funds into one specific airline. Unfortunately, the value of the stock had plummeted around the same time one of its planes did. Now he wanted the broker to pay. His rules were specific, and he’d paid the entirety up front. He wanted it to look like a home invasion and burglary. He wanted the broker beaten to death if possible. And anything within the apartment was fair game. It was the perfect fit.
Hey Spork, we’ve got a job.
That had led to them suiting up, infiltrating the location, and now standing outside of the man’s door. Kitsune had heard faint sounds coming from inside, perhaps a television or radio. Normally she’d want to do more surveillance, but the contract wanted it as soon as possible. That, and as soon as Shiba had gotten wind they’d wanted to go immediately. It took a great deal of negotiation to get them to agree to wait until nightfall. Making sure her safety was off, Kitsune tapped the side of Shiba’s helmet twice.
“Bah. Ha ba ba. A ba-de de kah-da.” Spork’s mumbling is barely audible, but it crackles through the two-way radio regardless. They chuckle lightly to themself, tilting their head at a different angle on Mari’s shoulder while she does whatever it is she’s doing. One of the ears at the top of their mask meets resistance and they shift again so it isn’t poking her. “Ha ba ba. Hap-ba ba de kap-a-ka. Ba. Ba. Ba-ba-ba. Ba-ba-ba bah.”
Their attempt to quote the entirety of Dog of Wisdom (that they remember) is interrupted by Mari tapping their helmet. Instantly, they’re upright, grinning within the enclosure of their mask. “Finally!”
Without a moment’s hesitation, they bounce to the other side of the hallway, take a running start, and kick down the door to the apartment. The hinges give and the door falls inwards with a crash. They fall with it, a neat forward roll and then back on their feet. Even as the dust settles they’re already on the move, listening to Miku rattle off obstacles in their ear as they spring forward.
Most of the jobs Mari picks are boring: stand around and make sure no one comes to kill their sniper, try not to make too much noise while skulking around some building or other. Still, they follow her lead because they wouldn’t trust anyone else to watch her back. Where she goes, they go, but it’s so much more fun when they get to fight up close and personal. They have a talent for terror, and they’re proud of their skills.
They vault over the back of a couch and land with a bounce of the cushions, their arms thrown wide over the back of it like they own the place. Hell, they could. This guy won’t be using it for much longer.
“You should really lock your door!” Spork mentions, cheerful, as the man screams in surprise and backs away. They tune out his angry-confused-scared babbling in favor of Miku’s description. T-03, unarmed. 1 o’clock, 3 feet away. 4 feet away. 5 fee-
That’s far enough. They push off of the couch and knock into today’s target, one gauntleted hand connecting with his chest to slam him back into the wall. Something thunks hard against the wall and they frown even as they crowd into his space. They wouldn’t want him passing out on them yet. There’s still so much fun to be had!
[div style="font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(10, 7, 21);font-family:monospace;padding-left:40px;padding-right:40px;padding-top:40px;max-width:1200px;margin:auto;color:white;"]Nine Tales Inc. How cute. A hitman outfit with a name right from the pages of a comic book- they would be easy for him to dismiss, if they weren't so gruesomely efficient. Alas, their bodycount spoke where words could not, filling in between the lines in blood red ink that this pair, with their costumes and masks and dog-themed pseudonyms, could deliver a bite a thousand times stronger than their deceptive, silent bark.
Lament could relate, in a way- and, in a way, he could not; for his fangs were found not in his jaw, but sheathed within his throat. His bark and bite were one and the same. Shooting first and asking questions later... well, for him, that was considered a mercy.
It was just about the only mercy he allowed.
Quick deaths were never his preference. That was another thing which set him apart from Nine Tails- or, indeed, any other gun-for-hire with any sense left in their heads. They valued cleanness, swiftness, a crime with no evidence besides the body and the absence. One shot was usually all they allowed; a silent death from the sniper's perch, with none but God to witness.
But not tonight.
Tonight, things were different. Tonight, their goals finally aligned. Tonight, they were staging an invasion.
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A parcel had been posted through the door a few minutes prior; thin and unmarked, wrapped in the same anonymous brown paper as everything else. A paranoid man would've thought it was a bomb; hell, most people would. Their target didn't even notice it. It wasn't a bomb, at least. It wasn't a weapon of any description- though it brought the certainty of death just the same.
It was, of course, a tape recorder. A tendency towards lo-fi equipment was one of the only flaws in Lament's usual method; it meant he couldn't listen in on what was being recorded until the tape was in his hands. Perhaps if he found a wireless microphone that could replicate the sound of a cassette, he would go for that, but he couldn't bring himself to upgrade for this album. All his samples had to be recorded with the same device, you see. He could tell if they weren't. His audience could tell.
So, when enough time passed, and the commotion could be heard from his hiding place outside, he moved towards the apartment to collect his spoils.
Shiba was a loose cannon. They were unpredictable, obnoxiously loud, and prone to doing whatever the hell they wanted. Yet when they were given free reign, they were poetry in motion. They launched forward breaching the entrance in a move that would’ve made any C.O. proud, and any carpenter weep. She heard the cry of terror, singular that’s important, and Shiba’s responding quip. If she didn’t move in, they’d probably just beat the shit out of the guy. Not that he didn’t deserve it, not that Kitsune cared. Just business.
A button was pressed and Kitsune cleared her throat softly, ensuring the modulator was working properly. She stepped into the apartment, her foot dwarfed in comparison to the impact site. Shiba was bigger, after all. Her hidden expression remained neutral as the target, one Joshua Redmond, was unceremoniously launched into a wall, the plaster cracking under the impact. She didn’t worry though. Shiba wouldn’t let him fall unconscious this early.
Kitsune strode towards him, tapping Shiba’s back to let them know she was there. Just in case Miku didn’t warn them. Wouldn’t be the first time. She knelt down in front of the target, using her gun’s barrel to lift up his head, pressing it into the soft flesh under his chin.
“You’ve been naughty, haven’t you Mr. Redmond?”
Her voice came out ugly, rough. Metallic and masculine. Obviously a voice that could never come from someone human. Shiba’s intimidation was physical, but hers was psychological.
“I-I-I-I don’t understand. What are y-”
“Ah, ah, ah. The less you talk the longer you live.” Kitsune pushed her weapon deeper for emphasis. Redmond, to his credit, merely gulped and nodded slightly. “Good boy. You do what we say, you live. You try to escape, call for help, or god forbid try to fight back, well.” Kitsune nodded her head towards the figure at her side.
“My partner will start breaking bones.”
Redmond once again nodded, sweat beading on his face as his eyes tried to escape their sockets.
“So then, why don’t we have a look at your home office? I’m sure we’ll find something interesting there.” Kitsune removed the pressure, drawing herself to her feet. She was about to have Shiba drag Redmond to his before-
Kitsune’s head snapped around, weighing the situation.
Unavoidable, they’ll see the wreckage. Intercept before they have a chance, ensure they cannot return to the floors below.
“Shib, cover. Target priority.” Kitsune barked out before quickly moving towards the entrance, a knife being drawn from its sheath..
Most likely alone, single person in an elevator usually stands towards the back, somewhat centered.
A button was pressed as Kitsune crossed the threshold, an electrical current snaking its way through the blade.
Incapacitation is easiest, difficult to precisely kill with so many unknowns. Ideal target, most likely thigh. Deliver shock, cause collapse, prevent retreat.
Kitsune was halfway down the hall before she drew her arm back, launching the knife towards the unknown arrival as the elevator doors whispered open.
A tap on their back, and Spork takes a reluctant half-step away, letting their target slump to the floor. They’re silent, arms crossed across their chest. They don’t like the voice modifiers; what’s the point of them if everyone who hears them will end up dead anyways?
They don’t need to hear the lecture again to know what Mari would have to say in response to that. Liabilities. Collateral.
When she mentions them, Spork uncrosses one arm and curls their hand into a fist with the soft clank of metal on metal. They don’t let him see their frustration at having to wait. Spork can wait. They’re awesome at waiting.
The elevator? Spork takes a step back towards the entrance to the apartment, but Mari is already on the move, and then they have their orders. Or suggestions, as they like to think of them.
There’s a ruffle of fabric as the target moves to take advantage of the momentary shuffle, and Spork lifts their foot and brings it down hard on one of his legs, pinning his shin. “Not so fast.”
Sometimes in the autumn, there are dry twigs that end up on the sidewalks. If you line them up just right, if you step on one end and push the other far enough, they’re easy to snap. This snap is much louder, but just as satisfying. They don’t deal in empty threats. They never have.
As a bonus, maybe he’ll be too disoriented to try anything smart for a minute.
Spork grabs the front of his shirt and drags him along with them as they make a beeline for the door. He crumples on the second step and they sigh and grab his arm instead, escorting him out of the living room and into the kitchen before dumping him on the tile.
And meanwhile, Mari is in the hallway alone with whoever was in the elevator. Spork leans out of the doorway to give Miku the chance to tell them how many people they should be expecting. It ain’t a party without a few broken bones.
[div style="font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(10, 7, 21);font-family:monospace;padding:40px;max-width:1200px;margin:auto;color:white;"]Lament wasn't standing dead centre.
Instead, he was leaning against the corner, on the side by the door, in a spot as awkward to reach as he could make it. Kitsune's blade launched towards the wall at the back, prompting him to step out from his hiding spot- if only so the residual current didn't travel through the metal walls and shock him through the back.
[font color="ff0000"]"Easy, now."[/font]
He emerged through the doors, stepping out into the hallway.
[font color="ff0000"]"Got somethin' I need to collect."[/font]
From there, he would attempt to make his way further into the building, walking slowly and calmly towards the apartment door, his leisurely pace making him seem easy to stop.[/div]
The knife sailed towards its intended target, the blade spinning as electricity crackled through it. Unfortunately, Kitsune’s prediction was wrong. Instead of meeting flesh, the blade sank into the metal of the back wall, her target stepping out from the side of the elevator. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t someone dressed like this. A strong Southern drawl muddied his voice, and he moved towards her like he hadn’t a care in the world.
Kitsune drew her gun, pointing it at the stranger as he sauntered down the hall. She threw back a call to the room behind her.
They could make it look like a home invasion afterwards. Shiba would love to go breaking some furniture anyways. She’d make it up to them for not letting them have their proper funtime with the target. She knew they would come back to her when the job was done.
“As for you, stranger, I don’t think there’s anything here worth collecting. So why don’t you just go home, enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Kitsune took a step forward, her finger tightening on the trigger.
U-04, 12 o’clock, 20 feet away. Alright, so it’s literally just one dude. His funeral. Mari seems to think she can handle it, and Spork believes her. Regardless, her command makes them snicker, a devilish grin twisting their lips. This one, they can’t resist.
“That’s what she said!” They call back, ducking back into the apartment before their partner can smite them for their unprofessionalism. But c’mon, both these dudes are totally gonna be dead soon. There’ll be no one to snitch.
For a moment, they just loom over the soon-to-be-dead guy. He’s scrambling away from them at a truly sorry rate, slowed by his mangled leg but still pushing through on pure adrenaline. He bumps into something - the kitchen table, they think - and they choose that moment to swoop in.
It’s messy work. They love it, as much as an increasingly small part of them still sometimes cringes at the screams. It’s just the volume. Nothing more. This apartment is fancy, the sound-proofing should be decent. They’re protecting the only two people they care about in the world: themself and Mari.
Everything goes a little hazy as their hits land, and then the screaming cuts off. They recognize the wet gurgle as a rib piercing through a lung, and they step on his chest to force it even deeper. There’s blood seeping through the plates of their gauntlets, none of it their own.
Their M.O. always feels a little personal, when all’s over and done with. They really didn’t have anything against this guy. Someone with too much money just wanted him dead.
T-03, deceased, Miku announces. Spork blinks out of whatever weird reverie fell over them and removes their boot from the target’s torso. Oh, gross, their shoes are probably all grody now. They wipe their soles on the carpet as they shuffle back towards the hallway.
[div style="font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(10, 7, 21);font-family:monospace;padding:40px;max-width:1200px;margin:auto;color:white;"]By now, their target was almost certainly dead, though Lament hadn't heard any last words from him- not from where he stood, anyway. He was getting closer, though. So close, now, that he could almost see into the room- almost see his spoils.
[font color="ff0000"]"Redmond's been holdin' a package for me."[/font]
The call to an end made him smile- and, though it remained hidden beneath the mask, he had no doubt that Kitsune could tell it was there. Perhaps it was the slight crease beneath his exposed eye, or the mere fact that his pace didn't slow whatsoever, but one thing was made painfully apparent- Lament did not feel threatened. Not in the slightest. She wouldn't ask twice, apparently. She wouldn't ask twice.
[font color="ff0000"]"I know you won't."[/font] He said, [font color="ff0000"]"Y'seem well enough to take no for an answer."[/font][/div]
Kitsune grimaced at Shiba’s comments. As much as she tried to convince them that professionalism was key, that lesson seemed to flow over them like water off a duck’s back. The faint noises of bodily harm coming from the room behind her confirmed that they were doing their job, however. Were they the most efficient? Absolutely not. Were they thorough? Without question. The screams choked to a close, and Kitsune was grateful that his was the only apartment on this floor.
Her gun remained leveled at the figure as he approached, one of his eyes crinkling in what was undoubtedly a smirk. He was completely unfazed, the leveled firearm seemingly amusing him. She’d seen people act like this before, the tough guy act was a common defense when you were the target of assassins. But those were veneers, caricatures of being unfazed when in reality their darting glances and shaky hands said it all. He wasn’t listening, her threat fell on deaf ears. She heard footsteps as Shiba returned, their job done.
“Shiba, bite.” Kitsune called behind her, giving the figure a second or two to react before she squeezed the trigger.
Spork slinks back into the hallway, briefly hooking a blood-covered gauntlet on the doorframe to tighten their turn. The enhancements are nice, and they don’t have to worry about leaving fingerprints on anything, but they kind of miss feeling the material of whatever they’re touching. Metal just isn’t the same, sigh.
They angle towards Mari automatically, assuming it’s around the time that they should be making their exit, but they only get a few steps closer before they pick up on what they’re hearing.
U-04, 11 o’clock, 8 feet away. And he’s still blabbering on, like he’s the one in control here. Cute. They thought Mari would’ve killed him already.
Bite. Spork perks up instantly, their shoulders straightening. As though the gunshot is the signal for the start of a race, they lunge for the interloper, a full-force, fully committed tackle that would make any college football coach weep tears of envy.
They don’t need to bother with pulling their punches - if they hit the guy, they’re both going down. He sounds like a wimp, anyways. Maybe they’ll be lenient and make it quick. Mari can’t fire into their melee as easily, but she can certainly hit a floored target.
[div style="font-size:13px;background-color:rgb(10, 7, 21);font-family:monospace;padding:40px;max-width:1200px;margin:auto;color:white;"]God, even their commands were themed; though, a bite from a shiba wasn't exactly high on his list of terrifying animal analogies. He eyed the gun lazily, then swerved once he saw her hand twitch- more of a spin than a conventional evade, the bullet sailing just past his back as he turned to face away from his assailants. Shiba had launched themselves forward, aiming to tackle him into uselessness in the confusion. Could he take down two assassins by himself? Absolutely not. Lament was a competent combatant, but so were they, and the numbers advantage they held would present a challenge even if they weren't. Oh dear. Whatever was he to do?
Well, first of all, he stuck his elbow out behind him- their suits were no doubt stab-resistant, given their line of work, so he reckoned concussive force would be the best option here. He aimed the strike for where Shiba's neck would end up, hoping that a combination of surprise, velocity, and the solid elbow pad beneath his jacket would cause enough damage to the windpipe so he could buy enough time to get out of the way.
Then, he spoke- his words crawling out alongside a silence that ensured they'd pay attention.
[font color="ff0000"]"Ain't half co-ordinated, I'll give y' that."[/font]
[font color="C3C2C6"]He stepped to the side, as quickly and subtly as he could.[/font]
[font color="ff0000"]"Pity- reckon I'd have a job for y'all, if y' weren't so insistent 'bout gettin' in my way."[/font][/div]
Spork doesn’t see it coming. They run full-force into the new target’s elbow and clothesline themself. A terrible choking sound crawls out of their throat, but even as they reel they have a hand out to snatch at whatever’s closest, jacket or arm or shirt, ready to drag him to the floor if it kills them.
“Hrk,” they cough, and oh they are going to kill him. For the embarrassment if nothing else. Their throat burns like downing too many shots of Fireball but worse because at least then they could breathe.
And ok, maybe they’re panicking a little. But hey, this guy’s lucky. He has their full attention. Whether they have a handhold or not, they sweep a leg out to trip him, inhumanly fast even if they still feel like someone’s taken a weedwhacker to their windpipe.
Kitsune didn't react as the warning shot was avoided. It gave her an idea of the force she was up against. He wasn't a complete idiot, recognizing that he needed to move when a gun was pointed at him. He moved almost like a performer, twirling off to the side. The speed was key, however. Kitsune could keep track of his every movement, which meant that he didn't have any enhanced speed or was playing any powers close to his chest. Still, she couldn't help an internal wince as Shiba impaled themself on his elbow, going down spluttering and lashing back out. They could take a beating, but it was likely to piss them off. The southern drawl itched something in the back of her head, and Kitsune made a decision.
"Shiba, hold." It was an order that she knew would be tough to follow. Spork very much thought that "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" thing was bullshit, and Shiba very much liked to return any hits landed on them tenfold. But still, Kitsune put as much authority as she could into the voice. This could be an opportunity.
She strode back into the apartment, locating a brown paper package that had seemed innocuous when they had performed their initial sweep post-entrance. She ripped it open unceremoniously, finding a small tape recorder staring back at her, its red recording light aglow. Shit. Kitsune instantly began running through everything that had been said up to the current moment. She was fairly certain nothing incriminating had been said, just the standard mercenary fare that Spork mocked her for afterwards.
Kitsune clicked the recorder off, its light fading. It was oddly manual, an analogue relic in a digital world. She strode back to where Shiba had hopefully let the new arrival to the party live. She held up the recorder, gun back in her hand and still pointed at the figure.
"This the package you were expecting?" She gave it a little wave. "What's the plan for the recording?"
His plan worked. The elbow made contact, the target was wounded, and he managed to remain unharmed. That little distraction of his no doubt played a part, but he'd bite his hidden tongue for now. Instead, he resolved to smile- visible behind the mask by a slight crease in his eye, and remaining so even whilst the leg made contact with his ankle.
It threw him off balance, but he was alert enough not to let it turn into a stumble. Instead, he carried the momentum forwards, stepping a few careful steps away from Shiba- into the ever-shrinking empty space behind him.
Then, their handler showed her face, holding a familiar device.
"It ain't for cops, I can tell ya that."
"'s for a project of mine. Figured dear Mr Redmond would have quite the set of vocal cords on him. Figured he could scream."
Still rubbing at their throat with one hand, Spork attempts a growl that comes out crackly even through the vocal filters. They’ve regained their footing, as the intruder didn’t press his advantage, but their throat still burns and they burn with it, itching for retribution. They’ll tear his throat out with their teeth, they’ll-
Oh, they hate when she uses that command. Nine times out of ten they’re content to play at being Mari’s attack dog, but they have to draw the line somewhere. In direct defiance of her order they take a step closer to the new target, but Mari’s reappearance at least makes them stay still.
And hell no, that’s her ‘potential new client’ voice. They don’t bother switching to the private channel before making their complaints known, as loudly as they can manage when their voice still scrapes at their throat. “No. Hell no, Kit. Fuck this guy.”
They point a finger at said guy, though their aim is off by a few inches. They go to jab their finger into his chest and drag it horizontally when they meet only open air. “I don’t work for you, and I don’t work for free. Get the hell out of here and call it a loss, or you’ll lose a lot more.”
It isn’t an empty threat, and the only reason they’re letting the little weasel go is because they haven’t managed to land a solid hit on him. Yet. Their posture makes it very clear that they’re itching to change that.
One of the issues that came with working with an individual such as Shiba was balancing their violent tendencies. You must simultaneously balance keeping the employee happy whilst also growing the business. That was why she handled the clients, not Shiba.
Kitsune tutted, an oddly grating noise as it passed through the vocal filters. She slipped the recording device into a pocket, patting it firmly.
"Unfortunately all recordings while on contract are the sole intellectual property of of Nine Tails, Inc." Kitsune growled, holding up a hand she knows that Shiba won't see. They're getting heated, and when they get heated they make mistakes. When Shiba makes mistakes, Kitsune has to clean them up, and that leads to a headache for both of them. Sometimes more literal than not in her case.
"Of course, I'm sure that we can arrange some form of licensing agreement." She was all business, apart from the gun in her hand that remained pointed at the drawling figure. Her free hand was tucked into her pocket, the picture of calm and collected. "If you knew where to find us, then I believe you also can find out how to contact us." She ended with a note of finality, of concluding a deal. This meeting was over. Except there was one thing that still needed to be taken care of. They had a bit more pent up rage they needed to release.
There’s a buzzing in their ears. Miku has stopped relaying information for the moment, as there are no moving pieces to track, and they can almost hear the low whine of electricity from the earpiece.
Mari gives them an order, and it feels like scraps. Spork is still sour to the idea of future dealings with this man, but they don’t make the business decisions.
They could kill him.
For a long moment, even as Mari moves towards the elevator with the swish of cloth, Spork is still. They could kill him, and it would solve their problem. But they’ve never killed anyone outside of the contracts, as much as they threaten to.
Mari moves past them. Spork reaches out to clap the southern-accented interloper on the shoulder, all loose limbs and agreement if not good will.
They take a step after Mari and their torso twists back suddenly, opposite fist coming up to deliver a knuckle sandwich directly into his face. It’s a quick jab, there-and-gone with just enough force to knock him back but not enough to go through his skull. They’d need more wind-up for that.
The loyal dog follows its owner to the elevator, boots scraping the floor and blood still dripping from their gauntlets.