Tangan Kematian

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Luneris drew his lips into an ironic smile as the people before him carried on in the endless monotony of their daily lives. Here was a woman, carrying bread home, her skirts dirty in the normal fashion, the dust from the streets mingled with the sweat from her own body, the residue of the fatty soap she had used to clean it. This woman would be doing the same thing her entire life. Minor changes notwithstanding, this scene would be repeated until her death.

Luneris deftly sidestepped from her path, his own clothes dirtied, but falsely. The stains from sweat were from another wearer. These were not his clothes, he was not the man who normally filled them. This thought gave Luneris a piercing thrill, his almost feral grin betraying him for less than a second, where he replaced it with the guise, his humility and lowness, the common filth of the peasants he stood within without belonging. One, he would have belonged, but this was not once before.

Striding through the streets, Luneris needed no disguise for his motives until he reached the houses of the rich, the wealthy abodes that whispered secrets of luxury those peasants would never know in their daily struggle against mere hunger. The inhabitants of these houses glutted themselves on foods that would repulse the peasants, not filling their bellies for a day of work. It was here Luneris would perform his masterpiece. Adopting the humble air of a servant, Luneris slid in through the peasant's entrance, where a few young faces in the kitchen he entered spun to glance him. Acting as though he belonged, Luneris climbed the stairs to the bedrooms. No one would remember him, he was a nameless, faceless person, a servant.

Creeping inside the bedroom as he reached the top of the stairs, Luneris caught his target unaware. It was as he planned, but he still felt utterly godlike as he incapacitated his victim without a sound from either, a fluid movement and a broken neck. With an impartial glance down at the body, Luneris studied his wetman. His target, but you could miss a target. A wetman was dead five minutes ago, called so because of the blood slick he would leave behind. It was a ritual; Luneris never forgot the faces of a single wetman. It was his repentance.

A rustle of cloth made Luneris whirl, his knife against the slender, ivory neck of a woman. From cushiony red lips came a melodic voice. "You've been hard to find, Lune, but that is of course why they sent me. We are needed back, the others within Tangan Kematian have been notified. They will soon arrive, there are grave matters afoot."
Cold sweat ran over pale skin. The cornered man shook with fear as Groden stood before him. To either side and a little ahead of Groden two men stood, both held bludgeons and both had a rapier on their belts.

"Its been difficult for us to find you Aros. I had to ask your fence where you'd be myself, and then the false tip of valuables. I knew someone of your greed could not pass it up." Groden was gloating, as he always did when plans went the way they should.

"You see Aros, we in the guild don't like those who think they can do what we do in our city and not think to benefit from the guild's resources.

Aros whimpered, he knew what this was leading to.

"If you can't see the benefit of out organization then I'm afraid we have no choice but to show you... and everyone else who thinks they can work our city without giving us our ten percent....." Groden waved a white gloved hand and the two men rushed forward. The first blow send Aros to the ground. "Don't kill him, but it would be easer for everyone if he never walked again." Groden said turning to walk out of the alley. He waved to a city guard who nodded, that guard's pocket was considerably fuller than it had been two hours ago.

He stepped into a waiting carriage and with the crack of a whip was away from the scene. Yes it had been a good day... and it looked like it would only get better judging from the sweet smell coming from the wine decanter.
"Faster, Keith."

Whick! The sword thudded into the padded leather he wore. Cursing, Keith spun away.

"You are dead. Your sword arm is incapacitated, your skill useless." His tutor stepped forward, smacking Keith on the face with the flat of his blade. His face burned, but not as brightly as his rage.

"Agai-" His tutor began, but broke off suddenly as Keith's blade rushed at him.

Clang! Steel clashed with steel, his tutor staggering slightly from the unexpected force behind the blow. Keith snarled and broke away for a wide slashing attack. As he expected, his tutor raised his blade overhand vertically, the point towards the floor, as his style demanded. At the last moment, Keith changed the the arc, and the dull blade smashed into his former tutor's middle finger. He let out a cry of anguish and his blade dropped. Instead of beheading the man, he aimed a kick at his kneecap, intending to maim the man. Keith let out a surprised hiss as the man dropped the act of nursing his wound and sidestepped, backhanding Keith. He rolled away and came up again against the picket fence surrounding the training ring, fury written on his face.

"Stop." The calm authority in the man's voice halted Keith. "I came here as a favor for Master Bay. I'm positive your are not this impertinent to him. You do Bay a great insult by attacking me, let alone your disgraceful fighting style!"

Keith snorted, "Another minute and you would have been dead. My "disgraceful" fighting style gets the job done." His would-be tutor furrowed his brow in disbelief.

"I knew Bay's tactics where different, but to abandon the code completely..." He shook his head in disgust, "Had we not met before, I would have slain you where you stand, but out of my great respect to Bay, I will spare you." Keith let out a short guffaw.

"I would like nothing better than for you to try." The instructor merely shook his head once more, grabbing his coat from the picket fence, and turned to leave the courtyard. Keith growled deep in his throat, unsheathing his dagger from its hiding place behind the padded leather on his thigh. He held it between his index and middle finger, and pulled it back, preparing to put it in between the arrogant bastard's shoulder blades. He cocked it back, took aim and-

"Keith!" His master Bay barked at him from across the courtyard. He stopped, cursing. Keith sheathed his dagger and started towards Bay.

I should have asked the bastard's name...

Laurel finished pinning into place her outfit of the day, sheer pink material that covered her abdomen down to her thighs with slightly shaded area to keep the goods a mystery. Delicate bows of magenta silk dotted the hem of the negligee, matching the ribbon that was tying up Laurel's long brown hair. Just as Laurel had begun to dab her neck with a thin violet perfume, a rap came at the door.

"Yes?" she called, expecting it to be another of the girls wanting to borrow something. A hoarse man's voice came from the other side, causing Laurel to drop the bottle she was holding on her vanity and scramble for a decent dress.

Downstairs, wearing an only slightly appropriate dress of red, flowing material, cut short to the knee and dipping low at the beasts, Laurel stumbled into the meeting and was stunned as she looked around the secret room behind the brothel.

Men of all cuts and sizes filled chairs, sat cross-legged on the floor, leaned against the wall. Women were here and there, wearing clothes that denoted themselves as either thieves, dressed in rough brown material, or prostitutes, dressed in scanty clothes of varying degrees of opulence.

Spotting someone she knew, Laurel slid onto a bench. The man next to her turned to smile. "What's going on, Lunnie?" Laurel asked, her cute mouth forming a worried half-smile. "They will tell us, just be patient." He responded, folding his hands in his lap and smirking, lording his knowledge over her. Laurel pouted, turning to the man on her other side.

"I think I've met you before. You said your name was.... Groven? No, that's not right..."
Groden was sitting one hand over the other and this chin resting on them with his elbows on the table in front of his when he heard the soft voice talking to him.

Lifting his head he turned to the pleasing sight of the young woman dressed in a way that Groden wished he saw more often. And although she did seem familiar her low cut dress made it difficult to focus on her face, though will a little effort Groden succeeded in meeting her eyes.

"Groden, my dear. Though I must apologize for not remembering your name." an easy smile can to his face, after his busy morning it was good to have some pleasant company for this meeting.

"This is quite the gathering, seems to be members from every underground guild, but I don't suppose you now why?"
Laurel smiled wider, shrugging. "No one has told me, who bothers to tell the pampered women anything though? Mistress Belladonna has been absent all morning, didn't tell anyone where she was going, just said something about Mister Luneris here."

Laurel twirled a strand of her hair around her finger, adjusting her skirt down slightly because such a dress was not meant to be worn modestly and sitting to boot. Luneris glanced over at the pair and sighed at Laurel.

"Spoiled whore," he told her, but with a quirk of his lips to let her know he was joking. He removed his jacket and set it over her lap, leaving Laurel smiling beatifically at him.

K o k o r o ♥ N i g o u

Kokoro strode into the room, expressionless. This wasn't something she adored, coming to a place like this, but she wasn't going to let anyone see her uneasiness. She had hoped she'd recognize someone, anyone for that matter, but these were all strangers. She sighed and rolled her eyes, taking a seat in the far corner, amusing herself with watching the various people in the room. She found them amusing only because they lived the same lifestyles, day to day, year to year, and had she not defied these values, she would be able to look at them and snicker.

What a life they all lived. What use was this meeting going to be? Kokoro was sure nothing was going to change, but someone had asked her to come and she had. She slipped a hand into her pocket, fingers wrapping tightly around the note that had been left in her bag. Whoever had managed to sneak the note into her stuff was pretty skilled. She wanted to know who it was.

She wanted to find them here. Today.


T a k e s h i R A

Takeshi slipped quietly from where he was sitting to a couple seats closer to the red-haired thief that had just entered. He was glad to see that she'd come like he'd asked, even though she didn't know it had been him. He watched her carefully, grinning to see that she was holding something in her pocket; he assumed it was the note. Satisfied, he turned to look around. He had been hoping to see Luneris at this meeting, but he supposed the man had better things to do. Truth be told, Takeshi was quite excited about the prospects of reform, despite what his siblings might comment upon such treachery. The Ra family had upheld the name of the Penuai for years; and being the seventh heir to such a bloody legacy did not make him proud.

He turned his sharp gold-embered eyes towards Kokoro again. That was why he was so curious why a girl like her would be a thief. He could see the traits of an assassin in her thievery that others would not notice. It simply ignited his curiosity.

He was certain she would sense his staring if he continued any longer, so he let his eyes wander elsewhere, from the brothel women scattered about to the other people who had gathered here.
Keith dropped his head before Bay.

"I apologize for my rashness, sir." Bay simply nodded.
"Now go, you're needed, the Tangan call." Keith bowed respectfully and left.


He found the meeting already filling with people. Thieves, prostitutes, guards, assassins.

The meeting room was almost church-like, with ornate arches and damn near womanly curves. The people were seated in a motley collection of backless benches and chairs, lined up like pews. Two torches provided a small amount of illumination. At the far end of the room was a raised platform, and above that a pulpit, also church style. Keith scanned the room, looking for an empty spot far from people. Finding nothing, he moved over to right next to the door and leaned against the wall. He nodded at the guards by the door, they responded in kind. A muted hum filled the air, people chattered amongst themselves as they waited for whatever it was to start.

After a couple minutes, he grew bored, drew his dagger. He turned around and began to carve into the wood. A stylized "Goodnight", his parting shot to all his targets. A motto, a litany, and a joke, all in one.
Groden smiled once again at the two, mostly at the on next to him though. He knew the assassin by reputation, and that reputation was it was best to keep the knowing to reputations only. "Its a similar situation in our guild, I had to step in and sort some matters out in Prist's place. Nothing to serious but its unusual not to hear from him." He folded his gloved hands on his knee.

"Its been difficult since the new kind came to power, prices for bribes have skyrocketed and..." he lowered his voice to a whisper. "We've had some trouble with thieves thinking they can do without the benefit of our organization, that we're losing power." his voice rose to its normal volume. "Perhaps thats what this gathering is about?"
Laurel smiled at the man, her docile charms making her seem helpless, soft and sweet. It was all part of her image, she couldn't be known as one of the most influential spies in the room, could she? Luneris knew, though, that was why the top-notch assassin knew the smiling prostitute seated next to him, power.

"Well, they should be lucky they haven't been sent Lunnie here, then, if that's the case," she giggled, ruffling the assassin's hair beneath his hood. She was about to make some childish remark about his hood looking scary, but the candlelight in the room sputtered and went out before she could.

A hush fell over the previously bustling room. People who had been in motion quickly found a seat. The sole candle left in the room was at the front, directing all attention to it. It illuminated the rough wooden benches and the ghostly face of pale, pampered courtesans and assassins who never saw the light of day, darker skinned thieves and common prostitutes who lived less complex lives, all manner of the underworld.

Before the candlelight danced three figures who reclined into heavy chairs of deeply stained wood. The slender silhouette in the center chair was none other than Belladonna. The right hand of Belladonna held the Specter, whose gleaming smile could be seen even in the poor lighting. The final chair held Prist, who looked too ordinary for one of the wealthiest and cruelest men in the world. One of these three led them all, but it was said no one truly knew who the boss was, it could be any of them. Most people betted on the vicious, business-minded Prist who had bodyguards at every corner.

"Is everyone present?"

That was the rasping hiss of Specter, the master of death. It seemed almost ill-omened to have to tell him no, and so a quick inventory was taken. Laurel knew all her women were here, had tallied each falsely giggly girl.
From the center chair, the silhouette of a woman became visible in the dim candlelight. The woman was willowy, almost ephemeral in form and shrouded in what seemed to be a gauzy cloth that cloaked her like a fine mist.

"Your attention," the voice was melodic, musical, and irresistible. She was the perfect courtesan. The men behind her in their heavy chairs smiled at her with bemusement but all the people in the rest of the room became a captive audience. Women envied her, men could feel the stirring of desire.

In an instant the woman was seated and a candle flared by the seat of the most charismatic of the men, Prist. As he stood, a different variety of awe filled the room. He seemed average enough, forty-something years of age, with his smooth brown hair salted in silver and a cane in his hand. Few of the people present in the room had not heard tales of Prist the Bloodless to scare them in their childhood. Prist was rumored to once have shared a glass of wine with an acquaintance while crushing the ribs of one who owed him money beneath his feet.

"Hello to everyone present, I'm sure you are all wondering why you have been called to this meeting, the collection of all that lurks in the underworld. The answer is simple, yet full of complexity. The straight-forward answer is that the king has died this morning and did not choose his son to inherit. His nephew has been positioned to take the crown, and a more sniveling and naive king I could not imagine. He believes that he can eliminate us, eradicate our factions from this country. We all know that vice will never be quelled. This poses a problem, though. Our profits have waned lately, due to the precarious nature between us and our northern neighbor. I would before have assured you that we could outlast this fool king's reign which seems destined to be... short. But now I think not. We have options, though, this is why we are here.

The first, most direct answer, comes from one of the Penuai, what a surprise. We assassinate this new kingling, this whelp of a king. We will hope that the young prince, malleable still, comes in to the throne and lets us have his ear. There is no guarantee. Another problem is that with weak leadership, our neighbors to the north may find it an ample chance to attempt to envelope our land and people.

The next option is less simple. It has been proposed that little by little, we erode into our Eastern neighbor. We slowly strangle their soft, childish beginnings of an underworld and we install ourselves. We know little of the people, the climate for our businesses, or of their ruler. This would be a gamble we could lose because of how it would weaken us.

What say you?"
Finally. The whore queen spoke first, of course, to get the audience's attention. Most of the assassin's were disciplined, but he heard whistles and murmurings as always from the thieves. Keith himself felt desire despite himself. Next came Prist, the ruthless business man. He seemed the most likely of the Tangan to be the leader. Next was the Spectre himself. He held the lives of any man in the city within his hand, the leash for the most dangerous assassin's on perhaps the entire continent. Keith had his doubts, however. The master courtesan.

Behind that facade of helpless beauty, there was a cruel, manipulative mind. A woman of so many masks there was no original personality left, or so Keith assumed, simply ambition. She was protected as well. At first glance, she would be last on the list to any logical onlooker. With two powerful men in front of her, each with a organization of talented individuals with no moral qualms about her goals, she would be a fearsome adversary. Not that it was Keith's place to evaluate. He knew the only way to be sure was to slay them all. Not that his ambition reached that far.

By the time Prist finished speaking, Keith was grinning broadly.

"Slay him." He called out nonchalantly at the three, almost the instant after Prist finished. "If our neighbors invade, then we install ourselves."
Groden stood making his presence known. "The key here is leverage, we let him know he cannot run the kingdom without us AND we can take anything from him. As for invasion, we let them know that this kingdom's rulers..." he waved a hand at the three guild leaders "won't stand for it."