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King

The Double Draw [BOUNTY]

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Shadow didn’t like working with partners.

Especially when they were outsourced.

It wasn’t that the man didn’t understand the value, or that he believed himself to be so skilled in his craft that he was above the need of a partner, he simply disliked the distraction. For all the benefits of a partner, there were equally as many drawbacks. Most of all, he hated the idea that his task – his fate, as it were – could rest in someone else’s hands. No matter how flawless his execution, if his partner was even a single step behind, a moment too late, the entire operation could go to shit—as it was known to do. And that didn’t sit well with Shadow. Not when he knew his partners, their reputations, and their skills, but certainly not when he knew nothing about them; and especially when they were outsourced.

The administration hadn’t bothered explaining any of the reasoning behind the choice, only that it had been cleared by all necessary parties, approved unanimously by those that held seats at the table, and his partner for the mission, which they’d done well to keep him ignorant of, was to be respected as though they were a member of the guild. After all, it was SHADE’s reputation on the line.

So there he was, leaning against the old stone walls of a city-town he’d only visited once or twice in his life. The sun sat on high, not a cloud for miles to veil its brightness, but it wasn’t hot. Winds rolling down from the snow-capped ranges in the south had made their way further north that week, keeping the weather on the permeable borders between the New Union Frontier and Cold South cool and manageable. That day, he wore the dark ensemble of a speedster, blacks and grays, with black, supple leather gloves, thick boots that had long-ago lost their luster to travel, and a sleek, black racer helmet. But of all the details that one might remember, it was likely to be the iron on Shadow’s hip.

It was a cannon that looked both pristine and lived in, like a relic of every battle he’d ever fought, hung low at the waist. The runes and ancient texts etched into the weapon’s flanks peeked out from the edge of its dark leather holster, whispering of the weapon’s long history – a history Shadow rarely spoke of. It was a trophy from a dangerous time in Shadow’s life, a time all but lost to the world, but also a warning that neither he, nor his piece, had forgotten. But Shadow’s ire was something that was earned, not carelessly given. All the better for the people of Palamon.

Like most city-towns, it struggled from the growing pains of progress and expansion, evolving from a small township into something that closer resembled the industrial meccas scattered across the continent. Growing meant attracting more people from all walks of life, but like blood in the water, it always caught the attention of a few sharks. Palamon was no better or worse than its neighbors in terms of crime, doing what it could to police its growing borders, and striking bargains when absolutely necessary to keep the various factions and syndicates happy. It just so happened the bounty Shadow was tracking down, one Loken Undercroft, happened to be linked to this city-town in particular.

Dead or alive—though the administration had made their preference for the latter known. Loken was high enough in the hierarchy to possess valuable information, from corrupt officials to rival syndicate lords. If they could get him to flip – and they usually did – it would be a much bigger prize than bringing in a bullet-riddled corpse. At the same time, they wouldn’t chastise him too much if that’s what he happened to bring back. It was his call, same as always.

Pushing off the wall, Shadow tightened his gloves and glanced down the road. It was a long, winding stretch of dirt hammered into the field by merchant wagons and beasts of burden, sloping on the side into a marshy riverbank that followed it for a number of miles. The main entrance in to Palamon, and the agreed upon meeting spot for Shadow and his partner-to-be. Remember to smile, one of the administration had said to him, smiling herself as she did so. You have such a nice smile, Shadow. Simple, disarming. You should use it more often.

He opted to keep his helmet on.

Edited by King

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This place has some interesting workings... what did you say it was called again? Homura asked. The only one that could hear them was Mayu. Since they resided inside her, they were only seen when it was deemed by her they should be. As she approached the main entrance of the place called Palamon, she'd maintain her flat and almost disinterested expression. She never really changed up her wardrobe, being her long swordsmans Obi robe, her hakama pants, and her sandals. All of which were dark and black in theme. She was very much a fan of her dark looks. It despite her skill in acting any role she needed to, be it the innocent lost girl, or the seductress, she could donne any face and name needed, despite not liking it.

 

 I dont like this. This partner of your better not screw this up Arashi said. She walked briskly as she had long back noticed she was being tailed. At least three or four. But no more than six or seven. They were armed poorly, street punks at best. None had any kind of uniform so they weren't any official group. Crude melee weapons, and poorly made ranged weapons, barely up to par with bandits. They'd be slaughtered like vermin if they attack anything tougher than an old couple. Mayu didn't particularly like the idea of killing borderline combat virgin boys. Though, those were the dumbest and easiest to manipulate into the edge of a blade. Bar none.

 

 The fools wouldn't be so bold and stupid as to attack a woman in open view, in the middle of a populated area Kyofu said. Of course, Kyofu was being optimistic. Being the embodiment of freedom and the winds, specifically gale-force winds, He was all about freedom and making choices. Wind and Water were also both very closely associated with life, thus he had a very high priority on preserving it where it could be. To him, and Mayu, life was sacred and should be treasured by its holder. Why these fools would throw theirs away for what she assumed was her nice sword, was beyond her.

 

 Oh I hope they would be Arashi chuckled. Being the opposite. Arashi was violence incarnate. Though unlike Homura, the fire dragon, Arashi tended to be more about destruction for the enjoyment of it. Whereas Homura was rage and power, for the sake of being powerful.

 

 Such a propensity for violence Gekiryu said. Like Kyofu, life was valuable but Gekiryu was much more apt to battle if needed as his name implied. He less implied and represented life and water, and more so, how water carved and created. All landscapes have water to thank for their shape. Endlessly flowing, crashing, and falling upon the land, is what shaped it, and provided it with life.

 

 Indeed, you are quite the angry and violent one Arashi... Jishin added. You all say this as if its news Arashi chuckled. He is right... the fool Homura added. "Would you all be quiet?" Mayu sighed. 

 

Mayu, and by extension though her perspective her dragons, noticed the man in black and a helmet. Gotta be him Arashi said. As Mayu approached him, she'd stop. Mayu I sense- Mayu would speak before Gekiryu finished his warning. "We should go somewhere less social." She'd request of Shadow. "I'd rather not spill the blood of the young and foolish if I can avoid it." She added. "They've been tailing me for miles... but are quite poor at their hunting"

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A swordmaster, huh? While some may have thought it premature to apply the likes of master to the woman, Shadow had a strong nose for this kind of thing, and his nose was seldom wrong. There were signs of the woman’s skill with the blade, subtle hints that betrayed her status as a seasoned killer-- things that only another killer would recognize, same as two predators prowling sharing a jungle. It was in the way she walked, balancing her steps; in the way her eyes studied their surroundings, and then studied them again, as though they might change in an instant; and more than that, it was in her voice. What she said lacked the usual bluster and boast of those looking for fame, or looking to make a show of the skill they thought they possessed.

It was flat, plain.

Killing had become part of her life, long ago, same as eating and breathing. It was a piece of her.

At least, that’s what his nose told him.

“That so?” He lifted his eyes from the woman, flicking his gaze over her should and down the trail, hidden by the black tint of his visor. They were a scraggly bunch, far from the legitimate thugs and criminals he’d dealt with over the years. “They’re probably just hungry.” Bandits would always be an issue in areas where expansion sucked up the resources of the smaller villages nearby, people included. It was hard to tend the fields and livestock when your help had run off to the big city, looking to make something of themselves. “A few coins should dissuade them out of doing anything rash. And we’re right here in town, so they’ll have somewhere to spend it.” Shadow didn’t like killing off the books, either. “I’ll handle it.”

Stepping further from the wall, Shadow fished out a small pouch of coins from his pocket and dangled it on display. It wasn’t much by any means, but more than they’d probably seen in quite some time, and just enough that they’d be able to split it one coin apiece. Or fight over it, if they wanted. That wasn’t his problem. He tossed the pouch over the woman’s shoulder, making sure they saw it thump into the dust, and then turned and made his way past the gate entry.  If they chose to press the issue further, well, then that’d be their choice. But after the pair had walked for a bit more, and a quick glance back showed the men hadn’t continued their chase, Shadow eased his gait into one more comfortable and at ease.

“Sometimes, you’ve just got to treat people like the beasts they are. Works out better for everyone that way.” As they walked, Shadow’s helmet turned every so often as he studied the shops and homes rising up on their flanks. He was searching for something. “Name’s Shadow, by the way; your contact from the guild. You are?”

Edited by King

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"My name... is Ikari" she said. It wasn't a lie. But maybe telling the bounty hunter her name which had a massive payday on it, wouldn't be wise. especially considering there was a huge bonus for bringing her in alive and well. Don't give him any information you don't need to Homura cautioned. She followed after him. "I've been given little briefing on the target your employers outsourced me to help with." She explained. "I'd like any information you are privy to if you would be so kind" she said flatly. She could feel eyes staring her down. Some putting a blade in her back, and running off with her goods. Some, undressing her. Some going further than that. She was skilled enough that none of this towns folk so far, had a lambs chance in a lions den. 

Mayu was talented at many things. Killing, for one. She was trained extensively in it and easily surpassed her peers. Acting for another. She would be something of an authority on it if she wasn't wanted dead or a live.  And reading people, for a final perk. Mayu was not the right person to lie to. Her career in doing so, made it quite seldom someone sneaked past her in the verbal combat realm. Not unheard of. But not at all something one should try. She was also broke at the moment. So this job would need to come through. Though perhaps she could find a little extra side work her as well. The town clearly hadn't seen a skilled swordmaster in ages.

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Shadow nodded. “Pleasure.” Ikari didn’t seem to be a woman of many words, which struck Shadow just fine. The less talking she did, the more she’d be able to focus on the task at hand. “Our bounty head is a guy going by the name of Loken. Runs a gang here in Palamon called the Wild Boys.” His helmet continued with its occasional swiveling as he cast his gaze here and there, searching the shops and their occupants. “Apparently, in a bid to get themselves a little more reputation, they crossed a few nobles here and elsewhere. Loken orchestrated the whole thing, so he ended up with a pretty sizable bounty on his head.” It wasn’t long after they’d entered the city-town, perhaps a half hour, that he found his prize. He nodded at the building ahead of them, one of the many tavern halls in the city, directing her on. “Problem is, there aren’t many that know where Loken is. He knows there’s heat on him, so he’s gotten into the habit of not staying in one place for too long.”

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The Grey Shade wasn’t the prettiest tavern Shadow had been to, far from it, but that was exactly why he’d chosen it. A quick, cursory glance revealed a dimly lit space where the dingy furniture did well to match its grizzly customers. An exalta sign burned bright above the bar in blue and red-white neon colors, while lamps crackling with soft, pale light hung from the ceilings. Word was it had become a watering hole for Palamon’s unsavory types, which made it the best place to start their search. Of course, he didn’t expect to find Loken hiding in a corner or lurking in the rafters, but it would have been nice if he had been. “I figure we start here. Might not find one of his goons, and even if we do, I doubt anyone dumb enough to hang in public will know anything of worth. But, it can’t hurt to try. Maybe we find someone else from a rival gang that can point us in the right direction. They want him dead too, after all.”

Of all the folks there, Ikari certainly stood out. Of course they couldn’t have given me someone that blended in a little better. Like most places in Genesaris, Palamon was a melting pot of peoples and cultures—but those seemed to naturally segregate themselves from the others, purging their ranks and communities of impurities and interlopers. The Grey Shade was a reprieve from that, but only just. “Remember, we don’t need anyone knowing why we’re here. Not yet, at least. And—yeah, while I’m sure you can handle yourself, let’s keep this as bloodless as we can. The guild isn’t fond of collateral damage.” Not that she had reason to care, being outsourced and all. “We’ll meet up in a few hours. Down the road, on the corner where that boy was selling fabric.” Then he was off, making his way to the bar.

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Mayu nodded, as Shadow left. She had to move somewhat quickly but decisively if she was to make any use of herself. She calmed her inner workings. With shadow approaching the bar, it would be pathetically obvious if she approached it as well. So she decided against it. But after a moment, she also decided, she wanted a drink. She'd approach the counter on the opposite end her partner had. Placing a pair of fingers atop a semi valuable coin, she slid it across the bar, and pointed quietly at a rather fancy looking bottle. That's quite a fancy find Jishin commented. Jishin liked a few things and little else. Good liquor, his solitude, and perhaps Mayu, on occasion. Mayu examined the bottle and with the shot class tasted its contents. Exquisite, for such a little rat hole especially Jishin commented. 

 

What?! That shit burns like Homura's breath! Arashi growled. How do you two even decide what good liqour is?  He added. It tasted like a literal ball of minty rice fire He complained. Mayu couldnt help but find a tiny bit of humor in it, seeing as Arashi was always so tough and violent, but was embodied as this youthful fool on occasion, with the way he behaved. 

 

Silence you imbecile! My breath is hot because its made of fire. Homura defended himself. Homura was around the same in age groups as Kyofu, younger than most, but still older than Arashi for sure. Though these numbers meant little to any of these ageless dragon spirits.

 

You're both quite exhausting Gekiryu added. His calm demeanor was rarely disturbed in such a way but it as almost always Arashi that got him a bit worked up, or Homura. Both were quite prone to violence and arguing even. 

 

"All of you" Mayu said. Taking another shot, and savoring the flavor. You don't even need to drink anything with it. Jishin said. The others, barring the white, black and cosmic dragons collectively grumbled in distaste of the alcohol. Mayu liked her drinks particularly strong and boldly flavored so long as it wasn't just piss water. 

 

As Mayu waited, to essentially get some lead, or hear something. She recalled her journey thus far. Her battle with the 9 dragons. Having to fight each individually in her own head, each had taken a human esque form. Arashi... was admittedly quite stunningly handsome. But he was so damn childish. Homura was so wild and strong. Jishin was quite the easy task... she simply drank with him, though it made dealing with Geikryu, and Kyofu difficult. Fubuki froze the buzz right out of her.

 

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Shadow toured the room for a moment before deciding on a seat, parking himself at the bar beside one of the blue-collars fancying an amber colored drink. The woman wore a dirtied button-up that had probably been white at some point, with thick pants and well-worn traveling boots. Her long, dark hair was pulled back in a braid that reached halfway down her back, and a scar ran the left side of her face, passing over one of her deep, brown eyes. She studied Shadow for a moment, half curious, perhaps half annoyed he’d chosen to sit so close to her, and then returned to her drink. From the grimace it twisted across her face after each sip, it was strong.

The barkeep made his rounds, entertaining the guests he was familiar with. He noticed Shadow after a spell and cut a conversation short with a wave that promised his return. “Sorry about that,” he grunted, his accent thickly southern. The white of his hair and beard seemed to glow beneath the exalta signs neon light. “Can I get you anything?”

“I’ll have a double of whatever she’s having, no ice,” Shadow said, sliding his helmet off and setting it on the stool beside him. “Don’t care what it is.”

“Bold man,” the woman said, lifting her glass at him.

“Or stupid,” Shadow replied.

The barkeep chuckled. “A man can be both.”

“True,” Shadow and the woman said together, only slightly off step.

“Haven’t seen you here before,” the woman continued.

“You come here often enough to notice newcomers?”

The woman smirked, lifting her glass to her lips.

The barkeep returned from the shelf lining the back of his workspace, a smudged glass tumbler in one hand, a bottle in the other, half-filled with that rich, amber liquid. He spun the bottle once, twice, making a show of some of the talent he’d picked up over the years. But he was slower with age, Shadow saw, more cautious on the spins and tosses – he didn’t trust his hands as much as he’d used to. He poured Shadow two belts, then set the glass in front of him.

Lifting the drink to his nose, Shadow sniffed—spiced, potent—and then stirred the glass. The first sip felt like it’d burned away the first layer of skin in his mouth. It burned on the way down, and burned when it go there, setting his stomach ablaze. But then it cooled, becoming tolerable, and then a satisfying kind of warmth, the well-made blanket of the soft, naked body of a woman. He took another sip, grimacing just as the woman beside him had, and then set the glass down.

“I’m looking for someone,” Shadow said, running a gloved finger along the rim of his glass. “Or, someone that can point me in the right direction.”

“Not sure if you noticed, son, but lots of people call this place home,” the barkeep said with a laugh. “You’d have to be a little more specific than that.”

“I hear you’ve got Camorra in town now?”

The Camorra were one of the older syndicates with ties to Genesaris, one of the few that had survived the numerous government-sanctioned purges of the centuries, and one of the many that had profited immensely from the abolishing of the old regime. They were big enough to have various sects and chapters, all of them scattered across the land. Palamon’s progression as a city-town had attracted them just like it had attracted all the others. They also happened to be one of the forerunners in the current conflict for control of the city.

“Lots of gangs here now,” the barkeep replied, poorly hiding the bitterness in his tone. He started wiping the bar, even though the spot had already been polished to a fine sheen. “Everyone’s trying to get themselves a little piece of territory. They’re carving this place up like meat.”

“Mm. But the Camorra, you know where I could find them?”

The barkeep sighed. “Ah. Looking to join up, huh?”

Shadow nodded. “Yeah.”

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Mayu kept her eye on shadow. Probably a bit too closely. As one of the Wild Boys sat at her table and lit up a cigarette. Mayu kept quiet, not wanting to make a scene. "So, whats a pretty thing like you doing lost in a place like this?" He asked. 

"Do you mind?" Mayu asked. 

"Mind? No, not at all, I'd be happy to show you around, all the bars, maybe even a club where you'll find plenty of work" He took a drag. As another pair stepped up behind her. "Look sweetie, this can be easy... or you can make it very, very hard" He said taking another drag. Mayu remembered that Shadow wanted this with as little collateral as possible. But what set her off as a hand creeping around her ribs and to her chest. Said Hand was yanked forward, and smashed with the thick bottom of the glass bottle. "Fuck!" The goon yelped out.

In an instant Mayu was up, her scabbard wacked the already injured man twice, once in the knee, and then again in the crown, putting him down and out for a while. The second made a lunge for her. She placed a hand on her sword, the bottom of the handle jabbing him several times in the gut, before her left foot shot up, connecting to his jawline, once on the ground the stool was dropped on his head in perfect timing, making for a one on one encounter. 

In an Iai-quickdraw, his cigarette was cut down to the filter. Before her sword was put away. "Those will kill you" she said, before smacking him on the crown, a loud crack echoed, and he'd fall limp. She'd probably just attracted way more attention that needed though. Which, she figured she'd likely be regretting soon.

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“Well, lucky you, the one—”

The barkeep’s gaze snapped up, thrown across the room toward the commotion. Shadow spun on his seat, hand already hovering over the iron hanging at his hip, but he wasn’t the only one. Everyone in the room had abandoned their activities—drinking, gambling, plotting, and scheming—to watch the mess unfold. All eyes were on Mayu and the thugs she’d thoroughly embarrassed. This is why I hate teams. This shit right here. Fortunately for them both, Shadow was quick on the draw.

He was out of his seat in a heartbeat, and he’d drawn his iron even faster. Whatever light from the outside that had cast a glow of pristine on the weapon was gone. It looked sick, almost festering. Ornate layers of bone wrapped around it, barrel to handle, like a shield of angry thorns. A steady hand leveled the weapon with Mayu as he moved to a larger table for cover, certain this would be but one shot of many to follow. That’s often all it took to get everyone in the place shooting; and that was all they needed to spin this the right way.

Here’s to hoping.

Hoping she’d pick up what he was putting down.

Hoping she was as quick as he believed her to be.

Hoping that her sword could contend with the bullets he was about to send her way.

Shadow fired once—it was a cutting, slicing sound. Sharp, vorpal. Whatever form of ammunition he’d placed in the weapon had changed, between the squeezing of the trigger and the hammer laying into it. The weapon pulsed with an eerie magic, a dark magic, and from its barrel came not a bullet, compact and destructive, but a long, tapered bar of metal meant to rend its victims asunder. He aimed high, looking at her shoulder, hoping it’d give her enough time to either evade of perform some samurai stunt shatter the bullet mid-air.

Already, the others in the room had followed suit, flipping tables, hiding behind corners, and bearing their weapons down on Mayu and each other. Besides, what better way to cull a few competitors than a free-for-all?

“Hey!” the barkeep shouted. “Take it outside!”

Bang, bang!

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Her sword came up, deflecting the round. nice Arashi laughed. She'd spin around breaking the nose of a would be attacker with her elbow. Following, her again scabbarded sword spun, cracking nearby assaulters in the face. one, Crack! two, Crack! three, Crack! and Four, men when down. Before hearing them say to take it outside. She'd kick a chair at the window and dive out only to see a group of another gangs men with clubs and objects. I know you're avoiding unnecessary bloodshed, but is it so dire that you risk yourself? Homura asked. Mayu would have to be very careful about her slashes if she wanted to avoid killing these idiots. 

She would place a hand on her sword, taking an Iai-quickdraw stance. The sword hummed with a yellow light. "Magnificent striking heavens, Piercing to the core. In the blink of an eye" She'd chant softly, before seemingly, sparking and suddenly being several yards from her previous location, on the other side of the men with clubs. The ground around them shot up electricity and dust. You fuckin' missed you dumb bitch! Arashi scolded. She'd sheath the sword 

She still had this other problem. She had picked up on Shadows idea, as far as not letting people know they were working together. But she had to make sure she had this right before moving forward. She needed to talk to him alone. "Homura" She said quietly. Drawing her sword and running at a large wall. "The hellfire reigns, His rage unbound" She swung sending a fireball into it, blasting a hole in the wall. Now all she needed was for shadow to follow her into the dust. Where, at least o one could see them on the other side of this wall. Just to be safe though... "Now, Kyofu" She said, sticking her sword down, creating a gust to make even more dust and debris. 

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By the time Mayu’s dust storm was in full effect, everyone in the bar had been shooting at each other for a solid five minutes. Two men lay dead by Shadow’s table, poor bastards brave enough to charge him, and nearly a score of others were flopped over other furniture, dead or dying, by shots that hadn’t rung from his cannon. The chaos of it all made for perfect cover, and without much notice—or so he thought—Shadow slipped out through the hole Mayu had blasted in the wall, wincing at the sudden change in light. It was still bright enough to prove a stark contrast of the tavern’s shady interior.

Steps—he whirled around, cannon raised, to find to Mayu.

“Don’t have much time,” he said, keeping his gun leveled and his voice down. There were people outside, witnesses, and they’d no doubt be questioned. It had to look like he was talking her down, not talking with her. “I’ve got an idea how to get us in, but you might not like it. You’ve marked yourself, and I’m going to use that. We’ll talk more about it later. Just follow my lead and take the hits in ten moves. It'll hurt like shit, but I'll take care of you.” He backed away, slowly. “And try not to kill me, please.” It wasn’t a matter of lacking confidence in his own abilities as much as it was he still only had a brief glimpse at her own.

The shots inside the bar grew closer, signaling the end of their conversation. In the blink of an eye, Shadow had pulled himself ten feet back. He fired off another two shots at her with a quick double-tap, aimed high for her convenience. Then he ran off to his side, taking cover behind a newly abandoned foot cart, but kept his eyes on Mayu the entire time. It was time for them to put on a show, and all of Palamon was to be their audience.

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Mayu had picked up on the idea, or at least part of it. "You hit something vital... and my dragons are going to enjoy your corpse." She said. It was less a threat and more a warning. Considering one of them had the means to heal, via taking another beings life force. She jumped back as well, the rounds placed perfectly for her to deflect them. Only the most expertly trained hunter would notice he aimed far to high to get a shot that close, and the audience couldn't see much anyway. It was also time to make this more believable... She'd swing the sword in a long and smooth circle, a faint blue light emitted. "Flow, and ebb, Course through the land. Raging river, gentle lake..." She chanted quietly. In a straight line, she'd thrust, from far away, sending a water jet in his direction. Though, she telegraphed it well enough, that even though it had enough pressure to cut through him and the wall behind him, he'd have to actively try to get hit by it. In this water stream, he'd also be able to see something none of the audience would, as well, due to the noise it made, hear something only he would hear. A blue dragons effigy made itself visible. Show me where, I will show you... He whispered. Gekiryu was easily the most uninterested in battle of her lineup. And thus, sought to end this with as little damage to him or her as possible. Mayu herself was still planning something as well, for Shadows convenience. 

Regardless of his reaction, the after effect was that the waters loss of pressure resulted in a large amount of it splashing around, even some still seeping out of the sword. It was also, despite being about as thick as a furring strip, at most, it was a copious amount of water, condensed, pressurized and fired in a straight line. Specifically, about 10 liters a second. She was also wet and dirty now too. This would likely only add to her ever rising bounty, but damned if she worked, damned if she didn't. 

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Dragons? Well, that doesn’t sound pleasant at all.

Shadow had heard stories growing up, like most kids, but he’d never seen one for himself. Not alive, anyway. There were hunters in the south that decorated their halls with the bones of the mythical creatures, skulls as large as a house, torsos bigger than a chimera, but there was no way to tell if they’d actually killed the beast or just pilfered its remains. People were shifty like that, and even shiftier when it came to glory, honor, and reputation. As far as he knew, dragons were extinct—had been for a long time, and that was that. But this girl, Mayu, spoke as though she had a whole nest of them, and Shadow had no intention on meeting them.

She shot a jet of water at him, and the attacked arched his brow in curiosity. Shadow noticed too late its real ability, its lethality, and even with the water spirit’s guidance, hesitated a moment too long. Shadow rolled out to the side, but not before the water cut over his shoulder, slicing through his jacket and adding a bit of red to its color as it pulled a gush of blood from it. It wasn’t deep enough to be debilitating, but it hurt like a son of a bitch. He ground his teeth, rolling onto his feet and leveling his iron, and fired back.

Again, he didn’t aim for anything vital, looking for her arm or shoulder this time. Another shot, this time for her left thigh, and then a third, for her right forearm. The sound cut through the rush of water, the clamoring of onlookers, and the shooting from inside the tavern. His ammunition spent, he flipped the chamber out to the side, emptying the spent cartridges and reloading them all in the blink of an eye, faster than any man had the right to be, and then was back to action, firing another volley at her.

The fighting inside was starting to settle down. They needed to wrap this up.

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She moved to avoid the rounds but as luck would have it, her thigh and her calf were struck. She fell to the ground, gripping her leg. "He got her I think!" Someone shouted. As the dust was settling, her sword was kicked aside by a man with a side arm. Asshole Arashi grumbled. I sincerely hope you know what you're doing... Homura grumbled. Mayu said nothing, only grunted in pain as a man approached, and put a foot on her chest. Aiming a large shotgun at her. "Don't move." He said, Mayu looked up at him. As another leaned down, placing a hand on her face in a rather demeaning manner, forcing a gaze at him. She'd spit on him, though this only yielded a firm slap across the face.

A pair went to Shadow. They'd do the general thing these kinds of organizations did. They'd ask him basic questions, if he was interested in making money, the usual. Though the topic of Mayu was brought up, Mayu wasn't entirely sure how he planned to handle that. But trusted him to do so without getting her killed, or worse. One of them would toss Shadow a silver coin, one side with a skull, the other with an insignia. "An advance" He called it. The coin was a contract coin. Essentially, giving him the right to take up, or order a hit on someone.

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Whoever was talking to him, Shadow didn’t hear them. He watched as the goons poured out from the hole in the wall, circling Mayu as they proceeded to vent their frustrations over the mess and hassle and embarrassment of having been caught flat-footed, by a woman no less. Shadow’s grip tightened on the handle of his iron, and he pushed his way over to them. These men weren’t particularly terrifying – not real gunslingers, judging by how many had survived the scrap inside, and not imposing of size by any right – or impressive, and their continued efforts only proved as much. “That’s enough,” Shadow grunted as he moved them back with his unarmed hand.

They didn’t stop. One spit in Mayu’s hair; the other drove heel into her stomach.

Shadow grabbed one of the men by the collar and drove the butt of his iron into his nose with a wet crunch. The man yelped and fell away, palming the bleeding stump on his face. In the blink of an eye, Shadow whipped to the side and fired twice—the first blasted the blade from the other man’s hand, and the bit off his kneecap. He collapsed on the floor holding his wounded leg, shrieking like a dying man. “I said that’s enough.” Others had gathered around them, weapons drawn, and Shadow leveled his barrel with them. Bright, violet light began coalescing in his free hand, weaving around his fingers.

“Easy, easy,” a smooth voice called out from the crowd. It was the woman from the bar, gun in her hand, a fine cut across her forehead. “No need for all that.”

“This fucker ruined my leg!”

“Well, maybe you should’ve listened to him. That’s his catch, after all.”

Shadow looked at the woman, sizing her up. “You get it.”

She nodded. “I do.”

He eyed the men surrounding them one more time, then lowered his weapon, sliding it back into its hostler without a flourish. The light in his hand dissipated as well.

“You’re pretty good with that.”

“There wouldn’t be much point in having it if I wasn’t.”

Shadow knelt down and pushed Mayu onto her back, pressing a hand to her throat. “If you don’t want to die in agony, you’ll let me do what I need to without interruption.” He hoped she’d catch the sincerity in his voice – her wounds were already beginning to fester as the bullets dissolved, feeding their vicious poison into her veins. He worked on her shoulder first, wrenching what remained of the stake from the hole it had bored in her. The bullet turned to ash in his hand, as did the one he removed from her thigh.

“What’re you going to do with her?” the woman asked.

Shadow shrugged, retrieving a small pouch from his belt. “Maybe I’ll keep her? She’s pretty enough. Every man needs something nice to look at while he’s traveling.”

“You won’t.”

“No?” He looked up at the woman. Her eyes were keener than he remembered, sizing him up now. She studied him for a quiet moment, then shook her head again.

“She isn’t your type.” At that she smirked.

“You think you know my type, huh?”

She dropped down into a crouch beside him, smirking. “Well, why don’t you bring this one to my boss’ estate later this evening. He’s got an auction going and, like you said, she’s pretty enough. As for you, maybe you and I can see what your type really is, huh?”

Shadow frowned a bit, focusing on dumping the white powder on Mayu’s wounds, then rubbing it in.

“It’s a rare offer. There aren’t many that get to attend the Camorra auctions.”

“All right.”

“It’s on the north end of town—you can’t miss it. Be there at sunset, tomorrow. Tell them you're a guest of Izeena.”

“Got’cha.”

The woman rose and gestured to a handful of the men around them, and they departed the scene. The others lingered, perhaps contemplating another dust up now that one of the heavy hitters was gone—Shadow shot them a glance, and the ideas died. They grumbled, collected their wounded, and set off. Finished with the medicine, Shadow pointed at her. “You stay right here.” Not like she’d be running for a bit, anyway. He retrieved his helmet from inside the bar and came back to his prize wearing it, collecting both her and her sword, and made off in search of a place to stay the night.

###

Their room wasn’t anything special and neither was the hotel, but it was on the second floor at the end of the hall, with dense walls and no attic. The chances of their new acquaintances eavesdropping were slim to none. “That worked out better than I’d expected.” He set Mayu down on the bed, leaning her sword against the edge. “I guess they really dislike troublemakers like you, huh?” He slid off his helmet, then his gloves, and finally unfastened his gunbelt and set it on a drawer. The sudden sting in his shoulder, like a sharp pinch deep in the muscle, reminded him of the cut she’d given him.

“Thanks, by the way.” Shadow nodded at her sword, pressing a palm to his shoulder. The bleeding had stopped, at least. “For not killing me, I mean. I’m sure you could have.”

Edited by King

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