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The City's Dark Jewel
He did not retaliate. They never did.

How disappointing.

She did not watch him slink away, already finished with the irritation of his childish emotions; like he felt she owed him something.

The voracity of her own reaction disturbed her, though. Not the snap of anger, nor the cruelty of driving more pain into the cop's still bleeding wounds, but the source of that feeling. Because, oh, that sentiment was not hers. Her palm spread across her chest like she sought the vibration of her own heart, remembering that drifting sense of pressure.

A column of light finally infiltrated the darkness now the sparking electricity was doused. Shapes filtered in to locate Kasun, among them the drift of Ilya's gaunt frame; drawn by curiosity, she imagined, rather than any sense of duty. He held up two fingers, a faint smile of debt flickering his lips as he swept passed to investigate. Ori's gaze followed, utterly still, before she pulled away. Belligerence stiffened her muscles. She refused to care if the wolf lived or died.

But someone stopped her in the dark chamber beyond; the woman whose laughter had followed Ori into the ring. A resonance echoed now she cared to notice, and something else too. The power still shifted volatile through her veins, frustration grown a fragile tower.
Like many others around him, Ryker took to his feet when the sparks flew. When the lights fell and the screens fuzzed, he alone realized what was happening. The power pulsed like a head-wound. Ivan’s channeling was ferocious, and Ryker growled with jealousy that the younger man wielded it so effortlessly. When the safety lights glowed clear paths, Ryker took them, but rather than ascend with the crowd, he plunged below.

By the time he located Ivan, the fight was concluded and the excitement passed on. The stench of the Almaz’ bowels snarled in his throat, but Ryker was not tempted to add to the blood soaking these walls. Marble-white eyes landed on the nearest man thinking to halt his explorations, their force thwarting what meager courage mounted. The real meat of the Almaz stalked the entrances above them; only the scrawniest of guards slunk these decrepit pits. Nobody cared who braved the darkness and enter.

Arms crossed, he was leaning along a wall when Ivan emerged. He looked worse for wear.  “Feel better?” His question pierced the dark domain hovering between them, but he didn’t push away. Not yet.
It did not last long. Perhaps the pair were mismatched, or the man simply too exhausted from his fight with the wolfkin. Blood oozed from wounds, the snarl on his face vicious. Pain throttled the words, not just from the obvious, and she wondered what had driven him to the pits in the first place. Like Li he did not belong here. The tarnish on such gentle souls drew her like moth to flame.

The woman blazed, though. Reckless or foolish. She unfurled to the outer reaches of power, more than Nhysa had sensed from any other, though the task of destruction hardly warranted the effort. When the threads finally dropped loose she watched with a curious light in her eye to see what might happen, but the man retreated, and shortly after the handlers descended with Ilya.

It was truly over.

Nhysa felt the dark nudge around her ankles like a slinking cat, bumping her footsteps toward the pit. She enjoyed broken things, and was more inclined to follow the man's departure, shadows thrown like spindly monsters by the glowing light in his wake, than stay to watch the clean up. But she also knew when to listen. A short sigh burned in her lungs, dark gaze moving for a moment to Li, like he might be moved to support her case. But arguments with creatures that lived in shadows seemed a burden too far on shoulders that only recently admitted to reevaluating the things that should be allowed to live from the things that should die.

She stopped the woman by grabbing her wrist, undeterred by the look on her face or the volatile shift of power beneath her skin. Though Nhysa would defend herself if she needed to, she did not reach out into the darkness in retaliation, caught instead on some faint resonance of familiarity she assumed must be the hum of a channeler’s power. Her thumbs grazed the ragged edges of healing wounds inside the woman's forearms.

The woman's expression flickered, but she did not immediately pull away.

“War with who?” It was more curiosity than demand; Nhysa's loyalties to the Custody were enduring as stone, but she did not necessarily seek to snuff conspiracy. Peace did not suit her. But she rarely reacted without instruction.

A cruel smile lifted the woman's lips, vacant from the coldness in her eyes. Her arm slithered free. She did not answer, just began to walk away.
He wasn't sure how long he let the water wash over him. And with it tiredness. His limbs shook as the last of the adrenaline dribbled away, as if carried down the drain. Fight or flight, right? Your body fills to the brim- and God knew he already had so many reasons to be angry- and you just explode.

And now the aftermath. It had been cathartic, that fight. Every blow, every strike, even every hit he received, seemed to pull something free from his soul, ripping out a hook of bloody flesh from his heart and flinging it away.

Not permanent, he knew. In the end, nothing was solved. But despite being on fire, he felt at peace. Or at least empty. He wondered if they were the same.

Toweling off was agony itself, it coming away pink and red streaking white. Yeah, he was going to have to go to a hospital. The guy had ripped into him with nails and teeth. Tetanus was a real possibility, aside from outright infection.

One of the staff down here helped him patch up all his bleeding wounds and tears. His muscles screamed as he redressed, though he didn't put the jacket on. Shirt, pants and shoes was enough. Walking- and breathing slowly- he emerged and found Ryker leaning against a wall, waiting for him

Ivan laughed softly despite the stab of his pain from his jaw. "Yeah. I guess I do. Nothing's changed of course. But still." He bridged the distance. "I'm pretty sure I need to go to a hospital to get patched up." Peering through only one eye- the other swollen shut, his busted lips hurt as he tried to smirk. "Can't lose the money maker. People might think we're twins."
Nhysa confronted the woman from before. Her pet wolf in the ring. Li wanted to sneer. She too wield the power of the gods. Moscow appeared to be full of everything unnatural. It was a true marvel at how the city hadn't imploded from its own darkness. The question that left Nhysa's lips was left unanswered and Li was unsure of whether to follow or not, but he ascended the same direction anyway. Li spoke a calming mantra in his head as he reached for the power inside. Defense he told him. The one true purpose of the great gift of light. He wasn't sure who he was more afraid of, the darkness, or the woman who tried to be scarier than it. And he was walking within range of two such women.

Li spoke quietly into the darkness directed at neither woman. "You bring a pet but you don't take very good care of it. Another might take it from you." But the wolf didn't deserve to die, however the thrill seeking godling - he was damaging property - he might need to be watched.
“What you must do," said Monkey, "is lure the monster from its hiding place, but be certain it is a fight you can survive.” 
― Wu Cheng'en, Monkey: The Journey to the West


If Ivan needed the shit beat out of him to feel better, Ryker might have obliged, assuming he was asked nicely. Instead, it was far more interesting to watch the derangement of the gilded detective of the CCD. Like watching a shining sword rust before their eyes, Ryker’s smirk was proud. Until the comment about their faces landed on dangerous ground.

Ryker did not laugh. No snort or smirk flickered his otherwise severe expression. Instead, he took a single step, mangled jaw set tight, eyes narrowed to mismatched orbs. The monster within crawled across his skin like a parasite eruption, ready to spring its claws at Ivan.

Instead, he stopped himself from retaliating. The insult was delivered with friendly banter, but Ryker would give the fledgling ally a chance to atone. The next insult would relieve him of his tongue, however. He did not take kindly to remarks about his disfigurement.

His voice scrawled deep and guttural, throat tense, teeth snapped. “Go find your doctor. Let’s find Yun Kao when you can see with both eyes again. You’ll need them.”
Ryker did not intend to leave alone.

When he returned to the main level, the survey of his gaze was found wanting. The only woman of any real beauty was Oriena, but she was a poisoned apple he did not want to bite. Instead, he was on the verge of telling Yun Kao he would be paying her a visit that night when another message diverted his attention.

He was not a swordarm of the Custody; an errand boy to be dealing death like delivering packages. The job may have fallen to a number of agencies of which a variety of members were qualified to carry out. But he was bored in Ivan's absence, and still waters hid the most ferocious of monsters. He could still fuck Yun Kao afterward. Assassinating a 72-year-old civilian was hardly a challenge.

Ultimately, he left unaccompanied.
Nhysa had no real inclination to follow the woman, though she could feel the darkness tugging at her ankles and knew better than to resist her companion’s suggestions. Memories curled like shadows in a way that tugged a faint smile to her lips. She was about to respond to Li’s murmurings when the interruption of a message drew her brows low; an unexpected intrusion, at least so soon, though when its decidedly menial nature became clear she rolled her eyes as she slipped the device back in her pocket. Messenger had never exactly been a feature on her resume; they were treating her with kid gloves, like the damn wound on her stomach made her fragile.

Still, a job was a job. Nhysa might consider it a task beneath her, but she did not question.

And she only briefly considered the darkness’s penance for ignoring its call.

“Duty calls. Apparently the plan is to ease me in gently.” Her lips twitched into a smirk. “But let’s not leave it so long next time. Can I call you?”
Nhysa got a call. That was usual. He remembered getting those spur of the moment gigs. Except hers were likely more dangerous. At least if she gets injuries like that on them. More like his side job, but then again did he need to kill them? Maybe there was another way. At least that was something to persue - to think about. All thanks to Nhysa.

Li chuckled at her comment. "Ease is better than throwing you to the wolves or out on your ass." Li smiled as he tilted his wallet to send the contact information to hers. "But of course." It wasn't everyday he gave his number to woman. Specially a strange woman he met on an Atharim case. But it made him smile. At least her outside the job activities aligned with his.
“What you must do," said Monkey, "is lure the monster from its hiding place, but be certain it is a fight you can survive.” 
― Wu Cheng'en, Monkey: The Journey to the West


If her contract ever terminated, she imagined she would be too, in the very literal sense. Death didn’t frighten her, though she by no means desired that end to come about any time soon. Still, the quirk of her smile suggested she’d have rather taken the wolves than the mundane task before her. No complaints though, even if Li had been someone she could have complained to. They swapped information, and the smile on his face sparked one of her own as she said goodbye. Of course, if he knew where she was going and what she would be doing, that smile might not have been so bright.

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