Koriojo watched the shadows move in the spare light of the apartment, leaning slightly over the opposite rooftop to see.
Something's wrong, she thought. There's too much movement in the apartment for one person. Unless he's brought someone--No.
She pulled back as a skycar whizzed past. Traffic was beginning to pick up -- service trucks, some personal cars were starting to fill the skyways above the street. Soon it would be too crowded, too busy for a perfect hit. Soon things would get messy.
She leaned back over the ledge, glaring as she made out the vague but familiar shape in the apartment.
No, she thought. How. Dare. He.
Koriojo bit her lip, her rage nearly causing her temperature control to go out of balance.
Tenma, she thought. He'd gotten there first, damn him. Karasu must have sent him there. She blinked, looking for someone else. But where's his wife?
She saw the muted flash of his red eye and sighed. There was no doubt now, he had gotten there first. But how? It took her more than four hours to find Ademetria's apartment, another two to stake it out and wait for him.
Karasu must have led him there, apart from Akage, she thought. By breaking them up he maintains his control over us. Well, perhaps I can make this work to my advantage.
I'll wait for one of them to prevail, then kill the survivor and claim the victory for myself.
The quiet sound of the piano continued on in the apartment even after Kienan had seen the strange armored being step out of the shadows. Kienan kept playing the slow waltz he'd started a half-hour ago with one hand, his red-gloved fingers dancing across the keys as his other hand quietly slid one of his pistols from his holster.
He saw the sinister face of Tenma reflected in the ebony of his piano, the mad metal rictus of his mask drifting over the smooth surface of the piano like a silent spirit moving through a darkened graveyard.
Tenma didnt bother making his approach silent, there was no need. They both knew the other was there, and they both knew what they were there for.
Kienan sped up now, his playing becoming faster, more kinetic, almost as if he were matching the quiet tension of Tenma's footsteps with music, as his other hand slowly brought the pistol up to the top of the piano.
Tenma reached for his sword just as Kienan's fingers finished the waltz, two heavy notes of ominous finality. They were still echoing in the room when he brought the gun up and fired twice at Tenma, just as he closed his hand on his sword. The two shots mingled with the notes and made a sound of discord and chaos.
Jayla-2 dreamt of someone other than herself, in a time she remembered as belonging to someone else.
It was another time--another her. She'd figured it out early enough when she'd put the palms of her hands to her face and saw soft pink flesh instead of the usual grey. The tears, blood mixed with water, told her even more.
I'm not me, I'm her. Jayla. The awareness rustled through her disturbed sleep like leaves kicked up by cold autumn winds.
She--Jayla--not herself, was arguing with someone as she sat on the bed crying. She could only see the person's shadow from the bathroom. The shadow was hard to fully discern through her tear-streaked eyes, but on some level, Jayla-2 knew.
This wasn't a dream. It was a memory pretending to be a dream. Or a nightmare.
Kienan was going again. Why was he going? Why was he always leaving her? Wasn't she good enough? Didn't he realize how much she needed him there? He was so strong, the way he held her made everything still and everything all right, even if only for a little while, and seemed to keep the yawning chasm Jayla had felt under her feet from at least splitting any wider.
For awhile. Then he was leaving again. Or she was leaving him, because sometimes she just got so sick of him and his secrets and his silence and how both of them reminded her far too much of her own secrets and silence.
More tears, this time along with the urge to get the injector and escape. Yes, she could remember it even now. The steady thrum of the Rush as it suffused her body and made her heart beat so fast she felt nothing at all, as if she could fly over that chasm as it opened beneath her.
No, Jayla-2 thought, her own thoughts reasserting themselves in the odd mix of nightmare and memory she found herself trapped in. Dont use it, dont hide. Tell him you need him. Stop waiting for him to figure it out!
She felt her hands--no, they weren't her hands--reaching for the injector.
Feeble hands dulled with drugs and slick with bloody tears cinched the injector over her eyes--not HER eyes, no--with the almost subliminal precision of a ritual.
Dont DO this!
Escape again, this time in painful darkness.
"NO!" Jayla-2 said, sitting bolt upright on the couch. She put her hands to her eyes, her fingers trembling as she almost expected to pull them back and see those odd pink tears. She finally managed a deep breath once she saw she was once again herself.
It seemed to make her feel better, so she took a few more, keenly aware someone was watching her in the still darkness.
"Are you all right?" Vain asked.
"I dont know," Jayla-2 said. "I just had a terrible dream . . .or memory . . .maybe both."
Vain just looked at her, and if she made a judgement about what Jayla-2 has just said, she gave no sign.
"I'm still . . .worried about Kienan."
Vain looked out the window. "Kienan will be fine." She blinked for a second then turned slowly to her. "Was he in your dream?"
"Uh . . .yes," Jayla-2 said, not entirely prepared for Vain's sudden interest. "He was . . .leaving. I . . .well, not me, exactly, but . . .I lost him."
Vain looked at her, and in her impassive expression, Jayla-2 saw the briefest flicker of understanding pass between them.
"You have to believe he'll be fine, Jayla-2," Vain said. "You have to believe he'll return for you. You won't lose him."
Jayla-2 looked down and then looked back at her.
"Is that what you believe."
Vain looked out the window again, turning completely away from Jayla-2 now.
"If I believed anything else," she said quietly. "I could not go on."
Bullets had proved useless against the intruder and he wasn't close enough to use his knife, so Kienan went with what was nearest at hand, slipping his pistol back into its holster in one smooth motion as he stood up and whipped the piano bench out from under himself, seizing two of its legs and swinging with all the strength he could manage.
It actually stunned Tenma, knocking him off balance as the bench splintered against his face. Kienan struck again with the remains of the bench but this time Tenma was ready. He drew his sword from its sheath on his back and slashed through the ruined wood, destroying the crude bludgeon. Kienan slipped to the side, drawing his knife and sizing up his opponent.
Fast as me, but heavily armored, he thought. Bullets wont do any good unless I can get past his armor.
Tenma slashed at him again. Kienan rolled onto his back, driving his feet into the intruder's throat and pushing him back against the wall. Tenma's red eye, formerly muted, now glowed an angry, hateful, red as it moved back and forth, back and forth.
Kienan opened his stance, still holding his knife. He tossed it casually to his left hand, watching Tenma's sword arm with one eye as he found a likely target with the other. In the blink of an eye, Tenma changed his stance and attacked again, but this time Kienan was ready.
As Tenma's sword came down, ready to cleave him from shoulder to hip, Kienan jammed his shoulder against Tenma's elbow, the impact of the intruder's armor sending a jolt of pain through Kienan's body.
As he blocked the sword's arc Kienan spun around, brandishing his knife. He dug the point of the blade between two plates on Tenma's chest. The point resisted, but Kienan put his foot down until he felt the blade sliding between the armor plate. An inch deep, maybe two.
It was enough. He leaned back, trying to pry the plate loose. He felt it giving a little, but by now Tenma had recovered and now closed his hand around Kienan's face, lifting him off the ground.
Tenma regarded the man he held, his oscillating red eye taking in all sorts of data for his tactical computers to digest, the man within wondering why and where this mere human was finding so much strength to resist.
Oh well, Tenma thought. Not that it will matter very much in a few moments.
Tenma's sword hand brought the point of the blade up to Kienan's chest. Even with his armor, with Tenma's strength, he would punch through it as easily as a pencil could be pushed through tissue paper.
The headlights of a passing skycar caught the tip of Tenma's blade, bathing the two of them in light for a moment. There was a momentary flux in Tenma's scanning eye, for two reasons. One to allow for the change in ambient light.
The other to process why, under Tenma's iron grip, was his target smiling?
He didnt have to wait long for the answer. Kienan raised his knife and drove it with all the strength he had into Tenma's sensor eye. When the first strike only scratched it, Kienan jabbed at it a few more times, pounding the point of his blade against it.
Tough material, he thought. Almost like my window.
He reared back and slammed the point in one more time, and the outer covering came loose with a satisfying crack. Tenma pitched him backwards, over his piano to the far wall. Kienan fell to the floor, his heels still on the piano.
He tried to clear his head, but the impact had jolted him bad. Everything was a little too blurry for its own good, and in the darkness of the room, that was going to get him killed.
His silent assassin was a strange collection of blobs, the light from his scanner eye diffracting like a mirror throwing back a shattered reflection. Kienan drew his pistols. They wouldnt stop him, but they might slow him down.
Bullets ripped through the lid of the piano and ricocheted off Tenma, who was trying to make his way around the piano now to Kienan. Simply slashing through the instrument wasn't an option at the moment--the fool had damaged his eye. The image of the room, lit brilliantly by his night vision, tended to skitter, fill with static, and intermittently black out.
Tenma switched to his other scanners. Kienan's heart and pulse rate registered perfectly. Like a bat finding his way through a cave he knew exactly where Kienan was. Sounds he was certain even Ademetria didnt know he made were giving him away.
Kienan watched, moving silently around the piano, noticing the oscillation of his eye had stopped. Had he shut it down, he wondered? No, of course not. A cyborg that sophisticated would have plenty of ways to mark him. He must have switched to sonar, or something like it.
Kienan shuffled around, his fingers sliding over the keys. His head was clearing and with the clarity had come a way to gain the upper hand. Tenma was close, his face was just inches from his hand.
Come on . . .
Tenma moved even closer, detecting the pulse in Kienan's fingers. Kienan closed his fist and banged on the keys as hard as he could, over and over again. Tenma, caught between the sound of the keys and the resonance within the piano was disoriented, his precision scanning and lock on Kienan momentarily disrupted.
Kienan wasted no time and slid under the piano, through Tenma's legs, right behind him. He rolled to his feet and seized his Tenma's mane of white hair.
How in the hell do you plan to kill me when I can deafen you with a single note? Kienan thought, cinching his hands in Tenma's hair. He drove Tenma's head into the polished ebony over and over again, creating more strange sounds and disorienting Tenma even more. Like before, when he'd tried to take his eye from him, there had been resistance, but gradually, the wood of the piano splintered, groaned, then finally gave way with a death knell that sounded as musical as it did tragic.
Tenma crashed through the piano, splitting it in two, the two halves falling on top of him as he hit the floor. Kienan raised his knife as he searched for Tenma's sword. It lay just out of reach of his outstretched hand, surrounded by a fan of keys that looked like loose fingers of their own.
Kienan looked over the ruined remains of his piano with visible sorrow, and sighed. He'd had it for years. When the women and friends had come and gone it had always been there with him, always eager to hear his music. In a way, it had been closer to him than anyone had or ever would be.
Now he'd used that dear friend to kill an enemy.
Within himself, he felt another note of discord.
Wong walked quietly along the city streets, virtually alone. Even this late at night, no one was about. No one walking, anyway. The early morning traffic whizzed a hundred feet above his head. Soon it would be morning, or what passes for it on the local colony.
It was a nice enough place to live, he supposed. But it seemed small, hardly, the sort of place a chief of the Syndicate could be expected to extend their grasp over an entire sector of space from.
Or maybe it's me, he thought. My inner showman crying for a bigger stage.
He sighed and walked along a few more blocks, taking note of the street signs. Hantu Street was a couple of blocks down from here, he thought. I could pay a late night visit to Mao. Dazzle him with my intimate knowledge of his mind.
Well, not mine. But knowledge borrowed secondhand.
He thought about how this had all gotten started. How she had come to him a year or so ago--it was hard to tell, as all the planning and anticipation had cause the rest of the time to go by almost like a rollercoaster.
How she offered him everything he could have wanted. Power, influence, access to the upper echelons of the Syndicate.
Oh, and a consort, he thought. But we dont talk about that very often, do we? Neither of us is much looking forward to that part of it, but marriage, even a loveless one, was worth what it ensured.
For me, power. All I ever wanted. For her . . .well, who knows?
He'd known her for some time now, but never felt as though he had a firm grasp on her mind or her ambitions. Perhaps because she never seemed to lead from her mind, only from her instincts. He sometimes wondered if all she were living for were her vengeance. What would she do without that to sustain her?
Just like a woman, he thought, kicking a piece of trash out of his path. Ruled entirely by passion and too emotional to be depended on. I think something may have to be done about her soon after our plans are complete. After all, any woman willing to kill her own father is willing to kill anyone. All she needs is a reason.
He walked down another block, his footsteps louder than he expected. He
spared a glance up at the street signs and found that despite his conscious
effort not to go, he'd found his way to
Almost as if something urges me onward, he thought. Or someone. I wonder, does Korin think of me as her partner in her revenge, or does she think of me simply as another means to an end?
Perhaps she's planning to dispose of me when our plans are achieved just as I am.
Then I must deal with her first.
He pondered that for a moment and smiled thinly to himself, enjoying his own private joke. It would be a short honeymoon for two of them, but really, soon enough he'd be too busy to ever miss her.
Tenma's fingers reached for his sword. His sensors had been scrambled for a second, or had it been a minute? His systems had shut down and rebooted and the part of his mind that was still organic had felt disoriented.
How much time had he lost? Had he been killed?
No, it couldnt have been that long. He was still there, and the dust was still settling from his fall. And his sword was so close. If he could just roll it a little closer with one finger . . .
Kienan was behind him. His sonar told him so. He was hovering over him, knife in hand, reaching for his sword. He planned to kill him while he was incapacitated.
Tenma's hand grabbed the hilt of his sword, rolled onto his back and swiped at Kienan in one lightning fast motion. Kienan backpedaled as the edge of Tenma's blade drew a slash through his red vest. Tenma struck again while he was off-balance, kicking Kienan hard in the stomach.
Kienan fell back against the wall, the impact causing the familiar blue sparks behind his eyes. Cracked rib, maybe more than one, he thought. His hands wanted to drop his knife, but he didnt dare. Tenma was rising to his feet, his scanner eye throwing jagged red over his field of vision.
Kienan rolled to the side just in time for Tenma's fist to through the wall, exposing the crisscrossing network of power cables within. Kienan rolled to the floor but didn't make it. Tenma had his braid in one fist and yanked him closer to him like a dog on a leash.
He grit his teeth, feeling the burning pain of Tenma's insistent tugging. He put a foot on Tenma's chest as he reached out with his free hand, at least holding him in stalemate until he could find something to free himself with.
His fingers tangled in the remains of the piano, finding a length of wire. It wasn't exactly what he wanted, but he could improvise. Tenma was tugging harder on his hair, and he knew one clean-and-jerk motion could rip the hair from his scalp.
If he were lucky, half the skin on his head wouldn't come with it.
Closer and closer Tenma pulled him. Kienan kept bracing against him, dragging the wire in one hand and the knife in the other. He could feel the blood starting to seep from where Tenma was pulling. It felt hot and he could hear it starting to mat it his hair.
Kienan slid his foot off Tenma in time for him to yank him up to his feet. Kienan jammed the butt of his knife into Tenma's eyepiece again. This time, the outer shield broke away altogether and with a quiet tinkling sound, Kienan's knife smashed the delicate scanner eye within.
Tenma screamed and threw Kienan off him, but Kienan wasn't going to be denied. He slid through Tenma's flailing arms and looped the length of piano wire around Tenma's neck, sawing it between the plates of his armor.
Tenma was still occupied with the problem of his main sensor bring destroyed, and his spasming made Kienan all the more conscious the improvised garrote was a sword with two edges. He could feel it starting to abrade his gloves, and all he'd managed to do was get the wire wedged in between the neck plates.
Tenma's presence of mind finally returned and he threw himself backward, smashing Kienan into, and through the wall. More pain exploded through Kienan's body as plaster rained down on them. His back muscles twitched with painful nausea.
Tenma must have jammed me up against a strut, he thought. I cant hold on.
Tenma staggered forward, the length of wire dangling from his neck. He was looking for something, but Kienan was still trying to clear his mind from the pain.
The thought buzzed in the back of his mind like a signal fighting it was clear.
His sword, Kienan thought. He dropped his sword.
Tenma was slowly picking his way through the wreckage, two steps, maybe three, away from finding it. Kienan took a deep breath, shuddered with the pain it caused him and took a chance.
He slid along the floor, through Tenma's legs again, and grabbed the sword, jamming it into the spot where he'd loosened the plates of armor. He tried again to pry it open, but Tenma's steel was no match for his. He heard the tip of the blade snap off, tumble against the plate, get sucked into something deeper inside him.
If Tenma had been discombobulated before, now he was absolutely frozen. Kienan looked at him, then past him, at the two holes in the wall of his apartment.
He'd staggered him before, but now he knew he'd have to finish him.
If he has anything left, I'm not in any condition to counter him.
He hefted the remains of Tenma's sword in his hand as he sheathed his knife. He seized the end of wire with his other hand, looping the wire around the metal end of the blade. Still holding the sword, he used his other hand to push Tenma back through one of the holes in the wall, right next to one of the power cables.
Kienan took the sword and drove it into the cable, the energy from the cable blowing him back against the far wall. He watched as smoke poured from Tenma, his hair starting to catch fire. Kienan lay on the floor a few feet away, feeling slightly cooked, but grateful the insulation in his gloves hadnt been completely cut away.
His heart felt like it wanted to leap out of his chest through his throat, but he shut out as much of the pain as he could. There was another sound now. A loud humming coming from Tenma. The precise sound was new to Kienan, but he knew perfectly well what it meant.
An assassin is always willing to do whatever it takes to complete the mission, even if it means sacrificing his own life in the process. Kienan knew what was coming, because it was precisely what he had been prepared to do as well.
The humming was loud, so loud Kienan could feel it through the floor as he got to his feet. Wouldnt be long.
He drew one of his pistols and fired three times at the large window on the far wall of the apartment, then took two steps forward, holstered his pistol and leaned against one of the large white chairs in the living room.
First my piano, now my apartment, Kienan thought bitterly, starting to push the chair as the humming got even louder and deeper. The Onikage seem determined that I pay dearly for every single victory.
He pushed it faster now, his strength returning little by little, running with a mixture of adrenaline and desperation. Finally, completing the distance, he planted his feet, pivoted and threw the chair through the window.
It shattered, falling like a waterfall into a pool just a few steps from his feet.
Not the best launching pad, he thought, the humming so loud now, he could barely think over it. But I dont have a choice.
Kienan leapt out, pushing off with all the strength he could muster and praying something would catch his fall other than the street below. Behind him, his apartment, his home for the past few years was incinerated as Tenma exploded, erasing any evidence of his life.
His salvation would have knocked the wind out of him, had he been able to draw any breath. The slow-moving sky truck had just enough room on the hood to allow him a brief perch. Kienan blinked and took a breath. It still hurt, but he'd take what he could get.
He became aware of an odd thumping and saw the driver pounding on the windshield, trying to wave him off. Kienan glared at him with a tired rage and drew one of his pistols, pointing it at the driver's heart. The driver took one look at the gun, then at Kienan, his own eyes got as big as saucers, and he stopped protesting, looking past Kienan and desperately trying to pretend none of this was happening.
Kienan clambered over the hood, to the roof of the cab and slumped on top of the sky truck's cargo hold, breathing slowly.
"Take the fight to them," he thought. That turned out to be a little easier said than done. Still, one down, six to go.
He was about to lift his arm and holster his pistol when a pointed toe, strangely misting and translucent blue, came down on his forearm, and even through the insulation in his body armor, Kienan felt the creeping cold seeping into him.
Five to go, he thought.