Reven stared at the man's back. He could see the tension there, although Inoue's voice seemed calm. The prickling fear was threatening him again, raising the hairs at the back of his neck. But he had to proceed.

"Eiji?" he said, lightly, and saw the body shiver slightly. "Tell me what you know of him, Eiji. Where's his base? Did you ever see him? We need some idea of his routine - of his accessibility." They were only two, however skilled.

It'd be suicidal to break in somewhere where the man was well guarded - a man he didn't know the name or description of yet. A man who knew him far better - and wanted him dead.

But they needed to move in on him quickly - he'd be after them again. Soon.

"I know his smell... and his taste. I know his voice and his touch, and I know the way he holds the knife... I know the way he breathes and the way he moves..." he shuddered. "But I can't see his face, no matter how hard I try. Inoue knows road names and I know landmarks, so we... I can guide you there. It isn't some complicated base, just a regular mansion-- but it's full of men and women, killers and pets alike, all ready to slit another's throat for one glance from their master."

Eiji rubbed the backs of his arms slowly. "I'm not afraid of death, Reven, nor pain. Not much frightens me, but he does."

Reven felt his chest constrict, with the anticipation. This was going to be something very different from their previous missions. "We must get in there, Eiji. You know that. We'll make ourselves one of those companions, one of those pets - he'll never expect to find us in amongst his very playthings. But then we can get close to him. We can finish him."

He caught Inoue's eyes with his own and stared his defiance. "We can make him suffer, Inoue!" He watched the nervous gestures of the other man's arms. Inoue nodded, but he looked angry, as if he couldn't control all of his reactions, and despised himself for it. Or despised Eiji.

"Eiji," called Reven, watching for the flicker of consciousness in Inoue's dark pupils. "You'll hold that fear inside you. You'll keep it out of reach. And you'll be with me."

He sighed softly. "Pets won't work; he'd recognize us in an instant, and so would his men; they had their fair share of time with me as well. It's going to be a mission unlike the rest, certainly-- the simplest and fastest way in is to storm the front and just kill. Kill them all, one by one, and not let a single being escape." He nodded firmly to assure himself and Reven. "Pets and killers alike, all will fall under our blade, so that not a one stands when we're done, and nobody can say they saw the faces of Reven or Inoue or Eiji in their entire lives. We'll slay them."

A darkness passed over Inoue's face, and he stared coldly at the scars on his hands before looking back up at Reven, eliminating any chance for his partner to argue. "We strike hard and clean, like true killers."

He lifted his left hand and placed it on Reven's shoulder, the same one Inoue had his own mark of the assassin upon. "We hunt," he said in barely a whisper.

Reven looked at the blazing eyes of his partner and felt his heart chill. This was the man who'd taken him in and taught him the ways to kill - the man whose experience was second to none. But this was also the man who'd suffered most horribly at the hands of this intended target.

"It'll be done, Inoue," he said. He could hear the harshness of his tone, but it was steadier than Inoue's. There was a taint of madness to Inoue's speech; a tang of desperate fury in his expression. Reven was seeing the combined man - the anger, and the desires, and the vengefulness.

Reven realised he was needed for more than just support this time; his skills would be needed for more than just following Inoue. His role was different.

"Let me work on something to strike at the house first - let's take out as many as we can before we get hand to hand. In the confusion, we can make our way wherever we like - but we'll cut our path through, I promise you that. We'll leave our mark."

He felt the hand on his shoulder tighten, almost painfully. He looked boldly into the man's eyes, seeing everything he knew - and plenty he didn't. "I promise you that, Inoue. Eiji. I promise you that."

Inoue leaned forward and stole one brief, soft kiss before turning back to the closet, removing hidden panels to reveal many weapons Reven had stored away.

He selected two twelve inch blades, two wrist-bound blades, a set of brass knuckles, a thigh-strapped dagger, and a set of small smoke and concussion grenades for himself before stepping back and giving Reven room to choose his own lethal accessories.

As the dark-haired man strapped weapons to himself, Inoue walked out of the bedroom and out into the living room, across the thick carpet towards the floor to ceiling windows. He looked over the sky silently, watching the clouds drift lazily. It was mostly clear, the wind was just a soft breeze, and it was just warm enough that people felt lazy and relaxed in the humidity.

What a night to kill.

"Reven, I have to warn you," he called out into the bedroom, though he was still staring at his reflection in the window, "He knows his business, and he knows ours just as well. He's a killer with more blood on his hands than I'll ever see, and he has the mind of the devil himself. There's a good chance one of us won't be coming back to this place."

The silence didn't bother Inoue, and strangely, it didn't bother Eiji either. The redhead was suddenly, inexplicably calm as he ran his thumb down the length of the cold metal in his fist, heavy and ready to break bone.


It was fucking cold. Reven sat hunched in the anonymous little vehicle he'd taken from the public car park, and stared at the house across the way. They were just out of the line of sight of the front gates, though he could see them himself if he craned his neck. Inoue had been right - it was a mansion! They were some way out of town, where all the finer houses were - there were no immediate neighbours. All the better for the guy inside and his business - but all the better for them too.

They had to be in and out in the minimum time - they had to strike, and strike hard and then - well, what then?

He glanced across at Inoue and wondered whether he was right - that one of them wouldn't survive this. Maybe neither. He couldn't handle that thought - he knew it was madness to even think that way before as assignment, else he'd be weakened from the start. And this was such a very personal assignment that he needed every inch of aggression and confidence to carry it off successfully.

He wouldn't think that way.

Eiji had to be avenged - both of their lives had to be protected. Scum had to be eradicated.

Inoue was quiet beside him - he'd found the house from his own knowledge - or rather, Eiji's memories, and scraps of conversation he'd picked up while he was around his captor's men.

Reven had pushed him all the way - encouraging, demanding. he knew he had to do it. When Eiji faltered, he was harsh. But no harsher than Inoue was on himself. He appeared to have no tolerance for Eiji's fear - though it wracked his own body physically, time and again.

Inoue kept silent, and kept Eiji silent as well. If Eiji was one of Inoue's apprentices, he wouldn't allow the man anywhere near this mansion.

This wasn't a choice he could make, however.

He ran his thumb along the hilt of his wrist-blade, clenching his jaw as Eiji sent cold chills across his skin.

"We can't sit here forever, Reven," Inoue muttered under his breath.

He could see some hesitation in his student as well, though this time he felt like the student-- Reven was taking charge like Inoue had never seen before. He would have been proud of his partner had he not felt so nauseous.

Reven stared at the conflict in the man's eyes. Hell, he wasn't even sure that Inoue himself understood what was happening to him! He marvelled at the man's force of will, to keep himself in control. Reven could smell Eiji's fear - could see the shudders along his partner's body.

"We wait for the first explosion," he said, firmly. He had to rely on Inoue to keep it together, just for that while longer. "It should take out the shed at the back, whatever they use it for." It had been the only part of the house that he could get to without detection. He'd laid his charges and escaped back to the car. "Then when they're distracted, we go in the front. There are three men on the gate, but they're all brawn, no brain. We take out the closed circuit televisions - them, too - and we're clear to cross the grounds to the house itself. It's up to us then where we go in - we'll soon find out how well he protects himself."

He hadn't seen any evidence of dogs, nor electrification. He didn't for a minute fool himself that the guy wasn't fiercely protected. But he was relying on the facade that his enemy obviously wanted to keep up - that this was a home rather than a fortress; that he could entertain here, as well as deal; be a respected member of society as well as the controller of sordid, violent business.

Mr Carl Hellman - the name had been hard to find, but Reven had contacts that owed him favours - that had access to records and city documents. It took just a few of Eiji's tortured memories, and a few links with the guys that Inoue had taken out in the apartment, and one of Reven's long-time street acquaintances had been dragged up out of sleep and ordered to look up a name and a profile.

Hellman - aptly named. Inevitably not his real name - there was already a long trail of suspected aliases.

But Reven would soon find the man himself.

Inoue unbuckled himself and pulled one knee up to his chest, resting his chin on it and staring up at the mansion.

He loathed waiting.

After waking within Eiji, Inoue had lost nearly all of his endless patience for the kill-- he struggled with keeping still and silent like a proper hunter, a real predator. A few years ago he could have kept stone-still for three days straight before lunging like a panther at the target... but now he was a ghost of himself, or rather, two ghosts of himself.

And he hated it.

But Reven seemed to love Eiji, and Inoue wasn't shocked by this in the least. Eiji had been Reven's toy, his student, his submissive pet for quite a while, and it was probably something the younger assassin had never gotten hold of before then.

"There are separate alarms, silent ones, per floor to alert the killers on the next floor. And each time a new one goes off, Hellman is alerted in his comfortable suite. I've never seen or heard of anybody getting past the third floor, though dozens tried. Most didn't get past the second."

He looked away from the mansion and across the field, over to the rolling hills in the distance he used to stare at for hours. Eiji had the words on the tip of his tongue; Reven, I'm horrified. I don't want to see you die. I don't know what I'll do if you die. I'd rather let the man live than see you go-- I've changed my mind, I want to leave. Please, oh gods, please Reven, let's leave!

"Figures", said Reven softly. He felt Inoue tense beside him - he was learning more about the man as every second passed. He'd seen Eiji appearing in Inoue's eyes; felt Eiji's fear rising up in him, even as the man spoke calmly about the security arrangements.
He had to move this on fast, else he ran the risk of losing his partner before they'd even begun.

Inoue was damned good - but not good enough to hide his very self from Reven. Not now - not after all they'd been through.

It was up to Reven to take him through this, he knew. He might be as scared as Eiji himself - but he'd not allow it to compromise them.

"We're not most people, Inoue. Right? I'll do what I can to take out the circuits as we go, but if we miss one, we just move on. We clutter that damned house with corpses as we go, and we make it as damned difficult as possible for anyone to reach us, or restrain us! He may be aware of us coming - but he won't know when, or from where. And he won't know who until it's too late for him!"

He couldn't allow any fear; any lack of confidence. He glared at Inoue beside him; put out a hand to grasp Eiji's arm, to hold him firm. To hold on to the man he adored, for just a few moments more, before they left their personal connection behind them - until they became nothing but killing machines, out for blood.

Inoue - Eiji. He loved them both - wanted them both to survive. It was difficult for him to communicate this - but Inoue was the one true thing in his life, and always had been. Eiji had been an addition to him - never a replacement.

He knew that to save Inoue/Eiji was one of his own, personal objectives from this mission.

"Ready?" he said, softly but firmly. "Tell me you are!"

Inoue nodded firmly, leaned in, and stole a quick, firm kiss before opening the car door.

He stood up straight, back rigid and muscles tight. A quick flick of his wrists straightened the trench coat he wore, and he narrowed his eyes, looking over the mansion from the east.

He could smell the explosives on Reven's clothes and hands, and could see a smear of grey powder across his cheek. Eiji smiled warmly, as though it was the last time he might see his lover, then he too turned and looked at the mansion, his smile fading.

This was going to happen, whether he wanted it to or not.

They slipped away from the car and down the road close to the large brick wall around the house, moving silently, stealthily.

The skin on Inoue's neck prickled with closeness to the kill.

He wanted raw, bloody vengeance.

Reven resisted the urge to look at his watch because he knew when it'd happen. He had the seconds ticking in his own head - he'd never had an explosive let him down; he had an innate talent for judging the remote detonators. He glanced quickly over the terrain, refreshing his previous appraisals. High wall they'd never get over without being detected, and losing valuable time. Front gate they'd be suicidal to approach.

The side gate was their only option. Well bolted, and with a sophisticated camera in place, but he was relying on the explosion for more than distraction. The hut he'd set it in had several power boxes on its walls - he'd taken a calculated guess that one of them was the electrical circuit for the grounds. If he'd had more time, he could have made sure - he could have directed the hit against it specifically. He caressed the bolt cutters in his coat pocket; the blade strapped to his thigh. They just needed that second of distraction, then they'd be inside the ground, and moving in on the guards at the front gate from an unexpected direction.

They were the least of his problems.

He turned to Inoue and caught his eye. He saw tension; determination. He concentrated his gaze, as if he were drinking in the man's looks, his very essence. As if he might not get the chance again.

"Three..." he whispered. ""

Inoue sprang bestially as soon as Reven hit 'one', climbing over the wall with practiced ease as Reven made the move for the guards on the outside. As the explosives went off in a thunderous glory, the noise covered up the screams of the first guard with the redhead's blade sunk into his heart.

The second fell just as thick black smoke began to billow mere feet away, and bright flames licked at the sky. Inoue opened the gate for Reven just as the dark-haired assassin took care of the last guard from his own set outside the wall.

He nodded and made two quick gestures with his hand to indicate his next moves and Reven nodded back immediately, both their expressions grim and hard as they sprinted across the lawn and towards the mansion itself.

There was an alarm sounding on the first floor and Inoue watched six armed men pour out the front door, dressed in slick suits and appearing rather unhappy. His training kicked in and overrode any inhibitions or fear that Eiji was feeling as he slipped a hand into his jacket and removed the 12 inch blade.

"Round one," he ground out in a feral voice, snaking towards the man closest to him.

Reven cursed softly to himself, that the alarm system was obviously more sophisticated than he might have hoped - yet what should he have expected from Hellman? He paused only long enough to see what response there would be - to count the men spilling out of the door, perhaps still unsure whether the smoke and fire came from something accidental, or whether anyone was actually mad enough to attack the mansion itself. Then he moved quickly and decisively towards the door itself, around the outskirts of the building; he would cut off their escape from the side.

He saw little of Inoue except the slither of his body, lithe and swift, and the glint of his blade. He grimaced. He felt the beat of his heart, a fierce warning. he had a job to do.

The blade was freshly sharpened, beyond necessity. It slid across flesh and through it and between bones, into organs and muscle like a demonic talon. The redhead remained perfectly silent as these first-level killers went down with far too much ease-- it was obviously meant to throw off any possible attackers.

They'd get cocky and sloppy, thinking the entire mission would be this simple.
The fourth man went down by Inoue's hand as Reven took out his second.
Why was the younger assassin seeming to hesitate?

Inoue didn't have time to worry about Reven, though he was doing so far too much, regardless.

He glanced once more at the dark-haired killer and nodded firmly before stepping into the front door.

Brash, reckless, and requiring balls of absolute marble, through and through.

Nobody would be expecting this of Inoue the Night Angel himself-- especially Hellman who had been so thoroughly thrilled at breaking the redhead's mind.

He stepped across the black stone floor and looked around the entrance quickly.

Mirrors on either side, made it easy to be spotted from a distance. High arched ceiling and rounded double-wing stairs... he'd only seen this place once, briefly, and it still hadn't changed.

He flicked the blade in his hand and sent blood spatter across one of the paintings before heading directly for the stairs, as no foolish assassin should.

Look out, Hellman.

Reven knew a part of his mind had been on things other than the kill - he knew he could rely on Inoue to take out most of these glorified doormen. The corpses had slipped to the ground like bloodied sacks - like discarded, broken toys. Inoue at work was a wonder to see - Reven felt the rush of excitement and passion that he'd always felt in the presence of the man's mastery. The entrance was cleared and they just strode right on into the building, moving on the crest of their confidence and cold fury.

But there were other things to consider - and he was less than sure of Eiji's commitment and stability. He could rely on Inoue's killing skills, but he knew that Eiji's persona had affected him deeply - the fear and the sensitivity of the other character would still be with him. He wanted this mission to have every chance of success - he wanted Inoue to be protected at all costs.

He saw Inoue start towards the stairs, but he slid sideward first around the stately entrance hall. There would be a control panel somewhere - there had to be, to allow for communication within the building, for decisions to be made about whether visitors were allies or enemies.

There were footsteps clattering on the stone floors; jagged reflections in the mirrors, as movement began on the next floor. He must be beside Inoue, to face the next onslaught.
He almost tripped over the discreet panel against the skirting, but it was what he was looking for. His hand darted into his pocket, sliding out the smallest pad of explosive that he had ever been able to create - while other young guys might watch MTV or drink beer, he'd spent hours of his youth developing smaller and slimmer and deadlier detonation devices. He barely had time to flick up the fuse and attach it to the metal box's cover, then he turned to follow Inoue.

He had seconds before the damned thing went off, and they could move forward under cover of even more mayhem.

Just as he kicked the second floor door open, an explosion went off downstairs. Inoue bared his teeth wickedly at the faces of the men aiming their semi-automatics his way and he revelled in the deathly silence that followed the crash of Reven's explosives, taking out the local alarm.

"Run," he murmured low in his throat, before skirting to the left and behind a solid marble pillar as the first bullets ricocheted through the hall.

He laughed mercilessly--a dead laugh--and leapt once more into the line of fire, using the years of training to move fluidly like a master gymnast, and the men were stricken with horror as none of their bullets seemed to sink into the flesh of his black-swathed monster.

Inoue spotted Reven in the entrance just as his right wrist blade slipped across the neck of the man closest to the redhead, brushing lightly like the touch of a lover but leaving a spray of hot blood in its wake.

The redhead laughed once more and darted past the next five men towards the three trying to remain hidden for ambush near the door to the main hall of the second floor. Reven could handle a few morons with guns-- Inoue wanted to see what these hired assassins were good for.

He sprinted down the very middle of the hall, once more the absolute last thing any sane assassin should try, and came to a stop just before the doors, looking back and forth between the three challengers-- two women, one male, all dressed in skin-tight leathers and aiming to kill with claw-shaped weapons strapped to their knuckles.

Inoue sneered and dropped his first 12 inch blade, giving it up in place for the use of simply his wrist-blades. He extended both of them as far as they could possibly reach, and crouched as the first woman, a blonde, leapt and swung her left arm, aiming for his jugular.

The redhead leered mockingly at this pathetic attempt and his right blade sank through the top of her skull as he turned and avoided the deadly blades of her hand-- she crashed at the feet of her companions with a wet spatter of blood quickly pooling out beneath her, and both of the remaining killers leapt with roars of anger at the loss of their companion.

Inoue's eyes narrowed as he snarled louder and lifted both his hands so his palms were facing the approaching enemies. He made an insanely foolish dash straight for the both of them, and both paused in shock at his actions.

It was the mistake he had been counting on them making, and a fatal one-- Inoue's blades plunged into their throats from the front at the same time, exiting out the backs of their necks. He drew his hands back as they fell to the ground alongside their dead companion, and Inoue stood there for several seconds, panting and feeling their blood and his sweat trickling down his forehead.

Eiji's concern caused him to look back and he glanced Reven's handiwork with an appraising eye while taking hold of the doorknob that would lead them into the main hall of the second floor.

Round three.

Reven watched his partner's outrageous charge right into the path of the remaining killers, and the smallest of smiles passed his lips. His own weapons were less ostentatious, but just as deadly. He carried his own blades, his explosives, and the smooth-handled Colt .45 that he favoured for hand-to-hand missions, with the ammunition that he - again - had spent his nights adapting to do maximum damage on both entry and exit.

It slipped easily into his palm; it was aimed and strafed across the five bodyguards even as his cool mind registered their relative positions, and he used the same cover as Inoue had used to protect his own body from their returning fire.

They wasted valuable energy in yelling to each other - in yelling at him!

Fools, he thought.

Every syllable exposed them to him, pinpointed both their position and their intention. He supposed they were good in their field - but they felt like cannon fodder to him. He knew that three had already fallen from his shots - only one of those was still able to make sounds.

He stretched a cramped muscle in his wrist, then darted out from the pillar again, picking off the last two, even as they thought they crept up on him. To left, to right - the gun spat, and the shock reflected in the guys' eyes. As they staggered against the walls in their death throes, he stepped carefully over the body nearest his feet and placed a careful bullet in its forehead; there'd be no more sounds from there, now.

His breath was heavy now - the stress and effort was taking its toll. There was a small tear in his sleeve, and soft warm blood oozed a little. There was little pain - he knew the stray bullet had only grazed him. He looked up to catch his partner's gaze - harsh with Inoue's determination; softened somewhere in the background with Eiji's concern.

He nodded for him to proceed.

Inoue pushed the doors open quickly and pulled back with just as much speed, drawing out of the path of a bullet that barely skimmed past his face. He felt a slight sting at the bridge of his nose and swore-- he hated it when they wounded his face!

Guns were something he had spent relatively little of his time as an assassin dealing with, head-to-head; he was entirely used to being unexpected and able to slice with his knife and leave before anybody knew what had happened.

More bullets sped past him as he leaned against the door frame and held his arms crossed over his chest, waiting and looking back at Reven.

"Sweep," he hissed quickly, feeling the blood, still warm, trickling down his hands and arms from his knives.

For once, he was thankful for Reven's crude methods with his gun-- he'd have to make mention of it to the younger assassin if they made it out of this together.

It was a reception area for the rooms on that floor, though sparsely furnished. Many of the doors along the corridor were open, and men and women spilled out. Reven had seconds to assess which were staff and which were perhaps civilians, albeit part of Hellman's menagerie. There was something nagging at his senses, too - the tang of his own blood in his nostrils - perhaps Inoue's.

He dropped to his knees to lessen himself as a target and he lifted the gun with confidence. A round of shots, and he took out the guys with guns - it was easy to spot them, for although they were smoother operators than those outside the room, they still announced themselves with the shift of their shoulders, the fumble of hands inside jacket pockets. It was enough for Reven to place his shots - to see them tumble down amongst the other, shrieking people.

Some dodged back into the rooms, terrified, or regrouping there. He saw the flash of blades, where the few remaining men flattened themselves against the wall and drew knives. He threw himself back behind the door, panting. He glanced over at Inoue and their eyes met. Hot, dark eyes - the lust in both of them, for so many things. The shared excitement - the shared anger and energising fear. Inoue's face was spattered with blood and sweat - his blades were drenched in the stuff. Reven wondered if he looked the same.

He reloaded the gun swiftly, and slipped his own blade into his other hand.

"The door to the next floor is at the back of the corridor," he hissed. "Ready?"

There was no need to ask-- Inoue was more than ready.

Less long-range weapons about meant it was his turn to move in once more; he slipped into the room and began to do what he did best.

However, he didn't follow Reven's foolish protocol-- since when had the kid decided to spare the ones who didn't appear armed or dangerous?

He shrugged the thought off and began his deadly dance, sluicing through the crowd and hearing the thud of dead bodies collapsing in his wake. Killer and innocent alike went without discrimination under his blade.

The redhead stopped halfway through the room and paled. "Down!" he barked, whirling back to make sure Reven had heard him as he dropped facedown and covered his head with the hood of his jacket.

The timer hit zero and every body in the room that was over two feet tall was incinerated beyond recognition as an explosion neither of the intruders had anticipated went off.

Eiji panicked and looked over his shoulder, paling as he didn't see Reven anywhere.

Reven had already been dropping to the floor, even as he heard Inoue's bark of warning.
He'd followed his partner into the room, picking his own share of victims as he went, allowing Inoue the lion's share, for that was his skill and his desire. He, Reven, was there to pick off the ones who may have found a weapon - to step beside Inoue when two or three moved in together, and slice quietly through the arteries that pumped their life's blood. His eyes were alert for the next level of alarm systems - for the cameras - for the potential booby traps -

His senses protected him yet again - he knew never to ignore them! There was the glimmer of a wire above the door at the back of the room - the slightest tremor of vibration that thrummed in his ears like a drum. He knew the sound - the smell - of explosives. He knew he was the first to sense it - the first to act. He had no time to think, only to move, and he fell like a stone to the carpeted floor, even as the explosion rocked the building itself.

There was the silence of bruised eardrums for a moment - but Reven knew he couldn't allow himself the luxury of slow recovery. He stretched limbs that had been cut by flying debris, and he rolled a half mangled body off his own torso. He looked round for Inoue.

The redhead stood quickly and took evaluation of the damage. The outside wall was blown right open and exposed to the fresh air of the world, but the inner walls were fine-- just as he suspected, reinforcement where necessary beyond the normal household. Probably solid steel paneling throughout the building to prevent collapse in case of a large bombing.

He glanced Reven during his evaluation as well though he told himself it was just a coincidence that he had checked up on his partner, and Inoue felt Eiji's relief wash through him.

Inoue brushed some drywall powder from his sleeve as he strode to the doors at the end of the large ballroom-style room, and he released the trigger on his wrist-blades, drawing them back into their sheathes before he removed his second 12-inch and added his oldest, most trusted throwing knives to the mix.

He kicked open the doors and took a cautious step back, waiting three seconds for any possible trips or set explosives to go off. When nothing came, he tore into the stairwell, dodging to the left as immediate gunfire screamed from above.

"Die, motherfucke--"

The foolish man at the top of the stairs didn't get to finish his sentence as Inoue's first knife buried itself into his voice box and he fell forward, gagging and choking while crashing down the stairs in a freefall until he hit the stairs at Reven's feet and fell still, his spine broken in several places.

Inoue slipped up the stairs quickly and paused at the new set of doors, looking them over silently as Reven stopped behind him.

He didn't like this; these weren't the doors he remembered from the third floor. This was cherry wood and the ones he remembered were oak...

His nose was too filled with the scent of blood--mostly his own thanks to the nosebleed the explosion had given him--to detect any scents.

"Reven, explosives?" he whispered.

Reven's head tilted very slightly to the side. He tried to calm his breathing - to shake the ringing that still rippled in his ears. His arm was beginning to throb in pain, though he forced down the feelings. He didn't sense anything like explosives - but he sensed other things. He sensed Inoue's alarm - or maybe it was Eiji's, slipping through Inoue's fierce defences. He sensed danger, as always - but a particularly insidious one. Something was wrong.

"No," he whispered back. "But something else. There's something waiting for us there - something ready for us." He didn't know what - and he was used to entering places with danger at both his back and front. But this was a foul, stinking place in many more ways than the physical - he could feel it.

Inoue frowned but moved ahead anyhow; he pushed the doors open.

His eyes widened slightly as he saw there was only one apparent opponent on this floor, and his remaining senses told him that this truly was the only opponent.

But he saw no weapons being drawn, and the man dressed in a simple violet tunic appeared nonchalant. More alarms went off in Inoue's head as he clutched the handle of his 12 inch blade harder. An opponent with weapons that weren't immediately apparent was more difficult to deal with than one whom you could assess instantly...

He swore softly and took a quick, sharp breath once he realized what the obvious weapon here was, and hoped Reven would notice and do the same.

The redhead held his breath as he entered the room and flicked one of the throwing knives towards the man blocking their path to the flight of stairs for the next level. As expected, the man deflected it with a slender dart of his own, and Inoue swore twice as angrily silently.

He scanned the room over once more, and winced as Reven stepped upon an out-of-place tile in the floor. Immediately the tile cracked and a spray of white powder shot into the air before the dark-haired youth before Inoue could so much as warn him-- Eiji prayed silently that the younger assassin's training and instinct would know better than to take a breath of shock upon the trap's release.

Reven felt every hair on his body standing out with alarm - he stared at the strange, silent man in front of them, apparently the only obstacle between them and the next stage to their goal. He stepped forward slightly to come beside Inoue, and then he felt the imbalance beneath his feet. Too late, he pulled his foot back. Too late, he heard the soft hiss of released danger, and saw the cloud of powder seek to envelop him.

His reaction was instinctive - all those years of reading those fucking books, the sick humour inside of him laughed. He clamped his hand to his mouth, sealing both mouth and nose, and he stepped back to the last known position of safety. He saw the tension in Inoue's shoulders relax so very slightly that no-one but he would have recognised it - he watched the powder settle back on the floor, praying that it would now be harmless.

The redhead's anger flared. Nobody came that close to killing his partner and lived beyond the 30 seconds after the attempt!

He decided to test this man's throwing skills-- four knives were sent flying towards the violet-clad being, and to Inoue's surprise, each knife was sent astray with a matching dart whisked off by this man as though it was nothing.

"So this is the infamous killer duo, finally!" the man laughed into his clothed hand happily, a sick, pleased expression on his face. "You two won't get past this point!"

Inoue bristled further, lowering his eyebrows and refusing to respond, giving this man time to set up more traps.

He lunged with his 12-inch blade, extending his arm and slashing at the man's neck.
The violet man drew back three steps quicker than Inoue could respond to in time, and smiled wickedly, tutting under his breath. "Ah-ah, too aggressive!" the man purred as the redhead felt the stomach-sinking sound of an eggshell being cracked open.

He had stepped upon several miniscule beads, and released some new toxin into the air, already strung with poisons. The redhead had ensured that his body was immune to the common poisons over the years, building up tolerances, but he was also sure that this man was no everyday poison artist.

He hated the fact that there was no immediate response in his body to the pale blue mist settling upon his shoes and pants-- it meant this poison was a slow-acting one that would hinder him later even if he defeated this man now.

"Enjoy that one, my friend," the violet man cooed. "You'll be dead within a few hours at the most, whether you inhaled anything or not. It'll absorb into your skin through the clothes and sweat and blood all over you."

Reven felt the cold, slick sweat settle on his skin - the icy tendrils tangle in his mind. It was a combination of the realisation of this man's skill, but also the direct threat that he had made to Inoue.

Inoue will not die, his mind said, very calmly. He's mine. I won't allow it.

He turned to face the man who had to be eliminated, to allow them to continue. Inoue stood before him, temporarily paralysed - assessing the damage that had been done to him, presumably. Reven saw that he still had his blade in his hand, though it hung at his side. He would have to rely on Inoue's control for just a little longer.

Reven thought swiftly, desperately. The man had scorned Inoue's aggression - he was too well protected at a distance, with his appalling traps set all around them. He moved too fast to risk another direct attack. So there had to be an advantage that they had, that they could use against him. It could only be that they were two, and he was one. They had nothing else now. His heart refused to panic - refused to accept that Inoue had been harmed by anything more serious. That would be a matter for afterwards.

Distraction. Reven could only offer that. Many a time Inoue had accused him of being nothing but that! He would rely on the fact that Inoue would never give in without a fight - that he was still ready for attack, even as he'd been shocked by the new poisons.
He dropped his head, as if in defeat. In actuality, he was searching the floor, looking for other uneven tiles - other traps. He needed a path just that little bit nearer the man ahead - enough to pull his attention to him, and away from Inoue. The older man was still within reach - if the enemy didn't dodge as he had before.

He let the chill settle his mind - he let his breathing slow, just as Inoue had taught him to do.

He jumped - suddenly, sharply - his head whipped up again, his hair swinging, and his kick extended out to the man's far side. He cried out - nothing intelligible, but he hoped enough to alert Inoue.

The man was surprised, though he dodged him easily - but it was to that far side. For that split second, his body twisted away from his stance against Inoue - for a second, his attention was on another person, another set of poison traps, another seemingly futile threat.

Reven prayed it would be enough time.

Inoue knew the tactic-- Reven's brashness was indeed good for something every once in a while. As soon as the younger assassin was making his move, causing the violet man to look away, the redhead too took his deadly aim.

He swung the 12 inch steel one last time, but the man's darting reactions were still shockingly faster than Inoue's; he pulled back to avoid the swipe being lethal, though the blade did sink deep into his neck, piercing the jugular.

Violet man covered his throat with one hand to slow the blood flow, and was mentally trained enough to keep himself from crying out. He attacked Inoue in return rather than recoil, and the redhead took his turn dodging.

Locks of crimson hair flew as Inoue dropped back into a bridge, releasing his blades and trying to avoid the last assault of needlepoint darts flung his way as the man before him stumbled back from blood loss.

Three pinpricks down his left arm, nothing more as he collapsed on the ground and heard the crackle of Reven setting off one last trap with a misstep.

Inoue's heart was racing even though he was trying to calm his body, and he knew it was because of the poisons seeping into him.

His left arm was tingling... likely something for paralysis. He wished he knew how much poison those darts had been dipped in so he could estimate just how well he could tolerate paralysing toxins, but there was no telling now that the man was dying upon the first stairs to the fourth floor.

Reven was making some noise, but Inoue blocked it out for now. If he wanted to make it up the last floors he had to at least prolong his time and stifle the poison filling his flesh by the second.