WARNING: contains extreme brutality, not for all readers

Reven tried to drag his shaking body under control. The kick would have broken the man's jaw if it had connected - but instead, he'd fallen back rather awkwardly, and to his horror, he heard another of the uneven tiles crack under his foot as he did. He tried not to breathe the powder in, but his breath was rasping anyway, and his body off-balance.

He heard Inoue move like a snake striking - heard the unmistakeable sound of blood spurting from a wound, and he saw the man in violet crumple on the stairs. Was it all over?

He turned carefully, fighting off a catch in his throat - a terror that some of the poison had crept its foul way into his mouth or nose. He was desperate for a view of Inoue - to know that he was all right.

His partner lay on the floor, very still. But he was conscious - he was watching the man himself, watching him die in front of them. He seemed to ignore Reven - but Reven could see his chest heaving slightly, as if his heart raced inside and he tried to restrain it.

Reven looked down again - he needed to find the path across this damned room, to get to Inoue. To get them both up to the next floor, and whatever lay in store there.

But what state were they in to face it?

His gaze drifted to the ceiling as he began to take inventory of personal damage.

Three darts in his arm, likely a heavy dose per dart-- a wise poison artist would tip each needle point with enough toxin to paralyze a full limb at least, but Inoue was trained to resist common poisons... still, three hits to the one arm and he could pretty much guarantee it was at least paralyzed if not being permanently damaged with each minute that passed as he heard Reven shuffling about.

Some venom, he knew, could deteriorate and eat away flesh over time as well. But he didn't feel any burning along with the tingle of paralysis, the ghostly feel that he could still move his arm when in fact it was limp as raw meat.

The blue powder on his skin was what bothered him, especially since the only effect he could feel at the moment was minor discomfort at the fact that he couldn't slow his heart rate or his breathing.

The best plan was to leave now and seek antitoxins and anti-venoms, something to counteract the poison-- but Inoue wasn't going anywhere. Instead, his will to continue only grew stronger. If he was going to die one way or the other, then he was going to get his sweet, bloody vengeance first.

He shifted into a sitting position and worked his way to standing, looking Reven once over to ensure the younger assassin hadn't received any of the darts or poison.

The dark-haired man appeared well, and Eiji sighed in relief as Inoue made a sharp jerk with his head towards the stairs. He wanted to avoid talking-- it would make his breathing even faster and speed up the poisons.

The clock was ticking.

What the fuck -?

Reven was incredibly relieved to see Inoue conscious and standing up, but he couldn't miss seeing the way that the man swayed very slightly - and that his arm hung strangely at his side. He knew Inoue was hit - like he knew Inoue could resist many poisons, through years of immunisation training. But he also knew that the guy they'd just met was no ordinary, street corner pharmacist.

He opened his mouth to ask how bad it was - he opened his mouth to ask if Inoue wanted to seek help.

He shut his mouth again, pretty swiftly.

In just seconds, he saw a flash of fear in Eiji's eyes - then it was shut down with fierce anger by Inoue's look of determination. There'd be no weakness admitted - no help sought.

He nodded back. He was ready to move on.

Inoue jogged up the stairs, holding his 12 inch blade between his teeth while plucking the darts from his arm. He tossed the vile needles over the rail of the stairs and snatched up his blade once more as they came to stop before the next set of doors.

Fourth floor.

Nobody had ever reached this floor that Eiji had heard tell of.

The redhead coughed once and spat on the floor, a wet red mark streaking across the otherwise perfect white marble. He smeared away some of the blood still dripping from his nose with the back of his wrist, and sheathed his blade momentarily, reaching out with his good arm and turning the heavy brass knob leading to the next floor.

The door opened slowly as he drew his blade once more and looked around quickly.

Inoue's eyes narrowed as he recognized just what sort of trap this was, and he immediately looked over at Reven before the dark-haired man could see into the room. "You can leave this to me," he said hoarsely, entering the room and lifting his blade to strike.

"Please don't hurt us!" a small voice begged, racked with sobs.

"Help me!" screamed a young girl.

Inoue's eyelids hooded as he scanned the entrances to the different rooms in this hall-- he estimated thirty children here in total, about twenty of which were aggressive and ten of which were simply captives. Likely, they were children borne of all the carnality within the household, saved for this very purpose.

The redhead's blade sank deep into the chest of the first child, a young blonde boy with long curling locks and wide brown eyes, though his expression was that of hatred as he charged the approaching assassin. Inoue had no issues with taking children-- they were no different than taking adults, especially ones that had been raised in this house.

He began to sweep the room, crouching low and moving swiftly to get this over with. Not only for his own body's sake and time, but also for Reven's heart.

Screams of terror and rage rang in the hall as the children bolted from the entrances of their bedroom doors; some ran for cover and towards the stairs to the fifth floor, and some ran at the pair of them with small knives wielded.

Hellman was a sick man, trying to buy time by opposing attackers with children.
Inoue had no doubt that near any assassin but him would have qualms with slicing through such tiny, tender necks so new to the world.

He heard Reven uttering something, but didn't have time to pay attention for far too many reasons already, and Inoue's blade sang as he took down the fifteenth child in his path as she begged for help and mercy before roaring with rage upon seeing her act wasn't being bought and lunging at the redhead.

Reven felt the bile rise in his throat. Children! A room full of them. Beautiful, fresh, yet vile children, eyes wide and bright, but so many fists gripped round weapons - so many teeth snarling at them in anger.

He saw the expressions in their faces - the pain and the confusion at the adult world - the fear at the attack on their small world, here on the fourth floor.

He remembered some of that confusion - that fear. Since he was small - since he'd been useful enough to work, and fetch, and lie down and be fondled for mere entertainment...

And beaten. And forced to defend himself.

But this is now! he told himself fiercely. He saw glittering little eyes; grasping little fingers. There were screams, both of fright and fury - and then there were screams of death, as Inoue worked steadily through the mass.

He saw a taller child - a thin, black-haired boy of no more than ten - step behind Inoue's left side, hand clutched tightly round a wicked looking blade. He aimed at Inoue's kidneys. Seemed like he knew how to use the knife, too. Reven saw Inoue otherwise occupied with a screaming, shaking girl child, her teeth bared, trying to bite at him as he cut at her. He saw the way Inoue's left arm was slowing down - how it must be dragging at him. It was poor defence.

Reven stepped swiftly to Inoue's back, and slid his own blade out of his waistband. He reached for the boy, twisting him by the hair to face him, and even before the child could cry out with frustration, he drew his blade across his throat and he slumped in his hands.

Inoue was his only loyalty now - his only care.

Eiji gasped in shock as he heard a body collapse beside him that he hadn't slain, and he glanced Reven's blade sliding through the throat of a young boy with long ebony hair.

His own heart wrenched and went out to his partner-- he saw the conflict and hardness in Reven's gaze, identified with the pain he was stifling within himself. He wanted to scoop the dark-haired assassin in his arms and make him stop, wanted to take all the pain away-- but he couldn't. They were assassins. They took lives as a profession, and they were taking them now as they needed to.

"I said let me handle it!" Eiji bit out, shoulder-checking Reven into one of the empty bedrooms with his left arm and slamming the door shut.

The redhead's eyes narrowed and his pupils shrank to pinpoints as he bared his teeth at these scrambling, screaming little monsters. Eiji sliced and carved through soft flesh madly, and all he could think about was Reven in that room, hoping the foolish man would stay there until this was done.

He could just imagine the nightmares this place would bring back to the soft-hearted assassin after this was done, and if he could reduce them in any way, he would.

"Mister, stop! Save me please!" A young girl screamed at the top of her lungs, urine running down her dress as she wept and shrieked, trying to duck away from the chaos.

Eiji paused momentarily, and winced as a blade sank into his thigh from the girl's identical twin, who laughed savagely and stabbed at his stomach this time. The redhead barely avoided it, but he roared with anger at the both of them as he took a step back and regrouped himself. Nobody in this room but Reven was to leave alive, he reminded himself. No matter how innocent they looked.

He reached into his coat pocket and removed two concussion grenades, pulling the pins out with his teeth and tossing them at the far end of the room where the most children were concentrated. Eiji ducked behind a pillar as the grenades went off, and he charged at the enemies once more as the children stumbled around.

They were screaming, he could see that much, but he was momentarily deafened as his blade sank into warm, moist flesh over and over.

Three left, huddling in the corner.

Eiji approached them quickly, and their deaths were swift; his blade slid across three soft throats easily, the blood pouring across his hand and clothes as the last bodies fell still.

He stood in the massacre, panting heavily as his heart began to ache just a little. Inoue's instincts were going mad with alarms-- he was too healthy for his heart to hurt in this manner.

The poisons were working faster than he'd assumed.

He barely heard it, but the redhead did notice the door of the room Reven had been in opening, and he kept his face away from his apprentice, staring hard at the blade in his hand.

Not only could he not face Reven right now, imagining the pained expression on his face, but there was also a pained expression on Inoue's own face at the sharp throb in his chest, making it a little harder to breathe.

Reven knew he would never forget the sounds of the young, high-pitched screams, out in the hall - he would never forget the stench of the piss and blood and flying spittle, as the children ran and pushed and fell. As they died.

He flattened himself against the wall of the room, clutching his arms to his chest, trying to hold in the horror. He shut his eyes, but the images were burned fiercely on his lids, inside as well as out. He knew he had to overcome this - he knew he fought his own nature. But he would do it - he would do anything to protect his partner.

The noises were dying away - there were no more screams - no more patter of small, angry feet.

He moved his feet, preparing to go out; the floor beneath him was slightly sticky. He opened his eyes.

The door was closed on the carnage outside - but its legacy came to him, instead. Under the door, he could see a trickling pool of dark red, glistening liquid. Viscous - cloying - creeping slowly, but ever wider, as it spread out into the room where he stood, transfixed. Welling around his feet; he knew it would be warm, if he could have felt it through his boots.

A pool of blood. Their gift to this house tonight.

He pushed at the door, and stepped through, knowing he would leave footsteps, red and murderous.

He could see Inoue standing there - or Eiji. He felt the conflict in the man's body, even from here. His left arm hung, almost useless at his side now - there was a tremor to his shoulders that Reven knew shouldn't have been caused by his exertions. Not in the usual way of things. But tonight was very different.

For the first time, Reven felt the fear that Inoue might be weakening. That he had been injured beyond anything he could resist.

He didn't want to admit that fear.

He spoke softly. "Inoue? Eiji?"

"Inoue," the redhead said low in his throat, pushing hair out of his face and streaking already-crimson hair with darker red.

He sheathed his blade and lifted his left arm with his right hand, slipping it into the pocket of his jacket so it looked as though it was doing something, rather than hanging there stupidly and making Reven's face contort with such expressions of horror.

He then headed towards the blood-slick stairs, disallowing Reven the time to stop and think things through, to worry, to lose his confidence.

"Two floors left," he said darkly, barely able to recognize his own voice through the ringing in his ears.

Sense of smell, gone two floors ago. Dominant left arm disabled one floor ago. Several knife wounds from these children... And now his hearing was at less than half functionality, on top of the poisons working at him and making his chest tighten painfully.

The odds were getting worse.

He marched up the stairs while reaching into his coat once more. Inoue pushed swollen fingers though his brass knuckles and slipped a small smoke bomb into his mouth so he could deploy it without it being noticed first, then he took hold of his 12 inch blade and lengthened his wrist-blade as well.

Every weapon he had at his disposal was relying on his right arm, and he found himself wishing he had spent more time working on being ambidextrous rather than relying on his left arm.

He motioned for Reven to open these doors, avoiding eye contact with his partner and keeping his own body and face turned away as much as possible to keep the younger assassin from realizing what damage Inoue had already taken.

Two floors left, he kept reminding himself, almost as a mantra.

What he wouldn’t allow himself to add to it was: …And then I can die.


A/N: part twenty-one to follow shortly!