It was one of those days. Jasmine Sonyea shifted uncomfortably, struggling not to make any noise as she crouched upon the rafters. She was not overly fond of this job, but neither was she one to complain about such trifling annoyances. She complained in her mind, sometimes, but not aloud. She felt guilty for even having her mental misgivings, as well. Yes, this was not an easy job, and it was unpleasant more often than not, but it was better than being a prostitute, and the pay was better than was offered by most other Wilds jobs.

All the same, a day of fumbling with the bullets in a gun, struggling to be silent, and suffering through a particularly heavy period did not amount to an extraordinarily pleasant experience. She flipped the small locks of the gun, adjusting it as she focused upon her target. She was cramping painfully, and it was difficult not to emit a slight noise over the sensation.

She decided that when she finished this job, she would visit a doctor. Sometimes period pains were signs of something more, or so she had once read in a medical journal. Sometimes, a woman's uterus could be clogged with tissue, or the like, or cancer, even, and really, it was an unsafe world these days.

She adjusted the scope of her gun. As she sat there, thinking to herself, she felt a little frustrated with her worries. She had always been something of a hypochondriac, always making huge situations out of any tiny discomfort that she felt, but as an assassin, she had learned to be careful. She seldom shared her paranoias with others. She truly did not like the thought of being seen as a paranoid fool.

Beneath her, Skylt Blio spoke to Xofish. Skylt Blio was her friend, or her acquaintance, rather, and Xofish was her target. He was also a man who liked to talk far more than Sonyea really appreciated in a man, but she blamed herself for that, as she had been fighting an uncooperative and jammed gun for far too long. She imagined that Skylt Blio would give her more than a little criticism for this botched job, afterwards, but she was used to that. Even the best assassinations were never quite perfect enough for Skylt to restrain his complaints.

Xofish, sounding quite drunk, was laughing. Skylt Blio chuckled goodnaturedly, humouring the man.

Jasmine could not see Skylt's face, but she had heard him laugh like that before. His eyes were probably glimmering with feigned interest, she decided, and his lips were probably closed. Skylt Blio seldom laughed with his mouth open. He seemed content to let sounds rumble within the cavity of his lungs, as though he reserved them for himself, in some strange fashion. Skylt Blio always laughed at you, never with you.

Sonyea pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. At that, she was so tempted to emit a groan, but she swallowed the sound.

This was one reason that she had never cared to work with guns. They had a habit of failing her. So, this one was jammed. She gently laid it aside, forcing her sudden annoyance to the bottom of her mind. She could not afford to be annoyed. She had other things to worry about. Firstly, she was afraid of the gun exploding in her face, should she adjust it further.

Skylt had a way with machinery, and he could probably fix the weapon without having it tear his face to shreds. Sonyea, however, felt that her day had been bad enough already without having an additional fried brain to top things off.

The point was to make Xofish's day worse than her own.

Sonyea had nothing personal against the man, but he was a meal ticket. She would have liked it if all of her meal tickets had been nameless, but part of being a good assassin was knowing your target inside and out, and so Sonyea had spent time studying Xofish, just as she spent time studying all of her victims. Xofish was a servant to Boss Molltarion. He was not the strongest servant in Molltarion's gang, but he was the best at gleaning knowledge, and that was why he had to die. He had learned something about Robert Deliniaeia, and Robert Deliniaeia had always valued his privacy.

Beyond that, Sonyea knew that Xofish had a fear of heights, that his favourite food was broiled nianthlle, that he had a wife and two children, that he had a tattoo on the back of his neck, that he liked most animals, and that he loved to be verbose.

In the Wild Lands, the last of those things could hinder someone's survival.

The fact that he had a wife could hinder Sonyea's survival, given that some spouses tended to be very vengeful, and from what Sonyea had learned, Xofish's wife was a gang member, as well. As to the children, they were both too young to be dangerous, at the moment. Skylt had advised her to kill off the entire family, but Sonyea had declined the idea. She was only getting paid for killing Xofish, so it really would not help her to kill anyone else.

Besides that, she had never liked the idea of overkill, despite being constantly paranoid that anything and everything was after her. Leaving a family alive was honourable. It gave a fair, fighting chance. If nothing else, it also increased the sport of the matter, but Sonyea had never really been one for sporting.

She thought, however, that going around killing off all possible enemies would make her appear paranoid, and weak. She was the first, and possibly the second, but the world at large did not need to know that. As part of the job description, an assassin needed to seem confident, and invincible. Killing a target's family would have been a sure sign that she lacked faith in her own capabilities. After all, a talented assassin could deal with the fallout of her work.

She slid a knife out from one of the pouches at her hips. She preferred knives to guns. Skylt had always found her foolish for that.

Skylt was lazy, she had decided. He liked the ease of an automatic weapon. Conversely, Sonyea appreciated the feeling of being in control that was provided by throwing knives. With guns, she never felt as though she had very much control over the weapon. She felt, if anything, as though the weapon was using her.

What Sonyea disliked about knives was their tendency to glint with the faintest sliver of light. Given that she was sitting in the darkness, attempting to hide from everyone's vision, the last thing that she needed was for some knife to shine with candlelight and disclose her location.

She held the knife outwards, looking at the reflective surface to get an idea of Skylt's and Xofish's faces. She could discern neither, from her height. Unfortunately, her move proved to be a detriment, as the damned knife shone, and Xofish looked upwards.

She felt her sudden panic, but she had always been one to keep her fears hidden, at least externally. Her body remained calm. She threw the knife.

It missed. In fact, it struck the table between Xofish and Skylt Blio, and it stood upright. Before the knife had even touched the wood, Xofish was instantly upon his feet, slipping out two small knives of his own and flinging one at Skylt and one at Jasmine.

With a gasp, Jasmine jumped from her location. Unfortunately, her height was not condusive to leaping from, and so she struck the ground and fell to her knees. Pain shot through her, but she ignored that, pushing herself upwards and trying to figure out what was going on. In the Wilds, reaction time was the key to success. Jasmine had always liked her reaction time.

Skylt Blio had uncoiled his whip. As Xofish manuevered to strike him, Skylt caught one of the man's blades and pulled it from his hands. Sonyea felt her heart beating rapidly. She grabbed her other knife and sent it flying. It struck Xofish, causing him to emit a ridiculous sound. It did not strike him in the heart or in any other vital organ, of course. Knives rarely did that, and the man had been moving when Sonyea had thrown the blade, so the shot had not exactly been a great one. It had struck his shoulder, from the best that Sonyea could discern.

At least the wound was serving to slow him down, albeit not much. Sonyea drew her sword forth and moved forward, wondering at how this man was not the best fighter in Molltarion's gang.

There was something very amusing about fights, and this one was no exception. Skylt and Xofish were throwing fists and cursing at each other like two wild beasts. Sonyea tried to push between them, but it was difficult. The two men were in such a loud, moving fit of action that getting between them was nigh impossible.

Sonyea was unsure of how to get at Xofish without harming Skylt, given that Skylt's back was constantly in her line of vision. She moved to the right, then to the left, but she could not sneak around the man. She groaned. It was as though he was doing this deliberately, though she knew better.

And then, for no apparent reason, half of the restaurant decided to join in the fight.

This was what Sonyea had been trying to avoid, but of course, it had been one of those days, and those days simply would not allow for any kind of pleasant respite. Sonyea went to the ground as someone grabbed her around the neck. She slipped out of her assailant's grip and turned, stabbing the wild-eyed woman in the chest with her blade.

When it came to stabbing people in the chest, the ribs were rather notorious about getting in the way, but Sonyea thought that she had hit the mark, given the way the woman's eyes looked when the blade went in. Sonyea did not really have time to ensure that her attacker had been fatally wounded, though. Xofish and Skylt were still fighting. Sonyea turned, satisfied that she had at least stopped the woman.

She leapt forward, hoping that no one else would go for her. Of course, someone did, and she sliced at him, too. His eyes revealed bloodlust, but he at least seemed wary enough to take a step backward when she moved her sword around. Sonyea was glad for that. She was not really in the mood for a proper fight right now, and if she survived this, then Skylt would be eager to give her a cold word or two about the mess that she had caused.

A fist hit her abdomen. Sonyea fell forward, gasping, but she at least counted herself as fortunate that the fist had not held a knife. She jumped.

She struck Skylt, pushing him crudely aside. She heard the thud as he hit the ground, breath fleeing his body. Xofish was there, wide-eyed. Sonyea plunged between his legs and made two quick slashes, cutting his ankles out from beneath him. Blood covered her face, soaking her eyes and lessening her vision. Xofish tumbled forward, wailing. Skylt rolled over and plunged a knife into Xofish's back. The body thrashed. Then, it was still.

Jasmine sat up, breathing heavily. The crowd had not yet dissipated. They were looking for something to kill.

Sonyea edged across the bloody floor, grabbing at Skylt's shoulder.

"That wasn't even my knife," Skylt said with a weary laugh.

"Nevermind that. We need to leave." Sonyea glanced around. Brawls were breaking out, and malice was in many eyes. "We can't fight them all," she whispered urgently.

"We wouldn't have to fight anyone if you hadn't fucked up everything, but fine, whatever. Let me get my shit together."

"Forget about it, please. I left my gun behind."

"You're shit with a gun. Always have been."

"Skylt, this is an inappropriate time for sarcasm." She arose, grabbing one of her knives from the table and lifting the other knife from the ground. She hastily and clumsily fixed them at her hips.

She wished that Skylt did not always have to be so stubborn, reckless, sarcastic, rude, and otherwise careless, but if he was anything else, then he would not have been Skylt. "Hurry." She touched his shoulder once more.

Skylt turned, shuffling. Then, he fell into step beside her, glancing over his shoulder as he did so. His sudden caution made Jasmine feel nervous, so she did the same. Behind them, the restaurant owner stood there, grinning as she wielded an impressively large gun.

Smiling, Skylt blew her a kiss. "Hello, Kyahrinea."

Sonyea tugged at her comrade's arm, but it was no use. When Skylt wished to make some kind of point or some kind of elaborate display, then nothing short of death could turn him aside. Sonyea folded her arms, suppressing a sigh. She could not look into Kyahrinea's eyes, given that she felt a little embarrassed for having caused such a ruckus in the woman's restaurant.

She nibbled at her lip. Then, she smiled uneasily. Then, she mumbled, "I'm sorry. I did not mean to be rude. It was supposed to be a clean assassination, but--"

"But you botched it. Oh, well. I don't care. Get the fuck out of my establishment." The woman cocked her gun.

"I'll be seeing you again, later," Skylt teased, snickering. Sonyea hung her head in shame, turned, and moved out of the doors as quickly as she could. Skylt followed her. When she heard his loud footsteps behind her, she instantly felt a wave of fear at the criticism that was bound to ensue.

She swung her arms at her sides, dashing hastily along the streets. Her shoes were flat-soled, so as to make running as easy as possible. Her light footsteps tinkled upon the wet cement and asphalt.

"I don't know what you're running for!" Skylt called out behind her. "It's not as though I'm gonna kick your ass." He laughed loudly. "Wouldn't that be sumthing to see? A speedy lightweight sprite such as yourself versus tha muscular oaf, yers truly."

"You're a better mercenary than I," Sonyea conceded, looking over her shoulder. She reached up, pulling a needle from her hair. With a shake of her head, raven black hair was loosed, falling to her waist. She placed the needle into one of her pants' pockets. She then ran her fingers through her hair, straightening out the tangles. "However, I am a better assassin."

"Really, now?" When Sonyea slowed, Skylt caught up with her. "I don't know. Seems ta me like some babies 'n animals 'n unlivin' objects could kill a person better'n you did tonight."

Sonyea smiled. There was the criticism. Hearing it was a relief, in a way, as her mind always made his words out to be worse than they ultimately ever were. "I was not having a very good night, I admit. I don't understand why it is that when one thing goes wrong, it seems that everything else follows."

"In your case? Probably 'cause you panic, and lose control."

"I really did not, though. The gun did not wish to work for me. It jammed."

"As I said, you're shit with a gun, and ya always have been. Wanna go to dinner?"

Sonyea stopped walking and faced Skylt. Her smile became a devious smirk. "Dinner? I hope you're not suggesting that we go to the same restaurant that we just exited. I don't think that Kyahrinea would appreciate our business, not after what we put her through."

"What you put her through." Skylt Blio gave a challenging sneer. His teeth were far from perfect, and they made his sneers appear to be all the more intimidating. "Yeah, I know a place for some good eats around here. You look--hungry."

Jasmine giggled. "You know--the look on your face when you and Xofish were fighting--"

"Oh, shut up, cunt. You don't look so great when you fight, either."

Skylt Blio changed his direction, and Sonyea followed him. "That's why I try not to fight," she lied, continuing to giggle. "I like to look my best."

"Are you fucking someone?" He gave her a sideways look. Then, he changed the question. "Are you dating someone?"

"Presently? No. Why?" She stopped giggling, regarding him with curiosity. "Don't tell me that you're interested."

"I'm always interested in a good fuck from a pretty girl, but I ain't interested in dating you, no."

Sonyea was not surprised. Skylt had never been the type to settle down. "I'm not terribly interested in either, for the nonce. I have my priorities, and my main priority at the moment is paying my bills."

"Xofish and Robert will help with that, I guess."

"Lately, I've been thinking of purchasing a pet, but I'm afraid that if I die on one of my missions, then no one will be around to feed the animal. Someday, I may develop an interest in dating, but, really, right now, I just have enough headaches having to worry about my life. I don't need to be sitting around thinking about the last argument that I had with my significant other when I'm supposed to be killing someone."

Sonyea touched her hair again, rubbing her lips together. "That would be very--distracting."

"Cynical bitch, aren't you? I'm glad. Me too."

"Cynical? No. Practical."

"Cynical," Skylt repeated, determined to maintain his original opinion. "So you're sayin' that you won't date as long as you're in the business?" He sneered once more. "Xofish had a wife," he taunted.

"And that's another reason that I choose to remain single. I don't want to make someone sad." She made a face, sticking out her tongue. "I just could not live with myself if I died and made someone unhappy."

Skylt frowned at her. "Your bouncy side is botherin' me."

Sonyea was bothered by her bouncy side as well, but she currenty found herself quite unable to disguise her exuberance. She was happy at the prospect of being paid well for her latest assassination, of course, but moreover, she was giddy at having simply survived the night.

Everything that could have gone wrong had in fact gone wrong, and yet Jasmine Sonyea had escaped relatively unharmed. There was a sheer, simple pleasure in that. Although she had her share of complaints about her life, life itself was joy.

Being an assassin, watching so many lives end in sputtering and blood, had taught her to appreciate her own existence. She thanked her own private gods for each day that she continued to breathe and live. The simple thrill of living was now pushing her into fits of hysterical laughter.

Skylt Blio did not seem quite so amused, but then, he never was. No, Sonyea thought. He could be amused, at times, but he was never sent into euphoria by the fact that he was alive. He had simply accepted that fact. It did not appear to mean very much to him, beyond being a quotable truth.

Despite so many things having gone wrong that day, Jasmine was refreshed and very pleased that everything had turned out all right in the end.

"Your voice is the best thing about you."

Sonyea looked at Skylt, blinking in surprise.

"You have a very friendly voice," Skylt explained. "You don't sound like some throaty frog of a bitch. You sound like a lovely young lady. That's why you could be a damned fuckin' fine assassin if you could just tweak some shit."

"Because I have a nice voice?" She raised an eyebrow, smirking. "Am I going to be singing daggers out of my mouth, now?"

"Because you're disarming. Pretty, sweet-soundin' young ladies are quite dangerous. So, just flip that magical tongue-a yours, and laugh that chimin' sweet little laugh, and we can always have coins."

"We? And who says that I want a partner who constantly refers to me as bitch and cunt?"

"Affectionate terms, cunt. Anyway, you can't work solo. Doesn't fit you. Too much--well, chance of you fuckin' something up."

"Skylt, don't act as though tonight is always the case. You know better."

"Point? You said it yourself. You're a good assassin. You're no fuckin' mercenary. You only kill well from a distance. You need someone, me, to cover your ass in case that distance gets closed."

"Whatever you say," she offered, continuing to laugh. She quickly stifled her laughter. She could feel herself verging upon hysteria.

In relative silence, she followed Skylt to the restaurant that he had wanted to have dinner with her at. It was dimly lit, as Sonyea had expected. She liked dimly lit establishments, when it came to assassinating someone, but she had never cared for sitting in such a place herself. When you killed people for a living, then you learned to be wary of darkness.

She trusted Skylt, but only a little. He would not betray her, unless some more lucrative option came along. Then, she would find herself lying upon the streets, throat slit. The prospect did not appeal to her.

For that reason, she always tried to remain in good stead with Robert Deliniaeia. Robert was life in the Wilds. Robert was the Bank. Robert was the economy, and in most places, that made him more important than the gods.

Sonyea and Skylt found an empty table, pulled out their chairs, and sat down. Skylt promptly ordered a beer. Sonyea ordered water. She had never had much of a stomach for alcohol, and besides, she was a woman who believed in living moderately. Life was already too short without liver failure.

"Fucking sweet pay," Skylt said, grinning over his frothy mug.

"Indeed." Sonyea nodded, placing her elbow on the table and lowering her cheek into her palm. She was no longer feeling the excitement that had earlier overtaken her. She was again feeling the cramps of her period, and the exhaustion of a rather sudden fight. It was late, and she wanted nothing more than to have a hasty meal and return to her apartment so that she could sleep.

"Why are you so gloomy all of a sudden? The fuck, woman?" He eyed her critically. "Are you bi-polar, on top-'a everythin' else?"

"I very well may be, but presently, I am not gloomy. I am simply tired. I think you'll concur with me when I say that it has been a very long night."

"You're happy about the pay, though?"

She forced a tired smile. "I am always happy about the pay, Skylt."

Robert had agreed to split the pay for this mission between Jasmine Sonyea and Skylt Blio, as Skylt had been given the job of distracting Xofish, and holding someone's attention was not always so easy as it theoretically sounded.

Jasmine did not begrudge Skylt his half of the pay, especially not after what she had ended up putting him through. Five-thousand Ba'Lifs was plenty, and Sonyea had ever attempted to be a frugal woman. She put most of her money in the Bank, as she was saving it for her future retirement. She had been warned that one could never quite retire from her chosen lifestyle, as it followed a person for their entire life, but Sonyea was not certain that she agreed with this line of thought.

If problems arose following her retirement, then she had decided that she would pack up her belongings and seek housing in Saela. Although people of the Wilds could be allowed within the borders of Saela, Sonyea knew that no one would locate her there, and even if they did, they would cause no trouble for fear of receiving Wershiyatsmiz's wrath.

She had extensively pondered her retirement, and she liked her plan of choice. She would withdraw her finances from the Bank and live in luxury for the remainder of her days, if she chose to do so. Perhaps she would even buy that pet that she had earlier spoken of.

"I want a whore. You ever think of buyin' whores?" Skylt leaned forward, forcing her eyes to lock with his. "Given what you said earlier about not wantin' relationships and such, I'm guessin' that you do."

Sonyea stiffened, looking downward and averting her eyes. Again, she felt self-conscious. Her self-esteem had never been the best, and this was a sensitive subject. "I've considered the matter, but I have never been able to bring myself to do that."

"Why? You'd be givin' them business. It's a good thing." Skylt snickered. "Consider--consider it charity. Money for fucking."

"I wish that I could see it as you do, but I cannot. I see only victims, and--" She shifted, clasping her hands together upon the table and letting her long black hair fall around her face. It shadowed her eyes. "--memories."

"Yeah, and we all had fucked up childhoods, but it doesn't stop most of us from fucking others up."

Sonyea shook her head. "I'm not saying that I'm being rational. I know that this isn't the case, but when I was a little girl and I had to fuck people for money, well, I wasn't entirely thrilled with my lifestyle. I hated being so powerless."

"And now you have power. The fun o' power is fuckin' others without power up. Kind of a big fuck you for that childhood shit that you're talkin' about. 'Course, as I said, whores have it pretty good, I think. If I could fuck for money, I'd be happy, but, shit, no one would pay for me. They'd pay for me to keep covered, maybe."

Sonyea could not resist laughing at that. "Or they'd pay for you to keep your mouth closed, rather. I'm sorry to say, Skylt, but you are less than charming."

"That, woman, is what I said you are for. Ta be charming. Me, I'm to look fuckin' menacing and scary and ta shout scary insults, and such."

Sonyea took a long drink of her water. "We all have our roles."

The food arrived shortly later. Jasmine had ordered a salad. Skylt had ordered some kind of meat that Sonyea did not readily recognize.

They ate their respective meals in relative silence, chatting every now and then about some happening or another. As she ate, Sonyea could feel her exhaustion becoming a kind of tired pleasure. Although she no longer felt like crying out about her accomplishments, she was content with all that she had achieved during the course of the evening.

She took no pleasure from killing people, but neither did she feel any guilt about what she did.

In the Wilds, everyone survived by using others. That was life. Predators survived by eating prey. It was perfectly natural. If the gods did not want the beasts to kill the gentle grazing things, then they should not have endowed them with fangs.

The Wild Lands was a moral conundrum, an absolute mess. The scholars of Urih-teliean loved to ponder the miasma of the Wilds, just as they loved to ponder the mysteries and the mystique of sex, and violence, and how everything was a part of the human condition, or how it was not. Psychology and anthropology were interesting subjects, but Jasmine would leave them to the scholars. She only knew that she needed food, and water, and a nice place to live.

She finished her meal, slipped some coins out from one of the pouches on her hip, and placed them on the table. Skylt leaned over, counting the coins, then smiled lazily at her. "A lady should pay for both," he teased. "You owe me, after the shit you pulled."

"You owe me, after you saw fit to give me such grief for everything that I've ever done, and a number of things that I probably never even thought to do."

He laughed. "Fair enough." He then reached into his pocket, and threw a few more coins onto the table.

Jasmine Sonyea arose. A warm smile spread across her face as she reached up and pushed several black strands of hair behind her ear. "Have a good night, Skylt. It was a pleasure doing business with you, as always."

She turned and lightly walked out of the restaurant, placing her hands into her pockets and thinking fondly of how nice it would be to soon have a pillow beneath her head.