Axel could sense the magic that had been layered upon the handles of the doors as he touched them, but he didn't hesitate. Hesitation was for people like Rubin - humans without true power. Flinging the doors open, he threw himself backwards, somehow managing to evade the wall of flames that engulfed the spot in which he'd just been standing. Magic infusion was an art that would have taken the mage hours to complete - and this was all that happened? A wall of fire this small?
"Told you it was trapped!" Rubin called out. "The request thing said that the tax-collector's really paranoid and all! There're loads of people out to get him, since he over taxes people. Most people probably don't even make it to here. The guards inside looked really surprised, like their friends outside should've stopped us or something."
Axel proceeded to ignore the idiot, and walked confidently through the huge oak doors, black robes flowing around him. Inside, there was a long corridor, stretching out to both sides and cleared of all guards. Which meant that one of them had escaped to raise an alarm - and they were most likely all gathered around their master in futile hopes of protecting him. Or, they were waiting to ambush them, hiding within doors along the corridor.
"Nobody here? Shame. We'll just have to kill them all later!" Rubin said, shrugging.
"Shut up and hurry up," Axel growled, leading the way through the corridor. "And watch out for an ambush."
"Sure thing, amateur."
Axel spun around, trying to control the surge of darkness that was practically begging him to slit the man's throat. "I wouldn't say that again, assassin." His voice was low and dangerous. What right did Rubin have to challenge him like that?
"I'll stop saying it when you tell me your damn name and when you stop calling me assassin, amateur!" Rubin teased.
"It would be so easy for me to kill you now," Axel threatened. Even as he said it, he could feel the pull of the darkness, willing him to just end the assassin's pathetic life now.
"Yes," Rubin agreed cheerfully. "You could just kill me now, but then you'd be bored again, wouldn't you?"
"I would be," Axel snarled. "But I'm sure that when you and your stupidity become too much to bear, I can take great pleasure in slaughtering you then."
"In that case, I look forward to our fight!" Rubin laughed, pushing past Axel to walk down the corridor. For a few long seconds, Axel stood, glaring. Skala placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder, and they shared a look of comradeship.
"You'll let me kill him later, won't you?" Axel sighed. Skala shot him a small grin.
"Yeah," she nodded, and together they caught up with Rubin.
There was a slight scratching sound from behind one of the closest doors. Axel pointed to it, and both Skala and Rubin nodded. At least the idiot wasn't being quite so stupid now. Darting forwards with black flames burning in her palms, Skala blasted the door down, and the scent of burnt flesh entered mingled into the air almost instantly. Whoever had been unlucky enough to hide behind the door had been incinerated - that much was certain.
"Next time, leave some for me," Rubin grumbled.
"At least she can fight," Axel snapped back.
"No need to put yourself down; I know you can't," Rubin replied happily, before walking up to the next door and kicking it open. A glint of silver. A splatter of red. The moment after, Rubin was running to the next door, and there were two corpses at the floor where he'd just been.
"Let's go. We've got to kill more than him," Axel growled. He and Skala darted forwards. She didn't even pause as she destroyed each door on her left, regardless of whether or not there were people inside. Axel would not use his magic; to do so would only prove to Rubin that he relied on magic rather than skill.
Charging into another room, he ducked a spear strike, cutting down three men with his blade and moving on to the next room. He would prove himself better than Rubin. There was no other choice.
"You're doing well for an amateur!"
Axel sliced down a few more, attempting to ignore the assassin's jests. Another door, another two, another splatter of blood on the once emerald carpet. The cycle seemed endless, and Axel realised just how paranoid the tax-collector really had been. With so much money, he'd spent it all on people to guard him, selecting them for numbers rather than skill. His victims were all pathetic; they merely wanted the money of a rich brat. A rich brat, who would not be saved by paranoia. Nothing could stand between a monster and its target.
Axel and Skala were unstoppable.
It didn't take them long to wipe out all the ambush parties. Glancing back along the hall, there were bodies lying in the entrances to each doorway on one side; scorched and blackened walls on the other.
"Well done, amateur. I'm glad you're not wetting yourself with fright."
"And I'm surprised you haven't already fled, assassin," Axel hissed in return, opening the door at the end of the corridor. This door, too, was magically infringed, but that had little effect on Axel. He sprung backwards, smoothly evading the second flame trap.
Behind, there were stairs.
"He's probably moved right to the top of the mansion after they raised the alarm," Axel guessed. "He probably feels more secure there."
"Good deduction, amateur," Rubin agreed, pushing past and bounding up the stairs. He was so childish - especially for an assassin.
They followed him, ignoring the landings and continuing to head upwards. On the wall were a few extravagant paintings, mostly of cities that had once existed in Disan. But that world was gone, now.
Finally, they arrived at the top of the stairs, and Rubin grinned, throwing open the door and stepping back from the flames.
The man needed some variation in traps - perhaps setting the first two as fire to lull any assassins into a false sense of security, and then setting the third as a hail of ice, puncturing any on the landing rather than simply using the same thing over and over. Humans were fools.
"Let's go!" Rubin laughed, running along the next corridor. Standing right at the end were a cluster of guards, several with flames or ice dancing within their palms. Finally - a challenge.
Gripping his dual blades, Axel ran forwards. Hesitation would be his death; speed and mercilessness would be his saviour. Rolling aside, Axel dodged past an attack of ice, striking upwards and cleaving off the mage's head. His heart hammered: that beautiful feeling of danger had returned. A grin touched the corners of his lips as another mage took the fallen's place, this time forcing a pillar of rock from the stone floor of the mansion. Throwing himself forwards to evade it, he slammed into the mage and sent them both falling down. Before they even hit the floor, the mage had a wound through his chest, and a bloodstained shirt.
Leaping to his feet again, Axel thrust forwards for his next victim, both he and Rubin striking simultaneously.
"Out of my way, assassin!" he yelled, trying to shove Rubin aside.
"Like that'll happen, amateur!" the murderer laughed, nimbly clearing a wave of lightning. Axel struck the lightning mage down before Rubin had a chance, then moved on to attack the next.
"You're slow, assassin!"
Narrowly evading a ball of flames, Axel swept his blades across the chests of two more mages. Callous. Heartless. Relentless.
He was a monster, and he was stronger than Rubin.
The last of the mages fell, and Axel flicked his two swords. Another splatter of blood joined the crimson pools at the floor.
Skala walked past, putting her palm to the final obstacle between them and the target: the last door. It burst into flames, and, a few moments later, was a smouldering pile of ashes at her feet.
"Good job," Axel said, almost gently, and walked into the room.
The second he entered, Axel could hear the heavy breathing of the tax collector.
"Come out from under your bed, you snivelling fool, or we'll burn you to death," Axel threatened. A whimper emanated from underneath the four poster bed, but the tax collector didn't emerge.
"All right, I'll drag you out and slit your throat, then!" Rubin said breezily, walking up to the bed and ducking down. A second later, there was a scream, and he had the repulsive little creature by the scruff of his shirt, lifting him up and glancing over his features for a moment.
"Does this look like the tax collector in the description, or do you think he's a double?" Rubin asked.
In one swift, fluid movement, Axel had unsheathed a knife, and thrown it straight at the man's chest.
A strangled scream.
A snort of irritation from Rubin.
Yet more drops of crimson.
"He was definitely the tax collector," Axel replied. "Now, let's leave. It's already getting dull again."