It wasn't a difficult decision to leave Rubin to travel to the tax collector's residence by himself and to get there early with shadow-voyage. The assassin owned a griffin - he could fly there easily. There was little need to fly with him.
"This should be interesting," Axel mused, examining the building. "There are guards patrolling, and some of them are probably mages. Also, take note of Rubin's fighting methods. I believe he's here to test our ability to work with others, so try to comply with whatever he says, but only within reason."
"Okay," Skala nodded. "Should I turn into a dragon at any point?"
Axel considered it for a moment. Most who had seen Skala in that form had been killed by her quickly enough, or had been rendered too terrified to recall that the girl had been the one to transform into a dragon. Those who remembered her as the shifter were branded as delusional fools, though there was likely a rumour about her. Even back in Disan, she had protected the capital from a distance. Sightings had been labelled as stories.
"No," he decided eventually. "Keep to your human form. It'd be better to keep your dragon form primarily as a legend. It might come in useful at one point, if nobody knows about it."
She nodded, and Axel stood. "He's taking a while to get here, isn't he?"
Skala seemed to consider it for a moment, before saying, "I suppose he is just a human."
"Yeah. But I still don't like sitting outside and just waiting. If somebody else kills the target before Rubin arrives, then I'll kill Rubin."
Rubin arrived twenty minutes later. By this time, it had taken all of Axel's strength to resist breaking into the building and just killing the man already. Where was the point in waiting?
"Finally," Axel muttered, and Rubin turned to glare. His crimson mask caught a sliver of moonlight, reflecting it as he tilted his head.
"Well, I'm not the one who's too lazy to fly," he shrugged. "Now, you guys ready?"
Axel started to walk towards the mansion.
"Strangely enough, assassin, yes."
"My name's Rubin, not assassin! There are hundreds of assassins, but I'm unique. If I weren't unique, I'd just be another boring shell of seriousness and stuff, and that wouldn't be good for anybody. Besides, I'm going to explain the plan now, so listen up. We get inside by any means necessary - which means killing as many guards as we can because it's more fun like that - and then we find the tax collector, avoid the traps he's probably set, and kill him. Got it?"
If Axel had been a mundane human, he would have been disturbed by the cheerfulness to Rubin's tone as he described the slaughter of the guards; he might have trembled in fear before the tall figure, clad in black and red.
"Wonderful," Axel nodded, allowing the hints of a grin to touch his lips. "Let's go, shall we?"
Rubin nodded in approval, catching up to Axel effortlessly. Skala seemed content to walk behind them, so Axel sighed, talking to Rubin.
"They'll let you see our headquarters soon," Rubin promised. "But they just don't trust you yet, and they think you're going to betray them. If you do a few assassinations and stuff, then I'm sure they'll let you see it. For now, we'll have to meet at the Shade."
"The Shade is fine by me," Axel replied calmly. "I'm not here to join you in particular; I'm here to amuse myself and make my life interesting."
Rubin scoffed. "Life is measured in money. Money buys you everything. Don't go into all that stuff about money not buying you happiness, because it can. What can't you buy with money?"
Axel glanced at his new accomplice. Another blindly oblivious human. Concerned only with their riches.
"Friends. But I'm sure you'll insist they don't exist."
"They don't!" Rubin protested. "Don't tell me that she's actually your friend."
"Why wouldn't she be?" Axel shot a brief look at the guards. Apparently, the tax-collector's thugs had finally seen them approaching.
"Why would she be?" Rubin snorted incredulously, flicking a throwing knife at the nearest guard. "Friends can stab you in the back."
Axel glared at him, raising a wall of shadows to keep both he and Rubin safe from the arrows. Undoubtedly, the larger man could have evaded them somehow, but it was better to show off in the process of recruitment.
"That's the point of friends," Axel replied irritably. "They don't."
"If I offered you all the gold in the world, you'd take it. You'll say you won't, but you would, even if you had to stab her to get it. People are only out for themselves, kid, have you really not figured that out yet?" There was something in his tone that was mocking. Axel growled.
"Firstly," he said, "I am not a simple child. Underestimate me, and I will kill you." Absent-mindedly, Axel sent forth a piercing bolt of darkness to slay another guard. "And secondly, I would not take the money."
"Yeah, sure you-"
"Thirdly," Axel interrupted, "Neither of us are normal. We're monsters, and I do not intend to bow to the normality you seem obsessed with."
Rubin scoffed with laughter, as Skala stepped before them to fight off another three of the tax-collector's puppets. "If I were obsessed with normality, I wouldn't be out here killing stuff."
"No, but you'd be gaining money through some other method, wouldn't you?"
He shoved the assassin aside to follow Skala towards the mansion.
"Of course I would be!" Rubin agreed, nodding furiously as he lunged forwards, slitting a man's throat with practised ease. He was good - for a human.
"And you're not rich. Actually, scrap that, you probably are. But the point is, I'm happy! And I have money!"
Axel snarled, and the darkness formed a blade at his wrist. "I'm happy, and I have somebody who won't betray me for money!" He darted at another cluster of guards, slicing the blade across their chests. The darkness cleaved through flesh and bone with ease, and the guards fell to the floor, their bodies limp, their eyes frozen in a final expression of horror.
"She'd betray you for money!" Rubin laughed in return. And then, as an afterthought, "Are they running away from us? Why would they do that?"
"She wouldn't betray me. Also, they're running away because of your hideous mask."
Rubin laughed. "Was that sarcasm, kid? I'm already rubbing off on you!"
Axel scowled at him, contemplating plunging the blade of darkness through his stomach. Somehow, he let the energy fade away into the night, but didn't drop the scowl.
"You know, you look kind of funny when you're angry at something," Rubin informed Axel helpfully, making his way towards the mansion. "Anyway, let's go!"
"I would never betray you for money," Skala murmured softly as he strode towards the tax-collector's residence.
"I know," Axel replied, with a faint smile. "He's just a conceited fool."
Skala gave a nod of agreement.
"Hurry up!" Rubin yelled over his shoulder. "Or I won't leave any for you!"
Clenching his fists, Axel followed. "If I don't kill you first," he muttered.
They charged in like true monsters - blasting down the door with Skala's black-silver flames, and beginning the onslaught with knives and fire and darkness.
"That fire thing you do is amazing!" Rubin called out to Skala. "The silver kind of reminds me of stars, and the black's like the night sky. Darkness. I like it." He cut down another of their target's thugs.
"You know, that might be the most intelligent thing you've said all day," Axel snarled back. "And a three year old child could easily out-speak that."
Rubin's deep, hearty laugh echoed through the entrance hall as he swept below a strike, lunging upwards and striking his enemy in the heart. "Yes, but could a three year old child do that?"
In one sweeping, fluid movement, Axel stepped forwards, black magic bursting from his palms, forking outwards and separating. Instantly, the nearest enemies fell at his feet. Such an foolish mortal should not boast in the presence of monsters. It simply wasn't going to be successful.
"Can you do that then, assassin?"
"At least I don't even need to rely on magic to do everything for me, amateur!" Rubin snorted in reply. Axel felt his blood boiling. Was he insulting him?
"Then I'll fight without it! I'm still a monster!" Axel called out coldly, easily evading a spear, and flicking a knife at the woman who'd thrown it. The blade lodged itself into her throat, cutting her scream short. Did that human really think he was so much better than him? Axel wondered just what was stopping him from killing the assassin. Perhaps it was the prospect of finally feeling at least a little challenged by a human. Besides, if Rubin wasn't even the superior in his gang, then there would be others stronger.
Axel almost couldn't wait until they sold them out. Then, he'd have a reason to fight them. Not that boredom wasn't a good reason - but vengeance seemed a better one.
He glanced around, trying to spot any hiding henchmen. Skala shook her head slightly, like she was telling him that there were no more left.
"The floor looks much better now!" Rubin declared almost proudly. Looking down, Axel took note of the bloodstained carpets and the crimson splatter that coated several of the tapestries.
"Yes," he agreed reluctantly. "I suppose it does."
Striding towards the next set of doors, Axel ignored Rubin's teasing warnings for traps. Such mechanisms were set by humans. Never had a trap wounded Axel; he didn't intend for that record to shatter. Even without the shadows, he was strong.
And he was definitely stronger than Rubin.