Loan Shark

(Protectorate Year 644)

Dear Master

Hello, it has been yet another great year of slaughtering your enemies. I, of course, am the most skilled assassin in your holy army, Assassin Bloody-Hand The Quick-Kill, First Daughter of Assassin Sharp-Blade Omega Fear and Worker Bella Xri Fodo, Born of the Zarada Spawn Pits on Disputed World Gedri.

It isn’t easy, Master, living on a Disputed World like this. It can be hard to make it from day to day, but knowing that we’re spreading your power and influence across the stars is what keeps me going at full throttle.

But there’s just so many… ‘aliens’. Gross, misshapen creatures without fur or tails or horns or wings. They’re weird. I don’t know what kind of spawning pit they come from, but they could certainly use our help in perfecting their ‘human’ forms.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I need a strong stomach for this line of work, so I can handle looking at aliens. I can handle having to learn their barbarian language. I can even handle smelling them. What I cannot handle, or abide by, is how the aliens seek to abuse and fraud and steal from your children at every opportunity. I won’t allow it.

Therefore, when an alien gets too uppity, my sisters call on me to, ah… make them ‘disappear’.

(that means kill and then dump their bodies in the spawning pits so they dissolve)

My target on this adventure? An alien by the name of… uh… Bob. I think. I’m sorry Master, I can’t remember these ridiculous alien names. They’re far too short and they all sound alike.

Regardless, his business was money. See, aliens have this thing called ‘currency’, which, as I understand, acts as a medium of exchange for various goods and services. They’re so disorganized as a people that they can’t even trust each other to work for the good of their own creator. They have to use this system to measure if, for example, you’re allowed to eat. In their society, it’s not illegal to be jobless. Odd, I know, but such is the way of aliens.

Now, because we live on a Disputed World, we have to abide by their rules and use currency ourselves to compete. But none of us have any idea about things like ‘property taxes’ or ‘compound interest’ or what have you. So humans like Bob made a living from preying on our good nature. He’d give us loans that he said were good, but in reality, we couldn’t possible pay back. When we inevitably fall behind on our payments, he then went to a place called a ‘bank’ to cry about it. The bank would come and try to collect the currency we didn’t have, then we would have to make the bank people disappear, it was a mess.

For his continued crimes against the Slavani people, Bob had to go.

Being born an assassin, I used my expert skills and instincts to track Bob through the dark, grungy side streets of some alien city I can’t remember the name of. Trash littered the roads and clogged the gutters, humans laid under a blanket of trash on park benches during the cold nights. The leaves were a beautiful amber color, and the streetlights flickered overhead. I jumped from rooftop to rooftop in the downtown area to stalk my prey, using my wings to flutter across any gaps I couldn’t pass normally. Aliens can’t fly so they never looked up, meaning these cities were the perfect hunting grounds for us assassins.

Skipping the boring, gory details, I had slowly hunted Bob and his entourage for hours. I used the sheer breadth of Slavani weaponry at my disposal to thin their numbers. Calling in favors from my sisters, I had streets blocked, windows smashed, and guns shot strategically to herd my prey into a specific road. On that road I had some sisters pop the tires of their car, making them abandon it and flee into a specific, dark alley. From there, I expertly killed his fellows using a combination of blades and poisons.

Bob was the only one left. Alone, surrounded by bodies. He had been knocked on his butt, his back pressed against a chain link fence as he desperately tried to escape me. He had to look up at me, which is the perfect angle for my creepy skull mask to have the desired effect.

I would have ended him quickly, from a distance if possible, but my Slavani honor demanded he know this was a result of his own crimes.

But, as I approached, he spoke in perfect Slavash. “Gugh… I can’t believe I’m done in by a Slavani of all creatures…”

Curiosity assailed my mind. “What do you mean?” I raised my hand, three blades betwixt my fingers. “You should consider it an honor to be felled by ones so perfect as we.”

“Perfect? Ha! Having my end come from creatures so dull as you will make me the laughingstock of the next life.”

My body shook, I recoiled in shock and disgust. I couldn’t just let that pass. “D-dull?! What do you mean dull?! You’re dull! Take that back.”

“Hm? No. I won’t. You’re already planning on killing me, what more could you do if I don’t take back the objective truth, that you Slavani are some of the stupidest things to every walk the lands of men.”

My mouth clamped shut in rage, it was all I could do not to scream.

How dare he. How dare he, Master! This kind of insult could not be allowed to stand! It didn’t matter if he wasn’t long for this world!

“I think you must be mistaking us for some other species. We Slavani were designed to be intelligent, beautiful, cunning and strong, the most perfect species in existence, created by the intelligent design of our Master in heaven.”

He looked me up and down, his dim, boring brown eyes betraying his lack of a soul. “Hmmmm… Nope. Don’t see it. Trust me, kid. I’ve scammed a lot of suckers in my time. Nobody is so easy to fool as one of you. Whenever one of you furry-things entered my business, I always laughed inside as I knew it would be an easy paycheck for the day.”

I puffed out my chest, stomped my paw against the cracked asphalt and pointed at him, accusatorially. “Y-you scum! You vile beast! Take it back!”

He raised his hands slightly, “okay, okay, okay. There’s clearly only one way to settle this.”

I folded my arms, “by you apologizing?”

“I think you lot are stupid,” he continued, “you think you aren’t, but really it’s just word against word. We need action to prove one way or the other. How’s about a game of wits between you and I?”

I smiled a devilish smile beneath my skull mask, “oh, you poor fool. Deal!”

He nodded, “so, if I win, then I guess you’ll back off forever, leaving me alone and climbing back into your spawn pits. But if you win, I’ll spend the rest of my days spreading the word about what a smart, kind, pretty, and competent group of people you Slavani are.” Bob put out his hand, “sound fair?”

I reached out and grabbed it before he could realize his error. “Deal. No going back on it now, okay? Haha!”

Bob reached into his pocket and pulled out a small metallic coin. It looked pretty with all the engravings. “Now. What we’re gonna do is flip this coin. If it lands on heads, I win. If it lands on tails, you lose. Surely a brilliant Slavani of your caliber is able to see the strategy in this game, so I won’t bother going over the finer details. Okay?”

Ah~ it was so nice to hear this alien know his place. ‘Brilliant’, ‘of your caliber’. It’s nice to be recognized.

“Sounds good, let’s do it.” I lowered myself slightly and took my hands out of my cloak. I was ready to adjust to any change in conditions. No way would I let this beast defeat me in a battle of intelligence.

He flipped the coin and it spun in the air far too quickly for anybody to make out any details from it. What would it land on? Who would win? It was anyone’s guess. Seemingly, this game was based on luck, not skill.

Or so he thought!

I swung my hand and ripped the coin out of the air! In one solid motion I brought my hand up, then SLAMMED the coin down onto the back of my other hand!

“I make my own luck,” I said with a proud grin. I took a peek beneath my hand… then quickly closed the opening. “U-uh, wait…” I pursed my lips and looked off to the side.

“What did it land on?”

“Um…” I shifted in place.

“It’s heads, isn’t it?”

“…”

“Welp, looks like I won. It was nice dueling with you, but I have-“

I waved my arms in front of him. “Whoa whoa whoa! We’re not done here.” I smiled. “Games of wit are done by best-of-three.”

I flipped the coin once more, and this time it landed on Bob’s stomach. It bounced slightly but stayed put.

“Hm, look at that. Heads again. Welp, this was fun but-“

He tried to get up, but I put a paw down on his face and pushed him back against the fence. “Shut up! Did you not hear me? I said games of wit are done first-to-three. Can you not hear, alien?”

“Oh, you did? I’m sorry, I guess I misheard. Flip again.”

Hehheh, idiot. He had no idea that I lied.

I flipped once more and grabbed the coin out of the air. Holding it between my hands like a steel cage, I shook the coin around in the empty space, pouring my luck into its metal grooves and praying to you for victory!

I finally let it drop.

“…H-heads… again…” Sorry, Master. I prayed to you but I failed to properly hedge things to my benefit, and now, to the outside observer, it looks like it’s your fault.

“Hm. First-to-three, you said? Can I be on my way?”

My eye twitched. My teeth ground. I scraped my bandage-covered paw pads against the asphalt. “Gyah! What is with this stupid coin!?” I scooped it up and inspected the cursed item. “Wait… what?” I showed it to Bob, flipping back and forth. “Both sides are heads!”

“Yeah,” he nodded.

“Well… that’s cheating!”

“How?”

“Because you-“

“Did I ever say it was a normal coin? Did I ever say a double-headed coin was against the rules of our game?”

“…”

“It appears I’ve outsmarted you, Slavani.”

I reached under my creepy skull mask and scratched my chin. “I agree. I’ve underestimated you and it cost me this practice match. But worry not, Bob, was it? The real match starts now!”

He rolled his eyes. “Another game? Very well. How about-“

“Ah-ah-ah.” I wagged my finger, “as per curtesy rules for games of wit, I decide our next bout.”

He sighed and adjusted his posture against the fence, sitting upright as the chain links jangled against his weight.

Now Master, I’m sure you can tell what a clever guy this Bob is. I had to pull out all the stops in order to defend the honor of your creations. I paced back and forth, tapping the side of my skull mask as I was lost in thought.

“Ah!” I snapped my fingers and hopped back over to him. “Tell me what I’m thinking right now.”

“…What?”

“I’m thinking something. Tell it to me.”

“What does that have to do with wits?”

“Among the Slavani there are many different strains. Workers, Soldiers, Casters, Assassins, and a few others. Among us all, I’m the smartest Slavani, but I’m an outlier,” I gave him a wink. “But outliers aside, the smartest among us are the Casters, and they’re able to deduce what you’re thinking. So do that.”

“…” He glared at me for a moment, looking me up and down. He studied all my subtle body motions and seemed to have a special interest in my eyes. Suddenly, however, he closed his eyes and spoke it a strange language. It was weird and foreign, something like ‘知りません。‘ or something. Then, he opened his eyes. “Is that about right?”

“…Huh?”

“Oh, my apologizes. I have the power to read minds, but I can only translate it into my original language. What was it you were thinking?”

“That… I was thinking that I’m gonna win this match.”

He nodded. “Yep. That’s what I knew you were thinking.”

“Aah!” I recoiled, “really?”

“Yep.”

“That’s! That’s creepy! That’s super creepy! What am I thinking now?”

“Hmm…” Again, something weird. It sounded like ‘あなたはそのようなばかです‘. “Is that what you thought?”

“I… was thinking how scary and weird aliens are.”

He smiled an evil, toothy grin. “Looks like another win for me.”

“Aaaah!” I held onto the sides of my head. “Get out of my brain, alien!”

“Hmm… ‘こりゃ愉快だ‘.”

I froze. I slowly looked towards Bob, and I gulped. “D-…did you say… ‘I need to deal with this alien quick, he’s too clever’?”

“Yes.”

I felt queasy. Nauseous. It was hard to stand upright, the whole planet seemed to spin. “I… I don’t… you…”

“Welp, I do believe that that’s three more victories to me. Therefore, I think it’s about time for me to head on out. Good day, Miss Slavani, you truly were a worthy opponent.”

Fool. He thought complimenting me would distract me from his fraud. I reached into my cloak and threw a knife just above his head, close enough to cut some of his hair. The blade went through the fence and fell harmlessly on the other side.

“Eeh!” He screamed as he threw himself back to the ground.

“It’s not over yet, alien. Choose your next game.”

“But… I’ve won six times now.”

“The first three didn’t count as they were practice, and you..! You’ve, ah, broken the most sacred Caster rule of magic dueling! Yeah. Everyone who watches their famed magic duels knows that the contestants have to divulge what spells they know before the match starts. You did not mention that you had mind-reading powers, therefore the whole match is null and void… yeah, yeah actually, that makes sense. So, in terms of real matches, you have won a sum total of zero.” I made a 0 with my hand, to emphasize my point. “Pick your next game, Bob.”

He gave an exasperated sigh but nevertheless went into a deep thought. I folded my arms and tapped my paw, which seemed to distract him slightly, so I kept doing it.

Soon enough, however, as my impatience grew, my stomach growled.

“Hm?” He looked up.

“It’s nothing. Ignore it. I never eat before a kill, but this is taking longer than I expected.”

“Ah… ah!” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet. Digging inside, he started counting his money. “66…67…68.” He split the stack in half, then tossed one at my paws. “This game will be all about money management, something I am quite the expert in.” My face stiffened in response to his challenge. “You have 34 dorros and I have 34 dorros. There’s tons of restaurants and convenience stores open in this area, so we’ll go around and, using only this money, we’ll buy food with the highest number of calories possible, okay? After about an hour, we’ll meet back in this alley. Whoever brings back the most calories wins. Sound good?”

My mouth salivated ever so slightly. “And… once the calories are counted… who gets the food?”

“Well, uh, I’m not hungry so you can eat it all regardless of who wins.”

I gasped. “R-really? You’re not pulling my tail, are you?”

“No.”

“Haha!” I smiled brightly, my ears fluttering, as I bent down and gave Bob a few supportive pats on the shoulder. “You know, you’re a pretty good guy! For an alien, I mean. I’m real sorry that circumstances force me to kill you. But whatever, all in the past now, I’ll see you in an hour!”

I scooped up his money and ran off. There were so many restaurants, like he said. On my pride as a Slavani, I could not allow myself to be bested in a game involving food.

I ran from store to store, department to department, and restaurant to restaurant. It was a clever game that Bob came up with. Restaurants, you see, take a lot of time to cook their meals, and we only had a one-hour time limit.

This meant that using a restaurant later was a dangerous game. What were you to do if they weren’t finished cooking but you had to leave? It was dangerous. Too dangerous. I stuck to convenience stores and fast-food places.

But then, as I ran, something occurred to me. A simple oversight in my thinking.

“Why would I buy from several different stores? Wouldn’t it be best to go to one convenience store, find the least expensive item with the highest calorie count, and buy a load of them? He didn’t say anything about needing a variety, after all. This is a game of simple math!”

And so, I ran into the nearest store.

Ding-dong, the store rang as I opened the door.

“Good evening, how many I hel-AAAAAH!”

The store clerk saw my creepy skull mask and it had the desired effect. He stumbled back and knocked a few items off the shelves behind him. There were no other aliens in the store, and the clerk was the same bog-standard ‘human’ you see everywhere else. No horns, no wings, weird feet things, whitish skin, and black hair.

“Hello.” I said with a pleasant nod as I headed towards the back.

I picked up some bags of chips, I picked up some pastries, but then I realized something. “Wait… I don’t know what a calorie is.” That Bob was too clever. He knowingly promised food so I’d be too distracted to ask questions!

I walked back up to the store clerk and he seemed somewhat disturbed by my presence. Which is good. He should be. I’m a scary assassin.

“D-do… do you need something?”

I lowered my voice, giving it a dark, sinister inflection. “Why yes, I do, human. Impress upon this one the dark purpose of a calorie. And these symbols here, I believe they denote the cost, but I cannot decrypt their esoteric meaning.”

“Umm… well, that ‘symbol’ means it’s three dorros… and a calorie is, like, how much energy you get from the food. Or something.”

“Ooooh, I see.” I looked at the packaging. “And how would I figure out how many calories it has?”

He gulped, then reached out to point at a small white square on the back of the packaging. It was packed tightly with the alien language, and strange symbols.

“I see. To make this easier, I need an item with the most calories for the lowest price. What item is that?”

“Probably the… the calorie-chew.”

“Thank you,” I said with a nod and a regal bow, flipping my green cloak out with a wave of my arm. “Could you show me where?”

“S-sure…”

He sheepishly walked from behind the counter and led me through the store.

“So, uh, what’s with the skull thing?”

“Oh, this?” I let out a bright smile and forgot about my voice, it returned to its normal pitch. “It’s a mask!” I straightened my back and put a proud hand on my chest, “I come from a batch of Slavani Assassins, you see. The mask comes standard.”

“You… your whole batch kills people?”

“No. Well, I do, yes, but some of my sisters are hunters, or spies, or all kinds of things.” We reached the calorie-chews and he gave me a handful. “Our lithe bodies and proportionally larger brains make us well suited for sneaking around, silently.”

He led me back to the counter. “And the mask helps with sneaking?”

“No, but it looks cool and intimidates others.”

“Oh…”

“The cloak holds a lot of religious significance to our Master, not that I’d be able to explain it in the time I have left. Also, the skull is based on an animal from the Crown Worlds, so if you don’t recognize it, that’s why.”

“R-right…”

He pressed some buttons on his machine and took my money.

“Have a nice day and thank you, alien.” With a respectful nod, I take off back towards Bob, ready to win our game once and for all.

I returned to the alleyway with about ten minutes to spare, the calorie-chews rustling around in my paper bag. Bob hadn’t yet arrived.

“Hehheh, he must be panicking around now. There isn’t much time left for you, alien.”

I waited for the full hour to pass, but he didn’t show. I held my head high with pride, a win by default is still a win. But even though I was already the victor, I wanted to see how many more calories I bought then him.

I waited for another hour or so, and it dawned on me.

“Haha! He isn’t coming back, he gave up! That fool. Looks like he knew he couldn’t beat me and decide to try and save himself the embarrassment.” I rose my fist high in victory, “with an incredible win via forfeiture, Assassin Bloody-Hand The Quick-Kill wins again, proving once more than Slavani are the best! Oh Bob, you fool. I hope you realize that forfeiture means our deal is off and I’m free to kill you now, hehheh!”

I pulled the knives from my pocket and aimed towards that spot on the chain link fence… but he wasn’t there anymore.

“…oh…”

I’ll be honest, losing my target did hurt my pride a little. But I was reassured knowing that I won the game of wits. Bob was clever, I’ll give him that, perhaps the most clever human alive. It made my victory all the sweeter.

But it got worse.

Remember when Bob said I could have all the food we brought back here? I missed out on half of it, all because he couldn’t measure up and fled. It’s a curse, Master, sometimes we Slavani are just too good and end up missing out. You made us too perfect.

I climbed up a building to sulk about my missed opportunity at a large dinner, my legs dangling off the edge as I looked at the cityscape before me. Luckily, I still had my calorie-chews as a consolation prize. Unluckily, I learned that they might be the single most foul thing I’ve eaten in my life. Truly disgusting. Kind of like water, but chewy. I, of course, ate every single last one in the bag, but I wasn’t happy about it.

Also don’t worry about Bob and his crimes against the Slavani. I caught up with him a few months later and put a stop to him.

Of course, before I killed him I made him recant his previous statements. Once again, your creations are the single most intelligent, thoughtful, pretty, and skilled beings in the known and unknown galaxy. Don’t worry, Master, we won’t suffer insults to your creation.

 

-With love, Assassin Bloody-Hand The Quick-Kill, First Daughter of Assassin Sharp-Blade Omega Fear and Worker Bella Xri Fodo, Born of the Zarada Spawn Pits on Disputed World Gedri.

 

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