“Hey, little JuJu.”
Juon sniffed and didn’t look up from his knees. He had curled into the seat of his favorite window in the Tiro estate, the one with the best view of the chasm edge. Koremi slid to sit next to him and Juon fought back more tears. He never liked for his fathers to see him cry.
“You did very well, JuJu. I know that was scary.” Koremi set his hand on Juons knee and he finally looked up. His stomach twisted when he saw the blood spotting his fathers bandaged arm.
“How’s ma?” Juon asked dully.
Koremi smiled reassuringly. “Just a nasty crack on the head. She’ll be fine. Your mother is ludicrously tough. Remember the time she headbutted that Coustlet?”
Juon ducked his head and smiled slightly.
“Come here, baby boy.” Juon let himself be pulled back into Koremis strong arms, let himself be rocked gently for the space of a few breaths. His Blood Father was the one who laughed, who was all excitement. It was his Half Father that soothed and comforted.
“It’s always hard the first time you have to kill.” Koremi finally said softly into the short thin dreadlocks his mother had only just begun to twist. “But that was quick thinking, grabbing the sword that assassin dropped. You saved your fathers life you know.”
Juon had been so angry when he saw the woman standing over his father, furious when he saw his mother crumpled on the flagstone, enraged at the sight of Daddy Koremi’s bloodied, useless sword arm. But Juon had two good arms still and there, glinting at his elbow, was the bad womans sword that had been struck away in the initial attack.
Until that moment the worst sound he’d ever heard was the mallet crushing the skulls of the river fish the cook prepared for dinner. Now it was the sound of a hard thrust blade severing a woman’s spine.
Juon began to cry again and Koremi hugged him tight.
“I know, JuJu, I know.” Koremi kissed the top of his head softly. “It’s a hard thing to understand, but listen;” Gentle hands took Joun’s jaw and turned his head. Koremi looked into his black eyes seriously.
“You do what you have to in this life.You protect the people under you. You protect this family.”
Koremi kissed Juons forehead.
“And if that means killing? Then sow death, JuJu.”
Juon Tiro’s breath left him when his back hit the alley wall but he didn’t relax his grip on the garrot he had wrapped around the huge mercenaries neck. The burly Engine Child choked and reared to slam him against the wall again, trying to shake him loose. Blood slicked his fingers from where the wire cut into the flesh of the thick neck and made his hold on the garrot tenuous, but Juon would not let go. Finally the pressure on the mercenaries windpipe brought the big man falling face first into the dirt. Juon twisted the garrot tighter and hissed between teeth bloodied by a punch to the mouth. “Just die, you son of a bitch!”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw his Eidlemark companion, Semni Ablenov, bent over a smaller mercenary while slamming a large chunk of rock into her eye. His oldest bodyguard Belafia Twist had finally gained the advantage on another of the murderous company and cleaved the man from shoulder to sternum with an overhand swing of her greatsword. Under him the thick mercenary struggled desperately, raking his nails across Juons straining forearms. Juon yanked tighter and after a moment the man finally slumped, dead. He slammed the mercenaries face into the ground one more time anyway.
An arrow thudded into the dirt, grazing his thigh. The second would have found his shoulder if Semni hadn’t hurled the gorey rock into the face of the archer, knocking her to the ground. Juon staggered to his feet and spat a mouthful of blood.
Stunned, the archer tried to wipe her face clear as she rolled on to her back. She coughed and tried to crawl backwards.
“Monster.” She gagged.
“No shit.” Juon put his boot into the archers stomach and bent to rifle through her pockets. “Did your employer let you know how hard Tiro’s are to kill? Hold still.” His hand closed over a thin round token and pulled it free to frown at the insignia stamped on it.
“That’s the Ketterjee family crest.” Juon didn’t look over his shoulder at Belafia who had come to stand behind him. He crouched to yank the archer to her feet and slapped her across the face.
“Go back to your boss and tell them if they want a fucking war they can have it.” Juon snarled as he thrust the girl towards the alley’s entrance, his boot on her backside sending her stumbling. “Get on.”
Juon watched her flee, Belafia’s reassuring bulk at his back. Semni clopped to their side, his right eye swollen.
“I came to Benga Loa to trade, young Tiro, not murder.” He said gruffly.
Juon pushed his long hair back from his face and turned. “Sorry you got caught up in that, Semni.” He said ruefully.
“I want ten percent off the top of the next refined shipments. All of them.”
Juon sighed, “I suppose thats fair. You did have to kill someone with a rock today.” He extended his hand to grasp Semni’s forearm warmly. “A pleasure doing business with you as always. And thank you again for your help with,” Juon gestured to the pulped skull of the assassin. “You know, that. Can I send someone to escort you back to the Set? Just in case?”
“Nah, miserable little piss slits probably had enough for today.” Semni said gruffly and trotted in the direction of the Shipping Quarter. “Besides, I need to make sure my girls weighed out that soloanite correctly. I’ll see you tomorrow, Tiro.”
Juons cheerful wave turned into a weary hand rubbing the back of his neck. “That was uncomfortably close.” He said to Belafia. “I don’t know who the Ketterjees brought on, but they’re smart.”
“I’m sorry, boss. I should have seen that coming.” Belafia said heavily.
Juon sighed. “If I didn’t spot a trap and you didn’t smell danger it means they’ve got a new element in their family. The Ketterjees haven’t gone the direct rout since Carissi left their last head lady with her guts strung out over the Patrician Quarter. Something’s changed.” A fresh trickle of blood filled his mouth and he spat again, felt a molar come loose. Juon worried it with his tongue impulsively and it came free.
He rolled it out of his mouth with his tongue and snarled. “Ah, fuck me raw.”
“Come on, boss.” Belafia clapped him on the shoulder with her thickly scarred hand. “I’ll take you back to the estate…”
“No.” He said shortly. “Too early in the day to go back home. I don’t want us looking thrown.”
Belafia raised an eyebrow, but was too loyal to speak out of turn. Master Juon always had his reasons.
“Clare should be looking after the people at Raw House today so I’ll see if he can do something about…this.” Juon waved his misplaced tooth. “I’ll catch my sister up on this bit of excitement,. Just make sure you send one of our best runners back to the estate to let my parents know about this shitfest.”
“I can go myself, young master…” Belafia started.
“I need you to go into the Throat.” Juon fixed her with a steady look. “Sorry, I would go myself but I’ve got to make sure Carissi knows what happened here fast as possible.” Juon pulled a newly minted copper token from inside his belted sash and handed it to her. On it’s surface was stamped a crossed hammer and chisel backed by the Tiros burning heart crest. He pressed it into her hand. “This will get you far enough down to get word to Marmont.”
Belafia’s broad fingers closed around it and she heard the levity in his voice stretched thin with worry. Juon was practiced at deception, but know a man long enough and you could read even the most subtle of tells.
“I’ll be fine, Twist. Semni is right. The Ketterjees played their hand on us for the day. Just… Go get my husband. Get him to Raw House, please. You’re the only one I trust down there.” Juon gripped Belafia’s shoulder and she ducked her head in deference.
“Whatever you need, boss.” Belafia slapped his arm and returned her great sword to its scabbard as she strode into the open air of the Shipping Quarter and towards the center of Bega Loa and beyond to the massive sinkhole that was the Throat.
Juon leaned against the mud brick wall of the alley, his tooth clenched in his fist and looked down at the bodies spilling sluggish blood into the dirt. He could have street kids clear them away for a pittance to keep the city watch off his back. That new guard captain, Ellette Veldmark, was especially tenacious. Still, Juon Tiro knew the value of a visceral reminder of his families savvy. One crushed skull, one split corpse would go far in reminding the competing families in Benga Loa that the Tiros may project an air of cordiality but that they would never fear to sow death when it was called for.
Juon tucked his misplaced tooth into an inner pocket of his tunic and squared his shoulders. When he reached the crowded streets of the Shipping Quarter he was again the untouchable Juon Tiro, even if he was a bit swollen around the mouth. He headed towards the northern district to see his sister.