"Brian?" Nagare leaned over its engraved wooden desk, resting on its elbows. Its long black hair fell loosely over its shoulders, pooling into puddles of oil on the old mahogany.
Lines on the man's face. Looks 45--no, 50--no, 48.
Tension in his smell but also in his body language, and a certain way of carrying himself and looking about. He's angry, no matter how scared he may also be. He's out for blood. He came here not because he can't kill, but to keep himself out of trouble. He's still too afraid of me to try anything here, though.
A fresh suit, cheaper fabric, but clearly an attempt at sharp business clothes. Looks like a middle-class type, heading upward, or aspiring to it. Nagare searched its mind to pinpoint the brand, triangulating from several foreign memories.
Popular in England. He came a long way just to see someone dead, but he's not British, so where is he originally from?
No one within Nagare knew a Brian Aronson. The trail grew cold.
"That's me, yes." A middle-aged man with a briefcase in tow pushed the rest of the way through the door.
Nagare eyed the bag. Leather. It could smell the skin from here. Dried, tanned flesh, though, was not at all as appealing as the musky organic smell coming from the human himself, smelling of nervous sweat and living cells. Despite Brian's heavy coat and hat, the odor still wafted across the room, and the warmth from the body was near-visible as he drew nearer. Nagare's hands flushed hot and writhed in frustration, keeping their tension barely under the falsified skin.
It forced the fibers back into stillness, calming its body, slowing the motion under its palms to a crawl and then a stop.
Its gaze rose to meet Brian's, just a little too calm to be human, and it let some red bleed into its cold brown eyes. "I see you're already serious about this. Many start having second thoughts about now."
The man shook his head, pressing his lips into a thin line as he hefted the briefcase onto the table with a thump. "Ten thousand up front, in cash, just as I was told. Keep the case."
Nagare let its eyes slip into a deep red shade as it reached out a hand.
Brian stared at it as if it were covered in poison. A tiny bead of sweat gathered at his graying temple, and Nagare could smell the salty fear all about him. Little zaps ran through its body, palm to palm, head to feet, flicking across like electric arcs.
"Let's be civilized about this," it said, extending its fingers.
"Is this some kind of test?"
The Light kept its eyes locked onto its client's gaze. Brian's hand trembled, then rose for the shake.
"There. Now you know there's no need to fear me." Nagare leaned back in the chair and motioned to the single seat on the other side. All that show tended to have the exact opposite effect, which was what he wanted. "Here, sit."
"Check it." Brian turned the briefcase around with a shove of his hand, then crossed his arms, statue-still. "I don't want anything to land me in hot water with someone like you."
A tendril snaked out from Nagare's right leg, seeping across the cold wooden floor, rough old scars catching against its slick length as it twined toward the smell of cloth and leather shoes. Raising itself up like a cobra, it crept onto Brian's jeans and branched up his leg.
The color drained from Brian's cheeks.
"I said," Nagare tensed the coils, and Brian's leg buckled, "sit down."
"You can't take your business elsewhere, or you would have. No one comes to me unless they have plenty of money and more than a drop of," it slipped a hiss into its final word, "desperation."
"Light, are you going to take the job or not?"
"My name," it stood and thumped its hands down on the table, "is Nagare. Know it, and use it."
No response. Brian's face was so white that his mousy hair looked black by comparison, but still he straightened his back and soldiered on. Courage is not the absence of fear? Or is he simply faking his way through?
"Now, then." Nagare let its expression relax, loosing the fibers, stretching its fingers across the desk and honing them into sharp tendrils that stretched to the far edge and stopped. "Your target?"
The human motioned to the briefcase. The surge of heat and narrowed eyes reappeared, latent rage rekindled. "In there."
Nagare opened the lid and peered at the money inside. About ten thousand, good. If there was any less, it would have a word with the man later. As for the information, there was a yellow envelope strapped to the top of the box, and Nagare reached out, wrapped around the paper, and tugged it free. A long red strand held the envelope high.
Watching Brian try not to fidget, it pulled off the top of the envelope and reached inside to lift out a set of photos and a pack of paper.
"Your data's all there. The guy's name is Ashton Ballard. He works for Alethea Scientific. He's a," he paused for just an instant, "researcher. Chemistry."
Nagare wasn't going to ask why the man wanted this Ballard dead. No one who came to an assassin wanted to tell his story. They had already decided it was worth it, or they were insane enough to pony up fifty thousand dollars on an impulse, and as such the Light decided it wasn't enough of its business. Just the name, the information, and any relevant details.
"All right, Brian Aronson." Nagare finished riffling through the papers and set them on the corner of the desk, covering them in a gleaming red web. "And what would you like done? It's quite a profile, but there's nothing in here about the man's fate. Do you want him simply killed? Or..." He let the word trail off, dripping down its tongue, seeping out into the air and hanging there. The slight raise of its brows drove home the point.
"Or." Brian's jaw set.
The Light leaned closer, its eyes a little wider. The tendrils sprawling over the front of its desk ran down toward Brian's chair, slithering in front of the man's shoes. This time, he didn't twitch.
The fear boiled down into determination, a lowering of the brows and a setting of the jaw. This one was a fighter; Nagare watched in satisfaction. Better that than a scared little mouse. It always liked to weed out its clients by who could withstand working with its Light nature, and who couldn't -- staring the beast in the teeth was the best way to know, or conquer, fear. Brian looked like the type to push through, regardless. Danger brought out the force in a man.
Brian's voice was even and flat now, though his hands balled up in his lap. "Ballard was working on a number of research projects. I want everything about them that he knows."
The viral threads crept up the chair and climbed onto Brian's arm, sweeping down to his hand.
"You understand that this does involve his death, whether you like that, or not."
"Yes, I know. Do whatever you must," he raised his hand and let the biomass crawl back and forth between trembling fingers, "to pick his brain. And after that, I want him destroyed. Not just killed -- make sure there's no body."
Nagare watched the fingers close over its tendrils. Human warmth, close against him, drowned him for a moment in ecstasy. Flesh, so near, so close--
The hands squeezed, and Brian gave a slow nod. "You're welcome to have him." The faintest hint of a smile, or was it grim resignation? "Take your time with it."
There, out came the bloodlust, that was it. Nagare slipped its tendrils away onto the floor again, withdrawing over the panels and back up the desk and into its arms, where they reformed into fingers. It stood, sweeping briefcase, money, and folder into a corner near its hand.
"I'll take your job. You know the payment conditions, yes?"
A nod from the human. The fearful, sweating smell drifting about him was dissipating now. "Forty thousand upon completion, within a week. If I bail on you, I cease to exist."
That was a polite way of putting it. Nagare smiled, this time showing too-white teeth. "Yes, you have it right. Now, leave me be."
"Hm?" A raised brow, carefully arched.
Brian stood and motioned to the papers. "Ballard is only in the area for two weeks. After that, all bets are off, and I take my forty thousand elsewhere. He'll be under so much lockdown that I wouldn't trust God himself to get the man out. Right now, though, he's in transit, and he's out of his home country, so this is your best shot"
"You know my terms."
"I know Ballard." Brian stood, fists clenched by his sides. "You have two weeks, Nagare."
"And will there be anything else?" A smile and a lacing of the fingers, and Brian was stopped in his tracks halfway to the door.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, there are many who like a trinket or two from their target. Both ears and the tail, perhaps?"
"Ha ha." Brian glared at him a moment, then glanced off to the side. "Actually, yes, there might be. He has a picture with him, a photograph. It's of a woman. His wife. Bring it back. Proof and all that."
Sometimes you could just tell.
(I'm only partially happy with this, but I wanted a sketch of Nagare, so here it is.)
Type of piece: Character sketch