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“Paraiba! Paraiba! Let it go, Paraiba. Breathe with me. Breathe. Let the energy go. It’s over, you don’t need it.”

The red faded from Paraiba’s vision, replaced with dancing black spots and fuzziness. Beyond that, only a soft expression and gentle hands that cupped his cheeks. Fuzzy blonde hair framed a dark complexion, and a name was on the tip of Paraiba’s tongue – it always took a few moments for him to remember her name after he came back.

“Thanks, Ruby,” Paraiba replied, voice hoarse. It wasn’t like it was an amnesia thing, he simply lost himself whenever he took that much power, and names and simple things like that escaped his grasp for several moments during it. “I haven’t… it’s been a while.”

Ruby gripped Paraiba’s forearm, the texture of the bandages pressing into his skin as she did so. “I know. Mission’s over, though. Let’s go.”

Paraiba looked over his shoulder and assessed the damage. He’d absorbed the power from… twenty souls? Whatever the number, he’d easily killed ten times more than that. Bodies and pools of blood littered the hallway, and Paraiba knew that beyond that, even more would be waiting in the courtyard.

“Paraiba. Now,” Ruby stressed. She gripped his arm tighter and tugged.

Paraiba turned his gaze away and started to head the opposite direction. He walked briskly, but Ruby quickly caught up.

“How much are we getting paid for this again?” Paraiba muttered, looking over at Ruby.

Ruby shook her head. “Not nearly enough, at least that I remember.” She gingerly hopped over a corpse.

“You never think we get paid enough.”

“Oh come on, do we? Our job’s illegal, they don’t exactly have to follow minimum wage laws, now do they?”

“Ruby, we make more than minimum wage,” Paraiba countered, wringing his scarf free of some blood as he walked.

“That’s not the point. I want just compensation for my frankly dangerous and illegal line of work.”

“I do too, but complaining about the pay will just make people not want to hire you again.”

Ruby rolled her eyes. “Then why do you work jobs with me? You should just work jobs with Pearl.”

“Pearl’s so fucking obnoxious,” Paraiba groaned. “Actually, everyone on the market’s obnoxious.”

“Why don’t you just work with me all the time, then?”

“Because you’re obnoxious too. Listen, I can only take one certain obnoxious person for so long. I have a whole system where I rotate out coworkers so I don’t get my brains blown out by the sheer force of annoying people right next to me at all times – and you’re gonna be rotated out in about a couple more missions, I think.”

“Wow. I feel so loved.”

Paraiba grinned, elbowing her. “I know! By rotating things out, everyone gets a little bit of love.”

“I might have to try that. You’re a bit too obnoxious for me to handle at times as well,” Ruby replied.

“Shush,” Paraiba said.

Ruby scoffed. “No way. I-“

“No, really, shut up.”

Ruby fell silent as she watched Paraiba’s expression turn dead serious. Paraiba pressed an ear to the door at the end of the hallway and he pressed a finger to his lips. He listened for a little while longer and then every so softly whispered to Ruby. “Plan B.”

Ruby nodded, then motioned for Paraiba to hide in the nook behind the door. She flung open the door, sobbing as best she could and running in to the other room. Paraiba’s heart rate picked up speed as he heard her cry out. “Someone help!”

Another voice quickly responded. “Dear, are you all right? What on earth happened here?”

Ruby sniffled loudly. “They’re dead, they’re – all of them, they’re dead!”

The voice paused and then laughed. Paraiba’s blood turned ice cold. “Oh, I know, dear. I could feel it from a mile away.”

Paraiba didn’t even get a chance to reveal himself before Ruby made a choked noise of pain. The hot, fresh sound of flesh tearing and bones snapping accompanied it, and Paraiba’s fist closed around his summoned magic weapon.

Ruby!” Paraiba screamed hoarsely, flinging himself around the door, already on guard. Ruby hung limp from a dark, writhing mass – a tentacle – and the culprit behind her sudden death seemed to be a man with dark hair, pushed back under a thin crown and dressed in all black.

The tentacle flicked and Ruby’s body was flung towards Paraiba, landing on the ground and rolling a short distance before stopping. Blood covered her chest, soaked into her clothing and hair. The underside of her chin and the lower half of her face was sprayed with it, gravity starting to overtake the droplets as they rolled down her cheeks. Her eyes were wide open and freshly glossed with tears, as if she were still alive.

Paraiba pointed his weapon at the man who was currently flicking blood off the tentacle – the tentacle that Paraiba could now see was attached to his back – no, a ring of indigo hovering over his back. “You killed her.”

“I don’t see why that would be of any concern to you. After all, your – killing fever, shall we say, is much worse than mine.” The man let the tentacle recede behind him and he faced Paraiba head on. “Two hundred and sixteen, all dead. Some were her, of course, but I found it interesting that you killed so much more. I wish I could have seen how it happened, but unfortunately, I only felt it.”

Paraiba gripped his blade tightly. “What do you want with us?”

“You,” the man corrected. “I’m done with her.” He gestured to Ruby’s body, laying on the floor.

Paraiba scowled. “Me. What do you want with me?”

The man shrugged. “Just a bit of entertainment. Haven’t gotten a fresh fill of fear and hopelessness in a long time. Your anger’s pretty refreshing too, I have to say. It’s just…” He inhaled slowly, letting his eyes fall shut, then opened them and exhaled, grinning. “Delicious.”

Paraiba glanced down to Ruby’s body. A soft glow radiated from her chest. Her soul. Unlike most others, Paraiba could see the souls when people died, so when the man also glanced down at the same spot, Paraiba tensed. The man looked up at Paraiba and tilted his head.

“Interesting. You can see them as well. I haven’t come across many who can.”

Paraiba looked down to Ruby’s body, only hesitating for a moment. This wasn’t just any old soul, this was Ruby’s soul. It was, no doubt, powerful, but it was also hers. She should have her moment of peace. But since the other man could see it, Paraiba didn’t know if he had the same ability.

Better Paraiba than him to take it, anyways.

Paraiba lunged forward, catching the man off guard. His fingers lightly brushed over Ruby’s bloodstained chest, maintaining contact only for a split second before he shifted the hand to grip the center of his weapon. The magic from Ruby’s soul swirled around him, and his vision turned red.

He could feel the blood rushing to his head and the pounding in his ears as he swung again and again at the other man, never landing any solid hits. The man just looked amused, which only served to piss off Paraiba further.

Fucking die already!” Paraiba shrieked, slashing and managing to hit the man’s arm. Paraiba staggered back a bit, winded. The man’s uninjured arm shot up to cover the wound, and he glared at Paraiba, though it was more of a pleased expression than a furious one.

“Oh, you’re just perfect. I have to have you,” the man said. “Such a unique ability – your power and your anger as well - I have to take you back with me.” The tentacles the man had behind his back sprung to life again, curling forward and knocking the blade out of Paraiba’s hand. It shattered into bits of magic on the ground. Paraiba charged forward, intending to keep fighting, but black surrounded him and he screamed, kicked, fought as hard as he could.

Then the last bit of red faded, and Ruby was gone.