Magical Assassin Wendy Cooldown versus The Great Sage of the Outback Leman Russ

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After the fucking debacle Crazy Cunt put her through, I was astonished Papers was still with us. Still…all there. Mostly there, anyway. More there than most people’d be, facing down their own witch. Let alone on their first witch hunt. She’d be a hero, in a better Officio. …Not ours, but not this outback hell on the asshole of the world, either. They were treating this like it was nothing. A brief stop in medical, enough to get her patched up and a few extra seeds as a precaution, then…

Well, I brought her back to her room. She didn’t need to be badgered and questioned after that. I knew Mary’d use it as a springboard for our negotiation; we’d all agreed this was neglect of the highest order – sending a fresh-faced noncombatant rookie into a barrier without so much as a real support team was practically murdering her. She was damn lucky Crunch could take that witch out as fast as she did, because I sure as shit couldn’t, and luckier that the grief seed was enough to get her back to the Officio.

…Someone had to look after her, though, and I volunteered instantly. I wanted to make sure Crunch didn’t fucking touch her after that stunt. Well, that, and I was sure I’d shove my knife through Leman Russ’s smug fucking face if she tried to handwave this. Last I talked with Annie, she looked like she was pretty close, too, and she LIKED Russ.

Elly’d been up for a few minutes now, looking all the world like death on two pudgy legs. Didn’t have an ounce of color in her anymore, and every time she’d open her mouth to try and talk, she couldn’t manage anything but a hiccup. Good thing I kept candy stashed away in my inventory (usually for Lily, sometimes for Annie or Nakajima) to take the edge off with; I got up a couple of minutes ago for just long enough to move to the other side of her bed, where she still had a hand to hold, and she made this terrified little noise, like a cat choking on a hairball.

It’d be cute on any other day.

Her hand squeezed mine again. It was…tiny, way too small, and it felt so frail right then. She kept glancing down to the stump where her arm used to be. Kid didn’t deserve this – any of this, not what we did to her, not what the Sixth did to her. Not what that crazy sword bitch did to her especially. Fuck. Just thinking about it made me want to stab a fucking lovehole in everybody in Australia. I was smarter than that, but shit. It might have been worth it.

…Footsteps in the hall. Soft ones, but there was no hesitation in them. I think the kid heard them too; she bit down on the sucker I’d given her, and her nails dug into my hand. Just as I expected, they stopped outside the door. Papers shot me a look, as if she were begging me to stop whatever was coming next.

“Fuck off!” I hissed at…yeah. I was pretty sure I knew who it was already. Wasn’t Vagina Spiders, she was louder, when she didn’t need to sneak around. Wasn’t Crunch or the door would be off its hinges already. Her Majesty had no reason to visit Papers, and since we’d made this incident into the lynchpin of our proposal…

“I’ll never quite understand you Americans. People call us a lot of nasty things, but even we typically start with ‘Please, come in’, or at very least ‘How you goin’?’” She knocked (as if it made a fucking difference) and let herself in, smoothly closing the door behind her, and gave me a small, mischievous smile that made my heart skip a beat (entirely against my will).

The Great Sage of the Outback Leman Russ was small and slender, almost frail. Silky red-brown hair fanned out behind her as she walked, and settled evenly around her as she sat next to me on the bed. I didn’t leave much room for her; I wanted to stay between the kid and these sheepfuckers for as long as I could. The air filled with an indescribable sent, a wild, fresh smell that I’d been told reminded Mary of her and Annie's hometown, minus some cow shit. Elly wrinkled her nose and turned away a bit. Seemed to be bugging her, too.

…It was hard to put into words the significance Russ seemed to give a room, but I’d been told before that that was, like, the most basic trait of a good Warmaster. It was a damn accomplishment, when you’re half-dog or…whatever the hell she was. …Her dress looked like it cost half my monthly salary, too. Five digits easy.

“How are you feeling, Eleanor?” The kid peeked out at her Warmaster and her lips parted. …There was a second of hesitation, then her nails dug into my hand all over again.. …She tried to take the sucker out with the hand that wasn’t there anymore, if I had to guess. I shot Russ a look.

“Your fucking retard rank leader almost killed her, almost definitely crippled her. Permanently. Does she look alright to you?” I growled, and Russ just nodded, as if she’d barely heard what I said. Smug fuck.

“She’ll need a new arm, then, and her leg…did she injure it in the barrier? The medical team mentioned she’d cracked her shin. It’s going to be hard for her to run until it’s healed properly.” …Running really wasn’t something Papers did. Except...away. She was pretty good at running away.

“One of your girls fucked up her leg. And we’ve already got plans to deal with it. All of it. Back in Santa Destroy.” I emphasized that last bit, in case she didn’t get the fucking message.

“I’m sure you do.” Again with that condescending tone. “And do you have a Culexus?”

“…Why do we need a Culexus?” I had to fight to keep my knife out of my hand already.

“For Eleanor’s sake, we’d like to wipe her memory of that…incident. You understand the severity of coming into contact with one’s own witch, of course.” Aaand I lost it. Lost the fight, felt one hand curled around an old, wooden handle as Papers squeaked and clutched the other. As if she wasn’t shaking enough already.

“You’re gonna scramble her fucking brain? No, this conversation is fucking over. We’re taking her. Now. “ I started to stand, and Elly followed suit, leaning on me.

Russ’s eyes flicked to my knife, but only for a moment. She just sighed.

“You may be willing to start a war over this, Miss Cooldown, but I’m not. I will not, however, allow you to just walk away with her.” I looked down at Elly. …Don’t even think she knew what was going on. She just wanted to be out of here. She never asked for any of this. She winced as she shifted her weight again, and I eased her back down onto the bed.

“If there are no further complications – and that’s still an ‘if’ at this point – we’re willing to offer her a memory wipe, if she chooses. Is that more acceptable? Giving her the choice?” Her eyes narrowed just slightly, and I felt a chill in the air. That much, at least, Elly didn’t seem to pick up. I sunk down on the bed next to her.

“…Yeah. But she’s…” I squeezed my knife, then dismissed it. ...She was a kid. Would she even know if she could live with that kind of memory? …I’d met a handful of people that had dealt with their own witches, and you had to be made of some pretty strong shit to walk away intact.

“She’s a member of the Sixth, Miss Cooldown.” Her tone shifted. It was colder, now. Commanding. It matched her new expression flawlessly. …It sounded better coming from her than the distant kindness she’d been showing, though. At least it wasn’t vaguely insulting. “It hasn’t escaped my notice that you’ve been doing nothing but coddle her since you got here.” The Warmaster’s tail swished behind her, and for a moment, I was a rabbit in front of a wolf. I glared back as steady as I could.

…I’d split her fucking stomach if she gave me a reason. She knew it, too. Not sure if I could have taken her in a fight, but I was already making a plan. Don’t doubt for a second that she was, too.

“Do you really think she’ll be better off rotting in the Eighth, Miss Cooldown?” Her eyes were a deep red, more natural than Annie’s or Miss Marigold’s. Staring down Leman Russ was like staring down nature itself.

“We’re not gonna let that happen again. What happened before was…disgusting, and we’re not letting our little shitcubator pull that ever again.” It was all too easy to get pulled into her rhythm. I found my own tone evening out, even as every muscle in my body was coiled, ready to rip her throat out.

“That isn’t what I mean. Do you really think a pretty cage full of sweets and video games is going to be any better for her?” I couldn’t read her. Not at all, and it made me edgy. She didn’t seem angry. Didn’t seem upset. Just…steely. Entirely sure of herself. Like she walked in and owned the both of us.

“Better than Crazy Cunt. You know. The reason she doesn’t have a goddamn arm right now.” Least it was easy to stay pissed.

“This isn’t about Crunch, this is about Slam. The reason I’m hesitant to let her go with you isn’t that I’m worried she’ll end up overworked and broken, it’s that I’m worried you won’t push her at all. For an Officio that claims to be full of cold-blooded assassins-”

“Oh fuck off, the kid’s traumatized.” If Papers hadn’t been clinging to me like a baby bear cub I would have leapt right there. I could practically feel my knife on that haughty bitch’s throat. “Warmaster Springfield has been working her ASS off to get rid of the image that our girls are all bugfuck crazy monsters. You’re just shitting on us when we’re trying to do something nice for somebody we fucked over!” Her tone wasn’t changing at all even now, and it was really starting to piss me off. Elly shrunk away from me as I all but yelled at Russ.

“She can’t sit in a room and do nothing forever.” She raised her voice slightly, just slightly, and that was all it took to make the whole world quiet. “And you have no place encouraging it. She is in my Officio. You are not. And if you were, you would damn well not be allowed to continue treating her like a helpless kitten. You of all people should know better, Assassin.” She hissed the word out, like she didn’t believe it. She was mocking me.

…Maybe I’d gone soft. Maybe she was right.

“…Eleanor. Do you have anything you’d like out of life?” Russ spoke again, her tone gentler now, and she turned her liquid steel gaze on Papers.

“Just leave her alone-“

“I wasn’t talking to you, Miss Cooldown. I was never talking to you. I didn’t even realize you were in here until I smelled car exhaust and processed beef, and I wouldn’t let you stay here if I weren’t completely sure you and your American friends would throw a fit. Let her answer, please.” I opened my mouth, then shut it and looked to the kid.

“…candy shop…” she mumbled, numbly. At the Warmaster’s urging, she repeated herself, louder. “…I wanted to open a candy shop.” The kid’s faced burned red, and I couldn’t help but smile a little. …Never would have guessed.

“…I want to keep you with us forever.” Russ beamed at her, the first genuinely pleasant expression I think I’d ever seen on her. With just a few words, Elly broke the tension in the room in half. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do first.”

…She’d be alright. I’d heard a rumor once or twice that Russ had a family – a husband and a couple of puppies - and I’d believe it, with that expression. It was almost nurturing, and a little tiny part of me was kinda jealous. I tugged my hand away from Elly and moved to her other side, placing my hand on her shoulder instead, urging her toward Russ.

“…C’mon, kid,” I murmured to her. “It’s okay. I’m still here.”

“We’re going to keep you here at very least until you can defend yourself properly. Heather was clearly not the best choice for easing you into an Eversor’s lifestyle, and you clearly have a ways to go before you’re ready to attempt her level of…training.” …Even her own Warmaster had to force it out when it came to Crazy Cunt.

“You’ll be expected to train on your own, or find your own trainer at a more suitable level. In the interests of allowing you to focus more on your goals and your training, you will no longer be required to do paperwork for the Officio.” Russ nodded again, mostly to herself. I think. Papers gave me a look, apparently entirely bewildered. Confused. …I don’t think she ever expected someone to say she got to stop doing fucking paperwork, and I especially doubt she ever expected anybody to take her dream seriously.

“You will, however, be expected to continue contributing to the Officio’s operation. To that effect, you’ll be working under my younger sister, Jael, in managing one of our side-businesses, Sundry Offerings. Ideally, you can also get a bit of experience behind the counter this way.” I was starting to feel like an asshole. Seemed like she’d really come up with a plan that…actually gave the kid what she needed to get going. Didn’t even occur to any of the rest of us.

“You’re going to need to show a little more backbone, but you have a goal now, don’t you? And we’ll be happy to help you work toward it as you train to become an Eversor.” Yeah. She was definitely a mother. Looking at Elly now, it seemed like she might have been thinking more about her than even her parents ever had, let alone us. “Of course, to do that, you’ll need to kill a witch on your own OR defeat one of our Eversors in single combat.” Papers gave me another look. She needed somebody to back Russ up before she’d believe it. …Poor kid couldn’t even do that much. Fuck.

‘Don’t fuck this up for her,’ the wolf glared at me over Elly’s shoulder. She all but mouthed it. My eyes snapped to her, then down to the kid’s, and I ruffled her hair.

“…Seems like Crunch is out of the picture, kid. And you’re off the hook for bitch duty. Why don’t you, uh…You think you’ll be okay sticking it out here until you’ve gotten your footing? We can talk about taking you back into the Eighth once Miss Russ is satisfied.” The Warmaster gave me an approving smile, and my cheeks burned a little. …Papers looked a little hurt, but gave me a nod.

“We’ll be testing you again as soon as your leg’s healed, so get to training as hard as you can before then.” Russ and I relaxed in near-unison, but Elly went as stiff as a board.

“What.” Elly squeaked the word out in her small, choked voice. “I can barely even walk, how am I-“

“You’ll manage. And Jael and I’ll be delighted to help you along the road to your own candy shop while you train.” Was that…excitement? She was really into that fucking candy shop. Maybe she just liked seeing the kid grow a purpose; I sure was.

“…What about Crazy Cu… …Crunch?” Her shoulders slumped. She’d given in, like she…kind of always did, I guess, since I’d known her.

“Heather’s taken a forcible leave of absence for the next…month.” The Warmaster’d barely betrayed her emotions so far, but the way she said it made me think it wasn’t exactly the punishment she had in mind. “You don’t need to worry about her for now.”

Papers twirled the little red sucker in her hand and nodded slowly.

“Maybe she’ll die,” I offered. Russ let out a small sigh, but it made the kid smile awkwardly up at me. Maybe she forgave me a little.

“I don’t want her to die. …I just…want her to leave. Forever. But a month is…okay. I guess.”

“A month will be plenty of time. I’m sure she’ll be a changed woman when she returns.” Russ reached out to pat Elly’s other shoulder, and the two of them exchanged awkward almost-smiles. “She shouted as much herself. Repeatedly. While she insisted she be allowed to pay for the ‘most magnificent robot arm’ we can have designed for you.” Another self-satisfied nod. “We’ve already begun making arrangements with the Second’s Mechanicus division.”

“She…what.” Elly opened her mouth, then shut it. …She didn’t want a MAGNIFICENT ROBOT ARM or whatever Crunch wanted for her. She wanted a regular arm, so she could do regular things. …That’s how she was. But she kept quiet and nodded. A dark look crossed Russ’s face; she probably understood, but…

…Well, we’d have done the same thing. ‘Regular things’ aren’t always an option for us anymore. Maybe she’d be able to get an extra, something more ordinary, and swap them back and forth, once she was bringing more of a paycheck in.

Russ stood and stretched, her ears twitching just a little, but I called out to her before she could leave. …One thing was bugging me.

“…It was restricted, wasn’t it? …The place she took us. Only way I can see to explain the…the witch. And she just gets a month off and an apology check?” Elly’s witch. There were only a handful of places in the world where that could happen. …Kid didn’t need to know even that much, though.

“It isn’t your place to question our Officio’s policies, Miss Cooldown.” Russ smiled coolly at me. Seemed like that was all she did. “But Heather was entirely within her rights as a Rank Leader. We do understand that her judgment was…subpar, but we’re all hoping a month of training with the warrior-nuns in the Seventh will do her some good, in more ways than one. Is there anything else?”

I started to shake my head, but paused halfway through.

“…I’m gonna stay with Elly until we head out. That gonna be a problem?”

“No, no problem at all. Expected, really; we’ll have your gift basket delivered to Miss Slam’s room, and you two can share it before you leave.” With that and a few swishes of her tail, she was gone, and Papers collapsed against me, losing herself furiously in her cherry-flavored sucker.

I just hugged her for a little while.

--Concept and Outline by Attarou ( --Guestwritten by Wendy Cooldown (